Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Beware, they want to convert you.


Punjab's water table is plunging, Prime Minister identifies India's Gravest Internal Security Threat, minister Jairam Ramesh is under fire for standing by the humble eggplant, Magsaysay awardee Rajendra Singh has little faith left in huge projects backed by big money, Umendra Dutt has a problem with chemical fertilisers and Sikhs are worried about the carbon soot deposits on Golden Temple.
The front page grab of the PUNJAB TODAY
issue on environment in which this editorial
Are these totally separate news items, haphazardly gathered headlines, all lumped together by a careless child? Or are these issues all underwired by one common enemy, one common problem, one common idea of resistance?
Editorial writers will never tire of telling you that the world never needed to pay more attention to environment than it does now. They will say the same words even when you mark WED 2011, or 2021. And many would have considered their job well done by spilling some green colour on the front pages, and asking you to light a candle, plant a sapling, switch off your air conditioner or not take out the car for at least one day.
Believe us. There is nothing special about World Environment Day. And you can continue to not plant the sapling, not switch off the AC, not stop driving that gas guzzler. Nothing much is going to happen in your life time. At least, nothing that will come and hit you personally.
But that choice may not be available to your children, or their children.
If the world's next war is indeed going to be fought over water, chances are that it may not happen in your life time. But there is a huge chance that it will happen in your children's life time.
In your life time, you are only witnessing a war for India's forests. The government prefers to call it the Naxal menace. It is being waged and fought in your name. You may not be an environmentalist but you get a feeling that some outsiders have taken control of India's forests when TV anchors ask point blank on prime time national television: Are you for India or are you for the Maoists?
While you were not an environmentalist, they displaced thousands, drowned hundreds of villages in their eagerness to give you your big dams. They did it in your name. They said they were sure it was all for the larger common good.
They are now writing cheques worth crores for poor farmers as they acquire their fertile lands for malls, airports, SEZs, and what not. They are all doing it so that you can have development. Since it was all being done for you, in your name, there was little pressure on you to become an environmentalist.
Now, there is poison in your vegetables. The air you breathe is a killer. The water you gulp carries cancer. You are expected to be grateful for world class cancer hospitals and express high-speed trains that are called 'Cancer Trains' because they ferry you directly to nearby towns that flourish because of cancer patients.
A little bit of pressure is building up for you to become some kind of an environmentalist.
This World Environment Day, some activists will try to convert you. Baba Balbir Singh Seechewal may show you a couple of water bottles, one from Sutlej, the other from Beas. You see the clean water in one, a black fluid in the other, and wonder who drinks that. There will be talk of why our ground water is plunging. Some will blame wheat-paddy cycles, others will formulate the development versus environment debate.
They are all after you. The doomsday seers. All they want is to convert you, make you unhappy, force you to start worrying about distant wars and melting glaciers that you may never get to see in your entire life.
And then there will be those who will talk to you about car density in our towns, people’s capacity to not only spend lakhs on a car but an equal amount on number plates. A young politician is sprinkling airports all around, another is holding the environment front with a little sapling that gives Nanhi Chhanv. All is well with the world. Why become an environmentalist. Unless you don’t really want to connect trains to cancer, food to poison, air to death.

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