Saturday, April 20, 2024

Coronavirus Cogitations:  The environment strikes back

Monalisa Changkija

Yesterday I forgot to add this: hunting was never a sport for us ~ it was survival. I believe that over the decades, hunting became a sport for us due to the influence of our colonizers. And my take is that like so many other habits and practices, we also had this bizarrely foolish and inverted kind of the Stockholm Syndrome hence we took to their habits and practices like fish to water, never realizing that we were not, and can never, become our colonizers; and never questioning whether blind simulation was any good for us. Another reason, I believe, is the introduction of an alien faith and modern education. Traditionally, ours was also a Nature-based faith, so we attributed divine characteristics and qualities to various elements of Nature ~ we revered the forest spirits, the river spirits, the mountain spirits, etc. ~ which unfortunately was deemed pagan by those who came fishing for our souls. Christianity, as has been introduced to us, is quite bereft of Nature reverence and it was mainly centered on a puritanical value-system of personal and community behavior, conduct and lifestyles. Simultaneously this form of Christianity was complemented by a “modern” education system that was inherently capitalist in character, which discounted the centrality of Nature in the lives of earth-centric tribals. This was at odds with our way of life, estranged us from our Nature-centered core values and created an invisible chasm between us and Nature. The memories and practices of Nature reverence slowly began to fade away from our consciousness and soon enough we began to look at Nature as a source of satiating our physical needs and hedonistic pleasures. The wanton destruction and exploitation of our forests, flora and fauna speaks for how well we imbibed the value-system, culture and practices of the colonial-capitalistic system we were being indoctrinated with and maneuvered into. Looking at the state of our environment and our relationship with it today, it is obvious that we are truly divorced from our once-Nature revering existence.

Only after I wrote my column yesterday, I received information from the Wildlife Department that four poachers surrendered and have been booked under the Wildlife and various other Acts. I am not sure whether they actually surrendered on their own volition or were “persuaded” to surrender by the political representative or the village powers-that-be of that area or even the Wildlife Department but I sure am glad that they are now embraced by the “warm” arms of the law and they will now celebrate another kind of Lockdown Festival ~ which I hope will be an extended one, much beyond May 3. Our Wildlife Department definitely deserves all salutations for pursuing these offenders ~ especially considering how this Department functions with so many constraints in terms of human resources, other resource requisites ~ indubitably funds too. It must be re-emphasized that our Chief Minister’s deep and genuine concerns for environmental and ecological issues must translate into more action ~ starting with strengthening our Wildlife Department and agencies. It cannot be over-emphasized that outside our environment, outside our Planet, there can be no human existence. I know that our Chief Minister is capable of envisaging and rising much above and beyond mere power and vote bank politics. Whether he makes the best use of his capabilities now or not, posterity will judge.

It’s sad that Nagaland doesn’t have non-governmental organizations, consisting of environmental and ecological scientists and experts, to help us reconnect to nature. From what I can see so far, it is mainly the Wildlife Department that is making some efforts to conserve whatever remains of our environment. Sure, we have a few non-governmental conservationists but let’s be brutal here ~ they are mostly environmental enthusiasts, who have self-learnt the elementary of environment conservation. We need more people with environmental science and economics backgrounds, for instance people like Vandana Shiva, Medha Patkar, etc. We need Lawyers with expertise in Environmental Laws; Doctors and Medical scholars to research on the direct connection between environment and health; Journalists, well-versed with environmental and ecological issues and entirely dedicated to creating environmental awareness and education. Our environment and ecology demands the collective response and responsibility of the community. Since the time the natural progression of our history was disrupted and hijacked by the irresistible and immovable forces of colonial history, environment has been pushed to the back-burner ~ unfortunately, it still remains there. Moreover, somehow it has been drummed into our people, mainly by our political and economic classes, that our economy demands the rapacious exploitation of the environment ~ and that the lives and livelihood of indigenous peoples and their forests are small prices to pay for a greater and grander economic narrative of a nation bursting onto the centre-stage of economic superpower-dom. So we have Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and nth number of displacements and dispossessions of Nature-centered indigenous communities across the country, across the globe, forced to pave the way for majestic infrastructures of an insensitive and an exclusive economic system.

Of course, the scenario in Nagaland is quite different from the rest of the country and the globe. Here, the people own the land, which Governments have been trying to wrestle out from them through all kinds of subterfuge, in the name of constitutional laws. Naturally, people are resisting this but what kind of people? See, when we say the clan, the tribe and the village, etc., own the land it’s a very amorphous form of ownership because inevitably the elite has the final say in all matters of land ownership and as repositories of culture and traditions. Here again we have to look at the hierarchal systems and structures that already existed in our villages and clans “since time immemorial”, as we are so fond of saying. On top of that, we have been mainstreamed into the political and capitalist/market-oriented structures and systems that reinforce our traditional hierarchal system and structure. Above them, now stand the self-appropriated forces of “civil societies” that have no constitutional validation. In between all these systems and structures, as it were, where does the ordinary citizen stand? If we talk about royalties for oil, coal, lime and other minerals, or even forest produce, after all the cuts, commissions and kickbacks ~ because “proper procedure” is inevitable ~ where does the ordinary citizen, who is technically a land owner, stand in the queue of wealth recipients? Here, the issue of equitable distribution of wealth in our imagined, emphatically asserted and reiterated democratic, classless and non-hierarchal tribal communities comes into focus.

Another aspect of the environment-economy discourse is: since in Nagaland, communities own the land, how exactly is the land being utilized to create livelihood and wealth for our communities and individuals? Yes, to a large extent, our terrain is inhospitable for numerous agricultural and economic activities however Israel, which came into being in 1948, a year after Indian won Independence, has turned barren deserts into food-producing/agricultural zones ~ to cite an example. Obviously, Israel fully utilized science and technology to meet human needs. What about us? Don’t we in Nagaland have our own pool of science and technology wizards to transcend beyond GoI mandates, policies, plans, programmes, projects, prescriptions and directives for agricultural and allied sectors, and industrial and commercial activities? If not, why not? Do we lack in imagination, creativity and scientific inquiry? Apparently, in some of our rural areas, land is leased to individuals or groups of individuals for economic activities in exchange of some amount of “royalty”. Now, who gets a share of this “royalty”? Is it equitably distributed amongst each family of the community that “owns” the land? Has any social auditing been done in this matter?

This, obviously, calls for categories of Nature/Earth/Environment warriors that would focus on the multidimensional facets of a harmonious environment-economy interface resulting in a non-dichotomous life-livelihood existence. Yes, governmental thrusts are required for several complementary environment-economy measures but the people also need to take initiatives and shoulder responsibilities. Nothing will lay a stronger foundation for this than awareness, education and expertise hence dedicated specialized environment non-governmental individuals and organizations are vital. It is also Government’s obligations to create awareness and educate the people ~ and it does, from time to time. But no Government will create awareness and educate the people on core issues that would upset its political hold over the people, resources and wealth, as well as impede its policies, plans, programmes and projects that are revenue generating.

I love the rain; I love weather like this because the rain and I have some kind of primordial connection ~ and the accompanying thunder and lightning are all the operatic drama I need in my life. I also love the rain, this weather, because they are such good excuse for me to laze around, to procrastinate and merge into the schemes and dreams of Mother Nature. But, in the dark corners, crevices and contours of my mind there are distressing signals increasingly getting louder. These thunderous downpours are destroying the food in our fields, scarcity and shortages will arise, prohibitive prices will intensify our hunger, hail-storm destroyed abodes will render us homeless leaving us to the vagaries of Mother Nature and the mercies of inadequate Government relief and rescue and our photo-op fond NGOs. Meanwhile, we intellectuals, social scientists and all kinds of experts will continue to write copious papers on our imagined, emphatically asserted and reiterated democratic, classless and non-hierarchal tribal communities. Oh, let’s not forget our clerics, who will sanctimoniously pour down verbal thunder and storm on us. None of us will think about the inequities we commit against each other ~ thereby to ourselves. And, of how the environment strikes back.

The country’s medical fraternity seems to be convinced by the Government’s assurance vis-à-vis enactment of a law to address violence against doctors and health workers. But why do we need another law for assault and battery and the entire spectrum of violence perpetrated against anyone? Rigorous enforcement and implementation of existing laws should be adequate to safeguard the life and limbs of the country’s citizens. But the problem is, on one hand, the Police have their own interpretation of these laws ~ recently we have seen how the Police have interpreted these laws in action in Nagaland. As for individual and mob violence against health workers and others, clearly despite the enormous educational, scientific, technological and economic strides the country have made, we still remain wedded to ignorance, biases, prejudices, superstitions, pettiness, violence and all kinds of uncivilized behavior ~ thereby dehumanizing and demonizing our own selves. So, who are the beneficiaries of these giant strides? In a matter of time, humankind will find a cure for COVID-19, I have no doubts. But I have grave misgivings that we will ever find a cure for our dehumanizing and demonizing ways.

Anyway, please continue to wash your hands, stay home and stay safe. Memorize the routines of personal and public hygiene ~ because memories make history. And, we so want to make a history of being untouched by COVID-19, don’t we? I know this is rather a long piece with no masala but you don’t have anywhere to go, do you? And, masala everyday ~ no good for health. Gastric pabo dey.