Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Shouldn’t we be asking ourselves some hard questions ?

I’ve been reading the new book on the environment Churning the Earth: The Making of Global India, by Aseem Shrivastava and Ashish Kothari published by Penguin/Viking last year. For these past three decades I’ve been myself immersed in environmental campaigns, in particular against opencast coal mining in the Damodar valley. As the temperatures begin rising steeper each summer, the monsoons fail repeatedly, droughts and floods become increasingly frequent a lot of people have started taking an interest in the Other Side od Global Industrialism.

The greatest changes in society come from within an acceptance of particular value systems and their impact on food, water and human happiness as far as the natural environment is concerned. Up until the industrial revolution value systems were dependant on a basically survival environment. After the advent of industrialism and the economy dependant on minerals and non renewable resources the industrialized West moved into a new theatre of  industrial production  using machines powered from fossil fuels and left behind the good old egalitarian systems of farming and exchange  -- the food system that had held together the Old Order. This was armed colonialism which was backed by the newly available automatic firepower and brought its own militarized hierarchies and the policing of hitherto peaceful self-sufficient natural environments and their highly evolved societies which suddenly became backward savages sitting upon the raw materials useful for industrial production. This was the recent epoch we have witnessed and whose face is familiar in our new India where we have inflicted more damage on our natural environment and  rural and forest societies in the name of development than two centuries of British colonialism and three centuries of Mughal rule could achieve.

Throughout the five centuries of colonial expansion over the planet governments became more and more powerful especially after the nineteenth century, and it is estimated the natural heritage and species lost and being lost is something not witnessed in millions of years. European colonialism snatched more than half the planet’s richest continental resources in the name of Sovereignty and through what has been defined by Native American jurists as ‘Conquest by Law’. After the colonization of Meso-and-South America in the 16th century came the colonization of Africa, America , Australia and the Pacific, Southeast Asia and South Asia. Vast swathes of hitherto untouched natural environments became subjected to the scythe which is called development, farming the planet for industrial warlords.

Today I see no answers or solutions given to find the right direction. I keep reading pages after pages of radical new solutions, a ‘how to’ type of approach, but the solution to my mind lies not in building fairy castles but in identifying the sickness and tackling it at its source. Nobody fully seems to understand – maybe a few do – that the most urgent action is to stop the massive damage being done to nature and society while we keep on implementing ‘solutions’. Its what happened with Global Warming. Everybody was optimistic until the space for optimism ran out. Then these agencies started to tick faster but kept failing. Now we are aware Climate Change as its called, the result of anthropogenic global warming, cannot be any longer stopped. And I’m not joking. There are rays of hope like Niyamgiri in Odisha and several other successful activist campaigns against destructive development, but the problem will not go away. There has to be a national consciousness consensus that the state is headed in the wrong direction. We require to step back and analyse our own selves. No great change in society ever was possible without a change of self, a philosopher’s stone. Like Sparta or the presence of Socrates which helped develop the Roman state. Or after 300 AD the rise of the Roman Catholic in Europe. For better or worse it led to the Reformation, Renaissance, Age of Exploration, and finally, the Enlightenment. Then all the lights suddenly go out. The greatest wars the world has ever seen raged from end nineteenth century (Zulu and Boer Wars) to the two great World Wars in which an estimated eighty millions died.

The challenge for educational institutions in our own times bear the shadows of the past and the even longer shadows cast by the future. The schools, colleges and other educational institutions are today churning out the young citizens of tomorrow born into an uncertain, fragile and mechanistic environment  -- digital and cyberspace, neuro engineered and robotic  -- they are the citizens of tomorrow in a world with an evidently new moral order… When I look at the good schools (ands I am specifically looking at our Indian schools)I am greatly distressed because these high achieving young folk are being created precisely to become fodder for the Industrial Machine waiting to swallow them. The IM is the devil in disguise. I know the paychecks are good, and more’s the problem! It is these industries that will provide these youth what is today fashionably called by the nouveau riche  a’higher standard of life’.  It is precisely this double-speak which I am referring to. I know that all parents want their children to ‘do well’ in life, but what is ‘well’ may I ask ? Are we calculating the costs ?

It has been said that culture is the product of a sound education. What do we mean by a ‘sound education’ ? Does 99.8% in exams  sum up human life ? The human race is a long rigmarole of change but nowhere have robotic geniuses created El-Dorados except in the present times.  Are not the creations of our imagination – our own children – the most important investment in our common futures as a race ?  And with their superior knowledge and ability are they not the material needed to bring the  environment to nothing but rubble. This planet EARTH we stand on (always thinking we are standing upright!), this Blue Planet,  is a tiny fragment of an asteroid in the hostile emptiness of black space warmed by a slowly dying Sun. It is no longer Blue as in Armstrong’s 1969 photograph from the Eagle on his way to the moon. Recent NASA photos show it brown by day, and by night ablaze with electric lights. We have created a dying environment in the only home we have.

Education has been going on for millennia, and all great civilizations evolved their own great systems of education in their own languages and scripts from Mayan, Inca  and Toltec to Mesopotamian, Arab and Egyptian. Even Europe latterly after Greece had education. China and Asia have been great models for education. Highly civilized societies have presided over what we now possess. There have been the great Upanishadic schools of India, and even now the higher education of India is in her temple schools and ancient ethnic ways of life and culture having their own knowledge systems.

I am trying to say that we cannot have systems of education which celebrate the blowing up of the Earth and polluting its atmosphere to the point that it will be too hot to live in and climates will change destroying all traditional ecological produce from agriculture to forest gardens. We cannot to afford  to have a highly industrialized planet and a more highly polluted living space just because every body wants to live “ Western Style”. In his own inimitable way the Mahatma said  “If every one in India wants to live at the standard of the England then five continents will be required.” As ever, he was Spot-On.

The natural spaces are disappearing so fast that in a decade rivers, lakes, forests, and what is referred to as ‘the countryside’ will disappear under highways, parking lots and industrial developments. Europe and the UK have woken up to the world crisis faster than Indians and hit the brakes. Coal is out in Germany, UK, France. The  sky on an an April day in the countryside “under and English heaven” azure blue as a baby’s eyes, is still to be experienced. The ‘London Smog’ of old is no more.  The forests of Europe once ravaged by industry and war a full and flourishing, the rivers clean and brimful, same with the lakes.

We continue with fatalistic feudalism to the utter collapse of our last ecosystems, cities piled with stinking garbage, the poorest nation in the world with the highest malnutrition levels (worse than sub-Saharan Africa I’m told) – Here is a challenge for our educational institutions: Schools, Colleges, Centres of ‘Higher’ (whatever That means) learning’. Tomorrow is what we do today. If we do it wrong there may not be any Day After Tomorrow.

The higher educational institutions and the so called higher class English Medium schools (upto Plus Two) in India are churning out students for the higher income elite sector/industrial jobs which is directly responsible for the destruction of India's natural resources and massive displacement of land and forest dependent indigenous peoples. This high-end India is concerned with private and state consumption which reflects in GDP and is representative of less than a quarter of the Nation's population. It has been estimated recently that 200 million Indians enjoy a level of GDP equivalent to the economies of Great Britain, Germany, and France combined. But what about the rest of the Nation of 1.2 billion souls supposedly all created equal ? There is not and can not be equality for all and 40 percent of India's 1.2 billion live below the poverty line of a dollar a day, while 25% live in a state of chronic malnutrition and abject poverty and starvation. Most of this kind of malnutrition and starvation is linked with the eighty million displaced in the last sixty-five years through state sponsored destructive development projects. If education is to have a social purpose it must not be exclusive or hierarchical or create an exploitative class and has to be national in the best sense in the belief which Thomas Jefferson voiced in the words" We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal."(American Declaration of Independence 4th July 1776). In the modern Indian system such equality is not envisioned and even if envisioned cannot be applied due to racial, religious, and caste prejudices. We have created an increasingly industrialized India facing historical acceleration dependant upon economic hierarchies which are at the cost of the Nation's poorest and is dependent upon the natural resources and lands they have ancestrally lived upon. We are witnessing the social evolution run amok of modern India especially in the past two decades -- since Neo-Liberalisam was given full rein -- a situation similar to what the Spanish Conquistadores enacted in the Americas with the conquest of the Aztecs by Herman Cortes in their lake-encircled capital of Tenochtetlan in 1519 in Mexico, and the subsequent conquest of the Inca in Cuzco, Peru by Francesco Pizarro. In both events modern firearms, Spanish steel, horses and germs (smallpox) carried by the Spanish triumphed. The germs caused epidemics which almost wiped out the meso-American population. In our present context similar forces are at work only the weapons are Economic, Psychological, and State-empowered policy, and and the germ most powerfully active is a new technology for transforming traditional mindsets, i.e. Internet, Television, Advertizing/Media and Cellphone. India today is the film-set and landscape of the 2009 blockbuster film Avatar.


Sanskriti, Dipugarha
Hazaribagh, Jharkhand

16th September, 2013

Written specially for the Mt.Carmel (St.Joseph’s School) 50th Jubilee Annual 2013

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