September 16, 2010: India was once an entirely forested land and sacred trees like the Peepul and Banyan figure prominently in the early water colour paintings of the Company period and in fact embellish them with the character of the culture of sacred places in India such as Varanasi, Calcutta, etc. and such paintings may be seen in large canvases in the Victoria memorial.
Such trees have been known to live over a thousand years and many are connected with the saints of Indian history. The mass cutting down of such trees is a sin against the sacred spirit of India and the culture of her people. That India has embarked on a mission of industrial development begun sixty years ago by Jawaharlal Nehru was known to all but the hard facts of which are now being brought home to us by the economic policy of the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister with the blessings of the government which are aimed at GDP and not ecological targets. It is now clear to us that these trees no longer have a place in the rural heartland of India where industrial development is being imposed at an increasing pace with the full force of the government machinery. Thousands of such trees have been recently cut in the mission of widening highways and millions will soon be cut. From Time to time we see in the newspapers efforts of a Green India Mission about tree planting programmes and photos of various government officials planting a sapling. It is obvious to commonsense that such a tree will not replace a 500 year old Banyan or Peepul tree or a two hundred year old Mango, Jamun, Imli or Neem tree. The fruit of these trees are food to the Indian villager and the source of water in his well. It is difficult for the European mind to fully understand that indigenous Indian trees have a long shelf life and that a hundred year old tree along a highway is not about to die. In my opinion the Green Indian Mission is a cover-up for a larger mission to destroy the identity of sacred trees in the culture of village India. Fast growth Exotic species are planted which can not replace Indigenous Trees. I have spoken to many villagers who say the cutting of these roadside trees is like the cutting of their hands and legs and a way to break their spirit which is embedded in such trees. They are powerless to object or intervene in the tree felling for fear of reprisal. In a larger perspective, the clear felling of ancient Indian trees by the government is psychological warfare against the Indian villager especially of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes who all over India consider such trees sacred and marks of their own spiritual and cultural identity. I try to give voice to their suppressed feelings which could not be heard because there are totally no news reports of the massive cutting of ancient Indian trees on the highways either in the papers or television where the smallest voices of protest are otherwise displayed with full media attention. A million trees were cut in the widening of the old Grand Trunk Road, now National Highway 2, from Kolkata to Delhi, and nothing was heard about it. The foreign and Indian press and television media never reported it. A sinister killing by silence is going on in the new ministry of roads and highways which plans to cut down 24,000 kilometres of such roadside trees in the so called urgent need for widening the roads to a Ninety feet. At such a width the trees needed not be cut and the 45 foot existing with highway simply shifted over to the side, building a new highway on the opposite side ! But who listens to good sense these days ? These options have not been listened to. The trees have to be cut like enemies of a new development process, the imposing of a new paradigm upon the consciousness of this ancient land.
We must realize that in the context of the industrial development of India the old village thinking of India is considered backward and a barrier against the new industrial thinking of the government which wants to bring in a western model of development. When we look at the landscape of Europe or America in the industrially developed areas we see a patch work of angular lines and a model of the industrial temperament of those countries. The government of India today is attempting to implant such a landscape upon India which will make it look modernized, and is doing its best to destroy the ancient landscape. There are many like me who believe that industrial development must be more sympathetic to nature, more especially because today this nation and the world faces a greater challenge from the destruction of nature which is leading to global warming and climate change. I was born in 1942 and I saw the first phase of industrial development in India, the new dams and thermal power stations, the big industrial units, and studied their praises in the school text books of the day for the new industrial model. Many of my friends who studied in the major public schools of India did not share my views and these people, now perhaps a slightly younger generation because many old friends have gone along, retain in their idealism a desire to do away with the old India and create a new India of their dreams. Many of these men are today prominent in Parliament, in the Ministeries, in the great Corporate houses, powerful leaders in the industrial and political world of India. I have tried to impress my thoughts and feelings upon them with little success. Here and there a younger man like our Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh comes along with great wisdom and political force to try and save the old environment against the depredation of the new industrial philosophy. Such men are the hope of this nation because they have risen above themselves and their political environment to a vision of the future which is based upon the experience of the past and the wisdom of the sages who have left their ashes in the sacred soil of India. I appeal to the youth of India in their in-experience, and their elders who are bent upon destroying this land for economic gain, to listen to their conscience and take the trouble to analytically study the implications of industrial development. The psychology of our species based upon past experience makes it impossible for humans to understand the impact of natural catastrophe unless they experience it first-hand. This is an animal deficiency. If man is higher than the animal, and has evolved to the eminence of advanced information and industrial technology, it is because of his analytical mind. Today, inspite of information technology human intelligence has been dulled by the easy availability of consumables, communication and transport, and things which were difficult to obtain in the past and which have now been brought within the reach of economic advancement. Therefore, the economy seems to be a magic wand for the fulfillment of every need and the fulfiller of the pleasure principle. The educational institutions of this nation have failed to deliver the message of Indian culture and spirituality to their students and have failed to impress the deeper ecological and cultural implications of life available to them, instead replacing themwith symbolic gestures where the conscience can be absorbed into the greater greed of material well-being. This is daily apparent in the fictional notion of reality which pervades the whole of our modern urban society. Reality is turning into a virtual function and the very nature of reality is undergoing change. But Mother Nature does not accept this. The environmental calamities we have been witnessing recently, the droughts and farmer suicides, the floods in Pakistan and tundra fires in Russia, the mudslides in China, and the massive world-wide earthquakes, the regular eruption of volcanoes, the daily rising temperatures (this was the hottest year in the hottest decade in history) have been brushed aside as nature as usual. The industrial model was unswerved, the scientists adamant that this was a temporary phenomenon. And this has been the prime reason for the continuing mountaintop mining in America, the continuing of oil-spills, the continuing melting of glaciers, and in India the continuing sacrifice of this country for economy- its natural and cultural heritage, its ancient ecological economy, the displacement of its indigenous people for the sake of mining, all offered to the new gods of economy and instant gratification. Sacrifice was the principle of existence for our ancestors, leaving a legacy to grandchildren was a part of our social order. But now only the moment counts, only instant self-fulfillment counts. We want our mouths filled with chocolates, our hands and bodies entombed in sensual fulfillment, our feet in clouds. How long will such a state of affairs last Mr.Pranab Mukherjee?
If India continues copying this western model the doom of the nation, its environment and inheritance, is at stake. When the real storm comes with the impact of climate change, which is inevitable within a couple of years, then the country will collapse and the people will be defenceless against the new environmental hazards directly being caused today by the cutting down of trees and the environment with Tata Hitachi machines. I ask the youth of this country, the young men and women who are the leaders of tomorrow, to deeply consider what I have said, from an old man to young people, because I offer to them the vision embedded in the Sruti tradition of this country which is to protect nature, to worship nature as God, to understand that nothing exists in this dark universe except Brahman, which is both Parmeshwar and Prakriti, God and Nature, if we harm one we harm the other. Within each one of us a wave exists which is part of this vast ocean and each one can feel the force of Brahman. Let them turn inward for fulfillment and discretion and wise action which alone can save the people of this world. I hope I have fulfilled my duty in passing on this message in an Opinion requested of me by 350.org to which I belong, and which is the premier international organization for bringing about awareness of the consequences of Global Warming. To stop it tomorrow we have to begin with changing ourselves today.
By Bulu Imam
Bulu Imam is a writer, activist, wildlifer and regional convener, INTACH, Hazaribagh Chapter.