This book examines contemporary environmental issues and movements in independent India as well as Hindu conservative ideology and politics. It includes the first thorough investigation of Anna Hazare's movement in Maharashtra.
Mukul Sharma argues that these two social currents-environmental conservation and Hindu politics-have forged bonds which reveal the hijacking of environmentalism by conservative and retrograde worldviews. This, he says, constitutes a major aspect of hinterland political life which has not been seriously analysed. Environmentalism and politics cannot be seen as separate from each other, for environmental issues are being defined in new ways by an anti-secular form of Hinduism. In turn, Hindu ideologues are gaining mileage by espousing major environmental projects.
Anna Hazare's impact is studied in detail through a careful field investigation of his environmental initiative in Ralegan Siddhi. Sunderlal Bahuguna's opposition to the Tehri Dam in the Garhwal Himalaya is outlined with great anthropological subtlety. And the regeneration of Vrindavan's urban and riverine hygiene by internationally funded NGOs is Subjected to a historical scrutiny that includes an examination of how Lord Krishna has been redefined as the great god of conservation.
Sharma discusses fascist appropriations of environmentalism in Europe to contextualize Hindu nationalists within a larger universe. By pinpointing communal and authoritarian discourses within some of the new social movements, he alters the way in which we look at everyday life in the subcontinent. For, says Sharma, at stake in this intermeshing of environmental Green and Hindu Saffron is nothing less than the way Indians understand their humanity.
About the Author
Mukul Sharma is a Delhi-based independent scholar and journalist. He was a Special Correspondent at Navbharot Times, Delhi, and has received several awards for his environmental, rural, and human rights journalism. He has been the Director of Amnesty International and the Heinnch Boell Foundation In India, and has worked with many developmental organizations, networks, and forums. He has published sixteen books and booklets in English and Hindi, Including most recently Human Rights in 0 Globalised World: An Indian Diary (2010), and Contested Coastlines:
Fisherfolk. Notions and Borders in South Asia (co-authored, 2008).
Since the birth of the Chipko Andolan in the Garhwal Himalaya in 1973, India's many regions have experienced an array of environmental movements. These campaigns have been led and energised by peasants, tribals, fisherfolk, pastoralists, and middle-class professionals. They have variously focused on water, air, forests, energy, and wildlife. Some have been Gandhi-sryle satyagrahas against projects and policies that destroy nature and rural livelihoods. Others have followed an alternative, and equally Gandhian, tradition of constructive work, seeking to restore or revegetate ravaged landscapes.
The Indian environmental movement was born in the 1970s; environmental scholarship in India started in the 1980s. Inspired and intrigued by these movements, historians and social scientists have since produced books and articles examining their social bases, ideologies, strategies of protest, and styles of leadership.
In its depth and range, the scholarship on Indian environmentalism is impressive. But, as Mukul Sharma shows in this strikingly original book, it has suffered from two conceptual blindspots. Environmental scholars, both desi and videshi, have ignored those crucial realms of social life in India-party politics and religion.
It is worth speculating on these silences. The first may be related to the self-definition of environmentalists themselves. Some Greens like to say they 'are neither Left nor Right-but in front.' In India, at any rate, they have stayed clear of the formal, constitutional, democratic process, neither seeking to fight elections nor to influence the outcome of elections. Environmentalists have seen themselves as above the messy, contaminated, and corrupt world of party politics.
Unfortunately, many scholars have accepted this self-presentation of environmentalism as beyond party politics. Therefore, they have failed to analyse the links, rarely explicit and sometimes unconscious, between movements of environmental protest and particular political parties. At the same time, their own secular and 'scientific' orientation has inhibited most scholars from examining the religious presuppositions of many programmes of environmental action.
Mukul Sharrna's Green and Saffron is the first work of scholarship to examine, in any depth or detail, the relations between environmentalism and faith-based traditions on the one hand, and between environmentalism and party politics on the other. It does so with immense subtlety and sensitivity. This book marries the field orientation of the investigative reporter that Sharma once was with the analytical sharpness of the scholar that he has now become.
Mukul Sharma's principal case studies in this book come from the Deccan Plateau, the Indo-Gangetic Plain, and the Uttarakhand Himalaya. He is deeply attentive to regional ecologies, to the specific forms of livelihood in these three very different parts of India. He is sensitive to social diversity, and to how caste, gender, and political authority manifest themselves in these three regions. Finally, he is also attentive to language, to the rhetoric and symbols used by social movements to justify or explain their strategies and goals.
The research underlying these case studies is impressively thorough.
Sharma uses books, articles, pamphlets, posters, newspaper reports, even cartoons. Where necessary, he uses material from interviews in the field as well. His formidable command of Hindi is evident from the range of sources he draws upon; few works of environmental history in India have so extensively used materials in a language other than English.
This deep research is then deployed to demonstrate the pervasive influence of Hinduism on three environmental campaigns. Sharma shows how religion shapes and structures social action, how it motivates people to act in certain ways and inhibits other paths of action. There is a noticeable overlap, in the cases investigated here, between green and saffron, between the desire to protect or renew nature and the projection. for political ourooses. of a oarticular religion or religious ideology. This juxtaposition is sometimes unconscious or unacknowledged (as with the rhetoric of the Chipko leader Sunderlal Bahuguna), at other times tacit or understated (as with the Vrindavan afforestation project or the village renewal scheme of Anna Hazare). But there are also times when the juxtaposition is deliberate and calculated, as when the Bharatiya ]anata Party (B]P), the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), and the Vi shwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) enter existing environmental campaigns in order to inject them with their ideology of Hindutva.
From Sharma's account, it is clear that this interpenetration of Hinduism and environmentalism occurs both at the conceptual and programmatic levels. There is an overlap at the level of rhetoric thus, purity and pollution are key categories in both saffron and green thought. But Hindu ideas and images have also more concretely penetrated environmental campaigns. For example, the Vrindavan project presents (or rather invents) Lord Krishna as a crusader for the environment. Again, when the VHP joined hands with the movement to stop the Tehri dam, it brought with it 'wild imaginings and paranoia' about what the dam would do to the culture and civilization of the Hindus. Its rhetoric, writes Sharma, suggested that 'the Himalaya and Ganga's landscapes are haunted not only by an aggressive China but also by a Muslim Pakistan, a communist Russia, and a conspiring West who make war against Hindu Bharat and its culture.'
Four kilometres south from Khagaria town, at the Sonmanki ghat on the Bagmati river, a religious ceremony is beginning. The purpose of the ceremony, called Maa Kosi ka Mela (a fair in honour of Mother Kosi), held on the auspicious day of paus pumima, is to control land erosion caused by the Kosi and Bagmati rivers, which seasonally change course, bringing devastating floods in their wake. There is a chill in the morning air, but that does not deter the few hundred villagers-men, women, and children-of Sonmanki, Koyla, and Ladaura villages from attending the fair.
On the riverbank's sandy surface a temple of bricks and cement is constructed, but it is left incomplete. Here a big idol of Mother Kosi is installed. The idol-maker, Dinesh Kumar Paswan, explains to me that the idol broadly resembles that of the goddess Durga. Shown riding a crocodile, the idol has four arms; one of these holds a conch shell, another a discus. Along with the main idol is a small idol of Koshlaveer, bearing in his hand a spade. Four other idols are installed alongside-of Saraswati, Ganesh, Laxmi, and Kartik.
A head Brahmin arrives with his two disciples after a dip in the river. They don new clothes and sacred threads (janeu), then come into' the temple and arrange prayer material in front of the idolschandan, dboop, agarbatti, fruits, flowers, coconut, sweets, and several other things. A fasting Brahmin, who has to be from the village, must now join in prayer. The head Brahmin begins the puja by chanting mantras in Sanskrit. He lights the fire and periodically consigns various offerings to the flames. His disciples and the villager" follow him with offerings and chants. After an hour of prayer, an arti takes place in which everyone assembled participates. Dalits of the villages gather outside the temple and wait for the arti to come out; they are nor allowed inside. The arti concludes and the chief Brahmin proceeds towards the river water. Everybody follows. Here a small goat is ready with red ribbons. The goat is bathed in the river, worshipped, and then drowned as a sacrifice to placate the river. Erosion, changes in river courses, and floods are wished away. A Dalit ghatwar is allowed to take possession of the drowned goat. The beginning of the ceremony-the prayer-is over. Now the Sonmanki mela has formally begun and will continue for four dajs A few women serve specially cooked food to the Brahmin and his disciples. He is given money and dakshina. He leaves the venue and will return on the fourth day to conclude the ceremony-to perform puja and homjaap, organize the idol immersion, and accept offer ings and his service fees. Indian culture has a long tradition of worshipping rivers. We worship Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati. We live with rivers, and thus some occasions like kartik purnima, agahan purnima and ma purnima, we first bathe in the sacred rivers and then worship them The emergence of Ko si worship and fair is a reflection of our faith rivers, in their flow in whatever form, and our deep commitment! environmental values inherent in our traditional culture. In floodaffected areas, this has a special significance So says a report entitled Nadiyon ka Swarup Murtiyon ke Roop Mo' (The Nature of Rivers in the Form of Idols), prepared by a I GO which actively supports this kind of environmentalism. fair looks like a shop window for various activities. There are swin recreational performances, edibles, village plays, small circuses, wr ing and kushti, song and dance. Pappu Kumar, a major organi of this fair, narrates that in the year 2000 four natuas (jesters) c to perform the dances and a city group enacted a play, Sasta Kho Mahanga Pani (Blood is Cheap, Water is Dear) and charged Rs 6000 perform it. Altogether, about ten or twelve villages, including Sonak, Sonmanki, Koyla, and Ladaura, have joined in the festivities.
Kosi worship began in 1990 and the fair came into being in 1995.
It began first in Sonmanki, Koyla, and Ladaura villages. A few years later, in 2001-2, it was also happening in slightly far-off villages such as Mohanpur. Some local NGOs began working to spread its appeal. Twenry-six-year-old Umesh Gupta claims to be the initiator of Mother Kosi worship, and the villagers acknowledge this. A petry trader and transport operator of Sonmanki village, Umesh is also a local leader. He says, 'Erosion due to the river changing course was fast approaching our village and, therefore, I thought of offering our prayers to the beloved river. When I shared my ideas with some other villagers and organizations active in the village, they gave a positive nod. In any case, we have long been worshipping the river in one way or the other.' Umesh and other villagers in Sonmanki now believe that from the time the worship of Mother Kosi began, the erosion affecting their village has decreased. They also believe this is so because the fair is held at a sacred place where ten years earlier the river flowed. The river is seen as an integral part of their collective life, being the source of all joy and sorrow. It is to be both loved and feared. 'We have always been with the Kosi river, and seen its different changing courses. The river gives us life. It can do anything to anybody', this is the refrain of Rajvir, a villager. Indeed, the Kosi is the source of everything-agriculture, fish, and fodder-and makes life possible for the majoriry of the people here.
Sonmanki is located between Kosi and Bagmati, two well-known rivers of the region. Land erosion, often caused by regular floods, affects the village seriously. The village is a large one, a big settlement with a long history. The people here, mostly Brahmins, Raj puts, . Yadavs, Kurmis, and Musahars, cultivate the land and grow rice, maize, and sometimes vegetables-all at the mercy of rains and floods. A few families here own all the land, even as the majority of the population is landless. Most households have some cattle, but that is hardly sufficient for their food, nor even to provide supplementary income. A large number of people leave the village to seek casual employment, venturing to cities nearby and far off. The few who have land and money or access to private or government jobs live in nearby towns and 'do some side business' in the construction and transport sectors. Here, there is no primary school, health centre; no roads and no electricity. Sonmanki and the villages nearby are situated precariously at the edge of every erosion. The regular floods, displacement, and destitution make life difficult and uncertain for most villagers. Crisis-ridden agriculture and seasonal labour remain the basis of the economy; living and working are often seen as endless, painful chores. Employment and food are scarce; getting a bare minimum entails tiring and unremunerative work. There are many additional dangers to cope with: rains and floods ruin the harvest; diseases break out and, with no immediate ways of getting medical attention, are a constant worry. Snakes are a real and persistent threat to life.
The villagers do not regard themselves as capable of controlling these events. They live in a world where things happen to them. Although a few developments are attributed to personal agencyhabits like drinking liquor and gambling-most misfortunes are blamed on spirits or the anger of Mother Kosi. 'Mother Kosi is punishing me. She is unhappy; we all neglected and forgot her these many years', says Akhouri. Another says: 'We had always been blessed by our Mother Kosi and had lived happily here. However, in present times, this has stopped. The government and development projects are ruining us.' These too are beyond the control of the vjllagers, so they are responsible for their present misfortune. It follows that a range of methods is suggested to guard against environrnennl destruction.
It is possible that the villagers also have other methods, values, and traditions for environmental protection, for a variety of experience, and influences is at work. However, the villagers know beyond all argument that they are at the mercy of forces largely beyond their control This sense of powerlessness pervades everything. It is the very context in which all cultural and environmental practices must be negotiated. A sense of low self-efficacy prevails in a range of situations, and the villagers are on the constant look-out for various personal agents. Traditional medicines, charms, and ritual offerings offer some protection in specific situations, but there are alwar others waiting in the wings. Ma Kosi ka Mela is one of them.
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