The countries of South Asia share similar concerns of environmental conservation, sustainable development and the impending threat of climate change. The programme ‘Challenge of the Balance’ organized by the Centre for Science and Environment gave us the opportunity to examine all these concerns keeping regional needs in mind.
Doha 2012 has been in the news, and there is tremendous debate about
issues related to climate change. But to the communities we interacted with at Alwar
and Jaipur, climate change was an abstract idea, and they were more concerned
with their immediate situations. To villagers who have been relocated out of Sariska,
they could not understand why they had to leave the land they had tilled for generations, for land that they cannot call their own. To those who live in what was once an arid water-less area, their concerns were more the proper use of the water they had so painstakingly managed to conserve. The extent to which they are
involved in the processes of their environment demonstrate how traditional wisdom could be instrumental in formulating and implementing state policy.
It was through this exposition that we all came to understand that the
environment is everything around us and we all need to act in our individual
capacities rather than wait for higher authorities to take action. However, if any
conservation endeavour that does not properly include communities, there is always
the risk of not being able to balance developmental and conservation needs. This
is best exemplified by the dissatisfaction and angst amongst the villagers relocated out of Sariska Tiger Reserve.
During the safari ride through Sariska, we saw a few villages within the core
area which are currently doomed to be relocated. The very fact that such villages
have existed in tiger inhabited area for centuries forced us to raise a question as to
why conservation today requires ‘inviolate spaces’. We received two contrasting
viewpoints- that of a forest official as conservator and the other of a community representative calling for coexistence.
We observe that whenever a community has a stake in its surroundings and
the resources it depends on, conservation becomes a part of its culture. This same
principle applies in the cities. As seen in Jaipur, the absence of interest on the part
of locals resulted in the deterioration of Mansagar lake and other urban lakes. The same trend is seen across South Asia.
With rapidly changing lifestyles and a culture of materialism, people in urban areas are becoming more and more disconnected from their immediate environment, and less empathetic towards the people and animals they share it with. This shows in the increasing trend of abandonment of pet dogs and the illtreatment
of domestic workers.
This magazine is a part of our attempt to reconnect with our environment, to
question what we see, and to report the different issues that affect both cities and
villages, people and animals.