In Rajasthan, the dusty and dry landscape awaits the monsoons. The wheat is being harvested by women in colorful saris, children in school uniforms and men in flowing cotton pants. The grain must be taken in before the rains. The precious rain comes only for a few days a year, and if the ground is correctly handled it will absorb and retain the rainwater. If not, it will evaporate or flow away, leaving the fields dry, the people without food, and threaten the country's economy with recession.
India is a rich and a poor country. Rich on resources, but poor in the management of them. India has the fourth-largest economy in the world, but at the same time 301 million of its citizens are poor, subsisting on less than a dollar a day. The paradox is that the poorest people live on the country's richest lands. Forests and minerals are of great interest to both state and industry, craving the resources to fuel the country's rapid economic growth.
But the urge to conserve forests and wildlife is equally strong. In Sita Mata wildlife sanctuary, the people of Mogiamba village are being forced out of their homes. In the government's eyes, they are illegal occupiers who pose a threat to the forest environment. The villagers cannot understand why they are being ordered to leave when they see themselves as the custodians of the forests.
During our stay in Delhi and visit to Pratapgarh, a tribal district in Rajasthan, we met with many people, and asked what they understood by the term 'clean environment'. More often than not, our question was met with bewilderment. 'Clean' did not fit with environment, but viable certainly did. In the West, the word 'clean' is often associated with something 'pristine', untouched by people. But to have a viable environment, people must be allowed to reconnect to their own, immediate environment.
Urban India represents the country's urge to grow. The urban India of littered streets and dirty rivers, desperately battling the challenges of becoming clean. We understood that high consumption societies also invest heavily to remain clean. Was this viable for a country such as India?
Our goal was not only to witness, but also to participate in the environmental debate. Our campaign is aimed at Norwegian students who will be future development experts, scientists, decision makers. We need to rethink development. Techniques and structural fixes that work in Norway may not be viable in India. As the magazine articles, posters and web features will show, often the solutions lie in the traditional techniques and these combined with local participation ensure viability.
Silje Helene Meum
Photo: Sofie Bruun