The Uttarakhand floods have not seen me in remorse or much concern over the fate of the pilgrims and locals stuck in the disaster and I thought of capturing some of my thoughts and utterances.
I have not been very religious all my life choosing to slip away into atheism most of the times but ever since childhood Shiva was my favourite God with the characteristics and stories associated with him. His simplicity, love of mountains and the cool and straightforwardness were clear attractions for me. Also was the fiery side of him. Shiva is the destroyer of the ego and ultimately the universe and the slayer of demons.
Today those demons are the Hindus themselves, stubborn, unrelenting, unprincipled and with bloated egos like no body else. What the Lord did at Kedarnath was to turn these demons around and give them a hard kick on their backsides telling them to fuck off from his valley. The resilient pests that humans are and the determined Hindus will return back I am sure and in another two years everything will be back in the same form.
Today it seems Shiva is playing the dance of death but that compares no where to the dance of death being played by humans themselves. 7 billion of them have been reducing many other species to remain just in their thousands and many of those are also on the way to annihilation.
Hinduism as a religion owes everything to nature. It observed nature, learned everything it knows from it and in turn paid obeisance to it in the form of various rituals. One would expect that the followers of such a religion would have a better understanding and respect for nature. Remove love and respect for nature from Hinduism and it turns into a bundle of useless two paisa worth rituals and mantras, which is the state today.
Since childhood it has been my observation – the more mainstream Hindu you are the more selfish, unprincipled and a scumbag you will be. The pilgrimages themselves have become an industrial assembly line operation. There was a time when those who made it for the pilgrimage were revered back home and people touched their feet, because of the enormous difficulty associated with making one. Now all you need to do is call your local tour operator.
Pilgrimages then were a walking project, which naturally kept a control on how many people could enter this fragile ecosystem. At most mules were used. This helped by not creating a buildup of GHGs locally. Now jeeps and buses and trucks liberally add GHGs locally. More people means more heating and cooking requirements, which means more fossil fuels and more gases. For all the love of their religion ask people to do the pilgrimages like the Sadhus do or how even how ordinary people did it once and it will not be taken well.
A hundred years ago India’s population was about 250 million (for a unified India) and only a marginal percentage of that population made it for a Char Dham Yatra. Today the population is a 1000 million plus and a phenomenally larger percentage of the population makes it for the Yatra. Does it make any sense? Clearly there is a need for strict annual entry quotas. A percentage should be auctioned to raise funds for investing in local ecology.
Most Hindus of the type attending these pilgrimages will not understand what words like fragile ecosystem and carrying capacity will mean. Worse still they will not be interested in learning or doing something about it. They have got a laundry list of demands to be made from the Gods – Do Not Disturb. Marriages have to be made, children to be born, their American education to be prayed for, the current stock of gold in the family should double by next year, careers, businesses, the lists goes on. There is no time for some thought for the environment and policy.
The whole of the mountainous Uttarakhand region was celebrated as Dev Bhoomi due to the unparalleled richness of biodiversity and life that was found here – floral and faunal. It was always a fragile ecosystem which was never meant to be trampled in herds. The lack of roads meant that there was a natural check on how many people could enter the courts of the Gods. Today those rich forests which sustained the rivers we revered are being hacked away. The rivers themselves have all been dam(n)ed and channeled and re-channeled. I dont even think there is anything left to worship and celebrate over there. The Dhams should actually be shut down.
People are generally bad at participating in or influencing public policy. In the absence of the public playing any role it is the vested interests with short term interests who take over. The tour operator and the priest now shape public policy. The Brahmins are supposed to uphold Dharma but that is in the texts.
For all the 90’s and 00’s when environmentalists were shedding tears at the mindless destruction being wrought on the mountains, no where were these pilgrimaging (pillaging) Hindus to be seen. Not without reason do some people like me find themselves happy at the turn of events. Nature is hostile to life, ruthless and cruel but the celebration of life there can never be rivaled by anything that the human machinery creates – much of which is pretentious anyways.
For those who would like to make this into the usual retort that environmentalists care more about the birds and the bees and less about humans I think the time for that retort is interestingly and finally coming to an end. We are entering a phase where all those who celebrated themselves as some great lovers of humanity forever moved by the conditions of humanity will be eating their words. If anything it is abundantly clear that environmentalists are far more compassionate and have a long term sustainable well being of human – and more importantly other species as well – in mind.