When a Swedish teenager advises PM Modi… Sustainability in the Indian democracy
So, India is indeed in crisis. Most international forums that I have been attending of late, especially within the World Water week in Stockholm have a black, red, brown dot on India alluding that day zero is round the corner.
If we look around, we don’t really need statisticians or scientists to tell us that. On my work tours along the Ganges I saw this looming crisis. Knolls of green buried under heaps of garbage in a village in Uttarakhand is a rude realisation. Tonnes of single use plastic post a temple langer (meal) flows down hillsides replacing crystal clear water. Being a professional who understands and works on the physical environment in the India of today is a heavy responsibility. I can visualise what it can be with very little effort.
Living in Sweden for the last two years and travelling and working in India has only deepened the realisation of the gap between where we are and where we can be. Our country is slipping into crisis while we watch.
Greta Thunberg a Swedish student took to the streets in Stockholm to question how her education would help combat climate change. When we all know that a climate crisis is upon us what are we waiting for. How can we avert this crisis if we do not change our thinking and our ways. When the future is going to impact our children, our children are entitled to lead the way. Greta is one such leader in the making, a young mind that has united the Swedes. She has brought media attention to the concerns of youth around the world that we need to move beyond conversations, deliberations, publications. Greta and her young brigade around the world have underlined the need to act.
But it’s the corruption of wealth, materialism and maya that has sheathed this common sense and the political ideology or lack of it has only intensified the crisis. Being in the midst of the grand election mela in the largest democracy of the world which leaders and parties have brought the environmental crisis to the forefront? In the last few months when Gurgaon (part of Delhi National Capital Region) was ranked the most polluted city in the world, each political party was preparing and releasing their manifestos. Which manifesto stated that we need liveable cities, we need to clean up the air…fast? Which leader inspired that we need to readopt our traditional wisdom of sustainability? NONE! Literally none. Where time and energy and media coverage should have focussed on the question of our survival as a nation and people, our leaders and political parties have squandered this opportunity in favour of minor squabbles and personal vendetta.
The hierarchical nature of society and post-colonial psychology have given power to the leaders but deprived the nation of a confident and strong citizenry. Giving confidence and assurance that people indeed children and youth know best how to instinctively work with and care for their environment.
Poverty the rude reality for the majority of our nation is also a double edged sword, one which taught us to live stringently and sustainably. Today poverty spells disaster for Indian cities and citizenry with squatters and disease and survival overtaking any need to be caretakers of our environment.
Operating within our diversity, are we looking at streams that unite us? Spirituality is omnipresent in our nation threading together the different streams which we pride ourselves with. Spirituality is linked to nature in every religion, culture or context. The idea of the traditional recycling system in cities, reuse practices from our daily rituals are how we have grown up.
Now is the time to awaken this conscience. Irrespective of our professional background upbringing if there is one thing that will unite each Indians it will be the need to save their children from disease, suffering and death. Greta Thunberg’s simple message on climate change is just a young adult’s realisation of the world she is about to inherit. Many young adults in India have come to this realisation. Many are already contributing to the cause of making this difference.
Let’s begin with our cities. As a planner and landscape architect I have seen that a people’s health is resonates through their city and vice versa. That Delhi and Gurgaon are crime capitals and suffer from air pollution is no coincidence. The cities no more offer tranquillity, security, health and balance, basic needs from a habitat.
Where in the manifesto do we laud NGOs have been working hard to bring open spaces into the city where there were earlier garbage dumps. Deep stone quarries and ravaged land is being converted into urban parks. Nallahs draining storm water that were treated as garbage dumps are being reconverted into nahars and breathing spaces, pauses in a city rushing towards crisis. Young minds are innovating and inventing to reclaim spaces, clean up the environment and secure their future. Like Greta our youth are our only hope. While the politicians stage the nationwide drama of elections, I sit back and wait, patiently for the sustainability debate to come on air. It is going to be some wait. How little our survival featured in our current elections is a death knell to the current political system.
While we awaken our people to make a difference and get the train back on track, our fraternity from the professions moulding the physical environment have to come out of our comfort zones of academia, research and corporates to contribute to politics. We planners, architects, landscape architects, ecologists have a vision, a third eye which makes us see the reality that is, versus the reality that could be. Living in centre city Stockholm, a 15 minute walk from pristine nature, my third eye is sharply awakened and ready to work alongside our youth towards making this difference in urban India.