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To Do, Or Not To Do?

How can a country of one billion people be so ignorant of their potential power?

Location: Bombay, 6am in the morning. The places is brimming with wannabe health freaks, stretching, jogging and pretending to exercise in that sultry heat. None of them seem to mind the fact that they are doing this amidst thousands of bright colourful Indian plastic bags strewn periodically over the whole sandy beach as far as the eye can see. A cow here, a dingy looking dog there and a few dozen plastic bottles scattered, combined with a lonely sandal every ten feet or so. The sun was just raising orange above the horizon and the waves calmly washing in and out, spitting out the one or other plastic junk only to swallow it back in again. I stood there feeling a sense of utter helplessness, irritated at the waves for being so calm, frustrated at the people for their obliviousness and plain indifference, and deeply distressed by my own sense of accountability. I stood there with a feeling annoyed at my own despair, feeling utterly liable for the picture in front of me. “Forget it, it’s not your problem,” said something. Precisely what the rest of the 1.1 billion here say to themselves and walk away, not anticipating that it IS their problem and their children’s children problem.

Where do I start cleaning even if I wanted to? So my question is simple: Why can’t they change it?  They have tried, with limited help from the government – they tried combined efforts to environmentally sanctify Orrisa and Bandipur. But in the end the bureaucracy chokes it up. It chokes most things up, especially in this country. Technically, even if a third of the population in Bombay joined hands, they would clean up their beach in less than a day. But they don’t. And they probably won’t. And even if they did, how long would it remain that clean? I’m not in a position to judge; there is that lady who makes a living out of selling fried peanuts at the beach, and kids that run around selling samosas even though they should be at school. She is probably more anxious about how to feed her four children tomorrow more than the environmental impact of plastic sacks on beaches, and here I am shamelessly wearing my (non-existent) Prada shoes (Come on! I’m a student!). So how can I impugn the people who are uneducated about the consequences of their actions in the first place? 

Hmm. So I end up deriving the answer to my own question that undoubtedly so many minds before me have concluded as well. Education. But then why are we still suspended in the same situation? Or are we? Blame it on the vicious cycle. Metropolitan cities of India like Delhi, Bangalore, Bombay, Madras and the whole of India in general is embracing it’s almost exponential economic growth, zealously diving into the 21st century, ready to compete with China and the rest of the consumer-generation countries, who are forever driven by profit-seeking motives. (I’m not even trying to denying it, money makes the world go round – but only when the last rainforest rots away, when the last lake is dry, when the last fish is gone will they realize you can’t eat money.) But socially and environmentally, we are way behind schedule. So how exactly do you change the minds and attitude of 1.1 billion people?  I get the impression of a needle in a haystack just thinking about it.

Fine, let’s narrow it down a bit. Considering that 68.8 % of the population is literate and 35% are under the poverty line. I’ll let you do the math. How do we change the social attitude of 6 million people towards their environment? So once we get that done we can actually get start on confronting environmental issues, cause let’s face it, this is not going to work with out their interest, investment and involvement. Let’s get to work; It’s only going to take a few generations at the most.

Nivedita Rengarajan

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