The St. Valentine equilibrium
There are the red hearts, candies, roses and romance. There is a global festival which consumer goods peddling multi-national companies have turned into a gift carnival. There is opposition to the day for reasons of culture, morality and ideology. Then, there is also the genuine expression of love. But what is love actually? Can the object of love only be a person? What about the love for nature, or humanity, or technology?
The story goes something like this. It is said that Valentinus was a Roman priest during the time of the Emperor Claudius II. Claudius forbade marriages because his army needed a large number of soldiers. Valentinus started to get people married secretly. He was put in jail but had a discussion with the jailer, who told him that if he could heal his blind daughter, he would convert to Christianity. Valentinus performed this miracle and thus the jailer and all his men converted. When the emperor came to know of this, he was angered and ordered the killing of Valentinus. Before he was killed, he sent a farewell letter to the jailer’s daughter, whose sight he had restored, asking her to be his “Valentine”. Thus, started the tradition of St. Valentine.
As you can see, there are several themes in this story and we can connect all of them to our times and the environment. The monogamy in the story can be imagined to stand for balance and equilibrium, between licentious consumption and stifling austerity. We must enjoy nature and all its gifts but not in ways which destroy their natural process of rejuvenation. In the same way, the allegory of making somebody, to whom you have gifted the power of sight, as your Valentine can be interpreted as bestowing knowledge—the highest form of love.
This month, we bring you some wonderful and inspirational stories of people so passionate about nature, people, science and making the world a better place that their passion can only be described as love.
What is the nature of the relationship between the forests and people who live close to or inside a forest?
Is it only about exploitation and extraction of resources or is there a deeper connection? Love, even? The main demand of the Chipko movement was that the benefits of the forests (especially the right to fodder) should go to local people and not to government appointed contractors who were axing the trees on the mountainside. Sundarlal Bahuguna, one of the main leaders of the movement, enlightened the villagers by conveying the importance of trees which check the erosion of soil, cause rains and provide breathable air. The women of Advani village of Tehri-Garhwal tied a sacred thread around the trunks of trees and then hugged the trees, hence it was called ‘Chipko movement’ or ‘hug the tree movement’. The movement gathered momentum in 1978 when the women faced police firings and other tortures. The then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna, set up a committee to look into the matter. The committee eventually ruled in favour of the villagers. This became a turning point in the history of eco-development struggles in the region and around the world. The image of women hugging the trees as if they were their lovers has stayed with us as an unmistakable gift from the movement.
Jungle Bachao Andolan
We love a person or a thing for what it is, not for what it might become and the profit it might bring us. In the early 1980s, when the government decided to replace the natural sal forests in the Singhbhum district of Bihar with the highly-priced teak, the adivasis opposed the move. They had lived and loved sal for generations and were not willing to give it up just because some other tree might bring them more money. Many dubbed the movement as ‘Greed Game Political Populism’. The movement later spread to Jharkhand and Odisha.
Silent Valley movement
Love is being comfortable in mutual silence. A visit to the aptly named Silent Valley can affirm this. As you take in the beautiful greenery and the almost audible silence without a word, you feel that the valley is also appreciating your silence. In February 1973, the Planning Commission approved a Rs 25 crore Kerala State Electricity Board project to build a hydroelectricity dam across the Kunthipuzha River that runs through the Silent Valley. Many feared that the project would submerge 8.3 sq. km of untouched moist evergreen forest. Several NGOs strongly opposed the project and urged the government to abandon it. In January 1981, bowing to unrelenting public pressure, Indira Gandhi declared that Silent Valley will be protected. In June 1983, the government re-examined the issue through a commission chaired by Prof. MGK Menon. In November 1983, the Silent Valley Hydroelectric Project was called off. In 1985, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi formally inaugurated the Silent Valley National Park. It is because of the movemnt that we can continue to love the valley silently.
Love repeats itself. The architecture of one love story does not differ much from the next. In 1983, the forest department and the people in Karnataka repeated the same story as the Chipko movement in what came to be known as Appiko movement. The movement was locally known as ‘appiko chaluvali'. The locals embraced the trees which were to be felled by contractors of the forest department. In addition, the Appiko movement used many techniques to raise awareness, like foot marches in the interior of the forest, slideshows, folk dances, street plays, etc., along with promoting afforestation on denuded lands. The movement later focused on the rational use of ecosphere through introducing alternative energy sources to reduce pressure on the forest. The movement became a success. The forest continued to breathe and people continued to live in the sweet, fragrant arms of the forest.
Narmada Bachao Andolan
True love cannot be bought with offers of replacement. The love of land of one’s birth is one such love. The Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) started as a protest against improper rehabilitation and resettlement of people being displaced by the construction of Sardar Sarovar Dam. But, soon, the movement turned to the crux of the matter and started focussing on the preservation of the environment and the ecosystems of the valley. Activists demanded the height of the dam to be reduced to 88m from the proposed height of 130m. World Bank had to withdraw from the project. The environmental issue was taken into the Supreme Court. In October 2000, the Court gave a judgment approving the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam with a condition that height of the dam could be raised to 90m. This height was higher than the 88m which the anti-dam activists demanded, but definitely lower than the proposed height of 130m.
Love is also unconditional and does not necessarily end in success. But it always sets an example for others to emulate. Although the NBA was not successful, it has created a huge anti-big dam movement not only in India but the world over. The love of those living in the Narmada Valley shines like a guiding light for nature lovers all over the world.
Tehri Dam conflict
Sometimes, loves passes on without even getting due recognition. But that takes nothing away from it. What matters is the sincerity of feelings and efforts. The Tehri Dam attracted national attention in the 1980s and the 1990s. Sundarlal Bahuguna again led the movement. The major objections included seismic sensitivity in the region, submergence of forest areas along with Tehri town, etc. But despite prominent leadership and popular local sentiment, the movement could not gain wider support and was a case of failure in love.
If you think even for a moment that these environmental love stories are new to India, you are wrong. Back in the 18th century, Amrita Devi, a female villager in Rajasthan could not bear to witness the destruction of both her faith and the village’s sacred trees. She hugged the trees and encouraged others to do the same. 363 Bishnoi villagers were killed in this movement. The Bishnoi tree martyrs were influenced by the teachings of Guru Maharaj Jambaji, who founded the Bishnoi faith in 1485 and set forth principles forbidding harm to trees and animals. The king who came to know about these events rushed to the village and apologized, ordering the soldiers to cease logging operations. Soon afterwards, the maharajah designated the Bishnoi state as a protected area, forbidding harm to trees and animals. This legislation still exists today in the region. It only confirmed what we knew all along, love triumphs all.
Do you have an environmental love story to share? Send it to us.