ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Environmental Consciousness on a Spectrum


The recent protests in Jharkhand by people belonging to a particular social group prompt one to critically assess the wide spectrum of the varied responses offered, from time to time, by these protesting members, together with some environmentalists and deep ecologists, as well as different marginalised social groups. It is expected that such a critical assessment of the differential responses to the environmental question would enable us to detect the incongruence in such a response as well as the perspectives often propounded by some of the environmentalists. One could thus, right in the beginning, put the argument upfront that the environmental consciousness of the protestors is not only fleeting and frustrating but also internally fragmented and hence deeply individualised. Similarly, the perspective developed and propounded by some of the ecologists is skewed, favouring unconditional environmental protection, which is ironically valid only in the absence of a reflective environmental consciousness that forces these environmentalists to pay attention to the tension between environmental protection and people’s livelihoods that are tied with reasonable extraction from nature and the practice of making cultivation of crops prior or simultaneous with replenishing environmental resources. Let us talk about the fragmentary ecological consciousness among the protesting social groups.

It could be safely argued that the protest is an embodiment of an increasingly individualising environmental and ecological consciousness that is articulated with the intention to ventilate group-specific demands. It also expresses a concern that has a bearing on particular interests, both sacred and material, that are endangered due to different governmental policies.

The protests led by particular religious and tribal groups are about protecting the sacred structures situated in the hills. Sacredness, thus, becomes coextensive with ecological sacredness, meaning ecology and environment also acquire a designated sacredness, which is attributed on account of its spiritual significance. It is in this sense that the reasons to protect the environment are mediated by spiritual/religious sacredness, which provides a ground for protest.

While such protests to protect sacred shrines and, thereby, also offer protection to the environment are vociferously vocal, it is also mute about the politics of harnessing the environment. However, they are indifferent to the tribal protests to save Malkangiri hills in Odisha from corporate invasion. They are also indifferent to the government’s policy of social forestry that give priority to plantation on the common grazing grounds that are under cultivation by Dalits and other lower castes.

The historical progression of the expression of environmental consciousness has remained particular rather than universal. It seems to have deceived itself of a historicised articulation that involves an impartial association with environmental problems that engender the interests of different social groups. In fact, the fragmentary nature of this environmental consciousness is revealed as the common good was reduced to the particular interest of a specific social, or in the present context, religious group. This is not to suggest that the protests by such social groups are only worthy of an objection.

Some of the new environmentalists with a conservative anthropological orientation would assume that moral reasoning fails in creating a universal consciousness among the people. For example, they would celebrate the developmental role of caste and religious sacredness in protecting the environment. But they are silent when the politicisation of caste and the notion of the sacred gets deployed by communal and casteist forces that seek to create a civic strife among the less vigilant or completely unvigilant people, whose life, property, and self-respect are at stake.

The corporate passion for profit expansion that leads to a mindless invasion of nature essentially seeks to eliminate the possibility of a truly aesthetic experience becoming available, in the very temporal sense of an as-yet incomplete voyage in the limitless expanse of nature. Environmental aesthetic goes for a toss once corporates try to bring nature very close to the instrumental interests of human beings. To this extent, human beings begin to lose their aesthetic experience. Human beings can develop an aesthetic experience through the poetic imagination of nature, which is unfathomable because of its wilderness. But this aesthetic sense does not form a part of the environmental consciousness of those who are currently protesting to save their sacred shrines in the hills or the forest. Thus, the environmental consciousness that is mediated through the sacred sites in the forest or the hills, though understandable from a particularly point of view, is nonetheless partial in its expression. It is partial because it does not accommodate the protests of the Adivasis, women, and the Dalits organised against the politics of environmentalism in their moral world view.



Updated On : 9th Jan, 2023
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