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How secularization of society has affected environment

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By Nithin Sridhar

It is well known that ‘secularism’ has become an inseparable part of any discourse on politics in India. But, what is often not realized is how the notion of ‘secularism’- the separation of the ‘secular’ from the ‘sacred’ has completely overtaken the discourse on any issue related to Indian society.

Secularism is a western notion that historically arose in response to European problems. It is not only alien to Indian society, it is highly unsuitable as it completely ignores Indian ethos that are rooted in the notion of ‘dharma’ (duty/righteousness). Hence, the secularization of Indian life and society that has been carried out in the last many decades has resulted in disastrous consequences. One such area where secularization has distorted the issue and has caused enormous damage is ecology and environment.

Indian view of Environment

The ancient Indian scriptures held environmental conservation in high priority. The Smriti texts give elaborate instructions and methods regarding maintaining personal hygiene and environmental cleanliness. They further speak about keeping the water, land, and the fire unpolluted.

Arthashastra gives elaborate information regarding construction and maintenance of water tanks. Even before the British occupation of India, one can see a huge number of water tanks and lakes across the country. Also, the breaching of tanks was severely punished. Manu Smriti says that trees have life, and the Vrikshayurveda suggests that planting a tree is equal to having ten sons.

But, these instructions regarding environmental conservation must not be perceived in isolation. The Hindu scriptures perceived the environment as a living divine force and a mother figure who should be loved, respected, and protected. The Bhoomi Sukta that appears in the Atharva Veda extols the earth with all its ecological features as a living mother, a force that permeates all the objects in nature. The Sukta further calls the humans as the sons of the mother earth.

Therefore, the Indian conception of the environment and its conservation is deeply rooted in the understanding that the trees, the animals, the air, the water, the land and every other object in nature are permeated by divinity, and hence they are all worthy of our love, respect, and preservation.

This holistic vision of the environment that was once integral to the Indian way of life has been completely distorted and destroyed by the secularization of the Indian society in the last century.

The result of secularization

The secularization of the society has distorted the discourse on the environment in two stages. First, it separated the elements like ecology, environmental pollution, and conservation from the elements of divinity and motherhood of nature, and then, it shifted the entire focus of the discourse on the previous ‘secular’ aspect while completely isolating and ignoring the latter ‘sacred’ aspect.

It is the direct result of secularization that what was previously understood as divine manifestation is now perceived as ‘lifeless objects’ and the mother nature herself is seen only as an ‘opportunity to exploit.’ Even in the case of animals or plants, where science recognizes that they do have a life, the perception is that their life is somehow inferior to human life.

Thus, the secularization has legitimized human greed that perceives humans as conquerors born to conquer and claim ownership over the objects available in nature. This has prepared the ground for complete exploitation and the eventual destruction of  the environment.

The current debate over people’s right to eat beef is one example. Illegal and uncontrolled mining and the pollution of rivers like Ganga are other examples. The point being made here is that because the environmental objects are perceived as lifeless or inferior entities and not as manifestations of divine, humans are committing huge Himsa (violence) on the environment.

The effect of secularization is such that even the religiously devout fail to perceive the environmental in an integral holistic manner. For example, though the religious people worship River Ganga as a divine Mother who removes all sins, the very same people also through plastic, soap, and other such things into the river. Similarly, factory owner’s discharge untreated industrial wastes into Ganga water, though privately they may be great devotees.

This disconnect between the faith and the action is the direct result of secularization that has created an artificial separation in the minds of the people such that, they now do not even realize that polluting the river goes against the very essence of worship.

Now coming to the cleaning and conservation activities taking place around river Ganga, many people who are involved in this view the river only as a water resource and not as a living mother. The situation is not quite different in discourses about global warming and climate change as well.

This secular conservation discourse can at best provide a temporary solution to the environmental problems. But, it does not help in changing the attitudes and perceptions of the people that drive human activities. Human activities will continue to be driven by greed and sense of ownership, as long as the element of sacredness is not recognized and made integral to the conservation discourse.

People’s growth is important, nation’s development is also important. But, such growth and development should not only take into account the environmental aspects but should also be driven by a sense of sacredness and Dharmic righteousness. Only such a progress will be progress in a real sense. The current secularized treatment of the environment will only lead to further deterioration of the environment and eventual destruction of the entire planet.

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Climate Change Not A Hoax: Trump

President Trump signed a declaration Sunday saying the federal government will, for now, pay for 100 percent of the cleanup in Florida

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Climate Change, Trump
President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. VOA

U.S. President Donald Trump is backing off his claim that climate change is a hoax.

In an interview broadcast Sunday, Trump told CBS-TV’s 60 Minutes “I think something’s happening. Something’s changing and it’ll change back again…I’m not denying climate change, but it could very well go back. You know, we’re talking about over millions of years.”

Trump has over the years called global warming a hoax and had once called it a Chinese plot aimed at wrecking the U.S. economy.

climate change
People clean up their house that was destro. yed by Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach. VOA

Trump told 60 Minutes he does not know if global waning is manmade, despite the scientific research showing that pollution and human activity is the major contributor. He said he does not want to give “trillions and trillions of dollars” and lose “millions and millions of jobs” to prevent it.

Most scientists link a warming planet with storms that are more intense. Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle last week as the strongest storm to strike the continental United States in nearly 50 years.

Trump said there have been hurricanes that were “far worse” than Michael and said scientists calling for action on climate change have a “very big political agenda.”

Meanwhile, the town of Mexico Beach, Florida was just about wiped off the face of the earth by Hurricane Michael.

“Mexico Beach is devastated,” Florida Governor Rick Scott says. “It’s like a war zone.”

Climate Change
Scenes of devastation in Mexico Beach, Florida in the aftermath for Hurricane Michael. VOA

Michael’s 250 kilometer per hour winds left only a handful of buildings standing. Concrete slabs are left where houses and stores thrived. Only a few trees are left. The main U.S. highway that goes through the town is not drivable.

Mexico Beach police chief Anthony Kelly told VOA’s Spanish Service, “When you come here and see the devastation, it’s hard, it’s emotionally hard.”

“We know each person in the majority of the houses. They know us,” Kelly said. “All these people are close to us. And now we’re going around the neighborhoods making sure that they’re not in any of these houses that are so extremely damaged.”

“Looking in the debris, seeing photos of grandkids, people that we know that have come back here year after year, that’s the emotional side,” he said. “I’ve got officers that this is their first catastrophic event, and it’s hard to explain to them, you know, it’s going to get better, because they’re seeing reality.”

The town’s medical manager, Patricia Cantwell, said, “It’s extremely sad that the devastation has been so rampant throughout the Panhandle” of the state.

“Having lived through Hurricane Andrew in south Florida (in 1992), it’s going to take a while,” she told VOA. “It’s one day at a time. It looks overwhelming to start, but, you know, one day at a time. It’s going to take years to get things back up and running.”

Climate Change
Scenes of devastation in Mexico Beach, Florida in the aftermath for Hurricane Michael.. VOA

Brock Long, the head Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the death toll in Mexico Beach could rise, as rescue workers continue to search the rubble left behind by the storm. It could take another 10 days to compile a damage estimate.

Some physical structures in the town were lifted off their moorings and moved hundreds of meters away by the winds and storm surge from the storm. Other buildings were left in masses of debris, demolished beyond recognition.

Also Read: US First Lady Melania Trump Starts The Final Leg of Her Africa Trip

President Trump signed a declaration Sunday saying the federal government will, for now, pay for 100 percent of the cleanup in Florida, temporarily easing the financial burden from the state. (VOA)