Pi Attitude Zone: Self-Fulfilment

India’s Environment? Who Cares?

Good news: India’s economy and national wealth have been expanding. 

Bad news: at the same time the country’s environment has been increasingly despoiled.

President Narendra Modi has publicly voiced his concern about this. Rapid population growth over fifty years has taken its toll on soil, air and water.  Air quality is bad in Indian cities, and worse in many rural areas, where cooking fires billow smoke.  Soil erosion and land degradation has damaged agriculture.  Dwindling groundwater reserves cause water shortages.  And rivers like the Ganges, sacred to Hindus, are being increasingly polluted by agricultural pesticide run-off, effluent from tanneries, chemical waste from factories and paper mills, not to mention the widely-suffered effects of inadequate human sanitation.

How do India’s citizens feel about all this?  In a word, too apathetic.  India’s culture and traditions are based on values that have little to do with a sense of obligation to nature or to shared resources.  People flout environmental rules if they feel they can get away with it, and a sense of altruism or individual responsibility is a rarity.  Everyone seems to think it’s someone else’s problem.  Rather than change behavior, the trend is to shrug and wait for the government to fix things. A sense of civic duty is not widespread among India’s rich, and the poor see altruism as irrelevant and anyway beyond their means. 

What historical or cultural conditions would account for these dismissive environmental attitudes? 

First, India’s vast and still escalating population exerts huge pressures. The country’s divisive history of caste and social stratification impedes any feeling of common cause.  Ethnic and linguistic divisions mean a ready supply of scapegoats on whom the world’s ills can be blamed.  Perhaps most of all, many of India’s religions place little importance on the here and now, promoting rather a sense of fatalism and diminished concern about “transient” problems like litter, public health and environmental damage.

Running counter to such attitudes is the concept of ‘jagaad’, meaning getting by through spontaneity and serendipitous innovation.  ‘Jagaad’ may indeed make a short-term difference.  But more permanent cultural change will only come with rising standards in housing, education, sound civic institutions and political leadership. 

Meanwhile the tide of litter and pollution continues unabated.  “Someone else will clean up the mess”.

Zone: Self-Fulfilment Country: Asia / Pacific Product –