by Remigius de Souza
THE HABITAT OF MAN has taken several forms through time and places. Villages, towns, cities, squatters, slums, suburban colonies, tribal settlements, metropolis, shelters in cold mountain regions, oasis, igloos shelters in boats at lakeside, riverside, seaside, shelter under bridges, squatters on river banks which get washed off again and again...
Natural habitat is not house alone to live – work –grow – learn... but it also includes its neighbourhood, land and water, landscape and air, the other inhabitants of its surroundings – insects – birds – animals – plants, the day and the night, changing seasons, and the five Elements – Earth, Water, Light (and Heat), Air and Space that we are composed of – praised by Vedas.
With all advances of science at hand, natural habitat instead of harnessing its qualities and life has come under several assaults. At the turn of the last century with scientific inventions, man believed that he obtained the key to the Mystery of Nature. Scientific inventions were employed for mass production and industrialization. Industrialization was not limited to textiles alone; it moved in every possible direction - weapons of warfare, education, agriculture and food, medicine and pesticides, insecticides, water management, housing, communications, transport, entertainment etc. It employed every possible raw material: air, land, stone, water, hill, trees, minerals, animals, industrial waste and industrial by-products. Yet every new scientific invention proved previous invention inadequate. The Mystery of Nature continued to deepen.
The present (20th) century has shown that industrialization has assaulted not only nature and natural resources but also human resources preserved through centuries by tribal and other societies throughout the world without exception – without restraint – the process, which started in the earlier century or two. The last such assault was on Tibetan society. This had preserved through centuries a unique form of living in harmony with nature on a religious (Dharma) base. The natural conditions too are unique here. The assault on Tibetan society was a result of industrialization as much as Marxism; Existentialism etc. were by-products of industrialization. Assault on natural resources was as much a result of industrialization as metropolitan cities are its by-products.
On the one side, industry supported by science goes on degenerating the life of man, animal and plants – all living beings – by polluting economy, ecology, environment, regional and social balance, and exploiting natural resources. And on the other side it goes on developing new medicines, pesticides, insecticides, water supply systems etc to save and serve life, developing so-called lifesaving drugs and machinery to save life which has made not only natural living impossible but even natural dying impossible, the sole purpose of which is profit-making – business. The sole purpose of industry is profit-making out of everything under the sun possible for a person, or a group of persons called a company or a corporation or even a state, tentacles of which reach far beyond social, regional, religious, national frontiers – even beyond global frontiers.
The resources of the globe are being employed – capitalized – for preservation of industry to produce and multiply – for which new disciplines are being invented such as management, specializations etc. to “reduce time, increase speed and more work (output)” to “produce more”. This required streamlined operations – division of labour – standardization – automation – specialization – regimentation – centralization.
Amongst human settlements, city form in the shape of metropolis in the present time is an assault on natural habitat, which could be compared with the effect of nuclear explosion but without Bang. The effect is not instantaneous. In spite of all the advances at hand in technology, communications, transport and sciences, the city – the symbol of feudal power –
has continued to grow. The city in the form of metropolis is not only an assault on nature but also an assault on man himself, and is the enemy of democracy. City form is no more valid except as a means to serve the vested interest of a person or a group of persons in power – enormous centralization of power – whether the city is in the West or the East. The larger the city, the larger are its evils, hazards, crimes, wastes, chaos; the larger are its capacity to exploit; the larger its capacity to pollute and to destroy nature through its tentacles. There is no better comment on this phenomenon than the movie "Modern Times", made by Charlie Chaplin decades ago.
In India we still crave for such a "progress" which is misplaced, outdated, obsolete and at times criminal. The Indian village was unmindful of its exploitation for a century and half or two, and still retains some of its qualities. The progress and development that caused the exploitation was not its own choice. In commercial terms, the Indian village is called the "untapped rural market" of India. The rural population is migrating at a massive rate at the very step – at the feet of the "market seeker" – not just to the city of Bombay but to every town and city in the country. The villager who was a farmer with dignity is now being reduced to a market commodity. His settlement in the city is identified by the term "slum", meaning that it is illegal, unauthorized, and if the town is small, the slum is not identified in the Census Survey of India.
There are several offshoots of "development" which influence /affect villages. Some of them are the education system, government organisations (GOs) and non-government organizations (NGOs). The numbers of non-government organizations have increased over the last two or three decades. Earlier there were missionaries who came to India. All these have noble intentions for the welfare of the village and to pamper their own sense of superiority. Their orientations are urban (or western / westernized). Their roots are urban. All these (perhaps with some exceptions) fail to see and learn from Indian village; instead they try to inject urban concepts imported from the West. Some exhibited occasionally (like Jawaharlal Nehru) by wearing the turban or traditional shawl and dance with the villagers to camouflage the real difference. In reality GOs and NGOs survive at the cost of the village. India still has the opportunity with 5.6 lakhs villages to save natural habitat and reverse the process of its destructions.
(This paper was presented at the "Conference on Natural Living" hosted by Prakrati – an NGO – at Bordi in Maharashtra, and published by the "FOURTH WORLD REVIEW", Number Forty Nine in 1992.)
PS: After about two decades I feel this note, unfortunately, is still valid, by worsening the environmental conditions on the Earth and its Sphere.
© Remigius de Souza., all rights reserved.