Skip to main content

Disaster in Uttarakhand: Hindutva project? Religious tourism, dams, development

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat* 

In December last year, I visited Uttarakhand -- Rudra Prayag, Ukhimath and Agatsymuni -- and returned via the Devprayag-Rishikesh route to Delhi. The scene was painful, to say the least. Mountains were being grilled and drilled. It was completely devastating. Everyone wants safer roads, but we have to also respect the environmental issues of the region.
Every 5-10 kilometre, we saw dumping of the muck in the beautiful rivers which are so fascinating and beautiful. Why do we allow this muck to be flown into the rivers? Nobody would justify the mindless 'development' which is imposed by some 'experts' in Delhi or Dehradun.
Uttarakhand's mountains are definitely beautiful, though fragile. This land has been spiritual, too, but the last five-six years have seen the growth of lousy-loudly religious tourism with scant respect for environment as well as local traditions. Religious tourism being encouraged by the current regime is for its 'grand Hindutva' project.
Uttarakhand was not so well known as a hill-state, though it has a very vibrant and open food culture. People are religious, but their religion is confined to their faith. They do not bear hatred towards others. They are accustomed to their own traditional lifestyle, with a proud feeling of being Uttarakhandi.
Indeed, rivers and mountains of Uttarakhand offer a spiritual look. They are so beautiful that one wishes to just sit and feel the power of their 'energy'. Do we need luxurious cottages and roads to enjoy the tranquility of the hills? I am not suggesting that people traveling to the state should face difficulties. But beautiful places cannot be 'picnic' spots where you come, throw the garbage and return to your home.
Religious tourism has not helped the tourism sector in the hills, as most of those who come here in groups have least respect for the environment. In fact, they don't want to enjoy the local delicacies offered by the state’s environment even for a day; they just want to have 'homelike' stuff. This has resulted in construction of unplanned many 'dharmshalas' owned by people from outside the state, and mushrooming of Vaishnavite and Punjabi dhabas.
Religious tourists rarely ask questions about environmental degradation. Ecological disasters are set aside as God's wrath, and the focus is more on the need for better, brave rescue operations. After some time, everything is forgotten. Only claims continue to be made about 'capable' handling of a crisis. The question is: Why should we allow such a crisis to happen?
They don't want to enjoy local delicacies offered by the state’s environment even for a day; they just want to have 'homelike' stuff
Numerous dams that are coming up on various rivers of Uttarakhand, particularly Alaknanda and Mandikini, are just destroying the ecosystem. The dams are meant to “control” the natural flow of supremely pristine rivers. One should be fortunate to have seen and felt the beauty of these rivers, which are a spiritual strength. The civilisation in the Himalayan valley is dependent on these rivers.
Uttarakhand is spiritual. However, here religiosity is not as visible to the public as one witnesses in UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, Gujarat etc. Even a place like Rishikesh is different from Varanasi, where people throng to wipe off their 'sins'. The crowd in various ashrams in Muni Ki Reti in Uttarakhand used to be more interested in spiritual discourse rather than noisy Bollywood bhajans played in other parts of North India.
But all that is slowly changing, because of the project Hindutva has reached the upper part of Uttarakhand, and through this, the greedy contractors, who want to profiteer from the rich civilisational source, want to use local 'resources', whether they be water or minerals.
If the roads were being widened, where was the need for a train project? Traveling from Rudra Prayag to Agastyamuni-Ukhimath, which is basically the valley of river Mandakini, it was an absolute disaster. The beautiful river is being killed. I remembered those fought against this mindless and insensitive development, but they were sought be turned into villains. Despite the 2013 disaster no lessons were learned. Mushrooming of hotels and restaurants, rafting etc. continued to increase, while the biggest threat came from the numerous dams being built in the state.
What is the message from Reni village? It is a historic village where Gaura Devi founded the Chipko movement. She fought the battle to protect the forests here from going into the hands of petty contractors in 1974. Gaura Devi died as an isolated woman in 1991, but people are now realising how true she was. In 2019, the villagers of Reni filed a petition against the Rishi Ganga Power Project, but it was rejected by the Uttarakhand High Court.
Reports are coming in about how merciless these power projects are. Contractors have been drilling mountains and killing the river. The Supreme Court too allowed these mindless projects to continue even when various expert committees have indicated that it is highly risky to have big dam projects in Uttarakhand. What is the use of scientific opinion if the government is bent upon rejecting it?
When I saw the highway from Rishikesh to Dev Prayag, it deeply saddened me. Ganga looks stunning at various locations here. The mountains are being killed, and the muck is being dumped in the beautiful river. This way, the whole civilisation is being destroyed. Indeed, without these beautiful rivers and mountains, Uttarakhand means nothing. It is these mountains that fascinate. They make us proud to be called Pahadi.
But I don't think our rulers will ever learn a lesson, because to them rivers, mountains, gods and goddesses -- everything has turned into a money minting machine. It is time for the government to seriously think over. There is an urgent need to protect mountains and rivers of Uttarakhand, as they are our biggest identity and asset. They are our civilisation. There is a need to stop mindless 'construction' in the name of 'development'.
---
*Human rights defender

Comments

Dr A K Biswas said…
I read the article which actually convinces me to have flown from the depth of heart of the writer who deserves appreciation a lot for ably portraying the all relevant issues involved in the disaster which struck theHimalaya.

The tragedy under the umbrella of developmet might have been inspired by instinct of making money by powerful lobby of contractors and builders. The price being made to pay is very high and deplorable.
This tragedy must be a lesson to all concerned. The balance of nature must not be disturbed.

TRENDING

Tracing roots of Hindutva Zionism: cannon fodder for 'warped' nationalist pretensions

By Shamsul Islam*  Those who believe in a world free of hegemonic ethno-nationalism, racism, religious bigotry and hatred have rightly taken note of Zionism and its ally Christian Zionism, major perpetrators of ethnic cleansing of ‘Others’. However, the civilized world with its core belief in multi-culturalism and peaceful co-existence is oblivious to a no less dangerous threat to the present human civilization: the Hindutva Zionism. As the term reads it is part of the Hindutva world-view which stands for an exclusive Hindu India minus Muslims and Christians. The other religions like Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism will have no independent status but treated as part of Hinduism. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS; National Volunteer Organization) is the most prominent flag-bearer of the Hindutva politics whose cadres presently rule India, the largest democracy in the world. RSS was founded by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar (1889-1940) in 1925 who was disillusioned with the Indian freedom st

'Blatant violation' of law by Central government in making NREGA payments

By Our Representative  In September third week, NREGA workers across the country were mobilised for two day so raise their issues and submit a memorandum to the Prime Minister. Organised the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha (NSM), a collective of groups that work with NREGA labourers across the country, workers from 13 states -- Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal -- carried out Kaam Do Abhiyaan, staging demonstrations and rallies against what they called blatant violation of law by the Central government in making NREGA payments. While NREGA has had very positive impacts, it has lately become fruitless, exploiting labour, even though workers who have put in honest hard work have to wait for their wages endlessly, it was suggested.  In such a situation, there is a need to firm up NREGA implementation and end systematic corruption to ensure that workers get their basic NREGA entit

Shocking? No Covid vaccine trials conducted on pregnant, lactating women: RTI reply

By Rosamma Thomas*  A Right to Information applicant who sought details of safety trials conducted in India on pregnant and lactating women for three Covid vaccines in use in India – Covishield, Covaxin and ZyCov-D -- was shocked to learn from the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) that Serum Institute, manufacturer of Covishield, and Cadila Healthcare, manufacturer of the ZyCov-D vaccine, had not sought permission for such trials.  Bharat Biotech, manufacturer of Covaxin, had sought permission for trial on pregnant women and later withdrawn its application. This response , provided after the applicant was initially unsatisfied with the response and went in appeal, is from the joint drugs controller, CDSCO. It was dated September 13, 2022. One researcher closely following the vaccine rollout, however, is of the opinion that the lack of a trial on pregnant and lactating women is a blessing; potential trial participants and their unborn babies thus escaped harm. Aruna Ro

Fascism on prowl? Religious meet 'deeply pained' at silence of Church, bishops, priests

Counterview Desk  The ‘Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace’which held its 17th National Convention at the Montfort Social Institute, Hyderabad, Telangana from 22 to 24 September 2022 on the theme “Deepening our Identity as Religious: Responding to the Signs of the Times”, has expressed concern “at the deteriorating situation of our nation on every front”, especially stating, “Fascism seems to have come to stay” in India. At the same time, the convention, which took place with the participation of 60 persons from 16 states representing 20 religious congregations, in its unanimously-adopted statement added, “We have reached abysmal depths on every parameter: be it social, economic and political”, underlining, “The poor in India become poorer every day; the rich and powerful continue to profiteer at their expense and amass scandalous amounts of wealth.” Text: We, members (63 women and men Religious, from 16 states representing 20 Congregations) of the Forum of Religious for Justice

Rajasthan cops 'halt' Gujarat Dalit women's rally: homage to untouchability victim boy

By Our Representative  In a surprise move, the Rajasthan police stopped a Dalit women's rally from Gujarat on the borders after it crossed Gujarat alleging that it would "disturb peace" in village Surana, Jalore district, where the gruesome incident of death of a Dalit boy took place on August 13 after he was brutally beaten up by his teacher on touching the drinking water pot. Sources said, while the Gujarat government had "no objection" in allowing the rally, which originated from the Dalit Shakti Kendra (DSK), an empowerment-cut-technical institute for teens founded by human rights leader Martin Macwan, on September 24 morning, the Rajasthan police stopped it for two and a half hours before allowing it to proceed to Surana. The decision to take out a women's rally was taken at a DSK meeting on September 5 following a condolence meeting of the NGO Navsarjan Trust, also founded by Macwan, activists committed to work against caste-based discrimination, orga

Introducing non-native cheetahs is 'not equivalent' to restoring pride in the nation

By Bappaditya Mukhopadhyay*  The Cheetahs from the African continent has finally been introduced to India by the Indian Prime Minister on his 72nd birthday. The process had started with the previous Government in 2009. However, the Supreme Court clearance was pending owing to the objection by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) plea to reintroduce cheetahs. Finally the clearance was obtained in January 2020 and thereafter Kuno National Park (KNP) was chosen for the reintroduction of first set of Southeast African Cheetahs. In the near future, depending upon the success story of the current reintroduction, more cheetahs from South Africa may also be introduced. This exercise has generated a lot of interest among various stakeholders with opinions on both sides galore. It is important to pose some questions that surround the whole exercise. Let us evaluate some of these arguments. The first set of arguments are quite detached from the issues of conservation as they most

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

'Military diplomacy': US praises Bangladesh Army for leadership role in UN operations

By Kamal Uddin Mazumder* As the Indo-Pacific region represents the world’s economic and strategic center of gravity, the Indian Ocean today is becoming the centerpiece of all geo-strategic play. Cooperation in the region is crucial to implementing the international community’s global agenda, including achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Major powers like the US have enhanced and deepened their strategic engagement and leadership roles with countries in the region. The Indo-Pacific Army Management Seminar, or IPAMS, is a U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) initiated conference that is aimed at facilitating and enhancing interactions among the armies of the Indo-Pacific region. This year's 46th Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar (IPAMS)-2022, co-hosted by the Bangladesh Army and US Army Pacific (USARPAC), concluded in Dhaka. The objective of IPAMS is to promote peace and stability in the region through mutual understanding, dialogue, and friendship. It is the largest confer

Grave error? Scholar blames ex-Gujarat babu for anti-Christian riots 'citing fake report'

By Rajiv Shah  A few days back, I received a message from one of the finest former Gujarat government bureaucrats, PG Ramrakhiani, a 1964 batch IAS official, who retired in November 2000. I would often interact with him in 1997-99, even later, after I was sent to Gandhinagar as a Times of India man to cover Sachivalaya. Those were turbulent times. Shankarsinh Vaghela was the Gujarat chief minister, under attack from two sides – from the BJP, which he had left to form a separate breakaway party, Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP), one one hand, and the Congress, which was supporting him from outside, on the other. Ramrakhiani, in his message, referred to the book authored by Ghanshyam Shah and Jan Breman, both top-notch scholars who have known Gujarat in and out. Called “Gujarat, Cradle and Harbinger of Identity Politics: India’s Injurious Frame of Communalism”, I reviewed the book in January 2022.  It claims that Muslims in Gujarat have been turned into “new untouchables”, thanks to the Hin

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.