Climate Change in India

On a hot day in late July, I sat at home near the window expecting rains brought in by the South-West monsoon to Northern India. That day, the temperature was going off the roof. My mother told me that it didn’t use to be like this back in the 1980s. The monsoon was timely and brought much needed relief for all- the city dwellers, farmers, industries etc.. While day dreaming of those days, I was sweating profoundly. So, I simply turned on the air-conditioning and continued with my work.

The next day, the headlines shook me to the core. The heatwaves in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh alone had resulted in the death of seven people. Despite scorching heat, the poor cannot refuse to go to work because they have a family to feed. Sadly, their good intentions prove fatal for them. Ironically, the ones that contribute the least towards global warming, are the first ones to bear its brunt. Similarly, in winters, the erratic patterns of western disturbances prolongs the snowfall and cold weather. It results in the death of the urban dwellers who are forced to sleep on the roads, this time, due to the cold weather.

Climate change is an effect of our behaviour here on Earth. An effect of our consumption of what we buy. Of how we travel and how we use our planet’s resources. Unfortunately, we don’t use them efficiently. We are very, very wasteful. And the direct product of our ways is our carbon footprint. The more we consume and the more irresponsibly we consume, the more carbon dioxide we produce. We have already faced disasters like cyclones, floods, land-slides etc due to India’s geographical location. Their intensity, however, has drastically increased due to climate change.

The urban centres which are seen as the growth poles, are hit hard by a warmer climate. Cities have grown, often without planning, stamping over waterbodies and stretching wherever they can. Air pollution and the land-use change result in the urban heat island phenomenon. Chennai floods are a case in point. The city came under seige in December 2015 when it received more than 290mm of rain in 24 hours. The wetlands and drainage were all clogged due to encrochment leading to the upheaval.

Recently, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development’s (ICIMOD) “Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment” revealed that more than one-third of the glaciers in the region could retreat by 2100, even if the global climate rise is capped at 1.5 degrees Celsius. Melting glaciers will increase river flow, pushing the risk of high-altitude lakes burst causing floods and subsequent sea-level rise. It puts 14.2% of our population staying at coasts at risk.

Nature’s fury hits the North- Eastern states during every monsoon. This year, the number of affected people was nearly 88,000 in 10 districts in Assam. The threat of epidemics like Malaria, Dengue looms large. Kids miss out on schools. The post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety at losing one’s home grips the people. A sense of despair and panic is seen. The biodiversity is profoundly impacted. We saw the heartbreaking news of 2,400 rhinos fleeing for their lives in Kaziranga National Park.

A little west of Assam lie the great Sunderbans, home to rare species in West Bengal. It is under severe strain due to climate change. The increased inflow of freshwater from the Himalayan glaciers is disturbing the fine balance of this sensitive ecotone, putting the threatened species at a risk of extinction. Similarly, the coral reefs which prevail under extreme niche conditions is increasing getting bleached. The entire ecosystem, which is called a marine rainforest, is under existential crisis.

While some parts of the country reel under floods, others are facing drought-like conditions. It is like death by a thousand paper cuts. With increasing over-exploitation of groundwater, it seems people are ‘mining for water’. It is common to see reports stating that by 2020, Delhi and Bengaluru will face severe water crisis. Albert Einstein had predicted that the third world war will be for water. It seems to be coming true. The community clashes will increase and social unrest will peak in India.

In rural areas, the social evil of child marriage will see a higher prevalence as people try to hoard women at an early age to collect water. These are called the ‘paani-wali bais’. A study by Sekhri and Storeygard looked at data from 500 districts in India over the past decade, found that whenever rains fall, dowry deaths in the particular district rise by 8%. This is because the groom’s family sees killing of the wife and marrying a fresh wife as a means of bringing new income. Thus, a warming climate poses many risks to this vulnerable group.

Half of India lives and works on its farm. They are extremely vulnerable to climate change because to this day, 55% farm lands are rain-fed. The El-Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) during 2014-16 has resulted in the death of over 12,000 farmers suicides since. This shows how utterly hopeless Indian farmers, often lauded as our ‘Ann Data’, feel. No government insurance policy talks of climate change-related extreme events.

Only those with no other choice should pursue farming, farmers say. This can be backed with statistical evidence from the Economic Survey 2017-18 which stated that extreme weather conditions and droughts reduce farmers income to the tune of 4%-14% and thus, results in rural to urban migration. We frequently see new articles on rallies organised by farmers organisation asking for more government support. Also, climate change has pushed earlier well-off communities like Jats to ask for resrvations.

India lost $80 billions due to disasters in last 20 years, says a UN report. It further mentioned that India is among the top five countries in the world when ranked for disaster vulnerability. Keeping this imminent challenge in mind, the government of India as well as the states had opted for a unified approach to climate change, the greatest disruptor of our times.

National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) and its states counterparts were launched in 2008 to deal with climate change. The clean energy cess was introduced for funding research projects in clean energy technologies. Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAMPA) was formed to ensure expeditious utilization of amounts released in lieu of forest land diverted for non-forest purpose.

According to Climate Action Tracker, India has emerged as a global leader in renewable energy, with investments in renewable energy topping fossil fuel investments. After adopting its National Electricity Plan (NEP) in 2018, India remains on track to overachieve its 2°C compatible rated Paris Agreement NDC (Nationally Determined) climate action targets. Estimates show India could achieve the more ambitious part of its NDC —a 40% non-fossil-based power capacity by 2030 more than a decade earlier than targeted.

Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra group, has called climate change ‘the next century’s biggest financial and business opportunity’. This is a call for all start-ups to grab this opportunity. We can see climate warriors from the fields of Punjab and thriving eco start-ups in Bengaluru to a forest guardian in Assam and the johns of Rajasthan, have employed ingenuity and initiative to adapt to the changing conditions and sometimes reverse their shattering effects.

Despite all these measures, commitments, and innovation, the war on climate change has failed to resonate among the Indians. We don’t see breaking news or enough time given by news channels to this global issue of climate change. I don’t hear politicians discussing it with enough seriousness or intellectuals bringing in the much-needed spotlight on the biggest challenge of our century. We continue to talk about economy and GDP as if the climate change time bomb isn’t ticking. As if our very own survival isn’t at stake!

Sure, quality education is majorly lacking in our country which is a roadblock in our fight against climate change. Moving beyond this, we have failed at a foundational level. I don’t see civic nationalism in India. We have developed a bad habit of blaming everything on our political leaders, conveniently forgetting that we are a part of this country. Each and every citizen must owe upto his/her responsibility.

There is absolutely no denying that India must grow and that till the end of our 1.31 billion population, each has the right to develop. Our journey to attain our final goals under the Constitution must be fine tuned to sync with environment conservation. These two are not mutually exclusive. In this context, the Supreme Court of India rightly stated that the health of the environment is key to preserving the right of life under Article 21. And onlt then, we will successfully be able to create India of our dreams.

We must remember our culture which talks of preserving the environment. The Hindu Mythology talks of ‘Rita’ which means balance. We together need to tread the path ro restore the ‘Rita’ of Earth. We must re-connected with our inner self and see the world feelingly.

‘On this Earth do I stand, Unvanquished, unslain, unhurt.

Set me, O Earth, amidst the nourishing strength

That emanates from thy body.

The Earth is my mother, her child am I!’

– Atharva Veda

What fundamental economic and political change, if any, is needed for an effective response to climate change?

The Garden of Earthly Delights, a triptych oil painting by Hieronymus Bosch tells an astonishing story. The first panel of the painting shows Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The second panel is where deadly sins start to infuse the painting with overpopulation, debauchery and excess. The last panel is the most nightmarish one with this degraded, burnt landscape. A paradise has been decayed and destroyed. 

As depicted in the second panel of the painting, greed has taken over human conscience. Indulgence in materialistic pursuits has led to wanton destruction of natural resources, totally ignoring the disastrous consequences that follow. The sensitive man-nature link has been mercilessly disrupted.

Greenland and Arctic are witnessing the rapid disappearance of ancient glaciers. Jakarta is sinking due to sea-level rise. The El-Nino Southern Oscillation negatively impacts the monsoon of India, which is an agrarian economy. The intensity of natural disasters like cyclones has increased. Survival threat looms large on small- island nations like Maldives and Kiribati. Species extinction and coral bleaching have exponentially escalated. 

Power elites, comprising the major business corporations and the federal government promote the green eternal economic growth. They want to move forward with the same bad ideas which got us into this mess. However, the sensible thing to do is to pull the emergency brakes. The young environmental activist Greta Thunberg said “if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, then, maybe we should change the system itself. The real power lies with the people.” And so, we cannot allow ‘business as usual’ in our economic and political systems.

When we, the people, will care, the power elites will also begin to care. Hence, the first fundamental change needed is to re-define the way we talk of climate change that is conducive for engagement. Despite five decades of international conferences and agreements about climate change, IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change) report says we are still on our way to a 1.5° Celsius rise in global temperature by 2030. Yet, the Montreal Protocol about Ozone hole protection was successful because it was made easy for the world population to visualise and understand it.

In the past, we had successfully de-linked sulphur from our economic growth. It is time to do the same with carbon for an effective response to climate change. We need to sway the capitalists to invest in renewable energy and also, opt for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). The government must impose a carbon tax to ensure ‘fossil fuels remain in-ground’. We cannot let the power elites to manipulate the policies that affect our future. 

Mahatma Gandhi rightly stated that- ” Earth provides enough for everyone’s needs, not for anyone’s greed.” In our capitalist economies, advertisements create false needs. They sell lifestyles implying that brands conform to a higher social status. Such things don’t necessarily add value to our lives. The ‘fast fashion industry’ is one of the most polluting in the world because unsustainable fabrics are used. Also, the ‘throwaway culture’ leads to millions of tonnes of clothes ending up in landfills. The economic behavioural change needed is to ‘buy once and buy well’ and not fall in the ploy of social media hashtag trends.

We must realise how our seemingly minor decisions at a clothing store or a supermarket make a difference for the planet. And so, our actions must align with our values. Similarly, industrialised animal agriculture is another major source of environmental destruction. According to various reports, it is responsible for 18% of Greenhouse Gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from transportation. It is the leading cause of ocean dead zones and land desertification.

Think tanks and front groups funded by corporate interests are lobbying and working with politicians to cover up this issue of lifestyle consumption. Noam Chomsky calls it ‘profit over people’. And so far, they have succeeded as the global population continues to be unaware of this. A vegan diet can counter such disastrous consequences. A democratised media can go a long way in bringing the desired climate consensus. Ban on lobbying on such crucial facets is an effective political response to climate change.

The political leadership in most of the developed countries, which can act as role models, consider climate change a hoax, a figment of the imagination. They constantly refute scientific evidence. Such claims divide the public and propagate hatred and fear financed by the power elites. Thus, people in democracies must elect leaders who are serious about ensuring our civilisation’s survival. This is another effective political response to climate change. 

At the UNFCCC COP-21 in Paris, 2015, the earlier accepted clause of ‘Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR)’ was removed. It means that no historic responsibility was taken up by the Global North, particularly the USA to honour their natural debt. Rich nations need to cut down their GHGs emissions within a decade so that, the poorer nations in Global South can increase the standard of living of their citizens by creating infrastructure. Equity is a prerequisite for an effective political response. A strong political will among national governments is necessary to untangle the climate policy gridlock.  

Climate change is the biggest existential crisis our planet has ever faced. Till now, we have been big on words and low on actions. This is an assured route to ‘fall of civilisation’ as was shown in Bosch’s third panel of the painting. Imagine the shame we would carry when our children and grandchildren knew that we could have acted yet chose not to because of our materialistic pursuits or lacking political will. Time is of the essence. 

Clean air to breathe and safe drinking water is our natural rights which we should not beg for in our national legislatures or that can be taken away by capitalists. We are “homo sapiens” i.e. wise men so, lets act together with wisdom. We are the last best hope of Earth else, we and all the creatures we cherish are history. Let’s strive for fundamental changes, to develop new collective consciousness of the human race inspired and enabled by a sense of urgency. Each and every one of us must pledge to ‘Reboot the Earth’ because we are never too small to make a difference.

The lure of space

The night sky has for long made one wonder about what lies in those distances and the darkness. The inquisitive human mind has always tried to figure out the origin of the universe, the birth of mother Earth and human existence. The lure of space has been to decode the mysterious universe and satisfy our hunger for knowledge.

The invention of the telescope enabled us to remove our blindfolds and actually see the objects floating in outer space. From establishing that the Earth is indeed round, not flat and the Copernicus model of our solar system, which states that the sun is in the center and not the Earth, we have come a long way. It has widened our scientific horizon and fueled our rationality, giving us the ability to see reality.

The first time the ambitious idea to actually try to reach these telescopic objects was born out during World War 2. The technological research and development of those times made it possible for people to realize this dream. Space became an arena for the Cold War rivals USA and USSR to prove their worth of the ‘Super Power’ tag. This geopolitical high-headedness actually had positive ripple effects for the world. Satellite’s ability to break free from Earth’s gravitational force proved that man achieved what was unimaginable before.

The man-made satellites were used to serve multiple purposes which have not only proved to be extremely beneficial for the world citizens but also, for the world’ s growth and development. The Remote Sensing / Earth Observing (EO) satellites are aimed at understanding the topography of the Earth, identifying potential sites for minerals exploration, tracking the formation and direction of cyclones, disaster management, ensuring security on international borders, etc.

These also provide relevant data and images for the implementation of key global conventions like Vienna Convention on protecting the ozone layer and the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC). The second type of satellites are the Communication satellites which are aimed at securing the network for mobile phones, the internet, satellite phones, etc. In the era of globalization, connectivity is pillared on these satellites. The lure of space is the possibility to bring the world closer.

The first person to enter space and orbit the Earth was the Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin which marked the beginning of the ‘Space Age’. Then, came the famed manned Apollo mission (1969) to the moon by the USA where Neil Armstrong took the “giant leap for mankind”. The object which was once seen from the convenience of the Earth was now touched upon by the human race. It was a huge accomplishment. This watershed moment helped in raising the interest of the global population in the field of astronomy and other similar fields.

International Space Station (ISS) is an artificial habitable satellite in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). It serves as a microgravity and space environment research laboratory in which crew members conduct experiments in biology, physics, astronomy, and other fields. Also, it provides the much-needed environment for testing of equipment for various interplanetary missions. Also, ISS has been the epitome of space coordination among multiple nations to benefit mankind.

Interplanetary explorations have been to our immediate neighbors- Venus, Mars as well as the ones further away like Saturn (Cassini spacecraft) in our solar system. We have ventured much farther into the cosmos like the Voyager-1 spacecraft. Through such missions, we have studied, examined and explored interplanetary elements. It has helped us provide information about Earth’s habitability and origins of the universe including the Big Bang Theory.

The renowned scientist Albert Einstein gave ” The General Theory of Relativity” which explained that the speed of light in a vacuum is same, irrespective of the speed at which the observer travels. Another world-famous scientist Stephen Hawking spent his entire life studying black holes. He found out that black holes are formed when extremely huge stars collapse and that even light cannot space it. Such revelations using space have helped us know the universe we live in.

The next generation of astronauts such as Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams, both of whom are Indians, fuelled the enthusiasm of Indians. Many were inspired and were lured by space. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has the vision of sending a manned mission to orbit the Earth for a duration of seven days. It shows the technological prowess of India at the global level after it successfully sent Mars Orbiter in Mars’s orbit in its maiden attempt.

Recently, another type of satellite system was innovated to keep up with the changing demands of the new century. It is called the Navigation system satellites. It is a cluster of satellites (the number is dependent on the area to be serviced) which provides navigational services to the military as well as the civilians. It also benefits specific communities like fishermen when in sea and specific sectors like aviation. Many countries have successfully launched these navigation systems like USA (Global Positioning System), India (NAVIC) and the rest have their projects in the pipeline such as China (BeiDou) and Russia (GLONASS).

Middle Eastern countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia are investing in the space sector as a way of diversifying their oil economies. Also, many private companies have received commissions from the space organizations of countries like NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization), etc to perform important functions due to budget cut by union governments. The passion for space along with its amazing ability to help the people has lured private companies like SpaceX to reach the stars.

A major concern with the international lure of space has been the issue of debris pollution. More than 500,000 pieces of debris, or “space junk,” are tracked as they orbit the Earth. Thus, space presents another proof of “tragedy of commons”. They all travel at high speeds, fast enough for a relatively small piece of orbital debris to damage a satellite or a spacecraft. Various space organizations keep an eye out for them so to prevent damage to the working satellites.

In March 2019, it was announced that India had successfully conducted an anti-satellite (ASAT) mission. Named as Mission Shakti, it was seen domestically as proof that India was a space power on par with the United States, Russia, and China. Yet internationally, the test is further evidence of the more complex space domain, the lack of progress on developing norms of behavior for space, and the challenges of ensuring its long-term sustainability. Many security experts believe that it could begin the weaponization of space.

Thus, to prevent such space threats, the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space has been developed the forum for the development of international space law. The Committee has concluded five international treaties on space-related activities. Each of the treaties stresses the notion that outer space, the activities carried out in outer space and the accrued benefits from outer space should be devoted to enhancing the well-being of all countries and humankind, with an emphasis on promoting international cooperation.

The lure of space has tremendously affected our lives. It has democratized the media world over and also, provided a platform to connect with each other. It has given the right of free speech to all in true sense. Not only has it contributed towards the social welfare of the people but also improved the standards of governance. Ultimately, it has contributed towards the global economic growth and development. With the historic discovery like the beautiful ‘chirp’ of gravitational waves from the black hole mergers and our belief in Mars possibility of supporting life, the lure of space for humans seems never-ending.

Whither women’s emancipation?

“Women make up one half of society. Our society will remain backward and in chains unless its women are educated, enlightened and emancipated.”

– Saddam Hussein, The Revolution and Women in Iraq

The beginning of human civilisation witnessed multiple wars and conflicts for land and power. The pre-requisite of physical strength in such times forced the biological differences between man and woman to surface. The consequence was that women were confined in the four walls of home to do household chores and child rearing activities. The belief was that men are superior to women resulting in the ideology of Patriarchy.

It is not only the oldest and most universal form of domination but the primary model for all others as well. Sexual division of labour gave rise to our gendered society. We can read about the disgraceful and humiliating status assigned to women throughout history. However, today we see that women have more freedom and choice than ever.

Saudi Arabia has legalised women drivers and gave them the right to vote as well. They also gave them the liberty to travel alone without male guardians. South Korea took the pro-choice stance and legalised abortion, allowing women to take their personal decisions. African countries like Ethiopia and Rwanda have announced that 50% legislators in the national Parliaments should be women, thus increasing the share of women voices in country’s policy making. The global #MeToo movement on social media provided women a platform to share their grief and emancipated them psychologically.

In India, women have been emancipated from using cow dung and dry leaves to cook food through a government scheme ‘Ujjwala’. World Health Organisation (WHO) pointed out that using such traditional energy sources produces smoke of 4,000 cigarettes in an hour and such polluted air is degrading women’s health. They now, use LPG (Liquified Petroleum Gas). The construction of toilets in villages and poor households in cities has liberated women. They no longer need to control nature’s call or relieve themselves out in the open against one’s dignity. The Triple Talaq Act has successfully emancipated Muslim women from the threat of arbitrary divorce.

Now, the question is what helped change the previously attached stereotypes and cultural values to women? The meta-narrative of feminism emerged to end the patriarchy- generated power imbalances and all forms of discrimination against women in our society. The first wave of feminism, initiated by Mary Wollstonecraft, presented the ‘Bill of Rights of Women’ following the French Revolution to emancipate women’s political voices. The modern political system of nation states, based on equality, liberty, fraternity and democracy pillared on an individual’s dignity, helped further women’s rights.

Politically also, women today have a clear voice and vision to create a gender-justice world. Technology and quality education have become tools of social revolution and have emancipated women. They have set in a modern mindset. The UN Declaration of Human Rights quoting universal education enabled women to study and pursue higher-paying jobs. Thus, they are no longer restricted to the traditional role of the caretaker.

The evolution of human consciousness has freed women in the course of time. The second wave of radical feminism is continuing till date mainly in the developing countries. It has achieved significant freedom for women in developed countries. Supporters are raising public awareness about such issues like violence against women, opposing the sexual objectification of women, and challenging the concept of gender roles.

However, the extent and pace of liberation have been highly varied. To begin with, what continues emancipation of women can be contested. It will differ across continents and geographical locations based on ones perception. We cannot turn a blind eye to the existing status of women.

The ‘cradle to grave’ phenomenon of women discrimination and oppression has continued. Breast ironing is practised in African countries to protect girls from being potential rape targets. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is performed at birth to control the sexual urges of women. In some Indian villages, women are accused of being witch hunters and are beaten or paraded naked. The politics of dress code is transcending borders i.e. no burkini in France and no jeans in Indian villages. The constant power struggle over women’s bodies and their choices is witnessed globally.

Even, the global giants like McDonald’s and Amazon have low women workforce participation rates. In India, female participation in economic activities has declined from 42% in 2010 to 23% in 2018. The gender pay gap along with pink collarization of jobs like secretaries and receptionists etc. has caged women globally. The working women have to handle the both, work and home. GDP has no contribution from stay-at-home women that translates into no respect and no individual identity.

There is a whole slew of other challenges which account for ‘invisible structural violence’. The lack of quality education forces women to stay out of the decision-making process in household affairs. She has no idea about the importance of family planning. As she is responsible for cooking meals, she is the last one to eat. Thus, in poor households, she is often left undernourished. Negligence in diet during pregnancy leads to the birth of malnourished kids.

There are new avenues hindering women’s emancipation. Climate change is severely impacting women in villages as women are responsible for fetching water. The extreme drought conditions force them to travel longer distances in search of water. So, men are preferring to have more than one wife i.e. polygamy. Terrorism and civil wars have the worst impact on women for they are sexually assaulted and raped. The aim is to target a women’s body as we see it as a temple that must remain pure. Natural disasters also affect women more because they become more vulnerable and easy target for human traffickers.

The violence against women can be called as ‘Banality of Evil’. We have internalized patriarchy so in deep, that we now fail to see it affecting the women. Evil now is part of you, me and all of us. The dimensions of women violence and her subservient position cannot be comprehended in totality. These have been trivialization in our minds. To end patriarchy, we must first move towards acceptance of it. We must admit that there is a flaw in the way the world is working around us. Only after acknowledging it can we truly begin to work on the solutions.

The most ancient and difficult hindrance in women’s emancipation is the opinion of male entitlement over her body and labour. This prejudice gave birth to the global culture of gender hierarchy. We must end it by teaching the boys to help girls in their chores and telling our girls that being career-oriented is not being selfish. It will also dilute the undue pressure on men to be the providers. We must re-define our society to break stereotypes.

Another reason for women imprisonment has been the minimum interaction between the two genders. The developed nations have encouraged it and thus, we see mutual respect and trust in the society. This needs to penetrate to the villages and remote areas for true women emancipation. Such interactions will end the notions of the other genders and they will be able to experience a fuller life without fear.

The social conditioning of the world needs to change. Its not a biological inequality, its a cultural one. We must remember that “Existence is prior to essence.” Our individuality is more important than society-imposed roles. To understand a strong and independent women, one has to be strong and independent person. We need to be modern and open-minded, not western. Its time we give the women their share of freedom and justice to be truly and totally emancipated as a society and strive on the paths of prosperity.

Terrorism and world peace.

Nadia Murad, an Iraqi Yazidi girl was kidnapped along with her 11 sisters by the terrorist organisation, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They were taken to Syria, along with hundreds of other girls to be brutally beaten and raped for months. Until one day, Nadia successfully escaped. She felt the burden of responsibility towards the girls still in captivity and decided to speak openly. Today, the world recognises the ethnic cleansing by ISIS because of her bravery. Despite this, the Nobel Peace Prize 2018 awardee still feels that she has lost her peace forever for her 6 brothers lay in mass graves in ISIS- controlled areas of Iraq.

On 14th February 2019, a suicide bomber rammed his vehicle carrying over 100 kgs of explosives into a convoy of the Indian Army in Pulwama, Jammu & Kashmir. More than 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were martyred in this deadly terror attack. Later, Jaish e Muhammad (JeM), a Pakistan-based terror group claimed responsibility for the attack, which led to the resurgence of strong hostility between the two nuclear-armed neighbours, India and Pakistan. Not only, the regional security and stability were under threat but also, the world peace.

Terrorism has been in existence for over a century now. It is a lesser known fact because its forms and the reasons for inflicting terror have evolved over time. The assassination of the Austrian Prince by Serbian extremists led to the disastrous World War 1. And it didn’t take long for the world to witness another war. World peace was in ruins. After World War 2, one of the significant development was the creation of Israel, the land of Jews in a Muslim- dominated West Asia. Despite multiple direct wars attempting at regaining the holy site of Jerusalem, the West Asian nations failed every time.

The cost of direct conflict was extremely high in terms of personnel, finance as well as internationally. Thus, nations started proxy wars using non-state actors. This was known as the state- sponsored terrorism. Regarding the fall of USSR, John Levis Gaddis said that we killed the python but gave rise to numerous snakes which pose serious threat to the world security, stability and peace. Pakistan bleeds India using terrorism to achieve its objective of a thousand cuts.

However, Noam Chomsky, a prominent political scientist, calls USA the top terrorist state in the world. It uses terrorism as its foreign policy strategy. Thus, USA is the biggest challenge to world peace. However, the world fails to see the reality of USA because of its global hegemony. It has very carely weaved a discourse which showcases itself as the victim, and not the perpetrator of terrorism.

The first vivid image of terrorism in our minds is the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre in US planned by Osama Bin Laden who founded Al-Qaeda, an Afghanistan-based terror organisation. Al-Qaeda carried out this attack in retaliation to America’s support for Israel, its involvement in the Persian Gulf War and its continued military presence in the Middle East to protect its oil interests. Bin Laden saw it as a Christain-Jews alliance, supported by apostate Saudi royalty working to undermine Islam. Thus, his aim was to preserve Sharia- based traditions and values even if it meant using violence.

9/11 became the watershed event in the human history. USA declared a ‘Global War on Terror’, which futher hindered the peace- building process. In 2003, USA attacked Iraq reasoning that Saddam Hussain had nuclear weapons. The entire political system in Iraq collapsed. Years later, these Iraqi nationals worked with Al-Qaeda to form the ISIS, having a vast territorial ambition to establish a Caliphate, in the politically unstable Syria. Millions like Nadia lost their families and homes.

SP Huntington predicted that the multipolar world would re-align along cultural faultines. He called the resulting tensions as ‘clash of civilizations’, which would affect world peace. Boko Haram is one of the deadliest terrorist organisations. It operates in the West African countries- Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon. The name ‘Book Haram’ means ‘Western education is forbidden’. In their most gastly attack on a Nigerian school, they kidnapped more than 250 girls and converted the Christain girls into Muslims. This highlights the spread of religious extremist ideologies globally.

The terror organisations use the modern aspects of life they claim to be against like internet, social media and the democractic value of freedom of speech to further their cause. “Pen is mightier than the sword.” is true in this case because the tech-savvy terror organisations like ISIS have been able to recruit even the most educated minds globally. They talk about the grievances and atrocities of Muslims to justify their ‘Jihad’. The recruits are radicalised by emotional appeals to their loyalty towards religion. The youth fails to see that such ideologies put world peace in danger.

The targets and victims of terrorist organisations are not the ones that are killed, rather the ones that survive. The social media and global press become ‘the theatre of violence’ as they telecast these events world over and induce fear in the minds of the people. The capitalists especially in Global North have securitised terrorism i.e. made it a first- world problem despite road accidents killing more people. And they capitalise on fear and mint money out of it.

The mess in West Asia has had horrendous implications on the lives of millions. With families lost, many fled their homes to seek a peaceful place. Putting their money and lives in hands of strangers, they take the boats to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. Not all are lucky as hundreds of boats capsize. The picture of the Syrian kid lying dead on the Turkish beach screamed loudly at the world to take notice of the situation. But, some of the European countries refused asylum to them. The refugee crisis has rocked the EU completely and led to its breakdown i.e. the Brexit. Islamophobia in these countries hangs like a sword on the heads of the refugees.

Lone-wolf terrorism has been on the rise. Its less to do about people joining organisations and more about people adopting ideology. We saw it in western nations like UK, France (Paris Charlie Hebdo) etc which were earlier considered immune to such attacks. These individuals, especially from marginalised communities, are “almost always self-radicalised” by accessing information in online forums and manifestos which reinforce their views with a particular type of ideology which often features some sort of “call for action”. The feeling of isolation and development disillusionment can be the driving force towards radicalisation.

SP Huntington’s Clash of civilizations is becoming a reality. Its manifestaion is increasing challenging world peace. Since, the mass migration resulted in the demographic change, white supremism began to surface. Earlier, it was in the form of apartheid. Today, it has taken a new face of terrorism. However, the trigger of white- supremism was the 2009 election of Barack Obama, the first African American President in USA’s over 200 years of democracy. Also, the economy was in ruins because of the sub-prime crisis.

US alone has witnessed a 1000% increase in such shootings in a decade. The entire generation has been sold the idea of supremacy. These Neo-Nazis belonging to organisations like Ku Klux Klan are fascist, anti- Muslim, homophobic, anti- Semitic and anti- immigration. The suprising aspect is that there is no information on domestic terrorism. Bigotry, hatred and oppression have also gripped Europe where we see the rise of far-right fanaticism in politics. They don’t want to be minority in their own country. The ugliest attack was on muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand in March, 2019.

Terrorism is one of the foremost threats to international peace and security as it maims and kills people, and undermines the ability to attain development goals. Unfortunately, the talks about combating terrorism have not been matched by our actions. The strengthening and implementation, without double standards of existing international laws and mechanisms to fight the menace of terrorism is an imperative. This age- old problem requires a modern solution i.e. effective multilateralism.

We need a strategy that guides and unites us by emphasising operational elements of disuasion, denial, deterence, development of state capacity and defence of human rights. To fight terrorism and ensure sustainable world peace, we must begin our ‘war on ideology’. And the best weapon for it is education, and not guns as was advocated by Malala Yousafzai. It is the most effective form of defense spending. We must commit ourselves to achieve the principles of peace and justice so that people like Nadia and martyrs of Pulwama do not suffer the global disease of terrorism.

Destiny of a nation is shaped in its classrooms.

“Man could not survive if knowledge remains knowledge, but if we transform knowledge into wisdom, he would ascend to great heights of achievement. “

-GB Shaw

With the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHRs) adoption at the international level in 1948, the right to education was declared a basic human right. This has promoted the idea of universalisation of education- making it accessible to all. It is unlike the ancient times where learning was restricted to the kings, priests and elites. The consequence of classroom penetration has been that the literacy rates across the globe have sky-rocketed. Now, we are at the zenith of knowledge and are seeking to learn more.

Yet, today, the contradiction is that our common and shared destiny seems to be in grim light. Something never anticipated before! We are sitting on a ticking time-bomb called ‘climate change’. Every international survey states that anthropogenic factors have resulted in GHGs (Green House Gases) emission rising off the roofs. The Red List of IUCN (International Union on Conservation of Nature) indicating threatened biodiversity is expanding. The holiest rivers like Ganges in India and Tigris- Euphrates in the Middle East are dead. The health of the people in urban areas like New Delhi, London, New York is deteriorating due to air pollution.

Classrooms, which are revered as the ‘weapon of mass construction’, have actually created ‘weapons of mass destruction’. The hostile nature of relations between nuclear-nations like India- Pakistan, USA- Iran and North Korea, results in compromising human security. Nations face threat to their sovereignty due to security challenges like cross- border terrorism, cyber attacks etc.. Communal/ tribal riots and civil wars are pushing people out of their motherlands signifying the continued dominance of identity over humanity in our minds.

Now, the question arises why do we still face such complications despite mass education? It is because the education systems in nations train people to work in the lower rungs of governance. Thus, the youth does not develop the capacity to question the existing political, economic and social structures. In the earlier- colonised nations, the education systems have been transplanted from their colonisers, without modification to meet their own needs and people’s aspirations. The demographic potential and capability is under-utilised, which could have otherwise led to the nation’s glorious destiny.

Also, education has fallen in the traps of crony capitalists. It has become a lucrative business as the demand for education is rising. Since, their motive is profit thus, money is holding dreams of the less fortunate hostage. It can be drawn parallel with an incident in the Hindu epic of Mahabharata. Guru Dronacharya asked his tribal student Eklavya for his right thumb as his ‘guru dakshina’ (fees of a guru). This was done to ensure that the Prince Arjun remained the best archer. Earlier, caste was the barrier and today, class is the barrier to equitable opportunity in quality education.

An individual can contribute his best towards his family, society and the nation only when he has identified himself, by recognising his interests and talents. Thus, classrooms must serve as a platform that helps a person transform into an inspiring personality. This was exactly what Swami Vivekananda meant when he stated that- “Education is the manifestation of perfection already in man.” Thus, when our perfection is attained, our destiny would be bright.

And who can help an individual reach the level of perfection? Teachers. They are not just curriculum transactors. Rather, they act as role- models to the students and are the nation- builders. The destiny of the nation lies in their hands. The community should honour teachers for nurturing the nation’s future. Also, our understanding of education needs a paradigm-shift. It should move beyond question papers, answer-sheets and degrees to the most important aspect i.e. the holistic personality development of the child.

Just like what Plato stated in his treatise on education – “Not what you do, rather what type of person you become.” When we successfully redefine education and classroom learning, the blind pursuit for money and materialism will be over. Our educated generation would be able to differentiate between the things that have utility, add values to our lives and those that clutter our minds. Our values and principles in life will dictate our social standings rather than the brands we own .

The yardsticks of achievements will be- long-lasting friendships, satisfied relations, happy family and self-acceptance. People will be spiritually healthy as well as free of anxiety and depression. Inevitably, the economics of the nation will change for good. Overall health will improve. Productivity will shoot up, which will be reflected in the GDP. Divorce rates will go down and old -age homes will vanish. Thus, a happier and ethical society will be born, simply shaped our classrooms.

Nelson Mandela said that education is the most powerful weapon to change the world. . To progress towards our destiny of development and glory, a value-based society needs to exist which, can only be shaped in our classrooms. Inclusive learning based on “Those who learn together, learn to live together” belief can break the inter and intra- hierarchical dominations present in our societies. It will also teach us to treat animals with care and humanity will move towards divinity. Intellectual openness as a virtue would be appreciated in our multicultural world, resonating with ‘Vasudev Kutumbakam’.

Education acts as an equaliser. It tackles the feeling of resentment caused because of economic inequality as it provides opportunities. It is a tool of social revolution. It paves the way towards a dignified life for the millions of people globally living below poverty line. It bridges gaps between schools & work through skills- enhancing vocational training. Digital literacy has become an important aspect of modern life which can be provided in classrooms. Thus, destiny of the people will turn around and so will the nation’s.

The current moral crisis and value erosion in our world has brought us in this bleak situation. The planet is warming everyday and we are always at the brink of war. Education is the ray of hope for mankind. Destiny of not only nations but the entire humanity is shaped in our classrooms. We have a choice, and a crucial one at that. What we teach our kids will be reflected in our shared future. So, classroom teaching should blend scientific reasoning with philosophy. Science & technology will modernise us but philosophy will steer us in the right direction.

Wisdom/ ‘vivek’ will develop in our children and they will stay away from what Gandhi called as the ‘seven sins’. Quality education is imperative for generations of positive impact. And equitable opportunity, as opposed to social exclusion and gender discrimination, is equally necessary so that we successfully tread the path towards inclusive growth and sustainable development. Together let’s seal our prosperous and glorious destiny through our classrooms.

Dreams which should not let India sleep.

” Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny; and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.”

-Prime Minister Jwaharlal Nehru

On 15th August 1947, when we stepped out from the old to the new & an age ended, the soul of our nation, long suppressed, found utterance. India i.e. Bharat was born. During the Indian freedom movement, our founding fathers dreamt of India that would be as glorious as its earlier name i.e. the Golden Bird, which did not let them sleep. They led the path & created the cornerstone of our nation- the Constitution. Through this, they fulfilled the dream of creating a sovereign, secular, socialist, democratic, republic nation.

Now the task at hand laid in revamping the economy for millions of citizens, which was in ruins due to the British Raj’s drain of wealth. The dream was to implement policies ,which through economic growth, attained self- reliance, social justice and alleviation of poverty. The idea was to go for industrialisation and also, transform the agriculture sector through land reforms & green revolution. Later, in 1991, the economy was privatised & opened to the world through the LPG (Liberalisation, Privatisation & Globalisation) reforms.

After 72 years of independence, today the youth of our nation has dreams in their eyes, for a prosperous India. They can utilise these dreams & reap dividends for our country, for our states, for our communities & for each & every citizen. With the demographic sweet-spot i.e. 65% population below 35 years of age, we are sitting on a gold mine. With high energy & great potential, they are willing to convert the unfilled dreams into reality. Their dreams are in consonance with India’s.

We dream of a nation where agriculture is not solely about production and GDP numbers, but about the ‘ann- daata’ i.e. farmers. Policies are formulated keeping their interests at heart, hailing ‘Jai Kisan’. We dream of India to become the Golden Bird in a modern way. Which welcomes investors and MNCs as they will have multiplier effect on Indian economy. The labour laws are reformed to maintain a balance between being business- friendly & well- being of labour. We shall not sleep till we get to our $5 trillion economy dream.

We dream of a living standard which is modern in terms of infrastructure yet modified to suit our country’s population like in Japan. Where we have housing for all, roadways connectivity throughout the nation, highways with green cover etc. Aviation is affordable & accessible to all. Where tier-2 cities have sufficient resources to absorb the migration influx. Rural -urban continuum exists. Regional imbalances are minimum.

Our ancient scriptures have mentioned the central role of nature in our lives & we have for long lived peacefully with nature. Thus, we dream to continue living in a country where natural resources are not sold off for the interests of the capitalists & for our short-term consumerist tendencies. Where environmental protection is not projected as being anti- development, rather EIA (Environment Impact Assessment) of infrastructure is done for sustainable development. Where trees are sacred as always & we convey that to our children using the carbon- sink logic & rainfall- influencer reasoning. We dream of a nation where education teaches us to acknowledge climate change before its too late & take responsibility for our own materialistic habits.

We dream of India where political equality is meaningful as social & economic inequalities have vanished, making our democracy substantive. Where tolerance for difference in opinions, ruler accountability, respect for the rules, and a strong political engagement exists. Where education, health, police reforms etc become election issues. It is not about identity politics at whose hands our multicultural society is divided. Freebies are unheard of during elections or the billion rupee funding on campaign, rather about the development work done for the masses by the leaders. Where politics is de- criminalised.

We aspire of a nation where good governance is implemented to address development failures & democratic deficits. Policies are implemented keeping sustainability, long -term orientation & sound financial management in mind. Police forces are not politicised so that rule of law prevails over personal laws. Justice is served timely, re-enforcing trust in these institutions. Social accountability via citizen- engagement and technological innovations like Digital India & JAM (Jan Dhan accounts- Aadhar- Mobile) are the standard procedures to ensure ‘zero tolerance to corruption’.

We dream of a technologically advanced country which provides conducive ecosystem to innovators & incubators. Start-ups are promoted in all sectors & are well- financed. India dreams to be a land where becoming a scientist or tech- entrepreneur is a matter of pride and honour as at this juncture, to grow further, we need their contribution the most. Their innovation should reach the masses which needs them the most in an affordable manner. We see India as a global powerhouse in future.

India dreams of a peaceful & friendly South Asian region, where there is no hostility or trust-deficiency. Regular ministerial meetings & diplomatic exchanges at both bilateral & multilateral events is the norm. The land as well as coastal border is secure & people- to-people ties are strong to ensure seamless trade, making the region prosperous. There is no threat of cross- border terrorism or nuclear war. Our idea is to make our strategic location in Indian Ocean advantageous for every nation globally. We join hands in not just formulation of the Paris deal on climate change & SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), rather focus more on ground- level implementations & on making them people’s movement.

We dream of a nation where English is a language which unifies, not divides people into classes. Where people speak in their mother tongue without the fear of being judged as inferior. Our aspirations lie in ensuring that money does not obstruct opportunities for the less fortunate. We dream of India where we all are Indians first and then, Punjabi, Marathi etc. Where we keep our old traditions of ‘unity in diversity’ intact and thriving. So that the world ,viewing immigrants/refugees as a challenge, learns tolerance & acceptance from us for the larger cause of humanity.

India is aspired to be ‘Swacch’, not just of garbage & litter in public places. But also, in our minds just like Gandhiji said “cleanliness is Godliness”. Where women are treated with utmost respect. Where there is no customary hierarchy of caste system. Where children are safe outside as well as in their homes. We dream of a nation where we adapt the cultural model of conservation so that the tribes can live on their ancestral forest lands. LGBTQ community has the basic civil rights & is socially accepted.

We want to create a nation where children in rural areas do not have to walk miles to school to redeem their fundamental right under Article 21A. Where the so-called lower castes can access public places without fear under Article 15. Where basic healthcare is accessible & affordable for all. Roads with street lights are built. Where each household, despite being in difficult terrain, is electrified, has water pipeline for safe drinking water & sanitation; & has LPG for cooking. Good quality jobs are available for all.

Our dreams for our beautiful mother India & our fellow citizens are unending. These dreams do not let us sleep. The three organs of the government ie. the legislature, executive & judiciary should continue to lead the way towards our dream India. The democratic institutions like Election Commission of India, Central Information Commission, NITI Aayog etc must work with the government towards good governance to achieve our dreams. These must be supported by the civil society to help raise awareness among the masses for proper implementation of policies.

For the youth, the service of India means service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty, ignorance, disease & inequality of opportunity. Our dream is to wipe “every tear from every eye”. That maybe beyond us, but so long as there are tears & sufferings, our work will not be over. And thus, we have to labour & work hard to give reality to our dreams & believe with utmost conviction in ‘Sankalp se Siddhi’. These dreams are not just for India, but they are also for the world, for all nations & people. We make an appeal to join us with faith & confidence in this great adventure. We have to build the noble mansion of ‘New India’ where all her children may dwell with dignity.

We may brave human laws but cannot resist natural laws.

Natural laws have been in existence since the beginning of time when the universe was created. These laws are facts i.e. science like gravity, the force which will pull objects to Earth; or evolution, change in the heritable characteristics of biological populations over successive generations. Or in some cases, beliefs i.e. philosophy about the existence of God as the ultimate power.

It was in consonance to such laws that human has created its own laws throughout history. It might be through culture & religion in ancient times or through monarchy or democracy in modern times. This human- nature laws alignment creates a fine balance, making it possible for harmonious societies to exist. Also, eases our relation with God. However, despite various human laws in place, we continue to brave them for our own selfish reasons.

In Hinduism, there is a belief in Karmic philosophy. It says that each & every human act gets its fitting reaction. For bad karmas, the human is punished & for the good ones, he is rewarded. Thus, evolved the concepts of nark (hell) & swarg (heaven). Similar philosophy can be found in all the major religions & culture across the world. So, whenever a person commits a crime, society expects that he will be punished for it & justice will be served. This is what binds the society together i.e. a common value system & law code treating each citizen equally.

However, whenever there is a lapse in implementation of law, that creates a feeling of anger in all of us because the perpetrator did not get what he deserved. Like, if due to lack of evidence, the criminal walks free. So, it is believed that that person may have braved human laws but won’t be able resist natural laws. He will face the consequences of his bad karmas in his remaining life & after his death, he will go for eternal damnation.

The 21st century has seen tremendous progress in the field of science & technology- whether its space, energy or biotechnology. Man is working day & night to use this technology to improve quality of life for all. Thus, this raises multiple challenges. As new arenas develop, man is unable to comprehend them and their consequences. Thus, the laws formulated & their implementation is limited. But natural laws will come into play anyways.

Genome editing (also called gene editing) is a group of technologies that allow genetic material to be altered at particular locations in the genome. This can interestingly be used for the prevention and treatment of human diseases including single-gene disorders like haemophilia and complex diseases like HIV infection, cancer, heart diseases etc.

Recently a Chinese scientist claimed that he helped make the world’s first “genetically-edited” babies in whom a gene linked to HIV (which is CCR5) was remove using CRISPR (latest gene editing technology). But he might have inadvertently caused mutations in other parts of the genome, which could have unpredictable health consequences. Also, CCR5 is thought to help people fight off the effects of various other infections, such as West Nile virus. If the gene is disabled, the babies will be vulnerable.

Such “desired gene pool generation” is illegal in majority of the world since, many people fear the worst. We may have braved human laws but cannot resist natural laws. Human is trying to play God to perfect the human race. Debates around the issue raise ethical concerns about the heredity of such mutated babies and the health & safety of the public globally. How such engineered mutation of babies will affect the future generations is yet to be seen.

Similarly, gene editing is used to produce genetically modified (GM) crops like BT cotton. This helps the farmers to optimise agricultural performance as the BT cotton produces insecticides to combat bollworm. Such technology is usually restricted to non-edible crops. If an edible-GM crop is produced, the impact on the health of the public is unknown.

They are banned in developed countries like US. Despite attaining a ‘food security’ tag, India has been discussing it at length with the introduction of GM-Mustard. True, there are advantages like more productivity, less chemical use. But, what changes will be generated in the human body can only be guessed. We need decades of extensive studies and research to conclusively prove that such edible crops are safe for human and animals. Thus, we may brave human laws today but cannot resist natural laws tomorrow.

Researchers have rendered a population of mosquitoes in a lab sterile using the gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 by homing in on a specific target in insect DNA. This technology is being to wipe out a population of mosquitoes that are able to transmit life-threatening diseases like malaria, dengue, zika in low- income countries like in Sub-Sahara Africa etc. We may be braving human law but cannot resist natural laws. When it comes to extinguishing a species of mosquito for our own benefit, are we opening Pandora’s Box and releasing something into the world we don’t fully understand? Or maybe more harmful species take their place in the ecosystem?

Global warming is largely a consequence of human activities, as per the latest IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report. The GHGs highest safe threshold of 350ppm (parts per million) has been breached to reach 400 ppm. Still, we continue to brave human laws, working our way around national laws & international agreements like UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Following our endless materialistic pursuit without a care for sustainable development. But we cannot resist natural laws. Everyone suffers, truely proving that “we are all in this together”.

This breached GHGs (Green House Gases) natural limit leads to even more intense heatwave generations & stronger low pressure areas in sea. Thus, the intensity, frequency & duration of disasters like cyclones, droughts & flood have increased multi-fold as we saw in cyclone Fani which hit the South Eastern India. Livelihoods of millions get uprooted & the region is pushed decades back in terms of development.

The Amazon of South America, Indonesian rainforests & the Western Ghats of South India are amongst many other forest ecosystem which are under immense threat of deforestation. This is the imperative of catering to economic growth, urbanisation & overpopulation. Despite there being strong national laws & international agreements like UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), we continue to brave them.

But we cannot resist natural laws. This extensive carbon sink (trees) removal accelerates global warming. Soil is being eroded at a rapid rate as there are no roots to hold them together. The local climate and precipitation is being affected. Also, the biodiversity is devoid of shelter and is being pushed to nearby urban areas where man-animal conflict is on the rise. Since, the natural balance has been profoundly altered, the ecosystem is in ruins.

Today, our life has become so overtly dependent that we can safely say that we live in the ‘plastic age’. The durability of plastics and their potential for diverse applications, including widespread use as disposable items, were anticipated, but the problems associated with waste management and plastic debris were not. Slogan like ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’ on World Environment Day, 2018 is successfully spreading awareness globally. But still, we continue to brave national laws in favour of plastic use.

But the natural law is in play due to this ubiquitous pollution. The plastic is clogging our drains. It is creating difficulty in groundwater recharge. Without water reservoirs, threat of a future water crisis looms large. Micro-plastics found in oceans reach aquatic biodiversity, effecting the food chain. Ghost nets i.e. plastics pose threat to seabirds as their migration vision is compromised. Micro beads, used in cosmetics like creams, may negatively affect human health.

For the continuation of natural balance & sustaining life on Earth, we must look beyond our immediate needs & desires, rise above our selfishness. We cannot toy around with our future. We must remember that we are the only species on Earth which has the intellect to think about not just for ourselves but for all the other species co-existing with us. Our scientific progress will remain aimless without philosophy. It will teach us to ask the right questions always. Thus, we must always promote both scientific & philosophical/ ethical reasonings. This way, our conscience will always remind us that we may brave human laws but cannot resist natural laws.

Customary morality cannot be a guide to modern life.

In prehistoric era, humans had limited intellectual ability to understand natural events. Thus, they evolved the concept of animism- worshipping the nature. It was believed that rituals/ customs would appease supernatural entities. The ‘pray & reward system’ was put in place. With time as population grew & human consciousness evolved, religion was believed to provide the society with social solidarity, harmony & value consensus. The various principles & customs of these religions became the moral foundation for its believers worldwide.

Then, came the cultural movement called Renaissance. It is a period in European history, covering the span between 14th and 17th centuries & marking a transition from the Middle Ages to modernity. The break from the past was a result of the Enlightenment of the human intellect which transformed the economic, political & social landscape altogether. The French Revolution was a significant event in modern history. It introduced the liberal & radical values like liberty, equality, fraternity. These were founded on the Kantian principle of dignity, which says that human life is above all.

The age of Enlightenment profoundly altered the outlook of people belonging to other parts of the world as well. In India, Raja Ram Mohan Roy along with Ishwar Chandra Vidya Sagar became the flag bearers of the socio- religious movements. They worked relentlessly to end customary practices like Sati, child marriages, human sacrifice and encouraged widow remarriages. This can be termed as the first phase of modern life in India.

Later, when the Constitution was adopted in 1950, began the second phase of modernity. Secularism was borrowed from Europe & applied in our traditional Indian society. It means the separation of government & religion. Democracy was established whose prime principle is equality. Fundamental Rights (Part III of the Constitution) banned social evils like the practice of untouchability (Article 17) and allowed the so-called lower castes to access public places (Article 15). It became clear that modern values are not compatible with our customary morality.

In the recent years we see that as Indians, we face crucial issues where customary morality seems to be locking horns with our Constitution-backed modern values. The path we tread on with respect to these issues will have far-reaching impacts not only for the citizens but also, our country’s future. We all are witnessing the third phase of modernity.

The renowed Ayyappa temple of Sabarimala, Kerala follows the practice of barring entry of women aged 10-50. Lord Ayyappa is said to be a Brahmachari. Women felt that they were systemically being subjugated, excluded & humiliated. Thus, this custom was challenged in the honourable Supreme Court of India on the basis that it violates Article 14 & 15 (right to equality), 17 (abolish untouchability) & Article 25 ( right to freedom of conscience).

The no-women entry stance was backed by the Ayyappa followers. But, the judgement came in favour of allowing temple entry to women with 4:1 majority. Justice DY Chandrachud stated that women’s right to pray is a constitutional right. What applied to man applies to women. Menstruation is not impure. This practice cannot be considered essential thus, is within the scope of judicial review. Human dignity shattered the castle of customary morality in India.

Triple Talaq is a customary practice among Muslims where only the husband can dissolve the marriage by saying ‘talaq’ thrice. On the other hand, the wife has to take the long-drawn legal recourse to get a divorce. The customary has drawn criticism for being unilateral & biased against women. This practice has been banned in most of the Muslim majority countries. In India, it is against Article 14 & 15 (right to equality) and Article 21 (right to life).

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) stated that it is a personal law. Any government or judicial intervention will be against the principle of secularism. The judiciary however, said in the Sharaya Bano case that such customary morality is against the dignity of a person because it has reduced women to chattel. In such instances, legal machinery will kick in to ensure the modern values of gender equality.

Cow, since Vedic times, has been considered sacred. The majority of scholars explain the veneration for cows among Hindus as it produces the ‘Panchagavya’. Cattle traders today are facing hardships in their businesses and beef eaters, a threat to their lives. The increasing right-wing extremism has led to mob-lynching incidents particularly, targeting Muslims & Dalits. Muzaffarnagar & Dadri incidents have created a fearful environment in India.

The cow veneration as a customary morality comes in conflict with the modern values of right to choose what to eat & which profession to participate in (Article 19(1)(a) & (f)) and right to life with dignity (Article 21). The cattle trading rules were modified in 2017 against the interest of the traders, putting a question mark on secularism. Recently, they have moved the Supreme Court to look into the matter since, it impacts their livelihoods and to safeguard their Constitutional rights.

Homosexuality can be defined as the characteristic/ attribute of being sexually attracted solely to people of one’s own sex. Religion has termed it immoral & science says that it is unnatural. In India, the colonial relic – Section 377 criminalised carnal intercourse against the order of the nature. Also, marriage between two people of the same sex is against our customary morality. In Naz Foundation case, the apex court of the land legalised homosexual intercourse between consenting adults. Human rights activists from across the world lauded this progressive step.

Globally, people from the LGBTQ community are fighting the caged mindset prevalent even today. In US, a baker refused to provide cake at a gay wedding. He cited his customary & religious morality. The US Supreme court sided with the baker saying that he reserves the right to provide or deny service to any customer. This portrays that even in the oldest democracy of the world, religion continues to play a dominant role in people’s life.

Santhara is the Jain ritual of voluntarily fasting unto death (also called as Ichcha Mrityu) with goal of cleansing body & mind. This custom was also called upon in court as being against modern values. But, the judiciary opined that this practice is in accordance with Article 25 (freedom of conscience), Article 21 (right to dignified life includes dignified death) & Article 29 (right to culture). Thus, the judgement was in line with customary morality backed by modern values.

From all that has been said and discussed, customary morality cannot be a guide in modern life. Currently, a top-down approach has been seen i.e. the legislature or the judiciary is showing us the way through legal recourse. As we see in India, a sizeable population has still not accepted the Sabarimala case & Shayara Bano case. World over, the LGBTQ community is demanding for legalising homosexuality. Such societal acceptance to change needs to come from within i.e. the bottom-up approach. Else in law books, homosexuals can get married but they might not be able to buy a home as people still do not respect their individuality.

With time as needs change, our conscience will evolve further. Society is always in motion, always evolving to be better, more inclusive, more responsive version of itself. The educated youth must take the lead in this movement, be courageous to challenge our customary morality and stick to our true modern Constitutional values. Rise to the occasion and debate on such issues. We must welcome modern life by being intellectually open. Only then, the social change will be long-lasting and sustainable.

Poverty anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere.

In a small Uttar Pradesh village, a father had dreamt of sending his daughter to school, something which was unheard of in his village. Little Anita was a hard-working girl who wanted to make her father proud. She aspired to be a teacher so that she could inspire the next- generation of girls to go to school. However, due to the untimely death of her father, her mother could not afford Anita’s education anymore. She was forced to marry off Anita at the tender age of 15. Thus, her family’s poverty threatened Anita’s dreams and the prosperity of her village, her state and our country.

Mohan has been a farmer for over 3 decades. The green revolution brought prosperity to his village in Punjab. However, in the last few years, due to climate change, the rainfall pattern has become erratic. Dipping crop production threatens the livelihoods of Mohan and his fellow villagers. Mohan sees that 2 of the farmers committed suicide due to water poverty. Similarly, reports of farmers suicides in the country have increased, highlighting their despair. Agricultural poverty has also resulted in the earlier well-off communities to demand reservations like the Jat Andolan. The strikes and accompaning violence posed a menace for the people as well as the region’s prosperity.

World Bank defines poverty in economic terms, simply as, people earning less than $1.90 per day across the globe. Poverty cannot be put in words. It is often said that poverty is the worst form of disease there ever is. It determines the opportunities one gets and the freedom one has to make choices to grab those opportunities. It is a multi- dimensional concept with ripple effects in every sphere of not only the person’s life but also the society.

Economically, until recently, majority of the population didn’t have bank accounts in India. The culture of securing one’s future in case of accidents & deaths i.e. insurance is almost non-existential. Informational poverty about stock markets and other investment choices makes people want to buy gold as assets.

All this, threatens our economic prosperity. Financial inclusion will open doors for families, allowing them to smooth out consumption and invest in their prosperous futures through education and health. Moreover, it will ensure sufficient capital investment for the huge demand India has for the infrastructure sector. Further, the circulation of money will have a multiplier effect- lower NPAs (Non-Performing Assets), higher employment generation and greater consumer goods demand. The country’s prosperity will be reflected in GDP which will lead to higher expenditure by the government in social welfare.

Our political prosperity is our democracy as India is the world’s largest democracy. At the times of elections, the political parties spend billions of dollars on campaigning. ADR reports (Association of Democratic Reforms) point out that more than 70% of the election funding comes from unaccounted sources. However, poverty in checking mechanisms of electoral funding is posing a huge challenge to our political prosperity.

There have been multiple electoral reforms. However, freebies in the form of cash, alcohol & electronic goods for the poor is not unheard of. Dr. BR Ambedkar had rightly pointed out that political equality i.e. UAF (Universal Adult Franchise) has no significance until social and economic equality is achieved. Thus, poverty is acting as an obstacle in India’s democracy taking root and is still just a topsoil. More needs to be done to ensure a substantive democracy in India.

Another one of our political prosperity is our secularism. There has been a rise of extremist fundamental elements in society, which are spreading hatred and bigotry. This becomes a menace for our multicultural society, where people have had peacefully co-existed for centuries. Thus, poverty in humanism is posing a threat to our prosperity in diversity. Such propagandas spread suspicion in the society and may lead to communal riots and ultimately, ghettoization. Thus, Secularism comes in the spotlight. Further, a fertile ground for internal security challenges like separatism is formed which can also be misused by external actors like terrorist organizations. This severely puts India’s unity and integrity at risk.

The expenditure on innovation in any sector, be it defense, health, environment, etc. has been merely 3-5% of their individual budgets. Innovators are not provided with the requisite ecosystem to nourish & grow. Thus, innovational poverty in India has threatened our border security especially, when we are surrounded by hostile neighbors. It is a major hurdle in protecting our biodiversity hotspots and environmental protection. We are not heading on disaster- resilience path despite, India being among the top 5 most disaster-prone countries of the world, according to the UN. Thus, seriously affecting India’s future scope of prosperity.

Despite being food secure, India faces food poverty in some regions due to its inefficient food distribution network. Malnourishment is still a widespread problem in India. We also face nutritional poverty especially among the urban children and youth because of the McDonald culture. Thus, this poverty in diet threatens the food and nutritional needs of our future prosperity which is our young citizens. This will lead to reduced efficiencies in schools today and at work in the future.

We are obsessed with economic prosperity that translates into GDP, growth potential, long-term economic policies, etc. However, we have become indifferent to social injustices prevalent in our society. Reports of declining sex ratio, child rapes, sexual abuse at shelter homes and workplace no longer make our blood boil. The poverty of empathy in all of us is eating away our moral prosperity as a society and as a nation.

The dimensions of poverty are unending and so are its threats to our prosperity. Poverty robs people physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and stops them from being a valuable asset to themselves and society. Thus, it has been rightly concluded that poverty anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere.

The onus to rid society of poverty cannot be left with the governments only. The need is of better institutional frameworks to check the growth of various forms of poverty. And since we create those institutions, we must strive to better ourselves. Be the change we want to see. By realizing our potential towards this cause and striving to eradicate this evil, we will achieve the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). And thereby, creating a prosperous society where Anita is living her dreams and Mohan’s village continues to develop.