Lifestyle Spotlight: A reflection on sustainability in India
By Benjamin Bushwick
Editor’s Note: Benjamin Bushwick is a junior studying Psychology at Ohio University. He currently resides in the The OHIO Ecohouse. He is an active force in local sustainability efforts. The following is a reflection on a visit he took to India this past summer.
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Should sustainability be seen as merely an environmental concept? I believe the answer is no. I see there being virtues of sustainability beyond the environment.
Without a doubt ‘going green’ is great, it is what environmental sustainability is all about. However, going green as capitalist consumers in part means buying our way towards sustainability. For this reason, the green phenomenon has become a pricey market trend reserved for the privileged and affluent.
Face it, a week of groceries from Whole Foods is too expensive for the average family and no matter how hard Walmart tries to actualize a green model, they will always be destructive for local, small business. These models of distribution are unsustainable for both economic and social reasons.
One of the other virtues of sustainability – humanity – took me a two-month pilgrimage to India this past summer to understand.
Living in the city of Bengaluru is a completely different experience than anything I have previously known. In a three-bedroom apartment, I drank water from an ultraviolet purifier and showered by use of a spigot and bucket.
I was enrolled at the local conservative university. Walk onto campus in shorts or with your shoulders exposed and security would remove you from the property. Most of the university students were in Masters of Business Administration (MBA) programs and were eager to exchange ideas and pursue rich friendships with the American students.
India is the oldest civilization known to man, its origins dating back beyond 10,000 B.C. Since capitalism arose in India in the 1700s, they have maintained an incredibly strong free market system, largely unaffected by recessions and depressions abroad. Virtues of environmental conservation and material minimalism are core tenets in Hinduism. Due to this, India is an incredibly sustainable country in terms of environment, economy, and society.
Walking down city sidewalks, cows and stray dogs are common sights. To my American perspective, the traffic midday seemed rather cartoonish. Motorcycles, three wheeled auto-rickshaw taxis, and public transit vehicles make use of every inch of road space. A weak man appearing to be over 90 years of age reaches out a hand for rupees, a brotherly hand answers the request, big brother figures are known as ‘bhaiya.’
In conservative Hinduism, the Vedas, or ancient sacred scriptures, outlined guidelines on how to base civilization. These Vedas lay out the idea of a Caste system. The Indian Caste system divides people into four groups or caste, based on different levels of power and social roles. There are the Brahmin supremes, the Kshatriya warrior caste, the Vaishya commerce and market workers, and the Shudra unskilled labor force. There is a fifth group, but it is not acknowledged as its own caste. It is a level so low that these people are revered no more than the filth on the heel of your foot. Ostracized and disregarded on in the streets, these people were born into this status, with very little opportunity for secondary education, or upward mobilization into other castes. They are left to fend in the streets for food, take up begging, ultimately whatever it takes to survive.
I’m not sure if there is a strong concept of waste in Hindu lifestyle. From what I observed, in India you do not throw much away. India has four times the population of the US, but only a fraction of the garbage output. That said – walking down the streets you pass piles of garbage lining the sidewalks. There are no landfills as we think of them, in India waste becomes a part of life.
With Western influence came plastic waste. Much of what it houses is biodegradable, but that food inside will never decompose.
When you are at the bottom of the chain, you do what it takes to survive. Scavenging through piles of garbage is fair game. Fighting the pain of hunger you compete for scraps of food among cows, stray dogs, and children of your caste.
Does sustainability come at the expense of human suffering? How can humanity, a pillar of sustainability, thrive among our waste streams?
These are questions I often ask myself. Through my travels, I seek these answers, keeping in mind my personal manifesto for a sustainable future:
I dream of a world where we meet the needs of the masses and give more for the next generation. Where the forces of nature, economy, global community, and human happiness coexist and thrive. In the midst of rapid climate changes, despairing recessions, social injustice, and human suffering I will stand up and fight for a brighter tomorrow. Join the revolution!