They Want A Hindu Rashtra With No Safe Home For Gods

The recent flooding of the floodplains of the Yamuna River in Delhi has drawn a lot of attention to the vulnerability faced by one of the largest metropolises. Yet, the hasty diagnosis by newly minted experts failed to point out the line of fault that shook the capital. Had they pivoted their reasoning around the wanderlust trend of “mountains calling,” some reflections and enlightenment might have followed.

The mighty Himalayas are mistakenly assumed to be calling people and, in turn, more ‘development,’ but the mountains would rather keep the rivers flowing in the North Indian subcontinent for people to thrive in the plains. The Ganga, Yamuna, Indus, and all major rivers, along with their tributaries, originate from the mountains, which are geologically young and unstable. For thousands of years, Hindus have worshipped the river goddess and the mountain gods, leading to the moniker of ‘Dev Bhoomi’ for Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.

During this monsoon season, the Gods turned their back on us and showed their tough love by washing away some parts of our material possessions that were encroaching on the Dev Bhoomi. Nature’s fury and God’s wrath that we witnessed recently have some lessons for the BJP government, which champions Bulldozer justice. This time, however, the tables have turned as infrastructure projects that were permitted on dubious grounds, going against the interest of Himalayan ecology, got bulldozed away by nature.

As devoted Hindus, how do we explain the sinking of the holy town of Joshimath? The flash floods in the temple town of Kedarnath in 2013? And now the flooding of several towns of Dev Bhoomi Himachal Pradesh? These natural calamities were presented to the masses as nature’s unpredictable fury beyond our control, but that is not even half the truth. To put it simply, the mountain gods are angry at men for raping their abode. Perhaps, we are paying the price for the misdeeds of a few who have invited the wrath of mountain gods on us.

Amid caution from environmental experts, around 100 million tourists visited the state of Uttarakhand alone in 2022. The Char Dham Pariyojana, which covers 880 km, completely disregarded any assessment of its environmental impact. Despite numerous warnings, the government proceeded with expanding the width of the Char Dham road, ignoring the inevitable consequence of attracting more pilgrims and tourists. The expansion and broadening of highways were even justified in the name of national security, which is in vogue, yet some of these all-weather roads got washed away by the fury of the gods.

In our Hindu scriptures, pilgrimage is allied with the concepts of penance, asceticism, and giving up worldly pleasures. While all efforts should be made to ensure that the pilgrimage to the Chardham and other holy sites in the mountains is made welcoming for devotees, but not at the cost of risking the sites of pilgrimage itself. Unfortunately, the current Government plans to do just that as Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari has announced his intentions of making a Davos-like city in the Himalayas, with no concern for the fact that this will spell doom for the delicate and vulnerable vegetation, wildlife, and land structure in this area. The damage to the environment is bound to spill over to human existence in these areas and invite even more anger from the gods. To ensure development that improves the quality of life in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand is one thing, but to make the pilgrimage a glamorous and money-minting endeavour at the cost of the environment is unwise at best and sin at worst.

The Central government has shown complete ignorance and negligence of the basic principles of environmental protection in Uttarakhand. The lessons learned from the devastating 2013 flood disaster, including the necessity for careful regulation of tourism activities and the prevention of obstructions on rivers, have not been put into practice. Consequently, the state remains in a precarious and highly vulnerable position during every monsoon season.

The mountain gods have signalled their displeasure and extreme anger in the recent past. The irony, however, lies for the current regime and its cheerleaders, who take no qualms in announcing their dreams of making India into a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu nation), as this government has caused the maximum ecological damage to the mountain abode of our Hindu gods. May I ask what the Hindu Rashtra would be without a safe home for Hindu gods? If the destruction of the Himalayas continues, there would soon be a time when Hindu devotees would be deprived of pilgrimage.

By prioritizing profit-driven agendas at the cost of ecology and religion, the government has not only failed to prevent disasters but has also paved the way for widespread devastation. It is time for the government to take responsibility, reassess its policies, and prioritize the safety and welfare of its citizens. Effective disaster management, sustainable infrastructure development, and responsible tourism practices must be at the core of the government’s approach. Only then can we hope to protect the lives, property, and natural treasures of our nation from the inevitable calamities that lie ahead. Finally, it is time to undo the damage caused to the Himalayas by the deeds of a few men and seek an apology from the Gods to avoid their wrath on our cities.

(Reena Gupta is an environment advocate and national spokesperson of the Aam Aadmi Party)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.

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