Chapter 11: Environmental Sentiments
The streets of Punjab are littered with stray cows and bulls. These nomads were abandoned by their owners for one of two reasons. Either they’re male or they’re infertile. Since the slaughter of these creatures is illegal in India and the animals are no longer able to perform their main service to mankind (producing milk), the cows’ owners decide to relinquish the financial burden of their nourishment by letting them fend for themselves. Now their only function is causing traffic jams, providing me a hint of comedic relief. One man remembers that before the Green Revolution, there were no stray cows wandering the alleys of Sher Pur Kalan. Instead, when a cow decided to retire, the families would treat the wise elder as a member of their own family. Still, there were a few stray animals that roamed from field to field, dining on the rich selection of greenery. Today, this unchecked behavior would warrant a slap to the behind, but then, there was more respect for the divine grazer. There was one landowner in particular who respected these stray souls so much that he instructed his laborers: “if you ever arrive at the farm to find a stray animal grazing on our land, take a few hours off. The animal deserves to eat in peace.”
Before the introduction of technology, there were no tractors mediating people’s relationship with the earth. People were working directly with the land. That proximity to the earth fed a deeper appreciation and knowledge for the environment. For example, every farmer could identify the different types of birds that inhabited his or her land. In addition, chopping down trees was taboo because the farmers recognized a tree’s place in the ecosystem. Participants also mentioned that farming was a very sacred process and that people considered the soil to be their mother, provider of all life. One interviewee emphasized that due to the spirituality of farming, there were superstitions surrounding the harvest. One of these superstitions suggested that it was a bad omen to walk near ripe grains while wearing chappals. Another superstition specified that the farmer’s harvest would be more bountiful if they sang a song while sowing seeds. One portion of the song translates to: “Give a share to the birds, give a share to the animals, and whatever is left is for me.” A man that I had the pleasure of interviewing carries this past environmental regard into the present, harboring a bird sanctuary in his back yard. There are at least five nests wedged in the crevices of his garage and a peacock roosting habitat, elevated into the air on stilts so that cats don’t snatch the unhatched eggs. Unfortunately, this passion for the environment is not as common as it once was. The effects of this environmental neglect are evident in the environmental issues that Punjab is facing today. As one man phrased it, “We played with nature and now we are facing the consequences.”
According to many respondents, the Sher Pur Kalan environment used to be pristine. After the introduction of chemical agriculture, they noticed a series of changes. When people started to spray pesticides and plant monocultures, the birds began to vanish. Then the rice arrived. The crop’s heavy irrigation demand robbed the aquifers of their water. The water table used to be accessible 6 feet below the surface of the earth. Now farmers rely on borewells to pump water from 530 feet beneath the surface of the earth because the total demand for water is 1.247 hectare meters higher than the rate of recharge. The Budha Nal River, a nearby river passing through the city of Ludhiana, epitomizes the environmental degradation that has occurred over the past 50 years. One respondent told of the River’s cleanliness when he was a child. The river was so clean according to this man, that the children used the sand to brush their teeth. Now the water has become so polluted that a single drop is capable of sending you to the ER.
Singh, Sunny. Organic farmer. Personal interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 7 May 2019.
Anonymous. Retired military personnel. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 28 April 2019.
Anonymous. Farmers. Personal Interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 20 April 2019
Anonymous. Farmers. Personal Interview. Ludhiana, Punjab. 21 April 2019
Anonymous. Farmer family. Personal Interview. Ludhiana, Punjab. 21 April 2019.
Anonymous. Former farmer and activist. Personal interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 21 April 2019
Anonymous. Land record manager. Personal Interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 5 May 2019.
Anonymous. Teacher. Personal Interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 3 May 2019.
- Gill, Sucha. (2005). Economic Distress and Farmer Suicides in Rural Punjab.