A Cup of Destruction

by Narendra Khot, founding member of Suhasta

Tea happens to be the second most consumed drink on Earth. Globally, about 7 billion kgs (or 7 million tons) of Tea is consumed every year. Statistically it means that every person on Earth consumes one kg of tea every year. India is the second largest producer of Tea – about 29% of global production comes from India. India consumes more than 80% of its production (1.1 million tons in 2021), while the rest is exported.

Historically, tea has been known and consumed for millennia in Asia and then the Far East. Eventually, it became hugely popular in distant lands too. The tea trade became a big thing over the years, and continues to be so today. Despite its Asian origin, the industrial style scaling up and management of tea production was started by the British in the early 19th century. Along with the other ‘plantation’ crops such as tobacco, sugar cane, cotton, indigo and coffee, the British started tea plantation on a seriously large scale in the Indian empire.

Water, as we will all agree, is the most consumed drink on Earth.

The North Eastern states, parts of the Nilgiri range and large tracts in the Sri Lankan hills have been the centers of tea cultivation and processing for almost two hundred years now. It forms 70% of Sri Lanka’s agri export and is the mainstay of the economies of all these regions. Like everything that gains economic significance, consumption of Tea also has a huge ecological impact. Tea is grown in monoculture plantations ranging from hundreds to thousands of hectares. It is typically grown in hilly regions with heavy rainfall.

Destruction of Biodiversity, extinction of endemic species, breakdown of local ecological systems – The process would obviously begin with complete deforestation of the hills. This entails clearing of the original virgin forest cover, which in turn means complete destruction of the local bio-diversity of flora and fauna. Countless endemic species are lost forever, much before the first cup of tea is ready to serve. Agricultural model based on monoculture and heavy use of chemical inputs – Tea shrubs are planted densely over vast stretches of hilly land. Nothing else is allowed to grow. Since only the leaves matter, there is widespread and heavy use of fertilizers that boost vegetative growth. Due to heavy rainfall, a lot of this fertilizer gets leached into ground water reserves and enters the human water consumption
cycle. The public health impact of nitrogen poisoning (e.g Punjab) is well known.

Socio-economic disparity due to concentration of ownership and centralization of resources – Tea grown for commercial sale needs to undergo considerable sorting, grading and processing before it is ready for the market. Growing and selling their own brand of tea is therefore not feasible for smallholders. All this must be necessarily done at factories, which are situated within or owned by large plantations. All resources and means of production are therefore concentrated in the hands of a miniscule number of large plantation owners and corporations. The vast majority of local people continue to work as laborers, since tea cultivation, harvesting and processing is still a very manual process.

Lastly, Tea contains caffeine, known to be addictive. Desperate Tea drinkers unable to control their urge for tea is a common sight.

In the most-popular-beverage race, closely behind Tea, is Coffee. While tea is brewed from leaves, coffee is brewed from the ground powder of berry seeds. A native of North Africa, popularized initially by Arab traders, Coffee began to be cultivated as a plantation crop at the behest of the industrious
European colonial powers. It is today a huge global industry.

Like Tea, Coffee is also cultivated in India after clearing large tracts of hill slopes in high rainfall regions. The loss of biodiversity, loss of habitat and local and endemic flora & fauna, is therefore as disastrous as that of Tea.

A small saving grace is the established manner of growing coffee. Since it is a shade loving shrub, it is necessary to maintain a primary plantation always. This consists of large Spice trees, Silver Oak, other trees like Areca nut, Indian Fig, some varieties of citrus fruits adapted to high rainfall regions, even Sapota (chikoo) and so on. Coffee is planted in the shade of these trees. Pepper vines are then allowed to climb on the primary plantation trees. This makes the coffee plantation model slightly more diverse, though many of these trees are likely to be exotic or non-natives. It may also impart more commercial resilience to the business model. Ecologically, it will help maintain a sparse canopy of sorts that protects the soil from erosion due to the lashing monsoons.

Economically, it is very similar to all the other plantation crops, as the model is based on concentration of resources and processing infrastructure in the hands of a privileged few. The vast majority of local populace is trapped in a self-fulfilling cycle of poverty. Small farmers can grow coffee and sell it on their own – but they will simply not have the volumes nor the branding, marketing and selling expertise to compete with global giants operating in the coffee business.

Plantation cropping is highly labor intensive – mechanization is slow and has its limitations. Economies of scale necessitate operations over large sized plantations, making it a very capital-intensive business too. This creates a structure of a few plantation owners and large number of local villagers working as laborers. The availability of such large numbers of people willing to work long and hard physically becomes a crucial dependency for all plantations. If for example, the local people were to get better education and skills and find alternate sources of employment, the plantation business will come under severe stress. This process has already begun.

The second ingredient of tea or coffee – the way it is consumed in erstwhile British colonies – is milk. Milk has even longer historical antecedents – it has been a part of human diet since humans domesticated grazing animals hundreds of thousands of years ago.

In the last few decades however, the consumption of milk and its various processed forms has assumed mind-boggling proportions. Strangely, this consumption seems to be supply-driven rather than driven by any real demand from consumers. A strong indicator of this phenomenon is the advertising and marketing spend related to milk and milk products worldwide. Goods and services which are scarce or genuine ‘survival needs’ do not require advertising. Apart from the supply surplus, force multipliers such as potent advertising and marketing, technologies of refrigeration, transportation, preservation, processing and highly developed markets are leading to massive rise in consumption.

A closer look at this milk-is-good-for-health syndrome leads us to some startling revelations…

Milk is the fluid produced in bodies of female mammals in the post-childbirth phase, meant exclusively for nourishing their own infants through the very early stages of their growth. That is the natural purpose of milk. At some time in the very early phase of human civilization, humans realized that the milk of bovines and other domestic herbivores could be used to sustain human infants, perhaps necessitated in cases where the human mother died while giving birth, or was unable to produce milk due to illness etc. It could have been an emergency resource, at best. In that case, we seem to have lost sight of some fundamental facts over the millennia…

a. No other mammal drinks the milk of another species.
b. No other mammal drinks even their own mother’s milk throughout their lives – as soon as the young one is capable of finding and consuming its natural food, the mother weans it, by instinct.
c. In nature, one mother typically feeds her young ones. Mixing of milk from various mothers is unlikely.

As is our habit, we have taken this simple discovery of a convenience and scaled it up into a gargantuan industry. Milk is now produced in either of two industrial models – it is produced in industrial dairy complexes which house thousands of captive milch animals (Corporate model), or it is collected from millions of small farmers and cattle owners, aggregated and treated and then distributed to millions of consumers (Cooperative model).

Both these models have assumed tremendous significance in the economy, therefore a closer look at their ecological and socio-economic impacts becomes necessary.

Extreme cruelty – The Corporate (Industrial) Dairy model is essentially a modern factory complex, where the cattle are mere components of a larger production system. The cattle are packed together with barely enough space to stand, attached to milking machines, fed at one end and milked at the other. They simply serve as machines to convert fodder into milk. The moment the milk production drops, the cow is artificially impregnated at the earliest. If she is past the optimum milk yielding age, she is sent off to the meat factory and replaced. Practically all male offspring are slaughtered.

All those opposed to cow slaughter, please note that there cannot be a milk industry without a Beef industry. The Beef industry is the pillar on which the Milk industry is supported. To put it bluntly, thank a beef eater for every cup of milk you have…they keep the business economically viable.

Synthetic drugs introduced into the human food chain – Thousands of animals living in close proximity is a sure recipe for disease. These animals are therefore constantly checked and monitored and pumped with antibiotics and other drugs to keep them free of infection.

The milk that finally reaches the consumer in branded pouches or packs today, is unlikely to have any nutritional value that a mother’s milk has for her infant. Why is that so?

Firstly, it is a mixture of milk produced in bodies of thousands of different individuals with different age, health and metabolism. There is no possibility of unique benefits of milk from known individual animals. This ‘milk’ now is an aggregate substance.

Secondly, all the animals in the factory are stall-fed with factory made cattle feed. The nutritive properties imparted to milk of animals that grazed the hill sides or grassy plains while choosing their fodder by instinct and natural wisdom are now lost.

Third, the ‘milk’ aggregate is further broken down in the factory process, to remove components such as fat, that will be used to make other products. The original composition of milk is lost.

Fourth, the ‘milk’ is industrially treated to withstand significant handling and transportation and machine packing. This entails adding preservatives and chemicals to ensure that it does not split or spoil during the long journey by tankers to the market cities or distribution points.

Fifth, the process of pasteurization destroys all beneficial bacteria, thereby reducing the substance to something very unlike real milk. The product now is more artificial than natural, bearing only a physical semblance to the original concept of milk.

Unfortunately, this travesty does not end here. Adulteration in milk is an age-old fact of life for us. And we are not even discussing Synthetic milk made using Urea, detergents and hydrogenated fats… The Cooperative model consists of thousands of individual small farmers keeping a few heads of cattle, grazing them in the wild and delivering milk to local collection centers in each small village. The collection vans go around twice a day, collating the milk and delivering it to the larger centers with refrigeration facilities. Once the milk is centrally collected, the rest of the process is similar to the corporate model, because the cooperative and the corporate are both competing in the same market for the same customer.

Despite the fact that these animals are more likely to be open-grazed than stall fed, the milk is eventually mixed, aggregated and treated – thus losing the nutritive value etc. The act of grazing itself has now become extremely destructive for a number of reasons. Due to the pressures of increasing populations, the traditional grazing pastures have been converted to farms and grazing is now carried out on hills. To ensure adequate supply of grass, the tree cover on hill sides has to be destroyed and the hills denuded, since grass will not grow in the shade of larger trees. And to prevent forests from being regenerated during the rains due to natural seeding (by wind, water, birds, animals etc) every summer, villagers set fire to the residual grass and other vegetation in the hills. This is an annual phenomenon in the Himalayan foothills, Sahyadris and all major and minor hills across the country.

The villagers have also learnt that once the residual dried grass is burnt, the ash that falls to the earth works as a fertilizer and leads to vigorous growth of grass in the next monsoon. This insight has further reinforced their belief in the ritual of setting off forest fires and burning down all vegetation on the hill slopes every year. Hence the commercial interest, indeed the survival of millions of small landholders in the hills has today become dependent on the annual destruction of natural vegetation on the slopes. It will therefore not be far from the truth to say that large-scale milk production is having a similar environmental impact as tea production on the hilly regions across the country.

The last ingredient of Tea, as enjoyed in the subcontinent, is Sugar.

All sugar consumed in India is made from sugar cane. Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra are the largest sugarcane and Sugar producer states in the country.

Impact on water use – Sugarcane has been traditionally grown using flood irrigation, which is a highly wasteful and inefficient method of irrigation. In Maharashtra, 4% of farmers cultivate sugarcane on 6% of total arable land and consume 76% of water resources

Refined sugar has a large water footprint – it has been estimated that 3500 liters of potable water is consumed to produce one kilogram of Sugar. This includes all water used from cultivation of sugarcane to the final manufacturing in the factory.

Socio-economic costs – Widespread Sugarcane cultivation has come at very high socio-economic costs as well. The most damaging impact has been on farmer skills. Shifting away from multi-cropping of diverse seasonal food crops towards repetitive monoculture of sugar cane has meant a complete de-skilling of farmers. In just two generations, farmers have become completely dependent on the markets for their own needs. They have lost the skills and knowledge that had been carefully accumulated and passed on over generations till a few decades ago. Sugar factories have become hotbeds of political activity, sugarcane farmers are mere contract suppliers of raw material and hundreds of thousands of farmers and workers from rainfed, non-sugarcane areas now migrate every year as contract laborers to cut sugarcane from farms. Every year the prices of sugarcane purchase are negotiated with nominal increases. Most farmers now grow sugarcane because they do not know any other alternative. Many will openly admit that they are now trapped.

Public health – In nature, no other animal eats refined sugars. Our bodies are designed to break down all starches – whether from fruit, tubers, leaves or grains – to glucose and then burn it as fuel for energy. The impact of refined sugar consumption on human health is well known and documented, ranging from Calcium depletion to blood sugar imbalance. Unfortunately, tea drinkers automatically stand to consume much more refined sugar – save the miniscule number of tea drinkers who do not use sugar.

Neither Tea, Milk nor Sugar are essential for survival or maintenance of good health. As a matter of fact, their adverse impacts are well known. Apart from the impact on human health, all three have very destructive long-term impact on ecosystems. Destroying hill side forest cover directly contributes to global warming and climate change. It results in erosion of staggering amounts of precious soil. Extinction of endemic species and loss of biodiversity are all serious impacts. Milk consumed by urban people today is practically a factory- made substance which looks like milk but has none of the properties that we assume it to have. There is no nutritional argument to be made in favor of refined sugars, whereas there are numerous known ill effects.

Commercially, all three are in the realm of Big Business, which makes them powerful forces in their own right. All three are therefore politically significant influencers too.

Consider this – All of these three are mere cultural indulgences, none are essential survival needs, which means no one would actually starve to death for want of any of them. Let’s imagine for a moment the impact on the environment, if all this land is restored to its natural ecological state. It is now up to us citizens to ponder upon these facts and decide whether that cup of tea is takes priority over human health and environmental sustainability.

On the Occasion of Bee Day (originally published on May 20th)

by Ashutosh Pradhan (ap@vinzai.com), founder of Purarbharan Foundation

It is May 20. Bees are flying everywhere on social media today – but wait, they are nearly all honeybees…

Alluding to a captioned image, one post emphasised how “humans ought to thank bees for pollinating our farms AND for bringing us such sweet honey.”

Really? Come on: bees do NOT produce honey for humans, do they?

In spite of the Internet being full of pro-honey content, there are a growing number of people who do not consume honey for ethical reasons. What do they know that most of us others don’t? Below is some information about bees and honey. Some readers may already know this info, but I’m sure that for many, this is the first time you’re learning these facts. So off we go:

Today is World Bee Day, not Honey Bee Day (that is on 21 Aug.)

All honey bees are bees, but not all bees are honey bees.

All bees help pollinate, and there are a few hundred varieties of bees, not just one species.

Bees that do collect the nectar from which honey is made, do so to survive during off-season so as to continue their life cycle in perpetuity. There is no such thing as extra. And it is not the LEAST meant for humans.

If bees abandon a natural hive with some leftover honey, it is used by other bees who arrive there later. Btw, these ‘latecomer’ or occupier bees ALSO help pollinate our plants and crops. Someone may claim to have not killed honey-bees, when in fact they have actually made money by looting honey, and left the poor worker bees to die of starvation in spite of all their hard work.

Honey is actually bee-vomit. Hundreds of worker bees consume nectar from flowers and exchange this regurgitated nectar, moving it across other worker bees to the right places inside the hive to store away safely or to use for nourishing their eggs. 

All commercial bee farming is based on ghastly and cruel practices apart from basically robbing the bees of their hard-earned nectar. Bee nests are smoked to daze bees and make harvesting honey easier. The hives are also sometimes burnt away with live bees inside in order to avoid taking care of them in the off-season.

When smoked, bees try to flee the hives in fear of their life, but before flying away, they try to pick up as much of their collected honey and carry it to a safer location. It was meant for their rainy day, after all.

Most professional beekeepers deny this, but a profitable honey business cannot run at scale without doing some of this: queen bees get their wings clipped so they cannot fly. They are also artificially inseminated (to produce worker bees) with sperm from male bees that are forcibly ejaculated.

When man-made beehives are placed in a farm, a single certain species of honeybees gets introduced in the local area. The newly arrived ‘farmed’ bees actually drive away the native bees. In this process, a phenomenon similar to monocropping happens at a bee-level and the resulting loss of pollinator diversity causes a breakdown of healthy food-chains in that ecosystem. This eventually works poorly for the farmer, but professional beekeepers do not reveal this to the farmer because of their obvious gains in terms of honey.

In some locations where elaborate studies were conducted, it was found that one single honey bee species had caused the collapse of over 200 bee species, causing irreparable damage to the native ecosystem.

The best breeding ground – or the place where bees reproduce quickly and thrive – are wild flower zones. Think about the Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand or our own Kaas Pathaar!! Yes, but then no! There exist countless natural floral hillscapes, fields and wetlands that serve as great bee habitats but most stand ruined by human activity, all in recent years.

Not just mono-cropping and pesticides, but rampant urbanisation, mindless expansion/widening of highways, degradation of natural landscapes and wetlands for industry etc. are causing the biggest harm to the cause of bees. We need to question the need for infra projects because not only do they do us no good but they cause immense harm by destroying stable habitats and endangering human food systems almost directly. It is time we understood this reality.

Happy World Bee Day! Let our buzzy friends bee!!

Why are Farmers Protesting and Why Does it Matter?

By Jeeva Bhavana and Ashutosh Pradhan (ap@vinzai.com), founder of Purarbharan Foundation

The Origins:

The on-going protests could be said to be farmers’ spontaneous reaction to the three farm bills passed by the Parliament in September 2020, that 1) “allow” farmers to sell directly to the private sector instead of to the APMCs (Agriculture Produce Market Committees) – the government-regulated farmers’ markets; 2) allow the private sector to enter into direct contracts with farmers; and 3) remove all the regulations on the private sector as to selling and buying price. The government claims that these laws will “liberate” farmers, freeing them of the hegemony of the APMCs, allowing them to negotiate directly with the open market and get the “right price” from the private sector.

It is common belief that the APMCs are havens of unscrupulous middlemen where instead of serving farmers’ interests, their weaknesses are actually exploited. So it would seem that farmers should be pleased to circumvent the APMC system. So why are they protesting?

The Reasons:

  • The government claims that the APMCs will continue to function. However if the private sector sets up its own markets, they will certainly wipe out the APMCs over a period of time. At that point, the farmers will be at the mercy of the private sector…and farmers know quite well that the private sector’s bottom line is not mercy but profits, and thus will drive down prices and compel farmers to sell off their produce at unviable rates. The APMC system assures farmers a MSP (minimum support price or a government-regulated base price) safeguarding particularly the small farmers from the market vagaries of supply-demand based pricing. The end of APMCs sounds the death knell of MSP and ushers in cut-throat laissez-faire economic models that the private sector thrives on, but that will certainly spell ruin for small farmers’ financial security.
  • About 86% of the farmers in India are small-holding farmers (with less than 2 acres of land). The inadequacy felt by the small farmer when standing up to a large faceless corporate is immense. Under the new laws and despite their numbers, small farmers will have virtually no bargaining power against the private sector. Also, the law specifies that in case of problems, the farmers can neither take their claims to court nor sue any of the government agencies. For all intents and purposes, farmers are stripped of their fundamental right to due process in case of dispute.
  • Given that the private sector has no obligation towards the welfare of farmers, but only to its shareholders and to its profits, social justice and economic equity in food production will be undermined. The private sector has historically indulged in routine corruption and we cannot expect that to change. Corporates have been responsible for land-grabbing, price distortion, disastrous monocropping, etc and have proven on multiple occasions that they cannot be trusted to improve farmers’ lives in any way.
  • Many farmers see the laws as the latest effort to industrialize the agricultural sector by allowing agribusiness giants to gain more control of it. Under the guise of “liberating” farmers, the laws could swing the door open to a blizzard of market forces that the average Indian small farmer is ill-equipped to take on. The farmers fear, and rightly so, given the history of agricultural corporatization in the US and Europe, as well as India’s own Green Revolution since the mid-70s, that industry interests will destroy the remaining indigenous crop and seed diversity, replacing them with manipulated, patented hybrid crops that warrant the widespread use of expensive and harmful chemical inputs, leading to never-ending cycles of bank loans, not to mention soil erosion, water depletion, biodiversity loss, etc. 

The Needs and Potential Solutions:

It must be noted that for various historical, social, political and geographical reasons, regions outside the Punjab and Haryana have fallen short of making best use of the MSP system. While some commentators remark that farmers from these states are the only ones protesting the dismantlement of the MSP, it is important to argue in favour of promoting and extending the MSP across all states. MSPs are the perfect policy tool to ensure seed nativity, realign crop diversity, retain/utilise geographical advantages and address the cause of a more even distribution of resource extraction. Market forces devoted and committed to profit alone cannot match the equity achievable via a well thought-out national MSP implementation that is coordinated across regions/states.

Bright successes of the cooperative movement need to be studied in depth as inspirations for fair and robust systems for farmers and their production. Amul is an example of a first-rate model of collective economic activity (even if built upon one of the worst and most unethical farm-products). Lessons from the cooperative sector and from FPCs (Farmer Producer Companies), should become springboards toward organising functional collectives at local levels, rather than tendering large-scale sell-outs to unipolar corporates. Air & water pollution, access to groundwater (which is a common good), climate resilience, disaster-preparedness…all of these parameters must be of equal priority with economic resilience for solid and forward thinking governance.

40 percent of the Earth’s land is now given over to agriculture. Agriculture and Environment are so intertwined as to be indistinguishable. Environmental Justice, “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies,” requires that farmers – particularly those with the smallest holdings – have a seat at the policy-making table, for no better reason than that their livelihoods depend on it. We thus urge the government to engage in meaningful consultation with farmers while drawing up the laws, giving farmers adequate say in policy decisions that will impact their lives with such magnitude. And yet there is another reason that is perhaps equally important, and that is thwarting the growing agricultural corporatization of India’s farmland, the greatest threat to environmental devastation in an already vulnerable nation.

The Taste Of India? Not Really!

by Ashutosh Pradhan (ap@vinzai.com), founder of Punarbharan Foundation

Over the past few decades, a large cooperative has been promoting milk & derivatives with a “taste of India” tagline. But this claim is not only untrue and overbearing, but also has been responsible for inappropriately twisting the food habits of a large population for over a generation. Aren’t those who are born and raised in India, but reject dairy, Indians too?

They were in court seeking to throttle the fact-based anti-dairy campaign by a website, labeling it as “vicious”. However, in reality, it is time to seek the court of law to intervene and restrict this institution from taking all Indians for granted and making utterly false claims.

The horrors of dairy unleashed by the so-called “White Revolution” are beginning to be called out by a large number of individuals and groups as much as the dark side of the “Green Revolution” was questioned a few decades ago. More and more people are now aware – even though a glorious picture has constantly been painted via expensive campaigns across various media outlets – that all is not well.

The whole world is accepting that going vegan is the way to go. But it seems that Indians will board this bus the last, as usual following the West. Instead of openly pondering the extreme violence in dairy and quitting it immediately, we will drag our feet and finally join in much too late. And then we will busy up claiming plant-based food was a way of life prescribed in all our ancient texts.

Evolution has been an endless, constant process. It did not stop with apes evolving into Homo sapiens. Women had no voting rights until as recently as the previous century. Slavery, the custom of satee, grotesque sacrifices – all these evils were overturned eventually. So will animal-exploitation become passé, someday soon.

The question here is: will we board the “ahimsa express” in good time? We so want to invoke the times of Lord Krishna but conveniently forget the basics. Did Krishna’s contemporary herdsmen artificially inseminate cows to make them lactate? Did they force repeated pregnancies on helpless animals? Did they sell away the male calves for veal? Were they the largest exporters of beef of their times? Did they inject hormones to their milch animals and did they use extraction pumps to forcibly draw the last drop of milk?

When the guardians of our traditions learn and accept that modern dairy cannot operate profitably without undertaking all of these horrific practices, and when they realise that the very existence of commercial dairy actually conflicts with a true understanding of our traditions, will they move forward and embrace a just food-system devoid of cruelty and violence?

Until then, let’s ready up to witness more such court fights and campaigning.


मागील अनेक वर्षे एक मोठी सहकारी संस्था ‘द टेस्ट ऑफ इंडिया’ अशी टॅगलाईन वापरून दुधाची जाहिरात करत आली आहे. पण हा दावा खरा नाही, उलट वास्तव लपवून लोकांच्या सवयी बदलण्यास जबाबदार ठरलेला अतिरेक आहे. भारतात जन्माला आलेले, भारतात राहणारे, आणि दूध व दुग्धजन्य पदार्थ वर्ज्य मानणारे लोक काय भारतीय नाहीत??

परवा दुधामागचे भयंकर सत्य उलगडणार्या एका वेबसाईट विरुद्ध कोर्टात जाऊन दाद मागणार्या या संस्थेला आख्खा भारत आपली जागीर समजायचा काय हक्क आहे असे कोर्टात जाऊनच विचारायची वेळ आली आहे.

जशी हरितक्रांतीची काळी बाजू काही दशकं लोटल्यावर तरी आता स्वीकारली जाऊ लागली, तसेच धवलक्रांतीचे रक्तरंजन निदान काही लोकांना तरी लक्षात येऊ लागलं आहे. 

सगळ्या जगाला समजतंय की going vegan is the way to go. आम्ही, नेहमीप्रमाणे, सगळ्यात शेवटी हे सत्य स्वीकार करू आणि सोबत गळे काढू की “आमच्याकडे हे ज्ञान आधीच होतं…” किंवा “आमच्या गीतेत, यजुर्वेदात असंच सांगितलंय…” वगैरे वगैरे. मग अहमहमिका लागेल वेद, पुराणं, शास्त्र आदिंचे दाखले देण्याची.

माकडाचा माणूस झाला, तिथे उत्क्रांती थांबली का? वैचारिक उत्क्रांती झाली म्हणून स्त्रियांना मतदानाचा हक्क आणि वडिलोपार्जित मालमत्तेत मुलींना समान वाटा मिळाला; गुलामगिरी, सतीप्रथा, बळी देणे ई. अनिष्ट प्रथा थांबल्या. तसंच मुक्या प्राण्यांच्या कत्तली आणि छळ हे देखील नक्की थांबेल.

प्रश्न हा आहे की आम्ही इथेही पाश्चात्यांच्या नंतरच या गाडीत चढणार का? आणि रडत-फरपटत कसेतरी या गाडीत चढल्यावर नंतर स्वतःच्या संस्कृतीचं श्रेष्ठत्व सिद्ध करण्याचा केविलवाणा प्रयत्न करणार का? 

आम्ही अजूनही कृष्णाच्या गोकुळातलं पवित्र दुध पितो अशा बालिश भ्रमात आहोत. कृष्णाच्या गोकुळात गायी बलात्कार करून गाभण करवल्या जात होत्या का? नर पाडसं मारून मांस निर्यात करत होते का? गायींना संप्रेरके (hormones) टोचून टोचून सकाळ-संध्याकाळ त्यांचं दूध मशीननी पिळून काढत होते का? भाकड गायी कत्तलखान्यात पाठवत होते का? कोवळी पाडसं त्यांच्या आईपासून ओढून विकत होते का? अशा भयंकर मार्गाने ओढून घेतलेल्या दुधाचे चीझ-पनीर-खवा-रबडी किलो-किलोंनी ओरपत होते का? संस्कृतीरक्षकांना ठाऊक तरी आहे का की आज भारतात दुधाचा धंदा या गोष्टी केल्याशिवाय नफ्याचा होत नाही?

एक दिवस आम्ही दुधामागची आधुनिक कृष्णकहाणी मान्य करून एक अहिंसक, १०० टक्के वनस्पतीजन्य अशी अन्नव्यवस्था उभी करू. त्याला पर्याय नाही. तोवर मात्र परवासारख्या कोर्टातील लढाया आणि जागोजागी प्राण्यांवरील अत्याचाराविरूद्ध उभ्या झालेल्या असंख्य चळवळी बघण्याची तयारी ठेवावी.


by Preeti Gopal, PhD https://preetigopal.github.io/

In our pursuit of life on other planets like Mars, one of the first few elements we search for is the slightest trace of water. This describes the importance of the role that water plays in sustaining life. However, it is ironic that despite knowing this, we as a species continue to pollute, waste and commercialize water bodies in our only home, the Earth.

India, specifically, is blessed with scores of rivers and tributaries flowing from all major mountain ranges across the entire country. Some of the major rivers are the Ganges, Yamuna, Brahmaputra, Ravi, Chenab, Jhelum, Narmada, Godavari and Kaveri. 

And yet, we are in the midst of a severe water-crisis. 

Every year for many years now, we have been facing more frequent and longer droughts. Every season, we continue to read about crop failures and hundreds of farmers committing suicide due to the lack of normal rainfall. The tragic situation is worsened by increased cultivation of water-heavy mono-crops like cotton, sugarcane, wheat and rice. Instead of cultivating millets, pulses and other crops that have a low-water footprint, we pump in money on research for genetically modifying crops to make them drought-resistant. But of course, the problem isn’t solved even then. 

The resulting human-induced lack of water pushes the economic agenda for the construction of more dams. Dams create new water-wars wherein one state which is near the source of the river is at an advantageous position to store all the water that would have otherwise flown in its natural volume and course into another state that is near the sea-end of the river.  When the monsoon fails, as frequently is the case, there is less water to share and disputes are likely to escalate. At times, we have seen negotiations get violent (for example between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in 2016) until the Supreme Court is asked to intervene in order to resolve the fight with some temporary solution.

With these temporary solutions come new problems, themselves not nearly as temporary. The construction of dams adversely affects biodiversity both in water and on land, causes the erosion of coastal deltas and devastates the livelihoods of the native population on the river basins. Most of these people become permanently displaced. The resulting human-crisis is evident like in cases such as the Narmada Bachao Andolan.

Tired of the constant political feud with neighbours over water, states like Tamil Nadu have also invested in desalination plants for converting sea-water into fresh water (something that the water-cycle naturally does for us for free!). The desalination plants are highly inefficient in terms of energy used for the conversion. In addition, their long-term environmental impact on the sea-shore is yet to be studied. 

In the urban scenario, the exploitation of water bodies is a different story. Dense development that leaves little room for green spaces like parks and gardens, and poor maintenance of drainage systems mean that the little-to-medium rainfall that metropolitan cities receive quickly floods the concrete jungle and results in a disaster. Citizens contribute generously to flood relief funds and participate in rescue missions to provide food and safety to those who are the most affected by these man-made floods, usually slum dwellers. We succeed only partially in our rescue efforts and sorrowfully accept the damage done. Days pass by and we forget the incident until yet another flood hits another place.  And all the while, the urban lakes and their ecosystems are rapidly being destroyed either by a) filling them up with soil to enable construction and real-estate transactions in the area, b) dumping part of the city’s solid waste into it, and c) dumping untreated industrial effluents. The infamous Bellandur Lake in Bengaluru caught everyone’s attention in May 2015 (and again in January 2018) when it caught fire due to the toxic concoction of chemicals dumped into it. 

Most urban residents have witnessed the transition from the soft water from local municipalities to hard water from their own borewell. Because of depleting groundwater, borewells are dug deeper and deeper every year in search of water. The supply-chain of portable water is now in the hands of a mafia in most cities (like Bengaluru and Chennai) where residents buy water transported in lorries from borewells dug on the outskirts of the city. 

Clearly, our water management is messed up. 

And contrary to the tech savvy vision of our nation, this problem cannot be solved by more drought-resistant GMO crops, more dams, deeper borewells, more subsidies for failing crops, newer desalination plants or the famous upcoming inter-river linking project. Each of these solutions is merely a temporary band-aid to the crisis and each comes with its own health, environmental and human-right hazards.

The only way to get out of the water-crisis is by understanding the water-cycle. Though this subject is on the third grade syllabus in school, most of us, if we studied it at all, merely learnt it by rote. Yet if we dive deep into its wisdom, we realize just how perfectly nature does her job when we stop interfering with, or trying to control her. 

For example, if in our cities, we let the rainwater be absorbed into the ground, not only can we reduce the risk of flooding, but the underwater table will rise too. This can easily be done by freeing up some concrete space (and creating parks and gardens) and protecting urban lakes and their ecosystems. If we build a rain-water harvesting facility into our homes, we can  replenish ground-water. If we choose to consume a variety of millets and pulses, very soon farmers will grow them in greater abundance and benefit from their low water-footprint. If we stand-up against our neighbouring industry’s waste disposal practices, they will be forced to treat their waste and dispose it sustainably. 

And if we go vegan, we can save tonnes of water that is currently being used for growing animal feed, and cleaning animal shelters and abattoirs, and ofcourse as the animals’ drinking water.  Such a lifestyle will also prevent water bodies from being polluted by the leather tanning industries and contaminated by a currently overwhelming amount of animal waste that is seeping into our soils and into our waterways.

Are we going to continuously focus on another band-aid and proceed towards ‘zero-water day’, or will we thrive by living in congruence with nature? Let’s go back to our third-grade syllabus, but this time, instead of just memorizing the lesson on the water-cycle, let’s study it closely and abide by its infallible principles.


by Nandini Gulati, Holistic Health Coach, nandinigulati@gmail.com

“Live simply so you can simply live!” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Even as little kids, we are bombarded with advertisements showing how we can be strong if we drink a certain beverage or popular with other kids if we possess certain toys. Our minds are impressionable and it is hard for us to escape this conditioning targeting our innate needs as humans.

For adults the stakes are higher. Brands create aspirational fantasies and then promise their fulfilment through enhanced sexual prowess, beauty, monetary success, fame, stardom, riches and luxury.

We rush around all our lives working hard and stressed to win the race to earn more and acquire these brands and the lifestyle they promise, with the innate assumption that all this will make us happy and fulfilled.

If we are lucky, somewhere in this chase for more, we discover that the truth is quite the opposite. For most people the realisation dawns later in life, if at all. By then, however, we may be buried under loans and EMI’s or trapped in an unfulfilling marriage or diagnosed with a chronic illness as a result of living a stressful and unhealthy life chasing illusionary objects of happiness.

This happened to me after I stepped away from the corporate treadmill and saw the value of simplicity and minimalism.

To understand minimalism we must understand its antithesis, “consumerism,” which is based on the premise that the more we buy, acquire, consume, accumulate and possess, the happier and more fulfilled we will feel. 

But in fact, the more material objects we possess, the more time and money we spend in their purchase, upkeep, maintenance, care and upgrades. Without even realising it, we become tied to our possessions and ultimately burdened by them.

There are many people across the globe who are discovering the freedom of owning less. They have worked at simplifying their lives and are able to live more in alignment with what they value most. They can spend more time with their families, travel the world or pursue their passions and the work that brings them joy.

It’s time that more of us climbed onto this bandwagon of simplicity to free our time, reduce financial stress and understand what it means to live more freely.

Here are 7 steps to minimalism, partly inspired by Joshua Becker (Becoming Minimalist) and Courtney Carver (Be More with Less).

  1. Write down your “why”. Why do you wish to own less? What value will that bring to your life?
  2. Start by discarding the easiest things, like what’s broken, expired, redundant or useless or if you have duplicates or triplicates. Go one room or area at a time.
  3. Limit your media consumption especially exposure to marketing and advertising.
  4. Create/ declare a clutter-free zone in your home. This will be your “minimalist sanctuary”. Ask yourself: how do I feel here?
  5. Experiment living with less. For example, choose your favourite 33 items of clothing for the next 3 months. Box the rest and set it aside.
  6. Avoid eating out or ordering in. Eat simpler and healthier meals. Choose grains, legumes, fresh fruit and vegetables over processed and packaged food.
  7. Practice gratitude for all you have. Share what you have in excess with others.

An added benefit of living simply is reducing the burden on the environment. Every item we buy uses up the resources of the Earth in some way, has a carbon footprint and leaves residue and waste behind – some more toxic and unsustainable than others. Consider the true cost of your purchases on the environment and other living beings.

There is a widespread parallel movement of zero waste warriors who educate us about buying less, borrowing from and donating to others, reusing and repurposing items we already own to extend their life and use, and teach us how to send less waste to the landfill. If this topic interests you, I strongly suggest you learn more about zero waste practices like composting, cooking at home, growing your own food, recycling, repurposing, sustainable fashion etc.

I would like to end with a story.

A European disciple is very fond of his Indian Guru and is intent on visiting him at his home in India. One day his wish comes true and he travels to India and reaches the village of his Guru.

The Guru who lives a simple village life is delighted to see his student and welcomes him to his humble home.

Seeing the home bare with hardly any furniture or personal effects, the disciple can’t hold his curiosity any longer and says, “Guruji, may I ask you something?”

“Go ahead.”

“Is this a new home? Did you just move in here?”

“No. I’ve been living here for years.”

“But then… Why is it so empty? Where is all your furniture?”

Guruji is silent for a moment and then says, “Let me ask you, where is yours?”

“But Guruji, I’m just a traveller.”

Guruji smiles and says, “So am I.”

Veganism and Global Sustainability: the Key to Healing our Environmental Woes

by Julie Wayne

(originally published on 22 October 2019 on Vegan India!)

Okay, I know: we are Vegan for the animals. We understand that although humans have normalized enslaving, exploiting and slaughtering non-human animals since the beginning of time, because we no longer need to eat (or use in any manner) animals to aspire to optimal health or well-being, we’ve made a conscious decision to align our actions with our values and thus to stop participating in this horrendous injustice towards the non-human individuals with whom we share this planet.

As Vegans, we speak for the animals. But I do believe it’s time, as Vegans, to speak for “this planet” and to say loudly, unequivocally and proudly that veganism is our best bet for mitigating climate change and environmental ruin. Indeed, last year researchers at the University of Oxford declared that veganism is the single biggest way to reduce our environmental impact on planet Earth. Meanwhile, the most recent report of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) states in no uncertain terms that switching to a plant-based diet can help fight climate change. Let’s examine just a few of the reasons that veganism and sustainability are so intertwined as to be metaphorical synonyms.

I’ll begin with greenhouse gas emissions, since GHGs are one of the primary causes of global warming. Here are some numbers: Animal agriculture generates approximately 51% of GHG emissions, much more than has been stated in the past. Of those GHGs, I’d like to focus on one in particular, methane, for it is both extremely powerful (between 20-84 times stronger than CO2, depending on the time-frame) but also has a much shorter half life (7-8 years compared to the 100 years of CO2), which means reducing methane emissions has an immediate and positive impact on temperature rise. Since ruminants account for 37% of human-related methane production, ceasing their breeding is the simplest and quickest way to keep global warming at bay.

Global warming is a real threat and must be tackled: rising temperatures and the climate chaos that results (increasing frequency and force of droughts, floods, hurricanes, etc) create many problems, not the least of which is drastically altering what can be grown for food and where, thus putting into peril food security and sovereignty, especially in “developing countries.”  But warming is merely the tip of our quickly melting global iceberg. The list of animal agriculture’s other environmental evils is so long (air and water pollution, freshwater depletion, land degradation, soil erosion, desertification, biodiversity and habitat loss, species extinction, deforestation, acidification of the oceans and ocean dead-zones…just to name a few) and their consequences so rampant and so destructive, that sustainability will only be obtained by AA’s eradication.

There is probably no greater inefficient use of our precious resources, whether they be renewable or not, than breeding, raising, using and killing animals for food. Again, let’s look at some numbers. Currently, there are about 7 ½ billion humans who inhabit the Earth. Every year, we kill about 75 billion land animals for food. During their short life, all of those animals must eat food and drink water. About 25% of all our freshwater and 36% of our global crop production are given to the animals we eat. Aside from a terrible moral price we pay as a global community (more than 80% of the world’s starving children live in countries where grain is fed to animals who will be eaten by individuals in richer countries), by continuing this food system, we are not doing our math: animals consume far more food than they produce! The very basics of sustainable food production clearly point to one conclusion only, and that is to rid ourselves of the “middleman”, in this case animals, and grow crops uniquely for human consumption.

Once we take domesticated animals out of the equation, we will free up tremendous areas of arable land – land that in most instances was cleared and is currently used for grazing, farming or growing crops to feed animals. The recent wildfires in Brazil were a tragic case in point: the World Bank estimates that 91% of the cleared land in the Amazon is used either for cattle ranching or for growing crops (soya, corn…) to feed to animals globally. But let us remember that though razing of the Amazon is horrific, the same thing is happening all over the world, with no or little media coverage. This is what deforestation is all about.

Imagine this, then: the world goes Vegan. Deforestation ceases. Global farmland use could be reduced by 75 percent, freeing up land mass the size of Australia, China, the EU and the US combined. On this freed up land, we plant trees, we grow food forests, we let vast tracts of land rejuvenate without the intervention of the human hand. By doing this, we foster sustainability and the natural balance that allows all life of Earth to thrive.

I am Vegan for the animals. I am Vegan to heal the Earth. Please do join me.