Recently during my college break, a heavy boredom overcame me and I decided that it was time to get out of the house and enjoy nature. My inability to drive at the time greatly limited my range, but luckily for someone who lives in Shillong, the Shillong Reserve Forest offers a wonderful location to bask in nature’s glory without travelling too far.
Thus it was that I began exploring the forest with my dogs; Gurthang and Paris. I first began from Lumparing, under the guidance of my sister-in-law who showed me the various trails that crisscrossed the land, which people who lived along the forest edge have used since time immemorial.
I did enjoy my time in that wonderful sylvan abode, but I found that the forest was heavily under siege by human destruction. A trail which ran from Lumparing all the way to Motinagar involved the crossing of three rivers, I had been worried that crossing these rivers would be a bit perilous but my worries was for naught, they were bone dry. Huge pipes had sucked them dry. These pipes provided water for Malki, Risa Colony, Cleve Colony and St. Edmund’s. They left barely a trickle for the forest, the rocky bottoms of river beds, waterfalls and dry canyons a sad reminder to glorious days when the water flowed freely. The unquenchable thirst of Shillongites for water slowly kills the rivers of the Shillong Forest.
Another observation I made in my time there was the deforestation and probable illegal logging, Pine Trees had their bases burnt and cut for the collection of tinder and fuel to cook meals. Thus trees over 5 meters high had their base cut in half, the result of which was that quite a few snapped and collapsed as a result of strong winds. Almost everywhere I went in the forest, pine trees were being damaged for tinder. It was a sad sight to see, mighty trees by hand of desperate men left mortally wounded. What makes it sadder is that these men have to use the trees to cook their meals as it is a cheap source of fuel.
But the one thing that was the most noticeable was the littering. My family and I took back down any non-biodegradable thrash we had with us, back to the city to be disposed in dustbins, but this was not a practice of many who visited the forest. Thrash was plentiful along the trail; wrappers, plastics, cans and bottles. The most hazardous of these were the broken glass bottles left by merry makers, which made anyone else who visited less than merry. These pieces of broken glass are more than capable of causing untold harm to travellers along the trail.
Downstream from the forest, the rivers have turned into sewage drains, where local residents have linked their toilets to the river, untreated raw sewage now flows directly from houses into the formerly beautiful rivers. This is especially true at lower Lumparing and Malki. Waterfalls of garbage and sewage flow where once clean water passed. The washing of clothes along the river too is quite a common problem, a little further upstream the rivers have become foamy and smelled of detergents.
The main cause for the degradation of the Shillong Reserve forest is a lack of Civic Sense by the people. Mainly this is due to a lack of education on the civic duties of a citizen, but also due to a lack of appreciation to the natural wonders it has to offer. Another reason for the degradation of environment in Meghalaya, can be attributed to the abandonment of traditional native religions. In times long ago, nature was considered sacred by the people, thus they did their best to ensure they had minimal impact/damage and tried to protect it. An example of this is the creation of sacred groves where flora and fauna was to be protected. However the replacement of nature worships by monotheistic Judeo-Christian doctrine of “dominionism” over nature, where people no longer have an appreciation for nature and believe that the nature was created by their god for their use and control. Nature is not something the adherents of Judeo-Christian doctrine consider a part of; instead they believe that they have divinely sanctioned authority over it. For example in the Christian tradition, the Bible states in Genesis 1:26-28 “God blessed them…be fruitful and multiply…have dominion over fish…the air…and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”
Lynn White, Jr a Professor from Princeton in his essay ‘The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis’ say that Christianity is the most “Anthropocentric religion the world has ever seen.” Christianity tells people that they are separate and different from nature, it established a “dualism of man and nature and that it is god’s will that man exploit nature for his proper ends”. In pagan religions, every tree and every spring had its guardian spirits, as it is in the Khasi religious tradition, where spirits lived under rocks, in forests, caves etc. Man would try to appease the spirits before cutting a tree or mining minerals; however with the defeat of animism and establishment of monotheism, it was possible to exploit nature without appeasing such spirits. Thus people could destroy nature without a hint of fear or guilt. Thus the people of Meghalaya many of whom have embraced Christianity whole heartedly can dump their garbage in Um Shyrpi without a hint of guilt or fear.
In a research paper titled, ‘The impact of Religious Faith on Attitudes to Environmental Issues and Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Technologies: A Mixed Method Study’ by Aimie L.B Hope and Christopher R. Jones of the University of Sheffield, published in 2014 where people of different religions mainly Christian, Muslim and non-religious were questioned on their views of the environment, it was the Muslim and Christian Participants were had “relatively low perceptions of urgency for environmental issues, particularly climate change, due to a belief in an afterlife and divine intervention” i.e. they considered protecting and safe guarding the environment less of a priority due to the fact that they believed that their god would come to the rescue of the environment and that since their time in this planet was merely transitional, they were less concerned with environmental health. This study shows in real life that that Judeo-Christian doctrine was not conducive to the protection of the environment.
Ludwig Feurbach a 19th century writer once said, “Nature, the world, has no value, no interest for Christians. The Christian thinks only of himself and the salvation of his soul.”
Although it is unfair to lay the blame of environmental destruction solely on Judeo-Christian doctrine as capitalism and consumerism too plays a huge part, acknowledging its role is important. Thus the people of Meghalaya need to be concerned with life on this earth, rather than speculate what underwear angels wear in heaven.
Not many places in the world have been blessed with a pristine forest that the people can visit, for free. Yet so many people young and old abuse this wonderful privilege. Thus education and public awareness programs can go a long way in helping maintain the forest. The people simply cannot comprehend how blessed they are to have such natural wonders.
The government too must play a part, annual taxation of the residents and businesses of Shillong and other places adjoining the forest should be made, to raise revenue for its preservation and it’s cleaning. The forests should be cleaned regularly, workers should be hired to look for garbage left in the forest and remove it, anti-littering laws should be vigorously enforced and violators of the laws should be should be sought out and heavily fined. Garbage bins should be placed in locations in and around the forest. Clear limits should be set on the amount of water allowed to taken from the various rivers and streams by the various localities. Sale of forest land to unscrupulous organizations and individuals should be prevented.
All this is true to all the forests in the state, unregulated human activities, has a tremendous impact on the environment; littering, illegal deforestation, unregulated urbanization and encroachment on public land, etc have played a role in destroying the natural beauty of the state. The State of Meghalaya has been blessed with much beauty when it comes to the fauna and flora. The many forests that are found in, Meghalaya belong to the people of the state and the people must act responsibly to protect what they have, for in this world of environmental destruction, they risk losing what little they have.