No rain, and the embers of hate glow
Editorial: November 2015
Hardnews Bureau Delhi
US Secretary of State John Kerry recently conferred legitimacy on a view that the Syrian crisis was triggered by climate change. A long drought from 2006 resulted in collapse of the production of wheat and barley by half and two-thirds, respectively – forcing the migration of 1.5 million people from the villages to the cities. Kerry, along with several climatologists, claims that this jobless, angry and restive multitude provided the spine to the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. They were also vulnerable to religious extremism as the modern state seemed unable to provide solutions to their problems.
This analysis isn’t entirely accurate as the region has seen drought in the past without the disastrous fallout that visited Syria in 2010. Some of the blame should fall on Assad. He rolled back the agriculture and irrigation policies of his father, aggravating the pauperisation of the countryside.
But there is no denying that climate change is driving people into circumstances where they are losing jobs, livelihood and patience. Hordes are leaving their villages and moving to cities. Dhaka, another hotbed of violence and religious extremism, has thousands of climate refugees working in hellish conditions in garment factories. The cash-strapped States at the mercy of multi-lateral bodies are unable to craft policies that can resist the scourge of climate change. Worse, the governments are encouraged to invest in large corporations and urban projects at the cost of ordinary lives.
The anger and resistance building in the new disenfranchised is feeding hate-based parties and intolerance. In Dadri village of Uttar Pradesh where Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched in September for allegedly eating beef, the dominant story that emerged from media reports was that jobless youth had little to do but join the radical Hindu outfits. It’s a dark and disturbing reality playing out in different parts of the country where the young unemployed are looking to preserve dignity and build an identity.
It may seem farfetched to link climate change with intolerance being fanned by radical groups but there is a good deal of evidence, even though anecdotal at times, that makes it clear that when the rains are good and the economy is in fine nick, there are less riots and hate crimes. During the high-growth phase of the economy over 2004-2011, people were not bothered about a beef ban, cow slaughter and who was eating what. This was also the time when there was phenomenal transfer of wealth to the countryside through loan waiver for farmers, the rural employment guarantee scheme and the government infusing credit in the system to fight off the global recession. The roll-back of these policies and the economic slowdown in the past few years have aggravated this crisis. Besides western and central India, western Uttar Pradesh – where communal violence has been raging – has seen serious farm distress.
In the past few years, the BJP has prospered electorally by communally polarising semi-urban UP. To deepen the fault lines, it has promoted banning cow slaughter to criminalise the minorities. The rapid decline of the accommodating Indian State has forced many writers and artistes to return national awards, which is courageous and laudatory. Yet the government, instead of building the necessary policy structure to create jobs that are immune to climate change, is allowing rightwing religious radicals to alter the basic character of our pluralist society.