Intersectionality at the Core of Environmental Conservation 0 (0)

Graphic by Arkayana

It goes without question as to how the environment has sustained us and continues to do so, even with our deeply exploitative methods that threaten not only our survival, but of the other living species as well. Environmental justice is a social movement that seeks fair treatment for people of all communities in developing laws and policies regarding the environment.

Sustainability and environmental justice are interdependent and both extremely necessary to create an equitable environment for all.It is a basic human right to have agency over the creation of laws and policies that directly affect our lives. It doesn’t come as a shock to know that many people are made victims by the enforcement of laws and plans made for some privileged communities. Planning to construct a building by cutting down a section of a forest will not only create problems for the environment but also for many communities that may depend on it for their existence and income. Poor and marginalized communities are often major victims of this unfair exposure to harm. Other examples include disproportionate resource extraction, hazardous waste due to growth of industrial areas, unequal distribution of land that causes instability in living conditions and a dire lack of basic needs such as food, air and water.

Inequalities in society create huge barriers for gender, class, caste and other minorities to access resources, participation in policy framework and implementation or even to relief initiatives, if any, made for their benefit. Most laws and policies are often exclusive to these marginalized communities. We can see many examples in recent times. In 2020, the Telangana government began evicting displaced Adivasis from forest land in areas like Warangal, Khammam, Mulugu and Bhadradri Kothagudem. The Etalin Dam, set to be built in Dibang Valley, Arunachal Pradesh, is facing a lot of protests as there is criticism that it would submerge over 300,000 trees and affect several thousand Mishimi people — an indigenous tribal group who will face not only displacement and loss of livelihood but also this dam will cause hindrance to their right to access their primary site of worship, Athu Popu, which is near this project. On June 28, the union environment, forest and climate change ministry notified the Forest Conservation Rules 2022 to shift onto state governments the union’s responsibility of ensuring that the rights of tribals to their traditional forestlands are recognised, and their consent is taken before their forests are chopped down. These new rules will allow the government to clear forest areas without the consent of the forest dwellers and hand over projects to private companies ignoring any rights of the original settlers. Despite these traditional communities dwelling closer to the environment than anyone else, they are seen as a hindrance to developmental policies. These marginalized communities are seen as uncivilized due to their proximity and dependency on nature. Laws and mandates systematically deny these communities their livelihood and give them no alternative but to live a life of displacement and poverty. Thus we see that intersectionality needs to be at the core of every environmental intervention in resource conservation and allocation.

Dear Lover, I Dreamt of You 4.7 (11)

Graphic by Eric Estibeiro

Dear Lover,

It is the crack of dawn outside. The sun is soon going to paint the sky a vibrant shade of blue and conquer the darkness that lingers every night. The Skylarks are going to be awake to spread their sweet song in the air. I could not resist my urge to inscribe my thoughts onto this empty paper.

I favour this time of the day – well, it would be wrong of me to refer to the rising of the sun as day. But I cannot call this night-time either, for the moon is going to bid us farewell soon. Every letter that I have written to you has been at dawn. Every letter I have written, I have written it with a purpose. As I proceed to mention the true motive of this one, I must admit that it feels eerie. Never in my wildest nightmares did I think this dawn would arrive. 

If you have ever wondered why I address you as “lover” in every letter, it is because of your name. ‘Lennan’ in Irish means lover. I was truly ecstatic when I found out.

I dreamt of you, Lennan. My eyes fluttered happily and warmth blanketed my heart. But then, the weight of somebody’s hand interrupted my dream. It was a hand that did not belong to you. Disappointment rushed to me in waves. I tried to shake it off, but I failed. I shifted to my side, to meet glances with the owner of the hand. I was sure that I would unleash an unbridled wrath on him. But I did not. I was rather shocked that I did not. Instead, I was met with a revelation.

As you already know, my heart was in shambles when father announced that I would have to marry his friend’s son to protect his honour. The marriage was an order that I could not get out of – for father had already given his word. At the church, when we exchanged our I do’s, I swore to hate my husband for the entirety of my life. His smile appeared selfish to me. His words felt like conceit. I held an unexplainable grudge against him because he was not the man I wanted to marry. He was not you.

But do you want to hear a confession? My husband is the most ideal man I have ever crossed paths with. He is everything a gentleman is ought to be. On our first night, he expressed his guilt about me not having a say in this entire arrangement.

He thinks I have potential. He does not mind me being idle. He is very loving. Oh, so loving!

I have teared up in our room countless times now. I have wept because I wanted to marry you. I have sobbed for being such a pathetic, emotionally absent wife. And it is true! He is the best husband, and on the contrary, I am the worst wife.

Do you know that he wakes up every morning to make us some breakfast? He sees it as a sacred tradition that we share. His stormy eyes loiter on me a little too long when I have dressed up for special occasions. He comes home from work earlier than usual when I feel under the weather just to make me soup. During balls, he never once leaves my side because he knows that crowds make me apprehensive. What a delight my husband is!

All the hate that I stored for him in my heart, put me in denial about my true feelings for him. I have caught myself a handful of times doing things that make him chuckle, for I love to hear the sound of his giggles. I have gone to extra measures to learn his favourite recipes. I often show up to his work with flowers, since I know how much he adores them. Besides this, I have successfully deceived him into thinking that I have fallen in love with him. And I have successfully deceived myself into believing that I have not.

It never struck me how beautiful our marriage really is. He has memorized every single thing I admire. He knows of all the moods I can conjure. He is aware of my smallest  habits. He protects me from the ruthless gossip. He shows me his unconditional love. I do everything in my power to keep him happy because his happiness is my favourite sight. I worry about him when he has gone outside. I miss him when he is gone too long.

I tried. I really tried to ignore my growing fondness for my husband and stay loyal to you. I denied him children. I said I was not ready to be a mother yet. He accepted it and promised to be patient. And he stuck to his promise. I picked petty fights with him, hoping he would get exhausted of my tantrums and leave me. But on those days, he loved me a little harder. Despite it being difficult for him, he held me a little tighter. How can I possibly continue to deny him all the love he deserves? I want to love him back with everything inside of me. I truly desire to make him the happiest man alive. I want to apologize for all the rough nights and never giving him a chance.

It does pain me to write you this letter. But you are never going to have any knowledge of me writing it to you, because I never send you any of the letters. They are all protected in the drawer of my cupboard. Safely tucked away under my robes. And as throbbing it is to write my final words – I have to do it. I want to do it.

So, dear lover; I hereby end our love story to being the tale I always longed for.

Yours Belo-

Before I could sign off the letter, a loud stretch followed by a groan caught all my attention.

“Good morning,” I smiled and made my way towards the bed. “You’re up early.”

“Were you writing one of your forbidden letters again?”

“Yes,” I replied as I placed a kiss on my husband’s forehead. “It is the last one I will ever write.”

Caste and Education: Dearth of Inclusiveness in the Indian Education System 3.9 (8)

Graphic by Eric Estibeiro

According to Francis Bacon’s Theory of Ideology and Culture, ‘Knowledge is power’, as it had an evolutionary impression in the socio-economic and historical standpoints of humankind. It enabled humans to procure and preserve knowledge, take over the ones deprived of it and to manipulate the social and cultural institutions for personal gains. This analogy can be inferred to the caste discrimination in the field of education which is still prevalent in India.

Caste hegemony in the accessibility of education can be traced back to the Vedic times, where Brahmanical patriarchy exercised its ideological power through discriminatory treatises like Manusmriti. It compartmentalized society into four varnas based on Rig Veda – the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas and the Shudras. The fifth group was considered so low to be mentioned in the classification, which constituted the Dalits or the untouchables who had suffered inhumanely treatment throughout the ages. Brahmins were considered as the custodians of Vedas, who were mostly priests and scholars and they used this ideological tool to reign over other varnas. The stratified caste-society gave education only to the Brahmins and Kshatriyas following the Gurukula system. As a consequence, the Shudras, Dalits and women were constrained from education and hence a profession of their choice. Some legendary figures from our epics, who lived through the caste discrimination were Shambuka and Eklavya.

 In the 20th Century, the nationalist movement was also allied with the anti-casteist protests against untouchability and lack of representation in the political and educational domains. The efforts of Dr B.R Ambedkar, Jyotibha Phule and other Dalit activists were instrumental in bringing reservation in the educational institutions of India. Ambedkar spearheaded  Dalit activism and he believed that education had the potency for the empowerment of Dalits by further enabling them to political involvement and informed petitioning. Many of  Ambedkar’s followers embraced Buddhism as a form of emancipation from the deep-rooted casteism and injustices propagated by the sacred manuscripts. The advent of Western education by the missionaries also helped in the social upliftment of Dalits, who were denied education by the tyrannical caste system.

   But the question is whether the execution of caste reservation and legislation of constitutional articles were effective enough to curb the caste segregation from the regressive mind-set of Indian society. Unfortunately, the answer is ‘no’, the discrimination only changed its form and is still predominant in many institutions. 

Cases like suicides of Rohit Vemula and Payal Tadvi shed light upon this institutional casteism. The Forum Against Oppression of Women, Forum for Medical Ethics Society, Medico Friend Circle and the Peoples’ Union of Civil Liberties, Maharashtra conducted a study entitled, ‘The Steady Drumbeat of Institutional Casteism’ which echoed the casteist practices normalised in the higher education scenario of the country. It varied from overt and couched forms of abuse, which included casteist insults and stereotypical biases, physical seclusion practiced within the students and by the faculty members, as well as emotional injury inflicted by undervaluing of their worth. Victims were often treated as outcasts and they felt out of place in the premier  institutions, regardless of their persistent labours to fit in. 

Some students and faculty members from the upper-caste exerted the belief of conventional intellectual superiority by favouritism inside the student circle, and further by demeaning and discrediting the accomplishments of the students from the oppressed class as ‘meritless’. An earlier report prepared by a committee of the Union Government to investigate allegations of harassment of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe students at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi found that 85% of Dalit students had faced discriminatory practices against them from internal examiners. The students had to face discrimination right from their admission process, to  social interactions in the hostel and classes, which eventually made its way to professional spheres as well. These discriminatory practices were often veiled under the premise of ‘harmless ragging’ and the victims who shared their traumatic experiences were often branded as unreasonable and ‘ones obsessed with their caste identity’. This trivialisation of casteism and lack of proper implementation of constitutional rights led to double-marginalization, which often resulted in college dropouts and suicides. Students from the weaker sections had already struggled a lot to get admitted to these educational institutions, but the lack of inclusiveness and empathy pushed them to be disillusioned with life. 

“My birth is my fatal accident. I can never recover from my childhood loneliness. The unappreciated child from my past” – Excerpt from Rohit Vemula’s suicide note.  Rohit was a Dalit PhD scholar at the University of Hyderabad and was subjected to institutional caste-based discrimination which culminated in his suicide.The ‘fatal accident’ was a reference to his caste identity, which led to a lifetime of disgrace and unequal treatment. His death triggered protests across the nation and he became a symbol of Dalit resistance and hope. His mother Radhika Vemula is continuing his legacy by stiving to eradicate caste discrimination from educational institutions.

One possible solution to this predicament is by providing more representation to the oppressed classes. According to the data by the Ministry of Education in Lok Sabha (2019), only 170 members out of the total 6,043 faculty members from the 23 IITs belonged to the scheduled caste and scheduled tribe community. Their representation was less than 3% of the total faculty members. Vipin Veetil, a former Assistant Professor at IIT Madras had exposed the embedded caste hierarchy and Brahmanical favouritism practiced in the IITs, citing the discrimination he had faced from the senior faculty members. 

The Government must strengthen and expand reservations for the underprivileged community, by forming a Dalit grievance cell in every educational institution and implementing lawful concepts of transformational justice and functional equality. Another solution is by including Dalit studies in the school curriculum which may serve as an antidote to spreading awareness against the inherent caste thoughts. Edification of the parents can also play a pivotal role since children imbibe most of these irrational and segregatory thoughts from their family. Inter-caste and inter-faith marriages must be encouraged and normalised through proper execution, operation and regulation of constitutional rights. 

This article concentrated on the power politics of education and the caste hierarchy, bringing out how it was instrumental in distinguishing the society into ‘the privileged’ and ‘the underprivileged’. The caste discrimination can be traced back to the Vedic age, but the concernment is that it is still practiced and normalised in many educational institutions in India. This social issue needs to be addressed with utmost urgency and appeals for quick actions and proper implementation of Dalit rights

Ruby Eyes 0 (0)

Graphic by Sumit Kumar

Pitter patter. The rain fell with an eerie harmony. He opened his eyes to a room dimly lit by the fluorescent streetlight nearby. Mildly disoriented, it took Akim a minute to realize where he was. After dumbly staring at the translucent grey curtains until he could finally open both his eyes, he found it fit that his next step would be to check the time. The bright phone screen, now fully charged, blared 8:03 pm and Akim let out a noise of annoyance. What was meant to be a quick afternoon nap had evolved into a full-fledged three hours rest.

He had made extensive plans to explore the city of Bangkok. Being a precise man, every minute detail was given consideration and was written down meticulously by him. Now his entire schedule had been derailed and this upset him quite a bit. He crawled out of bed in a disconsolate manner and made his way to the bedroom door. His faithful notebook was in the living room and he decided that he must come up with a plan to recover from this mishap as quickly as possible. “Think of this as a challenge,” he thought to himself. He tried turning the doorknob but it wouldn’t budge. He rattled it a few more times but it was adamant in staying in place. The door was jammed shut and Akim was away from his precious notebook. He could feel his frustration multiply, but being a sensible man, he called up Rai for assistance instead of letting himself stew in anger.

Instead of lodging at a hotel, his mother insisted that he stayed at his estranged uncle’s home. After all, what was family for? Being an adventurer, the uncle was seldom home and left his domain under the care of Rai Amarin who was the caretaker. Since Akim was to stay in this house for a week, Rai used this as an excuse to go visit her family.

Rai answered after five rings and apologized for not having informed him earlier that the locks on the house were very old and were not to be used. She promised him that she would call the locksmith over and that he would be out of the room in no time before hurriedly ending the call. 

Akim sighed and felt the wall for the light switch. Once he found them, a blinding white hospital-like light struck his eyes suddenly. Adjusting to its brightness, he found himself staring at the most fascinating object on the floor. It was an antique-looking chest lined with gold. He must admit that he hadn’t examined the room when he first entered it that afternoon – being so wearied by the journey he had leapt into bed without a second’s thought. The room was enormous, holding a king-sized bed, a writing desk fit for an office, two spacious closets, and a potted palm tree right next to the chest.

A sudden urge overtook him and he bent down to open the chest. With no resistance, it obeyed Akim’s will and unlocked easily. “If only the room door would do that” he murmured to himself. Inside there was a great number of trinkets messily placed, contrary to the rest of the neatly kept room. He resisted the urge to grab a piece of cloth and wipe down the layer of dust that had collected on top of each object. Now seating himself down on the floor, Akim inspected the first object his eyes fell on. It was a metallic statue of an elephant, around half the height of his mobile. It had a dark grey sheen to it and its eyes were deep-set with rubies. It looked magical, almost as if it was sentient. Setting it aside, he found a large piece of parchment paper, tightly rolled up. Unfurling it, he realized it was a map. It seemed to have been hand-drawn having smudges of ink in certain places. It was very old and delicate, however, he could not ascertain what place this was a map off as all the words were written in a language foreign to him. He carefully put it alongside the frigid elephant and laid his eyes on a rectangular glass container. 

The glass container appeared to be empty but while picking it up Akim could hear a rumbling sound emitting from it.

Curious now, he pried the lid open with his nails and within it, he found a moonstone. It was large, almost the size of his palm. He found it strange that he wasn’t able to see it before. He pulled it out of his case and stared at it. Frankly, he couldn’t seem to pull his eyes away. It was the most gorgeous thing he had ever seen. The way the light bounced off the silky surface mesmerised him. For some reason, he could hear whispers within his mind. They were quiet and melodious, like what the Sirens of Greek mythology may sound like. He could not understand the words that he was listening to, but it was enchanting and drew him further into the stone’s spell. His eyes had become glassy and all he could see were flashes of images of the elephant statue. Although now it was significantly larger, its leg being twice Akim’s height. In place of rubies were a dark red pair of eyes staring malevolently at nothing in particular. The eyes of the elephant seem to get closer and closer to Akim until…

The room door burst open startling Akim enough to drop the stone. He blinked blankly at the people who stood in front of him. It was the Rai and locksmith.

“What happened to you! Why didn’t you pick up the phone?”

Akim picked up his phone and sure enough, there were four missed calls from Rai, but more astonishingly, the time showed 9:18 pm. Akim had been staring at the stone for more than an hour.

“I was starting to get worried that you had died from starvation or something,” Rai joked. “But honestly, why hadn’t you picked up?”

Akim was dumbfounded and reached out to the floor to show Rai the stone, but his hand was met with the cold marble floor. He looked at the spot where he had left the elephant and the map, but it was nowhere to be found. The chest was sealed shut as if it had never been opened.

A Dream I Keep On Having 0 (0)

Graphic by Banani Kalita

It was past midnight when I heard muffled voices in my front yard. My curtains were drawn and my eyes half shut. I was resting my head on the dining table and had almost fallen asleep while reading a lifestyle magazine I bought from ablind woman in Mumbai local. It must be the neighbour’s kids. Or the leaves swaying. I made a wild guess without turning my head.

Few minutes passed in silence and a wave of deep sleep started engulfing me. A loud squeak, a cracking of rusted iron gate and I woke up with a sudden jolt. My sleep was long gone and I started getting restless. To check out the commotion outside, I went to the window and slid aside the curtains. There stood two men, one in khaki and the other in an ocean blue shirt. The man in khaki was slowly opening the lock of my iron gate while his acquaintance helped him with the metal tools. My fingers froze on the curtain. Beads of sweat dripped down my neck. I ran inside the living room and frantically dialed my friend’s number. The world around me stopped and fear rushed through my veins. After two failed attempts, my friend picked up the call. In incoherent words and a tone barely audible to my own ears, I told him about the two men, the cracking iron gate and my shivering hands. He patiently waited until I finished and asked me to lock every door of my house and bolt every window. He calmed me down and assured me that he was on his way to my home.

After a brief pause on both ends, he reminded me to fasten my back door. A spasm of fear sent chills down my spine. A muted silence fell all over the room as I turned around to run to the passage. Two figures, one in khaki and one in an ocean blue shirt stood in front of me, unhinged. A loud cry, a louder laughter and everything around me was pitch black.

I woke up with a heaving breath and a nagging pain in my chest. It was the same recurring dream I had dreamt a million times. I reached out for a glass of water near my bed and turned on my phone to check the time. It was dark outside, almost past midnight.

The human heart is exquisitely fragile. Our deep rooted conflicts, unsolved issues and our unmet desires turn themselves into dreams that could occur more than once over a short period of time or maybe over the entire course of our lives. Falling, drowning, being chased or failing a class are some of the most common recurring dreams experienced by people. In my recurring dreams, I see a hand pushing me off a skyscraper. Or I am getting trapped under the ice of a frozen lake. During these dreams, I am at my most vulnerable state. My subconscious mind is alert and I feel a need to be saved. Saved from the two men, from falling down the Skyscraper and from suffocating under water. In moments like these, I refuse to be my own messiah and crave for a hand to hold and a shoulder to lean on. I want to be protected from the things beyond my control and wake up before my dream concludes, because it leaves a door open for hope. I want to sleep again with a sense of tranquility and end my nightmares on a positive note. Just like every other person, I find my solace in knowing that I have the freedom to write my own climaxes and alter their ends. To have this option of choices is a blessing in disguise as it gives me the strength to face my dreams and dare to close my eyes again. Recurring or not, dreams have been an integral part of my humaneness. They have the ability to wake me up smiling or push me in the abyss of never ending thoughts. But in the end, I am more than the nightmares that make my heart race and lips dry. I am more than just a person falling, drowning or being chased. I am more than my intrusive thoughts and insecurities that keep coming back after every recurring dream. I am more than the night I fall asleep. I am the daylight I wake up to everyday.

Red o’ Blood 3.6 (5)

Graphic by Eric Estibeiro

Crimson tide that washed over me,

With gruelling pace, it broke free.

To where life was but a dread,

Not full of miracles, but misery.

Moontime, not serene as it may sound,

Dark and twisted, my dreams it bound.

Once weakened me, this thread,

Agony and heirs, not peace, I found.

But makes me strong, it now does,

Yet carefree whispers belittle it to a cuss.

Time to finally put this to bed,

What’s a change without a little fuss?

Spread to all the word and the sooth,

No longer is my youth uncouth.

Through smiles, tears and rage, I bled,

For life, I fought nail and tooth.

High time it is, you faced the flood,

Let’s paint the world red o’ blood.

I ‘Unlove’ You 4.6 (9)

Graphic by Banani Kalita

“Can you recall the first time you met him?” Dr. Shikha, my therapist, asked.

Without breaking my gaze from the crystal stone that I was fidgeting with from the start of the session, I started to recollect the faint memory in my head. A light chuckle might’ve escaped as I juggled through the thousand beautiful memories I had with him.

“It was in school—my first day in class 9th. I had always been a shy kid, not someone who’s likely to initiate a conversation. On the other hand, he was among the ‘popular kids’. Everyone knew him.” I took a pause as the nostalgia started to sink in. I started looking down at my hands, lying ideally on my lap.

“I used to wear braces. Something that made me a subject of bullying among my classmates and the reason for my insecurity. I never used to laugh like the others and always covered my face with my hand whenever I did.” I took a deep sigh and continued.

“One day, I was sitting on my bench, immersed in my textbook. With a loud thud, someone landed on the seat beside me. I moved my head in the direction with a visible surprise in my eyes.”
“Hello there!” He blurted while panting heavily. I give him a side glance. “You do realize that all those rumors about me being a book-eater are not true– right?” He mocked my lack of response. I nodded. “Oh! So the rumors about you being a metal-eater are true, it seems.” I couldn’t help this time and moved my head slightly to meet his eyes.
After two seconds, a smile paved its way on our faces and we laughed. As my habit was, my hand found its way to my face.

“Don’t cover your face. You look beautiful when you smile” he had said. It was the last time I ever covered my smile, and the first time I felt so beautiful.

I moved my eyes from my hands to grab a glass of water when I saw Dr. Shikha extending a light grin.

A text from Mayank appeared on the screen of my mobile phone. “Okay,” it read.
A deep heartache along with a feeling of relief rushed through my body. I had never felt so happy and sad at the same time.

“So, where do you think did it go wrong between you and Mayank?” She asked the most complicated question and probably the hardest to answer because I had no idea where it went wrong either.

We spent the rest of school and college life, sticking together, rejoicing in happy moments, and helping out through the dark times, until he asked me to spend the rest of our lives together. “I still find your smile beautiful. Thought I might just make it the most beautiful part of my life too.” He had said while going down on his knees in the parking lot and asked me to marry him. Another beautiful memory that I cherish to this day.

“I don’t know,” I said as I traced the lid of the glass. “I don’t think it happened just once- oh! I don’t love him anymore. It was a slow, gradual process of falling out of love” I cleared my throat.
“He was still the very person who I fell in love with, at one point of time- was all over head to heel about him. I still love him and I think I always will but I don’t think we should stay together anymore. I know he’d never admit it, but he feels the same way. Everything has become monotonous, and we fight over the most trivial things- almost, everything. I think we have stopped growing. We don’t bring out the best in each other anymore, only the worst. ” My voice started to get heavier with every syllable that escaped my body.

“I think it’s better to part our ways before we turn into people who make it hard to believe that there ever existed a thing called love between us. I will always love him, which is why I want to see him growing, happy, and becoming a better person. I know he wants the same for me too.” Dr. Shikha extended a box of Kleenex and that was when I realized tears had started to escape my eyes.

“Are you sure he wants the same?” she interrogated.
I took a deep sigh.

“Yes, he just texted “Okay” to file for divorce.” And this time, I cried out loud because I didn’t know whether to mourn or celebrate.

The Lull in the Conversation 4.9 (26)

Graphic by Eric Estibeiro

I remember being five and thinking about how big the ten-year-old seniors at my school were. They were older, taller, more mature, smarter even. I remember being ten and thinking the same about the 14-year-olds in class 9. I wanted to be in high school, I wanted to be in the student council. I wanted to be older and more important. I remember growing older each year and fantasizing about being even older on my next birthday. And if I’m being perfectly honest, I still do.

I have come to realize that what I am now is considered to be an adult. Yet, I find myself having this conversation with those around me every day – “I’m not supposed to know this. Ask an adult.” “Sarah, you are an adult.” In my head, I’m still 15. Or maybe I’m 19, but 19-year-olds aren’t adults, right? I mean, technically, I’m still a teenager. I’m still in college, which means I’m a student, which means I’m a kid. And therefore, all these ‘adult’ responsibilities shouldn’t find space on my tiny teenage shoulders. And yet, I find myself at 19, living alone in a strange city. I find myself at 19, worrying about money, college, and the future. I find myself at 19 with two college friends and one best friend from high school whom I’ve stuck with since class 9. I find myself knowing that it’s okay to not talk every day to be present in each other’s lives.

I now have mature conversations, make mature decisions and know, if not fully accept, that I’m not a kid anymore. It’s not that easy because so much still feels the same, you know? I still feel like a kid when I’m sitting in a classroom with my friends, laughing at the silliest jokes. When I go down to the college canteen during lunch break or beg my mom to let me go on vacation with my friends, nothing has changed. Except, instead of the 20 rupee note my father handed me that morning, I ask if they have UPI, and instead of my friends swarming my mother at the school gate, I call home for permission. And then there are those moments of realization; when you’re talking to your mom, and you realize that she’s telling you things she’s never discussed. That you’re not a child things need to be hidden from any longer. Or when you go home on break and meet your school friends. You talk as if nothing has changed till there’s a lull in the conversation, and someone asks, “When did we all grow up?” No one has an answer.

Growing up doesn’t seem too bad, most of the time. It’s because most of the time, it doesn’t feel like anything at all. Each day goes by, you work hard, have fun, cry a little sometimes, and go to bed. Then suddenly, you’re 19, writing an essay about how much has changed, knowing then that so much has. It’s like the lull in the conversation, the little moments where you realize that everything is not what it used to be. But I don’t think the hardest part about growing up is the change, or the lost years or the memories. The hardest part about growing up, is not knowing when you did.

Cruelty Towards Animals Has To Stop. No Really! 0 (0)

Graphic by Shanmuga

Cruelty toward animals is not some random act. It does reflect some masochistic tendencies. But the people who do this sort of thing to animals would do the same things to human beings. However, the only thing stopping them is law and order. It’s not that there aren’t laws against animal cruelty. Acts like the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 and the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 in the Indian constitution prohibit violence toward animals.

Section 428 and 429 of the IPC (Indian Penal Code) encompass all kinds of violence toward animals other than killing. These acts and legislations are the right steps in the direction of granting animals a new lease of life. It is not as easy to get away with heinous acts against animals as it used to be in the past. But the question is are they strict enough? I mean strict enough to prevent anyone who intends to harm animals from committing them in reality. Isn’t prevention better than cure? Well, I don’t think we apply this simple lesson enough in solving social problems.

Living beings, not objects

How about we teach our children to love animals? Maybe we can teach them to treat them as our fellow creatures. And just because they cannot speak for themselves and protest as a human would, it does not mean they can be harmed at will. But these lessons should be motivated by love and compassion rather than fear. The way pets are treated has always puzzled me. While I have seen people loving their pets like family members, I have seen people treating them like objects. Even worse, like toys. We need to teach our children from an early age that getting a pet is not like getting a new toy. Something that gets tossed to the corner when you lose interest. A pet is a living being and making them a part of our families comes with a lot of responsibility.

Killing for survival

Human beings have changed the course of natural history ever since they arrived. The disappearance of some of the biggest prehistoric animals has coincided with the arrival and thriving of mankind. Directly or indirectly human beings have been responsible for the extinction of many species, plants and animals. The early humans killed animals for food, for protection and even for the fun of hunting. Co-operation and planning enabled them to bring down creatures much bigger and stronger than them.

Killing for fun

While killing for food and protection looks fairly justified, especially in a hostile environment, hunting for fun does not. Human beings’ love for hunting can be traced across time and cultures. It has been immortalized through stories, murals, cave paintings and whatnot. How often have we seen carcasses of animals exhibited with pride as a memento of incredible bravery? Walls are decorated with the heads of leopards, bears and deers. And let’s not even start with bird-shooting. It is almost amusing how human beings take pride in killing animals using deception and luring. Would even the strongest of human beings stand a chance against a stag without devising these two, let alone a tiger? 

Hunting – the devil still lives

Hunting for pleasure is becoming less common these days. Poaching animals for their skins, hides, horns, etc. has been still raging despite attempts to curb it by governments all over the world. Hunting for pleasure is on a decline, fortunately. However, we have the incident of the lion Cecil who was lured out of safety and killed. This incident took place in a national park in Zimbabwe. And to make matters worse he was left to suffer for at least 10 hours after the fatal wound was inflicted. It was a case of trophy hunting. Another glorious beast met an agonizing death. I am sure there have been numerous similar incidents other than this all over the world. Yet, hunting has become difficult compared to the past because of laws passed by governments and also wide-scale activism.

Fear does not change much, compassion does

            However, to emphasize what I said earlier about prevention being better than cure, I would like to add that laws aren’t enough to stop any crime or to change the convictions of harming. If every human being loves and respects animals then laws won’t have to be implemented every now and then. People won’t harm animals out of love and not because they are afraid of punishment. This applies to any crime or offense inflicting violence that comes to our minds. Of course, laws need to be strengthened over time if a crime increases. But the society will be a better place not because people are afraid to commit a crime but because the people living in it aren’t mentally capable of them and do not possess the intention to harm anyone. This is possible only through education. Education that goes beyond reading moral science as a subject in school. One that is lived through in everyday life. When we teach children to interact with animals as they would with a human being with respect and love they will grow up believing harming animals is every bit as bad as harming a human being. 

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Graphic by Banani Kalita

The word ‘wrong’ has a certain sense of foreboding associated with it. When you find yourself in a ‘wrong’ situation, your hands get clammy, your heart feels like it is sinking and there is this tiny little voice that keeps telling you ‘no’. It is just the way human beings are wired, their bodies starting to react the moment they do something that does not align with their idea of morality.

Now if I were to bring up an incident that helped me differentiate between right and wrong, I may not have a particular instance to share. The idea of what is right and what is wrong to me has changed multiple times over the years. I would not be surprised if 16-year-old me is appalled by the person I am now, eight years later. So if I were to talk about rights and wrongs, I can only speak with respect to the person I am right now. And the person that I am right now, believes in moral ambiguity. 

As a reader, you are bound to correlate what is written with your own life. So when I talk about keeping secrets, your mind goes to that nook of your head where you have all these thoughts buried. Or even just out there haunting you. And who doesn’t have dark and embarrassing secrets? The very secrets that you hold close, in fear of jeopardy with regards to honour and lives, not knowing if you could ever forgive yourselves.

Granted, not all secrets hold a knife to your throat. Secrets are usually harmless; like when you snuck out at night to go get plastered and successfully got to sneak back in, with your parents none the wiser. However, there are other instances like when you are privy to information that could potentially get someone incarcerated. You cannot divulge the same because you wouldn’t want that person to suffer. How exactly do you compartmentalise right and wrong in that case? Would you snitch on someone you care about or would you abide by the law and get them arrested?

What one would construe as right or wrong is therefore largely subjective, regardless of a clear legal demarcation in most cases. Moreover, not every situation that a human being could possibly face can be legally dissected. When it comes down to doing the right thing, one would choose to do what helps them feel safe and devoid of a guilty conscience. As selfish as it sounds, our innate nature is to put ourselves and our feelings first. I learnt not to touch a boiling pot of water not because it was wrong but because I would get burnt. I learnt to be empathetic towards people not because it was the right thing to do but because it is the nice thing to do and also because I would not feel the weight of having hurt people. It is never one incident that tells you the difference between right and wrong, it is a collection of incidents and what you choose to learn from them. You may or may not choose to imbibe the rights and wrongs that your parents try to teach you, for at the end of the day, how you choose to act is the only thing that matters and that is your idea of the right thing.