This story took place in October 1998. While I was working with an NGO called Tarumitra (Friends of the Trees), a student forum for environmental concerns, in the City of Patna, the capital of Bihar, India. It is customary for the Hindus in our country to celebrate the feast of the goddess Durga in great jubilation. Every nook and corner of the city would be lighted up and loud speakers would blast festival songs. Different groups put up huge tents (Shamiyana) in which the decorated statue of the goddess Durga would be placed for the devotees to worship. Each group could be in competition to attract crowds with loud music. This caused much noise pollution, which affects pregnant women and can cause abortion. Those driving could lose concentration and cause accidents. This also disturbs the peace of the public in the town causing sleepless nights and thus loss of energy for the next day’s work.
The authorities, the District administration, did not take any action about this malpractice and we even wondered if they knew the rules and regulations of the use of loud speakers, especially at night. We, the staff and students, decided to do something about it. We investigated on the rules and regulations concerning the use of loud speakers at night. We found out that according to the laws of the country regarding peace and order that the loud speakers could be used only from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and the volume should be within certain limits. But the public was unaware of these regulations. Our next action was to write a petition to the District Magistrate quoting the rules regarding the use of loudspeakers and requesting him to enforce this law in the city
The administration took immediate action and the next day we found the police moving around from one tent to another asking the people to reduce the volume of the music. Gradually the law was enforced; loud speakers were put off by 10 pm.
Festivals in India used to be very devotional, peaceful and a time for meeting friends and exchanging sweets and good wishes. But over the last few years and especially since the influx of electronic media into this country, it has become very commercialized and competitive.
Expectations set for ourselves
We as socially conscious and responsible citizens were aware of the need to protect our environment, know the existing rules and regulations for law and order in the society, and have them enforced in order to create a better world for all. This expectation we set for our youth and all on whom we have some influence.
1. What has changed among the people?
Our reflection on the action and the positive response it brought about encouraged our youth among whom we worked to set in motion the process in other aspects of environmental protection.
2. How has your missionary culture and approach changed?
We and other missionaries have taken keen interest in the care of the earth. It has changed our outlook on understanding the Scripture… the earth is not to be exploited for commercial use and greed but needs to be cared and preserved for generations to come.
Changes in the local people
One of the changes we noticed in the local people is that there is greater awareness among those we work with and the public in general. This was evident, as with the initiative of our students, individuals and groups came forward to take action for keeping the city clean, creating a better sewage system, preserving it from various forms of pollution, planting trees, preservation of the bio-diversity, making oxygen belts in different parts of the city. Corporations, too, were brought in to take responsibility in the upkeep of these gardens in the city. The flame of ‘Protection of the Environment’ was carried successfully to other parts of the country as well.
In our own city of Patna an interesting incident took place recently. Our Deputy Prime Minister led a procession into the city. The sub-divisional officer (unaware of the laws regarding the use of loud speakers) had given permission to have the meeting and speeches till midnight. The loud speakers were screeching out his speeches. But at 10.p.m. the district administrator stepped on the stage and gently reminded the Deputy Prime Minister that it was time to wind up as the law required him to do so. He had to stop the meeting. This incident made headlines in all the newspapers and other media the next morning. All of us who were involved in getting this law enforced felt good about the fact that we had taken action toward this several years ago in order to maintain peace and order in the city.
How do the people feel about these changes?
The people are happy and proud to see their city cleaner and they continue to take action toward this cause whenever there is a need. It has had a multiplying effect on their neighboring areas and States too.
1, 2, 3, &4
As a whole I am happy with the changes in the attitude of the people for the protection of the environment and their initiatives to take action as well as influence others. Today many schools enjoy partnership with Tarumitra. In all our SCN ministries we have taken keen interest in the environmental concerns and it has a significant place in all our projects. Our co- workers, too, are encouraged to participate in the care of the earth.
We have developed an Eco-spirituality in our prayer life and we now use eco-friendly articles like paper and cloth bags, leaf plates saying goodbye to the western plastic culture that is harmful to Mother Earth.
Are you at Peace?
Yes I am happy with my current mission. This awareness and sensitivity to the care of the earth has become part of my life, my prayer life and daily activities in mission.
The influence of Globalization:
Globalization promotes consumerism by its aggressive advertising techniques. This, in turn, lures people to consumerism. Needs are created and hence it ends up in surplus production. It not only depletes our irreplaceable natural resources but also causes ecological disasters such as deforestation, pollution, depletion of the ozone layer, global warming and the consequent disasters in the world. In the area of environment, the use of plastic has brought a big change in the society causing a more potent pollution. Plastics do not disintegrate into the earth. Plastic culture is borrowed from the west. In the west there are proper ways of disposing the waste but in India it is not yet developed and, as a result, the drainage system is clogged, causing floods in our cities, a human- made calamity. It also affects the animals that graze freely in our open fields. They eat the plastic causing obstruction of the intestines leading to their death. Many animal lives are lost due to such irresponsible behavior of us humans. Against such obstacles we missionaries have to take a stand even if it may inconvenience us. It is a commitment we make to bring economic justice, and harmonious relationships between human beings and the rest of creation.
Imagining the future of missionary activities:
In order to bring change in the society, we missionaries need to facilitate our people in the reflection/ action processes. Our presence is to be leaven that activates the people to become aware of their rights and the laws of the country so that when they are not practiced they can move the systems in the right direction. The leadership should always come from the people.
The recent elections in our country are an example of the above. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi motivated the Congress to work together to win over the confidence that led to the victory of the party. When the mission was accomplished and the time for the ministry to be formed she declined to take the highest office offered to her but had the grace to give up this prestigious post and had the local man, Dr. Manmohan Sigh, become the PM of our country.
In my opinion she is a true missionary.
Advice to future missionaries:
Understand and respect the culture, speak the local language. Win over the confidence and trust of the local people by taking keen interest in their well-being. A missionary will be more effective if she/he does not transfer the values, customs, tradition and culture of the country or State of her/his origin. Be a facilitator and let the local people exercise their leadership