The Daily Fix

The Daily Fix: The environment should not be sacrificed at the altar of religion

Everything you need to know for the day (and a little more)

The Big Story: Spiritual exercises

On February 24, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took time off from his busy schedule of campaigning in Uttar Pradesh to visit Coimbatore. Disregarding protests that environment and building norms had been violated, Modi unveiled a 122-feet statue of Adiyogi, a form of Shiva, built by spiritual leader Jagggi Vasudev’s Isha Foundation.

Ahead of the event, activists in Tamil Nadu alleged that the foundation had flouted environment norms and had evaded action on a demolition notice issued by the state government in 2012. On Wednesday, the Tamil Nadu government declared before the Madras High Court that the statue had not been granted necessary clearances.

The Isha Yoga Centre was built near the pristine Western Ghats in Villiangiri in Coimbatore, disrupting the local ecosystem and elephant corridors. The structures, spread across thousands of square feet, blocked the way of large animals and forced them to move through farms, resulting in frequent confrontations with villagers. By participating in the inauguration, Modi appears to have given the violations legitimacy in the public eye.

Unfortunately, violations of this sort are becoming more frequent. Last year, the National Green Tribunal slapped a fine of Rs 5 crore on the Art of Living Foundation run by Sri Sri Sri Ravishankar for damaging the floodplains of Yamuna river in Delhi during a culture festival.

These violations also point to the slack manner in which governments enforce environment laws and strongly resist environmental regulations. For example, Tamil Nadu was one of the states that vehemently opposed the implementation of Kasturirangan committee report on controlling development in the Western Ghats, which would have encompassed the region in which Isha Foundation built the huge statue.

The Tamil Nadu government needs to answer the question of why it allowed the statue to be inaugurated even though it knew, as it admitted before the Madras High Court on Wednesday, that the construction did not have the requisite clearances. Will it punish officials who turned a blind eye to this violation?

While freedom of religion is an important right enshrined in the Constitution, that freedom does not provide the right to practise religion at the cost of environment. After all, protecting the environment is essential for safeguarding the more important right to life.

The Big Scroll

  • In this piece, Sruthisagar Yamunan details the violations Isha Foundation is alleged to have committed. 

Punditry

  1. Niti Ayog member Bibek Debroy writes on why technology should be used to further decentralise governance and planning. 
  2. In The Hindu, Srinivasan Ramani tells you why the death of former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has not ended the politics of patronage in Tamil Nadu. 
  3. In the Mint, Biju Dominic says the government cannot be expected to solve every problem in society, especially the ones in the private sphere. 

Giggles

Don’t miss

Villlagers in Neduvasal in Tamil Nadu are fighting against a hydrocarbon extraction project which they fear will destroy their fields, reports Vinita Govindarajan.

“Ever since the villagers heard the news that Neduvasal would be one of the sites for extracting hydrocarbons, they have been gripped by the fear of losing their land, their crops and their livelihood. They had received no official information about the project and have only seen the news reports.

‘With so much care, we have grown crops on our soil for so many years,’ said Senthil Kumar, a farmer who owns 15 acres of land near Neduvasal. ‘We are scared all of this will be wiped away. We are scared that our children will not have means to survive such damage.’”

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

Play

During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.