History teaches us that top-down solutions, even the most 'scientific', can have dreadful consequences if we neglect consent, and Jigyasa Mishra reports on protests in Dehradun
One of the scariest stories I have ever come across is that of Dr Lobotomy, or more appropriately, Dr Walter J Freeman. Freeman pioneered the use of pre-frontal lobotomies as a way of dealing with mental illness in the United States. The process itself was invented by the Portuguese neurologist, Antonio Egas Moniz in the 1930s. He received the Nobel prize for Medicine in 1949, widely considered one of the great failures by the Nobel committee.
Post the end of World War II, as former US soldiers returned from the front, many of them suffering from what we would now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Freeman’s method – backed by both the popular press and the medical establishment – enjoyed rapid growth.
“By 1949, the number of lobotomies performed in the United States using Freeman's method soared to 5,000 annually, up from just 150 in 1945. Before his death in 1972, Walter Freeman would go on to personally lobotomize more than 2,900 patients in 23 states, including nineteen children under the age of eighteen.”
As the problems with the procedures became clearer, the practice was denounced and is now considered hugely abusive. The Soviet Union banned the practice in 1950 as against the principles of humanity, the first country to do so, and others followed.
In a way you could say that the scientific method had succeeded, that as evidence piled up, a harmful process was discarded, but given the scale of the harm – especially since the process was often used on the vulnerable, with women and marginalised communities overrepresented – the question is why was it allowed, and even lauded, in the first place? Because, here is the thing, lobotomy was not the first or only such process.
Since the mid-19th Century, all the way to the 1960s, clitoridectomy, or the surgical removal of the clitoris, was an accepted form of medical ‘treatment’ for women in the US and UK. It was supposed to deal with everything from ‘underage masturbation’, to ‘hysteria’, or “as a therapy to enable an adult woman to orgasm during penetrative, heterosexual sex”. Again, a marginalised community was targeted.
In India, this form of abusive medical intervention happened with our mass sterilisation programme. While this is indelibly linked to the Emergency declared by Indira Gandhi, we often forget that India faced immense pressure by the developed countries to undertake such a process. The World Bank gave loans, the United States threatened to withhold food aid. In some ways, you could even say they were being fair – Sweden had a long-running compulsory sterilisation programme until the 70s, and, “In 1975, the U.S. government conceded that the Indian Health Service had sterilized 40 percent of native American women in a secret program.”
These precedents are extremely important to keep in mind as we discuss the responses to climate change. As the disasters associated with a rapidly warming world increasingly cost us lives and money, the pressure to do “something big” mounts. Miracle solutions, such as geo-engineering, are increasingly being offered up as a way forward.
The key thing to bear in mind is that science happens within a culture. And if consent is not part of that culture, abuse is guaranteed.
More problematically, a pursuit of solutions within narrow ideas of what is science often ignores that communities have had successful ecological management techniques. As the IPCC and other reports have repeatedly emphasised, indigenous communities have managed biodiversity best. In 1959, Jawaharlal Nehru, himself a proponent of large infrastructure projects, had the foresight to warn that India could be suffering from the “disease of gigantism”.
The most important lesson we can draw from these experiences is how important local action and management is for a sustainable future, how important consent is. It is worth noting that people like Freeman pursued their endeavours out of a genuine concern, even the forced sterilisation programme during the Emergency was motivated by fears of overpopulation and famine. But, as they say, the road to hell is paved by good intentions, and it is in the actual carrying out of things that we see whether people are being respectful.
In this newsletter, we feature Jigyasa Mishra’s report on how communities in Dehradun are fighting back against a plan that does not have their consent. Watch. Read. Share.
Jigyasa Mishra writes and illustrates on gender, health, environment, civil liberties and culture from rural India. Find her on Twitter @ApkiJigyasa and Instagram @jigyasa.mishra
Residents of Dehradun have been protesting against the felling of trees on the Sahastradhara road after the Uttarakhand High Court had allowed the state government to cut over 2,000 trees while asking to transplant at least 759 of them.
On August 4th, the Uttarakhand high court revised the order and directed the state government to stop this cutting drive going on the 14-km-long stretch of the sahastradhara road in Dehradun.
Over 100 people came together at different times to oppose the high court's order by protesting against the earlier order. The order justifies that 1100 Eucalyptus trees will be cut since they soak up underground water while 759 trees, home to endangered birds like Hornbills, Barbets, Kites and Owls, will be transplanted elsewhere.
According to Himanshu Arora, Founder Member of Citizens for Green Doon, the sample transplantation done on 17 trees in May, this year, was a 100% failure.
As per the state government proposal, the cutting of 2,057 cutting had to be done to ensure the broadening of the 14-km-long Jogiwala-Pacific Golf Estate Road from 7.5 meters to 20 meters. It also says that the road is being widened to make better and faster access to Mussoorie for tourists coming from Delhi. Hundreds of trees have already fallen following the previous order of the court.
Another Okay for Biodiversity Change Bill Is a Reminder To Remember Its Dangers: The report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021 was made public on August 2, 2022. The committee has largely stood behind the proposed amendments – especially the most contentious ones. Citing research, innovation and the improving the ’ease of doing business’ as important motivations, the environment ministry’s amendments have been described as having the sole intention of providing benefit to the Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and homeopathy or AYUSH industry at its heart. The provisions will completely alienate traditional communities from resources and deprive them of their rightful share of benefits accrued from the sale of these resources.
Power Sector Employees, Engineers Across States Protest Against Electricity Bill: The contentious Electricity Amendment Bill (2022) that enables the entry of private companies into the power discom landscape was recently introduced in the Lok Sabha amid stiff opposition by Congress, Left parties, TMC and DMK, and was referred to the parliamentary standing committee on energy for more comprehensive consultations. Even as friction on the bill between the ruling NDA and opposition parties was playing out, one million out of a total workforce of 2.7 million joined a “nationwide struggle of Cease Work Action” called by the National Co-ordination Committee of Electricity Employees & Engineers (NCCOEEE). Earlier, on August 2, at a National Convention organised by NCCOEEE, a resolution was adopted alleging that the Government of India had moved the bill with a “clear intention of curbing the rights of electricity for the poor and rural people including farmers and small entrepreneurs.”
Tribal Rights Compromised for Vedanta’s Coal Mining Project in Odisha? Less than 400 km away from the ancestral village of newly elected President Draupadi Murmu, the first person from a Scheduled Tribe (ST) community to occupy the highest office of the country, billionaire businessman Anil Agarwal’s Vedanta Group has been allowed to go ahead with a coal mining project allegedly without first settling the rights of local tribal communities. Earlier this year, the Modi government had given the go-ahead to the Vedanta Group to extract 2.6 million tons per annum (MTPA) of minerals from the Jamkhani coal block, located in Hemgir administrative block of Sundargarh. A recent memorandum submitted by MLAs of various opposition parties to Odisha governor Ganeshi Lal and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, alleged that not only were local communities in Sundargarh shortchanged of their land rights for the mining project but also that, more than 12 years after their land was acquired, several families are still awaiting rehabilitation and employment.
Chhattisgarh Assembly passes resolution against Hasdeo coal mining: Chhattisgarh Legislative Assembly has unanimously passed a resolution July 27, 2022 urging the Centre to cancel allocation of coal blocks in Hasdeo Aranya forests. The Chhattisgarh government had earlier granted permission for non-forestry use of 841.53 hectare of forest land for the Parsa mine (Surguja and Surajpur districts) and 1,136.33 hectares for PEKKB phase-II mine (Surguja). Tribal communities and activists have been opposing coal mining in the forests for a long time, fearing damage to its biodiversity. “I doubt that the Centre will listen to the House resolution, but I still think it is necessary to raise voices against it,” said a member of Campaign for Survival and Dignity, a national forum for tribal and forest dwellers.
Coastal area projects got Centre’s nod without proper environmental impact assessment, finds CAG: There are large-scale violations of coastal zone regulations by several projects in the country, an audit by the Comptroller Auditor General has found. A report on the conservation of coastal ecosystems was released August 8, 2022 and found that norms set down by Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification, 2019 were not being followed. The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) cleared projects without proper approval of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) consultants, the report found. The pre-audit studies also recorded illegal construction activities and effluent discharges from industries and farms, and observed that 12 projects with outdated baseline data as old as 11 years for the EIA were approved, far exceeding the three-year period specified by the MoEFCC.
Human-animal conflict in Kashmir leaves a trail of deaths and psychological impacts: In the last three months, Kashmir has witnessed 895 incidents of human-animal conflict, with animals frequenting villages that they never did before. According to official data, from 2011 to 2020, 44 leopards died naturally or in retaliation, while four others were killed after official permission. Experts believe that habitat fragmentation, change in land use patterns, poor waste management mechanisms, and encroachment of forests are some of the main reasons for wild animals frequenting places that they never did before and for the rise in the conflicts.
Air Pollution Affects Children’s Cardiac Systems, Causes Inflammation: Study: Air pollution is linked to cardiac regulation among children and causes inflammation as well, according to a recent study published in New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development on August 3. Conducted by researchers of the University of California, Davis, based on the air pollution data, including during wildfires, from federal monitors, it showed the link between air pollution and children's cardiac physiology. The researchers found that blood samples manifested an elevated level of markers of inflammation, such as the interleukin-6, among children exposed to higher levels of air pollution. In addition to inflammation-causing agents, the researchers also found that higher pollution is linked to lower cardiac regulation amongst children. Previously, studies showed air pollution's link with allergic sensitisation, respiratory problems, and cellular changes in children's lungs.
Gender gaps in food: 150 million more women went hungry than men in 2021: The gap between men and women’s food security is growing worldwide. A CARE report released August 3, 2022 highlighted a global link between gender inequality and food insecurity, finding that food security went down as gender inequality increased across 109 countries. It was already known that women have less food than men in every region of the world, and that women are also more likely than men to live in extreme poverty (according to the food-assistance branch of the UN) as women’s work is underpaid or not paid at all. Even when both men and women are technically food insecure, women often bear bigger burdens, the CARE report said. Gender norms and gender inequality create significant risks regarding food security for not just women but their families and communities as a whole.