A shot in the arm for activists

By Xavier Jeyaraj SJ

Reading Laudato Si’ as a Jesuit reminds me of our commitment to the threefold mission of “reconciling oneself with God, with one another and with creation” as articulated in GC35, Decree 3. The encyclical reads like an improved version of the same threefold mission for a larger audience. The many ecological crises mentioned in the first chapter of the encyclical are quite relevant to India. I want to focus only on two major issues of concern relevant to poor and indigenous peoples; and explore two areas of hope for them.

The first issue is genetically modified (GM) crops. The encyclical raises strong concern about their harmful effects on humans (LS 133–135) and about the ethical implications of such technology. India is an agrarian nation, with about 80% of its population depending directly or indirectly on agriculture. Promotion and expansion of GM crops by the state and by corporations have caused immeasurable damage. Studies conducted in the last three decades disclose a large number of suicides among farmers.

Children at SOJASI in Darjeeling, India, sing under a banner promoting reforestation (Photo: J. Cafiso).

Children at SOJASI in Darjeeling, India, sing under a banner promoting reforestation. (Photo: J. Cafiso/CJI)

Scientific studies conducted in the country clearly reveal the unsuitability of GM crops for Indian weather conditions. The studies indicate that the country is fast moving into an unforeseen era of biological pollution leading to unsustainability, to major human health problems and to environmental destruction.

GM technology is also becoming a threat to indigenous genetic resources and traditional wisdom. It destroys the inherent intelligence of nature. The encyclical states “the expansion of these crops has the effect of destroying the complex network of ecosystems, diminishing the diversity of production and affecting regional economies” (LS 134). It is an area of urgent concern for collective action.

The second issue of concern is loss of natural resources, particularly water, forest and land (jal, jungle and jameen). These resources are plundered through mining and so-called developmental projects, with “short-sighted approaches to the economy, commerce and production” (LS 32). The results are visible especially in the tribal (indigenous) and rural areas. There is not only loss of fresh drinking water and biodiversity, and an increase of pollution, human-made calamities and climate change, but also displacement of tribal people. Of all the people displaced due to megaprojects in the last 60 years, 40% are “tribals,” who comprise a mere 8% of the total population in India.

In addition there is loss of indigenous culture, life and livelihood. The loss of jal, jungle and jameen has caused a loss of identity and dignity among the tribals. For the indigenous people, the forests, mountains, animals and birds are their brothers and sisters. That the pope invites us to think of them not “merely as potential ‘resources’ to be exploited” but as having “value in themselves” (LS 33) is edifying for people’s movements.

Finally and briefly, Laudato Si’ also gives hope to poor and indigenous peoples as, together with them, we look to the future. Two particular areas of hope it holds for us are: (a) to be positive in working toward change in our common home, and (b) to keep the dialogue open between affected communities, indigenous people, environmental activists, scientists, politicians, economists and policy makers.

This article by Xavier Jeyaraj SJ originally appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of CJI’s Mission News under the title “Asia: A shot in the arm for activists.” Xavier Jeyaraj SJ recently served as Assistant Secretary of the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat (SJES) in Rome; he is now undertaking research in Kolkata.