A Development Studies student who recently visited Vrindavan said, “I had heard about the problems with street animals and garbage in Vrindavan, but, the condition of the environment in Vrindavan is worse than I imagined.”
Shreya Banerjee, who is currently undertaking an MA in Development Studies at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad, interviewed many local leaders, including Friends of Vrindavan director Jagannath Podder, and Tamal Krishna Das, priest at Imli Tala Mahaprabhu Mandir,
Talking about her impressions after spending a fortnight conducting interviews, Shreya said, “There are organizations, like Friends of Vrindavan, that have been planting trees and simultaneously working to clean Vrindavan and are doing some really great work in the process, but, more needs to be done; especially in the area of educating people about how their habits affect the environment. The educated sections of society are mostly aware, but, from what I gathered, building awareness among the people who are uneducated and struggling to make ends meet is still a challenge.”
Shreya said that she first became interested in the connection between religion and environment at university. The debate surrounding the role of religion in creating eco-friendly worldviews ignited her curiosity, and she set out to discover how Hinduism affects people’s relation to their environment. Shreya said that she had always wanted to visit Vrindavan and feels fortunate to be able to contribute to research on the environmental and development issues affecting the town.
Talking about the role of the government in creating a clean and green Vrindavan, Shreya said, “Considering that Vrindavan is a religious town with a large number of pilgrims visiting every day, the government should ideally have a separate set of experts, including scientists, environmentalists, development practitioners, planners, economists, etc, to formulate effective policies to deal with the wide range of issues in Vrindavan.”
The field of Religious Environmental Studies was born from the growing awareness in academia that there is a need for more interdisciplinary research. Defining the field, Iranian-American philosopher Seyyed Hossein Nasr wrote, “the environmental crisis is fundamentally a crisis of values,” and, religions, being a primary source of values in any culture, are thus implicated in the decisions humans make regarding the environment.”