Tradition & Science
Tradition & Science
By Jaya Nair
Friends it is my duty to bring before all of you a burning issue of these days i.e. burning the dead bodies through “Electric Burning” — a issue of environment which has been very close to my heart since long. Even during my ABVP days I vociferously campaigned for electric crematoriums in all the states of India and thus have been spreading awareness to the masses regarding the same. We as citizens of India may be having the least realisation of how much we are polluting our environment in the day to day happenings.
I respect and abide by the age old Hindu traditions as much as a staunch Hindu myself but with all ‘reasonability’ and also not at the cost of polluting the environment. In Kerala and other southern states, we have been noticing that many people of the old-school-of-thought carries the age-old-tradition of manually burning the dead bodies of their family members in their own plot or in the compound or premises of their house. I understand that those who conduct funerals of their family members through manual process in their plots is because of the sentiments attached with it from time immemorial. With times changing and the awareness of pollution levels increasing with the increase of pollution, population and thereby increase of the deaths, the urgent need of the hour is to opt for electric crematoriums than going for the manual burning by woods.
In electric crematoriums, the advantage is that we need not have to cut trees for procuring wood to burn/dispose-off the bodies and it does not consume a lot of time to arrange for the wood and other last homage ingredients unlike that of burning manually. There is a cut in cost too as there is no running about of procuring, arranging woods, organising other items for the rituals of manual burning , saving of energy as well, so on and so forth, thus all these becomes economical in electric crematoriums when compared with the manual process.
I have virtually noticed that half burned body organs, bones, filth, dry flowers, leaves and several other items of puja, plastic bags, garbage, etc. are thrown indiscriminately by the devotees in River Ganges who visit there. I have always been against the use of plastic bags, throwing of puja materials, littering of waste in the water, rivers, sea beaches, or on the land, etc. I strongly favour the use of paper bags, jute bags, etc, since jute, paper are all biodegradable and thus, environment friendly. Moreover the State governments comprising of the Municipal Corporations and Panchayats, etc, must organise volunteers/employees under them to collect or burn these dried up litters e.g. flowers, leaves, food wrappers, plastic bags, plastic covers, etc. in an open barren land for biodegrading these wastes and thereafter using the same for composting or must doubtless be a resource for heat, electricity and fuel in future as it is being achieved by the Swiss Kompogas treatment for 20 years now. This process produces additional biogas and still delivers the compost for the soil. It is a fully developed system and produced 27 million kwh of electricity and Biogas in 2009. The oldest of the companies own lorries has achieved 1,000,000 kilometers driven with biogas from household waste in the last 15 years.
Cutting of trees, mangroves, deforestation causes a lot many other environmental catastrophes like destruction of carbon sinks. Carbon sinks are huge stores of carbon, e.g. swamps and forests.
Deforestation makes soil prone to erosion by agents such as wind and water. The roots of trees hold the particles of soil together thus, preventing the fertile top soil from being carried away. Soil erosion leads to loss of productivity of the land due to loss of mineral nutrients and soil micro-organisms.
Destruction of animal habitats
Apart from domesticated animals and marine and fresh water animals, all other animals need forests as their habitats. These forests not only provide a place for the animals to roam but also provide them food and act as a source of protection from predators through camouflage. Destruction of the animals’ habitats literally kills the animals.
Some trees are used as herbs. Trees such as the Cinchona have been used as treatment against Malaria since time immemorial. Destruction of these forests leads to destruction of medicinal plants that could be used as treatment for various ailments.
Trees act as windbreakers
Absence of these trees enables strong winds or storms e.g. hurricanes and tornados. The thoughts of tsunami at the Indonesian coast where about 150 people have lost their lives and hurricanes like ‘Katrina’ will remain fresh in our memories.
Greenhouse effect and global warming
Nature balances the flow of energy and nutrients. Forests play a very vital role in these cycles e.g. the carbon cycle where deforestation causes carbon dioxide to remain in the atmosphere. Accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere acts as a blanket that traps long wave radiation of heat and prevents it from escaping the surface of the earth back into the atmosphere. This phenomenon is known as the greenhouse effect. The trapped radiation is converted into heat. This heat causes global warming. Destruction of forests also causes modification of climate of an area mostly leading to desertification and aridity.
Apart from the above mentioned dangers of cutting of trees, mangroves, deforestation, the other important issue of manual burning of bodies are that during the monsoon and winter seasons the wood’s procured are very wet due to climatic conditions which makes it more difficult and inconvenient for burning. I would rather go a step ahead by stating that apart from all the State government’s, panchayat’s of rural villages should encourage electric burning, banning the cutting of trees for manual burning of bodies, the panchayats and the State governments must arrange for free-electric-disposal/ burning of bodies of poor people who cannot afford this, free electric-burning for unclaimed, unidentified bodies etc. In this manner the poor people who can not actually afford this can also benefit largely by the electric crematorium.
Every panchayat, municipal corporations must provide the electric crematoriums at a reasonable fee that too by making the registration of deaths absolutely compulsory. This will enable to systematically record, register and revive the number of deaths as per area, village, and city wise. The space consumed for electric burning of dead bodies is less when compared to the manual burning on the land. Moreover there is no air- pollution, smoke or cause of bad-breath in the electric burning of bodies which is very unlikely in the manual burning.
We being the custodians of our Mother-Nature and the environment as a whole, must not leave any stone unturned for rectifying all the wrongs our forefathers continued to do and to bring any kind of “Social-traditional-changes” be it at the face of adverse criticism, or even some saying to the extend of blasphemy. Friends, please remember the saying of George Bernard Shaw, “Any social changes at the threshold of acceptance by the masses in general are always received by bitter criticisms and reluctance.”
And we must also keep in mind that this particular topic of discussion is with regards to the social shift/changes in India where illiteracy, lack of awareness, politico’s king size ego, differences of various political parties are already crippling our country. It is best accepted by the educated and aware masses of India and let awareness and education in environmental pollution be the mantra of the day. Our main motto should be to unitedly spread awareness and impart education in these areas and in each and every rural villages of India ,the advantages of electric crematoriums and that how the public-health is largely affected due to the increasing air, water and noise pollutions day in and day out.
The other most alarming health hazards of India presently is noise pollution. There must be silence zones in all places near to educational institutions, residential areas, hospitals, etc, like in many other advanced countries.