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The Nehru Memorial Museum & Library


‘Turn the Rivers Dry to Make Deserts Bloom: Rapidly changing society-nature relationships’, 27th March, 2015 .


‘Turn the Rivers Dry to Make Deserts Bloom: Rapidly changing society-nature relationships’


Prof. Brij Gopal,
Centre for Inland Waters in South Asia:


Since their evolution half a million years ago, the human relationship with nature has changed rapidly from being an integral part of nature to a master of the service provider. This change in nature-society relationship is best demonstrated in the case of rivers. The foundation of human civilisation was laid along the rivers. A few millennia later, rivers were exploited in the Indus valley through an extensive canal irrigation system. Yet, rivers were called ‘mothers’, revered and held sacred. Riverine animals such as fish and turtles were also bestowed with divinity. Society’s mother and child relationship with the rivers has changed over time; not only their ‘blood’ is sucked, their free movement has been restricted. Restrictions on their free flow that started with small dams and weirs about 2000 years ago have gained momentum during the past two hundred years. Further restrictions were imposed by forcing the rivers to flow within the confines of embankments. Then, society started poisoning them with sewage and toxic industrial wastes of all kinds. Many rivers have turned into stinking drains, others have just died. Humans have now embarked upon imprisoning the rivers in dark cells deep in the mountains, forcing them to pass through the churning turbines before allowing them to emerge only to stay behind the high walls. Long stretches of rivers have no life blood to flow. Along with the rivers other life has also been decimated. All this is done to make the far away deserts bloom - again at the expense of their own identity and the life they support. Plans are made now to twist, bend and join the rivers like conduit pipes without trying to understand the impacts on the society. Nature which nurtured the society is being destroyed with the help of technology for immediate short-term gains and ignoring the long-term consequences. Science is not used for cultivating a healthy perpetual bond with mother nature but only to tame it for exploitation. Society readily forgets that when the nature will unleash its wrath, science will not be able to rescue it. Perhaps there is still time to mend our nature-society relationship for human survival on the planet Earth.


Prof. Brij Gopal studied botany and his interest in aquatic plants led him to investigate and understand the wetlands, lakes and rivers. Prof. Gopal retired as Professor of Environmental Science at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi in 2009.

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