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Consumerism Culture and Environmentalism in Contemporary India

by Mahmudul Hasan Laskar

The city of Guwahati along the bank of river Brahmaputra

Photo: Udayan Borthakur

Science and technology can be saviour for the mankind and can act as solution to many of our problems. This being said, there has to be a critical analysis of the situation and the same being presented before the scientific community to reform the underlying tendency of capitalism exerting unsustainable pressure on nature and environment. Sociologist like Ulrich Beck of Germany through his “Risk Society” theory made an attempt to critically analyze the unwanted and uncontrolled speed of science and technology and its adverse impact upon nature and environment. He has played very important role in making policy of dealing with climate change in Germany. So, duty of sociologist is to interpret the actual situation and draw the attention of scientific community for technological reformation. I as environmental sociologist have tried to critically analyze an important issue that formed the title of the article.

Consumerism culture of capitalism is gradually taking away the tradition of nature-nurture through indigenous methods. Consumerism has engaged everyone in competition for material prosperity and investment on lavish lifestyle. Urban middle classes and wealthy sections under the influence of capitalism are more concerned about meeting the luxurious needs that are often fulfilled at the cost of nature. For example, wetland around Guwahati city has been occupied for conversion to large housing apartments and other infrastructure. This geographical expansion is nothing but a consumption trend among middle classes and wealthy sections. It no way implicates the inclusive development, rather emerged as one of the reason of flood situation and flash flood is Guwahati city. Countries like Norway, Sweden, and Finland are in top rank of human development index and these countries marked great example of mutual co-existence between human and nature. But here, cities are flourishing at the cost of rural under-development and exploitation of nature and poor rural migrants.

Deeper Beel, a large wetland in Guwahati recognised as a Ramsar site

Photo: Udayan Borthakur

Guwahati has witnessed remarkable change in atmosphere. There is lack of concern for adverse impact of carbon dioxide emission from motor vehicles, yet people do complain about constant increase of heat in summer, shortening of winter season, humidity and smog. Innumerable increase of private vehicles causes increase of green house gases but who cares for it. There is only prevalence of superficial concern for it at media and seminars. It is difficult to get away with the luxurious life that is acquired at the cost of nature exploitation, as consumerism culture of global capitalism intoxicated the middle classes with its promise of taking society towards modernity. But this is not modernity rather a socially and ecologically broken technocratic society. But how come affluent section would understand it, as they are into a sophisticated lifestyel. Air has become a commodity that is being placed as object of manipulation - purification through technology. Human made technology is manhandling with air and again providing counter technology to get purified air that too for only those who can afford it. Having pollution control certificate by owner of vehicle is just a bureaucratic ritual. There exists discrepancy in availing this and its works for them as if only certificate is enough for pollution control.

Surrounded by hillocks and forested areas, Guwahati is a fast expanding city often at the cost of its natural surroundings

Photo: Udayan Borthakur

In the last decade, Guwahati has witnessed massive transformation in term of consumerism; the restaurants and shopping malls just changed the way of living of the residents of Guwahati. Increasing number of restaurants and malls changed the expenditure pattern of the people. It has become more a trend of lifestyle than self-happiness. It is the impact of global consumerism; this ultimately hampers the concern for people regarding organic food and aesthetic life. Consumerism motivates people to aspire for extravagance through equipping life with technocratic elements. Even aestheticism has become materialistic now, as affluent people tend to find a natural resort to spend quality time and aestheticism is attached more with material prosperity than with mental and physical well being.

Various indigenous communities who once nurtured River Brahmaputra are made to strive for their basic livelihood due its aggressive mode in the situation of flood. Flood may be a natural disaster superficially understood as problem in Assam or Northeast India is actually a global phenomenon. Brahmaputra has become an international property now and its affairs determines by state machinery and industrial bodies. It is accepted that modern development is need of the hour but if it affects the natural state of natural phenomena, there would only be misery not progress. Global climate change and damming of Brahmaputra are the prime reasons of frequent flood in the Northeast.

Growing pseudo-environmentalism in India only aims to raise awareness amongst the common people but ignores the real source of climate change - industrial activities. There exists bureaucratic institution that performs assessment survey over the environmental impacts but this process of assessment survey is nothing but another force of capitalism to legitimate its activities.

Academic discourse in India just engrossed in exchanging various information through seminar, webinar and conferences, but no proper critical thought has till now been derived from such academic practices. Academic practice is just engaged in revisiting the history of Chipko movement and Narmada Bachao Andolan but no further progress of environmentalism of the poor is evident in India in recent decades.

About the Author:

Mahmudul Hasan Laskar is Assistant Professor in the department of Sociology, University of Science and Technology, Meghalaya. He has authored two books, Basics of Environmental Sociology and India and Sociological Theory, besides publishing research papers on social stratification, social exclusion and inequality. He is the editor of the blog “Sociological Study” and founder of the YouTube channel “Sociology for Life”.

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