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Sindhu Sivasankar

Posted on June 15, 2022 at 12:45 am

Sindhu Sivasankar

Streets, Flowers, and Cows: How Tamil Culture Influences My “Web of Life”

Back in 2000, my father and mother left their families behind in India to start a new life in America. I was raised in two cultures as a result, and every other year, we go back to India to visit our relatives. These travel experiences in India and immersion in the Hindu religion have shaped my relationship with not only the “web of life” in Delaware, but the entire Earth.

First of all, the location and landscape of India has influenced my beliefs to ensure protection to lifeforms in Delaware from poor air quality. Many of my family lives in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. The streets there are much worse than my home back in Newark, Delaware. There are cigarettes, candy wrappers, pieces of glass, cow poop, and other objects littered around. The roads are barely visible and the air feels like it is full of thick sand. The contrast between Chennai and Delaware enlightened me about the effects of littering and pollution. In Delaware, dog owners are required to pick their dog’s poop. In Chennai, cow poop on the roads is normalized, and so are the carcasses of the poor dogs and cats that happened to be on the busy roads at the wrong time. I cannot really remember seeing a patch of green grass in the part of Chennai I reside in. It differs so much from Delaware, where I can see the crickets, ants, bees, and mosquitoes all live together in harmony right in my backyard. There are plenty of mosquitoes in India, but in the location my relatives live in, there are hardly any signs of life besides a lot of humans and cows. Accordingly, Chennai is one of the most polluted cities in the world. The air pollution there is 5 times worse than the WHO’s limit for permissible pollution. The obvious source, according to some, is the high levels of traffic. Indeed, the Chennai streets have always been extremely scary for me to walk across. There are thousands of taxis, cars, and buses that transport the large population in Chennai and other cities in India. However, people are trying to make initiatives to reduce the pollution, such as monitoring levels of air quality, making urban transportation cheaper, and more. The environmental issues in India have expanded my views on the issues back in Delaware. As an American citizen, I strive to feel a duty to provide for areas that also have poor air quality within Delaware, my home. I feel the need to protect my home so that future generations will not have to live in such conditions as my relatives back in India. However, Delaware is still one of the worst states for air quality, leading to a lot of asthma and allergy problems during the summer. New Castle especially has been shown to have high levels of ozone, a problem that has been emphasized to me because of my experiences in India. The experience has also allowed me to appreciate my relationship with the more healthy ecosystems in Delaware, with much more biodiversity and dedication by organizations to improve the environment.

Moreover, the cultural element of flowers in India has influenced my belief in the importance of the relationship to nature in Delaware. In Indian culture, flowers are extremely important. Even in Delaware, my mother grows flowers simply to cut and place them next to the statues of Hindu gods in our house, as well as to adorn a large picture frame of my late grandmother. In marriages, partners will place garlands on each other’s necks. In funerals, flowers trail the vehicle that carries the dead body. Tamil women often wear strings of jasmine pinned onto their braid. Back in America, flowers are also an important cultural element. People are given flowers in marriages, graduations, and other celebratory occasions. Bouquets of flowers are also placed on top of graves as a gift to the dead. Across all cultures, flowers symbolize both life and death, or perhaps just the beauty of nature. Flowers have also affected my perspective of life on Earth and nature. Flowers are a part of nature that many people treasure, with people even booking trips to go see gardens with many varieties. Within my personal relationship with Mother Nature, I too am attracted to the beauty of flowers. I remember picking flowers after the bus dropped me off in my neighborhood so I could give a bouquet to my mother when I got home. This cultural element has also influenced my perspective on the “web of life” in Delaware, because it shows how important culture is. Culture shapes our landscapes and vice versa. According to some theories in anthropology, early humans were attracted to flowers because they would most likely lead to ripe fruit, could be used for medicine, etc. In current times, planting flowers can have some positive effects, including aiding in climate change. Any planting in general would be helpful, but flowers have a cultural importance to many different peoples. Thus, this may demonstrate the need for climate change initiatives to be involved with flowers to strengthen the community and include immigrant populations.

Additionally, the aspect of vegetarianism, which many Hindus follow, has influenced my desire to protect livestock from factory farming. My family is vegetarian, which is common in both of their castes. It relates back to ahimsa, or the importance of protecting all life forms. However, that part of culture is not usually shared in America. There is a large demand for meat products in American markets. Accordingly, there are issues with factory farming. Factory farms, or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), have been prevalent in the United States ever since small family farms were replaced by large agribusinesses. They usually pack thousands of animals into crowded areas, just to maximize the amount of meat they can produce to keep up with the domestic and international demand. In India, cows are worshiped, but factory farms in America are usually ruthless with their handling of livestock. My cultural experience in India has thus shaped my views on the “web of life,” specifically in the belief that livestock must be protected from these cruel endeavors. Allowing the continuation of factory farming practices in the United States permits agribusinesses to inflict mental and physical harm towards animals. CAFOs restrict the livestock’s common ways of living, hindering them from expressing their natures as animals. Thus, this goes against Hindu beliefs of treasuring the way that nature has allowed things to be. Indeed, much of climate change has occurred because humans have failed to treat Mother Nature properly and meddle too much with natural happenings. Moreover, farm animals are often forced to undergo physical abuse and torture. For example, the beaks of chickens are sometimes removed to keep the chickens from pecking at each other in the confined factory farms. Cattle are often branded, dehorned, and castrated. This additionally goes against Indian culture, which strives to protect all forms of life, especially cows. Delaware is noted to have a lot of factory farms for poultry,  being known for chicken farms and the Delmarva poultry industry. To conclude, my experience in India has taught me to respect animals and influenced my personal beliefs against factory farming in Delaware, which are unusually cruel towards other living organisms on Earth.

Overall, my experiences in India and Hindu culture have really informed my view of the “web of life.” For one, I realize the power of tradition and religion. For example, the Hindu Declaration on Climate Change attempted to highlight how Hinduism specifically asks its followers to protect the Earth, in efforts to make the world more environmentally sustainable. This initiative has been mostly successful, with the Bhumi project, the ChipKo movement, and others. There are many initiatives like this in Delaware, as well, with houses of worship being given opportunities to save energy. There should be more of these initiatives, especially relating back to Hinduism teachings. Religion and tradition are important, even in America, and by empowering the immigrant communities that already have these beautiful teachings, and then having more Americans learn them will allow the world to be more prepared for climate change crises. Following the teaching of ahimsa, we need to form a community to protect the Earth and webs of life that connect us all together.

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