By Umar Manzoor Shah
DUBAI, Dec 11 2023 (IPS)
Dr Jasdev Singh Rai, an accomplished ENT doctor who hails from London, is not just attending COP 28; he is representing an organization that brings a unique perspective to the global stage.
Rai is the face of the ‘Sikh Human Rights Group,’ an entity that holds United Nations Special Consultative status. The group, in collaboration with its associate, ‘Nishan-e Sikh Kaar Sewa Khadur Sahib,’ is advocating a pluralistic approach to the environment, rooted in the rich concepts embedded in the Sikh faith.
He sheds light on the fundamental difference in perspective, stating, “Indian civilization always had a lot of concepts, and many of them are within the Sikh faith, and we are promoting them.”
He draws attention to the Sikh belief system, emphasizing that, unlike the prevailing Judeo-Christian approach at the UNFCCC, Sikhs consider themselves one among a million species, not custodians of the world.
The narrative takes a fascinating turn as Rai introduces the visionary behind Nishan-e Sikh Kaar Sewa Khadur Sahib, a Sikh faith leader, Baba Seva Singh. The Baba embarked on a mission to transform the mindset of farmers in India’s Punjab, known for their deep attachment to their land.
Baba Seva Singh, armed with the teachings from holy Sikh scriptures, convinced farmers to see trees not as mere vegetation but as sacred entities. Rai elaborates on the strategy: “Whenever a farmer would go to a Sikh temple, Baba Sewa Singh would hand over to him a tree sapling as a sacred offering.”
Through this ingenious method, Baba Seva Singh managed to cultivate 285 small jungles in Punjab. He didn’t stop there; he approached landowners with vast expanses of unused land, convincing them to contribute to the cause. The project resulted in the creation of 500 forests across 550 villages, a remarkable achievement in reforesting a region where the green cover had drastically dwindled.
Rai, carrying this impactful project to COP 28, aims to showcase alternative approaches to community engagement. He underscores the importance of recognizing the indigenous knowledge that rural communities possess, stating: “There are places in South India where traditional farmers have a far better understanding of climate than science.”
He advocates for the recovery of traditional knowledge systems, especially in a country like India, where ancient civilizations thrived with coexistence at their core.
The outcomes of Baba Seva Singh’s efforts are not just anecdotal; they are scientifically verified. In the reforested areas of Punjab, temperatures have seen a reduction of 1.5 degrees, and carbon emissions have significantly decreased.
“We are bringing in trees from other parts of India that are efficient in absorbing carbon,” Rai says. The project has already witnessed the planting of 130,000 trees across 323 miles, with a target of establishing 550 mini-forests.
This groundbreaking initiative, which started in 1999 as a 20-year plan, successfully reached fruition in 2020.
Rai believes it’s time for COP 28 to embrace a more inclusive and realistic approach, one that doesn’t impose western ideals on diverse nations like India or China. He urges the global community to recognize the coexistence inherent in Indian traditions and advocates for letting people take ownership of climate initiatives.
As Rai attends COP28, he brings not just a story of reforestation but a narrative that challenges the hegemonic norms, offering a model that works with, rather than against, the diverse traditions and cultures that shape our world.
“We have been constantly engrossed in realizing the spiritual realms into practical ones. Our organization earnestly aims to maintain the balance of our mother nature and provide a clean and green environment to future generations. In the coming years, places adorned with enormous plants and trees will emerge as distinguished entities on earth. These places will for sure provide shelter to birds and living creatures and thus create an ideal place for meditation and spiritual enlightenment,” says Rai.
IPS UN Bureau Report