Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
Environmentalism in India: A Rajasthani Case Study
After completing an independent fieldwork project while on the India abroad semester, I was interested in continuing my research as a Senior Year Experience (SYE) for Religious Studies. Over winter break of my senior year (December 2008 - January 2009), I traveled to India to study environmentalism and how it is moving from a religious to a secular context. In order to accomplish this, I looked at two separate environmental groups. The first is the Bishnois, a traditional Hindu sect that has environmental rules written into the guidelines of the faith. The second group is the Barefoot College, a successful NGO that works on rainwater harvesting, bringing solar power to villages, and other environmental and social justice projects in rural India. I am in the process of comparing and analyzing the two groups in the context of a country that is rapidly changing and adjusting to the powerful forces of globalization and urbanization.
While in India, I conducted research through first-hand contact with the Bishnois and the Barefoot College. I visited the homes of several Bishnois and was lucky enough to stay at the Bikaner Dharmsala, a resting place for members of the faith that is not usually open to foreigners. A few members of the Bikaner Dharmsala took me on a tour of important pilgrimage places to Bishnois, including the only Bishnoi temple in existence, the birth place of the founder of Bishnois, and the hill where the Bishnoi faith originated. I was unable to find any of this information from textual sources in the United States, so it was essential that I traveled to India to enrich my research.
To contrast the Bishnois, I stayed at the Barefoot College's main campus for five days. During this time, I talked with several employees who worked on campus, as well as women from India, Bhutan, and several African countries who were learning how to build and maintain solar lights and lanterns to take back to their villages. I met people from all over India and the world who came to the Barefoot College to learn from their example of how to create real change for the people that need it most. The Barefoot College's reputation as an NGO that has empowered women, untouchables, and other marginalized social groups has spread throughout the world. During my stay, I was drawn into the slow, relaxed village lifestyle and asked to honor the Barefoot College ethics of complete equality and respect for all people. I was astonished by the global solutions the Barefoot College was able to tailor and apply to village lifestyles throughout India and the world. I feel extraordinarily grateful for the opportunity I had to learn from inspiring, knowledgeable people in the Bishnoi community and at the Barefoot College.