From environment activism to holistic environment education
Rajiv Pandit was an environment activist right from the early 1990s. Among many other conservation initiatives, he participated in action to save snakes from having their mouths stitched for Nagpanchami, and was also the editor of the environment magazine Shrawan.
But when he studied at Ecological Society, his perspective of work for the environment changed drastically from activism to education. ES founder Prakash Gole’s teachings convinced Rajiv that he must drive forward environmental education. Along with this, he realised the importance of a holistic approach to ecology; he learnt the importance of mixing up history, geography, ecology and not seeing them as compartmentalised subjects. He followed up the year-long course at ES with courses in botany, ornithology, history and heritage. His NGO Jeevidha was born in 2007, when he was teaching environment in schools in Karanjgaon, as part of an Ecological Society project just after he finished the ES course in 2005. “Gole sir used to tell us that you will be able to sustain yourself if you enter in this field commercially,” shared Rajiv.
So now Rajiv and his team at Jeevidha, which means biodiversity, have several environment-related ventures — trainings, eco-tourism, talks, publications, education, certificate courses, workshops, and more. Jeevidha’s focus is environmental awareness, capacity building of common public, and conservation of native plants. Rajiv and his team work in urban and rural areas, as well as deep in the forests.
Rajiv’s engagement with children as well as adults from different backgrounds has left him concerned about the future. “I love the jungle, and I will keep working to save it. But I have observed that all people want to do is walk into the forest with their camera, take photos, and leave. There is very little understanding of the fact that we are one. There is a tendency among people to not be bothered about how they are affecting the future generations, and that someone else will take responsibility for cleaning up the mess,” he said worriedly.
Jeevidha and Rajiv, who is the founder president of the NGO, are very careful to educate the people he takes on tours about biodiversity and ecology. They are aware of the impact that tourism can have on the environment. Though tourism is a necessity for our finances, my conscience will simply not allow me to do tours like the big commercial organisations, says Rajiv, who earned a diploma in Industrial Electronics before studying the year-long course at Ecological Society.
And so, Rajiv is very sure that his work is never going to end. He shared, “Even the perspective of looking at wildlife has become superficial. There is an increasing compartmentalisation of knowledge; if people are interested in trees, they only want to know how to identify an increasing number of trees. They don’t want to see why the tree is there, or what its use is for the community.”
Rajiv is also a published author. He has written “Gharani Pranyanchi”. His upcoming books are “Nisargpurna Environment Field Guide”, “PraniJagat”, “Jungle Safari”, “Dolas Bhatkanti”, and “Jaiva Vividhata”. For the last three years, Rajiv has been organising events and exhibitions for the International Earth Science Week.
Meanwhile, Rajiv doesn’t think we have yet cracked the formula for living a sustainable life. He says, “Eco-friendly products and alternative are still not affordable for most people, only the moneyed can afford them. I am still looking for the reason for the high costs. People find it hard to pay Rs 8 for supari plates when other disposable plates are available at just Rs 1. Common man thinks a lot about this. It is only when one studies at Ecological Society that one realises how costs are externalised.” Rajiv is certain that unless such pricing changes, we can’t arrive at sustainability.
The naturalist from Pune believes that students of ES, and other ecologists of course, should work on developing new products. For people who can’t leave their jobs, just join individuals who are already working in this sector. It is time that ecologists came together and ended the compartmentalisation in the field. And Jeevidha’s doors are always open for the enthusiastic — join the local awareness activities, teach in schools, and more!
Rajiv is most satisfied with the impact he has had by training forest guides and guards in all forests of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. While mainly training guides, he has seen that they can directly use the information in their work in the jungles. He also enjoys teaching tribal children, who might not the scientific names but can recognise and connect with the flora and fauna surrounding them. Unfortunately, urban children tend to believe digital information more than what I show them practically, and they are rather disconnected from the environment, he says.
But Rajiv Pandit is a hopeful human being, and the simple fact of having contributed to conservation is enough to drive him onwards. With that thought in mind, he is heading into the jungle of Pench and Bhimashankar, with the faith that he will influence more people to participate in conserving endemic and native biodiversity.