Witnessing the ‘Circulatory Model of Life’ in Rural India
[contribution] Pro. Lee Won-young (The University of Suwon, Institute of Country Futures)
I left Seoul in the spring of 2017 and have been walking for the ‘New Silk Road for Life and No-Nukes’, a 9,000km pilgrimage to the Vatican for over two years. I walked over 4,000km until the beginning of this year, and I have resumed walking in India this winter.
Travel to India has a dangerous side. The brightness of a civilization coexists with the darkness found in a ‘jungle’ as the caste discrimination remained for many years in India. But when you consider the probability of danger, it is no different from any other society. How dangerous are the ‘shootings’ in the US or ‘fake news’ in Korea? In today’s world of informatization, the chances of getting bad news are increasing because the population of India is 1.3 billion. Once you get out of tourist sites or a city, the countryside is no different from any country. Rather, Indian rural villages can teach the global village something in the climate change era.
Why are they so earnestly mixing ‘cow dung’? I was curious to see the women in the end of last year when I walked in rural India. However, the question quickly unraveled. I stopped at the restaurant and found that the dried cow dung was burning in a fireplace that boiled a tea called ‘Chai’, which is unique to India. It gives off a little bit of smoke when burning, but there is no smell at all. It is an impressive fuel.
▲ Drying cow dungs at a typical Indian farmhouse (Photograph = Lee Won Young)
If you leave the cow dung, then it will produce greenhouse gas. Might as well use them for fuel. It is the effect of killing two birds with one stone. The cow makes a clean dung because it only eats straw and weeds. There is no need to cut trees because eight billion people in rural India use cow dung fuel. I also heard that the thermal power generation run on cow dungs.
But human wastes are a big problem. As is widely known, more than half of India’s rural households lacked toilets. In the past, there was a religious reason not to put a toilet inside the house, and there might have been thought to make the field fertile, but now it is completely different. The situation is improving rapidly in recent years, because they are considered a shameful problem. Taking this issue as an exception, Indian rural areas are full of unique advantages.
The usefulness of cows is not only cow dung. It is not only essential for agriculture, but also always supplies fresh milk to those who do not eat meat. They make chai with milk, and they also make a fermented milk dessert called Lassi.
▲ The cows are resting leisurely in the village forest. (Photograph = Lee Won Young)
Perhaps that is why cows became sacred? They grow in the shade of a dense forest built around the town. Cattle, sheep and wild pigs go around freely in search of food. Chickens and ducks are also raised by grazing. Naturally lively chickens do not have a chance to catch AI (avian influenza). When I see these livestock, I am depressed just thinking about the poultry farm in Korea where chickens get slaughtered if they get sick.
Weeds that the livestock feed on are rare. There is no time to grow up. So I cannot find vinyl farming. Rice straw is rarer. Rice straw are used not only for cattle feeding but also for drying cow dung. It is also useful for building roofs and wall materials of farmhouses. Rice straw is a valuable property of the farmhouse, so it is well managed throughout the year after the fall harvest.
Indian plains are consisted of generally clayey soils. Because the water quality is purified when the water permeates into the underground, well water has been used for drinking water for a long time. In recent years, hand pumps are widely installed making them hygienically safe in every village. The water problem has also been resolved in a circulatory model.
The use of clay also varies. You can see almost everywhere people making pottery using spinning wheel by hand. They make everything from pottery to teacup. Farmhouses are mainly made of bricks, which are made by baking clay. When an old house that has reached the end of its life is torn down, the bricks easily return to the soil. There is no architectural waste problem to worry unlike in the city. It is cyclical.
The building made of rice straw and earthen walls is energy saving in itself, although it has a short life span. This is why there is no electric wire. Despite that there is no problem in life. However, solar panels are in every corner of the countryside in order to charge mobile phones which have become an household item.
▲ Autumn in rural India (Photograph = Lee Won Young)
India has a lot of agricultural products because it is subtropical and a great continent. Rice, wheat, and grains are world’s top-class crops. Since the amount of rainfall is slightly less than dry climates, the distribution of crops by region is slightly different, but the streams and rivers descending from the Himalayan Mountains pass through the Indian plains making irrigation structurally stable.
▲ I was invited to a primary school in a rural area of India and took a commemorative photo, during the pilgrimage of the ‘New Silk Road for Life and No-Nukes’. (Photograph = Lee Won Young)
India will now surpass China by 2024 as the current population of 1.3 billion continues to grow. Fortunately, many of these populations still live an independent, cyclical life. Unlike urban life, which only consumes resources, it would be a useful model in the subtropical global village in the age of climate change.
And this has implications for us in the temperate regions. Did not we also live such a life? Learning old things, know new things (溫故而知新).