My mother was just 20 years old when she migrated to Singapore from India, and her homeland has always been an integral part of my life growing up. Since the maternal side of my family still lives there, she never let me forget my roots and we visited India almost every single year ever since I was born. I do think it’s safe to say that lifestyles led in India are very different from life in Singapore. As I reflect on my experiences, I believe growing up in these two very different environments has made me who I am today. Understanding my privilege shaped my tendency to help people in need and as cliche as it sounds, you really have to walk the streets, live in the houses and experience day to day life in another world to develop an acute awareness of different perspectives. I have so many beautiful and treasured memories from my childhood and teenaged years from all the time spent in India; the gorgeous architecture, delicious food, and the love I'm engulfed in by my family there.
Amongst these special memories is one that strikes me as rather questionable, in hindsight. One of the many traditions followed in India by Hindus is the cleansing of one’s soul by dipping themselves in a holy river or sea to rid themselves of sins. This is a practice that has been followed for thousands of years with many roots in traditional stories and mythologies, with one of these stories being that of Ram. Ram was a renowned king of the state Ayodhya, and he was married to a beautiful warrior princess named Sita. In an unexpected twist of fate, Sita was kidnapped by the Sri Lankan demon-king Ravana. With a terrifying 10 different heads, each representing a different quality he embodied, he kidnapped Sita out of admiration for her beauty and his desire to marry her. This caused Ram to wage war with Ravana, in order to rescue his beloved Sita.
Ram eventually killed the demon king, and on the return journey to his kingdom in Ayodhya, Ram stopped at the Rameshwaram Temple to cleanse himself. Despite his ferocious reputation, Ravana was a devotee of Shiva - a God worshipped widely among Hindus, and Ram needed to cleanse himself of the sin of killing such a devotee. Even though Ram had been faced with the dire circumstances of his wife being kidnapped, he was still a noble and honourable man, who viewed the killing of his wife’s kidnapper as a sin that required cleansed in the river at the temple.
In present-day India, there are millions of people following in the footsteps of Ram who visit not just the river at Rameshwaram, but many other rivers and seas all around India seeking the purity and cleansing abilities that the legends have attached to them. However, despite the great tales and traditions closely followed by generations, one major aspect of has changed; the state of the water itself.
The same water that is used as a holy and pure refuge is now polluted beyond imagination. I find it incredibly ironic that all these people are dipping themselves into this revered body of water to cleanse their sins when in reality the water is actually filthy. As a child, I’ve had that question in my mind for many years and as of later, it's got me thinking about the state of the oceans not just here, but everywhere else. Are they really pure? Clean? Free of negativity? Absolutely not.
The ocean covers over 70% of the planet, produces at least 50% of our oxygen, is home to most of earth’s biodiversity, and is the main source of protein for more than a billion people around the world. Moreover, an estimated 40 million people will be employed by ocean-based industries by 2030. You would think something so huge and seemingly important would be appreciated, cared for and protected. However, I’m here to tell you that it’s actually the complete opposite.
There are a great many things that we, as inhabitants of this beautiful planet, have done wrong. The ocean is home to many lives. Among these lives are great whales, of which 2.9 million were killed due to the commercial whaling industry in the 20th century. 90% of big fish populations have depleted and 50% of coral reefs have been destroyed. Today's seas contain only 10% of the marlin, tuna, sharks, and other large predators that were found in the 1950s.
Don’t even get me started on plastic pollution, which is now recognised as a global environmental crisis as 8 million tonnes of plastics enter the world’s oceans from land every year. It is estimated that by 2050 there could be more plastic in the sea than fish. Unsustainable human activities such as pollution in the air affect oceans as they absorb a third of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The oceans have gamely absorbed more than 90 percent of the warming created by humans since the 1970s, a 2016 report found (Explaining ocean warming: Causes, scale, effects, and consequences).
In this day and age, you may think there is a reasonable amount of effort going into preserving our oceans and world. Well, I don't believe it’s enough, not even close. I grew up watching people holding a river close to their hearts, with so much reverence given to its healing properties, but there was a blatant disregard of the state of the water itself. I’ve come to realise that it’s no different from what any of us are doing all around the world as we ignore the importance of these oceans and our responsibility to protect them.
Today, on World Ocean Day, I urge you to look beyond what you know. The information I've shared with you so far is merely a glimpse at the severity of our situation, OUR situation, as we’re all part of this world. This day is a reminder for us of the importance of our oceans and the major part they have and continue to play in our lives.
Together, we can sustainably manage the world’s oceans, and do what we can to ensure that our oceans and everything it entails is protected. I vow to always learn more about the oceans and how to do my part in preserving them. I can do what I love like reading books, but I can instead pick up books about environmental issues such as 'Can We Save The Planet?' by Alice Bell.
We have come a long way from the times of Ram. There have been generations of us, but will there be more? More accurately, will there be a world for more?
From the bottom of my heart, I hope this gave you what you needed to take that first step towards making a difference.
Maya (Creative Intern)