Handsworth has a sizable Sikh population from the Indian Panjab. A seminar on environmental issues at the Sikh Community and Youth Service on Soho Road alerted the audience to how the environment of the Panjab is being seriously degraded by inappropriate farming, the use of herbicides, pesticides etc. The image of the Panjab as the “breadbasket of India” is very misleading. While it still supplies a considerable proportion of grain the quality has been damaged through poisonous chemicals. Rice crops have been introduced, but the Panjab is described as “semi-arid” and so thise are using up water resources in an unsustainable way.
Among the speakers were representatives of Birmingham Friends of the Earth, the Green Party and the Khalsa Wood Project in Nottingham. Pardip Singh Rai was the main speaker and he gave an authoritative account of the serious situation which has arisen in the Panjab. The Indian Government steadfastly refuses to recognise the situation maintaining an iron grip on the state.
The effects of the man-made catastrophe are wide ranging and severe. Plant and animal species, once common in the region, have disappeared. Rivers in which one of the speakers had swum in as a boy are highly polluted and species of fish are declining. The water table has dropped and land is turning into desert.
The associations of the Panjab with dissent by the Indian Government has led to a political situation where Panjabis are an oppressed. However to use the environment for political purposes will reboun d in a serious way. The construction of dams in the Gujrat to compensate for a lower yield in the Panjab has itself led to strong protests both by those affected and internationally.