Passing the baton


When we pass on the green baton to our children, what are the messages we want to convey? Are we proud of the environment we are leaving them?

Perhaps the closest an adult human can come to the feeling of being in a mother’s womb is when he or she chooses to descend into the depths of the sea. With no noise, no conversation, no nothing, except the sound of your own breathing, a sense of calm and belonging washes over you.

Once while surveying the corals of the Nicobars, a school of over 100 spinner dolphins appeared as though from nowhere and stayed with our little boat for almost 15 minutes. Ducking my head underwater, I was able to see a baby dolphin swim circles around its protective mother as the pod kept pace with our boat. It is such sights that I believe our children need to see and experience if we wish to pass on the protective baton of wildlife to them.

Children are ostensibly the purpose of our lives, but even a cursory glance at the attitudes that have governed India over the past six decades will reveal that we have been more than merely thoughtless about their future. Frankly, when future generations write about us they will probably say that we discovered and institutionalised inter-generational colonisation. Not a very comforting, or happy thought.

Sanctuary is attempting to activate the psyche of the nation to this situation in different ways. In a sense, to our lot has fallen the unpopular task of pooping the party for those who shout from the rooftops, “We do this for our children.”

A key way to achieve our objective was to publish a children’s wildlife magazine, Cub, that goes beyond communicating the need to study and respect nature into the realm of reminding them of their environmental and ecological rights. Cub kids are aware of the environmental damage we inflict upon our planet, but clearly we must not allow them to be traumatised with the responsibility of ‘fighting’ their elders. Expectedly, one refrain I constantly hear from children is: “But what can we do to make a difference Bittu Uncle? We are only children.” It is difficult to address their fear… without playing God, therefore what many of us who work with children do is get in touch with parents and talk to them about their children’s concerns for the future. Then, with the help of parents and teachers, we carefully put out ideas that we encourage the children to debate.

Here are some of the value systems, which we find ourselves talking about in the presence of our children. I share them in the hope that some may actually take the trouble to write back to us with reactions, suggestions and offers of involvement:

  • Saving wildlife is not merely a matter of animal rights, it is one of survival, for the animals are the only ones that know how to plant forests.
  • Saving forests is not an act of ‘kindness’ to the earth, but rather one of survival. For without forests we would probably die of thirst, because the forest is the mother of the river.
  • Poverty is not the greatest pollutant. Wastefulness of the rich is. Slum-dwellers are not the ones that dirty our cities. We who live in comparative comfort throw much more garbage out than they do. We also waste more water, consume more power, throw away more toys, clothes and food. Thus, we hurt the earth more than them.
  • Planting trees during wildlife week will do less good than saving paper, not using disposable materials and conserving energy every day.
  • The hope and trust of children shines like a ray of light in a sea of environmental darkness. They breathe new life into our collective optimism. With far more environmental commonsense in their minds than we ever had, they are perfectly poised to accept the green baton that is rightfully theirs to carry forward.

    To be a part of the conservation movement, or to introduce a child to the wonderful world of nature, log on to


    Bittu Sahgal

    The writer is Editor, Sanctuary magazine