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When you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you,
apply the following test:--

Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man

whom you may have seen, and ask yourself,

If the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him?

Will he gain anything by it ?

Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny ?

In other words, will it lead to ‘Swaraj’ for the hungry
and spiritually starving millions ?

Then you will find your doubt and your ‘self’ melting away.

Gandhi and Environment

20 January 2010

Aren’t we now, leading for a disaster, in this blind race of development? – Amidst all sort of problems such as rapid population growth, production and consumption pattern causing stress and strain on natural systems, degradation and depletion of natural resources affecting the life support system (air, water, soil, and bio-diversity), unpredictable global climate change, ozone layer depletion and sea-level-rise, unemployment, poverty, economic inequality, social injustice, poor conditions of villages, big polluted cities, rivers and polluting industries ? In the course of development we have to think of these problems and try to find out the solution best suited to our needs.  

Self-sufficiency of villages, promotion of small and cottage industries, control on the import of consumption goods, improved agriculture etc, are some of the ways to reach our goal. Importance should be given to the qualitative improvement of human resources; education and health are to be given top priority. Better sanitation, better living condition and better life, can be achieved only through the Gandhian ways today. A sustainable society has to aim at working in partnership with nature and conserve resources and energy, reduce wastes and avoid degradation of renewable. It should produce goods that are easy to recycle, reuse and repair after use. The method of growing food and raising livestock have to be based on the use of soil and water conservation, bio-fertilizers, biological control of pests. The society should largely be a solar/wind/bio-mass based society together with a whole range of environment friendly technologies mainly based on renewable resources. Hence, resources should be utilized prudently and the basic need of people is to be met without any serous detriment to the environment. In this context Gandhiji’s thought, shall always remain relevant for the smooth global development.

Gandhiji’s entire life and deeds, indeed is an environmental bequest for whole mankind. This is not because he wrote big volumes of books on environment, led a people’s movement to oppose the construction of large scale-dam project of spent his life-time for cleaning Ganga or whatsoever; rather because he was a true practitioner of environmentally sustainable development in the real sense, by his personal life-style, he has adopted in his day-to-day life. Here is a being, who is in harmony and peace with environment and himself, although his all life was spent locked in an unequal battle with the mighty British Empire. His strength came to him on account of his spirituality and practice of non-violence and truth. In wider sense, these are the critical elements for the success of practicing sustainable development in true spirit. In brief, his whole life, was his message and a lesson on “protecting and conserving Environment along with the development process,” not only for Indians, but also for the whole world to follow at large.

Gandhiji felt “ industrialization is going to be a curse for mankind. It can not provide jobs for its millions of citizen and in addition it would be creating pollution problems, where as, developing thousands of cottage and village industries would provide an outlet for the creative facilities and resourcefulness of the people. It would also usefully employ many persons, who are in need of employment, which in return in fact would add to the national wealth too. The big industries can never overtake the unemployed millions. Their aim is primarily to make money for the few owners. Dead machinery must not be pitched against the millions of living machines. If we compare between the Gandhian model of bottom up rural development and Nehruvian model of top-down industrial development; we can visualize that Gandhian models lead to an economy of permanence and based largely on renewable, where damage to the environment is minimum and manageable, while the latter is based largely on non-renewable and causes environmental pollution. And depollution is far more expensive. Moreover in reality what we find today even after 62 years of independence is the rich have become richer and the poor have become poorer.

Gandhiji’s theory of economic equality went hand in hand with his theory of equal distribution of wealth. The real implication of equal distribution is that each man shall have the means to supply all his natural needs and nothing more beyond this. To bring this ideal into being, the entire social order has to be reconstructed. We must always bear the goal in mind and work continuously to achieve it. Gandhiji has suggested the practical way and means, how to bring this theory of equal distribution into reality. One should reduce one’s want to a minimum, bearing the poverty of others in mind. His earnings should be free of dishonesty, there should be no desire for speculative earnings. Gandhiji was of the firm belief that work and culture, should not be separated. Really there is enough hands and feet, God has given everyone the capacity to work and earn more than his daily bread. No labour is too mean for one who wants to earn an honest penny. To be honest to oneself is to be like pro in protecting nature.

There is a perfect awareness that irrespective of all our economic planning, social philosophy, scientific discoveries, we have contributed to a situation which make the life impossible now on this planet earth. The water we drink is becoming poisonous and scarce too. It is estimated that in the next 20 years several cities & towns of many countries will not have sufficient surface or underground water sources. In addition, the marine forms are fast disintegrating and getting depleted. And many more such stories/news capsules tell how the earth is becoming an unworthy place to live in what really contributed to this situation is probably the greedy and selfish manner in which we interpreted the concept of growth/our development which is the central to the human existence. The law of growth presupposes that any growth will be subject to the innumerable constant factors, which govern the human life. Modern planners seem to have forgotten the simple truth that while something ought to growing, other ought to be diminishing; Schumacher has rightly pointed out – “unlimited material consumption in a finite world is an impossibility.”

Gandhiji abandoned the luxurious life, which he could have easily afforded and identified himself with less polluting poor people. This is because perhaps- one of the basic and profound tenants of Gandhian environmentalism, is that – "the earth provides enough to satisfy everyone’s need; but not for anyone’s greed.” Here is a statement that makes Gandhi a prophet not of the past but also of the future. The statement related to the most basic and fundamental question as to what is enough for need based comfortable life style. If we take more than we need, we are actually taking from others. We are also taking from the future and destroying environment. Gandhiji opted for voluntary simplicity so as to end over-consumption ie consuming more than our need, because ultimately that would be at the expenses of earth’s resources. According to Mr. Mustafa Jolba, former Executive Director (UNEP) – “unless we begin to use natural resources rationally and fairly, the world would face an environmental catastrophe as complete and irreversible as any nuclear holocaust.” Gandhiji felt , we can use, the bounties of nature; but not with an element of greed. He was a vegetarian and had compassion for all forms of life. In fact, he advocated – “man has no power to create life, therefore has no right to kill any life also.” Gandhiji also believed that – Non-violence and compassion are not to be practiced only towards living beings, but also towards inanimate materials. Overuse of the latter, motivated by greed and the desire to undue profit at the expense of bio-sphere, is also a violence, since it deprives others of the use of such materials.”

Gandhi addressed himself to the problems of sanitation and told— “Sanitation should occupy the foremost place.” A Latin proverb says that – a healthy mind is possible only in a healthy body. He also said – Ahmadabad can not evade the responsibility of sanitation by pleading poverty. Anyone who fouls the air by spitting about carelessly, throwing refuse or rubbish otherwise dirtying the grounds; sins against man and nature. Man’s body is the temple of god. Any one who fouls the air that enter that temple desecrates it, his taking the name of lord Ram is in vain… “we like to have an enjoyable bath, but don’t mind dirtying the well tanks and river, by whose side of in which we perform ablutions. These practices should be considered as a great vice, which is responsible for the disgraceful state of our villages and the sacred bank of sacred rivers and for the diseases those spring due to the lack of sanitation".

Gandhiji’s environmentalism, was based on various ethical principles such as : non-violence, practicing and preventing truth, shunning the use of materials obtained by illegitimate means, celibacy- as a means of population control, neither coveting or amassing materials and wealth beyond one’s need, sanitation of body, mind and surrounding, contentment with available resources austerity, introspection and meditation and even fasting for self purification and any dereliction of duties towards nature including human beings. In this process he controlled himself by himself, because, being a yogi, he had complete control over his body and mind. He did not preach anything anything that he did not practice himself. Other principles followed by him were emancipation and empowerment of women, and the welfare of poorer sections of the society. These principles, those Gandhiji adopted ultimately gave him an internationally acclaimed acceptance of a great pacifist, a democrat, a defender of rights and privileges of downtrodden and of women and last but not the least, a social and economic environment.

Once the great Nobel prize winning Scientist, Sir Albert Einstein spoke on Gandhiji – “Generations to come, will scarcely believe that, such a person as this ever in flesh and blood, walked upon this earth”. The moral influence which Gandhi has experienced upon the thinking of the people of the world, may be for more durable than it would appear likely in our present age… The best way to pay the proper homage to this immortal should today, is to adopt his basic principles and policies towards life through practicing the self-reliance and self governance; which ultimately would help to achieve environmentally sustainable development, enabling us to return a “Greener Globe” to our future generation, in fact from whom we have borrowed this planet.



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