Gandhi’s Significance in Greta’s Time

By Prem Prakash

SWEDEN’S 16-year-old environmentalist Greta Thunberg is raising questions with a thumping fervour. The questions are a big question mark on the working style, understanding and intentions of the worldly leaders. They are a shame for the 

Millions of children are skipping schools on Fridays to join Greta in her march for the well-being of the Earth and its environment. They are showing that in this era of modernisation and development the causes for the environment are left far behind – the reason being the various governments of the world and their viewpoint that is focused on today so much so that the concerns of future are almost nil.

Gandhi’s seed ideas about mechanisation have appeared in ‘Hind Swaraj’. Published in 1909, the book is considered the key to Gandhian philosophy

Though Greta has not mentioned Mahatma Gandhi in any of her speeches yet, the questions she is putting up are in line with Gandhian visions. Mahatma had penned the very concerns back in 1909 in ‘Hind Swaraj’. He abide by these views throughout his life and gave solutions to do away with these issues.

Today, Greta’s movement rests on the back of the Gandhian view which underlines the importance of the non-violent and harmonious relationship of nature and human. Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary is being celebrated across the globe. But amidst all the preps, none is putting forth efforts to come face with Gandhi’s ideologies.

Interestingly, Gandhi could foresee the problems of the future whilst giving out the lessons of truthfulness, non-violence and love. His views reflected the solutions to various such issues, the world today faces. They are being adopted by various nations.

Even the United Nations is putting in the efforts to implement them. The two major issues facing humankind are – the balance between nature and development and non-violent aspects of the economy. Gandhian view sees the two issues not separately but intertwined.

Development & Industry

The world that we are living in today is one of economic upper hand, wherein exploitation of natural resources has forgotten all limits. Great scientist Albert Einstein had warned that we shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive.

This approach has not exited the world yet, but we are standing miles apart from abiding by it. As a result, the world is constantly beset by threats such as poverty, unemployment and economic-social deprivation amidst continuing threats such as global warming, unpredictable climate, rising sea levels and the weakening of the ozone layer.

The situation is such that even life essentials air, water and soil are becoming poisonous. Pollution of cities and rivers are constantly emerging as a new threat. The man who understood this destiny of human civilization and development in modern times first and most serious and widely was Mahatma Gandhi.

On his arrival in India in 1914, Gandhi immediately engaged himself in getting a direct introduction to the social and economic conditions of the villages. On his visits to Indian villages and the initial Satyagrahas by farmers in Champaran and Kheda, Gandhi clearly saw colonialism as a way for economic exploitation and caste discrimination.

Although, he had first hand experienced this in Southern Africa as well. Through this deep understanding of colonialism and discrimination in Indian villages, Gandhi saw that India can’t compete with the western model of industrial development. For this, India will have to first put in ecological efforts on this land’s traditions and beliefs.

In the December 20, 1928, edition of Young India, Gandhi wrote, ‘God forbid shall India ever become an industrialised country like the western ones. The economic imperialism of such a small island (England) alone is enslaving the world today.

If our entire nation with a population of 30 crore gets involved in this type of economic exploitation, then it will destroy the whole world.’ Gandhiji, in his complete understanding, stood in the favour of the village and the poor in such a way that he time and again spoke of the creative power of rural India and wanted to make it the strength of the nation’s future.

In an article published in ‘Harijan’ on June 23, 1946, he said, ‘The blood of the villages is the cement with which the edifice of the cities is built…’ In another article in Harijan, on May 11, 1935, he said, ‘We are sitting in the dazzle of electric lights, but we do not know that we are lighting it at the cost of the poor.’

Against Blind Mechanisation

Gandhi, on one hand, insisted on keeping the surroundings clean and himself set examples for the same. On the other hand, with his non-violent approach he found it desirable to have such a method wherein protection of all beings is not put on cost in fulfilling the material needs. With this thought, he continued opposing blind mechanisation. He considered this as the reason depriving man of work.

Those who think Gandhian philosophy of nonviolence is merely about opposing to man-against-man kind of violence or promoting vegetarianism, they have a very little understanding of it. Till the time industries, that are being set up at the expense of flora, fauna, rivers, mountains, et al, are replaced with places that run on human labour and are based on the consistency of nature, non-violence cannot be fully achieved.

Hind Swaraj

Gandhi’s seed ideas about mechanisation have appeared in ‘Hind Swaraj’. Published in 1909, the book is considered the key to Gandhian philosophy. Gandhi said that he would live a lifetime on the ideas revealed in ‘Hind Swaraj’ and won’t manipulate even a word.

It has been over a 100 years to the publishing of the book, but even today it remains relevant. Gandhian philosophy and techniques are a constant topic of discussion and interpretation. In the book, speaking of the blind race of mechanisation, Gandhi said, ‘It was not that we did not know how to search for instruments.

But our ancestors knew that if people fall in this mess, then they will become slaves and leave their morals behind. They very thoughtfully said that we should do whatever is possible with our hands and feet. It is real happiness and health.’

Gandhi was of the view that labour-based industry-craft was what made man self-reliant in terms of fulfilling the needs of food, clothing, housing. It even protects other beings.

It was this way of life that back then no such issues of drinking water crisis, global warming rose which have today become a great threat to the various species existing on Earth. These crises sprung with the modernity that is believed to have originated from the European Industrial Revolution.

The entire foundation of the industrial revolution that inspired us for production and its unlimited experience was based on the exploitation of the workers.

Marx & Gandhi

Interestingly, while higher production and unlimited consumption were later considered to be the yardstick of development, on the other hand, everyone started turning a blind eye to the ruthless exploitation of natural assets. Karl Marx realised the exploitation of the workers in this production-consumption race.

But even he could not see the exploitation of non-human natural resources involved in the process, the ravaging of Europe in the typhoon of mechanisation. The one who saw it was Gandhi. Gandhi clearly stated in Hind Swaraj that the winds of mechanisation are trembling Europe and blowing their way into India.

It is the wind of today’s civilisation of sins. If it passes through for too long, then India will be in a bad state. Gandhi realised a century ago that the path of industrialisation leads to the gradual disappearance of both mankind and nature. Gandhi’s mix of nature, love and compassion seems to be the only solution to troubles of global warming, melting glaciers, water and air pollution. It will be a good thing shall the solution move past discussions and permanently make a way in our life.

Agriculture, Village Industries & Kumarappa

Agriculture and village industries are the backbone of the ‘Village Swaraj’ that Gandhi spoke of. This is what a decentralised economy means. Gandhi saw that India’s self-reliance lay in agricultural economy, which is not surprising at all.

When he returned to India from South Africa, he first explored and experienced the villages, stood among the farmers. The Champaran Satyagraha exemplifies how Gandhi was looking at the India of his dreams – with the attainment of Swaraj.

The United Nations has given great recognition to the need to include cleanliness in Sustainable Development Goals

Farmers were not mere hawkers or shepherds or fists for a few grains, but the non-violent soldiers of India who shouldered the responsibilities and self-reliance of the nation. Eminent economist Dr JC Kumarappa supported Gandhian vision of agro-village industry.

He understood the need for cooperation and consumption, instead of increased exploitation with emphasis on mechanisation, as the biggest criterion for the development and welfare of mankind. By this criterion of cooperation and necessity, self-sufficient economic stability can be found, the danger of natural imbalance can be kept at bay.

Needless to say that the Gandhian vision, which sees development as cooperation rather than competition, never put development and life values anywhere but together.

In the very first chapter of his book ‘The Economy of Permanence’, JC Kumarappa breaks the myth that development can never be sustainable. From industrial revolution to liberalisation, our experiences have taught that the need for development and its norms keep changing.

The government and society too manipulate it, basis their priorities. But there never has been a serious discussion on the ultimate goal of this change. The thought that has ever surfaced is the one who is powerful will only survive the changing tide. The theoretical economic terminology for this is ‘survival of the fittest’.

In this vision, one could sense the limited scope for human compassion and identity. It is a violent vision of prosperity and development – a vision that lashes us with the craze of crushing others under our boot.

Coordinative Concept

It is not like no objection was ever raised against this violent development at any stage. After the global thrust of globalisation which started with the end of the Cold War, many a people of conscious thinking, from America to India, tried convincing their governments that the understanding and policy of development shouldn’t dominate human identity and his surrounding nature. The discussions holding logic behind the meaning of achieving development with inclusiveness, root from Gandhi’s concept of coordinative growth.

If discussion over environment crisis on the back of development is significant, then discussing the decentralisation of Gandhi is as important. The coexistence and self-reliance naturally exist in the culture of rural India.

The land which is known for co-existing within its many languages, which change every few kilometres just like the taste of water, certainly is aware that its needs and efforts should have a stand. Avoiding greed and austerity is part of rural nature.

Unfortunately, instead of adopting this nature, it was misunderstood as a reason distancing it from mainstream development. As a result, competition for long-term development was extended to those villages, which considered self-reliance as an art of living.

The Question of Cleanliness

Today the world is taking many initiatives for cleanliness. The United Nations has given great recognition to the need to include cleanliness in Sustainable Development Goals. The Government of India too has made cleanliness a national mission since 2014. Mahatma Gandhi is the biggest inspiration for cleanliness and related initiatives.

Gandhi kept his message of cleanliness alive throughout his non-violent movement of independence. After the Noakhali Riots, he did not miss any opportunity to convey the message that cleanliness and non-violence are two faces of the same coin. One day during his peace campaign in the disturbed areas of Noakhali, he found that garbage and dirt were spread on the roads as a way of conveying non-violence to the people of the riot-affected area.

Gandhi was not deterred at all and considered it a golden opportunity to set an example. The messenger of peace and non-violence swept the streets with a broom he made out of twigs from nearby bushes to put an end to violence. For him, the proverb ‘healthy body, healthy mind’, was nothing but a deep philosophical message.

Lack of cleanliness is like an invisible killer. Gandhi saw the most disgusting forms of violence hiding in the dirt. That is why he considered cleanliness and non-violence as leading the path to socio and political freedom. Gandhi had observed the worrying norms of cleanliness in the West, and so he could not let the same happen with him and the people of his nation. However, most of the efforts he put in this regard, yet remain incomplete.

Baranwal’s Remark

Virendra Kumar Barnwal, a writer famous for his comprehensive understanding of Gandhi’s environmentalist vision and who risked a reinterpretation of Hind Swaraj, had remarked – ‘Gandhi tried many a time to prove that indiscriminate industrialisation by paying the price of continuous destruction of the Earth’s environment is not safe even from the economic point of view.

Gandhi gave us the vision that surging industries lack the capacity to compensate for the horrific losses caused by the continuous catastrophic wastage of our water, forest and land. Its economic cost can be understood without even knowing the nuances of economics. This is a strong postmodern aspect of Gandhian contemplation.’ 

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