The Gandhian philosophy of self-realization through eleven vows can be thought of as a platform on which many dimensions of a society like Economics, Politics, Business, Management, Environment/Conservation, Healthcare, Animal Rights, Agriculture/Farming, Art/Literature etc. can rest on, or can be based upon. These dimensions can be thought of as applications or manifestations of the wisdom of the Gandhian thought of self-realization/self-liberation.
Here I want to share my thoughts, briefly, on two of these applications: Ecology and Politics.
Gandhi, apart from being one of the earliest Environmentalists/Conservationists of India, has inspired number of Environmentalist pioneers, across the world. Here I would like to mention, specifically, about two of them.
Arne Naess (1912 – 2009):
Arne was a Professor, Environmentalist and a Philosopher born in Norway. He is considered as one among the most influential thinkers in the post-world war Environmental Movement spanning across the Globe. Arne was the father of the environmental philosophy (which he called ‘Ecosophy’) of “Deep Ecology”. Through his ecosophy, Arne gave a profound and insightful perspective for Ecological conservation. His distinction between what he calls ‘Shallow’ and ‘Deep’ ecological thinking is both eloquent and logical.
The Western ‘utilitarian pragmatism’, he believed, was one of the root causes for the twentieth century environmental crisis. Fighting against pollution, resource overconsumption, climate change and other ecological issues purely to preserve the welfare and affluence of humans, “valuing” the natural world only according to its usefulness for narrow human purposes, is what Arne called as ‘Shallow’ Ecological thinking.I feel the phrase ‘utilitarian pragmatism’ is in a sense a euphemism. In a sense their mindset can also be described as ‘fear driven’ as these ecological issues pose a threat to their own survival. Most of the western, or western influenced materialists fall into this category.
Whereas ‘Deep’ Ecology talks about ‘intrinsic values’ of all life forms and even non-life forms irrespective of their “usefulness” for humans. In Arne’s words “Richness and diversity of life forms are values in themselves and contribute to the flourishing of human and non-human life on Earth”. All life forms have ‘equal’ rights to flourish and humans have no right to interfere with them but for vital needs. Each living being depends on numerous other living being’s existence for its own survival and Natural world is a complex web or network of interrelationships. Nothing stands isolated. Appreciating these intrinsic values leads to developing a deep veneration and a sense of belongingness with the Natural world. Arne goes on even to say that understanding the Natural world is a part of ‘self-realization’!
Schumacher College in the UK, among many others, is one such entity, who’s vision is inline with the true spirit of the Deep Ecology Movement. It is a centre for learning, which brings, from around the world, some of the best minds as its faculty, who educates students on sustainable living and Earth Democracy.
Arne Naess’s ecosophy of ‘Deep Ecology’, among others, is also deeply influenced by Gandhian philosophy. Arne himself was a great admirer of Gandhi. He also wrote two books on him namely “Gandhi and Group Conflict: An Exploration of Satyagraha” and “Gandhi and the Nuclear Age”.
Dr Vandana Shiva:
A Nuclear Physicist and a Scientist by profession, Vandana Shiva had two people who inspired her the most. One was Albert Einstein and the other was Mahatma Gandhi. She was born in Dehra Dun, Uttarakhand, in the lap of the Himalayas. When she returned from Canada, after finishing her higher studies, she was shocked to see that the rivers and the forest where she grew up had almost ceased to exist! There after, a series of incidents like the aftermath of Green Revolution and the Bhopal Gas Tragedy influenced her to become an Environmentalist, an Author and finally to one of the most influential thinkers of our times.
She is the founder of an organization called ‘Navdanya’. Navdanya works for protecting Bio-diversity, promoting non violent bio diverse organic farming, seed sovereignty, and fighting climate change. The organization’s vision is inspired by Gandhi’s Economic Constitution of 1928.
We have heard about the extinction of animal species and the need to protect them. Navdanya works for the same cause in the plant world. Till date, it has successfully conserved more than 5000 varieties of crops(!!) which includes 12 genera of cereals and millets, 16 genera of legumes and plants, 50 genera of vegetables, 7 genera of oil yielding plants, 13 genera of spices and condiments, 20 genera of aromatic plants, 54 genera of fruit and flowering plants and 250 genera of ornamental, timber and medicinal plants !! Inspired by the Salt Satyagraha, Navdanya launched “Beeja Satyagraha”, which is a campaign against Corporate monopoly on seeds. The campaign was against the law that made saving and sharing of seeds among farmers a crime as big Corporates wanted to obtain patents on seeds! From Satyagraha, to another Gandhian concept of “Swaraj”, Navdanya’s vision includes Beeja Swaraj (Seed sovereignty), Anna Swaraj (Food sovereignty) and Jal Swaraj (Water sovereignty) for every farmer in the country.
I will narrate a scene. Please imagine only that what I ask you to. This was a true incident BTW, I don’t remember the source though.
A city in nervous silence with deserted streets. One such narrow street ….and a small shop….shutters not completely open, in apprehension. An old man sitting inside the shop. A frenzy mob…..armed with trenchant weapons…..scanning every corner of the city for prey, in a moment, came face-to-face with the old man in his half opened shop. He was too frail to rush and run the shutter down. The very sight of the old man aggravated the animal instincts of the mob. The mob had many young men, to whose feet the old man bent and touched… and begged for his life. His plea had no effect on the mob whatsoever….a young boy, probably in his teens, stepped forward and in the peak of his hysteria, with his weapon, landed a heavy blow on the old man who easily fell silent amidst a pool of blood.
At this instant, if you felt that this is cruel and disturbing? Just hold on!
Now I have two items in my hand, a skull cap and a tilak. If I put the tilak on the old man’s forehead and put the skull cap to the mob and then rewind and replay the same incident, then it would drive the Hindu fundamentalists mad. Similarly if these items are just interchanged, and the same incident, if replayed, then a different section of the society, the Muslim fundamentalists would go mad. Before these items were mentioned, the incident evoked almost universal empathy for the victim, but after these two items or details were added to the narrative, it distorted this universal empathy.
The man, who chose to ignore these items in spite of their presence in reality, who did not allow his empathy to be distorted and who saw humans more as Humans than just as a Hindu or a Muslim was shot dead on this day, because of his these very qualities!
Its interesting to observe that Gandhi’s killer and Gandhi himself have uttered certain words which literally mean the same but at the same time these words speak volumes on both of their characters. The killer, in his statement in the court said, referring to Gandhi’s activities for public awakening through truth and non-violence “had nothing new or original in them”. Gandhi too once had said “I have nothing new to teach this world. Truth & Non-violence are as old as mountains”!. While the first sentence comes from arrogance, ignorance, frivolousness and sheer stupidity, the second sentence comes from the heights of modesty, wisdom from self-realization and simplicity. Little did the petty, pitiable mind of Gandhi’s killer realize that these “old” and “unoriginal” ideas would, in the years to come, inspire people oppressed by injustice, across the world!!
The Struggle against racial discrimination in the US, whose architect, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr was not shy in declaring that “Jesus gave me the message and Gandhi showed me the method”. The South African struggle against Apartheid was led by Nelson Mandela, who called Gandhi his political gurusaid that “The Indians influenced our struggle here and especially the man like Mahatma Gandhi. So we respect them and honor them”. The struggle to bring democracy in Burma, led by Aung San Suu Kyi said Gandhi was among her “greatest sources of Inspiration”. The man and his struggle for his country’s freedom, whom and which most of the world respects, HH the Dalai Lama said “ I have the greatest admiration and respect for the Mahatma. His life has inspired me ever since I was a small boy”. The man who fought against the British in the North West Frontier Province was Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, was an ardent Gandhian. Evo Morales, who led a civil disobedience and non-cooperation movements to overthrow unjust Government in Bolivia, also took inspiration from Gandhi. During the peak of the Egyptian Revolution, thousands of people at Tahrir square, subtly showed their Gandhian influence. People like Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi and Dr.Mubarak Awad have been known to be in the pursuit of finding a solution to the Israel-Palestine problem in the Gandhian way. The list goes on …..
So to Conclude:
I see around me, two kinds of people. One who disparage Gandhi and his ideas, others who are inspired and influenced by them. The question is, who among them, are the ones who are and have been striving hard to make this world a better place to live ?