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“The world has enough for everybody’s needs, but not every man’s greed. ”Industrial revolution changed the way people lived – automation and growth in science and technology has led to a better living standard for people, in general. But how costly has this development been? Can the planet sustain the unrelenting exploitation of nature to satisfy the ever-increasing consumption? The issue is recognised by the world and a major step was taken by 193 countries in year 2015 by endorsing United Nations’ sustainable development goals with targets set for year 2030. Winding back the clock to the first half of twentieth century, there was a frail unassuming man who understood the concept of sustainable development very well.
This visionary was Mahatma Gandhi and has explained the concept in his book “The Hind Swaraj”. It is generally believed that Gandhiji was against machinery. But as Gandhiji explained in his book “What I object to is the craze for machinery, not machinery as such”. And this subtle difference is the foundation of sustainable development. The sustainable view is that people should be using machinery to deliver the essential things in life. Once humanity goes overboard, it is enslaved and slowly but surely destroys the fine balance nature has provided. The advent of modern life also saw people flocking to cities for an ostensible ‘better’ life. Gandhiji, however, believed in ‘swadeshi’ and encouraged self-sufficient villages.
This is a simple but powerful way of not overburdening the already exploited natural resources. ‘Swadeshi’ encouraged people to consume products locally and this, in turn, helped to generate local employment and prevent mass migrations to cities. This principle is true even today and can lead to an environment friendly and sustainable model of development. Gandhiji, in his book, “Keys to Health” talks about the five elements that human body is composed of – earth, water, vacancy, light and air. He stressed on the importance of ‘clean’ air and water and how it is essential for the civilisation. Closely related to the question of sustainable development is the issue of poverty. Gandhiji, dealt with this topic in “The Hind Swaraj”. Gandhiji advocated ‘simple living’ where one would set a limit to the indulgences. And this measure would help two-fold: ensure people have all the basic necessities and preserve the environment. This can be linked to the current day’s debate on ‘developing’ versus ‘developed’ countries. ‘Developed’ countries have had unlimited access to fossil energy and have used it to further their life style. However, today when there is a growing concern on environmental issues, ‘developed’ countries would pass the burden to the ‘developing’ countries by asking them to cut the dependence on fossil fuel.
The idea of ‘simple living’ could be one of the most powerful themes for sustainable development today. Closer home, it would be relevant to look at the example of aborigines in Australia. Aborigines consider the relationship with land in a spiritual way and believe land owns them. This is in contrast to the non-Indigenous people who consider land as a commodity and believe they own it. Prof. David H. Bennett in article “The Cinderella Syndrome” described how aborigines can teach us restraint and ecological competence. While Aborigines lived on the land for between 40,000 to 80,000 years, they did less damage to the land as compared to the non-Aboriginal inhabitants in the last ~200 years. This corroborates the need to balance human’s own needs vis-à-vis the nature. Equally important is the idea to cooperate and integrate with nature instead of dominating it. Gandhiji stressed on the spiritual connection to the nature like the Aborigines, as discussed above. Today’s society would do well to understand the above-mentioned connection to environment and not test nature’s endurance to the extreme. (Creative Spirits, n. d. )“I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent. ”In 2014, Indian Prime minister Narendra Modi was on his first bilateral visit to Australia and unveiled a bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhiji in Brisbane. Prime Minister Modi in his address during this event said “The world is grappling with two major challenges – terrorism and global warming – and these problems were causing anxiety. . . If we look at Gandhiji’s life and his teachings, then we will be able to find solutions to the problems that the world faces today. ” (The Indian Express, 2014).
And indeed, Gandhiji’s approach to violence and terrorism remains relevant today. Amartya Sen describes Gandhiji’s idea about preventing violence which encompasses social institutions and public priorities, as well as individual beliefs and commitments. One of the core learnings from Gandhiji is that the loss of one’s own moral stature gives tremendous strength to one’s violent opponents. War against terrorism cannot be won by using power in an amoral way. “. . bad behavior of those claiming to fight for democracy and human rights has been used by terrorists to get more recruits and some general public sympathy, might have surprised the military strategists sitting in Washington or London, but they are entirely in line with what Mahatma Gandhiji was trying to teach the world. ” (Sen, n. d. ).
Gandhiji believed that violence leads to more violence and terror leads to more terror. It can lead to an endless vicious cycle of escalating violence. A manifestation of the same can be seen in the current spike of terror activities throughout the world. And therefore, the means to tackle violence needs to be considered carefully. There is a sacred connection between ends (sadhya) and means (sadhan). “The means may be likened to a seed, the end to a tree; and there is just the same inviolable connection between the means and the end as there is between the seed and the tree. ” (Hind Swaraj, 1997). “Recall the face of the poorest and weakest man you have seen and ask yourself if this step you contemplate is going to be any use to him. ”The globe’s richest 1% own half the world’s wealth, At the other end of the spectrum, 3. 5 billion poorest adults, who account for 70% of the world’s working age population, account for just 2. 7% of global wealth (Neate, 2017).
As the above figures show, there is a great disparity across the world. Gandhiji espoused ‘sarvodaya’ which basically motivated welfare measures for all, especially, for the unprivileged class. He questioned unfair business models, for example, grabbing of farmers lands by governments and corporations. Over the years, this conflict has continued leading to social and economic inequality and unrest. Gandhiji viewed ‘sarvodaya’ as a constructive program and was a step to achieve the goal of ‘Ramraj’. ‘Sarvodaya’ focuses on cooperation, mutual aid and decentralisation. For example, in Australia, making indigenous culture central to an organisation or program was highlighted as critical to success of indigenous policy and programs. Studies on indigenous programs in Australia show that it acknowledges family and cultural ties and empowers the community including women and children. (Morley, 2015).
Gandhiji emphasised on the importance of morality and spiritualism in politics and economics. Social and economic progress cannot be achieved without respecting culture, tradition and religion of people. Education, for Gandhiji, was “an all-round drawing out of the best in child and man”. Gandhiji believed in innate good of human beings and believed that ‘dharma’ and ‘karma’ would lead humans to act in an ‘ideal’ way. However, there have been questions raised on Gandhiji’s pursuits being too ‘ideal’. Critics have questioned how is ‘ideal’ related and distinct from ‘actual’. What the current generation need to imbibe from Gandhiji is the process; the participation in the ‘ideal’. One might not achieve the ‘ideal’ but the journey itself has indefinite potentiality. “In a sense, the ontological differences are irrelevant to Gandhiji because he is not interested in erecting a philosophical edifice but a practical system to mould one’s conduct. In that sense, Gandhiji was more pragmatic than the pragmatic philosophers. ” (Rao, 2017)
Rittel and Webber published a paper in 1973, describing what they called ‘wicked problems’. A wicked problem is defined as a social or cultural problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of its complexity and interconnected issues. (W. J Rittel and M. Webber, 2018). Contemporary literature is abounded with ‘systems thinking’ theories to tackle wicked problems. What Gandhiji was trying to achieve through swaraj, swadeshi, sarvodaya, satyagraha and ahimsa was a ‘systems thinking‘ without terming it so. And of course, the problems Gandhiji was trying to solve – poverty, social inequality, self-rule, etc. were truly ‘wicked problems’. Gandhiji was well ahead of his time and was solving issues, for which the academic framework was devised much later. Gandhiji has influenced many leaders across the world; more than 100 countries have chosen to release a stamp on Gandhiji. United States ex-president Obama has long shown a fascination with Mohandas Gandhiji. I would like to conclude the essay with Obama’s quote on Gandhiji: “He ended up doing so much and changed the world just by the power of his ethics. ” (Zezima, 2015).
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