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The Environmental Crisis And Relevance Of Gandhi

By M. R. Rajagopalan
(Secretary, Gandhigram Trust, Tamilnadu)

The environmental deterioration that is happening, thanks to our life styles and worship of development and progress, is worsening day by day.

Gandhiji has not said anything specific on it as environmental degradation had not become a problem then. But we have it in his writings. Once, when asked for a message to humanity, Gandhiji said, "my life is my message". We can find everything we want, provided we go through his writings, his speeches and his life.

Man's progress and the road to development has led to the deterioration of nature. In his quest for fulfilling his needs, he has exploited nature to its maximum. This is development that is ecologically not sustainable. In the words of James Mchall, the human being has become the most dangerous organism that the planet has ever hosted.

Awareness about the degradation of environment has been growing since the fifties. Steps were being taken to increase this awareness through books, conferences, etc. The irony is that though every responsible person seems to be worried and anxious about environmental degradation, a meaningful solution is nowhere in sight. It is here that the Mahatma's teachings give us some hope.

In the western tradition man was an entity apart from the earth which he was encouraged to conquer, whereas in Indian tradition earth was his mother which he should hold in veneration. Gandhiji was very much influenced by our tradition and stressed on Truth and non-violence. In the words of Gandhiji "man has no power to create life, therefore, he has no right to destroy life." Man has been endowed with higher faculties so that he can be compassionate to lower beings.

If environment is to be saved from degradation we have to avoid or limit the use of machinery. That is where Gandhiji's promotion of khadi and Village Industries have become more relevant today than during the freedom struggle. We should read Gandhiji's Constructive Programme. Harijans and women are not yet treated as equal members of our society. Health and hygiene are wanting in Rural India. Many other aspects of life are discussed in the constructive programme. Adopting some of his ideas will be the first step in saving the environment.

Even more important are the eleven Vows or Vratas of Gandhiji which are non-violence, Truth, Non-stealing, Brahmacharya, Non-avarice, Physical labour, Control of Palette, Religious harmony, Fearlessness, Swadeshi and Abolition of untouchability. In fact, the significance of each of the vratas could be elaborated in the context of preserving the environment.

Through the cardinal point Gandhiji has been expounded in this essay, I cannot help repeating Gandhiji's famous quotation. "The earth has enough resources for our need, but not for our greed." What greater message is there to save this earth from the environmental disaster?

Source: Smarika,24 September 2001