Author : Dr D John Chelladurai
Special Feature -1 on Gandhi Jayanti
Modernity has made individual global in one’s potential. With satellite communication, Airways, Earth Movers we are global in our strength and ability. Human life has gained ‘vishwaroop’. From self-centeredness to ecological damage we witness in life ethical transgression at every front. In our craving for the best in the world, we appear to pursue a perilous path of civilisation.
Having witnessed the early signs of the onslaught of modern science and industrial revolution across the Europe and its impact on human civilization, Gandhi advocated an alternative way of living. It was a neat blend of physical, intellectual and spiritual life; as Gandhi would say ‘harmony between word, thought and deed’. J C Kumarappa articulated it as ‘appropriate’ lifestyle.
It represents an optimised approach to life, keeping in view the appropriateness of the context such as socio, economic, political, biophysical and ecology. It means, doing everything in an optimum manner, in a neither-less-nor-more way. It produces the best result under a given condition, and is more harmonious with nature.
One can see this optimum principle co-determining all of Gandhi’s approaches to life, be it personal or national, physical or spiritual. For instance, Gandhi proposed technology be appropriate, neither be too primitive to be of no use, nor too sophisticated to the point of overpowering the very user. He stated sewing machine as one such appropriate machine.
It liberates the individual from the toils of hand stitching and does not produce in surplus to the point of creating unemployment, consumes no electricity and pollutes nothing.
Employment is a quantifiable resource within an economy. Mass production allows few to take more than average of the global share, leaving a large section with less than average, creating a huge ‘opportunity gap’ called unemployment. He proposed decentralised village industries in place of global manufacturing conglomerates, in order to optimise the production possibility with the employment requirement. He proposed what J C Kumarappa put it as ‘economy of permanence’.
Bread labour on land with appropriate tool is the life worth living, Gandhi said, echoing the idea of Ruskin. It renders justice to the economy and ecology at the same time.
Poverty and wealth are two extremes. The uniqueness of Gandhi’s optimised approach was that while working on the removal of poverty he would equally insist on ‘voluntary poverty’ among those having surplus. The structural arrangement Gandhi proposed for voluntary poverty was ‘Trusteeship’. He said to Jamnalal Bajaj to ‘be the trustee of your wealth and put it to the use of the poor millions.’
Talking cue from Gandhi’s non-violent appropriate economic ideas, the British economist EF Schumacher wrote “Small is Beautiful: A study of Economics as if People Mattered”.
And the club of Rome, an association of Nobel laureates brought out the report ‘Limits to Growth’ based on ‘computer simulation of exponential economic and population growth with finite resources’.
They all endorsed what Gandhi said about self restraint and appropriate living.
‘Ecological Debt Day’ is a day that marks the point in each calendar year where human consumption of natural resources exceeds the earth’s ability to replace those resources that year. At a sustainable rate of consumption, Ecological Debt Day would fall at the end of each calendar year. As of now, humans devour in 225 days the earth’s provisions meant for 365 days.
As humanity finishes off the earth’s annual supply by every August 13, what Gandhi said is more prophetic: ‘there is enough for every human’s need but not everyone’s greed’; ‘consuming more than what we actually require amounts to stealing’, a violence against nature. Maybe, ‘fulfillment of needs’ and not the ‘pursuit of greed’ would be the way to delay the ‘Ecological debt day’ by a few notches.
The concept of gram rajya or village republic Gandhi proposed was an optimised society. The individual requires social association though s/he has serious limitation on the extent to which it can be stretched. A healthy society would be one in which individual can reach out personally to fellow beings. He visualised a social order akin to Oceanic Circle, with individual at the centre, encircled by family, village, district, state, nation and the world one after the other.
Global living brought diverse humans to co-exist. People of different religions, ethnic and cultural orientation have come to live in every locality. Information technology has removed geo distance anyway. Between adhering to the rootedness of an individual’s religio-cultural association and embracing social diversity, we need to adopt a mean point of behaviour to keep the society in balance. One of Gandhi’s eleven vratas ‘Sarva Dharma sambhava’ explains this essential virtue especially for global humans. It is, appreciating plurality while being rooted to one’s faith.
When E Stanley Jones an American Methodist priest asked Gandhi, Christ says ‘love thy neighbour’, what better message of nonviolence could you give? Gandhi responded by saying ‘I have no enemy’. More than loving one’s enemy, overcoming the habit of seeing an ‘enemy’ in others, is important.
In the spectrum of human behaviour, violence and non-violence constitute two ends; absolute violence being one extreme and puritan nonviolence being the other. Though a proponent of nonviolence, Gandhi did not go for the extreme expression, but stuck to what was practical. Thus, he was reconciled to certain inevitable violence, such as ‘driving away animals that spoils cultivation’.
Gandhi employed his optimum approach to health and sanitation too. Today, as World Health Organisation has declared, ‘obesity’ is a global epidemic and a source of all lifestyle hazards. Gandhi argues, “A man with extraordinary physique is not necessarily healthy. He has merely developed his musculature, possibly at the expense of something else,” Gandhi says. In his book Key to health he proposed a balanced life of just sufficiently nutritious food, active physical life, good sleep and healthy thinking. The eco-friendly toilet he designed was one of the best of his time and it was called ‘Wardha Latrine Model’.
Earth is an inheritance of all life on earth and for all time to come. If in our pursuit of a grand life, we reduce it to a used up mass of earth, probably we are doing a grave injustice against nature. Gandhi’s nonviolent way of life with its appropriate tools, decentralized social order with an economy of permanence that enable an individual to be ecologically symbiotic, sounds more pertinent a learning for us today than ever before.
*An alumni of Gujarat Vidyapeeth, Dr D John Chelladurai is currently the Dean, of Gandhi Research Foundation, Jalgaon, (Maharashtra), He is a social analyst and specializes in ‘Conflict Transformation’ and ‘Peace Building’.