Message for a violent world

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Message for a violent world

Wednesday, 18 September 2019 | RK Pachauri

Message for a violent world

Gandhian beliefs need to be spread to not only eliminate emerging conflicts but also arrest the wanton destruction of nature and the ecosystems of this planet

It is a tragic irony that the worst act by terrorists involving wanton killing of innocent people in recent times took place on September 11, 2001, when two hijacked planes were deployed to kill over 3,000 people on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, New York, while another one targetted the Pentagon and yet another crashed in Pennsylvania. Just three weeks later after that dastardly act, we commemorate the birth anniversary of the greatest human being to ever have practised non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi. This year, of course, marks a special occasion when Gandhiji’s 150th birth anniversary would be celebrated. 

Gandhian philosophy represents a perfect integration of non-violence, non-exploitation of one community by another and respect for all human beings and other species with whom we share the planet earth. His views on these subjects are best explained by the following quotation: “Public opinion alone can keep a society pure and healthy...I claim that human mind or human society is not divided into watertight compartments called social, political and religious. All act and react upon one another...Human society is a ceaseless growth, an unfoldment in terms of spirituality...ill-digested principles are, if anything, worse than ill-digested food, for the latter harms the body and there is a cure for it, whereas the former ruins the soul and there is no cure for it...It is the law of love that rules mankind. Had violence, ie, hate, ruled us, we should have become extinct long ago. And yet, the tragedy of it is that the so-called civilised men and nations conduct themselves as if the basis of society was violence.”

The holistic nature of Gandhian emphasis on non-violence was expressed eloquently by his emphasis on the need for human beings not exploiting other human beings and the essential need for them, not in any way considering themselves superior to other forms of life. Here again, Gandhiji was very direct in two comments that he conveyed.

“A society can be judged by the way it treats its animals.”

“It is an arrogant assumption to say that human beings are lords and masters of the lower creatures. On the contrary, being endowed with greater things in life, they are the trustees of the lower animal kingdom.”

Most importantly, Gandhiji’s concept of non-violence extended directly to human society, not in any way inflicting major damage to the ecosystems of this planet and resources, which nature provides us and on which all life survives and endures. Today, the material demands of human society are resulting in extensive damage to the earth’s biodiversity, the growing dangers and risks from human-induced climate change and major pollution of the oceans, which will have serious consequences not only for life under water but also extensively on large areas of land.

There is a section of public opinion today which seems to believe that perhaps nothing can be done to solve some of these problems simply because human society is too far gone to be able to retreat in the direction of reduced demand for goods and services.

There is now mounting evidence from all over the world on the expanding footprint of human society on the earth’s ecosystems. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken up the challenge of reducing single-use plastic in this country because we have blindly emulated the developed nations, which are responsible for the mounting waste of various kinds, based on the growing demand for material goods and products.

It is for this reason scientists like Paul J Crutzen have described the current period that we are going through as one of the anthropocene as opposed to the geological age Holocene, which began 11,700 years ago. Gandhiji was absolutely right when he said: “The incessant search for material comforts and their multiplication is evil. I make bold to say that the Europeans will have to remodel their outlook if they are not to perish under the weight of the comforts to which they are becoming slaves.”

For almost 50 years, human activities have increasingly exceeded the bio-capacity of ecosystems to absorb the expanding footprint of our activities. There is, therefore, the need for a radical shift by which a rapid and decisive change is brought into the devastating consumerist culture dominating modern society, which would ultimately lead to unacceptable risks in the future and exploitation by some, as was the case with colonialism.

We are already seeing signs of domination by vested interests of countries and communities by the rich and powerful seeking benefits of assured supply of raw materials, energy and rare minerals from other locations, almost in a colonial relationship. There is, therefore, an imperative for human society to move towards Gandhian principles, which, quite apart from shunning violence of one community versus another, proscribe violence used against nature and its attributes, which sustain life for all species on earth. 

In actual fact, it is clearly the desire by human beings to expand material wants and the power associated with it which in some form or the other leads to violence all around. It is tragic that in the 21st century, there are still prosperous nations and groups, which are financing terrorist activities, the worst example of which leaves us with a continuing sense of horror from the events of September 11, 2001.

It appears that the global community, including the United Nations, has been largely ineffective in curbing violence in several regions of the world. The war in Yemen continues to kill innocent human beings, including children. The conflict in Syria, despite the involvement of some big powers, has not led to any movement towards peace, even as ceasefire after ceasefire is violated. In our own neighbourhood, the Taliban continues to attack innocent individuals in Afghanistan, clearly encouraged and funded by the army of another country in our neighbourhood.

Overall, Gandhian beliefs and principles are required to be spread worldwide not only to eliminate conflict within the narrow prism of one community or one nation imposing violence against another but also in respect of our wanton destruction of nature and the ecosystems of this planet. India, as the nation to which Gandhiji gave so much, has a deep global responsibility to carry his message to the rest of the world, particularly on his 150th birth anniversary.

(The writer is former chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2002-15)

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