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Window Seat: Gandhian Model of Environmentalism

25/10/2020 at 7:00 AM

Dr Mrinal Chatterjee

Mahatma Gandhi never used the words environment protection, but his writings are replete with remarks on the excesses of industrial society, growing greed- leading to the possible destruction of human civilization.

Gandhi never used the word development. The word was first used by the US president Harry S Truman in 1949. Yes, people often talk of the Gandhian model of development. But if such a model is genuinely Gandhian then it is not about development.

As sociologist and thinker AsishNandy said in an interview, “All social change is not development. The fundamental aspects of development—for example unending industrialisation, unending urbanisation, unending consumption—are not justifiable according to the Gandhian way. Gandhiji strongly believed that hedonism associated with globalised capitalism is not conducive to human happiness”. 

Mahatma Gandhi’s critique of modernity reveals his concern about the emergence of a social order that exploits nature for short-term gains. Troubled by unrestricted industrialism and materialism, Gandhi had foreseen a time when the resources of the earth will not be enough to meet the growing demands of the people. 

He had written widely about the need for human beings to exercise restraint with respect to the use of natural resources. His “counter-thinking” is now increasingly becoming a mainstream thought (he is referred to in all international environment summits) with greater awareness of the environmental problems.

When it comes to environmental sustainability, human greed is the major threat. Gandhi had famously said: “The Earth has enough resources for our need but not for our greed.” A market-driven capitalistic system fuels the greed in human beings and propels more and more consumption- more often than not at the cost of environment- loss of natural resources, bio-diversity, and ecological balance.

Population explosion, mass poverty, over-utilization of renewable resources, overuse of fertilizers leading to water pollution, rapid industrialization, global warming, desert formation, deforestation, emission of harmful substances causing air pollution, industrial and synthetic wastes, and nuclear hazards that are more man-made in nature are all causing irreparable damages to our planet.

Many of these problems are attributed to uncontrolled industrialization. The air pollution has resulted in a wide spectrum of morbid conditions such as acute respiratory and eye-related problems to chronic respiratory, cardiovascular mortalities and cancers.

Gandhi in his seminal work, Hind Swaraj, written over a hundred years ago in 1909 warned of the dangers the world is facing today in the form of environmental destruction and the threat to the planet. The Gandhian idea becomes still more relevant when sustainable growth and development is to be achieved because he emphasized on production by the masses instead of mass production.

According to him this will result in the development of an economic system that can minimize environmental degradation and achieve sustainable development. His idea of Swaraj or self-rule enables a practical sustainable development that can be implemented without compromising the quality of life.

Gandhi had emphasized the importance of natural resources and its conservation. This has a direct bearing on the man-and-environment relationship.

The importance of Gandhian philosophy is well-felt in the present period in which the lifestyle of human beings has been developed in a direction of high consumerism and generation of waste. This has a two-way impact on nature.Firstly, the rate of depletion of resources has increased tremendously, and secondly, the presence of toxicity in air, water and soil has increased.

Gandhi was influenced by Jainism, which looks at nature as a living entity and exhorts human beings to continually purify themselves by respecting diverse life forms. The Gandhian idea of satya and ahimsa can be useful to reduce the greed of the individual and society.

The concept of Sarvodaya is also similar to that of a sustainable development and forms a part of environmental ethics. Gandhi’s vision of Sarvodaya, implies a healthy development and environment that can be evolved by man to ensure his harmonious existence with nature and other living beings. 

We need to heed the voices of Gandhi now, and act accordingly before it is too late- if we care about our children, and about the future of the planet.

Devi Durga in Thanjavur painting

Thanjavur (anglicised as Tanjore) painting is a classical South Indian painting style which draws its name from Thanjavur town, Tamil Nadu.

The art form draws its immediate resources and inspiration from way back about 1600 AD, a period when the Nayakasof Thanjavur under the suzerainty of the VijayanagaraRayas encouraged art—chiefly, classical dance and music—as well as literature, both in Telugu and Tamil and painting of Hindu Gods and Goddesses in temples. It is distinguished by its famous gold coating.

However, it can safely be surmised that Thanjavur painting, as we know it now, originated in the Maratha court of Thanjavur (1676–1855).

Thanjavur paintings are characterised by rich and vivid colors, simple iconic composition, glittering gold foils overlaid on delicate but extensive gesso work and inlay of glass beads and pieces or very rarely precious and semi-precious gems. In Thanjavur paintings one can see the influence of Deccani, Vijayanagar, Maratha and even European or Company styles of painting.

Although Thanjavur paintings usually have Hindu Gods and Goddesses as subjects, there are also many instances from the history when Jain, Sikh, Muslim, other religions and even secular subjects were depicted in Tanjore paintings.

Tail-piece: Lockdown laughs

1. Having practiced lethargy for 8 months, I am ready for audition for the first season of “Indian Idle”

2. I started a new hobby – gardening. 

I planted myself before the TV and I have grown noticeably

3. The lockdown is like the movie Dabangg. 

Doesn’t make any sense, but sequels keep getting made

4. Without access to a barber, I look barbaric. 

The more I stay at home, the more homeless I look.


A journalist turned media academician MrinalChatterjee lives in Dhenkanal, Odisha. He has co-edited an anthology of essays titled Gandhi as A Journalist and Editor. The odia version of the book is being published shortly. mrinalchatterjeeiimc@gmail.com


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