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Corona, time to rethink

G.S. Jayadev, educationist and believer of the Gandhian way of life, says that only simple living advocated by Gandhi spells hope for the future of mankind

Gandhi, in one of his Selected Letters writes: “In working our plans of self-restraint, attention must not for a moment be withdrawn from the fact that we are all sparks of the divine and therefore partake of its nature, and since there can be no such thing as self-indulgence with divine, it must of necessity be foreign to human nature.” Human greed and the ever-growing desire to consume more, and more, has landed the world in a pandemic today. What Gandhi says about nature and divinity seems naïve for a human race that is drunk on wants. As the entire world today feels devastated and helpless at the enormity of COVID-19, it is time for human race to stop and think. To pause and ask questions larger than the immediate, to think of the ways in which we have imagined our life on this planet. This is a Gandhian moment; it is for us to collectively revisit Gandhi’s notion of society, people, and how we manage our resources. It is that time when we reengage with Gandhi’s Sarvodaya. In a recent essay, politician, author and columnist Sudheendra Kulkarni writes: “Despite a cure awaiting its birth in some lab somewhere around the globe, humanity simply cannot afford to go back to the old ways of conducting its affairs. Its goals, its outlook, its guiding principles, and its inter-national and intra-national relations have to change. Its iniquitous economic and development models have to change. Its violent and mutually destructive relationship with the planetary ecology has to change. Its ineffective, inefficient and often insensitive governance institutions, especially those tasked with global governance, have to change. It somehow seems that the planet is sending strong signals.” Further, citing the Mahatma, he says, Gandhi had clearly foreseen the unsustainability of Western patterns of production, marketing and consumption, and had warned India about the danger inherent in imitating them.

Must we then simply waste this opportunity the planet has given us in statistics, data and laboratory processes or must we invest equally in the way we rebuild the world together? Shouldn’t we think of a holistic healing process? G.S. Jayadev, founder of the Deenabandhu Trust, Chamarajnagar, an educationist and author of several books, who rests his faith in Gandhi, Paramahamsa and Vivekananda, answers a few questions.

Corona, time to rethink

We are facing a pandemic, something that is going to change the world forever. Not just external things but it will also have a huge impact on human psyche. 'Health', as we generally perceive, is not merely an outwardly issue. Since you interact so closely with children, and the community at large, what do you think will be the issues larger than Corona -- the aftermath and aftershocks?

The aftermath of this pandemic will further marginalise the weak and the poor in our country. Economic recession will further aggravate their hardship. Whether all this will lead to deep introspection and bring about a change in the psyche of the people, I am not sure. In my opinion people may forget this sooner than we think. But it is time for those who are practicing and advocating the Gandhian way of simple living to intensify their advocacy and urge for change in every aspect of our lives, which includes education.

It is true that the health is not just an outwardly issue, internal and the external are intimately connected. We have inner pollution, which is what results in environmental pollution. Inner dishonesty leads to external corruption. There is inner violence, violence within the minds of the people, cumulative effect of which is war between the countries. Gandhi therefore believed to bring about an external change by changing the inner world, which is his own mind. He said “be the change you want to see”. It is a pity that we keep human beings at the service of development, progress, and economy – all these have become more important than human beings! Such a topsy-turvy scenario results in Corona.

Do you think the Corona moment is also a Gandhi moment? I feel this is the time to pause and think, and ask serious civilizational questions. It is also the time to revisit Gandhian thought and assess the grave mistakes we have committed in the way we have built our societies? A society that is built on greed, excessive consumption, and unbridled desire as opposed to restraint and aparigraha. It is a society that reduces all Gandhian modes of protest to mockery -- from Satyagraha to Civil disobedience to everything else.

“There is enough to meet every one’s need but not greed,” said Gandhi. Greed is at the root of industrialization, Gandhi said exploitation is inevitable for the industrial success. If something is produced at a very cheap (economic) price, it only means that nature pays for it, nature bears the brunt of this cost and spews out something like Corona when it cannot bear it any more. Gandhi said: “The essence of what I have said is that man should rest content with what are his real needs and become self-sufficient. It he does not have this control, he cannot save himself.” Global competitiveness is a disease by itself and diseases like Corona are side effects of this disease. How can we treat the side effect without addressing the main disease? So it is true that Gandhian thought unwittingly crops up and stands before us. It is the true solution if construed in an appropriate sense and I hope the Corona jolt will prompt us to revisit Gandhian thought.

Corona, time to rethink

Gandhi wrote in Young India on 20 December 1928: “God forbid that India should ever take to industrialisation after the manner of the West.” He was severely critical of the way Britain squandered natural resources. Gandhi knew that economic growth without protecting the environment would endanger human species. Do you think that there are global solutions to these, or should we turn to our own indigenous models like Gandhi strongly believed?

As the days pass by we are realizing the truth of what Gandhi said about industrialisation and on the vulgarity of luxury. Swami Vivekananda and Gandhi admonished the evils of industrialisation. Vivekananda said “each piece of machinery you invent will make 20 people rich and 20,000 people poor.” If today half of the globe is rich, it is because the other half of the globe is forced to live in poverty. It is true that modern inventions have solved some problems but has caused long lasting devastating effects on environment. Scientists are time and again admonishing us that the earth might have reached a point of no return, it may result in mass extinction.

I do not expect that at a global scale we can put the devil back in to its bottle and plug it at one go. I see the best solutions only in small groups which are searching for a solution in simple Gandhian way of life. I am sure this will gain momentum and engulf the globe. Highly complicated models to bring about the change may not yield the desired results.

Both the World Wars, the first and second, had far more deaths than the global statistics of those killed by Corona. Yet, it seems much larger a calamity than the world wars. When we pass through this phase and begin to rebuild ourselves, are there ways in which we can recover what we have lost?

It is not the number of deaths that has caused deep perplexity. Human beings thought that they are in perfect control of everything under the sun, but Corona proved that you are not! Mankind was not ready to receive this message. Some mad national leaders thought they could play it cool and believed they have solutions for every disaster. A tiny sub-microscopic Corona virus disproved it and shocked the world community. Devastating effects of Corona may only be the beginning. The planet did send us warnings but we did not heed. Now Corona is ringing the death knell.

An entire section of the Indian population, which is the poor, have no say in determining what freedom from various forms of enslavement means to them. The Corona has yet again revealed the horror of their lives to us. Why isn't our social organisation based on intensive research into the thought and experience of people who form the bulk of this society, but on the views of the few who define, protect and preserve comfort and happiness in their terms?

Development, education and economic growth have all been designed and promoted for the upper layers of the society. They are the ones who are vociferous about what they want and can play upon the loop holes of democracy. They have mastered cunningness from their education and reach out first for all benefits the system may provide. “Democracy ruins itself by excess of democracy,” said Plato. This may be another factor contributing for the failure of the system. Globalization as a whole is marginalizing every vulnerable section of the society. Poor people, women and children are affected very much. Migration to cities affect old people, women and children. Famine affects in the same way, floods affect in the same way. We have interesting stories describing the plight, but solutions are still far away, no genuine efforts are made to solve this problem.

What do you think will be the role of art, literature, and music in healing the society?

I am sure art, literature etc. will resonate the pain of the millions. It will resonate with anger the heedlessness and insensitivity of exploiters especially those in power. Art will definitely blossom towards ameliorating the plight of the poor in the current situation.

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Printable version | Jul 8, 2020 5:03:37 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/corona-time-to-rethink/article31365827.ece

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