BENGALURU: Historian and author Ramachandra Guha spoke on a lesser known aspect of Mahatma Gandhi’s life — Gandhi’s concern for the environment, here on Sunday.
Guha, author of the books India after Gandhi and Gandhi before India, sought to address the topic by reading out insightful quotes from Gandhi’s writings, as well as anecdotes from his life. He remarked that for someone who was preoccupied with ‘more important issues’ of leading a political movement against a nation’s colonisation and a movement for social reform, Gandhi’s attention to environmental issues was commendable.
Guha was speaking at Ragi Kana, a ‘cultural hub’ that hosts a rural fair every Sunday at a school in Kalena Agrahara. The historian said several prominent environmentalists post-independence were inspired by Gandhi. “For example, the Chipko Movement of the 1970s, about which I wrote a book, was a non-violent protest against deforestation and its leaders called themselves Gandhians. The ‘Narmada Bachao Andolan’ led by Medha Patkar in the 80s was another such movement,” he said.
Guha read a quote dated 1913, when Gandhi wrote of a contrast between a city-dweller and a farmer. “A farmer, who has to sow seeds, and can deduce the monsoon’s arrival by noticing bird behaviour, does have an educated mind. Far from being the illiterate fool that Indians think them to be, he knows enough astronomy and geology to serve his needs,” he quoted.
Gandhi’s reservations with India imitating the Western style of industrial development had strong environmental reasoning, according to Guha. He illustrated this by another quote, “To make India like England and America, is to find other races and places to exploit.”
Gandhi’s solution to prevent exploitation of resources, Guha said, was decentralisation of power, where villages would be in control of the resources. “It is a misconception that Gandhi was against Science and that he only wanted to serve the poor,” he said. To show Gandhi’s critique of modern times, he quoted, “The modern civilisation is marked by indefinite multiplicity of wants, whereas ancient civilisations were marked by regulation of these wants.”
However, he also outlined deficiencies in Gandhi’s approach. Firstly, Gandhi believed India lived in its villages, and does not tell us anything about urban problems, “because in his own life, he turned his back on cities.” Secondly, as Guha said, the wilderness had no attraction