Satyagraha, Sarvodaya & Swachhagraha for Sustainable Living

Commemorating 154th Gandhi Jayanti & 16thUN International Day of Nonviolence

 Mahatma Gandhi

Goal 16 of Agenda 2030 of Sustainable Development Goals—Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions was seen as truly transformative, formally linking for the first time at the UN development, peace, justice and good governance. Some of its more ambitious targets include significantly reducing all forms of violence, ending abuse and violence against children, promoting the rule of law, reducing illicit financial flows and corruption, and developing accessible and transparent institutions. Mahatma Gandhi, as a ‘soul force warrior’, if he were alive today he would be completely heart-broken; resort to indefinite fasting, and would day and night bewail the plight of humanity at the mindless violence and destruction everywhere.

He would be equally shocked to see how the vast majority of humankind, constantly deluged by information packed with visuals and statistics, influences their every thought and action, every emotion. With a swipe of our smart phone or click of the mouse even the most trivial of the happenings become known to us. No longer can one say “Ignorance is bliss!” and “What you don’t know won’t hurt you.” Ignorance is not bliss, anymore, it is a curse and what we don’t know can hurt a great deal. As conscious beings, we are committed to look into all matters that enter our consciousness.  Endlessly, whys, whats, and hows occupy our lives. Questions about where is our society headed, and of ourselves, are probably uppermost in everyone’s mind.

Challenges of embracing equality and inclusivity that plagued the country when we gained independence are as relevant today as they were when Mahatma Gandhi lived whose 154th birth anniversary along with the 16th UN International Day Nonviolence is being celebrated today. As India marches onward to become a developed country by 2047 understanding the sacrifices and sterling successes of our national role models are essential for grappling with rising inequality, hunger, and deficient human development. The success of G20 Summit and staying on course as the fastest growing economy are laudable achievements but the road ahead is stony and full of obstacles; we have many, many miles to go before we sleep!

Mahatma Gandhi’s two most cherished principles truth and nonviolence are central to the transformative process. He wrote: “Truth (Satya) resides in every human heart, and one has to search for it there, and to be guided by truth as one sees it. But no one has a right to coerce others to act according to his own view of truth.” He explains that Truth is God, and that it is our sacred duty to seek it.  If Truth was to Gandhiji the Ultimate End (i.e., God), then Ahimsa was the perfect means of attaining that end. He writes: “Non-violence is the greatest force man has been endowed with. Truth is the only goal he has. For God is none other than Truth. But Truth cannot be, never will be reached except through non-violence… That which distinguishes man from all other animals is his capacity to be non-violent. And he fulfils his mission only to the extent that he is non-violent and no more.”

Progress and prosperity of a nation depends on the quality of life of its citizens. The quality of life depends on how wisely we follow the rules that govern social relationships. Father of the Nation not only fought for the rights of the oppressed in the country under the colonial masters but also raised the consciousness of the entire population of its duties.  Free India gave itself one of the best Constitutions in the world, enshrining, inter alia the rights and duties of every citizen for staying together, living together, toiling together, and enjoying the fruits of success together.  Yet the complexity of a nation-state so diverse, so vast, so engulfed by the turmoil of the world and machinations of some its neighbours—one begins to wonder whether there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Lest we get carried away by selective indices of social and economic progress let’s always remember and demonstrate the power of Satyagraha, live by the virtue of Sarvodaya which according to Gandhiji implies nonviolent socialism. He teaches that one should earn no more money than is enough to support oneself and one’s family, and advocates voluntary sharing of excess wealth. Gandhi condemns its forceful redistribution: “Wealthy people should act as trustees of the wealth. But if they are robbed of this wealth through violent means, it would not be in the interest of the country…” The calamitous situation caused by the inordinate disparity between rich and poor are a source of acute suffering that keeps the world in a state of constant instability, virtually on the brink of war. Solutions can be found through the combined application of spiritual, moral and practical imperatives. How often, it seems to me, tried and tested precepts of satyagraha and sarvodaya, have been swept aside by ideological polemics of decision-makers ignoring voices of people directly affected by the policies framed for their wellbeing. Yet we must not cease striving to uphold Gandhian ideals and stay mindful of the ethical principles. The challenge for each citizen is to make the best choices of the life units. It isn’t what we have–or how much we have–that counts, it is what we do with what we have. Through genuine and positive collaboration among the member states of the United Nations, I am convinced, our earth is still able to provide, to quote Gandhiji, ‘for everyone’s needs but not for anyone’s greed’. A new mantra that is equally vital for sustainable living is Swachhagraha—clean environment and waste recycling, both are important aspects of the circular economy. “The future,” Gandhiji wrote, “depends on what we do in the present.”

As humankind struggles for its very survival, the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi and his far-reaching vision of Ramrajya should be given due priority by those at the helm of nation building with the expanding mantra of Sabh ka saath, Sabh ka vikas, Sabh ka vishwas, Sabh ka prayas. This should resonate with what Gandhiji said: “I will strive for an India in which even the poorest of the poor shall feel that this their country—a country where their voice matters.” An unshakeable commitment towards “One Planet, One Family, One Future” can become an enduring reality when every individual, every institution, and every community seize the opportunities that come to them and make a positive contribution. The framework of the Sustainable Development Goals provides the road map for a resilient future for all. Alas, time is running out!

  A. K. Merchant is a social worker, an independent researcher serving a number of non-governmental and semi-autonomous governmental institutions based in New Delhi. He can be contacted [email protected]

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