" Trees are Earth's endless effort to speak to the listening heaven." ~ Rabindranath Tagore

Environment
A Man Before His Time

Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary and Cub magazines pays homage to Mahatma Gandhi.

"To deprive a man of his natural liberty and to deny to him the ordinary amenities of life is worse than starving the body; it is starvation of the soul... the dweller in the body."

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

In recent years I have watched in dismay as bureaucrats walk a tightrope between nationalism, politics and business as usual. In an attempt to present the nation with please-all policies, they do indeed please millions... who already benefit from an exploitative system. But they will drive the ecosystem people -- fisherfolk, forest dwellers, marginal farmers, pastoralists and adivasis -- even closer to the edge of despair. "We need more infrastructure" they say while planning the usurpation and destruction of the infrastructure of more than half-a-billion souls -- rivers, coastlines, lakes, grasslands, forests and hill sides.

Environment
Beautiful Beasts
Paradise in the Wild
The Ocean:Conquest
A Source of Solace
Sighting the Ocean
The Ocean in Verse
Childhood Dream
Hunt for Indian Tiger

Adventure activities
Mountaineering
Rafting
Paragliding
Rock Climbing
Scuba Diving


Leisure Holidays
Wild Life
Heritage
Pilgrimage

While dreams of building spanking new highways come true, over one million people will be forcibly displaced, their lands acquired under antiquated laws crafted by the British to pillage ordinary Indians. And, having shot their newly-borrowed World Bank wad on new roads, they will be left with nothing to repair and maintain the over one lakh kilometres of state and national highways which are rotting on account of neglect.

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During the many speeches, false promises and hypocrisy of the 50th Independence Day Celebrations, the media, once again, dutifully brought home to us the shenanigans of a ruling class far removed from the reality of ordinary people. Each time I witness such charades I feel a growing sense of disquiet, bordering on shame, at the manner in which one set of Indians consumes the assets, hopes and aspirations of their less powerful compatriots.

I was born in 1947 and grew up in an ambience of patriotic fervour. It is with a deep sense of regret, therefore, that I now question the very validity of our holding meaningless celebrations on Independence Day, or Republic Day. Such occasions have become devoid of true meaning. It may seem cynical, but on such occasions it may be more appropriate, if the Indian flag were flown at half mast to mourn for the fact that more than 500 million Indians have yet to taste the fruits of true freedom -- freedom from hunger, insecurity, injustice and indignity. In the words of Gandhi, "we have starved their souls."

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Day after day, despite new scams and convictions hitting the headlines, we continue to be subjected to the sight of politicians of all hues, wearing the uniform of Gandhi even as they abuse his nation-building value systems. Perhaps the words of Gandhi: "In the name of God...go!" should now be addressed to the neo-colonials in our midst. These worthies picked up the tools of colonialism which the British left behind in obeying Gandhi's terse request. Such tools are even more brutally used against our people today than they were in the hands of the British. Which, perhaps, is why the National Alliance of People's Movement cry: "Enough is enough, in the name of God... go!" has indeed begun to cleave the air once more. This time by the millions who reside in Dakshin Kannada, Narmada, Tehri, Indravati, Dahanu, Pooyamkutty and Koel Karo. Such communities are joining hands against the inheritors of British power -- India's politicians, planners, big businessmen and bureaucrats. These latter-day colonialists festoon themselves in tricolour images, yet see no irony in regularly and unashamedly using the black Acts crafted by the British -- Land Acquisition and Official Secrets -- to accomplish their dark deeds, including the displacement of adivasis and the loot of the lands, forests, rivers and ancestral properties of our rural poor. Given such ruthless exploitation, it is little wonder that the seeds of separatism and violence have sprouted through the length and breadth of our once-peaceful land. Indeed, those who fear the dismemberment of India should consider whether our country has not already been split in two -- rich India... and poor India. Only self-inflicted myopia prevents us from recognising this tragic reality.

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I cannot help but feel that, were he alive today, Gandhiji would have been forced by inner compulsion to launch yet another satyagrah. This time against us, the "haves" of India, because we have outdone the British in our acquisitive quest for `development'. Never in the history of free India have so few people grown so fat at the cost of so many. Even as we delude ourselves with the notion that India is progressing thanks to its industrial and financial policies, we must face up to the fact that our own consumptive lifestyle is actually turning us into predators. When the British left, with unseemly haste we began constructing Nehru's modern temples. And where did we site our dams, mines, power plants and roads? Deep in the hinterland, from where we began to suck all resources towards urban centres. Predictably, such acts resulted in mass migrations, as people followed their resources to our cities. Here we spurned them. We herded them into slums and hovels in which conditions were worse that those that prevailed in the infamous refugee camps during the dark days of partition. Apart from their resources, we also stole from the proud people of India that one asset so vital to the human spirit -- dignity. It is a mystery to me how we have managed to absolve ourselves of responsibility for such crimes. Even now, at conferences, seminars and from the hallowed corridors of Parliament House one hears that calumny: "India could be at par with America, the UK, or Japan, if only we did not have to carry the burden of the teeming millions who drag us down at every step."

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How different things would have been had Gandhiji been alive today. If we had him at the forefront of the human rights and environmental movement he would have travelled from village to Indian village to consult with the people. Instead of dispensing knowledge to them, he would have learned from them their technologies for survival and sustainable development. He would then have prevailed upon the rest of us in urban India to set an example of simple, ecologically sound, living for the benefit of others. After nearly two decades of meandering through the perplexing paths of environmental rethink, I have come to the conclusion that Gandhiji had provided solutions to our current environmental problems even before they had cropped up. He was not merely a man before his time, but also an environmental prophet whose precious life was squandered on a people who, even decades after his death, have failed to recognise his true worth.

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Feedback

Sunil Modi, New York, USA

Dear Bittu,

Reading through your article makes me proud that our motherland has visionaries and writers like you. I agree with your views 95%. I would like to add though that 3 years ago I heard exactly the same views from an official of RSS of India. I know you personally may not agree with the RSS ideology, but I must say: I was impressed by Mr. Madan Devi, Joint Secretary , RSS India, just as much as I am impressed by you.

Keep up the good work and I pray to God that some of your writing skills rub off on me.

Bittu Sahgal replies:

Dear Sunil

You may be thousands of miles away, but your heart says it all! Thank you. I feel good being supported. It spurs me on because I know I can't be far off the track if guys like you endorse even part of what I perceive to be the truth.

As for the RSS, I think there are many things they say that everyone would agree about. The trouble is that when such bodies become politicised and intolerant the combination is bad for all of us.

Thanks a million again,
Bittu


Karl, Singapore

Hi, Bittu,

I am a simple NRI in Singapore, and was very touched reading your lovely article on Gandhi, a man ahead of his time. I too am part of a growing number of people who has seen and been disillusioned by what has been touted as "progress" at the expense of god-made invaluable resources. I too question the logic of a defining "a rich developed country" in terms of raising what god has given us to the ground and replacing it with ugly man-made concrete structures. Anyway the purpose of writing this is whether you have any magazines,groups which have similar views, and if so I would like to contribute both monetarily and with time and resource.

Thanks and warm regards
Karl


Noor Fatima

Dear Sir,

I read your article on Gandhiji in India world dated 2.10.98 and I think it is very well written. May your tribe increase. I wish more people in India thought this way. Especially the bit about flying the flag at half mast rather than celebrate. The money spent on the meaningless celebrations could have been better utilised.

Even as expats we don't change our attitudes, there are many organisations but each one is trying to establish itself rather than work for a common goal.

More power to your pen Sir !

Regards,
Noor Fatima

Bittu Sahgal's response:

How do I begin to tell you how wonderful it feels to have your views ratified by sensitive people. When you fight tough and uphill battles as I seem fated to do, self-doubt begins to creep in. How can I be right all the time and Prime Ministers, bureaucrats, businessmen and such like... always wrong? Then along comes ratification of the kind I received in response to the Gandhi article... and I know my direction is right... so I redouble my effort.

Thank you.
Bittu Sahgal


Hello Bittu,

The article 'A man before his time' on the occassion of Gandhi Jayanthi is well written. And there need not be any mystery about "Apart from their resources, we also stole from the proud people of India that one asset so vital to the human spirit -- dignity. It is a mystery to me how we have managed to absolve ourselves of responsibility for such crimes". And I feel that is the legalisation of 'crime'. And it is true, today there is need for one more Satyagraha to get out of the mire we are in.

Regards
Laxman

Bittu Sahgal replies:

My dear Laxman

Thanks for your wonderfully supportive message. I cannot tell you how many letters I have received in response and this makes me feel good that Gandhiji is alive and well in most ordinary people, even if he has died in the hearts of most politicians who wear khadi uniforms as they abuse his memory.

Sincerely,
Bittu


"To deprive a man of his natural liberty and to deny to him the ordinary amenities of life is worse than starving the body; it is starvation of the soul... the dweller in the body."

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

Samir

How different things would have been had Gandhiji been alive today. If we had him at the forefront of the human rights and environmental movement he would have travelled from village to Indian village to consult with the people. Instead of dispensing knowledge to them, he would have learned from them their technologies for survival and sustainable development. He would then have prevailed upon us in urban India to set an example of simple, ecologically sound, living for the benefit of others. After nearly two decades of meandering through the perplexing paths of environmental rethink, I have come to the conclusion that Gandhiji had provided solutions to our current environmental problems even before they had cropped up. He was not merely a man before his time, but also an environmental prophet whose precious life was squandered on a people who, even decades after his death, have failed to recognise his true worth.

The fact is that many of these technologies though environmentally sound, are not efficient. The very history of technological innovation has been to come up with better and better methods to solve a problem. Yes, they have to be made environmentally sound, and sustainable.

That is where the solution is in my opinion, and not in necessarily going back to age old and inefficient technologies.

Gandhi may have provided a solution, but sure modern environmentally-sound technology can possibly give better solutions also.

Regards,
Samir


Udaya Kumar D.

Dear Mr. Bittu,

I am proud that at least one person in my great land has got dignity and self-respect and an understanding of our nation and our people. India will surely be at par with other countries. But what stops it is our own attitude. Until we believe that we are all one. Until we stop thinking that my culture is different from yours. Until we stop thinking in terms of mine, mine, mine.

People must think, it's my nation, my people, live and let live. Surely India, my great motherland will be the most elegant, beautiful, prosperous country in the world.

I am just 20 years old. But, I have seen lots of people, who don't even care for their fellow Indians. I some times feel "Why did Gandhi get us our freedom ?". Poor Gandhi !. He could only free us from British rule. But who is going to change the people who are in politics: they are the people who can change India.

"Jai Hind!",
Udaya Kumar D.


My Dear Udaya Kumar:

Thanks so much for your lovely letter. You are completely right. Unless we start living our lives as though we were a family, the country has no future. Unfortunately, a very powerful minority has begun to usurp the resources of millions and this is precisely what Gandhiji died fighting against. You may be just 20 years old but I think you display more wisdom than many of the white-haired politicians who talk about Gandhi while practicing exactly the opposite values. Who is going to change the people who are in politics you ask? The answer to that is obvious... YOU! ME! All of us together. Don't despair.

Everything takes time and the tide is indeed working in our favour right now because the exploiters have made life so uncomfortable for everyone else that even the smallest resistance, such as the article I wrote, seems to have a sea of support.

Warm regards and good luck to you in your own personal battle to make India a better place.

Bittu


Sreenidhi

Hello Sir.

Thank you for the interesting thought provoking article. Though not as experienced as you, I join you by way of empathy in feeling the plight of the majority of our fellowmen.

However, I keep reading about problems again and again, but rarely get to read about proposals to eradicate or mellow them.

Thank you very much for the article.

Sreenidhi


Ajay Garg

Dear Sir,

While reading your article I am so moved that I decided to pen my thoughts. I feel deeply sorry at the state of affairs in India. I cannot agree with all that you said in your article. I would say your main concern seems to be environment, although you have talked about the degrading political system and increasing poverty. Last 7-8 years I have mostly spent in Wesern Europe, US and India. It is wrong to say that urbanisation and development of infrastructure is made on the corpse of environment and poor people etc. The most developed countires have the best environment.

I agree with your every statement about Gandhiji as I am myself a Gandhian at heart and soul. We need a Gandhi to clean the political mess that we have today, but it is wrong to say that Nehru's endeavour about the modern temples was not a move in the right direction.

It is said that democracy is "for the people, by the people" but we forgot that "power leads to corruption and absolute power leads to absolute corruption", hence while we should be proud of our democratic achievements, our constitution could not contain the abuse of power by people who were in control for too long a period.

The leaders of today have only one obsession i.e power. Their personal interest and party interest comes before any call of national interest like alleviation of poverty, what to say of ethics and principles.

There is not much hope since the masses (we people) have accepted the current situation of corruption, poverty, poor environment and the political system as part of our lives. Why can't we make an effort to improve the system? Why can't we stop being so selfish and look above ourselves? Why can't we do anything for the country? Why can't we stop blaming others and shunning our responsiblity.?

Jai Hind.
Ajay Garg


Shankar

Sir ,

This is with reference to your article ' A Man Before His Time ' I am Shankar .I am a software Engineer , currently in US on a short term assignment for my company based at Hyderabad , India .

Whereas I could feel the tone of pain in the writing , I could not help jotting my concerns about this .

I duly respect your age and knowledge . You must have seen the evolution of India from 1947 to date . Must have experienced every event, which is only available in the leaves of history, for the younger generation, like me .

So, I do not dare to deny you on any of the issues you mentioned in the article . But there are few concerns I would like to airing. Yes !! It is true that , there is disorder and disarray , prevailing in the System of India . I do agree with that . At the same time , I would like to mention about the passive behavior and attitude of our people .

A nation , which could unite itself and fight against a colonial power and drive them away, is expressing its diversity now . What do we think ...we think that Independence is an achievement and we are complacent about it .

I am sure, Gandhi or Nehru or several others who fought for the cause, must have known the fact that independence is a matter of struggle and pain . Moreover , they must have been aware of the greater pain associated with the nation after being independent . Are we matching their expectations ? A Firm No. They never would have imagined the vast mandate of India to be dumb and immobile . Majority of us are passive.

Considering the state-of-mind of our people , I am worried about one fact . Why do our elders not pass an optimistic way of thinking to the youth ?? Why do they always scream about the glorious past and mention the rotten present system ? They always drive us to pessimism . This is an observation in your article too , with due apologies !!

As I said earlier , I agree with you about the sorry state of events. But the country does not necessarily have to look for Gandhi to cultivate a positive attitude towards nation building . Our elder people can do it , by motivating through their own experience and optimism .

It appears too ideal a solution, but why don't we give it a shot ? At least we can be positive and optimistic of our future, rather than writing in despair. And let us together try to make ourselves more reactive and optimistic

. Sorry for taking your precious time. I just felt that I should write a couple of lines about your article and ended up with this.

Thanking you,
Shankar.


Bittu Sahgal's response :

Thanks so much for your response. You are completely right about the need to communicate optimism. I promise you I do that in fair measure as well. But on this occasion I felt that Gandhiji's life itself was a symbol of optimism and it is being attacked so mercilessly that it was necessary to be direct.

Frankly, there is so much optimism in his teachings and there is need for us to resurrect them. You have such an important role to play here as a young person who has a lifetime ahead to defend India. Individually each of one can and should do our little bit within our own spheres of influence and you are doing that by communicating with others about the way you feel..

You are aware, of course, that many of the technologies for survival that Gandhiji advocated are now being recognised as the only way forward. For instance, vegetarianism and organic agriculture that was considered backward less than five years ago is being looked upon as the only way forward by a world whose food security is at risk from poisoned beef, sterilised soils and contaminated ground water.

In truth, however, it is Gandhi's attitude to resources, more than the technologies themselves that we must recognise as critical to future options. The throw-consume-throw away society that he abhorred has brought the whole world to its knees thanks to ecological ruin. Of course, modern technologies too can serve to heal and repair the world. But if our ambitions are going to mitigate against repair we will never solve our problems. Take the case of cars. In America and Japan research into cleaner cars, with recycled parts, has made major strides. But surely even the cleanest technologies will bring the world to its end if everyone in India began to use even the cleanest cars. Gandhi would advocate that the nation prioritise public transport... and for this he would probably have to contend with current-day Congress Party officials who have personal investments in car companies! These are the people who steal our optimism and there is no nice way to fight them!

Sincerely,
Bittu


Gayatri Rao

Dear Mr. Sahgal:

I had the opportunity to read your article "A man before his time" sent to me through e-mail by a friend. I'm one of the many NRIs who love and miss India with a passion and definitely want to see her at par with the US, UK and Japan as you mentioned in the article. At the same time, I have immense appreciation and respect for the US and Australia (the only two developed countries I've seen) for being technologically sound, providing "infrastructure" to their people and preserving nature and the environment.

With all due respect to your seniority, knowledge and experience, I would like to know what message were you trying to convey in your article? What is it that drives all young, educated and resourceful people out of India? What can people like me do to make a drastic change so we can proudly say "saare jahan se achcha hindustan hamara"?

Regards
Gayatri Rao

Dear Gayatri:

Thanks for your letter. The wonderful thing about this world is its diversity, not just its biological diversity, but the diversity of views, religions, social mores and customs. There is space for all of us to hold differing views, indeed if we did not life would probably be unliveable.

You said you wished India to be like America, U.K. or Japan. That might even be possible if the earth's resources were infinite, but today all these countries are living wasteful lives... and they are sending their nuclear wastes, toxic and hazardous wastes and their dirty industries to other poorer nations such as India. Now if we were like them, where would you like to send India's wastes? Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan? And what would they say about this. More to the point, if they became "developed" where would their wastes go? All these nations are replacing the infrastructures of nature, with those of commerce and this leaves millions of "ecosystem people" -- fisherfolk, forest dwellers, pastoralists, marginal farmers -- out of the loop. They are considered fair game by those who sacrifice them on the alter of their own development cathedrals.

The issue transcends waste. Where would India access its raw materials if we achieved the absurd level of consumption of the North? Today Japan is virtually stripping the forests of the far east for items such as disposable chop sticks, even as they strictly protect their own forests. At the height of the sub-Saharan famines vegetables from Somalia and Ethiopia were being exported to Europe by its own tiny fragment of powerful warlords. Is this the kind of world that you envisage?

Perhaps you need to examine some of the above issues yourself so that you come to your own conclusions. " Trust but verify" is a very sane way to live community life on the globe. Please do not misunderstand my response as being harsh or judgemental. On the contrary I merely wish to share with you a frightening vision that I see. If I am wrong, I would love to be corrected so I too can go about my life without the horrific fear that on a daily basis human rights and environmental abuse is being heaped on innocent people.

Gayatri our way of life is unsustainable. We are intelligent minds trapped in disobedient lifestyles. The earth simply cannot cope with our consumptive ways. This is what Gandhi had anticipated. This is what we now reject because we want to party.

Regards,
Bittu


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