Archive | December, 2007

Sustainable Development or Sustainable Lifestyle? – by M.R. Rajgopalan

It is now six decades since India became independent. When we start reflecting on our achievements, the scenario is somewhat odd: We have nuclear bombs and missiles and rockets and satellites side by side with bullock carts and hand pulled rickshaws. We have five star hotels with luxuries and comforts matching the best in the world. Right outside the hotels within a walkable distance one can see the poor living on foot-paths. Five to ten percent of our population is leading a luxurious life indulging in hyper consumerism. At the bottom, thirty to forty percent of the population barely manages to get a square meal per day – they often do not have proper shelter or clothing and sleep on empty stomachs. The remaining thirty to forty percent lead lives with various inadequacies and discomforts.

What has gone wrong? We have passed through ten five year plans for industrialising the nation, creating infrastructure facilities and village development. In villages, some roads, some hospitals some school buildings did appear. There was an improvement in farming techniques. Yet only the well-todo section of the villages got the benefits. The landless poor did not benefit from these schemes.

DEVELOPMENT PARADIGM:

Development of any kind – be it urban or rural including sustainable development is problematic. The process of development means setting up of industries and creating job opportunities. There are the problems of environmental pollution, soil degradation, exhaustion of earth’s resources etc. Since the time of the Industrial Revolution development has been proportional to exploitation of the earth’s resources such as cutting down whole forests for charcoal, construction materials, firewood, furniture etc. The smoke emitted by the factories created atmospheric pollution. The use of petroleum fuels – Petrol, Diesel and Kerosene – as energy sources started in the first half of the 20th century and has reached maximum levels now. All of us know that petroleum is nonrenewable and the cars, power stations and factories, even as they play a vital role in development, are the main cause for earth’s pollution to dangerous levels. To quote Ranjit Chaudhuri:

“There is a fear that global famine of resources is impending. It is true that the industrial progress has brought many comforts and made some nations affluent. But it has made the world as a whole poor. Industrialisation has made the earth poor in respect of natural resources, fossil fuel, mineral resources, greenery, maritime resources, sanitation, health and ecology.”

Factories have rendered forests and greenery into deserts. The gulf between the rich and the poor has widened. Peace in the society and health of the people are deteriorating, violence and diseases are flourishing. Viewed in this background even ‘sustainable development’ would be a difficult proposition. That is the reason for the title of this paper. Sustainable lifestyle should be viewed in the perspective of the culture of the nation.

In ancient India, millennia ago, sages and saints lived in forests. The Upanishads containing the essence of Indian Philosophy were created in the forests. The ashrams, which were the places of learning, were located in the forests. Our sages lived in harmony with the plants and animals of the forests. “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (The whole earth is a family) concept was born in our jungles. Our forefathers perceived gods in the forces of nature. Air was Vayu Bhagawan, thunder and lightning – Indira, water was Varuna, earth was Prithvi, sun was Sungod, Fire was Agni and so on. In our contemporary world, these gods denote the earth and atmosphere and space. Life on earth is possible because of these forces. Mother earth sustains all life on the earth.

“From the centre of this world, the Sun radiates energy to the whole world – let us worship it” says Rig Veda.

The message from Yajur Veda is “Let there be Peace in space, Peace on this earth, Peace in the atmosphere and may the waterways and all things living prosper”.

Singing these lines if we pray to God will bring peace and happiness in the minds of those who sing and listen. Apart from the Vedas and Upanishads our Puranas and Itihasas like Ramayana and Mahabharata also contain such noble ideas. All these great works were created in verdant forests by great sages who lived in harmony with their surroundings. It is doubtful whether such noble ideas could evolve in multistoried buildings under ceiling fans and air conditioners. In truth, such a phenomenon has not occurred in this world. Gandhiji travelled through the whole of India in bullock carts and in third class compartments of trains. He lived in hutments of the Harijan busties. But for such a way of life he would not have become Mahatma.

Kumarappa, the Gandhian economist, guides us towards a sustainable life style. In his famous work Economy of Permanence he describes five types of economies in nature:

  1. Parasitic economy: Some plants which take nourishment from other plants are called parasites. The host plant which provides the nourishment often dies. While the sheep and cattle live on grass nonviolently, the tiger which eats them is violent and is a parasite. A parasitic economy is both destructive and violent.
  2. Predatory economy: The monkey which feasts on mangoes gets the benefit of its food without contributing to the growth of the trees. That way monkey is a predator. This economy is less violent but destructive.
  3. Economy of enterprise: The honey bee visiting a flower gets pollen and nectar as food. The honey-bee in turn facilitates pollination among flowers leading to the formation of seeds and propagation of plants. This is economy of enterprise – constructive and mutually beneficial.
  4. Economy of aggregation: Continuing with the honey bees, Kumarappa describes how the bees live in colonies and each bee contributes to the welfare of the colony. They have overcome self-interest and act for group interest.
  5. Economy of service: Kumarappa rates this type of economy as the best. He describes how the mother bird makes all efforts to feed young ones and risks its life when faced with enemies.

Sustainable life style could be achieved by adopting the following steps:

  1. Sustainable agriculture: We should give up chemical fertilizers and pesticides and substitute them with bio-manures and bio-pesticides. Vermi culture and vermi compost is a must for restoring the health of the soil.
  2. Khadi & Village Industries are eco friendly. They create employment and help in poverty alleviation. We have to encourage and promote Khadi and products of Village Industries.
  3. Appropriate technologies: We should adopt technologies which are simple and which our villagers are able to comprehend and operate themselves. Use of electricity should be avoided or kept to the minimum extent.
  4. Use of renewable energy sources: Coal and petroleum are nonrenewable energy sources and are getting exhausted very fast. Solar energy is limitless and inexhaustible. We can harness solar energy for heating and lighting. Water and wind energies can also be harnessed for producing electricity.
  5. Sylviculture – or growing trees: Cutting down of trees for fuel and construction of houses is inevitable. Our policy should be to plant two trees for every tree we cut. Trees as a source of energy is non-renewable if we only cut them and do not grow them.

Lewis Thomas has something to say about our attitude towards the earth:

“Except for us, the life of the planet conducts itself as though it were an immense, coherent body of connected life, an intricate system, an organism. Our deepest folly is the notion that we are in charge of the place, that we own it and can somehow run it. We are living part of Earth’s life, owned and operated by the Earth probably specialised for functions on its behalf that we have not yet glimpsed”.

At this juncture I cannot help referring to Gandhiji’s famous saying:

“The earth has enough resources for our needs – not for our greed”.

If we follow Kumarappa’s advice – especially the economy of cooperation of the honey bees and that of service of the birds, keeping Gandhiji’s ideals in mind we can surely achieve a sustainable lifestyle.

Rajagopalan is Secretary of the Gandhigram Trust, Tamil Nadu

2007 Peace Award – Media Lens

The 2007 Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award was presented to Media Lens.

David Edwards & David Cromwell of Media Lens

David Edwards & David Cromwell of Media Lens

Citation

Media Lens (www.medialens.org) is an online, UK-based media watch project, set up in 2001, providing detailed and documented criticism of bias and omissions in the British media.

David Edwards and David Cromwell are co-founders and co-editors of Media Lens. Media Lens is an online, UK-based media watch project, set up in 2001, providing detailed and documented criticism of bias and omissions in the British media. Through their free email Media Alerts, they provide detailed analysis of news reporting in the UK media, concentrating on the ‘quality’ liberal print and broadcast media. Their aim is to expose bias, inconsistencies, inaccuracies, omissions and untruths. They challenge journalists and editors by email and invite their response.

David Edwards & David Cromwell

David Edwards & David Cromwell

Media Lens has been praised by outstanding individuals in the field of media analysis and journalism such as Noam Chomsky, Edward S. Herman and John Pilger.u

  • Noam Chomsky writes: “Regular critical analysis of the media, filling crucial gaps and correcting the distortions of ideological prisms, has never been more important. Media Lens has performed a major public service by carrying out this task with energy, insight, and care.”
  • Edward S. Herman writes: “Media Lens is doing an outstanding job of pressing the mainstream media to at least follow their own stated principles and meet their public service obligations.”
  • John Pilger writes: “Without Media Lens during the attack on and occupation of Iraq, the full gravity of that debacle might have been consigned to oblivion, and to bad history.”

Media Lens is motivated by the ideal of compassion, inspired by the Buddha’s teachings. David Edwards has written

“We encourage people to seek confidence and rationality in compassion, rather than in anger, say, or conformity. We emphasise peaceful challenges to authority. We reject not only violence, but also anger.”

Denis Halliday presenting award to Media Lens

Denis Halliday presenting award to Media Lens

Media Lens Peace Award Acceptance Speech:
Compassionate Dissent in an Age of Illusions
December 2, 2007

It’s a real honour to accept the 2007 Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award. It seems amazing to us that an idea which developed over a couple of pints in the Giddy Bridge pub in Southampton has led to us being considered in the same company as Denis Halliday, for example, who accepted this award in January 2003.

My co-editor David Edwards interviewed Denis Halliday, the former United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, in May 2000. Halliday explained how US-UK sanctions on Iraq were responsible for what he described as a “genocide.” The sanctions directly contributed to the deaths of around one and a half million Iraqis. That dreadful death toll includes half a million children under the age of five. Halliday exposed the deceit behind British and American claims that the Iraqi government had been stockpiling food and withholding medicines from its stricken people.

Denis Halliday and John Pilger

Denis Halliday and John Pilger

David wrote up the interview and, in the weeks that followed, he sent it to every liberal newspaper in England, Ireland and Scotland. Nothing like it had ever been published before. But the article was dismissed out of hand because “Halliday is old hat”; or because “the question and answer format is not right for us”; or because “what is needed is for the government position to change first”; or because “we have already
covered that subject” in an article before – once!

The indifference and cynicism were astonishing. It gave a snapshot of a media system utterly lost to cynicism and servility to power, even in response to a completely credible claim that our government was responsible for nothing less than genocide. This was one of many experiences with the media that we both had that led to the creation of Media Lens in July 2001.

Our aim is to draw attention to silences like the one I’ve just mentioned: to highlight what credible commentators like Denis Halliday say; to show what journalists have said on the same issues; and to ask those journalists why they have neglected so much that is true, relevant and important.

David Edwards, David Cromwell, Denis Halliday, John Pilger

David Edwards, David Cromwell, Denis Halliday, John Pilger

When so much of the public is alienated from politics and politicians, we believe the internet provides a tremendous opportunity for the public to get involved in matters of vital importance, and to debate these issues with journalists. So, at the end of each media alert, we add the email addresses of the reporters and editors whose work has been discussed in that alert, and we ask readers to send polite, rational challenges to them.

After the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, for example, we invited readers to ask Guardian journalists why they had so little to say about the 7.5 million Afghans who were starving even before Britain and the United States started bombing – bombing that instantly stopped all aid convoys.

We noted that Maslakh refugee camp in Afghanistan contained 350,000 refugees where one hundred people were dying every day in January 2002. We asked why, between September 2001 and January 2002, the Guardian and the Observer had mentioned the catastrophe at Maslakh just five times. Later, we asked why, by May 2005, Maslakh had been mentioned only twenty-one times over the previous four years in all UK national newspapers.

Or take Iraq. In the run-up to the invasion in 2003, we repeatedly pointed to the neglected testimony of the former UN chief weapons inspector, Scott Ritter. He had reported that by December 1998, his team had destroyed “90-95%” of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, including 100% of its nuclear capability, leaving it “fundamentally disarmed” with only “bits and pieces” of programmes left.

We asked why, in 2003, the Guardian and the Observer mentioned Iraq in a total of 12,356 articles, but Ritter was mentioned in just 17 of them. We asked why the media failed to question seriously the state of any retained Iraqi WMD. According to CIA reports, any WMD would, given its limited shelf life, have long since turned to “sludge”.

Sad to say, the BBC has been as shameful as the press, if not worse. Its channelling of government propaganda on the illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq, and subsequent occupation, has been relentless.

On April 9, 2003, as US tanks rolled into Baghdad, the BBC’s then political editor Andrew Marr said of Tony Blair:

“He said that they would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating. And on both of those points he has been proved conclusively right. And it would be entirely ungracious, even for his critics, not to acknowledge that tonight he stands as a larger man and a stronger prime minister as a result.”

The same month, on BBC’s Panorama, Matt Frei told viewers:

“There’s no doubt that the desire to bring good, to bring American values to the rest of the world, and especially now to the Middle East… is now increasingly tied up with military power.”

This, we are to believe, is the famed BBC ‘balance’ and ‘impartiality’. As Marr told the world in January 2001:

“When I joined the BBC, my Organs of Opinion were formally removed.”

Only a handful of media outlets covered a survey published in October estimating that 1.2 million Iraqis had died violently since the 2003 invasion. The study, undertaken by an experienced British company called Opinion Research Business, provided strong supportive evidence for the findings of the earlier, far more detailed and rigorous 2006 Lancet study. This was the scientific study that had estimated 655,000
Iraqi deaths as a result of the war.

BBC’s Newsnight was a rare exception in reporting the results of the ORB survey. In a brief news roundup, it devoted 34 seconds to those 1.2 million deaths. But then, this is the usual media standard for reporting the crimes of +our+ government: either silence or relegation to the margins.

When our readers politely challenged Newsnight presenter Gavin Esler on this, he was unimpressed. He said:

“The last time I remember a robotic response from people like this was watching film of the Nuremberg rallies.”

Esler’s response to the public’s challenge was ironic on more than one level. Rather than sending out “robotic responses” following our media alert, our readers had, in virtually every case, written individually crafted, articulate emails.

Perhaps the greater irony was the reference to Nuremberg and fascism. The prosecutors at the post-WW2 Nuremberg trials found that initiating a war of aggression is “the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole”. As far as we can
tell, not one journalist at the BBC has ever put it to Blair, Bush or their accomplices that, by the standards of Nuremberg, they would have been found guilty of the supreme international crime.This is just a taste of the appalling media coverage on Iraq.

Or take climate. In 2002, the US National Academy of Sciences warned of imminent global climate disaster, perhaps within ten years. Reviewing the academy’s report, the then UK environment minister, Michael Meacher, wrote:

“We do not have much time and we do not have any serious option. If we do not act quickly to minimise runaway feedback effects we run the risk of making this planet, our home, uninhabitable.”

On February 3 of this year, the Independent noted that the latest scientific assessment by the prestigious UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had provided

“humanity’s loudest warning yet of the catastrophe that is threatening to overtake us”.

Inside the same edition of the newspaper, readers were presented with graphs of dangerously rising temperatures, text explaining the catastrophic impacts, and photographs of climate-related disasters around the world. And also, bottom left on the same page, a large advert for Halfords “car essentials”. And, at bottom right, an American Airlines advert for reduced-fare flights to New York (just £199!). The rest
of the Independent – like all the other newspapers that day and, indeed, every day – was crammed with the usual inducements to indulge in unrestrained consumerism.

We asked how readers were supposed to take the Independent seriously as part of the solution to impending climate chaos when, like all the so-called quality press, it depends on advertising for around 75% of its revenue, and when it’s therefore so clearly part of the problem. This did not make us popular with journalists. After all, they are not allowed to so much as mention the adverts that appear in their media,
much less criticise them.

The positive results of media activism are not always easy to assess. In this case, however, discussion +has+ been kick-started as a result. In October, for example, the Guardian readers’ editor wrote a column discussing George Monbiot’s calls in the same paper for newspapers to abandon the worst fossil fuel advertisers – Monbiot had been responding to criticism from Media Lens readers on this point.

This kind of progress is rarely smooth. People don’t like being criticised and, to be honest, we don’t like to be incessantly critical. Early in the life of Media Lens, Monbiot had reacted to our criticisms by describing us as “narrow” and “intolerant”. A couple of years later, however, he told us:

“you have begun to force people working for newspapers and broadcasters to look over their left shoulders as well as their right,” which he described as “a major service to democracy”.

This indicates the grave danger of writing people off as ‘enemies’, or of responding to
criticism with anger and hatred.

Gandhi said that: “Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind.” He was as right as he was misunderstood. In truth, non-violence does not merely mean to refrain from hitting someone over the head. It does not even mean restraining one’s anger – although both of these are admirable.

bust of Gandhi in Kingsley Hall, London

bust of Gandhi in Kingsley Hall, London

Genuine nonviolence is rooted in a deeply-held conviction that the suffering and happiness of others are of equal importance to our own. By sheer force of arithmetic, it goes further still in asserting that the suffering and happiness of 10, 20, one million other beings, are far more important than the concerns of this single individual I call ‘me’.

How many of us compromise what we do in our careers – for example, as journalists or in any job – out of concern for our own financial security, out of concern for our immediate families? Of course, these matter. But do they matter most, if the consequence of our compromise is death and destruction for millions of people, for example in Iraq?

Does our responsibility rest solely in taking care of those who share our DNA and who, let’s be honest, provide us with our security and happiness? How do we escape from the cosy conceit that we are good people because we are taking care of ourselves and our loved ones – from the conceit that this is enough?

According to Buddhism, we can do so by reflecting strongly on the similarity between ourselves and others. Fundamentally, we all wish to be free from suffering; we all wish to be happy. By focusing repeatedly on the suffering of others, we can increase our sensitivity to the reality of others who suffer and yearn for happiness from the core of their beings, just as we do. This is the true basis of compassionate action.
With diligence and time, we can come to find the suffering of a sick child in Baghdad quite as unbearable as the suffering of our own children.

This is hard. In fact, it as an Olympian feat, and we are all beginners. But even a small success, even slightly increased compassion for others, strikes a blow against the forces of selfishness, greed and hatred that have always tormented our world. These forces are the real enemies; the real causes of the darkness that weaves what James Joyce called “the nightmare of history”.

Compassion is a gleam of light in that darkness – a source of hope, and in fact a promise, that humanity will one day wake up!

Thank you for listening.

David Cromwell

2007 Annual Lecture: Bhikhu Parekh

The 2007 Gandhi Foundation Annual Lecture was given on Sunday 2nd December by Professor Lord Bhikhu Parekh. The theme of the lecture was “Why is Gandhi still Relevant?”. The text of the lecture was similar to Bhikhu’s Fred Blum Memorial Lecture: Gandhi in the 21st Century

Professor Bhikhu Parekh is well-known as an intellectual on Gandhi and solutions to current ethical and social problems. Bhikhu Parekh is Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of Westminster, Emeritus Professor of Political Theory at the University of Hull, U.K., and was until recently Centennial Professor at the London Schools of Economics. He has been a Visiting Professor at several universities including McGill, Harvard, Institute of Advanced Study in Vienna, the University of Pennsylvania, and Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. He delivered Litowitz Lecture at Yale University in 2003, and was recently invited as Distinguished Visitor by the Cardozo Law School in New York. He was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Baroda, India, from 1981 to 1984.

Prof. Parekh is the author of several books including Hannah Arendt and the Search for a New Political Philosophy, (Macmillan, 1981), Marx’s Theory of Ideology, (Johns Hopkins University, 1982), Contemporary Political Thinkers, (Johns Hopkins University, 1982), Gandhi’s Political Philosophy, (Macmillan, 1989), Colonialism, Tradition and Reform, (Sage, 1989), and Gandhi, (Oxford University Press, 1998). He has edited a dozen books including four volumes of Critical Assessments of Jeremy Bentham, (Routledge, 1994) and published nearly a hundred articles in academic journals and anthologies. His Rethinking Multiculturalism was published by Harvard University Press in the U.S.A. and Macmillan in Britain in 2000. He is about to complete his new book titled Identity and Rationality.

Professor Parekh is also active in British political life. He was for five years Deputy Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, and chaired the Commission on the Future of Multi Ethnic Britain, whose report (called the Parekh Report) was published in 2000. He received the BBC’s Special Lifetime Achievement Award for Asians in November 1999, and was appointed to the House of Lords in March, 2000. Last year he received Sir Isaiah Berlin Prize for Lifetime Contribution to Political Philosophy, and Pravasi Bharatiya Samman from the President of India. He is a Fellow of the British Academy, and President of the Academy of Learned Societies in the Social Sciences. He has received nine Honorary Doctorates from British Universities.

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