Tony Benn – the Vegetarian

Tony receiving the Lord Parshvanath Award at Trafalgar Square. It is being presented by late Sudha Mehta and Kumudbhai Mehta

Tony receiving the Lord Parshvanath Award at Trafalgar Square from the late Sudha Mehta and Kumudbhai Mehta

Tony Benn passed away on 14th March 2014 aged 86. Tony had been a vegetarian for many years and was present at the Vegetarian rally held on 22nd July 1990 in Hyde Park. The event had massive media coverage. Many newspapers reported the event titled,’Veggie Benn’. Tony became a vegetarian after his son told him about the colossal use of crops used in feeding animals to produce meat. At the rally Tony said that he felt very healthy as a vegetarian and he opposed animal exploitation as much as he opposes human exploitation. Tony often mentioned that he had met Mahatma Gandhi when he was a child. Gandhi had made a great impact on young Tony which shaped his concern for social justice and inequality. He was also a passionate campaigner for stopping all wars and advocated pacifism. The following quote from Tony shows his concern for animals:

‘The case for animal testing is now being directly challenged by scientists and doctors and their judgement must be taken seriously.’

By Nitin Mehta, who is the founder of the Indian Cultural Centre in Croydon and of the Indian Vegetarian Society.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Gandhi Foundation.

London Discussion Forum on Gandhi and Nonviolence – a view of the last discussion by Robert Fisher

London Discussion Forum on Gandhi and Nonviolence

The London Discussion Forum on Gandhi and Nonviolence met recently to discuss The Current condition of Women, Feminism and Gandhi. This is a forum to discuss Gandhi and the relevance of his ideals, especially nonviolence, in the contemporary world. Anyone who has an opinion on the subject or has read about Gandhi and wants to share their thoughts is welcome to join. Details of the next discussion forum will be posted on the Gandhi Foundation website, Facebook and Twitter.

GF London Discussion Forum

I came away from this meeting with a number of thoughts on the subject of violence against women which I have set out below in context with some other factors I see at play in this rather complex area and the environment in which we live. That is not to say violence in any form against women is acceptable.

In order for me to put things into perspective I would prefer to adopt a gender-neutral approach to the subject and consider violence against the person rather than against a man or a woman, albeit in the subject of the rape of women, this is a particularly disturbing crime.

The thing that became very apparent to me, were the economic factors in the equation and in particular the commodification of both men and women in an economic system that places a monitory value on all things, dependent on the various attributes that are assigned to it (him or her). “Conflict minerals” and the rape of women to secure control over mined resources and images of very attractive women being used by corporate institutions to enhance & market their particular brand of electronic device, derived from these same Conflict minerals.

I hope & believe these electronic devices will eventually help protect vulnerable communities and individuals everywhere from all types of harm and particularly the types atrocities we see happening in the Congo now & in other places around the world, which will I hope eventually pass.

I also recall the comment made by the (academic) whose name I do not recall, who sat next to me at meetup and who stated that corruption was endemic throughout Indian society.

Corruption being the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.

In a competitive open market economy the incentive for those in power to maintain unfair advantage over those under their control can only exist for a limited period of time, especially in a world where all are connected by a computer device of one sort or another.

The empowerment of all strata of humanity being achieved through online learning and education is just one factor to consider in this connected global society.

It is the responsibility of the strong & powerful to help protect the weak and vulnerable in society and in this respect I see the all-pervasive concept of mutual self-interest being of fundamental importance.

Further to the subject of the rape of women, it is important that our criminal justice system is fit for purpose in dealing with these matters and from what I heard at meetup, it is not. As I have already mentioned I am working with others to develop a number of legal and financial services, which will help address some of the issues raised above but for the time being I must bide my time.

You work in compliance and you will know the incidents of bribery and corruption within banking and other corporate sectors around the globe. Others who sat at the table at meetup had many of the skills and knowledge necessary to help develop some of the systems needed to address these challenges.

 By Robert Fisher

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Gandhi Foundation.

Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi











The death of Nelson Mandela at the age of 95 has moved people all over the world. The outpouring of grief is similar to the one when Mahatma Gandhi died. It is one of those inexplicable quirks of history that both these giants who shaped the modern world started their long march for justice in South Africa. As a young man looking for a better future Gandhi could have found any of the many countries of South and East Africa that he could have settled in as did many Indians in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe. But it seems some divine force brought Gandhi to South Africa which at the time epitomized the oppression of a people in their own country in the form of apartheid. It is in South Africa that Gandhi started a struggle against injustice and his experiences there were of immense importance in his strategy to confront the British Raj in India. Gandhiʼs nascent movement for justice in South Africa inspired and galvanized a whole generation of South African freedom fighters like Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Desmond Tutu and many others. After Gandhi departed for India he left his son Manilal back in South Africa to continue the struggle. Manilal was present at a crucial meeting of the ANC in 1949, where he pressed the party to unconditionally adopt nonviolence but with little success. The attitude of the party toward the Gandhian ideal of nonviolence was in subsequent years best summarized by Desmond Tutu. He said: “Gandhi was to influence greatly Martin Luther King Jr., the leading light in the American Civil Rights Movement, as well as the South African National Congress of Nelson Mandela. So many, many people expected our country to go up in flames, enveloped by a catastrophe, a racial bloodbath. It never happened. It never happened because in the struggle against an evil of injustice, ultimately it did not take recourse to violence, and because you and so many others in the international community supported the struggle.” Nelson Mandela wrote a wonderful article for the 3rd January 2000 issue of TIME magazine. The issue celebrated People of the Century. Mandela wrote about one of his teachers: Gandhi. His story was called The Sacred Warrior and shows some of the ways Gandhi influenced him. This is what he wrote: Gandhi dared to exhort nonviolence in a time when the violence of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had exploded on us; he exhorted morality when science, technology and the capitalist order had made it redundant; he replaced self-interest with group interest without minimizing the importance of self. India is Gandhi’s country of birth; South Africa his country of adoption. He was both an Indian and a South African citizen. Both countries contributed to his intellectual and moral genius, and he shaped the liberation movements in both colonial theatres. He was the archetypal anticolonial revolutionary. His strategy of noncooperation, his assertion that we can be dominated only if we cooperate with our dominators and his nonviolent resistance inspired anticolonial and antiracist movements internationally and in our century. Both Gandhi and I suffered colonial oppression and both of us mobilized our respective peoples against governments that violated our freedoms. The Gandhian influence dominated freedom struggles on the African continent right up to the 1960s because of the power it generated and the unity it forged amongst the apparently powerless. Nonviolence was the official stance of all major African coalitions, and the South African ANC remained implacably opposed to violence for most of its existence. Gandhi remained committed to nonviolence; I followed the Gandhian strategy for as long as I could but then there came a point in our struggle when the brute force of the oppressor could no longer be countered through passive resistance alone. We founded Unkhonto we Sizwe and added a military dimension to our struggle. Even then we chose sabotage because it did not involve the loss of life and it offered the best hope for future race relations. Militant action became part of the African agenda officially supported by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) following my address to the Pan-African Freedom Movement of East and Central Africa (PAFMECA) in 1962, in which I stated, “Force is the only language the imperialists can hear, and no country became free without some sort of violence.” Gandhi himself never ruled out violence absolutely and unreservedly. He conceded the necessity of arms in certain situations. He said, “Where choice is set between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence… I prefer to use arms in defense of honour rather than remain the vile witness of dishonour …” Violence and nonviolence are not mutually exclusive; it is the predominance of the one or the other that labels a struggle.

Nelson Mandela was indeed a great soul as even though his people suffered so much under the apartheid regime and he himself spent 27 years in jail in conditions that could destroy most people, he was able to forgive the oppressors and establish a rainbow nation of peace and harmony. It is the small and often many insignificant episodes in the lives of great souls that separates them from the rest and here is one such moving incident in the life of Nelson Mandela. In around June 1961 Mandela spent some time in a farm at Liliesleaf in Rivonia a suburb of Johannesburg. His then wife Winnie brought him an old rifle for target practice. One day he shot a sparrow with it and was mortified when the five year old son of a friend rounded on him saying: “Why did you kill that bird? Its mother will be sad”. Mandela said, “My mood immediately shifted from one of pride to shame. I felt this small boy had far greater humanity than I did.” It was an odd sensation for a man who was the leader of a nascent guerilla army. That regret he felt at his action and his willingness to learn from a five year old is the making of a great man. It is a matter of great pride for Indians that Mahatma Gandhi has had such a enormous impact on so many people all over the world. Mahatma Gandhi was able to articulate the glorious heritage of India which had been stifled by invading armies for around a thousand years. Newly independent India also played an active role in bringing freedom to other numerous colonized countries.

Nitin Mehta
8th December 2013

Civilizational Gandhi – a new paper by Rajni Bakshi

civilizational gandhiGateway House’s Rajni Bakshi analyses the Mahatma’s civilizational vision and explains how it can guide us through contemporary economic and identity-related conflicts.

From the central hall of the Indian Parliament in New Delhi to a statue at Union Square Park in New York, and across far flung corners of the world, M.K. Gandhi is loved and celebrated as an apostle of non-violence. Yet it is Gandhi’s little-known work on what it means to be truly civilized that might be far more crucial to the future of our species.

The multiple global crises – social inequity, financial turmoil and ecological imbalance – have made it imperative to revisit and pay close attention to Gandhi’s radical but more sustainable civilizational vision. Within India, both the economy and polity are in a state of distress. More than six decades after independence, India remains at the bottom of the United Nations’ Human Development Index. Twenty years of economic liberalisation have expanded the size of India’s middle class, but not raised the standard of living for the overwhelming majority of Indians. Globally, people are slowly acknowledging that the global financial system is fundamentally flawed and not just going through a cyclical low. We are also more sceptical now about the ability of the prevailing market culture to ensure even basic well-being for the seven billion people who inhabit the earth. At the same time, the human economy and nature’s eco-systems appear to be critically out of sync. Despite an increasing urgency for trans-national cooperation, there are persistent fears about a clash of civilizations – primarily between the West and the Islamic world, but also within multi-ethnic societies in large parts of the contemporary world.

This paper explores how the Mahatma’s civilizational vision can serve as a new lens to understand contemporary global crises – identity-based conflicts, the failed promise of universal prosperity and the threat of ecological collapse. What we have here are not ready solutions but a framework which might help us to forge solutions.

Download the full paper free of charge by signing up here:

Originally published by Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations:

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Gandhi Foundation.

Is Judiciary Biased Against Adivasis? by Gladson Dungdung

Is Judiciary Biased Against Adivasis?

By Gladson Dungdung

Gladson Dungdung

July 23, 2012

On 15 July, 2012, in the afternoon, the weather was cool, the sky was cloudy and it was drizzling. The hundreds of Adivasis of Nagri village entered into the central hall of the Birsa Agriculture University, Ranchi with the single point agenda to get back their agriculture lands, which has been captured by the State with the power of Gun. In fact the Birsa Agriculture University was also built on their land after snatching it from their ancestors. They have been resisting against the forceful and illegal land acquisition because the present government has been attempting to grab rest of their land in the name of growth and development. They are well aware that if they surrender their land in front of the Gun, they’ll become landless, homeless and helpless. Their survival, identity and existence will be  vanished. Therefore, they were there to attend a meeting called off by the “High Power Committee” constituted by the Chief Minister of Jharkhand, Arjun Munda on the basis of an order of the Jharkhand High Court, which states that the Government should resolve the land row of Nagri within a week otherwise; the court will directly deal with the land owners.

Read the full article by clicking the link below:

Is Judiciary Biased Against Adivasis by Gladson Dungdung

Gladson Dungdung is a Human Rights Activist

Book Review – The Spirit Level

The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone
Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett
Penguin 2010
ISBN 978 0 141 03236 8

This is an exciting and important book. The authors draw on a wealth of social research to demonstrate that life would be better if we had much more equal incomes. Intuitively this reviewer has long believed that, but Wilkinson and Pickett are able to show that it is true by presenting the facts in graphical form. Moreover it is not just that lower income people would be better off but those on higher incomes would benefit too – in terms of quality of life.

The countries studied are mainly the most developed – 23 out of the 50 wealthiest in the world (the 27 which were not chosen were because they were either very small or did not have full comparable statistics). The other societies looked at are states of the USA where, because of the federal system, there are considerable variations from state to state. One of the striking things to emerge is that the patterns revealed are very similar across a range of issues – physical health, mental health, obesity, teenage births, educational performance, violence, imprisonment, social mobility. One also finds the same countries in approximately the same positions on most of the graphs (with occasional exceptions). The two extremes are occupied by the USA at one end (the bad one) and Japan (the good one).

Close to Japan are the Scandinavian countries – Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark. Britain usually comes in a little worse than average. One of the striking facts to emerge is that looking at rich and poor countries on the world scale life expectancy increases rapidly as incomes increase but only up to a certain level (where the middle income countries are now) and then it begins to level off. However there are still notable differences among the rich countries when inequality within the countries is used as the measure rather than average income. Using the measure of inequality the authors demonstrate how physical and mental health levels, teenage pregnancy, drug use, crime, educational attainment and social mobility are all strongly determined by the level of inequality in their societies. The authors suggest that the cause of this pattern is due to individuals’ social status within unequal societies and the arising anxiety and long-term stress arising.

Two countries which have shown dramatic increases in income inequality in recent decades are the USA and the UK. In the UK the second half of the Thatcher period saw a steep rise in inequality which peaked in the early 1990s but has fallen little since then. In the USA inequality began to rise in the Carter period and rose steadily until the Clinton period when it levelled off. In both countries the rise in income inequality was about 40%. Countries which did not show an increase in inequality in the 1980s and 90s include France, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, Canada, and Japan. In Japan, defeat in WWII followed by a benign occupation by the Americans resulted in a break with the past and a substantially new society which was much more egalitarian. Interestingly the smaller income range there is not produced by large government intervention but by pay rates that are less extreme than in most other countries. Sweden on the other hand uses government intervention to redistribute wealth but the result for both countries is good.

Although not the prime focus of the book, sustainability is also looked at – and how could it be avoided since it is now central to the future of the human race. Using data from the UN and the WWF the authors conclude that only Cuba has a reasonable quality of life without exceeding the biocapacity of the earth. However they also say that more could reach that state by using more environmentally friendly technology including renewable power generation. But a warning against depending on new technology alone is given as they point out that greener technology can be defeated by greater consumption, as has been observed already in some places. Nor would it be sufficient on its own. The aim of sustainability would be greatly aided if the consumerist philosophy of the last 50 years could lose its hold on people. The authors don’t mention Gandhi but I am sure they would approve of all attempts to follow his simplification of lifestyle. As Wilkinson and Pickett write:

“If, to cut carbon emissions, we need to limit economic growth severely in the rich countries, then it is important to know that this does not mean sacrificing improvements in the real quality of life – in the quality of life as measured by health, happiness, friendship and community life, which really matters.”

How far we have to go in the direction of egalitarianism in Britain at least is amply illustrated by the outrageous salaries and expenses and bonuses given to CEOs of many large companies and banks, in spite of a major economic crisis and prospect of a significant reduction in public services.

The authors, who are basically academics, are sufficiently convinced of the importance of their findings that they have set up a campaigning organisation – The Equality Trust – to promote the advantages of egalitarianism. As they say, unless there is a groundswell of public opinion the politicians will not take up the idea.

George Paxton

Nehru On Gandhi, Views On Political Culture – by Prem Misir

Gandhi and Nehru


In an effort to review India’s emergent move into global economic dominance I thought that it might be useful to look at a few of Gandhi’s ideas of something called ‘political culture’ through the eyes of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. And indeed, Gandhi and Nehru did not have a monopoly over ideas to craft a new political culture. But we have to start somewhere. I present these ideas randomly, not for integrative purposes.

Nehru admired Gandhi’s constant focus on the ‘right way’ of doing things; using the correct methods for doing things. Stress on using the right means to achieve ends was one of Gandhi’s great contributions to public life. Where most people think about ends, it seems strange that Gandhi would concentrate on means; but it is an extraordinary way of thinking; thinking linked to the moral law of truth that may have hugely impacted India. Nehru endorsed the use of an ethical or moral perspective on life; and both Nehru and Gandhi sought to infuse this moral law of truth in politics. Gandhi’s moral approach to problem solving brought a significant new dimension to Indian political behaviour; Nehru observed the moral impact on politics, thus:

“Politics cease to be just expediency and opportunism, as they have usually been everywhere, and there is a continuous moral tussle preceding thought and action. Expediency… can never be ignored, but it is toned down by other considerations and a longer view of more distant consequences … Bernard Shaw has said that though he (Gandhi) may commit any number of tactical errors, his essential strategy continues to be right. Most people, however, are not much concerned with the long run; they are far more interested in the tactical advantage of the moment.”

Nehru noted too the cultural impact on India of a Turkish invasion, an Afghan invasion, and a Turco-Mongol or Mughal invasion; and highlighted ‘purdah’ (seclusion of women) as one new cultural development, among others; ‘purdah’ possibly emerged during the Mughal times. Isolating women in both public and private life was noticeable in Delhi, the United Provinces, Rajputana, Bihar, and Bengal. Gandhi spoke out against ‘purdah’; through the Indian Congress Party and with the help of thousands of middle-class women, Gandhi advocated that women should have the same freedom and opportunity for self-development as males; and an end to domestic slavery. Note the constitutional provision in Guyana for the Women and Gender Equality Commission; still on paper, as the PNCR withdrew its parliamentary services on the day the item was put to the vote. Guyana is poorer with this loser mentality.

At the beginning of World War I, Pandit Nehru asked “How could we pull India out of this quagmire of poverty and defeatism…?” Nehru captured Gandhi’s answer and teaching, thus:

“… He did not descend from the top; he seemed to emerge from the millions of India, speaking their language and incessantly drawing attention to them and their appalling condition. Get off the backs of these peasants and workers … all you who live by their exploitation; get rid of the system that produces this poverty and misery.”

For Gandhi, the squalor of poverty and the great divide between the rich and the poor owed their existence to foreign rule and foreign exploitation, and capitalism through introduction of technology; Gandhi was not opposed to technology per se, but believed that it should be applied to absorb labour and not produce new unemployment.

To alleviate some poverty, Gandhi devised a programme of the spinning-wheel and village industry to address the problem of India – scarcity of capital and abundance of labour. Gandhi believed that the ends, such as profitability from technology, cannot justify the means, as unemployment to attain prosperity; he understood that moral values must first triumph, as the ends cannot substantiate disreputable means, no matter how good the ends are.

But Nehru believed that the real meaning of Gandhi’s teaching was fearlessness and truth with allied action, at all times upholding the welfare of the masses. This was the period of British rule of India, at a time when deep-seated fear stalked the land; fear of British institutions. Gandhi’s voice on truth and fearlessness brought some change and a psychological reaction that enabled people to feel ashamed about their long capitulation to foreign rule; and indeed the desire to do something about it. And this is true, too, of his nationalism, inevitable for the freedom of India.

It always has been the norm that a country will first protect its national interests before it considers the international community interests. And Nehru noted that Gandhi’s nationalism deviated from that norm; for the longevity of foreign rule and exploitation in India became an irritant to the mind and distorted all thought and action; producing frustration and bitterness. But Gandhi’s nationalism had a world outlook, where he visualized a world federation of interdependent states; and Gandhi created a nationalist movement that reduced irritation and animosity that Indians felt against the British. Nehru remarked that he had not seen any other nationalist movement like Gandhi’s, largely devoid of hatred. Incidentally, Dr. Cheddi Jagan also spoke about interdependence between the North and South in his New Global Human Order proposal.

Through Nehru’s eyes, we saw how Gandhi’s passion for democracy transformed the Congress Party into a mass movement; becoming an agrarian organisation; how the success of anything was premised on the quantity and quality of benefits the masses receive; a unique and quiet kind of democracy for the masses, definitively linked to the freedom of India.

Prem Misir is Pro-Chancellor of the University of Guyana.

Mahatma Gandhi: A Father with No Nation – by Bhikhu Parekh

Mahatma Gandhi has most probably realised his ambition of attaining moksha [spiritual liberation] and is unlikely to return to earth. However, should he do so, he would be deeply disturbed by many aspects of contemporary India. He would be shocked at the corrosive corruption that has spread to all walks of life and eroded the great moral capital that he and his colleagues left behind by exemplifying in their lives the highest norms of public life. It is not the petty corruption of a junior government officer that would have worried him, but rather the way in which the common good of the country is constantly sacrificed at the altar of sectional and individual interest and the almost total absence of embarrassment and guilt with which it is done.

Gandhiji would be even more saddened by the depth and extent of poverty. On the official criteria of earning one dollar a day, 25% of our people live below the poverty line. But if this poverty were to be defined in terms of calorie consumption and the satisfaction of basic needs, the figure would rise to 60%. Gandhiji would see this as nothing short of a national shame. He would consider it a betrayal of his legacy that no systematic movement has been mounted for the abolition of poverty and the growing economic inequality in the 60 odd years of India’s Independence.

He would be equally disturbed by the country’s lack of an inspiring moral vision. It has set its eyes on becoming an economic super power by 2020 on a growth rate of between 5 and 7 percent. Gandhi would want to know the point of this. Economic growth exploits nature, creates deep inequality, puts enormous pressure on social and political institutions and encourages mindless consumerism. At best, it can be a means to a worthwhile goal but never an end in itself. Gandhiji would want to know what great moral and political ideals we intend to realise by means of economic growth and how we intend to make India a humane and compassionate society.

Gandhi would have been shocked by the increasing cultural philistinism and lack of moral idealism of the new middle class, on which he had placed his hopes for Independent India. The middle class of his time had a strong social conscience. It was bi-cultural and at ease with both the Indian and the Western tradition. It was both rooted and open, and took a morally serious approach to human life. It had certain standards by which it aspired to live and felt guilty when it could not.

The new middle class could not be more different. It lacks social conscience and has little regard for the worse off. It is rootless and is neither well versed in its own traditions, nor in those of the West. It is culturally and economically insecure and prone to panic. Its primary concern is to make money and spend it in shallow pursuits.

Faced with all this, what would Gandhiji have done? First, he would have mounted a campaign of satyagrahas against clearly identified and suitably dramatised cases of inequality and injustice. In doing so he would have offered the victims of injustices a badly needed alternative to Naxalism. Second, he would have built up a nationwide cadre (lok sevak sangh) of committed workers, dispersed them in villages and expected them to attend to local problems and act as a powerful check on the local power structure. Third, he would have set a personal example of incorruptibility and inspired his close colleagues to do the same. Fourth, he would have thrown up a political movement that would have cleared away the decaying and unprincipled political parties and created a space for the emergence of new ones. Finally, while confronting a situation like the destruction of the Babri Mosque in 1992, he would have explored all possible political ways of resolving the issue peacefully.

He would have put pressure on Hindu and Muslim religious leaders to work out a compromise, which was not impossible and perhaps suggested building a multi-religious complex around it to symbolise India’s commitment to religious pluralism. If Hindus had still insisted on destroying the mosque, he would have seen it as a grave violation of their great tradition of tolerance and an indelible stain on the national conscience. He would have felt that he had no choice but to embark upon a fast, even perhaps a fast unto death, to save the honour of the religion and the country that he loved more than his own life.

Lord Bhikhu Parekh is Vice-President of the Gandhi Foundation and a Professor at the
Centre for the Study of Democracy in the University of Westminster.

Gandhi on Economics

Due to various banking crises the British media have been more than usually interested in recent months in directors’ and CEOs’ bonuses and salaries. These outrageously high incomes are not confined of course to bankers but are normal among large companies. The majority of employees of these businesses might receive around £20,000 per year while at the ‘top of the pyramid there will be incomes of around £1 million — a ratio of 50:1. Gandhi had some things to say on the issue of income differentials:

“That economics is untrue which ignores or disregards moral values. The extension of the law of nonviolence in the domain of economics means nothing less than the introduction of moral values as a factor to be considered in regulating international commerce.”

“My ideal is equal distribution, but so far as I can see, it is not to be realised. I therefore work for equitable distribution.”

“I suggest that we are thieves in a way. If I take anything that I do not need for my own immediate use, and keep it, I thieve it from somebody else. I venture to suggest that it is the fundamental law of Nature, without exception, that Nature produces enough for our wants from day to day, and if only everybody took enough for himself and nothing more, there would be no pauperism in this world, there would be no man dying of starvation in this world.”

“It is open to the world … to laugh at my dispossessing myself of all property. For me the dispossessing has been a positive gain. I would like people to compete with me in my contentment. It is the richest treasure that I own. Hence it is perhaps right to say that though I preach poverty, I am a rich man!”

“No one has ever suggested that grinding pauperism can lead to anything else than moral degradation. Every human being has a right to live and therefore to find the wherewithal to feed himself and where necessary to clothe and house himself. But for this very simple performance we need no assistance from economists or their laws.”

“The rich cannot accumulate wealth without the co-operation of the poor in society. If this knowledge were to penetrate to and spread amongst the poor, they would become strong and would learn how to free themselves by means of nonviolence.”

Quotations from All Men are Brothers, Navajivan Publishing House.

Speech on the Equality Bill – by Lord Bhikhu Parekh

Lord Bhikhu Parekh is Patron of The Gandhi Foundation and a Labour Peer. The following speech was delivered in the House of Lords on 10th December 2008

My Lords, I shall begin with an apology. Although I have a very bad throat, I put my name down to speak in this debate because it raises some extremely important issues on which I want to share a few thoughts. The gracious Speech commits the Government to creating a single Equality Act. In so doing, it redeems the Government’s pledge given in the 2005 election manifesto. The proposed Equality Act will reduce nine major pieces of legislation and around 100 statutory instruments to a single Act and will harmonise different strands of equality. I welcome the Bill and many of its provisions.

As the Government rightly note, equality is vital for the development of individual talents and for creating a cohesive society. It is precisely because I welcome the Bill that I shall concentrate on four or five areas where it needs to be strengthened. First, the Government spend between £160 billion and £175 billion on procuring goods and services from the private sector. This gives them powerful leverage, which should be used effectively to ensure that the private sector fulfils their equality objectives. In the 1980s and 1990s, the American Government did that with considerable success in the name of contract compliance. The Bill refers to the Government’s power, but it is not entirely clear what pressure they intend to exert on the private sector, how they will enforce and monitor such powers, and what incentives and penalties they will rely on to make sure that the private sector realises their objectives.

Secondly, the Government are rightly worried about ensuring equal pay for women. The difference in earnings between men and women is 17.1 per cent in the public sector and 21.7 per cent in the private sector. For part-time workers, the figure can be as high as 36.6 per cent. An average full-time weekly earning for men is £521, as opposed to £412 for women. Not surprisingly, the World Economic Forum placed Britain 81st in the world in terms of equal pay. Something needs to be done.

While 43 per cent of public sector organisations have completed or are planning to conduct an equal pay review, only 23 per cent of private sector organisations are doing that. As has been pointed out, at this rate, we will have to wait for 150 years to ensure equal pay for women. How will we tackle this? The Government rightly talk about a mandatory pay audit. Obviously, there is something to be said for that, but it is a strong, blunt instrument. One way would be to make the organisation concerned transparent so that these things can be easily understood. Another would be to make it easier to pursue and resolve the complaints that individuals might make within an organisation or in a court.

The same problem occurs in relation to the ethnic minorities where the disparity is even greater. Equally qualified men receive highly unequal pay, which is sometimes known as the “ethnic penalty”. I am a little surprised that the Bill is silent on that and concentrates almost entirely on gender equality.

Thirdly, the Bill also is silent on the regular audit of government policies with regard to their impact on equality. The Government have rightly agreed on a £700 billion package to bail out banks and the financial sector. But they have offered only £1 billion to help out small- and medium-sized businesses, which is to be delivered through the banks. Let us look at this from the standpoint of ethnic minorities. Most ethnic minorities work not in banks and the financial sector, but in small- and medium-sized businesses, and they get a very tiny slice of the national cake.

More importantly, banks have not been even-handed in their lending practices or risk assessment. The Runnymede Trust, of which I am a patron, recently published a report called, Financial Inclusion and Ethnicity. It showed conclusively that the banks have been deeply biased in their lending practices. If that is the case‚ I hope that the Government will commission a survey on this, what provisions have the Government made to ensure that support for small- and medium-sized businesses is channelled through banks, but is carefully monitored?

Unless carefully planned, government policies‚ the example that I have given confirms this‚ are likely to marginalise ethnic minorities, and recovery from recession, as and when it occurs, which I hope will be soon, will not be inclusive and fair. It is striking and somewhat disappointing that in the debate the other day on business, no mention was made of how the Government policies of bailing out banks or small businesses are likely to impact on ethnic minorities. Even my noble friend Lord Mandelson, whom I admire, made absolutely no reference in opening the debate to how government policies are going to affect ethnic minorities and whether they might not turn out to be deeply discriminatory‚ unintentionally, of course‚ in their impact on ethnic minorities.

My third point concerns the policy of positive action. The Government are rightly committed to a policy of positive action, which broadly states that if two candidates are equally qualified, a member of an under-represented and disadvantaged group might be preferred. We see this sort of positive action in many areas, and it is permitted through case law in the European Court of Justice. That is fine, and I welcome the policy, although it seems to have been opposed by the CBI and many other institutions. I want to go a step further. To say that preference will be given to under-represented and disadvantaged groups when the candidates are equal raises two questions. First, it is never easy to decide whether two candidates are equally qualified. When someone is to be appointed to the House of Lords and one candidate is a professor and the other a businessman, both equally qualified in their fields, how do we decide? Secondly, and more importantly given past experience, there is no guarantee that bias and discrimination would play no role in the judgment of candidates. It is because we realise these difficulties that we have talked in terms of targets, which offer a broad indication of what an organisation should look like if it is fairly and justly run. Targets are not quotas, which everyone knows are unacceptable.

When we note that women MPs make up only one-fifth of the membership of House of Commons and say that something needs to be done, we are neither advocating a quota nor saying that women should be selected only when they are equal in all other respects. What we are saying is that given women’s representation in the country at large, there is no good reason, unless we assume that they are less intelligent, why women should not be more or less equally represented. Starting from that kind of self-evident premise, how do we explain the failure of an organisation to come up to these norms? Such thinking is even more necessary in relation to ethnic minorities, the disabled and other under-represented and disadvantaged groups. I would suggest that the fact that a group is under-represented and disadvantaged does not come into play only after other factors are taken into account. Instead it should be one of the important factors to be taken into consideration in the first instance when deciding who is best qualified for a particular job.

Finally, I turn to the specific duty that the Government intend to place on public sector inspectorates to monitor how well public bodies comply with their equality obligations. I like this proposal, but in order for it to be effective, there will have to be greater transparency in the organisations concerned, both private and public, and greater powers for the inspectorates to name and shame organisations; and perhaps even the power to impose penalties. I see no reference to such measures in the Bill. It becomes particularly important in relation to the private sector, which is beyond the ambit of official inspectorates. What is going to be done in relation to that sector? I draw attention to the simple fact that 11 per cent of the directorships in FTSE 100 companies are held by women, fewer than 2 per cent by ethnic minorities and even less by other disadvantaged groups. What do the Government intend to do about that?


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