Tag Archives: poverty

The Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award 2012

The Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award 2012

has been awarded to

The St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital Group

For their humanitarian work in very difficult circumstances and for bringing people together through that work for the betterment of all.

The St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital team receiving the 2012 Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award award from the President of the Gandhi Foundation, Lord Bhikhu Parekh

In a letter to Philip Hardaker, Peace Award Committee Convenor Omar Hayat wrote that, “The Trustees felt that the Eye Hospital has been guided by one of the highest forms of humanitarian ideals, that of bringing medical care to an impoverished and politically unstable area.”

After acknowledging the cost of preventable blindness to the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) and the poverty-relieving nature of the work that they do, Omar Hayat continued, “The charity in performing this work has engaged all communities in that area and in doing so, we believe, is helping to find common ground between the different people of that region.”

The Joint Teaching Programmes with the Hadassah and Shaare Zedek Medical Centres in Israeli West Jerusalem have not only permitted the local Palestinian Residents to benefit from outstanding educational opportunities, but have brought them into direct and intimate contact with their Israeli neighbours for over ten years now.

In response to news of the award, Mr Hardaker said, “We have always hoped that – in some small way – this project was helping to facilitate trust and understanding.  The Hospital Group is both delighted and humbled to have been awarded this symbolic honour.”


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.

Mahatma Gandhi and Environment Protection – by Anupma Kaushik

Mahatma Gandhi never used the words environment protection however what he said and did makes him an environmentalist. Although during his time environmental problems were not recognized as such however with his amazing foresight and insight he predicted that things are moving in the wrong direction. As early as in 1909 in his book Hind Swaraj he cautioned mankind against unrestricted industrialism and materialism.

He did not want India to follow the west in this regard and warned that if India, with its vast population, tried to imitate the West then the resources of the earth will not be enough. He argued even in 1909 that industrialization and machines have an adverse effect on the health of people. Although he was not opposed to machines as such, he definitely opposed the large scale use of machinery. He criticized people for polluting the rivers and other water bodies. He criticized mills and factories for polluting the air with smoke and noise.

What he advocated in place of industrialism and consumerism was a simple life based on physical labour. He implored people to “live simply so that others may simply live”. For he believed that earth provides “enough to satisfy every man’s need but not any man’s greed”. So the rich must not only restrict their wants but must also treat their wealth as a ‘trust’ for the poor and use it for the welfare of the poor. This can be done only if people can distinguish between their real needs and artificial wants and control the later.

To him the real need meant to posses only what is absolutely necessary for the moment. To him this would not only help the unprivileged of today but would help protect the environment for the next generation as to him the earth, the air, the land and the water were not an inheritance from our forefathers but a loan from our children. So we have to hand over to the next generation at least as it was handed over to us.

He also believed that one must “be the change that one wants to see in the world” and hence he practiced what he preached. His life was his message. So he and his wife gave away all their property. They had nothing beyond the clothes that they wore and a change or two. He used scraps of papers to write brief notes and reversed envelopes for reuse to send letters. Even when he used to bathe with water of the free flowing Sabarmati river he consciously used only the minimum water needed for taking a bath. However he did not equate simple living with abject poverty. In fact he believed that to deny a person the ordinary amenities of life is far worse than starving the body. It is starving the soul – the dweller in the body. To him poverty was the most severe polluter. Hence poverty must be eradicated and that can be done only when everybody is taking their own share and not grabbing others’ share by limiting their needs and sharing their resources.

However his concerns were not limited to human beings alone as he had a very strong sense of the unity of all life. He believed that all creatures had the right to live as much as human beings and felt a living bond between humans and the rest of the animate world. He believed that humans should live in harmony with their surroundings.

The best part of Gandhi’s ideas was that they empower the individual. It is up to each and every individual to simplify his or her life; to share his or her resources and to care for his and her surroundings.

Dr Anupma Kaushik is Reader in Political Science, Banasthali University, Rajasthan, India.

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.

Living Economy, Living Democracy – by Vandana Shiva

Dr. Vandana Shiva

Dr. Vandana Shiva

This lecture was delivered in by Dr. Vandana Shiva in London in November 2007 under the auspices of Jeevika Trust, The Gandhi Foundation’s sister organisation.

“The word jeevika is derived from the word “life” or “life source”. So much in the name of globalization is happening which is not just indifferent to those life processes, but against them.

The large scale takeover of rural land for building construction – supermarkets, hotels and parking lots – is taking away land from farmers. In the corridor from Delhi to Agra there are five new hyper-cities being built. The livestock on that land is the basis of the livelihood of the people. We are building a movement against this process which we are calling the “Corporate Land Grab”. The colonial 1894 Land Act is now being used by the free market, forcing peasants to sell their land. American money, currently so insecure, is looking for security in that peasant land.

India’s stock market index just hit 20,000, and market value is shooting up. But that wealth is being created fictitiously. The women making bamboo mats will never defend that kind of economics in their nation. I started out defending forests in Chipko, and I was struck by the injustice of basket weavers having to pay more for their bamboo than the paper companies. Globalization does not work for everyone.

India is seeing the increased polarization of wealth. The jeevika of rural communities is under threat because the source of their livelihood is ecological wealth. Ultimately humans can only work with what nature has given them – work is a partnership between humans and nature. The issues of poverty and ecology were always the same for me – rebuilding nature means rebuilding people – and if we want sustainability then the resources of the Earth have to stay in the hands of the people.

When I started my work twenty years ago saving seeds it was to defend the livelihoods of the farmers. If the number of seeds drop then there is less biodiversity. Humanity has depended on 8,500 crops to make a living throughout history – producing food, furniture and energy has taken hundreds and hundreds of crops. Today we base our consumption on about eight crops. Monoculture is increasing and the monopoly over that monoculture is increasing.

The word for seed is bija and it has the same root as jeevika – the seed is where life resides; it’s the source of all life. In the hands of companies the seed is a source of death. Because the companies make the seed so it cannot renew, it is reduced to a commodity that the farmers are forced to buy every year.

Nature has given us diversity. After the cyclone of 1998, I gathered the salt resistant rice seeds with the farmers in the area. After the tsunami [in 2004], the scientists said that agriculture in the area would have to be put on hold for five years because too much salt had been washed into the soil, but because we’d saved salt-resistant seed, farmers were able to go on growing crops straight away. That diversity would not be available if seeds were not in the hands of the community – we cannot have seeds in the hands of monopolies.

In 1929 Gandhi wrote an economic constitution. It said that poverty in the world was the result of people being denied access to the resources they needed to work. Natural resources should be available to everyone – the wood, the fish, the bamboo – they belong to us all. This access debate is at the heart of globalization: who controls the resources of the planet?

Navdanya was created in reaction to GATT, which aimed to put a handful of companies in control of the world’s resources. Now companies are getting into energy through biofuels, leaving the goats nothing to graze on – the crops they use for biofuels are just oil berries. We have no deficit of oil-bearing trees but if every one was devoted to producing energy it would not be enough to sustain the fossil fuel economy. This economy is built on the false assumption that we can defeat nature. Food prices have already doubled this year and they are going up further as more land is devoted to producing biofuels. Instead of the land making livelihoods it is now going to run cars.

In Orissa, the steel industry is popping up like pock-marks on the landscape. Do we need that steel? No villager there has a single steel rod in their hut. Steel is being exported – 100% of the material is for export. Why? Because cost-cutting is the logic of globalization. India’s 9% growth rate is hiding destruction. Water from dams is going to steel plants rather than irrigation. Raw material and pollution intensive production is moving to the land which provides livelihoods to the poor – corporations are outsourcing pollution. People talk about the outsourcing of software but the real story is the outsourcing of pollution.

A head of state turns up after talking to five businessmen, he signs a bit of paper and the land is taken away from the people without consultation. The corridor from Delhi to Mumbai is being sold to Japan. There are 1.2 billion people in India – there is no extra land there – but everyone wants to descend there. There is a strong campaign against this corridor, the people and the farmers have protested against it. Our civil disobedience campaign meant that privatization was reversed.

We are defending the flood plains on the river of Delhi. The real estate people just sit there with a map, “Oh yes, there’s a green belt – let’s build there”. The building industry does not understand the flood plain or its role in storing ground water and we will be there to stop its physical construction. Three years ago we had the Bombay floods and the area was too built-up to soak up the water – the result was disastrous.

We need to start distinguishing between those economies that bring life and those that bring death. We’ve got suicidal economies – 200,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide after the WTO and World Bank’s policies. Why suicide? Corporate seeds aren’t about increasing productivity they are about increasing debt. I call it “Corporate Feudalism” – the corporations are joining with feudal structures we thought we’d left behind after Independence. I’ve sat in front of 2,500 widows in the Punjab, the wives of farmers who have committed suicide. These farmers consume pesticide in the field – “pesticide” ironically translates as “medicine” in our language. The land in that area has turned into a suicide belt. This is the same land where Gandhi started the cotton movement, where he spun for freedom.

We need to give the land back to the farmers so they’ll never have to leave. We need to get them a just price – at present the market price of cotton is one-third the price of production. Our farmers are paying with their lives and the farmers in the UK are facing similar problems.

We can’t deal with climate change without farmers. In any crisis, uniformity is the worst way to respond – diversity is resilience. Secondly, disruption leaves people vulnerable – and they need food to be available during those times. Third, organic farming helps to mitigate against climate change. 200% more carbon is stored in soils that are farmed organically. Yet nobody is talking about how climate change can be solved by organic soils. The floods in Bangladesh saw 2,500 people lose their lives to climate change. Ecological multiples are insurance. In no sustainable economy does everyone do the same thing.

The ecological economy is an economy of renewal where you have six foot of bamboo growing in a few months, or a new goat in seven months. But we’re creating scarcity in an abundant world. Poverty is a human creation – nature doesn’t create scarcity – human systems do. But two processes are making humans more equal: climate change and running out of oil.

But this time brings opportunities as well as challenges. Human beings have never yet been forced to redefine our role as a species on this planet. We have been living off thousands of years of reserves, but now we are running out. Now we are going to have to give back to the Earth. The big shift Gandhi made was to explain that having a lighter footprint on the planet was not to be more primitive, but to be more sophisticated as a species.”

Dr Vandana Shiva is  Director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology & Ecology and Founder of Navdanya Trust


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