BY GURDIAL SINGH NIJAR
(Deputy President, HAKAM)
MANY despair of the gloomy times we are facing in our blessed country: corruption, racial discord, religious acrimony, and much more. To many – no end, no resolution, seems to be in sight.
The world itself faces incredulous challenges as climate change, wars and the subversion of established institutions – like the UN Security Council. Wars are initiated in defiance of established internationally agreed processes; on the basis of bald-faced lies. Leaving in its wake a litany of wasted lives – mainly women and children – murdered through unparalleled sophisticated weaponry. War crimes committed with impunity.
Perhaps it’s time to reflect; and glean wisdom from one of the few colossuses that walked this earth: M. K. Gandhi.
On the environment
“The earth, the air, the land and the water are not an inheritance from our forefathers but on loan from our children. So, we have to hand over to them at least as it was handed over to us.”
The 1980 World Conservation Strategy recognises this: “Human beings, in their quest for economic development and enjoyment of the riches of nature, must come to terms with the reality of resource limitation and the carrying capacities of ecosystems, and must take account of the needs of future generations.”
Sadly, the World Health Organisation reports that nine out of 10 people globally are breathing poor quality air; and that pollution accounted for more than six million deaths a year.
Noam Chomsky, the renowned linguist and professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, identifies climate change as one of the two major threats facing the world, alongside nuclear war. Scientific journals assess the rate of global warming today as maybe a hundred or more times as fast as any moderately comparable period that can be estimated in the geological record.
Species are being killed at the level of the so-called fifth extinction – when 75% of the world’s species disappeared after five mass extinctions. Sixty-five million years ago, an asteroid hit the earth, with catastrophic consequences. We, the evolved homo sapiens, are acting in the same way as the asteroid did. A defiance of Gandhi Ji’s sustained pronouncements on preserving Mother Earth – the sixth extinction? Are we not, the successful species, harnessing the qualities that make us successful (smart, creative, mobile) to destroy the natural world?
On nuclear war
Gandhi’s response to the news of Hiroshima was as follows: “Unless now the world adopts non-violence, it will spell certain suicide for mankind.”
Martin Luther King, who embraced Gandhi’s non-violence Satyagraha legacy said, four days before he was cruelly murdered: “… the alternative to a greater suspension of nuclear tests, … may well be a civilisation plunged into the abyss of annihilation, and our earthly habitat … transformed into an inferno that even the mind of Dante could not imagine.”
The Doomsday Clock, established by atomic scientists, shows how much closer we are today to the hour when all species will terminate because of these two threats: nuclear war and global warming!
Make no mistake: the nuclear weapons race is escalating. Nato on the Russian border, Russia’s nuclear modernisation and US plans to spend hundreds of billions to update its nuclear arsenal and pursue an irrational nuclear competition.
William Perry, a respected nuclear specialist, a former US defence secretary, recently estimated that the nuclear threat is higher than it was during the 1980s.
Gandhi said: “Corruption and hypocrisy ought not to be inevitable products of democracy, as they undoubtedly are today.” And the famous: “There is sufficiency in the world for man’s need but not for man’s greed.”
Gandhi Ji’s message, taken cumulatively, is this. A functioning democracy requires uncorrupted governance. Breach this and rulers lose their right to govern.
We in Malaysia are all too familiar with this infliction. It has been lit up for us of late by a thousand spotlights.
Corruption, especially by kleptocrats, drive indignant populations to extremes. Society’s ethos is harmed, warned the 17th century political thinker John Locke: “Where an appeal to law, and constituted judges, lies open, but the remedy is denied by a manifest perverting of justice, and the barefaced wresting of the laws to protect or indemnify the violence or injuries of some men or party of men …”
Corruption is a cause – not a result – of global instability, notes award-winning journalist, Sarah Chayes, in Thieves of State.
Gandhi’s quest against discrimination came alive when he renamed India’s “untouchables” as “Harijans” or “Children of God”; and admitted them into his ashrams. Equal to the task was his fight against religious disharmony. The mass killings in the wake of the partition of India to create Pakistan (which he opposed), troubled him deeply. He went on a “fast unto death” unless and until the violence stopped. It did. For this he paid dearly with his life. A few days later he was assassinated.
Mere mouthing of unity slogans is meaningless when the acts of those who persistently threaten to wreck social, ethnic and religious harmony, are routinely ignored or treated with kid-gloves.
Gandhi had even greater lessons for our activists. He walked 390km (the Salt March) to protest against colonial rule. Britain’s Salt Acts prohibited Indians from collecting or selling salt, a staple in the Indian diet. Citizens were forced to buy the vital mineral from the British, who, in addition to exercising a monopoly over the manufacture and sale of salt, also exerted a heavy salt tax.
A total of 60,000 Indians including Gandhi were arrested – amid threats more severe than those to disrupt the Dataran gatherings. Gandhi was also prosecuted under the pernicious Sedition Act; in form and spirit virtually identical to our colonially-inherited Sedition Act.
He acknowledged his right to challenge colonial rule and restore India’s dignity. If that be a crime, he gladly pleaded guilty. The English Judge Bromfield promptly jailed him for six years.
Perhaps the best we can do is to listen to Gandhi. Imbue his values in our own life and interaction. He talks to us. And in a sense, he certainly walks with us. To usher in a new dawn.
This is a short version of Gurdial’s Gandhi Memorial Lecture delivered on the UN International Day of Non-violence in October 2016. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gurdial is a former law professor and currently a legal consultant as well as Deputy President of HAKAM.