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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 30, New Delhi, July 10, 2021

Environmental Sensitivity and Total Revolution: Report of a National Webinar | Joseph & Karekatti

Friday 9 July 2021

by Siby K. Joseph, Tripti Karekatti

On the occasion of the World Environment Day and Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Narayan’s Call for Total Revolution, Sevagram Ashram Pratishthan, Wardha, in collaboration with the Department of English, Shivaji University, Kolhapur, organised a national webinar on June 5, 2021. In the 1970s environmental issues attracted the attention of governments and international organizations like the United Nations. In 1972 the United Nations called the first major Conference on environmental issues in Stockholm, Sweden from June 5-16 known as the Conference on the Human Environment or the Stockholm Conference. Its main objective was to arrive at consensus on how to address the challenge of preserving and enhancing the human environment. Subsequently on the 15th of December, the General Assembly adopted a resolution designating June 5 as the World Environment Day and urging “Governments and the organizations in the United Nations system to undertake on that day every year world-wide activities reaffirming their concern for the preservation and enhancement of the environment, with a view to deepening environmental awareness and to pursuing the determination expressed at the Conference.” The World Environment Day was first observed in the year 1974. Then onwards we have been observing World Environment Day to highlight the need for protecting the environment. In the process of observing World Environment Day we get an opportunity to create awareness among people and the need for solidarity action to protect our environment. It is a reminder of our solemn responsibility towards planet Earth, our home, and all sentient and non sentient beings on it. It calls for responsible behaviour from the part of different stakeholders including industries, communities, business houses, as well as by individuals, in preserving and enriching the environment.

June 5 is also observed as Sampoorn Kranti Diwas (the day of Total Revolution) coinciding with Jayaprakash Narayan’s call for total revolution in a massive rally in Patna in the wake of the students’ movement in Bihar. In fact he took the term from Karl Marx’s work The Poverty of Philosophy (1847). He was convinced that merely securing the students’ demands and resignations of Ministers were not adequate to solve the multifaceted problems faced by the country those days. Total Revolution was basically meant to achieve Gandhian ideal of Sarvodaya. JP wrote “There is hardly any difference between Sarvodaya and Total Revolution. If there is any, then Sarvodayais the goal and Total Revolution the means. Total Revolution is basic change in all aspects of life. There cannot be Sarvodayawithout this”. He envisaged seven components in his concept of Total Revolution viz. social, economic, political, cultural, ideological/intellectual, educational, and spiritual. He further visualized the four key aspects in the process of achieving Total Revolution viz. struggle, construction, propaganda, and organization. According to him these seven categories can be further split up into sub-categories and these numbers may be increased or decreased. In his Letter to People of Bihar (1975) he wrote, “Total revolution is permanent evolution. It will always go on and keep on changing both our personal and social lives. This revolution knows no respite, no halt, certainly not a complete halt. Of course, according to the needs of the situation its form will change, its programme will change, its processes will change.”

We are in the midst of the second wave of Covid pandemic. All of us are aware that this pandemic is the result of a modern lifestyle which gives emphasis on worldly pleasures ignoring the very laws of nature. The pandemic showed us how disastrous the consequences of environmental degradation and the need for following a lifestyle in tune with nature. The environmental crises which we are facing today are catastrophic in nature. The UN describes this precarious situation in the following words on the eve of the World Environment Day 2021. “For too long, we have been exploiting and destroying our planet’s ecosystems. Every three seconds, the world loses enough forest to cover a football pitch and over the last century we have and destroyed half of our wetlands. As much as 50 per cent of our coral reefs have already been lost and up to 90 per cent of coral reefs could be lost by 2050, even if global warming is limited to an increase of 1.5°C. Ecosystem loss is depriving the world of carbon sinks, like forests and peat lands, at a time humanity can least afford it. Global greenhouse gas emissions have grown for three consecutive years and the planet is one pace for potentially catastrophic climate change.”

The World Environment Day of this year also marks the beginning of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030), ‘a global mission to revive billions of hectares, from forests to farmlands, from the top of mountains to the depth of the sea.’ In order to put the theme of the World Environment Day “Reimagine, Recreate, Restore” into practice there is need for various initiatives. The webinar organized by Sevagram Ashram Pratishthan with collaboration of Shivaji University, Kolhapur was a modest attempt in that direction.

When Jayaprakash Narayan gave the call for total revolution, environmental issues were not as severe as we witness today. In the context of the present environmental crises, if JP was alive, he would have reflected on the environmental revolution to protect mother earth. This very thought was the cornerstone of the webinar which sought to analyse the contemporary relevance of JP’s total revolution and the dire need for environmental sensitivity. It is also very clear today that the socio- economic and political changes are not enough to address the crises in the environmental front. There is a need for a change in attitude towards the environment and to develop a deep sense of sensitivity. This has to start within every individual and also reach every individual. Only then do we have a hope of giving our children and grandchildren a planet worth living on. As Jayaprakash Narayan said, this is going to be “a revolution that knows no respite, no halt”.

The webinar began with a brief introduction from Dr. Siby K. Joseph, Director of Sri Jamnalal Bajaj Library and Research Centre Sevagram Ashram Pratisthan, Wardha. He announced that this webinar is dedicated to the loving memory of Shri Sunderlal Bahuguna, the leader of Chipko Movement, who passed away on May 21, 2021. He reminded the august audience that Mahatma Gandhi had a deep ecological awareness and sensitivity on matters related to the environment. That is why philosophers like Arne Naes who coined the term ’deep ecology’ acknowledged his debt to Gandhi in the formulation of the term. After briefly explaining the thought behind organising the webinar he welcomed the speakers, the dignitaries and participants of the webinar. He also gave a brief introduction of the speakers.

The webinar was inaugurated by prominent educationist Prof. D. T. Shirke, and the Honourable Vice Chancellor of Shivaji University, who set the tone of the webinar through his well thought inaugural speech which reminded us that we humans are guests on this Earth but behave as if we are its owners. Our irresponsible behaviour is inviting penalties in the form of Covid-19 and other diseases. “Development which is not sustainable can’t be true development” he asserted. To achieve the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations General Assembly, we need to be sensitive towards the environment. The change needs to start with the individual and reach the societal level. He honed on the role of educational institutes like Universities in this process. He expressed his pleasure that due to this webinar environmentalists, activists, and scholars/academics from Science faculty, Social science faculty as well as Humanities and Language departments and Gandhian scholars from different parts of the country have come together to make this a truly interdisciplinary event. He also expressed the willingness of Shivaji University and its various departments to collaborate with Sevagram Ashram Pratisthan in similar endeavours.

The first plenary speaker of the webinar was Dr. Jeevan Kumar, Honorary Professor, Karnataka State Rural Development and Panchayat Raj University, Gadag, Karnataka, a political scientist with a deep commitment on protecting the environment. He addressed the audience on the theme “The Need for Environmental Sensitivity” where he focused on three particular areas — the state of the planet today, a diagnosis of how we reached this condition and some remedies regarding how each of us can become environmentally sensitive and what we can do to save our planet. With the help of various reports as that of IPCC, Climate Change, Living Planet, WWF, Forest Principles and other documents, Dr. Jeevan Kumar explained how global economy is being hit by loss of biodiversity, how 70% of the planet has been altered by humans, and how humans are really waging a war against nature, one million species are on the verge of extinction, deserts are spreading, wetlands are getting destroying, coral reefs are getting bleached, we are seeing more diseases and viruses jumping from animals to humans. In the second part, Dr. Jeevan Kumar criticised the dominant model of development as technocentric, ethnocentric, anthropocentric, materialistic, fiercely competitive and extremely consumptive. “The current globalized dominant model of development is based on endless conversion of resources into goods and services. It believes in the possibility of unlimited growth in a Free Market system. It believes in the domination and exploitation of Nature. The four ‘mantras’ of growth and development are endless production, consumption, competition’ and profit. ‘Survival of the Fittest’ — is the order of the day. Development is understood in a limited perspective, primarily in terms of the domination and exploitation of Nature, solely for the benefit of humankind. Underlying this domination is a reduction of Nature merely to a natural resource base, and an utter lack of understanding of the “web of life” and the interconnectedness of all species. The current model of development worships Mammon, the God of Wealth. It worships capital, and believes in profit at any cost.”

Before coming to the remedies, Prof. Jeevan Kumar reminded us of Gandhiji by quoting from his work bringing home the need to deliberately and voluntarily reduce our wants. Using Gandhi as the talisman, he explored how five principles are available in Gandhian thought that we can use to develop environmental sensitivity (i.) Ecological Wisdom; (ii) Social and Environmental Justice - through Trusteeship, ‘Sarvodaya’ and ‘Antyodaya’; (iii) Participatory Democracy - through ‘Gram Swaraj’ and ‘Panchayati Raj’; (iv) Non-violence/‘Ahimsa’; and (v) Sustainability based on ‘Sarvodaya’, ‘Swadeshi’ and Self-Reliance. He stressed the need to respect Earth, care for the community with understanding, compassion and love, secure Earth’s bounty and beauty for us and our future generations, and reminded us of the three ‘Rs’ — ‘reduce’, ‘reuse’ and ‘recycle’, and two more ‘R’s — ‘restore’, ‘redefine’ the concept of development to focus on quality of life, rather than capacity for consumption. He emphasized the need for use of environmentally sustainable and appropriate technologies, adopting patterns of production, consumption and reproduction that safeguard Earth’s regenerative capacities, human rights and community well-being. We have to advance the study of ecological sustainability and build democratic societies that are just, participatory, sustainable and peaceful. He concluded his talk by focusing on the need for encouraging local self-reliance (‘Swadeshi’), to the greatest practical extent; and everyone should be conscious of ‘Food Miles’, ‘Carbon Footprints’, and ‘Water Footprints’.

The second plenary speaker was Dr. Tripti Karekatti, Professor and Head, Department of English, Shivaji University, Kolhapur, who delivered a speech on “Protection of Environment: A Feminist Perspective”. She first drew attention to the way the oppression and domination of nature and of all marginalized groups, including women, are intricately linked. She also focused on how attempts at ‘gendering nature’ are detrimental to the feminist cause as well as to the ecological cause. What connects nature and women is that they are both oppressed by the same male-dominant forces. With help of the work of French ecofeminist d’Eaubonne and of other feminists, she dwelt on the factors responsible for their oppression — mechanistic materialist thinking, Patriarchy, various kinds of self-other dualism, Capitalism — and how these reduce women and nature to commodities. Dr. Karekatti then talked about how language reinforces the unjustified dominations of all three by giving examples of how “exploitation of nature and animals is justified by feminizing them and the exploitation of women is justified by animalizing and naturalizing women”. She also talked about Vandana Shiva’s concept of “systematic underdevelopment”/ “maldevelopment” that contributed to “feminization of poverty”. After establishing that gender bias is inextricably linked to our environmental crisis, she stressed the need for gender equity, the need for greater emphasis on education, equity in distribution of resources and to see that women have real and equal say in policy making. She stressed that we need to be responsible ecological citizens and behave in a way that nurtures the health of all humans, animals and the whole of Earth. After mentioning some commendable work being done by groups of women for conserving the environment such as the Swamini group in Vengurla, she said incremental changes at the policy level or women’s representation in international organizations may not be enough now. Perhaps it is time for total transformation, total revolution at the individual and societal level, the way Jay Prakash Narayan would have wanted it to be.

Shri Arvind Anjum, a noted Sarvodaya Activist from Jharkhand, was the last speaker and the right person to talk on “Reflections on Total Revolution”. Shri Anjum reminded all that the call for Total Revolution and the beginning of the observation of the World Environment day fall on the same day and the same year. He narrated the historical beginning of ‘Sampoorna Kranti’ in 1974 when the students in Bihar revolted againstwith hike in fee, mess-charges, corruption, inflation and unemployment. Many students got injured due to police firing while taking out a procession in Patna on March 18, 1974. Many prominent persons including Jayaprakash Narayan criticised against police repression. The student-leaders approached the Gandhian leader Jayaprakash Narayan (JP), and requested him to lead and guide the movement. The leadership of the movement was soon given to JP and he converted a campus movement into a mass movementwith an ultimate goal of ’total change’ in our society.

JP gave a clarion call of ’Total Revolution’ (Sampoorna Kranti) at a massive rally held at Gandhi Maidan on June 5, 1974. He emphasized the necessity of total transformation of the society including the existing socio-economic-political system. He pointed out that each and every period of time has its own specific systemic problems along with the ongoing socio-economic-political intricacies. It is the responsibility especially of the younger generation to face those problems and accept the challenge to intervene and bring significant changes. ’Sampoorna Kranti’ is a continuous and comprehensive process of internal and external change as well.Moral philosophy focuses on internal change while materialistic philosophy focuses on external change and JP brought the two together to demand a comprehensive change that would be a continuous change without any end. This is a major contribution in itself at the ideological level. In the traditional model, social, cultural, political aspects follow the economic aspect. His approach was holistic and he realized that each aspect influences other aspects.

Anjum said the current ecological situation is a result of man’s extreme desire for boundless enjoyment, abundance, and immortality which is manifested in the concept of heaven. This desire is reflected in our economy, in our science and in our production system. It is at odds with the ideals of simplicity and restraint or abstinence. The various guidelines to overcome the conflicts and maladies have been provided by Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi and others but there are very few who actually use them. JP’s call for Total Revolution is also one such guideline which takes into account both the individual and the social level. JP pointed out explicitly that a revolutionary transformation has no ready-made blueprint. Every such transformation creates a specific blueprint of its own. Therefore, we need to free ourselves from any set of prefabricated ideological frameworks, and proceed to develop fresh thoughts and a new functional strategy to achieve our goal. It is clear that the ideological process of ’Sampoorna Kranti’ would explore its pathway independently facing the current challenges, leaving the boundaries of existing ’isms’ and ‘theories’. Anjum concluded his presentation by expressing the confidence that Jay Prakash’s Sampoorna Kranti could provide solutions to our current problems. Vinoba Bhave said I can see farther as I am sitting on Gandhi’s shoulders. A similar strength is evident in Jay Prakash’s call which plans to achieve the solution collectively.

Dr. B. K. Harish Kumara, Executive Director, Centre for Education Environment and Community, Hassan, Karnataka, was excellent in his conduct as the Moderator of the webinar by briefly summarizing the presentation and providing space for lively discussion after each presentation. The webinar was attended by more than hundred participants from Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Gujarat, West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Rajasthan, Assam,Manipur and even from our neighbouring country Nepal. The webinar concluded with the Vote of Thanks from Dr. Chandrkant Langare, Department of English, Shivaji University, Kolhapur. The high appreciation of the participants was evident from the responses from the Chat box and they expressed the need for such programmes for building awareness among younger generation on matters of crucial importance and for the very survival of humankind.

(Authors: Dr. Siby K. Joseph is a noted Gandhian academic and scholar. He is currently Director, Sri Jamnalal Bajaj Memorial Library and Research Centre, Sevagram Ashram Pratishthan, Wardha. Email:directorjbmlrc[at]gmail.com

Dr.Tripti Karekatti is Professor and Head, Department of English, Shivaji University, Kolhapur — 416004.Her areas of specialization are Applied Linguistics, Socio linguistics Drama and Gender Studies. Email : tkk-eng[at]unishivaji.ac.in )

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