Of late, the concern of the protection and conservation of Dehing Patkai has been in the news. Indeed, it is the need of the hour to raise our voice against the destruction of the tropical rainforest located in the Northeast region of India, also known as the Amazon of East. However, before raising our voice against the atrocities of the corporates and the State, I would ask people to rethink and introspect about their parochial needs, which have often sabotaged the safety of our environment.
Mahatma Gandhi rightly said, “The earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.” It is an epoch-making moment to rethink and re-introspect our ways of living, our mentality and actions that have been detrimental to the health of our ecosystem. As homo sapiens of the modern, mechanical era, we are enchanted with all the materialistic attainments in our lives. The pursuit of earning wealth so as to procure luxuries has become our raison d’être. This greedy pursuit has, deliberately or accidentally, turned our back on the environment. What we desire, along with wealth, are prestige and honour.
The luxuries we obtain have become an emblem of our prestige and honour in society. This is the very idea that is erroneous and absurd, and we as homo sapiens, the so-called superior beings on Earth, believe in. This attitude is domineering the human mind, with little regard for its effect on our surroundings and other living beings on Earth.
We are busy purchasing two-wheelers and four-wheelers, despite the availability of public transport in our localities. We build gigantic bungalows and buildings by uprooting trees and displacing birds, insects and animals from their habitat. Are we running after luxuries at the expense of the ecosystem? Are these luxuries intended for the exhibition of our relative superior position in society in terms of wealth?
We admire the richest people of the world, allured by their luxurious lifestyle. The fault doesn’t lie with the present generation solely, but also the older generations who have been victims of the absurd idea of luxurious lifestyles. The point is to highlight that we utilise wealth, deliberately or unintentionally, in a way that it tends to ruin the ecological balance.
Even the process of maximisation of wealth is itself detrimental to the health of the environment. Here, I would like to draw your attention to the idea of “simple living” or “minimalism”, which is at the heart of Gandhi’s idea of responsible living. He earnestly pleaded people to opt for simple living, as against materialistic comforts and luxuries. He warned against making nature a victim of human greed and unlimited indulgence. He appealed to his countrymen to be conscious and considerate of the diverse and varied relationships we maintain with our own surroundings. Gandhi asked us to be “trustees” of this planet, not owners.
Minimalism ensued from the idea of ethical obligations to the “other”, which includes fellow humans, animals and nature. To curb our unlimited material wants, the main appeal made by Gandhi was using the concept of simple living. Gandhi believed that a good life can be lived only in villages. To him, big cities were centres of corruption and all kind of vices. He repeatedly said that village life is an ideal life due to its close proximity to nature. He was critical of modern civilisation.
His indictment of modern civilisation in the book Hind Swaraj was intended to caution the mankind against this calamity. He made an imperative appeal to his countrymen not to get allured by this civilisation, which is characterised by the unending pursuit of material pleasure and prosperity. However, Gandhi’s dream could not be fulfilled and soon after independence, India became an ardent follower of Western modernity.
Modern machinery has become a part of human lives. Gandhi’s appeal to switch from urban, modern life to village life has become a mere impossibility. The least we can do is practise his idea of simple living by limiting our material and luxurious wants as far as possible. Furthermore, rather than admiring the richest people for all their luxuries and wealth, I think we should admire and seek inspiration from people like Jadav Payeng, also known as the ‘Forest Man of India’.
Jadav Payeng is an environmental activist and forestry worker from Majuli, Assam, who planted an entire forest by himself on the sandbar of the river Brahmaputra. He spent 30 years of his life planting trees to save his island and restore the wildlife in it. He might not be living a luxurious life, but he must be admired for his selfless contribution towards the conservation of our environment.
To conclude, activism and protests at national and global level are pressing priorities, but positive effects will start unveiling only when we, in the first instance, start working on ourselves and bring a change at the ground level.