There are very few of us who would willingly and in sane mind commit violence against our family and our home. Those few might be the ones pushed to the brink of sanity by extraordinary circumstances.

2 October is a significant day in India and worldwide. The birthday of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is celebrated as International Day of Non-Violence. Coincidentally, the first Monday of October (which this year falls on 2 October) is observed as World Habitat Day by the United Nations. This concurrence gives us a unique opportunity to understand a deeper meaning of non-violence.

Not many people realise that Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence was actually a form of violence. When one stands up to the aggressor with peaceful resistance and non-violence, there is inherent violence. The absence of physical violence does not mask the fact that peaceful resistance, peaceful non-cooperation is an act of violence against the established laws, however just or unjust they are.

When we consider our intrinsic relationship with our habitat, our home, the Earth, there are different forms of violence that we perpetrate against it. Much of this violence is physical, massive, and clearly visible. Whether it is recognised as violence is quite a different matter altogether, and whether we accept our collective responsibility for it is still another matter! Few of us, for example, would share the responsibility for the destruction of a forest to build a new city or an industrial belt. Few of us would accept our role in the diversion of a river with the consequent destruction of entire ecosystems just to build a huge dam for generating electricity and providing water. Still fewer of us would say that we have destroyed the Earth through drilling for oil or strip mining for coal or other minerals. We might even excuse these acts in the name of development, growth and necessary human benefit!

That is the biggest problem: every act of violence against the Earth, our home, is seen from the prism of human benefit. The countless other living species matter little in this consideration. As long as human beings benefit from what we take from the Earth, nothing else matters.

And yet, the delicate balance of living and non-living, the harmony of nature that provides for us, the Circle of Life that ensures that all living beings grow in mutual respect for each other demand that we stop this violence, this one-sided assault on Earth.

But we are not a part of it, we say. Those are decisions by governments and corporate leaders, not by the common person. We do not own that violence!

This brings us to the other types of violence: not so physical, much smaller, and far less visible. And because they do not appear as violence, they are both neglected and more dangerous. No one protests against them; they do not create news!

Do you have more than 3-4 sets of clothing? More than 3-4 sets of footwear? Do you switch on more than one light or fan in a single room whether required or not? Do you use the AC? If so, do you use the AC below 24oC? Do you drive a personal vehicle? Do you use a vehicle for short distances? Do you purchase bottled water? Do you indulge in snacks packed in plastic? Do you waste food? Do you print on one side of the page? Do you use a washing machine frequently? Do you use an elevator or an escalator for fewer than five floors? I could go on and on, but you get the point!

All that we do requires something taken from nature. Electricity in India comes from thermal or hydroelectric plants (solar and wind generation is still very small). Any wastage of electricity means an increased carbon footprint, or more graphically, a larger foot on the face of the Earth. The more clothes we have, the more water we use to wash them, the more food we waste – all these are acts of violence against the Earth because they all depend on the Earth for their origin. And the resources of the earth are meant to be shared by all life forms, not reserved for humans alone!

If the humans of this age want to avoid extinction (which seems a distinct possibility) they will have to eschew this daily insidious violence that does more harm than we realise. We would have to reclaim the ways of simplicity and harmony.

Suren Abreu

[This article will shortly be printed in Prophetic Voice, the CPCI Bulletin published in Bengaluru]