Civil Society Movements for Promotion of Peace and Social Justice
13 May 2016 – Civil society movements all over the world have been playing an important role in raising people’s serious issues so that they could be addressed by the governments in power. They have been struggling for democratic rights, social and economic justice, education and non discrimination, among other concerns.
There have been movements for gender and racial justice, universalisation of education, provision of healthcare, shelter, food security, old age pensions, and so many other social, cultural and economic issues. Many of these basic human requirements are already provided for in the Constitutions of various countries including India, and in the United Nations declaration of human rights charter.
Today with acute problems of environmental pollution and climate change, many movements are taking place for the protection and sustenance of the environment. Before discussing environmental movements, it is useful to refer to some prominent political and social movements.
In USA we are familiar with the well known non violent and long drawn struggles led by Martin Luther King for racial equality and non-discrimination. South Africa’s movement, again largely peaceful, spearheaded by Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu and inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s non violent strategies, led to the end of the apartheid and emergence of a just and equitable system of government there. It was subsequently followed by setting up of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1995 to end the bitterness and strife of many decades.
We may also refer to some other prominent movements such as:
- The Russian revolution in 1917 led by Lenin that led to the overthrow of the Czarist regime and the establishment of the Soviet Union
- Gandhi’s well known non violent, long drawn struggle against the British rule that led to the independence of India and the creation of a new state of Pakistan in 1947
- The Chinese movement spearheaded by Mao Zedong resulting in the establishment of the Communist regime in 1949 and the escape of the Chiang Kai-Shek the leader of Kuomintang (KMT) to Taiwan
- Several independence movements in 1950s, 1960s, 1970s against the colonial powers in Africa (Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Congo etc) and Asia (Cambodia, Vietnam, Philippines etc.)
- The collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1990 and the emergence of several independent nations like Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine and others
Keeping in view the deterioration and degradation of the environment and its adverse impact on all forms of life — human, animal and plant, we are witnessing many struggles for the protection of the environment both by civil society and by international organisations. The adverse impact is being felt more acutely by developing and poor countries of the world including India.
Deterioration of the environment resulting in climate change and global warming are of serious concern today. The developmental paradigm being followed in most countries is leading to deforestation, denuding of the hills and mountains, soil erosion, destruction of coastlines, pollution of air, soil, rivers and an overall alarming situation. This is posing a serious threat to our ecosystem and all forms of life. The COP 21 meeting meeting held in Paris in December 2015 considered various adverse effects of climate change and what the countries should do to ameliorate the situation.
Almost a century back Gandhi had emphasized the protection of our environment and ecosystem. He had stated in very simple language, “The earth, the air, the land and the water are not an inheritance from our fore fathers but on loan from our children. So we have to handover to them at least as it was handed over to us.” On the other hand, according to noted Anthropologist Margaret Mead: “We won’t have a society if we destroy the environment.”
Several individuals in India such as Sunderlal Bahuguna, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, Rajendra Singh, Medha Patkar have contributed immensly to restoration of the environment and providing justice to the marginalised sections of our population.
International organisations such as Greenpeace and Avaaz.org etc as well as the International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) are working in the direction of sustaining the environment and suggesting what countries and organisations need to do towards this objective. IPCC had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 jointly with Albert Arnold Gore Jr. “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change”.
It is relevant here to look back in history to the UN initiative to set up the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) in December 1983 in order to address the problems of deterioration of the environment and natural resources. This commission is generally referred to as the Brundtland Commission after its Chairperson Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway.
One of the major outcomes of the Report of the Brundtland Commission (1987) was how sustainable development was to be viewed. It suggested that there is unity of environment and development and stated that we must work towards a “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The complete report was published by Oxford University Press in 1987 under the title Our Common Future.
More recently, the United Nations adopted on September 2015 seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aimed at ending poverty, injustice, inequality in the world and restoration of our environment by 2030.
While individuals and institutions like UN work in the direction of social justice and protection of the environment we must not forget Gandhi’s thoughts on living simply and avoiding excessive exploitation of the earth by the following words:
“The distinguishing characteristic of modern civilization is an indefinite multiplicity of wants whereas earlier civilizations were forced to have an “imperative restriction upon and a strict regulation of these wants…”
Mira Behn a devout follower of Gandhi had also used strong words in this direction in 1949: “The tragedy today is that educated and moneyed classes are altogether out of touch with the vital fundamentals of existence of our Mother Earth, and the animal and vegetable population which it sustains. The world of Nature’s planning is ruthlessly plundered, despoiled and disorganized by man whenever he gets the chance ..”
Let us work for peace, justice and equality, but let us not overlook the need for simple living and protection of the environment and our ecosystem.
Dr Ravi P Bhatia – Educationist and Peace Researcher. Retired Professor, Delhi University. firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 16 May 2016.
Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: Civil Society Movements for Promotion of Peace and Social Justice, is included. Thank you.
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