Towards Eco-Dharma: The Contribution of Gandhian Thought to Ecological Ethics in India
isaac_alexander_thd_2011.pdf (2.582Mb) ThD dissertation
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Ecological concern prompts poor and indigenous people of India to consider how a society can ensure both protection of nature and their rightful claim for a just and sustainable future. Previous discussions defended the environment while ignoring the struggles of the poor for sustenance and their religious traditions and ethical values. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi addressed similar socio-ecological concerns by adopting and adapting traditional religious and ethical notions to develop strategies for constructive, engaged resistance. The dissertation research and analysis verifies the continued relevance of the Gandhian understanding of dharma (ethics) in contemporary India as a basis for developing eco-dharma (eco-ethics) to link closely development, ecology, and religious values. The method of this study is interpretive, analytical, and critical. Françoise Houtart’s social analytical method is used to make visible and to suggest how to overcome social tensions from the perspective of marginalized and exploited peoples in India. The Indian government's development initiatives create a nexus between the eco-crisis and economic injustice, and communities’ responses. The Chipko movement seeks to protect the Himalayan forests from commercial logging. The Narmada Bachao Andolan strives to preserve the Narmada River and its forests and communities, where dam construction causes displacement. The use of Gandhian approaches by these movements provides a framework for integrating ecological concerns with people's struggles for survival. For Gandhi, dharma is a harmony of satya (truth), ahimsa (nonviolence), and sarvodaya (welfare of all). Eco-dharma is an integral, communitarian, and ecologically sensitive ethical paradigm. The study demonstrates that the Gandhian notion of dharma, implemented through nonviolent satyagraha (firmness in promoting truth), can direct community action that promotes responsible economic structures and the well-being of the biotic community and the environment. Eco-dharma calls for solidarity, constructive resistance, and ecologically and economically viable communities. The dissertation recommends that for a sustainable future, India must combine indigenous, appropriate, and small- or medium-scale industries as an alternative model of development in order to help reduce systemic poverty while enhancing ecological well-being.