Friday, 8 May 2015

Rabindranath Tagore:An Environmentalist And An Activist

Volume-I,Issue-5,August 2012,p10-12

Rabindranath Tagore:An Environmentalist And An Activist
Dr.Debesh Bhowmik

Tagore was an environmental pioneer. RabindranathTagore first became concerned about man’s impact on the environment after seeing an oil spill at sea on his way to Japan in 1916, The experience provoked Tagore to write at length about his annoyance at the way modern man was failing to respect nature. Tagore was a great teacher of environmental economics as well as an environmental activist  .At least one century ago, the thoughts of Rabindranath Tagore on the environment was very  much relevant today.His  philosophy on the environment is related with sustainable rural development which is closely correlated between nature and human being.He imagined an integrated approach of sustainable development through revival of rural industry and increasing agricultural growth with community development.This essay endeavours to highlight some of his ideas on environment and how did he really implement it.
Tagore ideas and implementation on environment
Tagore not only wrote extensively on man’s relationship with the environment but also implemented it too by building Santineketan. It is surrounded by greenery on all sides. He created an example for the whole world in terms of the relationship between nature and humans. Tagore denounces human aggression on nature as an admirer of Ecocriticism which was evident in ‘The Tame Bird was in a cage’ (The Gardener, Poem No. VI). According to Peter Barry in Beginning Theory Human beings consider culture as a great achievement.  Humans should understand the roles assigned to them at a macrocosmic level. Any human aggression will end in a disaster for the whole bio sphere.As William Rueckert says, “The conceptual and practical problem is to find the grounds upon which the two communities – the humans, the natural – can coexist, cooperate, and flourish in the biosphere”. Cooperation is the key to the survival of the humans in this biosphere.
In fact, Tagore plays with the notion of climate, proposing a correspondence between politics and the environment. As the doctor advises Madhav that “on no account should [the child] be allowed out of doors” , he implies that the outside air will worsen his condition, as it happens when the Raja’s messenger arrives and orders “all doors and windows” to be open .Philosophically as well as in reality,Rabindranath was very much conscious about the environment and the evils of environmental damages through pollution.He felt that the air,water,soil  pollution hinder the people whether they are rich or poor but the poor will be mostly affected because of speedy urbanization, deforestation,and declining of standard of living of poor people.He gave a detailed analysis how urbanization affected rural life adversely  in a writing entitled “The Robbery of the Soil” which was read at the meeting of Viswabharati Samiti on 28th July 1922 . He emphasized that it is urgent to return the same by the people who plundered the nature.He thought tree planting ceremony(“Briskharopan”) integrated with the ceremony of “Barshamangal” (wellcoming for Rainy season) and “Hallakarshan”(ploughing) because the first two are naturally correlated with season for higher growth and the third one is to give food for the poor or produce for the earth and its people.
In 1928, 14th July,”The Planting of Trees” ceremony was held first in Shantiniketan, Biswabharati where , on that occasion ,tress of Mango, Guava, Papaya, Jackfruits, were distributed to the farmers of Ballavpur,Khejurdanga etc with 50% subsidies.On that day,Rabindranath himself was present  and attended with students having colourful dresses and flowers.Tagore first delivered some slokas and recited some poems which were as follows,
“ Oh Earth !hold the wealth of trees/ and keep it in your breast “, or , “Oh Cloud!bell the Indra’s organ with serious tones of  hymns/under the  blue sky” , or , “ Oh wind! You did not ignore/ your flute had started in the Ashar”,or , “ Oh sky! You have bold eternal  vision”, etc.The attended students and women recited along with Tagore.At the end of the Ceremony, Rabindranath  recited his own poem named “Mangalik”, eg,
“ The needs of soul may be full to the child alive,
The strength may give full of honey  air with golden touch of worlds’ palace.”…..
Presently, this ceremony is held on 22nd Sravana.The students of Biswabharati planted saplings with dancing, reciting,singing including conch playing.Likewise they prayed for help from ghosts reciting the poems which explains , earth    , misdeeds,strength,desert,universe ,so that the sapling may become a big tree with flowers and fruits and become able to human welfare.He loved and performed this ceremony because he said,” Trees  of the earth are cut for several necessities and the earth became nacked by plundering its shadows of clothes. It increased the temperature of the air and damage the fertility of the soil. The homeless forests tend to warmth by unbearable hit of the sun. Keeping these words in minds, we held the ceremony of tree planting which is nothing but the function of  filling  in the gaps of plundered mother’s wealth.”He understood that tree planting is urgent to save the planet from warming.So he was bound to say, “The danger is imminent because of deforestation.To save the danger,we have to recall the god of the forests ,so that it can save this land and can bear fruits, and allows shadows.”(Gupta and Chakraborty,1987).Therefore,the thoughts of Tagore on preserving the environment was nothing but to grow more trees and to protect forest.The ceremony of planting trees was considered as a symbol of praying trees for maintain environment to save the planet from global warming and to make the world an abode of peace which is a green world to live in.
This thought was reflected in his poem entitled “ Brikshbandana” which is translated and is given below;
Oh! Brave hero of the soil,
Announce your struggle to free the soil
From the deep desert fort,
This war goes on and on …and forever,
You born on the open bank of the unaccessible islands
And sit on the throne of the greenery by your
Utmost patience swimming the ocean;
You came forth on the midst of distance hills
On all the grounds of stones
Write the ballads of victory in the leaves astounding the dust
On the markless shores and fields and
Found your own way forward…….
Tagore always thought environment as a part and parcel of integrated rural development whose ingredient factors were agricultural development , cooperative movement,and rural industrialization.On agricultural development his idea was based not only on higher yield but also on improvement of technology. As a zaminder, he believed that land should not be distributed to the ignorant riots who could not keep up the land right from the exploitation of zaminders. He said, “My objective was to rouse the confidence of the farmer in his own power. Two themes recurred in my mind. One, the title to land, in justice, does not belong to the landlord, but to the cultivator. Two, there will be no improvement in agriculture without co-operative based collective farming. Tilling subdivided and fragmented lands with primitive ploughs is as futile as carrying water in a sieve.”
To save the rural poor farmers from poverty , he established Sriniketan in 1922 where he revived cottage industries which may tend to rural wealth in future.Rural artisans can maintain their livelihood from that activities and the produced commodities. Rabindranath  requested to Elmhurst who was interested about Indian Agriculture and gave him the responsibility of Sriniketan for rural industrial reconstruction.Elmhurst was fully  coordinated with Santosh Ch.Majumder,Gour Gopal Ghosh and Kalimohan Ghosh in the revival  of rural cottage industries.
In Sriniketan , he introduced the weaving,batik and batik printing,leather works,pottering, spinning etc from which  the basic commodities were produced and the  rural poor meet their needs and  can earn.In Sriniketan he was also introduced a training centre in which the selected youth from the rural areas from several districts were trained the courses of rural industry,cottage industry,and the problems of rural industry.Moreover , they were trained on rural health and primary health care.Even they were taught on the village organization and co-operatives.Along with these training ,physical exercise, punctuality, ethics and  amusement were the additional courses of learning. After the completion of the courses,they returned to their villages to organize such courses for implementation on the mode of the production processes to uplift the rural poor.
But Santiniketan was ignored and marginalized by the imperatives of a competitive capitalism and nationalism. Even,Sriniketan was included in this fobia.Thus,within some years,the crisis started, Although,Leonard Elmhurst sent money amounting to Rs 50000/- per year for running the Striniketan.The King of Baroda usually sent 6000/- per year during 1924-1934 and afterwords it was stopped.Tagore collected money to show dances, dramas in Patna,Lahore, Delhi, Meerat, Joypur,Ahmedabad and Mumbai  and lastly appealed to the people for helping Sriniketan.
His ideas on rural development is obviously interlinked with rural rural money supply institutions and thus,he established  “Patisar Krishi Bank” in 1905. He was also aware of the unpredictable nature of Indian agriculture and arising out of it, the swings in the hopes and despair of the Indian peasant community. He was certainly not unaware of the basic exploitative nature of the colonial administration. He knew that for the drudgeries of life to be lifted, age-old dependence on nature couldn't be converted into another kind of deprecating dependence – that is to look up to the State for succour. So the fundamental premise on which he based his community development programme came to be "self-help and enlightenment."
Tagore felt that the integrated rural development under the sectors of education, health, economics, and welfare should function multilaterally. He felt that Patisar Krishi Bank will endeavour to free rural poor from their indebtedness. In this context , he wrote, “We cannot alleviate poverty by sentimental rendering of poetry. We must gird up our loins and get to work. ” Ultimately, this bank ran about 30 years. And at last, in 1927,Vishwa Bharati Central Coopearative Bank was set up.
His co-operative concept was extended to the famous idea of Grain Bank.Thus, he established a co-operative Grain Bank in 1928 at Sriniketan .Even, a few Co-operative Credit Societies were formed in Santalpara where most of them were landless labours. During the same year, another credit society was set up at Ballavpur.
Thus we found that his integrated rural development approach is not independent of each other stated above rather it is functionally related with sustainable development that should be raised from the bottom level in true sense of the term. In 1910, he wrote,
You depressed those who will fall down you also,
You keep them behind and they pull you back
You lay then dark of ignorance
They make wide difference covering your good
You will be equal to all through looking down upon.
So, his sustainable rural development concept was so integrated with agriculture , rural industry and rural money supply ie cooperative banking  with a comprehensive manner so that production and distribution become environment friendly. Otherwise, the nature may take revenge and livelihood of rural people may suffer. This is clear from his famous poem ,(Shesh Saptak -44)
My old age room ,that I made by mud, and I give its name “Shyamali”
When it breaks, it will lay like sleeping and mix with the lap of mud
It will not protest in the broken pillar and will not quarrel with the earth
It will not build  ghosts houses of deaths showing bones from broken wall….
Rabindranath Tagore’s views pertaining to eco-ethical human living and sustainable development are based on ancient Indian philosophy, especially embedded in the Upanishads. Tagore considers Nature and human life as integral parts of the single entity, the omniscient, omnipresent, ubiquitous (sarbang khallidang), attribute-free (nirguna) Brahman. So Tagore emphasizes symbiosis and balance between man and all other aspects of the mundane world (plants, other living beings, the Earth, atmosphere and the rest of the universe), and between man and the world beyond (moksha).
In “Aranya Devata, Tagore opines that modern man indulges too much in luxurious and profligate living. So long as he used to live in and around the forest, he had a deep love and respect for the forest and therefore he used to live in perfect symbiosis with it and its plants and animals. Wanton destruction of forests, in order to supply timber for city life, brought about a curse on human race. Paucity of rainfall endangered human life and the rapid spread of deserts started engulfing human habitation in various parts of India. So, Tagore emphasizes, we should retrieve our love and respect for the forest and restore symbiosis with the forest in order to avert peril.Tagore’s views on ecological stability and symbiosis between man and Nature have been elaborated in the article “Tapavan”.
To day we are concerned about environmental disaster. Environmental imbalance intensifies poverty. Therefore, his thoughts on rural development and poverty alleviation were environment friendly, because his notion concisely can be stated as ,
[i]Identify poverty from a total perspective using a holistic framework. [ii]Invest in agriculture, and improve the lot of the farmers; [iii] expand co-operative movement and encourage community-based development.[iv]Introduce scientific farming, establish agricultural bank.[v]Expand cottage industry.[vi]Focus on environment friendly development.
On environment , Tagore believed that : “...owing to deforestation a calamity is imminent. To escape this peril we have to propitiate the goddess of forest to protect our land, give us fruits and shade which are her blessing.”
His environmentalism really reflects  in Shantiniketan  and Sriniketan.The economy of Shantiniketan showed his concept on integrated rural development.The hegemony of nature in Shantiniketan and his modern Viswabharati  reflects his thoughts of sustainable development.As he said that,
We, two live in the same village , that’s our only happiness
The Magpie  birds sing  in their trees
Their songs fill our hearts .
………. The two villages are very close
A field between the two
Many bees in their forest, make honey in our forest
The worshipping China Rose garlands  of their banks flow in our metal banks
The dishes of blossom- flowers of their  village  were sold in our village hat(hub)….
Lastly , the modern Germans felt on the thoughts of ecology of Rabindranath .Tagore’s love of nature was inspired by the awareness that all living beings, including animals, trees and plants, are endowed with a soul. On this level of consciousness, human beings are equal with “low” creatures and plants. We are all co-creatures of God’s creation. Accordingly, Tagore’s praise and worship of nature is born of a deep spirit of togetherness and feeling of a creational bond between humans and nature. Such a sense of unity is missing in modern Western ecology. It tends to emphasize the usefulness of nature and the necessity of a natural environment for the practical survival of mankind. Thus, with his poetry and his essays, Tagore can inspire a deeper understanding of and togetherness with the natural environment. Uma Dasgupta(2008) rightly wrote that   Tagore was a deeply independent and unorthodox personality who found a way of expressing this through the fashions and orthodoxies of his environment interplaying of nature and nature.
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