Five Elements of Nature

Gandhi's Views On Environment

Gandhiji drew attention to the pitiable condition of the V labourers working in factories, in Indian Opinion on 5-5-1906:

"Nowadays, there is an increasing appreciation among enlightened men of the need for open air. Where large cities have come into being, labourers have to work cooped up in factories the whole day. As the price of urban land is high, factory buildings are not spacious enough, and the tenements of labourers are also very small. This invariably results in a steady deterioration of their health. Dr. Newman of Hinsborough in London has shown that the death rate per thousand is 38 in areas where too many people live huddled together in one room, but where the same number live in two rooms, the death rate is 22; where the same number of people share three rooms, it is 11 and where they have the use of four rooms, the death rate is only 5. There is nothing surprising in this. A man can do without food for several days and live a day altogether without water, but it is impossible to carry on without air even for a minute. If a thing that is so very vital to life is not pure, the result cannot but be deleterious. It was for these considerations that large manufacturers like Cadbury Brothers and Lever Brothers, who have always been very mindful of the welfare of their workers, have shifted their factories to open places outside cities. They have built very good quarters for their workers with all the attendant amenities, such as gardens and libraries; although they have spent all this money, they have flourished in their business. A similar movement has spread all over England in the wake of this example.

This matter deserves consideration by Indian leaders. We suffer much because we do not realise the value of pure air; and this again is a strong reason why diseases like plague spread among us."

Gandhiji pointed out in Indian Opinion dated 1-2~1913, the irony of the situation that one has to pay a price even to get pure air:

We have seen something of the structure of the body and have learnt that it requires three kinds of nourishment: air, water and food. Of these, air is the most essential. Consequently, Nature has provided it to such extent that we can have it at no cost. But modern civilization has put a price even on air. In these times, one has to go off to distant places to take the air, and this costs money. It is at Matheran that residents of Bombay can get fresh air and only then does their health improve. In Bombay itself, if one can live on Malabar Hill, the air is much better. But one must have money to do this. If Durbanites want fresh air, they have to go to live in Berea. That again means expense. It would not, therefore, be quite true to say in modem times that 'air is free'.

"Whether air is free or has to be paid for, we cannot carry on without it for a moment"

In a speech at Ahmedabad meeting on 1-1-1918, Gandhiji explained the importance of purity of air, water and food:

"Air, water and grains are the three chief kinds of food. Air is free to all, but, if it is polluted, it harms our health. Doctors say that bad air is more harmful than bad water. Inhalation of bad air is harmful by itself and this is the reason we [sometimes] need change of air. Next comes water. We are generally very careless about it. If we were to be sufficiently careful about air, water and food, the plague would never make its appearance among us."

"I have seen thousands of men and women dirtying the banks of the Ganga at Hardwar. Pilgrims defecate at the very spot where people sit, wash their faces, etc., in the Ganga and then again fill their pots at the very same spot. I have come across pilgrims defiling lakes in the same manner at places of pilgrimage. In doing this we destroy the dharma of compassion and disregard our duty to society.

Such recklessness leads to pollution of air and water. Is it surprising then that cholera, typhoid and other infectious diseases follow as a result of this?" (Shikshan ane Sahitya, 22-9-1929)

Gandhiji emphasized the importance of pure air and pointed out the gifts bestowed by nature to mankind on 31-8-1942:

The atmospheric air around us is not always pure, neither is it the same in every country. The choice of the country does not always lie in our hands but the choice of a suitable house in a suitable locality does rest with us to some extent. The general rule should be to live in locality which is not too congested and insist upon the house being well-lighted and well-ventilated...Nature has provided us with sufficient reserve of vitality. But for that, man would have long ago disappeared from the face of the earth because of his own mistakes and transgressions of the rules of health.

We must see that the air that we breathe in is fresh. It is good to cultivate the habit of sleeping in the open under the stars."

In a speech at prayer meeting on 24-3-1946 at Uruli Kanchan, Gandhiji suggested to sleep in the open to get fresh air:

The most essential of these is air. Man can live without food for several weeks, without water for some time, but without air he cannot live for more than a few minutes. God has, therefore made air universally available. Shortages of food or water there may be at times but of air never. Inspite of it we foolishly deprive ourselves of God's blessings of fresh and pure air by sleeping within doors with doors and windows shut. One may Shut doors and windows, if he is afraid of thieves at night. But should one shut oneself up?

To get fresh air, one must sleep in the open. But it is no good sleeping in the open only to breathe dust and dirt-Iaden air. The place where you sleep must be free from both.

Anyone who fouls the air by spitting about carelessly, throwing refuse and rubbish or otherwise dirtying the ground, sins against man and nature."

At a prayer meeting on 21-4-1946, Gandhiji told how "water is harmful to our health:

Will any of you care to bathe or wash your clothes in gutter water? Yet many of the small tanks where people bathe and wash and even drink from are no cleaner than the gutter. Nature is lenient. It often does not punish us for our sins immediately. Thus we can go on breathing impure air and inking impure water over long periods without any dramatic ill effects. But there is not the slightest doubt that such a thing lowers the vitality and makes one fall an easy prey to disease."

In a letter to a foreign naturopath on 28-5-1947, Gandhiji affirmed his strong faith in nature cure, that is healing by air, water, earth and light:

"You will be pleased to know that I became a confirmed convert to nature cure when I read Kuhne's New Science of Healing and Just's Return to Nature over forty years ago. I must ,confess that I have not been able fully to follow the meaning of. 'return to nature' not because of want of will but because of my ignorance. I am now trying to evolve a system of nature cure suited to the millions of India's poor I try to confine myself to the propagation of such cure as is derivable from the use of earth, water, light, air and the great void. This naturally leads man to know that the sovereign cure of all ills is the recitation from the heart of the name of God whom some millions here know by the name of Rama and the other millions by the name of Allah. Such recitation from the heart carries with it the obligation to recognize and follow the laws which nature has ordained for man. This train of reasoning leads one to the conclusion that prevention is better than cure. Therefore, one is irresistibly driven to inculcating the laws of hygiene, i.e., of cleanliness of the mind, of the body and of one's surroundings."