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Water War Worries

By Rajesh C. Oza Email By Rajesh C. Oza
March 2013
Water War Worries

with PostModern Gandhiji (PMG)

An advice column offering the Mahatma’s perspective on modern dilemmas


Dear PMG,

So many politicians and journalists seem to be incessantly talking about wars in Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq being about oil. But what about all the fighting that takes place over water? It seems to me that some parts of the world have too much water and other parts too little. For example, there is the dichotomy of the world being flooded (India’s monsoon rains or America’s Hurricane Sandy) and at the same time parched (Rajasthan’s Thar Desert or California’s Mojave Desert).

I really believe that if we don’t manage our water supply carefully, we will have nonstop water battles between India and Pakistan (or even Northern California and Southern California).

Did Gandhi have anything to say about environmentalism?

Dear Friend,

“The earth, the air, the land, and the water are not an inheritance from our forefathers but on loan from our children. So we have to hand over to them at least as it was handed over to us.” (M. K. Gandhi)

Long before Al Gore wrote An Inconvenient Truth, Gandhiji was doing his own version of environmental truth-telling. In many ways, the father of independent India was also the father of modern India’s conservation movement. And he powerfully spoke to our stewardship of the earth, not as a backward-looking inheritance from our forefathers that we can squander, but rather as a forward-looking loan from our children and our children’s children’s children.

That said, it is important to recognize that environmentalism came to India long before Gandhiji walked this earth. He consistently claimed a debt to the traditional culture of India and thus would have embraced the following passage from How Much Should a Person Consume?, written by Gandhian scholar and historian Ramachandra Guha:

“The Hindu sacred books say there’s no happiness without trees. [This suggests]—contrary to what modern historians might say—that the ancient Hindus were the first environmentalists. A precocious ecological consciousness was manifest in their myths, folklore, and ritual practices, where gods played with animals, where humans attained salvation in the forest, and where lowly plants and insect species were treated with reverence.”

But without water there can be no trees. And without trees where is the happiness? In rather subtle ways, anti-happiness is a kind of violence that Gandhiji would have opposed to his last breath. Of course, speaking of breaths, without oxygen-producing trees, how can we breathe? One might think that this series of seemingly disconnected concepts don’t belong together: water... trees... happiness... anti-happiness... violence... last breath. But the “Prophet of Peace” was an original whole systems thinker. With great insight and foresight, he was able to connect the dots between the violence we do to the earth and the violence we inflict upon each other. Perhaps Gandhiji would have been a proponent of organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council as the best defense against Water Wars or wars of any kind.

[Dr. Rajesh C. Oza serves as a consultant to organizations and individuals requiring change leadership. We invite questions for consideration in the PMG column at]


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