Follower of Gandhi, Vandana Shiva fights against Coca-Cola and for organic farming
By Olivier Le Naire published on 13/12/2014 at 13:45
To defend small farmers and Vandana Shiva calls a "comprehensive approach to our world, where everything is interconnected."
Pierre-Emmanuel Rastoin for L'Express
She is not named Shiva by chance. PhD in physics and a graduate in philosophy, the Indian converted into ecofeminism is fighting for forty years on all fronts.
After organizing a global march against Monsanto and won several major trials, including a deal with Coca-Cola, Vandana Shiva became an anti-globalization icon. Forbes magazine has even ranked among the seven most influential feminists in the world. Meeting with a militant velvet smile and iron will, which for the first time in a book collection of interviews (1).
In forty years, you conducted a wide variety of fighting to defend nature, peasants, women, democracy. All these causes are they linked?
Yes. From my childhood, items that would mobilize my activities were already present. I grew up with the memory of my grandfather, who died in 1956 following a hunger strike to demand that we create a school for girls in my village. This approach seemed senseless at a time when the dominant caste denied women the right to learn. I remember the day when the postman came to bring by bicycle government approval, which had relented. But it was too late, my grandfather had died. I was 4 years old.
My mother was inspector of education, but she held herself to produce our food. And the whole family was assisting to milk the cow, pick fruit, cultivate beans or lentils. As for my father, he was a forest ranger and sometimes he took us for several days at the foot of the Himalayas, when he was making his rounds. Again, we had to live self-sufficiently and in harmony with nature.
Yet you chose to study quantum physics and philosophy ...
My academic career I was just possiblly trying to understand that everything is connected. And when, at age 21, I joined the feminist movement Chipko -around illiterate women and despised in full forest-living, obviously jumped out at me. Supposed to be ignorant, they knew better than anyone the intimate balances of nature, plants that heal and nourish. They embodied what we need today: a sustainable way of life. I understand that feminism is only part of a more global vision, and the mechanistic view of the world, which is to dominate and manage nature, is false.
We need a quantum and comprehensive approach to our world, where everything is interconnected. Water, food, land, soil, forest, humans: each element interacts with others. When you clearcut forests, it changes everything: climate, biodiversity, how to live, feed ...
Hence your multiple fights ...
Yes. In 1973, in the village of Mandal, on the border between India and Tibet, workers came to cut down 300 ash trees to build sports facilities; they were threatening the survival of the poorest people living in this forest and the overall balance of the region. So people were tied to trees and embraced them. Every time the loggers came back, they were shouting, "If you want to cut down this tree, first shoot me!" After six months, they had been successful. From there, I gave up the prospect of a comfortable academic career to get into activism because the results were there. Life is not linear. I intend to follow my instinct and fully experience what I think is right and necessary.
But we can not refuse any industry, yet?
Perhaps, but we must oppose the abuse, since globalization has sent to companies the message that we can escape the consequences of their actions. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster in which more than 20,000 people have died as a result of the explosion of a pesticide plant. There were 300,000 collateral victims since, and officials are still trying to shirk responsibility. As did Coca-Cola after building a huge factory in southern India, in 2004. The company received approval to produce 561,000 liters of soda ... daily. Knowing that 3.8 liters of water are required to produce 1 liter of Coca, you think!
They promised jobs, people have sold their land. But groundwater has been polluted or dried up to tens of kilometers around, diseases have appeared and the land became barren. It took two years for the government, faced with the general indignation, to order the closure of the plant. 100,000 demonstrators then gathered to recognize free access to water as an inalienable right.
To listen to you, ecological fight would be started first by women ...
Yes, because it is they, more than men, going up to the front, because they always suffer the social division of labor. Anything that does not seem "important" to men, take care of his family, land, feed the children, keep the house -having children and making life- is relegated to women. All that, however, seem "important" -money, power, war- comes to men. And when you attack nature, women are the first, that smell danger. Our economy based on patriarchy, leads men and women to rebel to heal and repair the destruction.
Is it not a vision too deterministic?
This division is a fact. I wrote a book about ecofeminism -word was invented by a Frenchman, Françoise d'Eaubonne. And in this book, I ask the question: is it that women are trying to catch up with men in violence, domination, or conversely that men join women in their struggle to protect the land, raising children and defending peace? We must transcend the old patterns so that everyone takes care, and unites with earth and living beings. We must move towards a world where men and women share the responsibility to preserve life. Gandhi, for example, when he prayed, asked for a reinforcement of the female part of him, that he pays more attention to others, it shows more compassion.
Prince Charles, visiting a farm Navdanya (here Bija Vidyapeeth, Dehradun, India) in November 2013. The activist helps farmers return to organic farming.
Prince Charles, visiting a farm Navdanya (here Bija Vidyapeeth, Dehradun, India) in November 2013. The activist helps farmers return to organic farming. REUTERS / Mansi Thapliyal
Your other big struggle is for the liberty to produce its seeds. Why is it so important to you?
Because this key to life, to democracy. It is a universal issue that concerns humanity as a whole, and which has not always aware, especially in the rich and urbanized countries. During the 1990s, multinationals such as Monsanto, thanks to what was called the Green Revolution in India - in fact, conversion to intensive industrial agriculture - led farmers to buy seed. So we abandoned millennia seeds adapted to the soils, the needs, local climates, against the false promise of higher returns.
What proves that this promise is false?
Everything! The peasants then realized that these patented seeds were used only once, by contract. We had to buy them every year and also buy specific pesticides and fertilizers to these seeds. The soils were becoming less and less fertile, and not able to fall back on another production method, since they had converted to monoculture. As a result, facing bankruptcy, there has been an explosion of Indian farmers to commit suicide: 284,000 between 1995 and 2012. Many have even committed suicide by drinking pesticide that had been sold to them!
What do you suggest?
To help farmers return to organic farming, and to prohibit the privatization of seeds, to preserve the essentials: food sovereignty of all. That's why I created, for over twenty years the Navdanya movement, which has allowed many farmers to get loans, training in organic agriculture and access to natural seed banks. Having organized marches with hundreds of thousands of farmers, we obtained from the Indian government the only law in the world allowing farmers to reproduce, share, distribute, enhance, disseminate, sell seeds. This, for example, is banned in France, but who knows who is aware?
We were aware that the Texas firm RiceTec attempted in 1997 to capture all strains and basmati rice grains by filing patent No. US5663484, on the pretext that they had made a patent change. It took five-year legal battle to prove that the people of India have forever grown, selected and improved these strains forever, and that this heritage belongs to all. If we had lost, no Indian peasant could not have continued to cultivate his rice without paying royalties to the company or to buy seeds. I am sure that this fight now would be that of Gandhi.
Does his message, to you, seem ever present?
Of course, it is more relevant than ever. Gandhi fought for independence; us, for seeds. He resisted against the English colonizer; us against the multinationals. He said that as superstition and ignorance would push us to obey unjust laws, we would then continue to be the slaves. It is on the basis of this observation that began the concept of civil disobedience, September 11, 1906, to help the Indians victims of apartheid in South Africa, to resume their destiny.
This example inspired me a lot, like that of non-violence. We are fighting not weak but peacefully against multinationals, so that the right to life of all species is respected. These immutable principles were guided by Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and today we take over. Only now, the enemy is not as easily identifiable and locatable. And it's not only Indian freedom is at stake, but the survival of humanity.
This fight, do you feel like a sacrifice of your personal life?
No, my choices have always been guided by instinct and necessity. Each time, I followed my conscience. It's true that I have invested a lot, but I have no regrets. I assume the risks. At major trial that I conducted, I have received death threats and press campaigns threats were made against me. My life is touted. They use corruption, subversion, lies, misinformation, slander against me, but I'm not afraid and I will not yield.
And then there are those other invisible enemies: apathy, defeatism, ignorance, blind consumption, climate chaos that affects the poorest and is largely due to the industrial food chain, responsible for 40 % of CO2 emissions. It is necessary to change the way we produce. Alas, I have not known that many wins, but I remain very optimistic, because every day I discover in me and around me a good reason to find hope and feed it.
Vandana Shiva in 6 dates
1952 Born in Dehradun, India. 1973 Joined in the feminist movement Chipko. 1991 Created the peasant movement Navdanya. 2001 After five years of proceedings, canceled the US patent on basmati rice. 2004 After two years of fighting, gets the closure of the Coca-Cola plant in Kerala. 2014 Began a European tour in favor of freedom of seed.
(1) Vandana Shiva, for a creative disobedience, interviews with Lionel Astruc. Actes Sud, 204p., 19 €.
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