Witnesses: Vandana Shiva, Safeguarding Biodiversity

One of the major international personalities who strives for the safeguarding of biodiversity and who is against the monopolising of the planet’s resources, especially water, is the Indian activist Vandana Shiva.

Vandana Shiva was born in 1952 in Uttarakhand, India. Her father was a forest ranger and her mother a farmer – both displayed a great love for nature. After obtaining a degree in physics in her native country, she went on to study philosophy of science at the University of Guelph, Canada, and then proceeded to do research in nuclear physics at the University of West Ontario. After receiving her doctorate in quantum theory in 1978, she returned to India where she began to do inter-disciplinary research on environmental science, technology and politics at the Indian Science Institute and the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore.

In 1993, she was awarded the Right Livelihood Award for her work at putting issues regarding women and ecology at the centre of the international agenda for development. As years went by, Vandana Shiva achieved international fame, above all for her commitment against deforestation and the extinction of the extremely rich diversity of plants and animals present on our planet.

She is also known as an ‘eco-feminist’, and presently she directs the Navdanya Centre at Dehra Dun on the slopes of the Himalayas. Her commitment was also surely inspired by the Chipko Movement (in the local language, `chipko’ means ‘an embrace’) – a movement made up of Himalayan women farmers. In the seventies, to protect the trees of their forest – inspired by Gandhi’s non-violence principle – they decided to defend the trees with their own bodies, embracing them in a spirit of active struggle against deforestation.

Vandana Shiva’s ideas are characterized, first of all, with an emphasis that science and technology are called to favour growth and eliminate poverty, and not to alienate human beings from their natural habitat, which is their “common home”. Her perspective is based on the relationship between the human person and nature, starting with forests, and the correct use of agriculture.

In this context, Vandana Shiva promotes the safeguarding of biodiversity. She considers her writings to be an integral part of her commitment, which she sees as her true and proper mission. Thanks to her books, which are more than 25 in number, she gradually became a point of reference to Indian and other international movements which are critical of the idea that development means making the most profit.

The first dangers that nature and human beings face today are the centralization and the monopoly of power and control. As long as diversity is exempted from the logic of production, there is always enough space for sustainability, justice and peace. To cultivate and conserve diversity is not a luxury at our time: it is imperative for our survival.

Explicitly inspired by Gandhi’s principles, in particular “be yourself the change you want to see” and the practice of nonviolence (satyagraha), Vandana Shiva gave the Navdanya Movement which she founded this goal: “save the seeds, protect biodiversity and keep seeds and agriculture away from the control of monopolies.”

In her book Water Wars, she clearly sustains that wars for the control of water resources are not only a danger but also a reality, because the powerful private companies  are gradually taking over all the drinking water reserves of our planet. She wrote: “Water is a common good because it represents the ecological base of all life and because its sustainability and just distribution depend on the cooperation between the members of the community.” Therefore the struggle and the insistence for the fundamental right to water for all is a central element in Vandana Shiva’s commitment. This theme finds a direct link and an evident harmony with what Pope Francis affirmed in Laudato Si: “Yet access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights.”

In Bio-piracy, Vandana Shiva warns: “The Earth, the forests, the rivers, the oceans and the atmosphere have all been colonized, eroded and polluted. Money now must find new colonies to invade and exploit for its further accumulation. After having conquered the external spaces, this new colonization phase seeks to acquire the internal spaces, women’s bodies, the genetic patrimony of the plants and animals. Resistance to this bio-piracy means resistance to the definite colonization of life itself.”

It is interesting to know and to study in depth someone with such an impressive international standing as Vandana Shiva”. According to her, “science, as well as religion, is challenged by the environmental crisis; both are being asked to re-evaluate the natural habitat, and each one of them is being asked to reevaluate its dialogue with the other.”

Her endeavour and witness contribute to a better understanding of the present reality and of various affirmations found in the Pastoral Letter of Pope Francis Laudato Si. Moreover, they are a stimulus for a renewed commitment to inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue for a common approach toward sustainability and a wholesome ecology,” which Pope Francis proposes. After all, this is the goal of all those who have at heart the present and future wellbeing of humanity on this our fantastic planet.

(Mauro Mantovani) 

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