Vandana Shiva is quite simply an incredible woman. Her life and her work are supremely inspirational. Her words have moved me, displaced me and changed my mind. Very, very few things that I read actually cause me to stop and look at the world from a completely different angle. Her work and her words are world-changing and mind-altering.
I read Ecofeminism (co-written with Maria Mies, another amazing eco-feminist) about a year ago and was just stunned by this woman, by the clarity of her thoughts and her insights. This woman is SMART. She cuts right clear down to the quick and turns the whole world and its crapitalist, male supremacist bullshit on its head.
Dams, mines, energy plants, military bases – these are the temples of the new religion called ‘development’, a religion that provides the rationale for the modernizing state, its bureaucracies and technocracies. What is sacrificed at the alter of this religion is nature’s life and people’s life. The sacraments of development are made of the ruins and desecration of other sacreds, especially sacred soils. They are based on the dismantling of society and community, on the uprooting of people and cultures. Since soil is the sacred mother, the womb of life in nature and society, its inviolability has been the organizing principle for societies which ‘development’ has declared backward and primitive. But these people are our contemporaries. They differ from us not in belonging to a bygone age but in having a different concept of what is sacred, what must be preserved. The sacred is the bond that connects the part to the whole. The sanctity of the soil must be sustained, limits must be set on human action. From the point of view of the managers of development, the high priests of the new religion, sacred bonds with the soil are impediments and hindrances to be shifted and sacrificed. Because people who hold the soil as sacred will not voluntarily allow themselves to be uprooted, ‘development’ requires a police state and terrorist tactics to wrench them away from their homes and homelands, and consign them as ecological and cultural refugees into the wasteland of industrial society. Bullets, as well as bulldozers, are often necessary to execute the development project.
In India, the magnitude of this sacrifice is only now becoming evident. Victims of progress have, of course, experienced their own uprooting and have resisted it. But both the victims and the state perceived each sacrifice as a small one for the larger ‘national interest’. Over 40 years of planned development, the planned destruction of nature and society no longer appears negligible; and the larger ‘national interest’ turns out to be embodied in an elite minority without roots. Fifteen million people have been uprooted from their homelands in India during the past four development decades. They and their links with the soil, have been sacrificed to accommodated mines, dams, factories, and wildlife parks.
‘Development’ has meant the ecological and cultural rupture of bonds with nature, and within society, it has meant the transformation of organic communities into groups of uprooted and alienated individuals searching for abstract identities.
Colonialism and capitalism transformed land and soil from being a source of life and a commons from which people draw sustenance, into private property to be bought and sold and conquered; development continued colonialism’s unfinished task. It transformed man from the role of guest to predator. In a sacred space, one can only be a guest, one cannot own it. This attitude to the soil and earth as a sacrilized home, not private property, is characteristic of most Third World societies.
In indigenous communities, individuals have no property rights, instead, the entire tribe is the trustee of the land it occupies, and the community or tribe includes not only the currently living members but also the ancestors and future generations.
Development has converted soil from sacred mother into disposable object – to be ravaged for minerals that lie below, or drowned beneath gigantic reservoirs. The soil’s children, too, have been made disposable: mines and dams leave behind wastelands and uprooted people. The desacrilization of the soil as sacred space was an essential part of colonialism then and of development now.
In effect, the process of development leads to turning away from the soil as a source of meaning and survival, and turning to the state and its resources for both. The destruction of organic links with the soil also leads to the destruction of organic links within society. Diverse communities, co-operating with each other and the land become different communities competing with each other for the conquest of the land. The homogenization processes of development do not fully eliminate differences. These persist, not in an integrating context of plurality, but in the fragmenting context of homogenization. Positive pluralities give way to negative dualities, each in competion with every ‘other’, contesting the scarce resources that define economic and political power. The project of development is propounded as a source of growth and abundance. Yet by destroying the abundance that comes from the soil and replacing it by the resources of the state, new scarcities and new conflicts for scarce resources are created. Scarcity, not abundance, characterizes situations where nothing is sacred and everything has a price.
Vandana mentions the Chipko women’s movement in this vid. You can find out more about them here.