Friday, April 22, 2011

India, activism and a hoped-for plan!

Recently I visited the blog of Soraya Nulliah where I read her post:    
                                      Mother India...why are you killing your daughters?

(go here to read more about the genocide against India's girls)

I retweeted and reblogged her story on the 50 million Campaign. I explained to Soraya that I had plans to get to India if possible this or next year and had been in touch with the Earth University at Navdanya, near New Delhi... the enterprise set up by Dr Vandana Shiva whom I have posted on at this blog here and here... a world famous seed activist working on food sovereignty in India and around the planet. Winner of the Sydney Peace Prize she is an hugely important figurehead for empowerment of woman and men in her own country and beyond.

Navdanya means Nine Crops, which collectively represent India’s food security.
Navdanya started as a research programme at Research Foundation for science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE) to help support and guide environment activists. The Punjab Violence made farming and agriculture a fairly violent industry and Navdanya was born out of this quest to find non violent means to farming, especially through the protection of biodiversity and small farmers.
Navdanya’s mission is to support local farmers, rescue and conserve crops and plants that are being pushed to extinction and make them available through direct marketing.
More info on and at this excellent brochure here.

(Music 1, mixed media on canvas, 16" x 20", NFS)

Soraya has posted an interview with Indian author and human rights activist Rita Banerji here in two parts - Part 1 and  Part 2.

'Rita Banerji is an author, free-lance writer and photographer and a gender activist from India. Her  Sex and Power: Defining History, Shaping Societies was published by Penguin Books in 2008.  She is also the founder and chief administrator of The 50 Million Missing Campaign which works to raise awareness about and fight female genocide in India.
Her writings and photography have been published in magazines and newspapers in the USA, U.K., India, Nepal, Hong Kong and Australia.  The publications include The London Magazine, New Orleans Review, and India Today.  She blogs at Rita’s Blog' TEXT: website

From my garden
photo by Banerji

I've taken an excerpt from Part 2 because of Rita Banerji's connection with Dr Shiva.

You worked with the Chipko women’s movement under Dr. Vandana Shiva. Did that experience shape you in any way? If so, how? Can you share with us why ecofeminsm works and how it empowers women? What was it like for you personally to work with Dr. Shiva?
I was introduced to Dr. Shiva by Dr. Leslie Lovett-Doust, who is an ecologist and was also my freshman advisor. So that’s how I ended up in India as a Charles Dana fellow to do a project with her. I really liked working with her – because she gave me ample freedom and scope for individual judgment which I always need for any work I do. She gave me a couple of projects to choose from, and from there on I was on my own. I’d report to her once a week, and we’d discuss what I was doing and if there was any problem with anything. 

I had to create a herbarium of the species of plants in a 1 km radius, to establish the biodiversity of the region, and do a general ecological survey of this subvalley called the Sisiyaru-khala valley (in the Doon Valley), where lime stone industrialists were strip mining the mountains. The locals helped me first classify the herbarium according to the folk system – which is entirely use based (like food, fuel, fodder, medicine etc.) And then I did a scientific (Linnaen) classification of it, and that herbarium was used as evidence in court. Two years later, I was in the U.S. when I got a letter from my friends in the village telling me that they had won the case against that particular quarry and it had been shut down! So that felt great. 

Yes, it did have a big impact on me. I was veering towards genetics at that point in combination with ecology. But with the Chipco, the implication of eco-diversity in context of people, culture and lifestyles hit me in a big way. So when I eventually entered my Ph.D. program it was actually in conservation biology (more macro instead of micro – so I had evolution and ecology instead of genetics as tools of dealing with diversity and conservation). 
The thing about Eco-feminism, as promoted by Dr. Shiva and many others is that it sees parallels between the productivity and the exploitation of women and natural resources by a virulently patriarchal society. And I think that as enthusiastic as I was about this at that time, as I grew older and got more into the field, my perspective on this has evolved. I think that communities like the one in Nahi-kala that are isolated, (they had no roads or running water), and are very dependent on their environment will naturally move to protect their environment because that’s survival for them. And yes, women do spend more time in the fields and forests, but in communities like this, and from my observation even in more urban, sophisticated settings there are men who are just as tuned in or connected to the ecological rhythms of nature. Conversely, there are just as many women in some rural and more so in urban settings who are not in tune with the ecological rhythms of nature. In the U.S., studying native American tribal philosophy on nature (the famous quote by Chief Seattle about teaching your children that we are connected to the web of life and what we do the earth we do to ourselves), I am convinced men can be just as connected. It is not a male/female thing. 

 Here's a post from Rita Baneriji's blog on a topic that speaks precisely to the politics of food sovereignty that Vandana Shiva has worked tirelessly to bring to global attention.

When Potato Cartels Kill

A potato farmer, Maktabul Hussein, only 18 years old, committed suicide today in Jalpaiguri, in West Bengal.  Why? Because the price of potatoes have dropped so much that he could not make up the money to pay back the Rs. 500,000/- loans he had taken to cultivate his land.
Maktabul was getting only Rs. 1.80/kg for his potatoes.  And this is what is bizarre! Over the last few months everyone in town has been complaining about how the cost of potatoes has been soaring, along with that of onions, lentils and rice.  At one point potatoes was selling for Rs.20/kg! If the middle-class was feeling the pinch, just imagine how it has been for the poor.  Potato after all has been the poor’s sustenance! What more – recently the West Bengal government announced that there has been such a surplus of potatoes that they are going to be exporting them!
What are we supposed to gather from this? Is there a potato cartel at work here?  That odious middle-man?  Does he hoard the potatoes – and rips off the poor farmer who breaks his back cultivating it.  And then turns around rips off the customers by charging them 10 times the cost?
In the book Needless Hunger, the authors show that it was exactly this kind of food cartel that had resulted in Bangladesh’s famine, when hundreds died of starvation.
Talking biodiversity here's another post from the blog - click on title to go to blog post!

Why women in the Andes grew 4000 species of potatoes

Photo Credit: Association ANDES and Åsa Sonjasdotter.

I'll leave you with this to think on....

Founded by Dr Vindana Shiva:

Bija Vidyapeeth is Sanskrit for “Seed Learning Centre” with “bija” meaning 
literally “seed” as well as “origin” or “source.” The Bija Vidyapeeth seal also
 says “vasudhaiv kutumbakam” in Sanskrit. This means “one world family.”


Soraya Nulliah said...

Dear Sophie-thank you so much for drawing attention to this genocide against our girls-IT MUST STOP!!! And I am so glad you are interested in Dr. Siva's she an amazing woman or what? Hugs xxx

Sophie Munns said...

I was pleased to be able to share what is a harrowing story if it means it becomes more publicised.
Interesting that Rita Banerji's work took her to India and involvement with the work of Dr Shiva.
Will pop over soon!
S x

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