February 7, 2020

Seven things we learned from Dr Vandana Shiva

From understanding the true meaning of development to finding inspiration in Gandhi—here are important lessons for anyone fighting for a cause, and standing up to power.

2 min read

Dr Vandana Shiva is a physicist, environmental activist, and food sovereignty and anti-globalisation advocate. She founded the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, and Navdanya, an organisation which promotes biodiversity conservation, organic farming, and the rights of farmers. She has authored more than 20 books, on topics ranging from the ill-effects of the Green Revolution, to the idea of Ecofeminism.

Here, she shares wisdom from her long journey in biodiversity conservation.

1. Self-organisation and solidarity are fundamental to driving change

The Chipko movement, which began in 1972, was a non-violent response by women against large-scale deforestation in the Himalayan region. The women clung to trees to protect them from getting cut. Dr Shiva started her ecological movement by working with these women.

The Chipko movement was not funded. It was self-organised, and it showed how one has to use the resources one has, rather than external inputs, to build a successful movement.

Related article: The environmental movement has made a few mistakes

2. Women of the Chipko movement understood the principles of quantum physics

Dr Shiva was trained as a scientist in quantum physics, and its foundational principles have guided her in her work as an environmental activist. Some of those principles are: potential (the value of something is not fixed, but it expresses itself in a context) and non-separation (different elements in an environment are not separate, but interact with each other).

When she later joined the Chipko movement, Dr Shiva realised that the women of the movement understood these principles and adopted them in their work.

3. Diversity allows freedom and creates potential

In this age of environmental degradation, the future is uncertain, and we fear it because we have been made to cling to certainty. But in reality, uncertainty is where the potential for change lies. It is what gives us options for a better future.

4. Development is not an economic term; it’s a human, ecological term

The word development has been co-opted by economists to justify destroying forests and uprooting people from their land. But that is not true development. Built-in, transformation from within is the real meaning of development.

5. The dominant development model of today is destroying democracy

The development model today is one of limitless growth; it does not know when to stop growing. This in turn is destroying the limits of democracy, i.e., the Constitution.

6. Being guided by one’s conscience is where courage comes from

The forces that are intent on destroying our biodiversity are rich and powerful. So, what does it take to challenge them? It takes fearlessness, which comes from being guided and aligned by one’s conscience.

7. In dark times, Gandhi finds a place for light

When faced with challenge and hopelessness, Dr Shiva turned to Gandhi and his principles. And from him she learned that to make a change, one has to do, and not just talk.

Tanisha Kamat contributed to this article. 

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Saahil Kejriwal Profile
Saahil Kejriwal

Saahil is a programme associate at Centre for Effective Governance of Indian States (CEGIS). Previously, he was an associate at IDR, and worked as an instructional designer at NIIT Ltd before that. Saahil has completed the Young India Fellowship, a postgraduate diploma in liberal studies, from Ashoka University, and holds a BA in economics from Hansraj College, University of Delhi. He spent his early years in Guwahati, Assam.

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