Patrick Pittman on Vandana Shiva
There are forces of nature, and then there is Vandana Shiva. Hers is a name close to the lips of anybody engaged in questions of sustainable agriculture, of social justice, of globalisation, of any of the great sociocultural fights of the past couple of decades.
Wherever there is a pulpit, where there is land and tradition to protect, she’ll be there. She is loved or she is loathed, depending on who you talk to, but she is clearly a woman with a mission—to fight the rise of Big Agriculture, and the end of biodiversity.
Born in 1952 in India’s Dehradun Valley, in the Uttarakhand state at the foothills of the Himalayas, Vandana didn’t start out intending to be an activist. Or an environmental warrior. Or an eco-feminist. Or a thorn in the side of global finance and trade. She started out in quantum physics, something her school didn’t even teach, but which she taught herself well enough to eventually study for a PhD in Canada. Somewhere in there, she met the tree huggers of the Chipko movement in the forests of Uttarakhand, the forests her father worked when she was a child, and it became clear that a life other than the one she intended lay in front of her. The scientist would have to take up the placards.
These days she spends her life travelling the world, floating from confab to confab, angering, agitating, and inspiring. She’s published countless books, led countless movements, pissed off countless executives. Sometimes, when she’s lucky, she returns to New Delhi, where her Navdanya organisation leads the fight for biodiversity and access to patent-free seeds for farmers.
I’ve spoken to a lot of activists over the years, whose rage against the machine has turned into bitter and hardworn cynicism. Nobody has fought or raged harder than Vandana Shiva, and yet she does not speak with weariness. She speaks of a fight that must continue, against a specific set of ideas. Whether or not the fight is winnable, that’s not the point—all one can do, when one is asked, is to join the fray.