November 14th, 2007 05:30 EST
From quantum physicist to champion of sustainability and biodiversity, activist - Vandana Shiva
Even in her early childhood, Vandana Shiva, who was born in 1952 in a small village at the foot of the Himalayas, wanted to be a scientist like her role model Albert Einstein. A few years later this dream seemed to be being fulfilled for the radiant Indian. After living in Canada she left with a doctorate to go back to her homeland, but confronted with poverty, injustice and environmental destruction, she saw herself as obliged to work as an environmentalist and human rights advocate instead of pursuing her career as a physicist.
After her first jobs in interdisciplinary research on technology, the environment and politics at the "Indian Institute of Science" and the "Indian Institute of Management" in Bangalore, in 1982 she founded - in her mother`s old cowshed - the independent "Research Foundation for Science Technology and Ecology" in Dehra Dun, which she still heads today.
Instead of occupying herself with quantum physics and particles the alternative Nobel prize winner studied the multitude of tree species, forest plants and traditional agriculture of her homeland.
Learning from people
Side by side Vandana Shiva fought with the indigenous population in the first Indian environmental coalition, the Chipko Movement. Through their struggle the illiterate peasant women from the high Himalayas taught her anew to recognise the value of nature and the urgency of defending it. However Vandana also took something else from these women. Over the centuries it has mainly been the peasant women who have bred seeds which are optimal for the soil condition and environment, and have, through exchange and cross-breeding, and have developed an astonishing agricultural biodiversity. It is estimated that in India alone there were more than 50000 rice varieties. Today, with a lot of effort, it is possible to find about 300 traditional varieties, and perhaps a handful more exported by international companies.
For many years Vandana Shiva has worked for the rights of small peasants in India, who due to the global genetic engineering industry who are losing control over their own seeds. In the activist`s own words: "Over the past two decades every issue I have been engaged in as an ecological activist and organic intellectual has revealed that what the industrial economy calls `growth` is really a form of theft from nature and people".
Her campaigning for self-determined ways of development, which began as an Indian grassroots initiative, led her to directly criticize international industry and trade circles.
Only with the coming of globalisation did this multifaceted theft reach the public consciousness. With the conclusion of the Uruguay Round within the framework of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) in 1994 and the founding of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) an institutional and legal framework was founded on the basis of theft from people and nature. "The WTO agreement on trade-related aspects of intellectual property (TRIPs) criminalises the storage of a portion of a harvest for planting the next year as well as the millenia-old practice of exchanging seeds between farmers", according to the globalisation critic. In addition, the agricultural agreement legalises the inundation of all countries with genetically modified food crops and criminalises the protection of biological and cultural diversity, on which the variety of nutritional systems depends.
For Shiva, life in its entire multiplicity and distinctiveness is a treasure to be protected. For this reason the author has involved herself in campaigning for life, diversity of species and the sovereignty of human communities.
Democracy and Diversity of Species Against Genetic Engineering and Biopiracy Vandana Shiva`s understanding of democracy (Earth-Democracy) goes far beyond the dominant Western definition. In addition to the classical rights such as a principle of universal suffrage, she reclaims the freedom of development for individual life-forms and the sovereignty of peoples over water resources, food and quality of clothing. She invokes the universal validity of ecological natural laws and constantly questions the validity of international trade agreements.
Vandana`s work is also convincing for many because she is not content with exposing and denouncing existing deplorable circumstances, but also highlights alternatives to the monopolisation of life and natural resources. Among other positions, she is also a member of the World Future Council. As well as resistance, and the formulation of creative alternatives, she counters the centralised power of multinational corporations with decentralised structures based on peaceful co-existence. Through the Navdanya-Movement, which she co-founded in 1991, she is involved in preserving seeds and keeping agriculture free from monopoly control. Through the years Navdanya has supported countless initiatives and projects for the safeguard of natural resources. On 5th November Vandana Shiva turned 55 years old. Her tireless fight for a more just world has so far lasted thirty years, in which she has achieved a great deal.
Everything is linked to everything
Even though her engagement for ecological diversity and a just global market currently define Vandana Shiva`s life, physics still holds meaning for her. She is grateful that her training as a quantum physicist helped her to deal with the complex questions she occupies herself with. She transfers insights from quantum theory to human ecological actions. In the end everything is connected with everything else, says the environmentalist. Vandana still holds one wish: at least in her retirement to be able to go back to physics and to be able to again indulge in her passion.
On the first of December " ethecon - Foundation Ethics & Economics" is awarding this year`s "Blue Planet Award" to honour the commitment and engagement of the Indian activist VANDANA SHIVA.
Further Informations: http://www.ethecon.org/ethecon.php?id=305
ethecon - Foundation Ethics & Economics
Elena Matin Casais
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