Vandana Shiva: Violence against women, the earth, seed and farmers

Democracy Now!

Vandana Shiva on Int’l Women’s Day: "Capitalist Patriarchy Has Aggravated Violence Against Women"

AMY GOODMAN: We continue our conversation on this International Women’s Day with world-renowned feminist, activist, thinker from India, Dr. Vandana Shiva. India witnessed nationwide protests earlier this year following the brutal gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student in Delhi in December. The rape brought attention to other instances of sexual violence in India, where one woman is raped every 20 minutes, according to the national crime registry there. The conviction rates in the rape cases in India have decreased from 46 percent in 1971 to 26 percent in 2012.

To talk more about the significance of International Women’s Day, we go to Los Angeles to speak with Vandana Shiva, where she’s on tour right now. She’s the author of many books, including Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace, Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development. Her most recent book is Making Peace with the Earth.

Vandana, welcome to Democracy Now! As you travel in the United States from India right now—you’re an environmental leader, you’re a feminist, you’re a scientist—what is your message on this International Women’s Day?

VANDANA SHIVA: I’m here in Los Angeles to address a conference on International Women’s Day on global ecologies, on how globalization, shaped by a very patriarchal mindset, a capitalist, patriarchal mindset, has actually aggravated the violence against women, that we are living in a very violent economic order to which war has become essential—war against the earth, war against women’s bodies, war against local economies and war against democracy. And I think we need to see the connections between all these forms of violence, which impact women most. Whether it’s climate change or biodiversity erosion or seed monopolies, all of it is connected. It’s one piece.

AMY GOODMAN: Vandana Shiva, talk about the activism in India right now against violence against women and how that fits into your overall issue, especially as you deal with issues like the environment.

VANDANA SHIVA: You know, my recognition that there was a very deep connection between the women’s movement in India and the protection of the environment started in the early '70s with the very inspiring movement called Chipko, where I became a volunteer as a young student. "Chipko" means to hug. And women of my region came out and said, "You can't cut these forests. These forests protect our soil, our water. They’re not timber mines." Ten years of protest it took to eventually have the government recognize that the first function of the forests of the Himalaya is to provide stable water supply to avoid floods and drought, not the value of the square foot of timber after a tree is cut.

Today, the protests that are taking place are a result of a number of things. First, the young, rising middle class woke up to the fact that the new India was not safe for women and young men. After all, that young woman who was raped brutally had a friend who was attacked brutally. And therefore, for the first time, the demand for safety for women was joined by a large number of young men.

I think the second thing that became so clear through those protests in December and January is that the government, which should be protecting people, the state which should be protecting people, is afraid of people, and so there were attacks—water cannons, tear gas—and young people who were living innocently in India realized we are living in a militarized police system. That wake-up call to larger democracy, larger issues of freedom, I think, is a big shift in the consciousness of the Indian public.

Of course, in the coastal Orissa, where three people have just been killed about four days ago, because Wall Street, which now owns this Korean steel plant, which is investing in India to create one of the biggest steel plants of the world, wants 4,500 acres. That’s a war against the land and against the earth and against women. Soni Sori, a young tribal woman, arrested, raped, tortured, just because she was telling the world how there is a war going on in the heart of India, which has created a Naxalite movement. Thirty percent of India is not controlled by the government.

This violent economic order can only function as a war against people and against the earth, and in that war, the rape against women is a very, very large instrument of war. We see that everywhere. And therefore, we have to have an end to the violence against women. If we have to have the dignity of women protected, then the multiple wars against the earth, through the economy, through greed, through capitalist, patriarchal domination, must end, and we have to recognize we are part of the earth. The liberation of the earth, the liberation of women, the liberation of all humanity is the next step of freedom we need to work for, and it’s the next step of peace that we need to create.

AMY GOODMAN: Vandana Shiva, I was wondering if you can comment on this David-versus-Goliath case that the Supreme Court heard, the 75-year-old farmer from Indiana against Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company. The dispute began when the soybean farmer Vernon Bowman bought and planted a mix of unmarked grain typically used for animal feed. Monsanto said their patented seed was there. He planted it. He violated their patents. They own something like 90 percent of soybeans in Indiana, containing the gene which allows it to survive when sprayed with the company’s Roundup pesticide. Can you talk about the significance of this case, as you take on Monsanto in India and around the world, as well?

VANDANA SHIVA: I think this case is not just about Bowman, the Indiana farmer. It’s about every farmer, every person and every seed in the world. First, the idea that Monsanto can patent a seed by putting a toxic gene for Roundup resistance into a plant, that that is a creation of seed, that has evolved over millennia, been bred over thousands of years in East Asia, not by Monsanto—how can we be governed by an illusion that introducing a toxic gene is creation of life? It’s an error. And it is this error that compelled me 26 years ago to start Navdanya, the movement for seed saving in India, because I do not think seed is invented, and therefore, a patent on seed is wrong from the first step.

Secondly, actually, Roundup-resistant seeds are not controlling weeds. They have created superweeds. Fifty percent of the farmland of the U.S. is now overtaken by superweeds. Monsanto actually should be paying two compensations to farmers: one, for putting so toxic genes into the plant and contaminating others’ crops; second, for creating an unreliable, failed technology that is leading to more lethal herbicides like 2,4-D, a component of Agent Orange, from being used.

In India, this kind of false claim to creation, false claim to invention, the collection of royalties from seed, has led to Monsanto controlling 95 percent of the cottonseed supply, 95 percent through a monopoly, not through the choice of the farmers, as it’s often made out to be. Farmers are getting indebted because the price of seed jumped 8,000 percent, and there’s no option, except the little options we are creating through Navdanya by saving open-pollinated seed.

Two hundred and seventy thousand Indian farmers have committed suicide since Monsanto entered the Indian seed market. That’s more than a quarter-million. It’s a genocide. And every farmer who commits suicide leaves behind a widow. For me, this is a prime example of violence against women through violent economic means.

And I do hope that the Supreme Court will act for the larger public good. And if it fails to do so, because we, too, get affected, let us call globally for a seed satyagraha. A satyagraha is the fight for truth. When the British tried to monopolize salt, Gandhi walked to the beach and said, "Nature gives it for free; we will continue to make our salt." We need to tell Monsanto and the governments of the world, they’ve received these seeds from nature, from our ancestors, from communities across the world. We have a duty to protect them. A law that says saving seed, growing seed and our seed freedom is a crime is a law that must be made illegal. We have to act for higher law, the law of the earth, the law of social justice and, most importantly, the law of women’s knowledge and women’s skills in seed saving. As long as seed was in woman’s hand, no crop failed, no farmer committed suicide. As soon as seed moved into Monsanto’s hands, we have illegitimate laws, we have genocide, we have ecocide, we have butterflies and bees being killed, we have soil organisms being killed. This is no future for humanity or the earth.

AMY GOODMAN: Vandana Shiva, I want to thank you so much for being with us, environmental leader, feminist thinker from India. She’s in Los Angeles now speaking on International Women’s Day and will be at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden on Saturday speaking, as well. Among her many books, Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace, as well as Making Peace with the Earth.

I will be speaking tomorrow night at Lincoln Center, Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, 10 Lincoln Center Plaza. I’ll be interviewing Dave Riker after his film. The film showing is at 7:30, and we’ll be doing a Q&A afterwards.