interviewed by Scott
an Outlook", aired
on National Public Radio stations across the United States and on Radio For
Peace International. The series was produced at KCBX in San Luis Obispo, California.
As one of India most respected scientists and activists, Vandana Shiva is
a leading proponent of environmental sustainability and social justice. She
has coordinated a wide range of grassroots networks, from highly publicized
efforts to pursuing Indian forests, to peoples programs on biodiversity,
to broad based campaigns against the World Bank. Much of her work is aimed
at counter-development, in favor of people-centered participatory systems.
She has also developed a considerable reputation in the West, mainly as a
writer on issues having to do with the global economy and its effects on traditional
societies. She has written more than a dozen books, including "Monocultures
of the Mind," "Staying Alive," "Women, Ecology, and Development".
In 1993 she was awarded the prestigious "Right Livelihood Award,"
also known as the alternative Nobel Prize. When I spoke to her on a recent
visit to the United States, I asked her how her training as a physicist and
philosopher of science led to the work she is now doing on Social, Womens
and Environmental issues.
- I did Physics because of my love for nature, and as young students of
science, thats what youre taught. That this is the way to know
nature. So, my travels through Physics, really, are the same edges that
make me travel through Ecology now. They are not really different. Except
that there is an added dimension of seeing ecological destruction, seeing
the very life support that makes us survive on this planet being destroyed,
and that makes me do more than just inquiry, makes me compelled to act and
intervene. Im a woman. I was born the daughter of a feminist. The
granddaughter of a feminist grandfather, and I dont think I could
have avoided working on womens issues. I dont do it as a sort
of career, or profession or organizational existence. It is my very essence
of being a human being. And when I find too many puzzles about the way explanations
are given about why there is inequality, why people who work the hardest
in the world end up being the poorest
I cant just sit back and
not trying to understand why the gaps between people are increasing, why
there are more homeless, more hungry people in the world, all these issues
of justice, of ecology, of a scientific inquiry into nature through Physics,
to me they come from, you know, the same sources of mobilization of my spirit.
In one sense, I havent really moved, I have just traveled on, on the
- Is it unusual for an Indian woman to be interested in Physics and to pursue
a doctorate in that field? Were you an exception in that sense?
- I was unusual, and in fact, I cant still figure out what inspired
me to do Physics. But since I was 9 or 10 years old, I wanted to be a physicist.
I wanted to be like Einstein. He was my hero. I knew no physicists. I knew
no scientists. I had nobody around me. I went to a convent, which didnt
have higher Mathematics and Physics. And I self-taught myself these subjects
to get into University. But I think, given that I was interested in Physics,
it was easier for me to do Physics in India. I think the structures of exclusion
are more systematically built up in American society, for example, so that
young girls interested in science eventually loose their confidence over
time. And the structures of exclusion work against them. We have other structures
of exclusion, but we dont have structures of exclusion around modern
scientific knowledge. So, if you can make it, nobody stops you. Nobody defines
it as something women shouldnt be doing. And, in a way, there are
more mathematicians, more doctors, more scientists in India than there are
in this country women in professions that
for women to entry. We even had a woman head of state. And thats something
this society has to catch up with.
- Thats right. And so, you took your masters in Physics and
then you went on to get a doctorate in the Philosophy of Science.
- I went on to follow my interest in the foundations of Quantum Theory.
I had started out at nuclear Physics. I became more sensitized to the environmental
and health implications of a nuclear system, and even though I was being
trained to be the first woman in the fast breeder reactor in India, and
I was in that reactor when it first went critical, and it was very exciting
this kind of split between the safety aspect of the nuclear system and the
intellectual excitement, I couldnt be comfortable with that. So I
went into Theoretical Physics. I did my masters in Elementary Particles,
but the foundations of Elementary Particles is Quantum Theory and there
were too many conceptual problems around Quantum Theory that I couldnt
live with, and so I decided
I went to work on the foundations of Quantum
and thats what I did my PhD on. Ive never left
Physics because it bored me. Ive left Physics because other issues
compelled me in a bigger way. And I always say to myself
I would like to go back to what I interrupted.
- What were some of the issues that compelled you on those early days?
- The early days
the first issue that compelled me was a very strange
split between India having extremely high scientific development. We were
the third biggest scientific manpower in the world and yet, the amazing
poverty, and the linear equation that had being made that if you have enough
more than science you will have progress, you will have poverty removal.
Why wasnt it happening? Something was wrong. Something was different.
So, understanding the social context of science and technology started to
become one of my imperatives. The other was the fact that in the areas where
I had grown up, in the Himalayan Forest, we had a movement blossoming, called
the "Chipko movement," where peasant women were coming out, embracing
trees, stopping logging, and my father had been a forester. I had grown
up on those hills. I had seen the forest disappear. I had seen streams disappear
and I had just sort of literally jumped into this movement with the peasant
women, and started to work with them, having them as my teachers in terms
of what forests mean, for a rural woman in India, in terms of firewood and
affordable medicine plants, and the rich knowledge. It became very clear
that my father, who was a scientifically trained forester knew something
about forest, but these women knew about every looking corner of their local
ecosystem. And knew much more about the local diversity than any trained
forester ever could. So, I learned from them and I worked for them. Id
write their reports. Id write their counter-reports and thats
what made me leave University teaching, to start an institute called The
Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy.
A very big name for a very humble objective, which was to put research at
the service of grassroots movements, not just at the baffle. At the service
of the baffle in society. The government research works for that. All private
research works for that. And I saw insights, I saw brilliant issues coming
out from the movements that needed better articulation, that needed elaboration,
more systematic analysis. And I just followed that. It has been exciting.
- Whats interesting is that much of the emphasis today on growth and
development and progress in general, is sort of predicated on science and
scientific thinking. And even though you are schooled in this area, you
are now working on alternatives to it.
- Well, my training in science is actually a training that is very critical
of mechanistic science. Im trained in Quantum Theory, which was already
at the turn of the century, we had a whole century a sort
of, you know, behind
absorbing the leaps that Quantum Theory made
of the human mind. One that the idea that things, objects have properties
in them, in fixed ways, is an incorrect idea about the world. Properties
are created through relationships and forces. They are not inherent. In
electrons, of photons, of quanta, as much as in trees, and soils and in
people. So, my critique of a modern science that it is reductionist, that
is very mechanistic, is really a critique I have inherited from my scientific
training. It has got deepened with my experience in the way ecological destruction
is taken place. My evolution as an ecologist and my reading of this is basically
that the dominant structures of science are extremely good at many pleating
objects for single functions and external objectives. So if you want a cow
to not be a cow but a milk machine, we can do a very good job by creating
new hormones, like the bovine growth hormone. It might make the cow very
ill, it might have to turn it into a drug addict, it might even create consumers
scares about health and safety aspects of this milk, but weve got
so used to manipulating objects, organisms, and ecosystems for a single
objective, which I call "The Monoculture of the Mind," and in
the dimension of monocultures, of course, this is very, very clever. But
in the multiple dimension, in the dimension of diversity, it is extremely
crude, because what we have lost out on is cattle as sources of energy,
as sources of sustainable energy. In India this has meant that cross-breading
programs are mimicking the milk hills of Western cows like the Jerseys and
the Holsteins then get rid of the capacity of animals to pull plows and
puller carts. So, we have humpless cattle through cross-breading programs
with no stamina. And if you see cattle as both sources of organic manure,
animal energy, as well as milk products, India cattle are not that inferior.
Its only when you measure them as milk machines, they become inferior.
But when have we measured the dairy cows of America, or Jersey or the Swiss
Alps in terms of their work functions? They would be terribly inferior if
we had the energy objective for improving livestock. So, the single one-dimensional
development has created the monoculture of the mind. The monoculture of
the mind has become a self-fulfilling prophecy of improvement. And this
is the root of why we have pitted equity against ecology, sustainability
- We have tended to justify these monocultures in the name of growth in
- Well, let me develop that a little more. If we say something has to grow,
because people need more food, people need more housing, people need more
meat, people need more milk, we can make one thing grow in a certain way,
even though we create externalities so there are scarcities in related things.
So, there are scarcities in drinking water when you pollute your ground
water with nitrates. There is scarcity in diversity when you create huge
corn fields with the same strain of corn, so that when one disease strikes
in the 70s and all the corn fields of this country were wiped out,
which is when, for the first time the United States realized the value of
diversity in agriculture, and the discussion on genetic resources and the
conservation came up. So, when you take the entire system into account,
ways of developing in one dimension can actually create scarcities, therefore
you are not getting more. The entire system of technological production
in the way we have it has been justified on creating more goods, to feed
more people, to provide more needs, but it destroys more of the resources
that we need to meet all those multiple needs. Therefore, enormous destruction
and resource scarcity for the poor and resource access is intimately connected.
If we shift to an ecological perception, if we shift to a diversity perception
we realize that some of the instruments of which we are very proud are actually
extremely primitive instruments for dealing with nature. And that to me
is the real lesson of the ecological awareness, at the end of the millennium.
- Im speaking with the ecologist and philosopher Vandana Shiva. She
is the author of many books, including "Staying Alive," "Monocultures
of the Mind," and "The Future of Progress". This is "Insight
an Outlook". Im Scott London.
You said that the most critical issue confronting the world at the end
of the millennium is a dual one: the need for ecological sustainability
and social justice. And you see these two issues as linked. But I think
many Americans dont see them as being related. You know, we tend to
regard social justice as something quite different from ecological sustainability.
- For me, the two are very closely linked, partly because my ecological
lessons really have come from those margins of Indian society, which is
the 70% of India that lives directly in terms of a dependence on national
resources. It could be the biodiversity, it could be the land, it could
be the forest, the water. 70% of India is agricultural producers. Nature
is their means of production and for them, injustice is the same as ecological
destruction, when the forest is destroyed, when the river is dammed, when
the biodiversity is stolen, when the fields are waterlogged or turned saline
because of economic activities
I think, globally, we have reached
the stage when we have to find the solutions for economic injustice, in
the same place, in the same ways in which we find the solutions for sustainability.
Sustainability on environmental grounds and justice in terms of everyone
having a place in the production and consumption system they are
the same phenomena and they have to be put back again in the way of thinking.
They have been artificially separated.
- Well, something that you have worked on a lot, and that I would like to
touch on a little bit is
You work on patents and your project conserves
- Yes, there is
right now, and its a phenomenon that really
started out in the United States
. a claim being made to patenting
life forms, biodiversity and the innovation of other cultures. For example,
the patent on pesticides from the "nim" tree in India, or the
use of a hub called "philantus neruri," or even more blatantly,
the use of turmeric for healing wounds, which is something every mother
and grandmother do in every home, and now the Mississippi Medical Center
claims to have invented this capacity of turmeric to heal wounds.
- Yes, you are right about this. You describe a very dramatic example of
where some Americans actually come to India and take, what are very commonly
- Indigenous science. Actually, it is innovation through indigenous science.
- This is wisdom that has been among the people for many, many generations.
- Absolutely. Its common knowledge. And according to patent systems
you shouldnt be able to patent what exists as prior art. The United
States patent system is somewhat perverted. First of all, it does not treat
the prior art of other societies as prior art. And therefore anyone from
the US can go out, find out the use of a medicinal plant or find a seed
that farmers use, come back here, claim it as an invention, claim it as
an innovation, take a patent on it and grab an exclusive right to the use
of the product or processes that are linked with that knowledge. I have
called this the phenomena of Biopiracy and Intellectual Piracy.
- What are some of the other examples? You mentioned the "nim"
I am just being told that Nestlé has taken out patents
on making "polal." You know, polal is the way we make our eyes,
without the vegetables or meat, whatever
And before you know it, every
common use of plants, of food processing, will be a patent owned by a Western
corporation. To me, this is an absolute outrage. Its worse than slave
trade. Because what is being traded is the very knowledge that makes survival
possible for 80% of this world. 80% of the people of this world live on
the biodiversity and
And it creates a situation where the common
uses in peoples lives over time become monopolies of a handful of
corporations: the pharmaceutical corporations, the agribusiness corporations,
the agrochemical corporations, who then turn people incapable of looking
after their own needs, where every farmer must go to the seed industry every
year to buy their seed, or pay 80% royalties, which is already happening
in this country. Over-the-fence exchange is starting to be treated as a
crime and as theft, and as an infringement. Or every time someone needs
a biological pest control, instead of just using your main seed in your
backyard, you depend on the grace or of the corporations. That kind of dependency
basically means increased poverty and increased ecological disruption.
- How do you, and the women you work with counter this?
- Oh, we have a very multiple level program of resistance. The first is
challenging it, as a moral, an ethical issue, just like slave trade was
challenged. But you cant trade in people. You cant buy their
knowledge. Its illegitimate and shouldnt be done. The second
is working on legal alternatives. One of the movements we have developed
is to say that just like intellectual property rights are relevant to, actually,
individual invention, what we need is common rights to protect the common
intellectual heritage of peoples. Indigenous peoples. And these are rights
that are recognized through the convention on biological diversity. We are
working to make sure that these become foundations of our jurisprudence.
That these ideas are the basis through which our intellectual property rights
laws are formed. And we would go all the way from the grassroots to the
national government, and all the way to the World Trade Organization and
... Basically what it means is that it is all very multidimensional in our
campaigns and thats what part of the fun is. It works towards resistance
and creativity. Its a more constructive action, while saying no.
- Do you like in it at all to some of the work that Gandhi did, in terms
of his emphasis on peaceful non-cooperation, and so on
- In fact, we called, when we started making these challenges, we called
them the "Seeds of satyagraha". Now Gandhi had started the independence
movement with the satyagraha. Satyagraha means the struggle for truth. Satyagraha
was a direct action in non-cooperation. When the British were trying to
create salt monopolies, he went to the beach in Dandee, picked up salt and
said: nature has given this for free. It is meant to sustain us. We will
not allow it to become a monopoly to finance the imperial armies. We have
done exactly those kinds of actions around biodiversity and seed, that nature
has gifted this rich biological diversity to us. We will not allow it to
become the monopoly of a handful of corporations. We will keep it as the
richness of nature and the richness of people and the basis of their wealth
and the basis of their sustenance and, for us, not cooperating in the monopoly
regimes of intellectual property rights and patents and biodiversity say
more to patents on life and developing the intellectual ideas of resistance
is very much a continuation of Gandhis satyagraha
It is keeping
life in its diversity that is the satyagraha for the next millennium. It
is what the ecology movement must engage, not just in India, but in the
US, where people who believe in the freedom of ideas should engage in, wherever
they are, because the world of ideas is being closed, through new patent
laws, where University teachers cant teach their students freely because
they have taken a grant from a corporation and the products of their mind
are owned by that corporation.
- We were talking about Gandhi a moment ago. Who are some of your other
- Like I told you earlier, Einstein quite clearly was a big role model.
I hear that, nowadays, all kinds of rumors, that he played the fool with
women and was very nasty to his wife and maybe if I had know all that he
wouldnt have been such a hero, but I also do sculpting sometimes when
I get the time and the first thing I sculpted was a bust of Einstein and
his sisters. Its on my table. It still inspires me, because at least
the Einstein I knew was really a person who triggered my imagination, my
ideas. Gandhi is the other person because I believe Gandhi is the only person
who knew about real democracy. Not democracy as the right to go and buy
what you want, but democracy as the responsibility to be accountable to
everyone around you. Democracy to be really free through societal freedom,
freedom from hunger, freedom from unemployment, freedom from fear, freedom
from hatred, to me those are the real freedoms on the basis of which good
human societies are based. The women of Chipko are real good models for
me. And people like S. Guna, whove been part of Chipko. Over time,
having worked now for years and years on a number of issues, there is really
a handful of creative people across the world who constantly inspire in
their interactions, which is what makes this kind of work exciting.
- Are you generally hopeful that youll be able to turn things around
- Well, Im absolutely confident that things will change. I believe
that we will see a lot of destruction, but I believe that if we can see
the right patterns and draw the right lessons from that destruction, we
might be able to rebuild before its too late. And then I have that
ultimate optimism that, even if we cant, life will rebuild itself.
And, in a way, the global economy might collapse, but Gaia wont
peoples ingenuity wont and we will rebuild society, we will
rebuild local economies, we will rebuild human aspirations, and the kind
of global monoculture, in which everyone is feeling paralyzed, and everyone
is feeling like they have to run faster than theyre running just to
stay in the same place
I think we will have a disenchantment with
the glamour of the dream of globalization. That I can see happening even
before this millennium ends.
I was speaking with Indian physicists and ecologist Vandana Shiva. Shes
the director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural
Resource Policy, in Deradaan, India. Her many books included "Monocultures
of the Mind", "Staying Alive," "Women, Ecology and Development."