By Scott London – The Ecologist, 14 February 2016


Dr Vandana Shiva in Brussels as part of a tour to promote a new campaign and booklet: ‘The law of the seed’. Photo: GreensEFA via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)


Vandana Shiva is more than just a leading scientist, author and campaigner on green issues and anti-globalisation, writes Scott London. She is also among the most prominent of Mahatma Ghandi’s intellectual heirs. In this interview, she discusses how this led her to be an outspoken voice on such crucial environmental issues as seed legacy, biopiracy and economic injustice.

While Mahatma Gandhi is best remembered for his campaign to end British colonialism a half-century ago, the greater part of his life’s work was devoted to renewing India’s vitality and regenerating its culture from the ground up.

He was a tireless champion of what he called ‘swadeshi‘, or local self-sufficiency.

He felt that the soul of India was contained in the village community and that the freedom of the Indian people could only be achieved by creating a confederation of self-governing, self-reliant, self-employed people living in villages and deriving their right livelihood from the products of their homesteads.

As history would have it, Gandhi’s ideas were widely ignored following India’s independence, especially his teaching of frugality and resource conservation. Like many nations in the developing world, India flirted for a time with socialism but then abandoned it in favour of Western-style market reforms.

Today all the mainstream political parties in India are committed to a high-tech future, one that will most likely bring short-term economic prosperity to some Indians but not without long-term social and environmental consequences.

But there is a growing movement underway to reclaim Gandhi’s ideas. More and more people, in India and elsewhere, are beginning to question the value of free-market reforms and deregulation. As they see it, the push toward economic globalization has had a host of negative outcomes, from deepening economic disparities and overcrowded cities to ecological destruction and the flattening of local traditions and cultures.

One of the most prominent of Gandhi’s intellectual heirs is Vandana Shiva, a physicist and philosopher of science by training who has developed a considerable reputation as a champion of sustainability, self-determination, women’s rights, and environmental justice. She has written more than a dozen books, including Monocultures of the Mind, Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development, and Biopiracy.

She is also well-known in India for her grassroots efforts to preserve forests, organize women’s networks, and protect local biodiversity.

Vandana Shiva is the director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Natural Resource Policy in Dehra Dun. She is the recipient of numerous awards and prizes, including the 1998 Alfonso Comin award and the 1993 Right Livelihood Award, also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize. David Brower, the late environmentalist, once said that Shiva would be his choice for world president, if there were such a thing.