Recent Resources for Feminists
Monday July 21, 2014
10 deaths a month during sterilisation ops in last 3 yrs
By Aditi Tandon, Tribune News Service
Scroll down to also read of the Politics behind and Appalling conditions within India's Female Sterilization Camps
New Delhi: As many as 10 persons died every month during sterilisation operations across the country over the past three years and 413 surgeries conducted under the family planning programme aimed at population stabilisation, failed.
The data on sterilisation (tubectomies for women and vasectomies for men) surgeries, which the Ministry of Health recently submitted to Parliament, shows that between 2010-11 and 2013-14, at least 363 persons died during sterilisation operations and 14,901 surgeries failed. Analysis of the data reveals that there were 15,264 cases of deaths, failures and severe complications and Rs 50.76-crore compensation was given to affected persons or their next of kin in cases of deaths.
This translates into an average compensation of a meager Rs 33, 255 per person who died or whose surgery failed during sterilisation. Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and Assam lead the mortality and failure charts.
The data serves as a grim reminder to poor management of the family planning programme which relies heavily on sterilisations, mainly of women. Male sterilisation continues to be low at a mere 4 per cent of the total figure annually.
Statistics show that the management of sterilisation leaves much to be desired. "The other problem is the continued dependence on mass sterilization camps which doctors conduct in unhygienic conditions on poor women mostly without seeking their informed consent or telling them what such an operation entails," says activist Devika Biswas, who had two years ago petitioned the Supreme Court against mass sterilisation camps. The SC is hearing the matter which Human Rights Law Network is fighting.
Experts say unsafe sterilisation camps which mostly target women are the root cause of deaths and failures in the family planning programme which is voluntary by law. The SC had in 2005 laid down guidelines for such camps but these are hardly followed.
June 20, 2013
Inside India's Female Sterilization Camps
By Andrew MacAskill
(Mustafa Quraishi/AP Photo)
Sumati Devi knew before she arrived at the grimy government clinic in northern India that she would be paid to be sterilized. She didn't know that she would lie on an operating table with bloody sheets, that the scalpel used on her would be stained with rust, or that she was supposed to get counseling on other birth control methods before consenting to have her fallopian tubes cut and tied. The main reason Devi agreed was that the $10 she received about a week.s wages for a poor family would help feed her three children. "I did it out of desperation," says Devi, 25, as she lies on the concrete floor recuperating at the clinic in Bihar state. "We need the money. Health officials came to our home. They told us it would be best."
India carries out about 37 percent of the world.s female sterilizations. Quotas set by state governments and financial incentives for doctors contributed to 4.6 million women being sterilized last year, many for cash and in the unsanitary conditions Devi encountered. Vasectomies accounted for just 4 percent of all sterilizations. "Women are the easiest prey, whether it.s government officials or their husbands asking them to undergo the operation," says Kerry McBroom of New Delhi-based Human Rights Law Network, which provided the lawyer for an ongoing court case against the government that was filed last year. The lawsuit documents the brutal practices at sterilization camps, where large numbers of women are gathered to have the procedure, and calls on the Supreme Court to issue guidelines to prevent abuse.
Only about half of Indian couples of child-bearing age practice modern birth control methods, United Nations data show. The government doesn.t pursue the costly option of teaching often-illiterate women how to use contraceptives. One in five babies born worldwide is Indian, straining supplies of land, food, and water. "A fast-growing population affects everything: the economy, the environment, quality of life," says Vishwanath Koliwad, secretary general of the Family Planning Association of India, an advocacy group.
Outside the clinic in the town of Sonhoula, 33 women who signed up for surgery line up in the heat as guards carrying bamboo sticks watch over them. They are led into a dimly lit room, with bare concrete floors, and placed on makeshift operating tables propped up with bricks. A.K. Das, the surgeon at the clinic, moves from one operating table to the next as he makes an incision below the navel in each woman, then cuts and ties their fallopian tubes. The patients are laid shoulder-to-shoulder on the floor in a separate room to recuperate. Das, who spends three minutes on each operation, runs out of anesthetic with more than 10 patients to go, forcing him to use a weaker sedative. He says he.s paid an extra $2 per patient by the government for using the weaker drug. It.s more dangerous because the women are not completely unconscious during the procedure. After each operation an assistant washes the scalpel in a tray of warm water.
"Look at this," says Das, pausing during an operation to hold up the rust-stained scalpel he.s using. "This is dirty and that will significantly increase the chance of infection."
A majority of those attending sterilization camps in India are lured by incentives such as money or improved welfare benefits offered by local officials under pressure to meet targets each year, says Abhijit Das (no relation to Dr. Das), director of the Centre for Health and Social Justice in New Delhi. While the federal government formally abandoned targets for sterilizations in 1996, that hasn.t filtered down to all states.
Most of the operations are performed in the first months of the yeara period doctors dub “sterilization season" to fill quotas before the fiscal year ends on March 31. Health workers in Gujarat say they were threatened by their supervisors with salary cuts or dismissal if they failed to meet targets, according to Human Rights Watch. Women are pressured to undergo sterilization surgery without being told they will never again bear children, the group said after interviewing 50 health workers. Repeated calls and e-mails to Gujarat Health Minister Nitinbhai Patel weren.t answered.
S.K. Sikdar, who runs national population control programs at the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, rejects the idea that women go to the camps under duress. "There.s no pressure. People are free to do whatever they like," Sikdar says. "There may be some isolated districts where there are overeager officials, but they are rogue operators." Sikdar says sterilization is "one way" that India is trying to reduce the population, "but we are promoting different birth control methods."
The sterilization program has coincided with a slowdown in the birthrate. India’s population grew 17.6 percent in the decade to 2011, according to census data, four percentage points less than in the previous 10 years. States that have successfully curbed population growth have improved female education, increased work opportunities for women, and made a range of contraceptives available. In Kerala, where female literacy is over 90 percent, the population grew only 4.9 percent.
At the clinic, a medical assistant pricks each woman.s finger, using the same needle, to test their blood for anemia. Flies swarm through the windows. Das, the surgeon, removes his surgical mask after several operations because of the heat. The electricity shuts down, and a generator is cranked up. Dogs walk down the corridors. Nurses step around women on the floor, offering painkillers to those in agony. "The program should be voluntary," says Das, his face dripping with sweat. "There shouldn.t be any targets. The entire system needs to be changed."
The pressure to cut the birthrate never lets up. "At the end of the year we are judged on how many sterilizations we have done," says Dr. M.A. Rashid, who runs the Sonhoula clinic in Bihar. "The government doesn.t want excuses.”
The bottom line: Thirty-seven percent of the sterilizations of women worldwide are performed in India, often in unsafe conditions.
MacAskill is a reporter for Bloomberg News in New Delhi.
Sunday Magazine ~ June 29, 2014
No second wife, please
By JYOTI PUNWANI
Of the seven years taken to arrive at this draft, two were spent talking to Muslim women, most of them poor, uneducated and living in ghettos. It was these women who were desperate for a change, urging the BMMA to “quickly change the law, get us justice.” (The Hindu)
Will the Muslim personal law make polygamy illegal?
When the Bhartiya Mahila Muslim Andolan started working on codifying Muslim personal law, they weren’t sure whether to ban polygamy, or make it conditional. Senior lawyers pointed out that despite bigamy being an offence, Hindu men continued to take a second wife. These women didn’t enjoy the status of a wife, whereas even the fourth wife of a Muslim man had that status.
But the final draft of the new ‘Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act’, released in Mumbai on June 18, makes polygamy illegal. How come? “That’s what Muslim women wanted,” says Noorjehan Safia Niaz, co-founder of the BMMA. “We played the Devil’s Advocate with them, asking them wasn’t a second wife necessary if the first couldn’t conceive, for example. Their reply always was: ‘No. No second wife. No woman should have to share her husband with another woman.’”
Of the seven years taken to arrive at this draft, two were spent talking to Muslim women, most of them poor, uneducated and living in ghettos. It was these women who were desperate for a change, urging the BMMA to “quickly change the law, get us justice.”
But the middle class, supposed to be the pioneer for reform, left Noorjehan disillusioned. A US-returned Muslim in Hyderabad baulked at the BMMA’s proposal to make 18 and 21 the minimum age of marriage for women and men respectively. “It should be 18 for both,” she suggested. Muslim male lawyers in Karnataka saw nothing wrong in a 13-year-old getting married as long as she had attained puberty. But in the bylanes of Bhopal, uneducated Muslim women suggested 21 and 25 instead. “Our daughters graduate at 21,” they pointed out.
“Middle class Muslims kept saying: ‘Don’t tamper too much with the shariat.’ They have well-off families and education to fall back on; the unjust decisions of qazis don’t affect them much,’’ explains Noorjehan. What kept the BMMA going was the response of poor women.
Consultations with these women were held across 10 states where the BMMA has been working, training paralegal workers as arbitrators and providing legal aid. Men would attend their public meetings, and a few would invariably object to their attire (“you are wearing a sari, you haven’t covered your head, you aren’t wearing a burqa so you aren’t Muslim”), or to their lack of qualifications (“you are not aalims”). One man in Ranchi who objected vociferously to everything, later told Noorjehan, “I agree with everything you say, but if I don’t object, I can’t face my jamaat.” The BMMA took a decision not to consult the All India Personal Law Board and the religious organisations. “They have shown they don’t want change.”
The starting point of this long process was the condition of poor Muslim women, victims of the unIslamic and unjust decisions of maulanas and qazis. The Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act 1937 has no specific provisions to be followed, leaving every qazi free to rule as per their understanding of the Sharia. The Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act 1939 lays down grounds on which a woman can approach the court, but few can afford to do so.
Because of this, reformists such as the late Asghar Ali Engineer campaigned for years for the need to codify Muslim personal Law as per Quranic injunctions, which grant women more rights than any other religion does. All Islamic countries have put in place modern personal laws. But in India, the move has always been resisted on three grounds: 1. The Sharia can’t be touched; it is divine. 2. It will be impossible to decide which of the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence should be followed in codification. 3. This will be the first step towards enacting a Uniform Civil Code (UCC).
As Engineer never tired of explaining, the Sharia is based on the Quran, it is not the Quran. In India, the Shariat Act was drafted and enacted by the British. The BMMA worked with Engineer on its draft, choosing to base it on the Quran itself. The draft contains verses from the Quran to back its provisions.
Thus, to decide the minimum age of marriage, the Quranic injunction of ‘maturity’ of the spouses was interpreted as emotional maturity in addition to physical. “Besides, in Islam, marriage is a contract, and a contract can only be between two adults,” says Noorjehan.
The draft makes many common practices illegal, including underage marriage; unilateral, oral and instant talaq; making the woman give up her mehr (dower) and halala, the practice by which you remarry your divorced wife only after she consummates her marriage with another man and is then divorced by him. “This has no mention in the Quran, it’s become a prostitution racket in places like Lucknow,” says Noorjehan.
Is this the right time to release this draft, given the new government’s emphasis on the UCC? “We oppose the UCC. But we also want to know, when will the right time come to get justice for women? Twenty years back, we were asked to wait as the Babri Masjid was demolished, the community was under attack. Aren’t women part of the community? Ten years back we were told the Gujarat pogrom had taken place. Can these leaders give us a guarantee that 10 years later, there will be a really secular government, and the community won’t be under attack? Secondly, who decides this hierarchy of issues? Let’s tackle all issues: discrimination, security and also women’s rights. Besides, how many of these leaders have worked on these other issues at the grassroots level? It is groups like us who have done so, tried to get the Sachar Committee recommendations implemented and also campaigned against Modi.”
Noorjehan knows it will take the efforts of many groups to get the government to accept the draft. “Let the community debate our draft first. At any rate, for us, the process was as important as the result.”
New Internationalist Issue 474 - July, 2014
Feminism - The Facts
Facts for feminists - the twists and turns along the road to equality.
The Gender Inequality Index is a composite measure that reflects inequality, reproductive health, empowerment and the labour market.
Girls have made important gains in literacy and education.
20% increase in girls attending primary school in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa 2000-11.
Girls are more likely than boys to attend secondary school in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Canadian women as % of university graduates in selected subject areas, 20113
53% working women employed in ‘vulnerable’, insecure jobs globally.
10-30% the average pay gap between men and women.
Earnings / $1 paid to a white man in the US5
Women enjoy growing influence. In 1911, just 2 countries in the world allowed women to vote. Now the right is near-universal.
Number of countries with female heads of government since 1960s6
FREEDOM FROM VIOLENCE
Among the most common human rights abuses worldwide, male violence is more likely to kill or maim women aged 15-44 than cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined.8
30% of women worldwide have experienced violence by an intimate partner.2
20,000 ‘honour’ killings estimated to take place each year, globally.9
117 million girls thought missing due to ‘sex selection’ before birth, neglect and infanticide.10
2 women are murdered every day in Guatemala.11
Rape case attrition in selected European countries4
50% of sexual assaults world-wide are committed against girls under 16.11
10 lesbians are subjected to ’corrective’ rape every week in Cape Town, South Africa.12
500,000 women (adults, children and infants) are raped in South Africa every year, the highest rate worldwide.13
64% drop in domestic violence in the US (1994-2010), following the Violence against Women Act.
125 countries outlaw domestic violence.
52 countries have explicitly criminalized marital rape.
68,000 women die from unsafe abortions each year.
61 countries severely restrict women’s right to abortion.
% of women in relationships using any method of contraception
Risk of maternal death
1 in 7,300 developed world
1 in 22 sub-Saharan Africa
DOMESTIC WORK 22,23
Women spend at least twice as much time as men on unpaid housework, in all regions.
British men and women, daily housework in minutes.
Plastic surgery procedures in the US over 15-year period15
Share of total cosmetic (surgical and nonsurgical) procedures, 201116
1 in 5 women in South Korea undergoes cosmetic surgery – the highest ratio in the world.17
1 in 5 teenage girls in the US has been asked to send nude or suggestive pictures online.18
100 the number of women arrested daily in Tehran for not wearing proper Islamic head dress.20
80% of all 10-year-old girls in the US have dieted.21
1. Dan Smith, State of the World Atlas, Myriad/ New Internationalist, 2013. Based on UNDP Gender Inequality Index.
2. MDGs Gender Chart 2014, UN Women.
3. Government statistics Canada.
4. Progress of the World’s Women 2011-2012, UN Women.
5. The American Association of University Women.
6. Dan Smith, State of the World Atlas, Myriad/New Internationalist, 2013.
7. Women in national parliaments as of 1 April 2014. Inter-Parliamentary Union.
8. Nicolas D Kristof, ‘Is Delhi So Different From Steubenville?’, 12 January 2013, New York Times.
9. Ahmed Maher, ‘Many Jordan teenagers “support honour killings”’, 20 June 2013, BBC News.
10. UNFPA, Sex Imbalances at birth: current trends, consequences and policy implications, 2012.
11. Fast facts: statistics on violence against women and girls.
12. Fihlani Pumza, ‘South Africa’s lesbians fear corrective rape’, BBC News, 6 November 2012.
13. South Africa: One in four men rape’, IRIN news.
14. US Bureau of Justice Statistics.
15. The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
16. International Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery global statistics.
17. Asian Century Institute.
18. Study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and cosmogirl.com, in 2008.
19. ‘11 facts about sexting’. dosomething.org/facts/11-facts-about-sexting
20. Hossein Fatemi, Veiled Truths, Panos photo story.
21. 80% of 10-year-old girls in the US say they’ve been on a diet,’ June 2012,
22. The World’s Women 2010, UN.
23. Beatrix Campbell, End of Equality, 2013, Seagull Books.
New Internationalist Issue 474 - July, 2014
When rights go wrong
From empowerment-lite to love-jihad, exploreing the perils of hijacked feminist agendas.
By Rahila GuptaIllustration: Kathryn Corlett
It is a measure of the success of a set of ideas when business interests reference them in their marketing strategy. If religion and the state pile in too, it means those ideas are dangerous enough to warrant control through subversion. That has been the fate of feminism.
Perhaps the grandest of all ideological thefts took place when the US claimed it was invading Afghanistan to liberate women. Since then, saving women has become a central issue in the North-South civilizational discourse, separating ‘us’ from ‘them’.
Outrage at women’s suffering can go off-course all too easily. You may have thought recent demands for protection of women in India from sexual violence would be pretty difficult to subvert. But even here, conservative forces have appropriated the feminist agenda.
Kavita Krishnan, a passionate campaigner for women’s rights, has described the moral panic that followed the gang rape and murder of the young student Jyoti Singh Pandey in Delhi in December 2012. Society responded by policing women’s sexuality, locking up girls and women at home ‘for their own protection’.
The rush to protect took some dangerous turns: placards demanding ‘hang the rapists’ were directly linked to safer streets; the Aam Aadmi Party, a new anti-corruption grouping, set up local youth brigades that could just as easily unleash vigilante justice against girls out with their boyfriends.
Men from minority communities such as Muslims were also targeted. The khap panchayats, a quasi-judicial body at the village level, infamous for pronouncing harsh punishments based on age-old customs and traditions, used slogans such as ‘Beti Bachao, Bahu Bachao, Samman Bachao’ (protect daughters, daughters-in-law and our honour). The ‘protection’ being demanded was from a so-called love jihad by Muslim men intent on seducing Hindu women.
Indian feminists have fought back, working to recast the debate in the language of rights and to refine their demands: demanding protection for ‘a woman’s freedom, not her body’.
Demonstrators embraced this wider critique of patriarchy. Krishnan says the massive protests by young people on the streets were not only in repudiation of Jyoti Pandey’s murder, but also an outburst of accumulated anger against rape culture.
‘Many public figures made remarks that in fact criticized her [Jyoti] for being out with her “boyfriend”… What girls were telling us was, “that after this case, our parents are telling us that we can’t go out at night, we can’t watch a movie with our friends, we can’t study away from home.”’
In a speech to demonstrators that went viral on the internet, Krishnan promised, ‘We will be adventurous. We will be reckless. We will be rash. We will do nothing for our safety. Don’t you dare tell us how to dress, when to go out at night, in the day, or how to walk or how many escorts we need!’
Strong… and shiny
The corporate sector has also got in on the action. One of its most effective appropriation strategies has been to cut feminism adrift from its roots as a collective project, by emphasizing individual empowerment and choice.
‘The personal is political’ is a key foundational principle of feminism. It resulted from joining up the dots between individual women’s experiences to come to an understanding that these experiences were part of a systemic inequality, which needed collective effort to dismantle. However, this same principle is broad enough to allow business interests to ride on its back. Hair-care firm Pantene sells us shampoo, urging us to ‘be strong and shine’ in an advertisement that shows a series of images that highlight gender inequality, as if glossy hair can fight the sexist labels that hold women back.
Across the board, the corporate sector has used individual empowerment to sell beauty products and cosmetic surgery on the basis that the modern woman, that is to say, the feminist, is in control of her career, her life and her body and she remakes them as she chooses even if those choices entrench gender inequality.
Those same business interests often rely on supply chains forged from women’s exploitation. In order to counter the bad press they have received on this front and partly to fulfil their corporate social responsibility obligations, the corporate sector has jumped on the ‘development’ bandwagon – predictably on its own terms and without a sense of irony.
US retail giant Walmart, which has been dogged by strikes and legal action over pay discrimination against their female workers, set up its Empowering Women Together programme in 2011. It has committed $100 million for jobs training for a million women across the world and gives women-owned businesses preferential status as suppliers. Yet it is only able to sell cheap clothes because of the starvation rates paid to Bangladeshi women garment workers.
Similarly, US sportswear transnational Nike – with its own history of labour exploitation of young girls – set up the Nike Foundation in 2004 driven by the discovery that ‘the best investment with the highest returns’ was adolescent girls. In ‘Can girls save the world?’, Kate Grosser and Nikki van der Gaag analyse how the Nike approach undermines the feminist position and promotes a neoliberal agenda by focusing on the girls as individuals with power to change their situation while ignoring the social and political context which makes them powerless.1
Mainstream development trends must also be questioned. In Engaging with Empowerment, Indian scholar Srilatha Batliwala rejects those apolitical programmes that adopt feminist ideas, divest them of the complex transformative strategies they were embedded in, and reduce them ‘to formulas, rituals and mantras’. Anthropologist Andrea Cornwall has dubbed this ‘empowerment-lite’.
The religious right is another one that is fond of couching a pro-life position in the language of women’s rights. Christian groups in the US have long claimed abortion is necessary only because society has failed the needs of women. Europe has its own variants. A recent anti-abortion resolution filed in 2013 (which was ultimately rejected despite intense lobbying) expressed feminist-sounding concern for the early sexualization of girls, their widespread exposure to porn, the resultant gender stereotyping and sexual violence (so far, so acceptable) as a prelude to condemning ‘any violation of the bodily integrity of women’ and demanding universal access to ‘post-abortion trauma syndrome treatments’.
The British government, too, has not been averse to using women’s rights as a Trojan horse to smuggle in other, anti-immigration agendas. Prime Minister David Cameron has denounced forced marriage as ‘abhorrent and little more than slavery’ – a position that all feminists could support. Yet Britain’s action against ‘sham and forced marriage’ translated into upping income thresholds for those bringing in a foreign spouse, and increasing the probationary period of such marriages from two to five years. When a marriage breaks down in less than five years, a woman has to provide proof of domestic violence in order to get leave to remain in Britain. Ignorant of their rights, it is likely that many women would not dare to leave such marriages for fear of deportation and destitution. In contrast, the demands from feminists – more funding for specialist refuges, women’s centres and adequate training for teachers, social workers and police to identify girls at risk of forced marriage – go unheard.
We have to be vigilant to the encroachment on feminism from every direction and of attempts to use our own ideas against us. This imitation is not aimed to flatter but to flatten us.
Tina Wallace, Fenella Porter (eds), Aid, NGOs and the realities of women’s lives, Practical Action, 2014.
Rahila Gupta is a journalist, writer and activist. She also writes for OpenDemocracy and The Guardian.
Thursday June 19, 2014
The scam of growthBy Vandana Shiva
Bhutan: I am working with the government of Bhutan to help the country become the world’s first wholly organic country. I am also working to redefine the economic paradigm to focus on the happiness (gross national happiness) and well being of its people and the health of its environment, instead of narrowly defined growth as gross domestic product.
Eighty per cent of Bhutan is forest. All streams and rivers are healthy and living. And this is a result of a conscious policy to protect nature and culture. From the local to the national level, policies are dedicated to “promotion of sustainable socio-economic development, preservation and promotion of culture and conservation of biodiversity in pursuit of a happy society”.
In the beautiful valley of Bumthang in central Bhutan, the government plans to set up a gross national happiness centre, and I have been invited to be on its executive council.
To reach the site of the centre, which is surrounded by protected conifer forests, we had to cross a gushing river in a basket on a rope bridge.
The forests and rivers took me back to my childhood in Garhwal and Kumaon where my father served as a forest conservator, and we trekked across the Himalayas through healthy forests and gushing rivers and streams. I could not have imagined as a child that our precious forests and rivers, which have sustained us through the centuries, would disappear in my lifetime because we would blindly start chasing a mirage of growth.
Forty years ago, the women of Garhwal stood up for their forests and started the Chipko Movement. They said that the real gifts of the forests were soil, water and pure air, not timbre, resin and revenue. After the 1978 floods, the government was forced to recognise that the costs of deforestation in terms of floods was much higher than the revenues collected from logging. In 1981, a ban was imposed on logging above 1,000 metres in the Ganga catchments.
In 1982, the ministry of environment asked us to do a study on the ecological impact of mining in the Doon Valley. In 20 years of mining, I had watched our streams and rivers disappear.
Our study showed that the limestone left in the mountains contributed more to the economy than its extraction through mining, because limestone is an aquifer and holds water in its cavities and caves.
Friends of the Doon Valley mobilised the citizens and in 1983, the Supreme Court ordered the closure of the limestone mines and all the polluting industries dependent on it. The Doon Valley was declared an ecologically sensitive zone and a green valley.
Thirty years later, in violation of all laws, the chief minister of Uttarakhand, Vijay Bahuguna, signed an MoU with Coca Cola to set up a plant in village Charba. Wherever Coca Cola goes, it brings famine and pollution. This was the case in Plachimada in Kerala, where women started a movement and shut down the Coca Cola plant.
Similar is the case in Mehdiganj near Varanasi. Each plant uses 1.5-2 million litres of water per day. This can create scarcity in the most water abundant region. On May 29, 2013, citizens from across India and the Doon Valley joined a solidarity rally of the Charba community to stop the Coca Cola plant.
Today, our forests and rivers are dying. And as a society, we don’t seem to care even though every community whose land, forests and water are being grabbed are rising in revolt. It is probably the biggest ecological movement in our history.
Tagore had called Indian civilisation “Aranya Sanskriti” and distinguished us from the Western industrial societies based on brick and mortar. But the economic and political powers that be do not think twice about chopping down forests for mines and concrete jungles.
When the protector becomes the predator, how can India’s forests survive?
And when the tribals and forest dwellers try to protect their forest homes from the predatory invasions of a corporate state, should we not pause and think about the future of our forests, our tribals, our democracy and the principles that made us an “aranya sanskriti”? Should we not look deeper at the roots of violence in our tribal areas?
How could we so completely have forgotten the foundations of our sustenance, our forests and rivers? How could we have forgotten what it means to be a forest civilisation and a civilisation where rivers are our sacred mothers?
Why do mining corporations, real-estate corporations, dam corporations get priority over our Constitution and laws, the fundamental rights of Indian citizens, and environmental laws meant to protect nature? How have we reached a situation where the government rewards ecological criminals, and criminalises citizens working in defence of their ecosystems and the livelihoods and sustenance they provide?
There are, after all, forest conservation laws meant to protect our forests. There is a Panchayati Raj (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act that recognises the rights of tribal communities and their sovereignty over their land and forests.
The justification is always “growth”. However, no short-term economic policy can trump the long-term economic policy of protecting the ecological foundations of all economy. Everywhere in the world, especially in Bhutan, the scam of “growth” is being recognised. All it measures is commercialisation and commodification of resources, and hence is actually the rate of extraction of resources from local ecosystems and local communities. It should, therefore, be interpreted as measuring ecological destruction and the creation of poverty, not as measuring wealth.
The real meaning of “wealth” is well being. A process that destroys nature and dispossesses local communities and hence destroys well being cannot be justified as wealth-creating. What it does lead to as a result of ecological and social exploitation and the conversion of nature’s resources into cash is the concentration of cash in the hands of a few.
And this cash can then be used for kickbacks and buying political influence, to further erode nature, people’s rights and democracy. This is the vicious cycle we have got trapped in. And only people’s movements in the defence of nature and their rights can break it.- The writer is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust
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