I found Dr. Vandana Shiva’s first book, or rather I found a Xerox copy of her first book, taped together and lovely highlighted with notes (published in 1988), on a shelf in the corner of the library of the Bija Vidyapith categorized as “miscellaneous.” After reading it, I am not sure how else I would categorize it to fit into the neat distinctions of subject matter society reduces interdisciplinary work to. Even her book refused a reductionist reading that would limit it as “ecology”, “water” or “feminism.” It seemed to fit better when looked at holistically.
To look at Dr. Vandana Shiva’s work holistically is precisely why I chose to spend time at Bija Vidyapith. After taking a class (categorized as International Intercultural Studies) called Resistance to Monoculure, I was momentarily swept away by the complex simplicity of how I understood Dr. Shiva’s theories and beliefs. I felt as though I had in essence “drank the kool aid” but I was still a bit unclear as to what it meant practically.
In Dr. Shiva’s first book, Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Survival in India she looks at the deeper meanings of femininity. As Rajni Kothari of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies summarizes in her foreword: “It is not just a question of women. It is a much larger issue of a new technological basis of economic and cultural exploitation which is crying for a new spirit of democratic resistance against what is undoubtedly considered a changed (transnationalized, corporate, computerized, militarized and televised) model of capitalist growth and integration.” From taking the reader through rethinking GDP, to indigenous knowledge of forests to a discussion of the violence of the green revolution and the fallacy of High Yield Varieties (HYV) seeds, her first book ihelps to lay the theoretical foundation upon which Navdanya (founded in 1987) and her following nine books were built.
Her main point, throughout the book is that those facing the greatest threats, meaning women, peasants and tribals, also have what is needed for survival, “they have the knowledge of what it means to be victims of progress, to be the ones who bear the cost and burdens” and they have the “holistic and ecological knowledge of what the production and protection of life is about.”
As she argues in her final chapter, “The dominant paradigm of knowledge has become a threat to life itself.” What then is the solution? Bija Vidyapith (Seed University) or Biodiversity Farm is part of it. As she recalls how it started in a recent publication, The Story of Seed, “We saw what was happening, and we had to do something.”
Located in the Doon Valley, the organic farm revived land that had been desertified by more than two decades of use as a eucalyptus plantation. It is now home to more than twelve hundred varieties of plants, which includes 500 rice varities, 75 wheat varieties among others. The farm also contains a soil lab, seed farm, and quarters for volunteers, guests and classes.
Presently, the residents include an amalgamation of staff, volunteers, interns and academics pursuing Phd and graduate research from the US, Canada, Portugal, Germany and India. Just this weekend, a group of 50 students from Delhi will be coming for a weekend workshop.
Instead of stopping at theory, Dr. Shiva has shown that it is possible to have a holistic, rather than reductionist approach. She has helped to illuminate what Navdanya is all about – protecting the diversity of life. The farm is a living and breathing reminder, not that another world is possible, but that another way of looking at the world is possible.
Lakshmi Eassey, is currently living in Residence at Bija Vidyapith (Seed University), working on a project interviewing women farmers. In this review, she looks at Dr. Shiva’s first book, Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Survival in India and the foundation of Bija Vidyapith.