Vandana Shiva and the Fight for Our World

Photo by Cintia Barenho https://flic.kr/p/c6DCbdThe use of genetically modified food, or GMOs, is controversial. Some argue that genetically modified crops are good because they can contain vitamins and minerals that improve people’s health and allow higher quantities of food to be produced, so more people can eat. But others are worried about “playing God,” as well as the increased risks to the environment, human health, and small farm sustainability that can be associated with GMOs.

One woman has received a lot of attention for her strong stance against GMOs and modern agriculture in general. Vandana Shiva, an Indian environmental activist, gave up a career as a physicist to bring attention to her cause. Influenced by the Chipko movement in the 1970s, she joined a resistance to corporations taking control over seeds in favor of biodiversity. Her influence bridges connections between her religion and her concern for the Earth she loves.

The Spirit Behind Her Advocacy

For Shiva, real science is spiritual:

“I think real science has to be a spiritual endeavor because real science is understanding deep patterns, understanding lasting process, and understanding how things hang together. Spirituality is the same thing. It is about understanding our place in the universe, it is about connecting to the rest of life, and that connection creates, in its very existence, a humility of you just being a small part of a very, very large, limitless place. And while creating humility in you, it also creates responsibility that what you do has impact on a lot — on the whole fabric, on the whole web of life.”

A devout Hindu, her faith is a source of inspiration in her work. When interviewed by Bill Moyers, Shiva explained her sense of duty to protect the Earth, and used the Hindu text Bhagavad Gita, to further the point. Hinduism has many teachings on environmentalism. Dharma, or duty, is a vital concept that means a responsibility to care for the earth. For Shiva, resisting GMOs is a scientific and spiritual duty.

“You do not measure the fruit of your actions. You have to measure the obligation of your actions,” she said. “You have to find what’s the right thing to do. That is your duty.”

A Duty to Protect the Earth

In the pursuit of finding what’s right to do, Shiva has fought the Coca-Cola company, which was part of an effort to privatize water rights in India. And now she’s going after Monsanto and GMOs.

Shiva sees food as a prime example of the interconnectedness of a healthy environment and a healthy people. Seeds used to grow food are a source of our nourishment for our bodies and souls. “Food is alive. It is not just pieces of carbohydrate, protein, and nutrient, it is a being; it is a sacred being,” she said. “Food is not just our vital need: It is the web of life.”

Seeds are essential for cultivating life on the planet. Shiva works hard to spread awareness about what is happening in agriculture. She helped found the site Navdanya.org. The name means “nine seeds,” and is a network of seed keepers and organic growers from all across India. It is committed to reviving indigenous knowledge and culture so farmers can employ sustainable methods.

Applying Holistic Solutions to Environmental Issues

Shiva’s advocacy hasn’t been met without criticism. Many have argued that her claims that GMO crops in India are linked to farmer suicides is completely unsubstantiated. A recent article published by Keith Kloor, a former editor for the Audubon Magazine and an environmental writer, recounted an interaction between Shiva and Kloor on the subject:

“In 2013, after attending Shiva’s talk at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, I asked her about the mounting evidence that contradicted her ‘suicide seed’ claims. She dismissed them breezily and said, ‘Those are the Monsanto studies.’ But neither Monsanto nor the biotechnology industry funded any of the aforementioned studies.”

While unsubstantiated claims are always harmful to good environmental policy, it’s hard to deny the importance of Shiva’s work. She is an advocate for a more natural way of life — a way of life that celebrates our interconnectedness to nature, instead of tries to promote us as better and separate from the world around us.

“No matter what problem you look at, every ecological problem comes from this illusion that we are separate from nature,” said Shiva. “I believe overcoming the separation is a longing much deeper than the recent rise of ecological awareness. The healing is coming from reclaiming our oneness with the web of life, with the universe itself.”

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About the Author

Gina Merlino is a freelance writer who cares about environmental issues. She has a Bachelor's in Philosophy, a Master's in Engaged Humanities, and is an avid reader of the news. You can find me on Twitter.