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Plundering nature

books Updated: Jul 13, 2013 12:10 IST
Smruti Koppikar
Smruti Koppikar
Hindustan Times
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Making Peace With The Earth
Vandana Shiva
Women Unlimited (in association with Kali)
Rs. 375 pp 267

When Vandana Shiva writes, you read. More so, after the Uttarakhand devastation that’s deeply ecological in nature; her book “Making Peace with the Earth” has acquired an unhappy urgency with the disaster.

She is, after all, the voice of authority and sanity on a web of complex issues that traverse ecology, economics, colonisation and privatisation of natural resources, grassroots movements, Maoism, gender and alternative development strategies. In this rarefied space, there are thinkers and there are doers; Shiva has assiduously and dexterously managed to be both for over four decades. In the book, her latest work, she brings her formidable experience of academic and activist work to bear on her drive to examine how we, as citizens of the planet, have been “at war” with our climate, land, forests, seeds and water. Shiva says this is “eco-apartheid as war” and uses the narrative to examine human use — more correctly, the exploitation — of natural resources.

“…(t)he earth is the biggest employer on the planet… Handing over fertile land to private corporations, who are the new zamindars, cannot be defined as public purpose… Burying our fertile food-producing soils under concrete and factories is burying the country’s future,” she states.

With admirable academic rigour and insights from her engagement with the issues, she links this “war” to issues of land-grab across the country (and a bit in the rest of the world) that’s threatening livelihoods of small and marginal farmers, to manufactured hunger, and the role of coporate-controlled trade in foisting a retail model that has killed decentralised and local retail trade elsewhere. She has unhesitatingly pointed fingers at the powers-that-be, including Planning Commission chief Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia. “Home Minister P Chidambaram said there’s a ‘trust deficit’ in Red areas,” Shiva writes, “The deficit is not just of trust, there’s a democracy deficit… there’s a peace deficit.”

She narrates micro battles — as the Nandigram one where she spent a few days at the height of the struggle against the Tata factory — in the over-arching narrative of the macro war on the earth’s finite resources. She examines hunger through the lenses of food crises, food justice and food peace. These, she links to the enlarging footprint of the top ten global food retailers such as Walmart and Carrefour, and their persistence in entering the Indian market.

Shiva recommends “collective resistance to corporate exploitation” and “earth-centred politics” as the way forward. The book is a compelling, though heavy, read. The depth of the subjects Shiva covers could be unattractive to some, the arguments against placing economics over ecology will irritate The Suits, whose greed for profits, she believes, is responsible for the “war”. For many others, the volume could be a healthy addition to their collection on subjects that did not routinely enter our public domain — until the Uttarakhand flood.