In November 2014, Vandana Shiva participated in the World Hindu Congress organised in Delhi by RSS-affliated organisations. The guest list included Vandana Shiva. She takes her critique of industrial age’s eco-destruction to a unquestioned glorification of the past, where she takes refuge in the mythical Hindu glory.
Once again, she is in the news for supporting Sri Sri Ravishankar’s event destroying Yamuna floodplains. She fails to understand the link between environmental challenges and the way our societies are organised. Capitalism, gender, caste all have a role to play in the ecological crisis. Valay Singhrai of DailyO asks some important questions here:
Amidst the growing outrage over the killing of Yamuna’s floodplains in the name of “Art of Living’s 35 years of service to humanity, spirituality and human values”, there is one person who has still evaded attention: Dr Vandana Shiva of the organic food chain, Navdanya.
Dr Shiva has acquired global celebrity as India’s leading “ecofeminist”, “anti-GMO Rockstar”, and a leading “environmental activist”.
Repeated attempts to reach her through email and phone were unsuccessful, her office said she is out of the country.
Dr Shiva’s presence at this festival should raise the hackles of everybody who is concerned about the environment.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a young activist says, “There has always been discomfort with her approach to environment and her activism. I am not surprised that she is a speaker at this event but it cannot be possible that she didn’t know that it was being held on the Yamuna floodplains”.
Dr Shiva has authored more than twenty books on biodiversity, ecology and water pollution, she is acclaimed as one of the original “tree-huggers” during the anti-deforestation movement called “Chipko” in the 1970s.
International publications like the New Yorker have credited her with India’s decision to not approve even a single genetically modified food crop, and her company Navdanya (nine seeds) is now a multi-million dollar enterprise.
Her association with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is not new and she has been a keynote speaker at Art of Living events before. But it is for the first time that the spiritual guru has come under attack and by association so has Dr Shiva. Her co-speakers at the leadership forum of this World Culture Festival include over 97 names, from more than a dozen countries, from Peru in South America to Bhutan in India’s armpit.
Besides half a dozen senior ministers from the BJP including Arun Jaitley, Nitin Gadkari and Piyush Goel, there are mayors and deputy mayors from countries like Belgium and Netherlands.
One of the speakers is Deepak Kapoor, Chairman of PriceWaterhouse Coopers, India. PWC claims to have expertise in helping “organisations achieve growth while embracing sustainable practices”.
Most speakers are either heads of businesses or politicians or chiefs of financial institutions, like the first woman chairperson of State Bank of India, Arundhati Bhattacharya. There are old football players like Christoph Daum from Germany and obscure politicians from Columbia, Suriname and Latvia.
There is another list of speakers for the Youth forum where except a couple of Indian politicians like Maheish Girri, and Kapil Sharma, it is impossible to identify these “global youth leaders”.
The World Culture Festival’s biggest opponents have turned out to be environmentalists and there concerns were to some extent acted upon by the National Green Tribunal which has slapped a fine of Rs 5 crores on the Art of Living.
Meanwhile, Pranab Mukherjee, India’s president, has changed his mind to attend this “celebration of life and human family”, as Sri Sri Ravi Shankar puts it, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also likely to skip the event.
Vimlendu Jha, an activist who was given a death threat in front of cameras by pro-Art of Living sadhus, is also surprised by Dr Vandana Shiva’s participation in this event.
“If citizens can understand this is a serious threat to the Yamuna why can’t environmentalists, even though we have been unable to reach her, we expect her to disassociate herself from this event in solidarity with the 20,000 people who have signed our petition and millions of those who are speaking against it”, says Jha.
Dr Shiva’s carefully cultivated image of an “ecowarrior goddess” is now under threat, will she speak out and clarify or will she wait for the storm to be over?