Male underdevelopment

STAYING ALIVE: WOMEN, ECOLOGY AND SURVIVAL IN INDIA by Vandana Shiva Publisher: Kali for Women Price: Rs 125

By Mrinal Pande
Published: Saturday 31 December 1994

FOR both the poor and the rich, life is full of choices; but whereas for the rich, choosing is mostly synonymous with freedom and happy expectancy, the poor must always choose between one kind of pain and another. Shall I feed my son and starve the daughter, because the food is not enough for both? Shall I risk sneaking into the forest and lop off branches for fuel or go without a cooked meal? Shall I support life or destroy it because I do not have the resources to sustain it?

Given such drastic choices, it is nothing short of a miracle that women in India, indeed the entire Third World, have chosen to nurture and support life and nature, even if it has more often than not meant going without necessary food, fuel and fodder.

Vandana Shiva's book comes down heavily on those lop-sided developmental paradigms that we have inherited from the patriarchal West along with their modes of governance. The resultant anomalies in our ecological, political and societal orders are ultimately destructive, she proves, of both economy and society.

It is somewhat ironic that one should be reviewing such a book in times when we are being pushed into the fast lane of globalisation through economic restructuring programmes perfected in the corridors of the World Bank and the IMF. These programmes define socialism as outmoded, justify profit maximisation and give license to governments to disinherit and disenfrenchise millions from socio-economic decisionmaking. But perhaps this is the time to focus on dissenting voices such as Shiva's. A little later may be too late.

The book begins by tracing the historical and philosophical roots of present day concepts of development as an extension of male-centric gender-ideology. It goes on to show how the traditional Indian concept of a sacred, somehwat mystical, and always interdependent relationship between humankind and the environment, between Purush and Prakriti, was first eroded and then replaced with the Western concept of Man as the aggressive conqueror and Nature as the vanquished female principle, passive and meak.

This thought-orientation has led not only to severe gender inequalities in our society but also to a simultaneous degradation of our environment. Shiva then goes on to trace the evolution of modern science and how its mostly male advocates have steadily served to marginalise women and bar them and their participatory methods. They have then formulated exploitative strategies and techniques for economic advancement that the women have often fought back through ecological movements, but their gradual weakening has served to push them back again and again and ultimately ghettoise them into poverty and hopelessness.

The result of such male- and science-centric attitudes has been a decline in social justice and also a fearsome crisis of food, fuel and water. Shortages have grown and shall grow some more as the developmental juggernaut rolls on almost out of people's control. It is time, Shiva announces, to go back to women and the original participatory and nurturing methods that they represent. The end of the book takes us back to a clearsighted analysis of the traditional Indian concept of Nature as a sacred force and methods of conservation and nurturing that the Purush-Prakriti symbolic theory has generated for so many generations, so effortlessly and with such grand results. Shiva rounds off the discussion by paying a rich tribute to those millions of Third World women who are still struggling to save themselves against tremendous odds, and in the process save our whole environment.

This is a well-researched and beautifully written book. One only hopes such voices will be heard by the makers of our new economic policies and hewers of the nation's destiny. There is room for pessimism here though, for most of them are male and suffer, moreover, from an almost incurable Anglophilia, and are not too given to listening to the still small voice of sanity.

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