Vandana Shiva: Safety as Freedom in India

Source: Al Jazeera

The duty of a state that claims to be democratic is to guarantee safety and freedom to its “weakest citizens”.

The Delhi gang-rape of Dece­m­ber 2012 bro­u­ght to the streets the deep and growing concern about violence ag­ainst women and the demand for women’s sa­fety. The movement is the voice of women re­claiming their right to safety and freedom, through resistance to all forms of patriarchal power and celebration of women’s peaceful power and energy.

Commodification, ap­pro­priation and control over women’s bodies and the resources of the earth are one aspect of the threat to safety. Im­po­sition of hazardous te­c­­hnologies that we do not need is another aspect.

Safety has emerged as an overpowering conce­rn – safety of women and children, tribals, farmers and rural communities, safety from nuclear hazard, and en­vironmental as well as health hazards of GMOs. Across India, protests and movements are also growing about the safety of people’s resources and wealth – their land, their forests, their rivers, their property – in the context of the violent resource grab that is the basis of the new “growth” economy.

There is a pattern in this continuum of violence and threats to life and safety, just as there is a pattern in the continuum of the struggles for the defence of life, safety and freedom. The exponential rise in concern for safety – reflected in the explosion of people’s protests to stop violence against women, tribals, fishermen, peasants, the urban and rural poor and the violence against environment and life on earth – is a direct consequence of the dominant culture of greed and commodification.

Sadly, this culture is shrouded in the garb of neo-liberal paradigms of economics in which there is no life, no values, no ethics, no community, no society, no people, no justice, no place for equality, dignity and people’s rights, no place for freedom and democracy, just money and markets.

These values do not st­ay insulated in a silo ca­lled “the economy”. Thr­ou­gh osmosis they bec­ome the dominant values of a society, shaping the culture (or, should we say, anti-culture?).

Nuclear safety

As 2012 came to a close and 2013 dawned, hund­r­eds of people protesting the nuclear power plant at Koodankulam and de­manding nuclear safety sang and danced together at the Idin­tha­karai co­ast, adjacent to the  nucl­ear plant. The New Year celebrations breathed new life into the anti-nuclear struggle. The beach re­ve­rberated with the spi­rit of resistance, assertion, freedom and de­mocracy.

The movement for nuclear safety is a movement for freedom – we do not need nuclear energy when the sun and wind are so generous; we do not need GMOs when biodiversity and ecological agriculture produces more, safer and better food.

For two years in a row, at his address to the In­dian Science Cong­re­ss, Prime Minister Manm­o­han Singh has tried to criminalise the citizen’s movements for nuclear safety and biosafety. But his is not a lone voice. He is an echo of the stru­c­tu­red money-making sy­s­tem that wants no bre­­a­ks in its money-making, including the break that is necessary for ensuring safety. That is why he called for a “structured” debate on nuclear energy and GMOs, not a democratic debate.

A nuclear industry des­perate to make profits at any cost must cri­mi­nalise communities and citizens insisting on their democratic right to safety and freedom from hazards. A GMO industry desperate to make pro­fits at any cost will extract royalties from poor farmers even tho­ugh the royalty extracti­on pushes farmers to commit suicide.

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