The seed warrior

April 2017

Despite her formidable prowess in physics, Vandana Shiva did not think twice before dumping her degrees and taking up the servitude of Mother Earth, eventually becoming a world-renowned eco-activist, says Punya Srivastava

Dr Vandana Shiva hardly needs an introduction. For that matter, anyone who has won as many global awards as she has, rarely does. Her honours include the Alternative Nobel Prize, Global 500 Roll of Honour - UNEP, Earth Day International Award (all in 1993), Lennon ONO Grant for Peace Award (2009), Sydney Peace Prize (2010), and The Fukuoka Award (2012).

From being one of the only two girls in an honours programme for particle physics, to leading a 'Diverse Women's Movement' with thousands of women across continents, she has always stood out. What catapulted her into the limelight was her movement for seed preservation, Navdanya, as well as her vehement campaign against GMO food and the monopoly of industrial giants on global agriculture. Today, Dr Shiva not only heads the Navdanya movement and the Bija Vidyapeeth, but also travels across the world, sensitising and informing people about the only way forward for living – organic farming.

I met Dr Shiva at Navdanya's head office in Delhi on a Monday noon. Dressed simply in a pear-green saree, with her trademark huge maroon bindi adorning her forehead, and no other accessory, Dr Shiva radiated an aura of power and purpose. She talks with clarity and passion, effortlessly flowing from ecofeminism to Monsanto, and from Gandhi to seed saving. Various expressions flitted across her mobile face while she recalled her transformation from a physicist to a learner of agriculture, and her eyes crinkled with laughter at the fallacy that spirituality and materialism were separate.

An Einstein fan, Shiva grew up in Dehradun amidst forests and feminism, courtesy her father and grandfather. “I was born in a family where my parents – a forester father and a farmer mother – were committed to giving us freedom. While other parents were looking for suitable grooms for their daughters, my sister and I were being sent to other cities to pursue higher studies,” she said. She went on to acquire an Integrated MSc Honours in Particle Physics in 1974 from the University of Punjab, Chandigarh.

Around the same time, the Chipko movement – the forest conservation movement of India – had started finding its feet in the
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