The earth, the source of all nourishment and sustenance, is seen as a mother in most cultures. She is Terra Madre and Gaia, Dharti, and Vasundhara. Even today, in parts of India not destroyed by the Green Revolution, tribals and peasants apologize to the earth at the beginning of every agriculture season for hurting her with their plough, and promise take no more than their need.
But the culture of the sacred earth is under severe threat, and this threat looms over the communities who depend on the land. As India grows at 9 percent, and the Sensex (the stock exchange index in Mumbai) becomes the measure of the state of the people and the state of the land, the rich and the privileged often forget that the majority in India depends neither on the Sensex nor the state. They depend on the Maati Ma (Mother Earth). Yet the dominant culture of the land and the earth is being marginalized; our biodiversity and cultural diversity are at risk; our very future is threatened.
The war against the land is cultural and material. The culture of the sacred earth is one of nonviolence and restraint, of compassion and care for all life that the earth creates and supports. The bird and the tree, the earthworm and the elephant, all have their space and their share in the gifts of Mother Earth. We referred to this culture as Vasundhaiva Kutumbkam. I call it Earth Democracy.
Materially a sacred earth invites us to create technologies and economies that sustain the fertility and productivity of the soil and the land. An agrarian economy is a highly evolved economy in the yardstick of the sacred earth because it is the only economy in which humans can give back to the earth. Every other economy—urban, industrial—is an economy of taking. All that urban and industrial society gives back to the land is waste and pollution.
The earth is no longer seen as the source of soil fertility. Instead synthetic fertilizers made in chemical factories are viewed as the source of soil fertility, even though they kill soil fauna and flora, the real creators of fertility. The farmers and the earth are no longer seen as the source of food. Nestle and Cargill, Lever and ITC become the “food providers.” The farmer is no longer the annadata (grain provider, giver of food). Food is no longer the sacred gift that creates and maintains life. It is just another commodity.
Maximization of profits, not maximization of well being, determines what we eat. No wonder there is increasing hunger and malnutrition of the poor, who do not get enough food, and the malnutrition of the rich, who live on junk food and processed food. India is emerging as the epicenter of the diabetes epidemic. Changes in food cultures and diets have a lot to do with these new diseases.
The farmer is no longer seen as the source of seed—the 200,000 rice varieties we have grown, or the 15,000 mangoes, or the 15,000 banana varieties disappear from science and from the earth. Monsanto becomes the “inventor” of seed, the “owner” of life through intellectual property and patents. It does not matter if 200,000 Indian farmers commit suicide because they have been pushed into debt by costly, unreliable, nonrenewable seed and the related destruction of their seed sovereignty and seed freedom. All that matters is that the profits of seed corporations keep increasing.
Farmers who have tilled the land for generations, and want to continue taking care of the earth, refuse to be uprooted. The new rich, the big corporations, think that they have the right to dispossess every tribal and every farmer of their land and resources, bury the soil under the concrete jungle of new luxury townships, and literally kill the earth. From the perspective of Maati Ma, this is matricide. And no society can flourish if it destroys the very source of its sustenance.
The Sensex will rise and fall. The earth has sustained life for billions of years and can continue to do so. While wealthy Indians are high on the recent climb of the stock market they need to remember the collapse of the financial markets in South East Asia in 1997.
We as a society and as a civilization based on the sacred earth are on the threshold of destroying our very ecological foundation by worshipping money and markets. These are becoming the new sacred. And false sacred emerge when society loses its anchor.
We need to re-anchor ourselves in the earth. We need to stop uprooting those who are anchored in the land, our peasants and tribals.
We need to return to the Earth, our mother.
Vandana Shiva is a philosopher, environmental activist, eco-feminist, and author of several books. She is visiting Los Angeles for a special fundraiser “The Seeds of Change,” Sunday, Oct. 17, 6:30-9:30 p.m. 5000 Clark Ave., Lakewood. $100. (310) 544-2667. www.friendsofnavdanya.org.