According to Merriam-Webster, ecofeminism is a movement or a theory that applies feminist principles and ideas to ecological issues. This term was first coined by a French feminist, Francoise d’Eaubonne in her book “Le Feminisme ou la Mort” (Feminism or Death). She raised the point that patriarchy is the root cause of all ecological crisis – men’s control over women and nature have led to overpopulation and overexploitation of nature respectively. When we talk about the environmental disaster that’s taking place, the role of gender about how we can move forward comes into play.
As United Nations Environment Programme puts it, “Around the world, environmental conditions impact the lives of women and men in different ways as a result of existing inequalities. Gender roles often create differences in the ways men and women act in relation to the environment and in the ways men and women are enabled and prevented from acting as agents of environmental change”; and here comes the concept of ecofeminism.
In India, ecofeminist Vandana Shiva is the pioneer who prepared the ground for ecofeminism with a strong belief that women have always been the key to solve various societal problems and environmental problems are one of them. By highlighting their presence in the Indian literature, the nature and form of ecofeminism in India can be assessed. Literature in which the concept of ecofeminism has been taken into account ranges from early ecofeminism to the recent or the urbanized one such as ‘Nectar in a Sieve’ (1954) by Kamala Markandya, ‘Fire on the Mountain’ (1977) by Anita Desai, ‘A Riversutra’ (1993) by Gita Mehta, ‘The God of Small Things’ (1997) and ‘An Atlas of Impossible Longing’ (2008) by Arundhati Roy and ‘Monkey-Man’ (2010) by Usha K.R.
Many female Indian novelists not only explore the subjectivity that is embedded in the relationship of women and the patriarchal society but also make several social issues as the key subjects. Many of the works from twentieth century of such novelists have been regarded as effective mediums of ‘modernism and feminism’. With Arundhati Roy and Kiran Desai getting hold of Booker Prizes, works of Indian women novelists have been highlighted. Indian women’s fiction on the relationship between women and the environment has added to the theory and development of ecofeminism in India.
In the West, there are large bodies of literary accounts that have analyzed ecofeminism in different ideological terms but in India, the struggle to save environment went on for long even before it was accounted in the West. It was Vandana Shiva who brought ecofeminism movements to the forefront in India with her active involvement in the Chipko Movement- wherein women wrapped themselves around trees to prevent contractors from felling them off- as a young woman. The struggle to protect the environment is believed to be the same across all communities in India but we would be at a loss in our thinking if we ignore the fact that protests against environmental damage and questions of survival and subsistence are interlinked deeply with the axiom of caste, class and gender issues. Vandana Shiva, the pioneer in this field, critiques that modern technology which has actually reinforced the patriarchal system and violence perpetuates it towards women and nature. According to her, switching to such a lifestyle is deviating us from the traditional lifestyle which promotes human-environment balance ‘prakriti’. Under the influence and grab of these new developments, nature has been mercilessly exploited and feminine principles in terms of the environment are no longer considered for creativity and sanctity but merely to be passive resources. Thus, though women’s knowledge of dependence on nature for subsistence has been dissipated and marginalized under the grab of modern science, she strongly believes that third world women have the power within them for causing a change. In this regard, we can cite the example of ‘Narmada Bachao Andolan’ in which the active participation of Medha Patkar and Arundhati Roy helped the movement gain momentum.
The issue of sustainable development to protect the environment from degrading was raised in Conference on Environment and development at Stockholm in 1974 for the first time. If we turn the pages of history, we will find instances which prove that women are better connected with nature. Since time immemorial, they have been responsible to look after households and prepare basic needs for survival and thus, are better connected to nature.
Women’s interaction and relationship with nature must be located within the material reality of caste, class and gender. Women are the victims of environmental disaster but they can also be very effective agents of environmental regeneration – as is clearly evident by the success of the Chipko Movement. The need of the hour is to mobilise them into a proper channel and to give ecofeminism a proper voice and a way so that it does not turn into a superficial shout. There is also a need to abolish the class and caste basis for an effective collective movement in India. The adverse class-caste effects on women’s relationship with nature are reflected in the erosion of indigeneous knowledge and livelihood strategies on which poor, rural women are dependent. Thus, there is a need for ecofeminism in India to strengthen itself in the face of different barriers and be more than a superficial shout.
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