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“Being a planetary citizen doesn’t need space travel. It means being conscious that we are part of the universe and of the Earth. The most fundamental law is to recognize that we share the planet with other beings and that we have a duty to care for our common home.”- Vandana Shiva
In this age of global warming and ecological disruptions, we need to understand the importance of protecting the environment. We are witnessing climate change and natural disasters caused by the exploitation of nature and the environment. Incidents can be taken into accounts such as the Simplipal forest fire, the deforestation of Western Ghats, the fire breakout of Purulia forest, and many more. To further understand this movement and its nature, it is the right time to look at some major environmental and ecofeminist movements in India. Many of us are not aware of the term ecofeminism. As a theory, it developed in the 1970s, alongside environmental and other radical political movements. The term ‘ecofeminism’ first appeared in the year 1974, in Francoise d’Eaubonne’s “Le feminismeeu la mort”. Ecofeminism argues that there is a connection between women and nature that comes from their shared history of oppression by a patriarchal society.
Some of the problems that the Third World women face today are the result of the colonial relations between the First World and the Third Worlds. These women have been burdened with the environmental crises resulting from colonial marginalization and ecologically unsustainable development projects. But they have not remained powerless. They have organized movements, institutes, and businesses to transform maldevelopment to sustainable development. They are often at the lead, fighting to protect their own lives, their children, and the life of this planet.
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One such movement in India was the Chipko Movement. The movement began in 1973 in the remote hill town of Gopeshwar in Chamoli district. On 26th March 1974, led by a 50-year-old widowed woman, Gaura Devi, a group of village women prevented the felling of trees in Reni village, Hemwalghati, in Chamoli district of present-day Uttarakhand. Through a four-day-long vigil, the women hugged the trees to prevent them from felling. They were successful in preventing the felling by a contractor assigned by the State Forest Department for supplying wood to a sports goods manufacturer in Allahabad.
The Appiko Movement in Karnataka had a similar cause of emergence. This movement was a response to the denudation of forests in the Uttar Kannada district of Karnataka.
Narmada Bachao Andolan is also a movement fronted by native tribal farmers, environmentalists, and human rights activists. It was against a number of large dam projects across the Narmada River. The movement included court actions, hunger strikes, rallies and had a wide supportive network of activist groups led by Medha Patkar, Baba Amte, and others working in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and elsewhere, as well as environmental groups overseas.
There are some Indian writers who have highlighted the relationship between women and the environment. Vandana Shiva, a physicist, and environmental activist published Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Survival in India (1988), which reflects the increasingly global nature of ecofeminism during the 1980s. Mahashweta Devi, an academician, writer, and journalist worked for change through her literary works, and a journal Bortika (The Lamp). The journal published pieces written by tribal. She took the lead in organizing protests against the West Bengal government policy of taking over fertile farmland and handing them over to industrial houses. The relationship between women and nature has also been highlighted in the writings of Kamala Markandaya and Arundhuti Roy.
Women have played a vital role in the environmental movements in India. Through leadership, active participation, even when the movement is led by men and through writings, women have fought for the environment and for their own survival.
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WRITTEN BY: DIYA LAHIRI, RAKA BHATTACHARYYA, DEBADRITA DAS