Towards an Organic Womanism: New Contours of Ecofeminism in India


[1] The Focus Kerala, a southern state in India, recently witnessed an unprecedented political uprising in the form of an Adivasi-Dalit movement for land rights and self-determination. This struggle1  has a long-drawn-out history, with political ideologies and parties of various persuasions taking up and sponsoring the struggles of Dalits and Adivasis in Kerala. However, what is radically new about the recent developments is that the movement has now taken the dimension of a subaltern identity politics. Led by an Adivasi woman, C.K. Janu, around 1500 Adivasis occupied the Muthanga forests of the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary in North Kerala. This was in protest against the political apathy of the State Government that had promised, through an agreement reached between the Government and the leaders of the Adivasi movement, to provide five acres of land to each Adivasi family. On August 16, 2003, an atrocious police operation managed to evict the Adivasis from the forests, resulting in the killing of an Adivasi leader and a policeman and injuring hundreds of Adivasis. Despite the State-sponsored terror inflicted on Adivasis aided by an unholy alliance of the local elite and the forest mafia, the struggles of Adivasis continue to gather momentum under the banner of a new political initiative called "the Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha" (AGMS), the Grand Assembly of the Adivasis. This is an expression of an 'Adivasi Republic' where representatives from each Adivasi village (with gender parity) take decisions for themselves. This assembly has also forged an alliance with Dalits in Kerala. Unlike other political movements, the movement led by C.K. Janu represents a new political awakening in that it is a movement of and led by Dalits and Adivasis themselves. The fact that the herald of the movement is an Adivasi woman, articulating issues of social justice and ecological balance through the forum of 'Adivasi Gothra Sabha' is of immense political significance. This has, I believe, ramifications for shaping the future course of ecofeminist discourse in India. My sense is that the movement led by C.K. Janu provides an appropriate locus for fleshing out an alternate version of ecofeminism-an 'organic womanism', as I would want to call it, in India. A brief survey of 'ecofeminism' is offered here before we attempt to delineate 'organic womanism' in details.
[2] Introduction Like any other progressive strand, 'ecofeminism' is also a 'movement', albeit a recent one, against a particular kind of domination. Whilst most of the environmental movements impugn anthropocentrism for ecological crisis, ecofeminism would deem 'androcentrism' the root cause of the problem. Ecofeminism can be rendered as an attempt to synthesize two strands of thought-worlds, ecology and feminism, which hitherto had been viewed as almost completely discrete and disjointed entities. Put differently, ecofeminism seeks to highlight the interconnectedness or the isomorphism that exists between women and nature. It indicates a politic that revolves around the indispensable correlation between women and nature, both in essence and praxis.

[3] Genesis of the Movement Simone d'Beauvoire is considered to be the first acknowledged ecofeminist. According to her, it is not just the economic advantages that drive 'man' in his craze for development, but certain psychological incentives as well.2  Perhaps the earliest roots of the discourse on ecofeminism could be located in the notion of 'Mother Earth'. Primal religions, by and large, conceived of god in feminine terms until patriarchy crept into the indigenous traditions as well. Eric Newman, an illustrious pupil of Carl Jung, talked about the 'great mother' and her relations to nature in his Great Mother. Edward Vitand's The Return of the Goddess is another classic on this tradition. However, ecofeminism should not be confused with a project that seeks to merely revive and put the grand old tradition of the goddess back on the agenda.

[4] It was a French feminist by name Francoise d'Eaubonne who really set up the project of ecofeminism as part of launching a new initiative called 'Ecology, Feminism Center' in 1972. In 1974, she published her path-breaking book Feminism or Death.  She used the word 'ecofeminism' to refer to women's potential to bring about an ecological revolution. In one of the chapters entitled "The Time for Ecofeminism," the author contended that in order to restore the planet for humanity for tomorrow, we had to take it away from the male. If the male society persisted, she cautioned, there would be no tomorrow for humanity. In her own words:

 "The planet placed in the feminine will flourish for all."3

[5] However, with the project of 'patriarchalization' of cultures gaining steady momentum, women's productivity along with earth's fertility came under the control of men. Thus, phallocracy came to be identified as the primary cause of both population explosion as well as environmental calamity.

[6] Various Strands of Eco-feminism Ever since the dawn of 'eco-feminism', there have been various approaches to it out of different contextual and ideological persuasions. As already indicated, ecofeminism is an attempt to transcend the dichotomization of the struggles for women's rights and environmental justice. The integral connection between domination of women and of nature is, perhaps, the central tenet of ecofeminism. According to Vandana Shiva and Maria Mies, the noted Indian exponents of ecofeminism:

[7] Ecofeminism is about connectedness and wholeness of theory and practice. We see the devastation of the earth and human beings by the corporate warriors (MNCs) and the threat of nuclear annihilation by the military warriors as feminist concerns. It is the same masculinist mentality, which would deny us our right to own bodies and our sexuality, which depends on multiple systems of dominance and state power to have its way.4

[8] Theorizing of the concerns of women and ecology has been done from various conceptual perspectives. Adherents of 'deep ecology' and 'nature feminists', for instance, regard humanity and other forms of life as quintessentially one and the same ('radical egalitarianism'). They tend to reject anthropocentrism in toto. George Session's Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered (1989) has been a pioneering work in this field. The major lacunae of this school of thought, is that it fails to take into account the social justice component, itself a major aspect of 'environmentalism of the poor5'.  In the effort to valorize ecological concerns, the eco-just dimensions are ignored. As Ramchandra Guha discerns, deep ecology's focus on anthropocentrism effectively masks the role of capitalism and political economy in the domination of nature and human beings. Deep ecology can, therefore, sit comfortably with a capitalist system, without necessarily challenging it. Hence Guha would warn:

[9] Both the Western style of development and the American brand of Deep Ecology are grave.6

[10] Elitism of deep ecologists is also reflected in their concerns such as building and beautifying parks and resorts. Eco-friendly, though they might sound, have, nevertheless, far reaching ramifications in the Third World contexts. For instance, as Guha cautions us, setting aside wilderness in densely populated cities and villages in India can only mean eviction of the poor, Dalits and tribals from their homeland and transference of resources from the poor to the rich industrialists. In effect, the elite will continue to enjoy the material benefits of a thriving capitalist economy as well as the aesthetic benefits of a 'pure' and unadulterated nature. Engaging the category of 'post-materialism7',  expounded by political scientist Ronald Inglehart, Guha calls it 'environmentalism of the rich'. Deep ecology represents this ever-increasing desire for 'post-materialist' pursuits such as 'enjoyment of clean and beautiful environment'. Here, 'greenness' becomes the ultimate luxury of the consumer society. Many of the environmental movements in the North find their motivation from this post-materialist quest for 'green leisure and comforts', often at the expense of social justice for indigenous communities who live in close proximity with nature.

[11] Radical or cultural feminists are inclined to analyze environmental problems from within its critique of patriarchy. Mary Daly and Susan Griffins are, perhaps, the most representative of this school. Daly's Gyn/Ecology and Griffins' Women and Nature are considered to be contributions of immense import in this area. For both of them, patriarchy is at the heart of subjugation of women and nature, and their analysis is basically grounded in biological difference of men and women. Human beings are biologically sexed and socially gendered, they would contend.8   Sex and gender relations provide men and women with entirely different sets of power concepts. Men, according to them, use women to secure their 'immortality' through child bearing. Hence, only a separatist movement can hold, the argument goes. This approach is often criticized for its 'ahistorical' and essentialist tendencies.

[12] 'Social feminists' or 'socialist feminists', on the other hand, maintain that there is both symmetry as well as asymmetry between human beings and other beings. They refuse to view ecological issues as detached from a social justice point of view and would hold that environmental crises have their origin in certain political power structures. This implies that in addressing the concerns of ecofeminism, one needs to challenge the systems of social domination based on class and gender. While rejecting the romanticism so characteristic of deep ecology, social ecofeminists challenge the spirit and logic of consumerism and capitalism. They consider gender construction (patriarchy) and classism (capitalism) as integral to the oppressive systems of domination, leading eventually to subjugation of women and exploitation of nature. The problem of capitalist technology, itself one of the causes of today's environmental crisis, is also an impasse caused by patriarchy. Whilst radical feminists ground their analysis in biological reproduction, socialist ecofeminists also bring in the dimension of social reproduction into its analytical orbit. The socialist feminist theory of 'body' as a socially constructed (re) producer has informed a public discourse of 'reproductive freedom'- the freedom to (re) produce or not to (re) produce with their body. It is in this particular area, as Ynestra King9  suggests, socialist feminism has become a political force to reckon with. She also exposes the theoretical scantiness of this school. Although they have articulated a vigorous economic and class analysis, they have failed to address the domination of nature in a convincing manner. This is partly due to their over-reliance on Marxism of whose language of productivity has been proved wholly inadequate. The Marxist critique of 'mode of production' does not necessarily challenge the principle of production. This perspective (critique of capitalism and patriarchy) makes a formidable impression on Vandana Shiva and Maria Mies. However, a combination of class and gender in analyzing the issues of women and ecology, no doubt an important perspective in itself, is still inadequate in the Indian context, because class and gender are essentially categories of Occidental derivation. In India, these postulates have to be approached from other angles such as caste, tribe and ethnicity. Seen from this lens, there seem to be at least two pitfalls with social(ist) ecofeminists such as Shiva and Mies in India. Firstly, implied in their propositions is an assumption that the obvious answer to the capitalist development model lies in a 'socialist' development paradigm, often understood in Marxist categories. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, there is a conspicuous silence on caste and other subaltern categories, either by oversight or design, in their discourse on women and ecology in India.

[13] Whilst it is beyond the scope of this essay to dwell on the first concern, that is, the contention that a socialist development paradigm constitutes a viable alternative model to the capitalist one, it would suffice to indicate here that there is hardly any choice between capitalism and socialism when it comes to development, as both the models are anthropocentric and rely heavily on unlimited exploitation of natural resources for the sake of increasing production.10  It could be said that just as deep ecology and nature feminists tend to mask the role of capitalism, most social ecofeminists masquerade the role of 'socialist development' in effecting environmental calamities. Furthermore, some among social/socialist ecofeminists in India tend to camouflage the role of feudalism and casteism in the exploitation of women and land (ecology). The interlocking of caste/tribe with class and gender in the Indian context is not engaged sufficiently in the work of ecofeminists such as Shiva. Vandana Shiva's best known work Staying Alive: Women Ecology and Survival in India, for instance, has no reference to caste system or Dalit issues (except for a passing reference to Dalit women once). About the burden of the book, the author has this to say:

"The book focuses on science and development as patriarchal projects not as a denial of other sources of patriarchy such as religion but because they are thought to be class, culture and gender neutral"11

[14] Note the evasion of the term 'caste' in the quote. As Gabriele Dietrich observes, Mies and Shiva have tended to locate patriarchy exclusively in Western and modernist locales, ignoring the age-old link between patriarchy and caste system in India. Even when Shiva idealizes "the democratically organized collective agriculture dominated by the 'feminine principle," she leaves out the interplay between caste, class, and gender in traditional village systems where exchange systems and ownership of resources are dominated and determined by the dominant caste. They control the production, redistribution and allocation of resources. This, no doubt, is 'ecologically sustainable', but this sustainability is achieved at the expense of 'lower caste' groups and Dalits. Shiva and Mies, according to Dietrich, are:

…in danger of contributing to an ideology of patriarchy reductionism which resembles the class reductionism of the traditional left in reverse.12

[15] Moreover, the religious symbols and spiritual traditions that Shiva invokes in her writings are predominantly Sanskritic in their orientation. Differently put, there appears to be a 'Brahminic' slant about much of what is termed 'ecofeminist' discourse in India. Shiva's discussion of Indian traditional culture and spirituality abounds in elitist imageries, especially upper caste Hindu notions, symbols and metaphors. Pantheism, goddess tradition, Vedas and Puranas, glorification of 'Ayurveda', worship of 'sacred tulsi' are just a few of the esoteric Hindu strands that Shiva appeals to.13   She even employs the symbol of the 'sacred cow', which has come to assume Brahminic Hindu overtones in contemporary India. Connecting the symbol of 'cow' with the notion of 'sustainability', Shiva maintains:

Ecologically the cow has been central to Indian civilization. Both mentally and conceptually the world of Indian agriculture has built its sustainability on maintaining the integrity of the cow, considering her inviolable and sacred, seeing her as the mother of the prosperity of food system.14

[16] This understanding of sustainability is certainly alien to the worldview of Dalits and tribals in India. In the view of Kailash Malhotra, the ancient caste system was actually based on a concept of sustainable development.15  According to him, the notion of sustainable development was deftly used to discipline society by dividing the use of natural resources according to caste occupations. O.P. Dwivedi appears to be holding the same view when he opines:

The Hindu caste system can be seen as a progenitor of the concept of sustainable development.16

[17] As already indicated, one discerns this element of 'saffronising' of ecological discourse in Shiva. Her invocation of certain environmental myths associated with the river Ganga will further reinforce this argument. According to Shiva, Brahman, the creator of the universe was deeply concerned about the ecological problem of the descent of Ganga from the heavens to earth. As Mukul Sharma reminds us, such myths have become profitable tools in the hands of Hindu fundamentalists to propagate saffron versions of environmental politics.  On invoking the tradition of 'sacred Ganga' in the anti-Tehri dam movement, he comments:

…antit-Tehri dam politics has persistently and centrally been constructed through a conservative Hindu imagery, often in partnership with Hindutva politics. Ganga becomes holier and holiest. The ecological reasoning is blurred and goes beyond logic, eliciting Hindu support, patriotism and xenophobia…. These myths together integrate the identity of a river and a 'Hindu' identity.17

[18] Vandana Shiva is uncritical in her use of Brahminic Hindu symbols (especially problematic when such symbols are heavily used by the evangelists of "Cultural Nationalism' in India) and also quite insensitive to the Dalit (caste) dimensions of environmental concerns. However, there are others such as Aruna Gnanadason, Gabriele Dietrich and Elizabeth Joy, who seek to look at ecological issues from the vantage point of Dalit and Adivasi women.18  Any attempt to grapple with the issues of women and nature sans a focus on the caste and tribal interplay in India will be of little relevance.

Towards an Organic Womanism

Naming women…

[19] One of the academic challenges for feminism in India, it appears, is that of expounding an organic womanist perspective as against a Western, middle class and at times elitist brand of ecofeminism, a perspective which would address the issues of women and nature, particularly from a Dalit/tribal perspective, not merely from a perspective of women in an unqualified sense. Imagined and presented as a homogenous and monovocal category, 'women' in eco-feminism remains by and large an un-problematized construct. Organic womanism, on the other hand, particularizes 'women' -it is the Dalit and Adivasi women interacting with land (ecology) that constitutes the core of organic womanism.

[20] The term 'organic womanism' is used here in preference to 'ecofeminism'. 'Womanism' is a category that has been popularized by African feminists. Pointing out the limitations of ecofeminism vis-a-vis its largely middle class orientation, and its inability to address the specific issues of the interlocking of race and gender, African feminists have coined  the term 'womanism' as an alternative vision to ecofeminism. In the Indian context, which is also characterized by the phenomenon of casteism, womanism makes much more sense to women of Dalit and Adivasi locale. One of the arguments in favor of ecofeminism, though, is that it provides a much more inclusive framework, as it does not necessarily exclude men from interacting and co-operating with the project of feminism. Womanism, in this sense, need not be seen as an exclusive enterprise of women alone. At the same time, it will also be interested in retaining a certain sense of 'methodological exclusivism', which is required for an identity politics oriented discourse such as organic womanism. The adjective 'organic' is engaged here to highlight the natural relationship that Dalit and tribal women have with nature, which women of middle class and other sections of society do not possess at the same level and intensity.

[21] Given that in India the ownership of women's body and sexuality, and that of land (ecology) has its base in the power relations that are primarily rooted in caste and ethnic structures, this perspective is of immense significance. In the caste-ridden Indian society, bodies of Dalits and tribal women continue to be the 'property' of upper caste men.  As Elizabeth Joy expresses the plight of Dalit women:

The Dalit women who work in the field constantly face the threat of rape…the bodies of Dalit women are the most exploited and abused. No other sections of women face this situation as Dalit women do.19

[22] Even today, in many parts of the country, Dalit women are raped and sexually abused by their feudal and upper caste lords. They are forced to undergo this experience almost like a ritual. Such accounts of atrocious demeaning of Dalit bodies and sexuality find little space in the cerebral exercises of Shiva and Mies. Moreover, it ought to be noted that in India, social division of labour (caste system) and sexual violence also plays a significant role in causing ecological crises.20 Shiva and Mies miss, almost entirely, this important cross- current of caste in the interplay of class and gender. While economic class reductionism is one of the major flaws in Marxist analysis, gender reductionism appears to be the real travesty in Shiva and Mies.  According to them:

We see the devastation of the earth and her beings by the corporate warriors, and the threat of nuclear annihilation by the military warriors as feminist concerns. It is the same masculinist mentality, which would deny us our right to own our bodies and our sexuality21

[23] The masculinist culprits here are identified as the corporate and military warriors, the global capitalist forces. However, the local protagonists, the 'upper caste' warriors and the system of casteism are let off in this scrutiny.  The 'we' and the 'us' in Shiva and Mies represent women in general, not specifically women of Dalit and tribal locale.22 The particularity of the plight of Dalit and tribal women in India cannot but be emphasized because they bear the real brunt, and form the immediate victims of masculinist hegemony in India. In this regard, one needs to critically look at some of the traditional Indian (Brahminic Hindu) strands on women and sexuality. Sanskritic Hinduism goes to the extent of glorifying women and nature, even according them divine status, albeit in an 'orientalist' and esoteric sense. The patriarchal face of this tradition is unmistakably recognized in Narada Smriti, which has this to say about women:

Women are created for offspring, a woman is the field and a man is the possessor of the field.23

 It further adds:

Like the earth, a woman too has to bear pain. The earth is ploughed, furrowed, dug into…a woman also is pierced and ploughed.24 

[24] As Leela Dube argues, a woman's body is equated here with the field or earth and the male semen with the seed and the process of reproduction with the process of procreation. Like land (nature), women are also considered the private domain of men. This is a misogynist understanding of women-nature conflation. In this connection, one must not miss the point that it is the same Hindu value system that the emerging fascist Hindutva forces are seeking to invoke today as part of their new enterprise of Cultural Nationalism25.  It is the body of Dalit and tribal women and the body of women from minority religious sections that the fascists are after. In much the same fashion, they also seek to invade the space of Dalits and Adivasis by evicting them off their homeland. Even more intriguing is the fact that all this is done in the name of environmental sustainability and preservation. Organic womanism faces this paradox and challenge boldly. As far as organic womanism is concerned, what is critical is the rape of Dalit and tribal women, not just the rape of any women. In much the same vein, the crucial question for an organic womanist is not quite the rape of the earth as a whole, but rape of the land of Dalits and Adivasis. This is because meta-theories and global narratives play a relatively subservient role to the much more localized micro perspectives in organic womanism.

[25] The caste factor in 'organic womanism' is also vital because in India, as Louis Dumont and others have convincingly established, the question of purity and pollution are measured by the degree of human interaction with organic life in the traditional societal life. Involvement in child bearing and agriculture are, therefore, deemed polluting. Consequently, Dalit/Adivasi women, unlike other women, become carriers of 'double pollution' on account of their role in child bearing as well as in agriculture. Dietrich has derived yet another insight from Dumont. Although death is thought to be ritually polluting, the martial castes, that were the professional death dealers, were not considered polluted through their vocation. To the contrary, they were even ranked next only to those involved in production of life. This has pertinent ecological ramifications, holds Dietrich26,  as it connects with the pseudo-productivity of the predatory approach which Shiva and Mies describe in contradistinction to the production of life carried out by women and Dalits. This element of organic touch of Dalit and Adivasi women, their direct and close encounter with nature is one of the raison d'être for my preference for 'organic womanism' to ecofeminism. Ecofeminism in its contemporary manifestation, in its present form and content, stands devoid of this cutting edge, the particular focus on Dalit and Adivasi women and their sense of organic environmentalism. Transcending the red-green (these days even saffron) version of ecofeminism of the likes of Shiva and Mies, organic womanism postulates a black-red-green brand of environmentalism. Blackness (the Dalit/Adivasi identity) here is more than a shade and does not get subsumed by green and red in the new political configuration. In fact, blackness is what provides green its red hue. Elements of such an organic womanism are seen in the emerging Dalit/Adivasi struggles for land in Kerala, spearheaded by the Adivasi woman leader C.K. Janu.

[26] Beyond the Masculine and the Stereotypical in Ecofeminism Organic womanism can also transcend certain other limitations of an ecofeminist framework. The prefix 'eco' has been avoided here for mainly two reasons. First, the prefix appears to have lost its teeth because of the excessive and rather over simplified use of the term in contemporary discourse on ecology. For instance, the 'eco' in 'eco-tourism' stands for anything but ecology.  At best, it points to an elitist environmental project- 'environmentalism of rich'. Moreover, 'eco' in ecofeminism is, in fact, a masculine category, the prefix being an abbreviation of 'ecological', itself a derivative of the Greek masculine term 'oikos' meaning 'household'. The ancient Greek concept of 'oikos', it may be noted, was very much a patriarchal notion.27   By projecting an almost essentialist identification of women and nature, between women and 'household' to be precise, ecofeminism is, in fact, engaged, albeit unwittingly, in a project which can be self-defeating in its goal. Ecofeminism, by accepting the 'natural' ('the given') responsibility of women in looking after the 'household' actually falls into the patriarchal trap of  'housewifization' of women. As J. Devika cautions:

The ideology of domesticity marks out the home as a space for fashioning the modern individualized self, overseen by the women (the 'housewife') who is given the responsibility of regulating the altruistic exchange between the members of the household. She is granted a subtle, sentimental non-coercive power, which she is to exercise over the other members of the family. However the cost of such power is always very high: these women must also subject herself to the strictest self-disciplining.28

Beyond the Classical 'Care Ethic'…

[27] Organic womanism, as an alternative vision to ecofeminism, instead, raises the question of ownership of land (nature) and therefore of power relations as well.  Dalit and Adivasi women are talking about the preservation of their own space and therefore about their own ecology. They are no more willing to take on the 'feminine' responsibility of taking care of space and ecology, which isn't theirs. In other words, there is no sense of idealizing the 'feminine' virtues here. Celebration of stereotypical 'feminine values' can become the very cause of domination of women by men and hence is resisted. In other words, it is not the classical 'care ethic' of the essentialist ecofeminism that organic womanism proposes. Rather, recapturing of the lost ownership of their ancestral land (nature) and its 'care' through an organic interaction is what organic womanism is all about. 'Care' in organic womanism ceases to be a patronizing moral virtue; rather it assumes an affirmative nuance. Dalit and Adivasi women project themselves as owners of their land and space, (their identity is not that of 'workers' in some one else's field as the traditional 'working class' label apparently entails) assuming subject hood, selfhood and motherhood.

[28] 'Motherhood' in Organic Womanism The image of 'mother' is an important facet of organic womanism, doubtless with a radically different countenance. Aruna Gnanadason revisits 'motherhood' as an epistemological category in her reflections on the interconnectedness of women and nature, especially from an Indian contextual perspective. In her view, motherhood is understood in India beyond its biological functionalist overtones. Appreciated as a powerful symbol of care and nurture, motherhood also represents creativity, regeneration and sustenance. Gnanadason, however is conscious of the inherent potential for this image to be appropriated by patriarchy and hence calls for a process of deconstruction of the image.

[29] According to Gnanadason:

…we must debunk patriarchy's appropriation of motherhood and the ways in which this has been used to trample on the rights of women in India and elsewhere and to control their sexuality and creativity.29

[30] In their musings on women and ecology in Africa, there is a recurrent use of the term 'ecomotherists'. Motherhood image fits in well within an ethic of care. As Sara Ruddick30 points out, a mother's experience of bringing up children and taking care of conflicts among them represents a spirit of nurture and care. Applied to social engineering, it becomes a life affirming principle.31

[31] Innate in Dalit and Adivasi ethos is a strong attachment to the image of mother. C.K. Janu echoes a similar voice in her biography where she portrays forest as mother.32  However, it is different from the 'benevolent colonial mother'33  of elitist environmentalism, who takes care of her 'adopted' children in a patronizing manner. Neither is the Adivasi vision a cryptic one where Adivasis and Dalits are taken care of as 'the other' by the superior mother, the Self. This has revolutionary implications for an identity politics, which would challenge the hijacking of environmental movements and their leadership by non-Dalits and non-Adivasis. This is what has happened in the Mutthanga struggle where Dalit and Adivasi women have effectively removed the middle class environmentalists and politicians from their role of 'benevolent mothers'. The relationship of the mother and her children here is not romantic, that is, understood exclusively in terms of  'intrinsic worth of creation' (reverence for mother nature), rather, it is a non-mechanistic relationship, an interaction geared toward the survival and sustenance of both nature and her children. This way, the social justice component (eco-justice34) is not lost in this approach. The mother and the children own each other. Both women and nature assume the roles of the mother and children interchangeably, owning and caring for each other.

[32] Organic Womanism: A New Political Praxis Organic womanism stands out also on account of its revolutionary political praxis. Whereas much of ecofeminism remains at the level of mere intellectual engagement, organic womanism asserts itself in the form of civil society movements through concrete socio-political action. In this sense, organic womanism actually takes the debate on women and ecology to a postmodern phase. It takes on the dimensions of  'micro-politics' or 'resistance politics'35,  raising unsettling questions about capital (economic, cultural and symbolic), questions of ownership and control over resources. Power is understood vis-à-vis a 'multiplicity of relations, de-centred and produced incessantly from one movement to the another', as Foucault describes it.  De-centred power warrants de-centralized politics. As Ashi Sara observes, the 'self-rule' concept of Adivasis, as it has been explicated by the Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha (AGMS) in Kerala, corresponds to this postmodern/post-structuralist notion of democratic power.36  It is not a democracy imposed by the State, but a democracy where Adivasis and Dalits represent themselves. From this perspective, organic womanism would care less about the political correctness of theory because the very power relations behind a theory are brought under close scrutiny here. As Quinby puts it, theory is applied here not in the prescriptive mode, rather in the interrogative mode, raising questions about leadership and power dynamics. No ideology enjoys a sacrosanct position in such politics, which affirms the provisional nature of all ideological points of reference. This will even challenge certain essentialist tendencies within ecofeminism. Organic womanism refuses to treat women as a monovocal subject, feminity as of pure essence, nature as a fixed locus, holism as a deterministic system, and body as a static materiality.37  Gayatri Spivak also warns us on the dangers of essentialism when she says:

Essentialism is a trap…Homogenizing women's diverse experiences and then romanticizing that "essence" blind us to the myriad ways in which the idea of 'womanhood' is implicated in constraints on and brutality against women. 38

[33] Shiva and Mies seem to have taken the slippery slope position vis-à-vis their essentialist proclivity. In contrast to the objective 'we' and 'us' in Shiva and Mies, a subjective 'we' is constructed. The new 'we' is not a category without a name and a face. Neither is this 'we' represented in 'on behalf of' terms, but by themselves. The 'we' are Dalit and Adivasi women. Established grand truth claims, both political and ideological, are approached with a 'hermeneutics of suspicion' and even challenged by truth claims that are derived from the day- to- day experiences of specific women. In this sense, it is 'post-class' and post-Marxist' -a subaltern movement. Organic womanism and organic environmentalism is a form of subaltern identity politics. It is here that the environmental movements led by Medha Patkar of the 'Narmada Bachao Andolan' (NBA) and the one led by C.K. Janu (AGMS) encounter their essential point of divergence. Medha Patkar cannot express the organic identity that Dalit and Adivasi women have with nature the way C.K. Janu as an Adivasi woman is able to.39 Organic environmentalism and womanism, in other words, will raise questions about the very identity of those in leadership of movements, questions regarding ownership of resources and thereby ultimately questions of political power as well.

[34] Take a look at the names that Vandana Shiva so proudly presents to us as the 'catalysers' of the famous Chipko Movement- Mira Behn, Sarala Behn, Hima Devi, Gauri Devi, Gurga Devi, Itwari Devi, and among men leaders of the movement, Sunderlal Bahuguna, and Chandi Prasad Bhatt. The caste identity of all these women and men will speak volumes about the character of the movement. Shiva has no doubts whatsoever in her mind as to who leads the struggle conceptually and organizationally. The philosophical articulation of the movement has been the responsibility of Bahuguna and Mira Behn, whereas Sarala Behn has been providing the organizational leadership.40 Shiva calls her brand of ecofeminism 'post-victimology study'. She explains the concept further when she says:

…the women who participate in and lead ecology movements in countries like India are not speaking merely as victims…41

[35] How can the leaders of the movements that Shiva talks about, speak the language of 'victims' at all, when they do not constitute the community of 'victims'? This is the point of departure for organic womanism because it is about victims taking leadership of their own struggles and articulating their own world-views. They do not look up to the Mira Behns and the Bahugunas for conceptual articulations of their concerns and the 'Bhatts' for organizing their movements. It is this process of rigorous interrogation, Dalits and Adivasis raising critical questions about their right to ownership of forests and land, about the leadership of people's movements, that has sent ripples among the rank and file of some of the 'progressive' environmentalists and eco-feminists, that is, among the 'colonial mothers'. The kind of knee-jerk reactions we have had from these 'progressive' quarters, which included political parties, intellectuals and activists with leftist ideological leanings, toward the recent occupation of forests (their homeland) by Adivasis, condemning it as ecocide, illustrate the deep divisions that exist between a middle class environmentalism, (eco-feminism included), and the emerging organic environmentalism and womanism. If anything, C.K. Janu's movement has exposed the pseudo prophets of our times. As Quinby predicted, such questioning of traditional, classical mode of revolutionary thinking could well risk the end of ecofeminist imagination as it is currently constituted. She adds:

And if another term and a different politics emerge from this questioning, it will be in the service of new local actions, new creative energies, and new alliances against power42

[36] In sum, organic environmentalism and womanism, to me, is certainly a different category that represents a politics with a difference- a subaltern resistance politics. It is a new brand of environmentalism where, as Guha explains, the process of resource capture by 'omnivores', both in the public and private sector, is resisted by 'ecosystem people' through non-violent struggles.   The Adivasi-Dalit land struggle of which the harbinger is C.K. Janu, an Adivasi woman (both these words are important for an identity politics), has all the hallmarks of such a politics, a much needed paradigm shift that civil society has been longing for ages. Yes, the subalterns can speak and, indeed, they have spoken.


End Notes

1  See C.R. Bijoy and K. Ravi Raman, "Muthanga: The Real Story, Adivasi Movement to Reclaim Land" in Economic and Political Weekly, Vol.XXXVIII, No.20, May 17-23, 2003, pp.1975-1982, for a detailed analysis of the movement from an historical perspective.

2  See G. Madhusudan "Ecofeminism Sahithyathil" (Malayalam) in Mathrubhoomi Weekly, No.450, 2002, pp. 7-11.

3  Quoted in Carolyn Merchant "Ecology: Key Concepts in Critical Theory", p.10.

4  Vandana Shiva and Maria Mies, Ecofeminism, Kali for Women, New Delhi, 1993, p. 14.

5  Ramachandra Guha and J. M. Alier, Varieties of Environmentalism: Essays North and South, Oxford University Press, Mumbai, 1998, p.xxi.

6  Ibid.

7  Ibid., p. xiv. The theory argues that a rapid economic growth since World War II has, through the creation of a mass consumer society, led to the satisfaction of material needs and expectations for the vast majority of the population.

8  Carolyn Merchant , Ecofeminism and Feminist Theory" in Irene Diamond and Gloria Feman Orenstein (eds), Reweaving the World: The Emergence of Ecofeminism, Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, 1990, p.101.

9  Ynestra King, "Healing the Wounds: Feminism, Ecology, and the Nature/Culture Dualism" in Ibid., p. 114.

10  For a detailed discussion on the theme, see my Green Liberation: Towards an integral Ecotheology, ISPCK, Delhi, 1999, pp.111-145.

11  Vandana Shiva, Staying Alive: Women Ecology and Survival in India, Kali for Women, New Delhi, 1988, p. xvi (emphases mine). It is also interesting to note that Vandana Shiva in her edited book, Minding Our Lives: Women from the South and North Reconnect Ecology and Health, ignores the caste factor completely, whereas Gail Omvedt, one of the contributors in the volume, does deal with the interlocking of caste and gender in the Indian context. (See p.101)

12  Gabriele Dietrich, Women's Movements in India: Conceptual and Religious Reflections, Breakthrough Publications, Bangalore, 1988, p.155.

13  Vandana Shiva, Staying Alive, op.cit., pp. 39-40.

14  Ibid., p.165.

15  Quoted in Mukul Sharma, "Saffronising green" in Seminar, No.516, August 2002, pp.26-27.

16  Quoted in Ibid., p.27.

17  Ibid., p.29.

18  Aruna Gnanadason, Gabriele Dietrich and Elizabeth Joy have also critiqued Shiva and Mies. Some of their writings are referred to in this essay. Perhaps, the difference in their perspectives has to do with their minority religious and marginal caste backgrounds.

19  Elizabeth Joy, "Eco-feminist Spirituality: A Response from Dalit-Tribal Perspective", (an unpublished paper presented at a National Consultation on Eco-feminism) p. 10. According to Ruth Manorama, an organic Dalit thinker, Dalit women are 'thrice alienated' on account of their caste, gender and class backgrounds.

20  See George Mathew Nalunnakkal, Green Liberation, op.cit., pp.173-181, for a detailed discussion on the caste dimensions of women's oppression.

21  Vandana Shiva and Maria Mies, op. cit., p. (emphases mine)

22  In Shiva's writings, one comes across innumerable references to 'women', Third World women', 'Indian women', 'Third World farmers' , 'Indian farmers' etc. All of them appear as monovocal categories, un-problematized and non-particularized. 'Farmers' in Adivasi belts in Kerala, for instance, are actually the invaders who took the land away from Adivais.

23  Quoted in Janet Chawla, "Gendered Representations of Seed, Earth and Grain: A Women Centred Perspective on the Condition of Women and Earth" in The Journal of Dharma, Vol.XVII, No.3, July-Sept, 1993, p.237.

24  Ibid., p.240.

25  It must be acknowledged that Vandana Shiva is critical about such misogynist conflation of women and nature and also about the patriarchal usage of 'seed' and 'earth' categories. (See her Minding Our Lives, op.cit., p.128)

26  See Gabriele Dietrich, op.cit., p. 168.

27  'Oikoumene' referred primarily to the 'civilized Greek world' as against the uncivilized rest of the world. Later, it also came to be identified with the colonial Roman empire.

28  J. Devika, " Imagining Eco-feminist Politics in Contemporary Keralam: A Note for Discussion" (an unpublished paper presented at a National Consultation on Ecofeminism), p.6.

29  Aruna Gnanadason, "Towards an Eco-feminist Theology from the Perspective of Indian Women", (an unpublished paper presented at a National Consultation on "Recasting Women, Recasting Theology"), p.6.

30  See Sara Ruddick, Maternal Thinking: Towards a Politics of Peace, Beacon Press, Boston, 1990.

31  Virginia Held also dwells on the image of 'mother' from an eco-feminist perspective in her edited book Justice and Care: Essential Readings in Feminist Ethics, Westview, Boulder, 1993.

32  C.K. Janu: Januinte Atmakatha (Malayalam), DC Books, Kottayam, 2003, p.11.

33  Franz Fanon uses this expression in his "Wretched of the Earth".

34  In one of her recent public speeches , C.K. Janu made the following statement: "Our struggle is not merely for our right to live, but also for the rights of every one, every plant and animal, every creature on this earth" (Translation mine).

35  For a detailed discussion, see Lee Quinby, "Ecofeminism and the Politics of Resistance" in Irene Diamond (eds), op.cit, pp. 122-127.

36  Ashi Sara Oommen, "Struggle Survives; Survival Struggles", an Inter- Disciplinary paper presented at a seminar at the United Theological College, Bangalore, (unpublished), p. 12.

37  Lee Quinby, op.cit., p.125

38  Quoted in Ibid.

39  Medha Patkar, a popular woman activist, the main leader of the Narmada Bachao Andholan (NBA) hails from an upper caste Hindu background.

40  Vandana Shiva, Staying Alive, op.cit., p.71.

41  Ibid., p.40.

42  Lee Quinby, op.cit., p. 126.



© December 2003
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 3, Issue 12