Women-led environmental activism in India dates back to the Chipko Movement in the 1970s. Important for its mobilization of rural women, the Chipko Movement was one of the first acts of environmental activism that voiced concerns against state indulgence in excessive capitalism.
A protest against the deforestation of acres of land that led to devastating floods and landslides, it has now become an exemplary event of grassroots environmentalism. In recent years, voices like Medha Patkar, CK Janu, Mahasweta Devi and Arundhati Roy have played a very important role in several ecofeminist movements across the country.
Ecofeminism connects the domination and oppression of women with the unbridled exploitation of nature through masculine methods and attitudes. Environmental activist and author Vandana Shiva says that “While sexual subordination and patriarchy are the oldest of oppressions, they have taken on new and more violent forms through the development project.”
According to her, the feminine principle of Prakriti is a tool to counter the Western development model, which she describes as “maldevelopment.” Ecofeminist movements have become an integral part of intersectional feminism in India. A movement like Narmada Bachao Andolan is an example of empowering tribal and adivasi women’s voices.
Environmentally focused literature and storytelling
Environmental literature has also contributed significantly to the prominence of ecofeminist movements in the country. While environmental writing can be of many types, pieces of Indian literature that emphasize environmental concerns have created lasting effects. Past male writers like Bibutibhushan Bandhopadhyay, and more recent authors like Amitav Ghosh, have criticized our corruption and exploitation of nature in their novels.
by Bandopadhya Aranyak Where Of the forest shows the contradictions of the urban versus the natural. Satyacharan, the novel’s protagonist struggles to let go of his urban lifestyle at first and is then hypnotized by the jungle. On the other hand, Amitav Ghosh shows the human crime against nature which leads to mass destruction. In her books, the colonial past and nature merge as marginalized communities take center stage to tell the stories of their unique environments.
In The hungry tide, Piya is our gateway to the Sundarbans, but it is the experiences of Fakir and Nirmal that give us a deeper understanding of the corruption of nature and its immediate effects.
If these authors among many others, and their works, place the intersection of the environment and human rights at their center, it is only by looking beyond the dominant canon of men’s literature that the e discover the ecofeminist writings of female authors. Not only do they criticize the anti-environmental and capitalist practices of governments, but they also give voice to the disadvantaged with a crucial gender perspective.
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Fiction and environment: the meaning of ecofeminist stories
Published in 1954, Kamala Markandaya’s first novel Nectar through a sieve deals with the primitive bond of man with nature. The introduction of industry and technology in the form of a tannery leads to the destruction of austere and pastoral rural life. The tannery which is shown built under the supervision of white men and supported by the zamindars, becomes a symbol of the patriarchy. If industrialization leads to the development of the city, it also forces peasant women to prostitute themselves to get out of unemployment.
1978 by Anita Desai Sahitya Academy Award winning novel fire on the mountain connects the physical and mental violence of three women to the oppression of nature. In this novel, men who are part of the bourgeois structure are agents of domination, fear, hatred and brutality while nature and ecology are interdependent with women and the non-human. In the face of extreme exploitation, the darker and more sinister aspects of women and nature are revealed throughout the novel.
A River Sutra by Gita Mehta is a collection of six short stories which was published when the Narmada Bachao Andolan was at its peak. The Narmada River, which serves as a natural boundary between North and South India, is not just a biodiversity hotspot. Beyond its anthropological, agricultural and ecological importance, it is also a site of cultural significance.
The construction of the dam on the river leads to the destruction of the cultural history of the natives who previously inhabited the land. Mehta rejects the patriarchal idea that the river is weak, passive and fragmented and, through her collection, envisions the feminine principles of Narmada as a primary source of life.
While Arundhati Roy’s 1997 novel The God of Little Things criticizes the irreparable damage of the misnamed Green Revolution, at the heart of the novel is the counter-movement against Indira Gandhi’s development proposal. the The Green Revolution yielded crops that averted famines, but it resulted in severe ecological damage, the brunt of which was borne primarily by oppressed caste communities and women.
Among the most recent ecofeminist writings in the literature, we have that of Anuradha Roy An atlas of an impossible desire, and Usha KR monkey man, to name a few. They deal with the relationship of women to urbanization. In developed and developing cities, women enjoy a so-called equal opportunity that reflects universal globalization. These novels dig deeper and unearth the uncertainty that the cityscape provides. Far from nature and culture, it becomes a place of both creation and destruction that echoes a particularly trying feeling of madness for women.
Ecofeminist writings from post-independence India link the patriarchal violence inflicted on nature that began with the colonizers’ Westernization dream with the generational brutality faced by Indian women. Ecofeminist literature and discourse do not aim to give voice to privileged urban caste and class, but to individuals pushed to the end of the line.
Ecofeminist writings are essential for the inclusion of intersectionality in Indian feminism. Fiction is often dismissed as having no more value than indulgence. But fictional ecofeminist literature, particularly written by women, etches the nuances of the intersection of the environment, pollution, urbanization and climate crisis with gender through more personal and therefore more relevant.
It is a way of giving as Mahasweta Devi said, “the voiceless a voice.”
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