Safety as Freedom


Vandana Shiva

Vandana Shiva challenges the violence against people and Nature in the name of progress
The politics of safety is the politics of freedom in times of unfreedom.

The Delhi gang rape of Dec 2012 brought to the streets the deep and growing concern about violence against women and the demand for women’s safety. 

Across India, protests and movements are growing about the safety of people's resources and wealth; their land, their forests their rivers, their property in the context of the violent resource grab that is the basis of the new “growth” economy.

Over the last two decades as the violent resource grab has grown across our tribal and rural areas, I have stood in solidarity with movements defending their lands and homes.

Commodification, appropriation, and control over women’s bodies and the resources of the Earth is one aspect of the threat to safety. Imposition of hazardous technologies that we do not need is another aspect. We do not need nuclear energy when the sun and wind are so generous. We do not need GMOs when biodiversity and ecological agriculture produces more, safer and better food.

Safety has recently emerged as an overpowering cross cutting concern; safety for women and children, safety for tribal peoples, farmers and rural communities and ordinary citizens, safety from nuclear hazards and the environmental and health hazards of GMOs. 

There is a pattern in this continuum of violence and threats to life and safety, just as there is a pattern in the continuum of the struggles for the defence of life, safety and freedom. The exponential increase in concern for safety, is a direct consequence of the dominant culture of greed and commodification, promoted under the garb of the neo liberal paradigm of economics in which only money and markets matter.

There is no life, no value, no ethics, no community, no society, no people, no justice, no place for equality, dignity and people’s rights, no place for freedom and democracy. These values do not stay insulated in a silo called “the Economy”. Through osmosis they become the dominant values permeating through society, shaping the culture (or should we say anti-culture?).

Safety is freedom because everyone - women, children, indigenous cultures, ordinary citizens, lifeforms that weave the tapestry of biodiversity has a natural right to safety, integrity and sovereignty. The duty of a state that claims to be democratic is first and foremost to guarantee safety and freedom to the last of its citizens. 

The politics of safety is the politics of freedom in times of unfreedom.

Tragically, the neoliberal corporate state is unleashing new levels and scales of violence by removing the social and regulatory processes of equality and justice, of democratic participation and defence of freedom in the name of “reforms”. I have called these so called reforms “anti-reforms”, because in the name of “growth”, they are eroding, blocking and undoing the real reforms we need as a society.

They are blocking the social reforms for gender justice, the land reforms, the economic reforms to secure food, work and livelihoods for all, the environmental reforms to protect the resource base that provides life and livelihoods, the political reforms that deepen and widen democratic participation. 

The threat to safety is escalating because as the hazards and threats grow with the growth of commodification and objectification, and the spread of hazardous technologies, the social and political systems that could deal with the hazards in a democratically robust way are being deliberately weakened by the misguided reform process. 

The concern for safety is the concern for the fallout and externalities of a myopic obsession with a myopic vision of the economy and technology that privileges the powerful in the emerging convergence of capitalist patriarchy. 

When an ancient society like the Indian Civilization is called an “Emergent Economy”, this myopia is blatant. Economies of women, of farmers, of small retailers, of nature, are made invisible, and this act of erasure in the mind by a distorted paradigm, leads to erasure in the world - the displacement, destruction, violence we witness everyday, everywhere.

Society, culture, politics are excluded in this paradigm. They don’t go away. They mutate and hybridise with the culture of greed, commodification and unaccountability. They hybridise into a supervirus of brutal violence to which there is no anti-dote or anti-body in the dominant system. 

The anti-dote will come from a change in values and worldviews, in people’s movements for change, in a shift from capitalist patriarchy organized on principles of overt and covert violence to the Earth and people, to Earth Democracy, organized on the principles of the rights of all people and all beings.

No one’s resources, land or homes or livelihoods are safe when everything is reduced to money making, criminal means of money making are given freedom through deregulation and speculation, and money power combined with muscle power join the structures of state power to protect the criminals and criminalise the victims, the ordinary citizen.

No one is safe. Nothing is safe. The economy of commodification and resource grabbing is creating a culture of insecurity. And safety has become the predominant preccupation and touchstone for freedom and democracy in our times.

In debates with the Biotechnology industry pushing GMOs undemocratically on unwilling citizens, I have often heard the phrase “In technological progress, there is no place for ethics and other irrelevant considerations.” At a meeting on the New Biotechnologies called “laws of Life” in 1987, when I asked the representatives of Industry what safety tests they had done on the GMOs they were planning to release into the open environment, I was told that safety could not be addressed because it would slow down the commercialization of GMOs and lead to losses of markets and profits. 

For 25 years, industry has tried to ignore and suppress issues of Biosafety. For 25 years we have kept the issue of safety alive as an issue of science, freedom and democracy. One aspect of that safety as freedom is the right to say “no” to hazards imposed in the name on progress. The other aspect is to create sustainable, safe and just alternatives. 

For two years in a row, at his address to the Indian Science Congress, the Prime Minister, Man Mohan Singh has tried to criminalise the citizen’s movements for  nuclear safety and biosafety. But he is not a lone voice. He is an echo of the structured money making system that wants no breaks in its money making, including the break that is necessary for ensuring safety.

That is why he called for a “structured” debate on issues of Nuclear and GMOS, not a democratic debate. A Nuclear industry desperate to make profits at any cost, must criminalise communities and citizens insisting on their democratic right to safety and freedom from hazards. 

A GMO industry desperate to make profits at any cost will extract royalties from poor farmers, even though the royalty extraction pushes them to suicide. It will try to dismantle Biosafety laws, and replace them with a deregulation framework of the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI). It will criminalise real scientists, and prote PR spinners in the media to promote its false, unscientific message that GMOs are safe and without GMOs we will all starve. 

The politics of safety is the politics of freedom in times of unfreedom.

Vandana Shiva is the founder of Nardanya movement in India.



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