Vandana Shiva: Brahmin in Shudra clothing

As I was preparing this post, Vandana Shiva, the populist, anti-GMO, environmental darling of the Western liberal /left created a storm of controversy with her tweet that allowing farmers to grow GMOs was like allowing a rapist to rape.


That tweet created a firestorm of controversy.

She’s the so-called physicist turned eco-feminist who is fighting to protect the poor and disenfranchised in Third World countries against exploitation by Western capitalist multi-nationals. Is she?

Her degree in physics is undergraduate and she never worked as a physicist. Yet, she is always touted a being one of India’s leading physicists.   Her bio page on  The Green Interview says  After receiving her schooling in India  and training as a gymnast  Vandana Shiva earned a B.S. in Physics, an M.A. in the philosophy of science at the University of Guelph, and a PhD in nuclear physics at the University of Western Ontario.”

But wait, over at, this is her bio. “Before becoming an activist, Dr Shiva was one of India ’s leading physicists. She holds a master’s degree in the philosophy of science and a Ph.D. in particle physics.” (my emphasis)

SouthEnd Press: “Before becoming an activist, Shiva was one of India ’s leading physicists. She holds a master’s degree in the philosophy of science and a PhD in particle physics.”

EcoWatch: “Dr. Vandana Shiva is trained as a Physicist and did her Ph.D. on the subject “Hidden Variables and Non-locality in Quantum Theory” from the University of Western Ontario in Canada.”

And finally Sustainable Man: She was trained as a physicist and received her Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Western Ontario, Canada, in 1978 with the doctoral dissertation ”Hidden variables and locality in quantum theory.”


There you go.  She is not a physicist, much less one of India’s leading ones. Her Ph.D in is Philosophy of Science.  Yet, she is perceived by the public as a scientist thanks to her good PR machine.

She also may not be the socialist darling the western left thinks she is. Her insistence on a return to traditional ways, or “local ways of knowing”  is very much more in tune with right-wing Hindu nationalism than socialism. It means a return to the feudal and caste system of the past, which rather than help impoverished people, will harm them. It will only help the land-owning elite. Basically she wants a return to the status quo of her Brahmin, landowning youth, except with women in charge.

We’ve seen the local ways of knowledge bit before, in South Africa. It was called Bantu education and was a cornerstone of the apartheid state. What Shiva advocates is very much the same thing.  A return to the local ways would insure that peasants remain in their place with no chances for advancement or progress. They may not starve, but neither will they be able to move out of that life for a better life.  She espouses the elitist, “poverty as nobility” ethos.

Shiva supports the power of women to maintain the traditional life, saying that they know the best ways to continue it.  She constantly retells of her support for the Chipko movement in the Himalayas as an example of women taking control in a bid to preserve their traditional way of life. She claimed the movement had Gandhian roots. The story goes, in 1974 the outside loggers were coming in cutting down a forest in the village of Reni. Locals resented this and it all culminated in a confrontation of local women allegedly hugging the trees, stopping the loggers. (yes, that’s where the term comes from)

But Shiva misrepresents what was actually going on. It wasn’t that they wanted to retain their traditional way of life. They resented outsiders coming in and exploiting their resources. They wanted local autonomy and control of their resources and the ability to profit from them.  The original intent was create their own forest based industry which offered them a way for people to work closer to home rather than having to migrate to find work.

When Shiva and other outside environmentalists came in to preserve the local forest, they fought them as well. They were angered that the outsiders had hijacked their movement to advance their own political agenda. Today the state, Uttarakhand is one of the most  prosperous ones in India.

They have gone in the opposite direction of what Shiva advocates.  They have modernized and raised the standard of living. Despite her view that agriculture should be confined to “food crops for local needs, ” agriculture in the region is booming.  Even though GM crops are currently banned, one of the prospective industries the state is courting is biotechnology.

In his book,  Hind Swaraj, Mahatma Gandhi wrote. “”We have managed with the same kind of plough as existed thousands of years ago… We have retained the same kind of cottages that we had in former times and our indigenous education remains the same as before.” ” Shiva subscribes to Gandhi’s philosophy.  Back in 2011, she wrote an article called “Swaraj: A Deeper Freedom”

Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj has for me, been the best teaching on real freedom. It teaches the gospel of love in place of hate. It replaces violence with self-sacrifice. It puts ‘soul force’ against brute force. For Gandhi, slavery and violence were not just a consequence of imperialism: a deeper slavery and violence were intrinsic to industrialism, which Gandhi called “modern civilisation”.

Gandhi also supported keeping the caste system, which is essence is what Shiva wants to do with her local ways of knowing nonsense and eschewing and rejecting western knowledge. Gandhi wrote:

“To destroy the caste system and adopt the Western European social system means that Hindus must give up the principle of hereditary occupation, which is the soul of the caste system. The hereditary principle is an eternal principle. To change it is to create disorder.”

Vandana Shiva sees western science as “reductionist” and  “colonizing” and insists as I said above, local ways of knowing are the only way. Forget industrial farming. She claims industrial farming has created, “more violence, more destruction and more wars…”

As an alternative to western science, Shiva touts “Vedic science,” except she doesn’t call it that. Vedic “science” is not science as we know it in modern terms. Among other things, it involves astrology and Vedic creationism. It calls for natural cures such as the use of neem leaves as a cure for small pox. Basically, new age type nonsense. It is promoted by the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.  Indian writer, historian and philosopher of science, Meera Nanda wrote this in the New Humanist UK:

On the one hand, the BJP and its allies presented themselves as great champions of science, as long as it could be absorbed into ‘the Vedas’, of course. On the other hand, they aggressively condemned the secular and naturalistic worldview of science – the disenchantment of nature – as ‘reductionist’, ‘Western’ or even ‘Semitic’ and therefore un-Hindu and un-Indian.

Now, it’s difficult to say where Shiva comes down on the other aspects of the party’s view, but she is most definitely aligned on the issue of science.  The interesting thing is this way of thinking has been embraced by environmentalists and feminists. It’s an odd alliance to say the least.

Her view on the Green Revolution is that it was a failure for India, despite the fact that when Norman Borlaug brought it to her country in the mid-1960s, it was on the verge of another famine. Since then, India has gone from importing food to exporting food. Before Borlaug, the rest of the world had essentially written off India as a lost cause.

But here’s a disconnect. She believes you can get the same output as the Green Revolution yield through organic sources. On one hand she claims the Green Revolution was a failure, then tacitly admits it worked. Wait, wasn’t what farmers were doing before the Green Revolution organic, when they had all those famines?

Needless to say she hates GMOs.  This is where her rhetoric becomes dangerous. She hates them so much that she attacked OXFAM on their GMO stance when they were engaged in cyclone relief efforts in Orissa, a state on the southeast coast of India. She tried to persuade them to not supply GMO foods writing in an open letter that “We hope your food aid will be G.E. free.”  Shiva’s group Women for Diversity demanded the Indian government “immediately withdraw the corn-soya blend from Orissa.” Apparently it was better for people to starve rather than eat GMO food.

She hates “golden rice,” a non-commercially developed GMO rice with higher levels of Vitamin A which can prevent blindness in children. Millions of Third World children go blind each year due to lack of Vitamin A, yet Shiva would deny these children because GM is evil bad and golden rice is a “myth” and negates, “nature’s diverse gifts and women’s knowledge of how to use diversity to feed their children and families.” 

She should know about this stuff. She’s an expert in organic farming and agriculture. Consider this incident as told in the Houston Press from 2000:

Before leaving Alvin to prepare for a 7 p.m. lecture in Houston titled “WTO, Basmati Rice & the Stolen Harvest,” Shiva walked across the road and looked out into a shaggy field. “They look unhappy,” she said. “The rice plants. Ours at home look very happy.” “That,” RiceTec reports, “is because it’s not rice. That’s our test field, it was harvested in August. That’s weeds.”

Vandana Shiva is an elitist, anti-progress menace and not the progressive shining light her admirers think she is. Her way of thinking won’t help the poor of the w0rld. It will only keep them at a subsistence level and more importantly, in their place.

Acknowledgement: I would like to thank Adam Merberg for his help in pointing me in the right direction in trying to figure out Shiva’s academic credentials.