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Breaking The Glass Ceiling: Five Female Environmentalists Of India

Posted on May 16, 2013 in Environment

By Riya Rana:

Environmentalists are those who work towards the betterment of our environment. These are the people who have lobbied for environment protection when the common man would rather sleep peacefully and care for his own benefit. These people have worked for a cause greater than them. By saving the environment they have saved and impacted us too. Yet how many of them can we actually name? How many female environmentalists do you know who have contributed to India? Though less in number, they are valuable.

Presented is a list of some female Indian environmentalists you shouldn’t forget-

gauradevi1) Gauri Devi– The Chipko (means- ‘to hug’) movement is a topic taught in almost all of the schools. Everyone remembers Sunderlal Bahuguna, its leader. But does anyone know about its female aspect? The Chipko movement also started in 1974 under the leadership of Gauri Devi who organized the women to hug the trees and prevent their cutting. She was the head of the Mahila Mangal Dal, at the Reni village. The day the lumbermen were to cut the trees, Gauri Devi led 27 women to confront them (as the men had been distracted towards Chamoli). She initially tried to talk them out of it, but soon the lumbermen resorted to abusing and threatening. The women thus decided to hug the trees to stop them from being felled. They guarded the trees all night until the lumbermen surrendered and left. News of the movement soon spread to neighbouring villages and people joined in. Same acts were repeated in other parts of Uttarakhand and thus women were seen as providing environmental solutions.

Medha-Patkar2) Medha Patkar– A popular environmentalist, she is known for her active role in the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) – a powerful mass movement against the construction of a large dam on the Narmada River. The proposed Sardar Sarovar Dam is a multi-crore project and would have displaced more than 320,000 people. It was alleged that foreign funds were being used to hamper rehabilitation. Medha Patkar was also concerned that the people living there had no idea about the project. She formed the NBA in 1989, and has been involved since. As a peaceful means to protest, she took up fasting several times. NBA has subsequently created high level awareness. She has also been involved in protesting against corruption along with Anna Hazare.

3) Sunita Narain– She is the Director General of Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), and publisher of Down To Earth. She sunita narainbegan her work in the 1980s along with Anil Agarwal, another prominent environmentalist, and co-edited State of India’s environment report. After the loss of tigers in Sariska, Sunita chaired the Tiger Task Force for conservation in 2005. She is a member of the Prime Minister’s Council for Climate Change and National Ganga River Basin Authority (which employ practices to clean the river). In 2005, 2008 and 2009 she was featured on the world’s 100 public intellectuals list, by US journal Foreign Policy. Also, Sunita has been awarded the Padma Shri. Her research interests are global democracy (emphasizing on climate change) and local democracy (forest resource management and water related issues).

Maneka Gandhi4) Maneka Gandhi– She was wife of the famous (now deceased) Indian politician, Sanjay Gandhi. But Maneka Gandhi is known for reasons different from above. She is an animal rights leader as well as an environmentalist. In 1994, she founded People for Animals, the largest organisation for animals welfare in India. She believed in ahimsa and the fact that India was in need of a movement to stop the cruel treatment meted out to animals. So she anchored a TV program “Heads and Tails” and authored a book under the same title. She now chairs the Jury of International Energy Globe Foundation which annually awards the best environmental innovations of the year. For her revolutionary work among animals, she went on to receive some of the highest awards in the world.

5) Vandana Shiva– She is a Delhi based environmentalist and eco feminist. A Gandhi follower, she is well Vandana Shivaknown for her proletarian efforts to protect forests, organize women’s networks, and conserve local biodiversity. A physicist and philosopher of science, she has authored books such as Monocultures of the Mind, Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development, Biopiracy and Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis. In 2003, she was identified as an environmental ‘hero’ by the Time Magazine. She has founded and advised various organizations. Vandana Shiva is the director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Natural Resource Policy in Dehra Dun. She was awarded the 1993 Right Livelihood Award, considered parallel to the Nobel Prize. Navdanya, a national movement to protect the diversity of living resources, was created in 1991. Since its 20 years of existence, more than 2000 varieties of rice have been conserved and 34 seed banks established in 13 states nationwide.