In harmony with natureThe Hindu scriptures like the Vedas, Puranas and Gita speak extensively about the sanctity of the earth.
I developed considerable reverence for nature early on without understanding the philosophy behind the environment and ecological balance. Possibly, it came naturally by watching my grandmother and mother offering water to our basil and gooseberry trees every morning. Now, my 13-year-old girl helps me water the indoor plants in my apartment, and encourages me to gift potted plants on birthdays and weddings.
Perhaps three decades ago, our environment had plenty to offer, and hence sustainability concerns were undervalued. Environmentalists argue that we are experiencing climate-induced disasters on an unprecedented scale because of human dominion over natural resources. Others counter-argue that climate change is not real and just a political agenda. Several discourses have been put forth for and against this subject. And yet, it is intriguing how human-nature relations and ecological balance are explained in ancient philosophy.
The Vedic view of the environment is defined in a verse in Atharvaveda, where our surroundings’ coverings (air, water, and herbs) are referred to as Chandamsi. Various aspects of our environment are also named Pancha Mahabhoota or the five elements–Prithvi, Vayu, Jal, Agni and Aakash (earth, air, water, fire and sky/space respectively). Similarly, according to Greek mythology, Goddess Gaia is the ancestral mother of all living beings.
In a nutshell, the learning we gather from ancient wisdom is that the five elements are the basis of the creation of living organisms. Environmental balance refers to complete harmony with surrounding organisms, and any imbalance in these elements would bring natural upheavals. Thus, practising non-violence towards all beings is essential for humans to protect the ecosystem we live in and maintain a sustainable, harmonious relationship and justice.
Climate change and ecofeminism
The Hindu scriptures like the Vedas, Puranas and Gita speak extensively about the sanctity of the earth. The earth is revered as a mother. We can also trace women-nature relationships in ancient texts of Vedic times. For instance, Atharvaveda 12.1.12 says, "Mata bhumi putroham prithivyah,” (The earth is my mother, and I’m her child).
An imbalance in giving and receiving characterises the mother-child relationship. A mother’s love is unconditional and often taken for granted. Similarly, we imagine and take the earth as our mother and barely feel guilty about exploiting the available resources without addressing sustainability concerns. In other words, we take advantage of both our mother and the resources that the earth offers us for free.
Women’s roles and responsibilities of managing resources as the family nurturers and food providers connect them deeply with the environment. As a result, such affinity allows women to be more responsive and thoughtful to the sacredness and degradation of the domain.
Nurturing and caring is the foundation of morality. Harvard phycologist Carol Gilligan, in her book In a Different Voice, explains two kinds of moral voices—the masculine and the feminine. The masculine voice is logical and individualistic, meaning there is more emphasis on ethical decisions in protecting the rights of people. In contrast, the feminine voice accords emphasis to protecting interpersonal relationships and care, which could mean valuing individual needs while making an ethical decision.
On the other hand, ecofeminism calls our attention to the way women are disproportionately impacted by climate change, especially those heavily dependent on natural resources for a living. Ecofeminists reason this unequal impact is due to ingrained social and gender inequality that provides a solid platform for breeding injustice and unrest. The unequal social relationships have far-reaching ripple effects in all spheres of vulnerable and marginalised groups regardless of their gender, ethnicity and class. The unequal belief system grew from patriarchal dominance that gave rise to the exploitation of nature and women for cheap and easily accessible resources and labour.
Food and Agricultural Organisation data suggests that climate change has severe consequences throughout all food chain components, including production, processing, retailing/distribution and consumption. Given the substantial female labour participation in food production in the developing countries (45-80 percent), women farmers risk losing their sole source of food and income, and face a scarcity of traditional food sources. The impact of climate change is differently perceived and experienced by men and women. That’s because of persistent social and gender inequalities and the individual’s differential abilities to adapt.
Experts argue that a just and equitable society can’t be built in the absence of social justice. Thus, it is of utmost importance to work together as an alliance to bring gender, ethnicity and class considerations to the centre of environmental justice. Exploitation and violation of either natural resources or women’s rights lead to the breakdown of the ecological and social ecosystem. Such behaviours perpetuate more oppression, conflict and violence. “Only one earth”, the theme of World Environment Day 2022, resonates with the explanation of the mother and child relationship that both ancient Vedic texts and ecofeminism philosophy had offered long back.