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The lessons I learned about diversity in the Himalayan forests I transferred to the protection of biodiversity on our farms.I started saving seeds from farmers’ fields and then realized we needed a farm for demonstration and training.We practice and promote a biodiversity-intensive form of farming that produces more food and nutrition per acre.
My involvement in the contemporary ecology movement began with Chipko, a nonviolent response to the large-scale deforestation that was taking place in the Himalayan region.
In the 1970s, peasant women from my region in the Garhwal Himalaya had come out in defense of the forests.
Biodiversity has been my teacher of abundance and freedom, of cooperation and mutual giving.
When nature is a teacher, we cocreate with her—we recognize her agency and her rights.
It is from the Himalayan forests and ecosystems that I learned most of what I know about ecology.
The songs and poems our mother composed for us were about trees, forests, and India’s forest civilizations.Women knew that the real value of forests was not the timber from a dead tree, but the springs and streams, food for their cattle, and fuel for their hearths.The women declared that they would hug the trees, and the loggers would have to kill them before killing the trees.A folk song of that period said: In 1973, I had gone to visit my favorite forests and swim in my favorite stream before leaving for Canada to do my Ph. But the forests were gone, and the stream was reduced to a trickle.I decided to become a volunteer for the Chipko movement, and I spent every vacation doing (walking pilgrimages), documenting the deforestation and the work of the forest activists, and spreading the message of Chipko.Terra Nullius (the empty land, ready for occupation regardless of the presence of Indigenous peoples) replaced Terra Madre (Mother Earth).This philosophy goes back to Francis Bacon, called the father of modern science, who said that science and the inventions that result do not “merely exert a gentle guidance over nature’s course; they have the power to conquer and subdue her, to shake her to her foundations.” Robert Boyle, the famous 17th-century chemist and a governor of the Corporation for the Propagation of the Gospel Among the New England Indians, was clear that he wanted to rid native people of their ideas about nature.My ecological journey started in the forests of the Himalaya.My father was a forest conservator, and my mother became a farmer after fleeing the tragic partition of India and Pakistan.Much of the discussion centered on ways to transform systems based on domination of people over nature, men over women, and rich over poor into new systems based on partnership. As the prominent South African environmentalist Cormac Cullinan points out, apartheid means separateness.The world joined the anti-apartheid movement to end the violent separation of people on the basis of color. Today, we need to overcome the wider and deeper apartheid—an eco-apartheid based on the illusion of separateness of humans from nature in our minds and lives.