Foreign Policy Blogs

Growing hope in India

"One Tree" courtesy Khalul Ghosh/flickr (CC BY-NC-ND)

News reporting on India, more specifically news regarding women in India, has recently been somewhat unsettling. Horrific cases of sexual abuse, some fatal, have made their way from the Indian media to a global stage. In terms of raising awareness, the impact has been powerful. Yet tarring all of India with the same brush would be a mistake, as should be obvious.

An article published online in The Hindu mirrors this sentiment, beginning, “In an atmosphere where every morning, our newspapers greet us with stories of girls being tormented, raped, killed or treated like a doormat in one way or another.”

The article however brings some positive news, reporting on the practice of a village in southern Rajasthan where 111 trees are planted each time a baby girl is welcomed into the community – a stark contrast to other places around the world where female infanticide is still an unfortunate reality. The village, Piplantri, also encourages parents to sign a document stating that their daughter will not be married off before she is legally of age, and that she will attend school regularly. One commenter below the piece says “it almost borders fiction” that such positive action is being taken, while another notes that introducing a financial incentive (a fund is set up for the baby girl) isn’t exactly the same as changing the ingrained mindset that girls are somehow inferior — a salient point.

The author makes a link to ecofeminism, one of the perhaps lesser-known contenders in the feminist arena. Ecofeminism, in the words of Rosemary Radford Reuther, “represents the union of the radical ecology movement, or what has been called ‘deep ecology’, and feminism.” A connection is made between humans’ subjugation of nature (and the prevalent idea that humans are superior to animals and plants) and society’s subjugation of women. Planting trees in honor of the girls born in Piplantri, villagers are sustaining their environment while also making a physical statement about life.

This ten-minute TEDx video provides a brief introduction to ecofeminism, should you wish to find out more:

Ecofeminist views and arguments should, however, be read with a critical eye when it comes to India and other countries of the Global South, argues Sowmya Dechamma in an essay available here. She contends that India’s caste system and its influence on daily life should not be ignored within the context of ecofeminist thought:

“Ritualistic hierarchy of caste, and patriarchy within the caste system that has been internalized over centuries has been largely responsible for construction of images, values, perceptions and representations of women and nature. And because relations with nature vary with the occupation (again directly related to caste), women of different castes have different relations with nature.”

Everyone’s relationship with the environment is inherently personal, and for each baby girl in Piplantri, especially so. While perhaps not adopting the practice on such a grand scale, maybe all parents should consider planting a tree in honor of their children to encourage a connection with nature for future generations. Will you be planting one?



Cate Mackenzie

Cate works as an editor in Zürich, Switzerland. She holds an MA in Comparative and International Studies from ETH Zurich, and a BA (Hons) in International Studies with Political Science from the University of Birmingham (UK).

She has previously lived and worked in Fiji and the US.