Sumi Krishna's experience of a quarter-century as an independent researcher, thinker, and writer in the fields of environment, development and social action lends substance to her book under review.
The book, she says at the outset, is conceptually linked to her earlier work “Environmental Politics: Peoples' lives and developmental choices,” which highlighted a pervasive tendency to symbolism and rhetorical flourishes and the neglect of social structures, processes and intermediate levels of technology and decision-making. In this venture, she tries to take forward the concern through a more explicit focus on the cross-currents of gender and natural resource management.
Krishna's thought-provoking and gender sensitive writings have won for her a lot of appreciation. What enhanced the quality of her work are: (i) her belief that mainstreaming does not mean just empowering and that “gender concerns need to be both intuitively perceived and rationally analysed”; and (ii) her ability to straddle multiple disciplines with ease and flair.
Krishna, who looks at the issues through the lens of citizen's rights, aligns her concern with the inter-linkages between socialisation of attitudes, shaping of community ideologies, redefining research methodologies, and institutional practices. She gives an academic and activist twist while examining the increasing recognition of rural and tribal women's contribution to conservation and sustainability. Through rich case studies, she unravels the caring practices of forest-dwellers, women's knowledge of biodiversity, their responsibilities in farming and food production. And in the process she also brings out how the management of natural resources is still viewed from developmental and technocratic standpoints.
The main text of the book has four parts titled — ‘Wordscapes', ‘Workscapes',‘Actionscapes' and ‘Genderscapes'; the postfix ‘scapes' is thoughtfully used to reflect the many-layered spread and dynamic complexity of concepts and terms. The author sustains the reader's interest with her painstaking field studies that aim at depicting the reality of women's lives on the ground. She echoes the voices of women — whether forest-dwellers in the Western Ghats or the farming communities in North-East India — while articulating their role in nurturing their families and natural environment and documenting the gender dimensions of biodiversity management. Taking contemporary forest and watershed management programmes as examples, she shows how modern resource management continues to adopt conventional approaches to women and use women as instruments of conservation, under the guise of empowerment.
Krishna says her intention was not to “… set out a blueprint or an agenda but to indicate a path towards developing a different gendered vision.” But she passionately attempts to find a way of understanding and representing the linkages between work, word, and action. The ideological and material features that make up the entirety of women's lives and livelihoods, surely inspire you to think.
Keywords: Natural resource management