Earth Democracy in India

The concept of Earth Democracy is an emerging global movement based on the understanding of the energetic interconnections of Earth as a living system. Both science and spirituality are teaching us that Earth is an integrated whole and that all species, eco-systems and atmospheric functions of Earth are part of a single, related community of life. Earth Democracy proposes that each species and ecosystem comprising Earth has the right to exist and flourish, thereby fulfilling its unique role to contribute to the good of the whole- human and non-human alike. Earth Democracy posits that all members of this single community needs to participate, to have a voice, to be represented at the table whenever decisions are being made that threaten their wellbeing.

People in a wide variety of professions and institutions are adapting their practices according to this understanding including medicine, teaching, agriculture, homemakers, artists, architecture, religion and law. The shift is the result of a realization that our current ways of being together are based on a faulty perception—of being separate from one another- human and non-human. Since the Newtonian Era, Earth has been perceived to be a machine made up of fungible parts. This perception allows Earth to become ‘objectified’, to be used and owned, primarily for human interest.  This misperception is a faulty cosmology and is the root of our ecological, social justice and spiritual alienation.  Professionals reframing their practices  in the legal field are naming their law and governance systems Earth Jurisprudence, Wild Law, or Earth Law.

Earth law differs significantly from existing environmental law which primarily focuses on regulating (rather than prohibiting) pollution and treats the environment as mere property. Property law provides a “bundle” of rights for the owner but seldom addresses the duty of owners to care for (or steward) the health of the land. Under Earth laws one of the key duties of land owners is to ensure that the property is handed on to future generations in as good health, or better, than when they took legal responsibility for it.  Land ownership concepts need to flow from a systems perspective of what is needed for a well-functioning, even sacred dimensions of Earth.

Current land ownership laws are not based on an integral perspective of existence. At least four streams foster an integral perspective that feed Earth law. They are the wisdoms of religious traditions, wholistic science, women’s experience and the teachings of indigenous peoples. The interplay of these fourfold wisdoms invites conversation – and conversion that can heal humanity’s sense of discontinuity with other modes of being. It has the capacity to rekindle our sense of kinship with one another and bring us back into relationship.

Sr Patricia Siemen, OP, JD, came to India for four weeks in February to describe the philosophy and initial applications of Earth Law. She provided examples where Earth laws are being adopted in Ecuador, Bolivia, New Zealand, and numerous small communities in the United Sates. Some of these laws speak of the rights of communities to “bien vivir”— to live well. Their ordinances grant the community the authority to determine what activities promote the health and well-being (and the right to prohibit certain destructive or extractive practices that will harm the health of natural communities) as well. Natural communities are given the right to exist and flourish as well, with the right to be represented in court, if necessary. Sister Pat works full time in advancing Earth jurisprudence and Earth Democracy. She is a Dominican Sister from the United States and teaches Earth Law at Barry University School of Law, Orlando, Florida, USA. She is the Director of the Center for Earth Jurisprudence, See,

Sister Pat  was initially asked to India by Dr Vandana Shiva several years ago when Dr. Shiva addressed a Sisters of Earth Conference in New York, USA.  Dr. Shiva, her sister, a physician, Dr Mira Shiva and Sr Pat developed a five day course named Earth Democracy which was held 2-6 February 2015 at Navdanya (a biodiversity learning center) in Dehradun.  Forty participants of all ages and countries attended the workshop including Dr Orla Hazra from the Department of Interreligious Studies (DIRS) at St. Xavier’s College Mumbai, and one of her students.   Following Navdanya, Sr Pat was accompanied by Dr Hazra to Tarumitra, a Jesuit UNEP bioreserve and ecoliteracy centre in Patna, the School of Philosophy and Religious Thought at University of Madras, and several workshops in Mumbai. 

At Tarumitra, Rev Robert Athickal, SJ welcomed Sister Pat at a gathering of over 80 participants for an Earth Democracy workshop at Tarumitra. The next day he and Father Paul, rector of the seminary introduced Sister Pat to some of the Jesuits living at the Jesuit residence, adjacent to Xavier College.  Sister Pat’s uncle, Brother Joe LaMielle, SJ, had lived and worked in the Patna province for 45 years. Brother Joe was fondly remembered by many of the Patna Jesuits as he was a farmer, builder and self-taught engineer. It was Brother Joe who directed the digging of the trenches for the irrigation lines that now water the Tarumitra Biodiversity Center as well as the remaining farm. She also found out that he directed the construction of Xavier High School in Patna. She was amazed to hear the Jesuits speak about her uncle. They said that “when LaMielle built something, it lasted!” Sister Pat reflected at the end of her visit in India that “walking where my uncle lived, walked and worked was one of the most moving experiences for me while I was in India. I am so grateful to the Patna Jesuits for sharing their memories of my uncle, and for their remaining deep respect for him.”

Institutions hosting the Mumbai workshops coordinated by Dr Prashant Olalekar, SJ, (Director of Department of Interreligious Studies, St Xavier’s College) were St Andrews College, Wilson College, St. Xavier’s College and St .Pius X Seminary in Goregaon. The Trial of Adam, a skit written by Rev Olalekar, SJ set the framework for the importance of addressing the dysfunctional denial of our interconnected existence, exploring other understandings of interconnectedness and ways of being together, and the importance of adopting a legal structures that will recognize, honor and protect ‘all our relations” in God’s reign, the kinship and kindom of God.. The skit was performed by AICOFF students at St Andrew’s College and the seminarians at St Pius X.  Sr Pat asked the gathered seminarians to consider their future leadership and pastoral roles asking “What is our theology of the sacredness of Earth- human and non human as reflecting Gods presence in all?”

Sister Pat proffered consideration of three scientifically observable principles underlying the 13.7 billion year story of our Universe. They are its abundant diversity, subjectivity or interiority of every entity, and the experience of communion or attraction embedded within the Universe.  Sr Pat gave an example of these principles evidenced in a rice seed. The seed demonstrates abundance and diversity as there are hundreds of different types of rice across the planet. There is an innate wisdom within  the seed ( its subjectivity and interiority) as it  internally knows to set down roots, reach to the light and grow to the sky,  and become a rice stalk, again making seed and adapting its species within its bioregion.  Earth Jurisprudence would protect the seeds’ interiority by legally objecting to genetic modification which destroys its integrity and can even terminate its ability to reproduce itself. Stopping GMO tampering and infertility processes require communities of concern to organize protest against chemical interventions in those bioregions where it is occurring. As people defending the rights of nature and the integrity of creation we must ensure the seeds diversity and abundance for future generations.

 It is critical to say that Earth laws also ensure the sacred interiority, abundance and communion of each human child to live and flourish. Earth Democracy includes human and non-humans alike as we all live in a single community of life. Humans, and future generations, need to be able to be surrounded with fertile seed and land so as to feed themselves now and into the future.   Sr Pat said “Our world’s Indigenous and tribal peoples knew this wisdom of the seed.  Their women were protectors of the seed. Unfortunately indigenous peoples globally continue to be systematically displaced from their lands so as to serve the needs of the dominant industrial paradigm. We need all people to recognize our interconnectedness. We need to manifest the three principles of the Universe in our lives and to apply self- constraints within our own professional institutions so as to honor an Earth Democracy”

In her presentations Sr Pat spoke of the growing “Rights of Nature” movement which is aligned with Earth Democracy. Examples of laws that have been successfully adopted can be found at the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature,  Examples of other successful legislation can be seen at the website of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund,. There are initiatives taking place in Europe as well, that are supporting an Earth Democracy approach. See Each of these websites provide examples of Earth Democracy at work such as adoption of the 
Ecuador Constitution in 2008 which includes constitutional protection for Nature.  It reads “nature has the rights to exist, persist and regenerate”.  People can now bring actions on behalf of rivers, forests, ecosystems – in the name of the natural entity. The Villacabamba River was the first Ecuadoran – and global – case to uphold the right of a river to flow in 2011. In 2012 New Zealand provided the rights of personhood to the Wanganui River. In that case the New Zealand government appointed two guardians of the river: an Iwi tribal representative and a government representative. 


Throughout Sister Pat’s presentations, she cautioned that even though some Earth laws are being adopted, it does not mean that all environmental violations will cease. It takes significant cultural, administrative and judicial change to support the enforcement of these laws. However, laws are now in existence and can be used to prevent environmental and community degradation... These are seeds of change for the future. We must awake and respond quickly to the reality of our interconnected existence.  It is a major shift in perspective for most of us. As people of faith, we have moral and ethical responsibilities to protect the integrity of Creation.  


The future is in the hands of our younger people. They are the ones who will lead us into new ways of building an Earth Democracy and protection of the sacredness of Earth. Sr Pat gave the example of a student who had recently completed the ‘Be the Change: Awaken to Cosmic Compassion’ course at St. Xavier’s College fostering integral consciousness.  The student’s research paper traced links between GMO’s, pesticides, biodiversity loss and Indian farmer suicides. As a result of her awakening, the student participated in the Earth Democracy course at Navdanya. She is now organizing a petition drive protesting the recently approved GMO trials in the state of Maharashtra. This is the power of awakening to our interconnected existence. It is steps like this that will grow the Earth Democracy movement and sustain the sacredness of Earth.

If you are interested in learning more about these concepts, local resources and programmes fostering integral understanding/cosmic compassion please contact the Department of Interreligious Studies at St Xavier’s College

Rev Prashant Olalekar, SJ, PhD,

 Orla Hazra, PhD,