US Politics, Travel and the Environment With India’s V. Shruti Devi

Indian politician V. Shruti Devi explains her writing style and the themes covered in her recent book, Spirit of the Constitution: Fashions in Law, Politics, Environment, Winter/Spring 1998. She talks about her US travel experience and the changes she has witnessed in US politics. She also emphasizes the importance of social inclusion in the public sphere and expresses her views on women's political participation in India.
Golden Gate University

Golden Gate University, San Francisco, CA. Via

February 29, 2024 03:52 EDT

V. Shruti Devi recently published Spirit of the Constitution: Fashions in Law, Politics, Environment, Winter/Spring 1998, describing her journey to the US as a visiting environmental law fellow at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, California. The interviewer and a coauthor also published a review of the book, which you can read here.

Ankita M. Kumar: Your style of writing is quite conversational for a book based on your life experiences. Why did you decide to opt for such a style?

V. Shruti Devi: It portrays my present socio-political stance. I believe one has an informal rapport with citizens at large and that one is politically approachable. 

I think a conversational style serves to draw hard news, facts and technical analyses into the zone of reading-for-leisure to an expanded readership.

However, I didn’t consciously choose this style. I speak in the first person in the book, which automatically brings in a conversational tone for any writer.

In terms of style, I think I’ve managed to speak in a 1998 voice in many parts of the book. In a sense, you travel, not with me, but the twenty-five-year-old me, to all these places. 

I think the interplay between the author’s past and present voice is a point of self-discovery with reference to my writing technique for this work and a phenomenon that I discovered as I wrote!

I wanted to write a book that would fit the History genre and I think that is reflected in some of the tone of the writing- a commentator’s distance and, occasionally, a folk story-tellers summarizing finality and sense of assurance gleaned from history books and ballads alike.

Kumar: You traveled across the US during the time of your fellowship. Which place in particular stood out to you, and why?

VSD: Yes, I did visit a number of states during my stay in the USA, using various modes of public transport and occasionally being chauffeured by family, friends and other designated people.

In contrast to pre-conceived images of capitalistic America, one discovered a world of quiet redwoods (the Muir Woods that I write about), vast stretches of apparently untouched land and forests, indigenous peoples struggling to keep the best practices of Earth Culture alive through legal processes and conferences such as at the annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference at Eugene, Oregon; towns with histories of the subjugation of women, such as at Salem, Massachusetts.

I admired the Americans’ ingenuity in recognizing and upgrading the value of their tiniest resources: natural, historical and those from contemporary culture. 

Kumar: You touch upon the inclusion of diverse voices in your book, and it’s exhilarating to see your stance on diversity and inclusion almost 25 years ago. What changes have you seen in US politics today that can be contrasted with your experience back in 1998?

VSD: I’m glad that my 1998 position on diversity and inclusion articulated in my 2023 travelogue generates euphoria in the minds of readers! 

My staunch stance on social inclusion in the public sphere, irrespective of a person’s state of monetary affluence, my responses and observations to the question of race, and my human rights-defending tone with reference to the LGBT community, would probably draw those appreciative responses.

In US politics today, the race gap has definitely narrowed, as have gender stereotypes in the workplace. Indigenous leaders hold positions of great political responsibility. There seems to be a move towards reviving the multi-party nature of US democracy. I would not be surprised if a Libertarian-backed Independent Candidate won the next presidential race.

The role of technology puts countries like mine on a comparatively commanding pedestal, and this possibly extends to the funding of political activity.

California has had to introduce legislation to combat social evils, such as the caste system, associated with a predominant phase of Hinduism, an indicator of the overarching accelerated role of global diversity in American society and politics.

Kumar: Why did you choose to cover several themes in the book – fashion, law, politics and the environment?

VSD: The sub-title of the book is Fashions in Law, Politics, Environment, Winter/Spring 1998.

It’s a memoir of when one was an India Visiting Environmental Law Fellow in the USA, and the themes succinctly encapsulate the precise confluence of the elements that defined the fellowship. 

The word ‘fashion’ has also been used to figuratively allude to laws and legal devices that are sometimes seasonally in vogue.

Kumar: Your book references several personal events, but one that stood out for me was your love for your great-grandmother. You valued her energy and joy and enjoyed NYC despite being in grief. What advice would you give to Indian students today, heading out to countries as far as the US, away from their loved ones? How can they stay as positive as you did in the face of immense hardship?

VSD: I’ve never thought of my time in the US as having been one of hardship. As I’ve mentioned in the book, I had facilities very similar to what I was accustomed to in New Delhi in the 1900s.

Anyone who thinks that having participated in the India visiting environmental fellowship program involved immense hardship probably doesn’t know the true meaning of immense hardship!

I mention my mother’s father’s mother in the context of having heard of her demise as I set out for NYC and write in fond terms about what she symbolized to me. 

That’s the power of the oral tradition of storytelling. Ancestors and their personal histories take on legendary proportions even if you meet them infrequently.

The youth today have communication technologies that would have been thought of as revolutionary twenty-five years ago. It’s always a good idea to consolidate one’s strengths and to be truthful and socially responsive.

Kumar: Your book touches upon the fact that children’s voices need to be heard as independent entities and acted upon by policymakers. Today, the voices of children like Greta Thunberg are being silenced by climate change deniers. How did you foresee this almost 30 years ago, and how can we integrate children’s voices more in environmental activism and environmental law?

VSD:  That opinion was directed towards the overall system of education and was expressed in the context of one having been a panelist speaking on environmental-legal education at a law conference. As the development paradigm transforms, so will the ingredients of education. It just needs to be in the correct neck of the woods.

Kumar: You are an advocate and environmentalist. Why did you decide to venture into politics? Was your father a big motivator on the journey?

VSD: I’ve been involved with political thought and activity since my childhood because I belong to the Deo political family. Yes, in the 1980s and early 1990s, I was inspired by my father’s politics.

Kumar: How can women increase their political participation in India? How has your political journey differed from men?

VSD: Electoral politics is only one aspect of political participation. There is no set formula for how anyone could increase their political participation. There are as many political journeys as there are politicians, so your question is not logical.

Kumar: Do you see your life panning out differently had you accepted the admission and scholarship offer from Pace, or followed up with UC Berkeley? (You have written in your book that your plan was to return to India after studying and working in the US, but I am curious to know if you ever thought of your life panning out in another direction)

VSD: No. I’m a politician, and as of today, there is a glass ceiling in the USA regarding who can or cannot run for president!

[V. Shruti Devi gave these written responses as a reference for the article on her book, Spirit of the Constitution: Fashions in Law, Politics, Environment, Winter/Spring 1998.]

[Liam Roman edited this article]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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