Friday, July 25, 2014

Trade: India must stand firm on food security issue, say farmers

Trade: India must stand firm on food security issue, say farmers

Geneva, 23 Jul (Kanaga Raja) -- A number of farmers' organisations in India have called upon their government to stand firm on linking the issue of food security with the Trade Facilitation Agreement.

In a statement issued in New Delhi on the eve of the WTO General Council meeting (24-25 July), the groups called on the Government of India to not buckle down under pressure from the United States, the European Union and other developed countries, and to not dilute its position of linking trade facilitation with food and livelihood security and by pushing for a permanent solution to the G-33 proposal on public stockholding for food security purposes.

"We call upon the Government of India to use current negotiations to correct fundamental WTO wrongs, to build up and lead a coalition/alliance of like-minded countries to collectively secure safeguards for sovereign development policy space, food security and the livelihood concerns of farmers and its people," said the groups.

Among the groups that endorsed the statement are the Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA); All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS); Bharatiya Krishak Samaj (BKS); Bhartiya Kisan Union, Haryana; Bhartiya Kisan Union, Punjab; Green Brigade, Karnataka; Kerala Coconut Farmers Association (KCFA), Kerala; BJP Kisan Morchha; Maharashtra Shetkari Sangathan; and Tamil Nadu Farmers Association, Tamil Nadu.

"In the backdrop of rising costs and extremely volatile global market prices, and to fulfil the constitutional obligation of food security to its people, and also to ensure the livelihood security of producers, the Government of India needs to sustain and increase domestic agricultural production through price support, procurement and other measures to achieve self-sufficiency in food production, across different food grains," said Yudhvir Singh, leader of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), one of the largest farmers' organisations in India, in a press release.

"This is all the more important in the context of hundreds of thousands of farmers committing suicides in desperation," he added.

Kavitha Kuruganti, of the Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), said: "The Government of India lost a historical opportunity in correcting deep-seated WTO wrongs in the Bali Ministerial. At least now, they need to stand firm on our sovereign policy space related to food and livelihood security, and sustainable development pathways."

"Indian government at that time settled for a temporary solution with so called ‘peace clause'. Lack of progress towards a ‘permanent solution' vindicates our apprehensions. At this point of time, the government should not buckle under any international pressure. It should remain firm in its position," she added.

Don’t allow field trials of GM crops: farmers, activists








http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/dont-allow-field-trials-of-gm-crops-farmers-activists/article6234812.ece

Don’t allow field trials of GM crops: farmers, activists

The recent decision of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) to allow field trials of GM rice, mustard, cotton, chickpea and brinjal has been met with strong opposition from farmers’ groups and environmental activists.
Seeking the intervention of Union Environment and Forests Minister Prakash Javdekar, the Bhartiya Kisan Union has asked for “annulment” of the approvals.
Questioning the need for release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the fields, the BKU leaders said they were concerned over the nation’s seed and food sovereignty.
“This is because most genes as well as transgenic processes are already patented and these Intellectual Property Rights work for the monopolistic benefit of the profiteering multinational corporations. The ease with which a transgenic technology allows corporations to claim ownership rights over seeds makes it attractive to them to hype why the world needs GMOs and seek control over entire food chains — from production to marketing — jeopardising the livelihood security of farmers,” BKU leaders Naresh Tikait, Dharmendra Malik and Yudhveer Singh said in a letter to the Minister.
In a separate letter to Mr. Javadekar, the Coalition for GM-free India said the GEAC approvals came at a time the Supreme Court was about to pronounce its orders on the issue of field trials of GM crops, based on the recommendations of the Court’s Technical Expert Committee (TEC). “Realising the potential of field trials to contaminate the seed, food supply chains and environment, and owing to the lack of a proper regulatory system, the TEC has recommended a moratorium on open-air field trials.”
“It is ironical that the BJP manifesto promise of not allowing GM foods in the country without full scientific evaluation of their long-term effects on soil, production and biological impact on consumers is the main subject for this PIL petition in the Supreme Court. It was pending the decision of the apex court that former Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan had stayed GEAC meetings... The last time the GEAC approved some GMOs for open- air field testing, prominent BJP leaders had condemned the move,” Rajesh Krishnan of the coalition said.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

KRRS Martyrs remembered as Karnataka village Muttagi struggles against thermal power project

Agitation against NTPC power plant in Muttagi and commemoration of Farmer Martyrs’ Day

KRRS farmers show solidarity with the people of Muttagi after a police shooting took place at a similar protest on July 5th, outside the NTPC power and ask for a judicial probe into the shooting.

On Monday 21 July, 2014, thousands of farmers came from all over Karnataka, mobilized by Karnataka Rajya Rayta Sangha, to lend solidarity to a farmers in North Karnataka struggling against the construction of a thermal power plant just outside their, Muttagi (Bijapur District). It is only fitting that the day marks the Farmer’s Association’s Martyrs’ day, as on July 21, 1980 another police shooting of farmers took place at Naragund.  The plant in question is the NTPC power plant at Kudgi, in which 12 crores rs has already been invested as a step towards so-called “development.” Farmers in Muttagi are adamant that the disastrous health impacts (such as in-utero affects on babies and respiration problems) as well as environmental effects (poisoning of soil and draining of groundwater) seen as a result of other thermal power plants in India should not become a permanent part of their day-to-day reality.

video
Minute of silence for martyrs


Farmers’ protest for life & livelihood met with gunfire from police
On 5 July, almost 10,000 farmers from 10 to 15 villages surrounding Kudgi organised a protest and tried to storm the gates of the power plant. Women were pushed to the front of the crowd to discourage the police from physical violence. The police were unfazed, and charged at the crowd using lathi. When this was an unsuccessful deterrent, shots were fired by the police. Basuraj Chimmaragi, the former Gram Panchayat President of Muttagi, whose leg was fractured as a result of the stampede, said that the official reports were misleading: while two people had bullet wounds, over 50 people were injured and rushed to the hospital.

Kudgi NTPC Power Plant on 21 July 2014

In the face of such danger, farmers continue to fight. The proposed thermal power plant, will have a generation capacity of 4000 MW and will use water from the Alamatti reservoir, a dam built on the Krishna river. Most local farmers have non-irrigated land and the Krishna river is a major source of irrigation. If diverted towards the power plant, given that the monsoons are become more unreliable every year, the farmers will have close to nothing to fall back on. Though the company has acquired around 2995 acres of land in Kudgi, the effects of the plant will spread to over 40 of the villages in the periphery.  

Public awareness grew when Mr. M.P. Patil, a retired atomic scientist from the village of Masuti, took it upon himself ti educating the people about the thermal plant's repercussions. He later filed a case in the Supreme Court which will be heard on August 5th. Patil campaigned in villages through video screenings of documentaries of other power plants in India, such as in Ranchi. He explained to villagers that the plant would not only will it affect the air and soil adversely, but these villages will get none of the benefits from the plant, with one-sixth of the total electricity produced in already existing power stations being transferred only to Bangalore. There are now 6 cases pending against Mr. Patil, due to which he has gone into hiding. Similarly, after the July 5th protests, over 27 farmers have pending criminal cases against them.

Farmers’ response to so-called “Development”
Farmers’ leaders encouraged government energy policies to shift towards sustainable energy sources. Puttanaiah, MLA from Mandya District, challenged India’s tendency towards coal power plants when the rest of the world is giving up on them. He also demanded a judicial inquiry into the police firing.

“The NTPC is the kind of project that our government calls ‘Development’! But development for whom?” asked Nandini Jayaram, KRRS Women’s Wing President. “They promise to build railroads and give electricity, but without water we cannot grow food. What use is a railroad if we are starving?”


Women sit in protest against the backdrop of the power plant and fertile farmland

But some Muttagi residents find that they are already starving, and NTPC is a short-term solution. One marginal farmer found relief when she and her daughter secured cleaning jobs at the NTPC. She says she hides her face from disapproving neighbors as she goes to work everyday, along with one thousand local coworkers at the plant – all salaried as office boys, cleaners, and other laborers. Her 2 acres of land could not support her family, which she heads as a single mother, and so the combined 17,000 INR/month she and her daughter make at NTPC provide her “rozi roti.” She told us, “I’m not sure if the videos they showed of places like Ranchi are doctored or not… such as babies being born without limbs… but, regardless, at this point I’m unwilling to fight. I need the money here and now.”

Shankaramma of Muttagi
Other women gathered at the protest are hopeful that with KRRS backing their efforts to stop the erection of the power plant will be more organised and that they will eventually succeed in stopping NTPC. Shantabai, a protester, says, "My family discourages me from being involved in this struggle. But even if I die during this struggle, it does not matter. At least that will be a honourable death." Adds Gangabai, “I do not even have land where I can be buried anymore! If I die, I will die a martyr's death, and at least they can bury me though my family cannot." 


The government has taken an extremely firm stance and has refused to stop the development of the power despite the growing unrest among the people of the region. Though official figures say that about 70% of the construction is complete, it is alleged that in reality only 30% of the plant has been built.  But if the government refuses to budge, then the people of the land along with the KRRS are willing to match them step for step. Like their slogan says, "Come what may, let us unite." And that is exactly what they are doing. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

La Vía Campesina’s position on the International Year of Family Farming - 2014

Press Release - La Vía Campesina

La Vía Campesina’s position on the International Year of Family Farming - 2014

A space for the promotion of concrete policies on peasant family farming



(Harare, June 2014) La Vía Campesina defines participation in the International Year of Family Farming, propelled by the UN in 2014, as the creation of a space for discussion and collective action to to push Food Sovereignty that has peasants and small farmers as a basis. All throughout the world they continue to grow and distribute healthy, self-produced food in their towns, in stark contrast to the commercial food industry, whose priorities are profit and speculation and whose strategy is to make agriculture increasingly dependent on agro-toxics, increasing their profits through the sale of herbicides, whilst damaging and contaminating natural resources.

We have witnessed a profound food crisis, which has brought attention to peasant based food production and the eradication of hunger within the UN’s agenda. The UN has recognised the crucial role that male and female peasants play in this arduous task.

During the International Year of Family Farming, La Vía Campesina looks to offer political proposals within the framework of Food Sovereignty, constructed by small farmers. The term ‘family farming’ is vast, and may include almost any agricultural model or method whose direct beneficiaries are not corporations or investors. It includes both small-scale and large-scale producers (with farms covering thousands of hectares), as well as small-scale producers who are entirely dependent on the private sector, through contract farming or other forms of economic exploitation, promoted though concepts such as “The value chain”. This is why La Vía Campesina defends family farming in terms of peasant based ecological Farming, as opposed to the large-scale, industrial, toxic farming of agribusinesses, which expel peasants and small farmers and grab the world’s lands.

It is imperative, during this International Year of Family Farming, that critical steps be taken and that commitment be mobilised so that policies to protect and to strengthen peasant family farming might be implemented. La Vía Campesina supports a model of food production which promotes Food Sovereignty. This includes:
  • Access and control over productive resources such as land, water, seeds and finance. It is important to highlight, in this space for discussion, the urgent need for Integral Agrarian Reform: the democratisation of land, and the creation of direct employment, housing and food production. We consider that the concept of integral agrarian reform should not be limited to just the redistribution of land. We support an Integral Agrarian Reform which offers full rights over lands, which recognises the legal rights of indigenous populations over their territories, which guarantees fishing communities access to and control over fisheries and ecosystems, and which recognises the right of access to and control over livestock migration routes and pastures;
  • The recognition that female peasants and female agricultural workers have the same rights as their male counterparts;
  • The prioritisation of local food systems and markets;
  • The recognition of rights and protection against corporation-led production, and the large-scale production of agro-fuel;
  • The use of ecological production methods.
Yudhvir Singh from Bharatiya Kisaan Union, and member of LVC South Asia ICC, presents at the International Year of Family Farming conference on "Family Farming and Research" in Montpellier, France this May.
During this UN International Year, as La Vía Campesina, we contemplate certain threats such as the criminalisation, the judicialisation and the continuous repression under which male and female peasants live, not just at the hands of their states, but also at those of the transnational corporations. Conflicts over land and other natural resources exist throughout the world.

Of the national governments, we therefore demand: an end to land grabbing, and that of water and seeds; that they promote policies which guarantee Food Sovereignty, biodiversity and peasants’ seeds, and that they improve access to land and water; that they recognise peasant rights regarding the production, reproduction and exchange of their traditional seeds, guarantees of agro-biodiversity and peasants’ autonomy; and that they increase the support and public investments for peasant based production, and guarantee markets and equitable trade.

At international level, we urge governments to apply the Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests, and other key decisions from the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), and that they adopt the UN Declaration of Peasants’ Rights. Additionally, we urge that they implement the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, and that they end negotiations for any new commercial agreements, particularly the TTIP (Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) or the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership).

In La Vía Campesina, we believe that we have to use this year to redirect agriculture towards a model of Food Sovereignty which will generate employment, provide healthy food, and respect natural resources. We call for the creation of an alliance between countryside and city, that it might revive the peasants' dignity and highlight their great contribution to food production; we need important political changes, both for our tables and for our fields.

Contact for the press: 
 
S.Kannaiyan: +91 9444979543 - sukannaiyan69@gmail.com
Chukki Nanjundaswamy: + 919845066156 - chukki.krrs@gmail.com
Andrea Ferrante: + 393480189221 - a.ferrante@aiab.it

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Security vs. Sovereignty: Stories from the cotton land 
in Karnataka

http://www.thealternative.in/society/security-vs-sovereignty-stories-from-the-cotton-land-%E2%80%A8in-karnataka/
By Laura Valencia and Aditi Pinto
This April in Bangalore, a Union Minister’s garage housed more than his sleek black Chevrolet SUV when 50 farmers from four districts of Karnataka shouted slogans and gave rousing speeches over a full-morning sit-in. They demanded to see the Minister in question, Mr. Veerappa Moily, to find out why and how he had just signed away their lifeblood by allowing field trials of ten Genetically-modified varieties of food and other crops. After emerging from his home, the Union Minister of Environment and Forests publicly shirked responsibility for the blanket approval, saying he’d stop at nothing to protect farmers’ livelihoods. This fell on unfriendly ears, who knew full well the only thing he’d protect were his own interests in the upcoming elections.
Highway shut-down on Feb 21st, 2014 in Haveri for fair compensation after failed Bt Cotton crops
Highway shut-down on Feb 21st, 2014 in Haveri for fair compensation after failed Bt Cotton crops
A month before, a state highway running through Haveri District, Karnataka was shut down by farmers of the same organization, Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha. They demanded justice for Bt Cotton (GMO) farmers who had been sold a grab bag of seeds. Eventually, a 6,000/acre compensation (to balance 30,000 rupees/acre investment!) was agreed upon. Mahyco, the local avatar of Monsanto responsible for the bait-and-switch, incurred a fine of Rs. 500. Now the company has been blacklisted, as in Tamil Nadu and other states. This is a yearly ritual in Haveri region, where failed crops appear to come for summer holiday.
Protests against Monsanto such as the 1998 “Cremate Monsanto” Campaign had been ongoing by farmers’ groups in the state, and have been joined by movements around the world through the Via Campesina network. Yet, it was only in the last five to six years in Haveri that protests unravelled against Bt cotton. In 2008, thousands of farmers gathered in Haveri Bus Circle to protest the slump in the production and high fertilizer demand of Bt Cotton. This protest was met with golibari from the police and 2 farmers died, while 10-15 were injured.
Farmers movements in India, such as KRRS in Karnataka, have articulated a strong message to the government and society at large of zero tolerance for GM crops. But ditching GM crops is only the first step in switching from an agricultural system that turns farmers into belittled beggars and consumers into additive addicts. If food sovereignty is the goal, then the cash-crop, high-input, monoculture mold must be transformed.
KRRS protesting at Union Minister Veerappa Moily's residence
KRRS protesting at Union Minister Veerappa Moily’s residence
On the surface of the Haveri scenario, we see the classic cast of wily companies and gullible farmers, nonplussed government officials and sloganeering social movements. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find farmers asking themselves questions whose answers have grand implications. Is it enough for us to demand responsibility from the producers of GM crops? Or should we demand complete autonomy from this GMO system itself? From the market system itself? What would that even look like? Slogans aside, farmers are divided on how to move forward. Santhosh, a KRRS leader, describes the trap of the cotton farmer with the metaphor of an expensive telephone call: “We have no authority over incoming or outgoing! We permanently in ‘roaming mode’!”

How Bt came to be

Globalization affected agriculture in India long before the age of the WTO. In the 1860s, after the American Civil War, the English cotton businesses no longer had legal slave labor in the US. India was next in line. Cotton mills in India began in the Konkan coast, while farmers in Central Maharashtra region of Vidarbha, Northern Karnataka regions of Haveri, Dharwad, Gadak and Raichur and Western Telangana regions of Warangal found that their red, black and even gulabi (red with sand) soils worked perfectly for cotton growth. Cotton was a lucrative crop, and required less work than other staple and commercial alternatives. Furthermore, each plant flowered and fruited about 3 times in one growing season. Although some farmers still grow maize, sunflowers or chilly for commercial purposes, the landscape in regions like Haveri is largely cotton balls.
But the story of farmers’ dependency on market-bought seeds for cotton is connected to a more recent globalization: neo-liberalism in agriculture. 35 years ago, home-prepared seeds like Jaydhar and Lakshmi began to circulate. Ten years later, DCM-32 hybrid seeds came into the market. Meanwhile, chemical and pharmaceutical companies merged into conglomerates such as Syngenta and Monsanto to peddle this century’s most profitable drug: GM seeds. Around the millenium, Bt cotton was introduced in India, promising defense against various insects and pests and impressing consumers with its initial record-breaking years of high yields. Today, 99% of cotton farmers in Haveri plant some company version of Bt cotton, the majority of which is Monsanto’s Bt Khankha.
Bt Kankha
For the first decade, most farmers saw Bt as the solution to the huge growth in demand caused by growing industry and growing populations. Bt Khanka impressed farmers with high yields and ease of plucking: it made work efficient and labour easy to find. Furthermore, the cotton was of such quality that buyers bought it based on the name, without even sample testing it. But, like all drugs, the high only lasts so long before addiction reveals its real consequences.
Throughout the villages I visited, the same story was repeated: “There has been a huge fraud in the seed boxes sold to us this year! Those of us who bought later lots of seeds, paying much more than the MRP, paying Rs. 1500 instead of Rs. 930, and received no more than 3-4 quintals of cotton per acre. Most of our plants did not even flower, there was hardly any leaves, and the fruits were of varied sizes.“

Farmers demand: “Our way, or the highway!”

In February 2014, the cotton myth imploded (and not for the first time) for the farmers in Haveri district. The Bt Khankha seeds sold to farmers failed to reach their promised yields of 10 quintals per acre. Farmers found that the seeds were adulterated, with some big, some small and some with big fruit, some with small fruit, and some with none at all.
The news spread from village to village. Farmers came together to camp outside the District Collector’s office for 13 days, betrayed by Mahyco and demanding compensation. Most farmers had taken loans to buy seeds or fertilizers and now were deeper in debt. On Day 13, The District Collector offered 4,500 per hectare compensation. This would not even allow farmers to break even. After holding various meeting in different tehsils and with local krishi committes, the farmers’ union Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS) demanded Rs. 6,000 per hectare. But demand had to be matched with force to be taken seriously. Thus, on 21st February 2014, more than 5,000 farmers blocked the National Highway for 13 full hours, a strategy to get state and national attention often used by farmers’ movements. The Central Government eventually agreed.
In conditions where farmers have less access to literature and a strong market force that attempts to keep them trapped, farmers’ organizations step in to advocate, organize, and agitate. Although the recent protests have brought farmers together and they have a developed a set of demands, there are still question marks and disagreements within each of the demands.
Farmers with the District Collector after agreeing to Rs. 6000 compensation
Farmers with the District Collector after agreeing to Rs. 6000 compensation
As fair compensation, 6,000 INR/acre is laughable. With investment of 30,000 INR/acre and potential profit of 75,000 INR/acre, the current compensation doesn’t come close. As resistance, farmers have taken in this case is to refuse to pay off bank loans, although they still have to pay hand loans taken from local money lenders. But who should be held responsible? The compensation is being provided largely by the Central Government, with Monsanto contributing a pittance, and the State government nothing at all. Scientists, who are meant to certify the seeds, too have been bought over, and collude with the companies. Who is at fault?
Regarding the role of Multinational Corporations in agriculture, few farmers are ready to give Mahyco the boot once and for all, contrary to the slogan “Mahyco out of Karnataka”. They feel that they have learned the trick to Bt cotton: changing the seed company every three years.  Many are against GM food crops, however, though some still remain ambivalent even about those. Farmers’ movements have to step up the flow of information to farmers about the economic, health, and environmental impacts of GM crops, and show the strength of commitment behind the slogans they shout.
As for the struggle for control of seeds, farmers hold strong that the current Seed Act does little to protect them. Farmers are demanding this law to be changed to reflect the gravity of seed adulteration, as well as increased stringency on conditions and standards for sale.
But farmers are not only consumers of seeds, they are producers as well. As consumers they are activated in the struggle, but as producers they are often silent. The very seeds bought by Bt cotton farmers were grown by the community itself on contract, chemically treated by the company, and sold back again to the farmers with a patent (in the case of sunflower seed, at three times the price). The model itself is a trap, but few are ready to throw it out. Some farmers would prefer state-guaranteed seeds, but few farmers would prefer to return to the traditional method of saving seeds. Almost all farmers say that the days of preparing seeds at home and exchanging between houses are long gone: the yield is not sufficient. Yet supporters of agroecology advise that with TRIPs and other threats looming, seed saving is the only way to reject corporate agriculture’s influence once and for all.
Syngenta Seeds in Haveri
Syngenta Seeds in Haveri

From Twelve Kinds of Rain to None at All

Cotton farmers from Haveri talk of twelve kinds of rainfall during the four months of monsoon, according to which they would plant different seeds. Forty years ago, the Kumudravati river near their houses flowed fiercely, the soils were soft, and the surrounding forests trapped water in their depths. Lakshmi, a home-made seed, was sowed in May-June in lands of red soil while Jaydhar was a home-made seed that was planted in the month of September and October in lands of black soil. The cotton would flower at least twice, once after the rains and once after the shabnam fell in the cold months.
But now cotton farmers in Haveri have no guarantee that their crop will flower. Home-made Jayadhar and Lakshmi are replaced with market-sold Bt Cotton. Cotton is a cash crop and often leaves farmers starving (no matter the amount of genetic engineering, we still can’t eat cotton for dinner). Climate change rewrites the rain pattern each year, and indigenous drought and flood resistant varieties of crops have been lost. Only 30% of cotton farmers in Haveri have wells, and even they are sucking the last drops from a distant groundwater. The seed-tin from the shopkeeper has a guarantee of 60 day germination, but it takes 4 months to really know the outcome. Forty years ago, the first rain brought anticipation and home. But today, the first rain is a dice-roll.
Pics - Aditi Pinto
With inputs from Laura Valencia

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Signs of Respect: KRRS Board at V&A Museum exhibition 'Disobedient Objects' in London

http://www.vam.ac.uk/b/blog/disobedient-objects/signs-respect-karnataka-state-farmers-association

Signs of Respect: Karnataka State Farmers' Association

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Solidarity with Struggle for Land in Shimoga, Karnataka: "We will fight unto death!"

http://www.thealternative.in/society/we-will-fight-to-the-death-say-landless-peasants-in-shimoga/
by Aditi Pinto

In the foothills of the Western Ghats, in the villages of Badanehaalu, Bandigudda, Belligere, and Udaynagara in Shimoga district, Karnataka, small farmer and pastoralist families constantly struggle for land against the Forest Department. These families have lived here for over 70 years, each farming small plots of 0.5 – 3 acres along with doing other wage labour to fill their stomach. Most families did not have document proof, and were labelled bagar hukum or “without permission” cultivators.
One year ago, in March 2013, The Forest Department deployed JCB and Hitachi bulldozers to dig trenches, clear fields and remove all signs of cultivation. The bulldozers were confronted with a band of 25 women villagers, marching up to challenge them. When asked what motivated her to go fight the machines, one woman told me: “Seeing our farms being cleared, I had an image of poison running through the bodies of my children!”

The villagers who went to jail and the land they were fighting for
It wasn’t until violence broke out between the Forest Department, their police protection, and the village women, that the men joined in. According to one woman involved:
"We were taken to the police station, and since we knew Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (Karnataka State Farmers' Union), they came along with us. A KRRS leader asked us why we wanted the land. And we responded 'Our life is run on this land. The ragi, maize we grow -- we can't live without them. We want these lands!' So the KRRS leader told us that if we wanted our lands, we should all go to jail willingly to show them! That's when we went to jail." 
In the end 87 people were taken to jail. Some such as a Tamil speaking goat-herder named Bharti were injured and had a huge loss of blood, which put her in the hospital for over a month. Those released sooner from the hospital joined the others in completing a 16-day stay in jail.
“This land is our life, this is our food.” Says Bharti a Tamil origin landless farmer
For many, March 2013 was not their first time to jail. The villagers have a long history of resistance and confrontation with the Forest Department. It’s not only their struggle, but their parents’ struggle as well.

Background

In the 1940s, many landless families from Central Karnataka migrated to Shimoga district in search of livelihood. Over time families from Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Kerala also migrated to Shimoga, incentivized by available lands and the prospect of working in the VISL Bandigudda mines. However, the migrant labourers did not earn enough as mine workers, and the food provided by the government to fill the gap consisted of a red maize so hard that “it could not even be boiled, but only fried in order to consume.”
70 years ago, in order to fill their stomachs, the migrant workers began farming, planting the ragi and jollah crops that they still live off today. In the dry seasons, the local pastoralists grazed animals here as well. Small and landless farmers grew food crops and lived out the connection between animal and land amidst valleys full of commercial cultivation.
While they worked hard on the stony lands and in the mines to put food on the table, in the background another story continued. The princely states of Mysore, which at one time owned most of these lands, later gave them to the British. What was earlier multi-purpose land came under the famous Raj era bureaucratic institutions of the Forest and Revenue Departments. These categories continue 'til date, with new links to the private sector.
“When we first began cultivating in the forest, no one came here. The miners would give [the government] revenue, and so no one would say anything to us,” reflects Nanjamma, one of the oldest women in the community. The company was kept afloat through cheap contract labour and the Forest Department was kept happy by the spin-off benefits. Neither had any reason to trouble the local people.
However, this changed when the workers found out about the Supreme Court order to issue them permanent worker status. They formed unions and went on strike as the miners refused to abide by the order of the Supreme Court. In response, the mine owners cancelled their contracts and mechanized the mines. As the locals became ever dependent on the land, the Forest Department perceived a decline in mining revenue. Thus began the conflict between the Forest Department and the local land inhabitants.
VIML Mines

Farmers trapped by pseudo-environmentalism

In 1972, the Forest Department allowed the Nilgiri Plantation Group to take over large tracts of these lands to plant their trees. The villagers protested, and 15 members were jailed. Ever since, tussles with the Forest Department and brutality have been constant. Pastoral communities suffer as much as the farming communities. The Forest Department has kept Gawli communities in tent cities outside of the villages and has banned grazing, a right protected in the Forest Rights Act.
Across India, historically, lower caste Dalit families have had no access or been robbed of their lands. Meanwhile, upper caste families were the landowners or zamindaars. Despite the Land to the Tiller Act and the Land Ceiling Act, upper caste families leverage loopholes and remain on top. Many lower caste families have no land or only have access to infertile, unproductive land. Dalit families began to cultivate government lands that are categorised as “Forest”, “Gomala”, or “Revenue” lands. However, as they have no official permission, they are considered bagar hukumcultivators, and their ties to their lands are threatened time and again.
In Shimoga, the state government has refused to legalise bagar hukum lands, even though the local MLA got these families out of jail and slept on their floors. The forest department, bureaucrats, and corporates have consolidated their power under a banner of “greenwashing”. Brewed in boardrooms, green capitalism such as large scale plantations and carbon offset forests push farmers off their land. On one hand, the Forest Department enforces a Supreme Court judgement to protect forests from local deforesters. Meanwhile, large Western companies, with a helping hand from the same bureaucrats “protecting” the forest from locals, wash away their greenhouse-gas sins by trading carbon credits for forests, REDD+ and plantations on the exact same land.
In late 1993, The Forest Department began the Joint Forest Planning Management program (JFPM) in which they set up Village Forest Committees (VFCs) that consisted of equal numbers of local community members and forest officials. Through this program, the poorest of the poor receive dry firewood and wet bamboo as well as loans to purchase their animals. However, even this program is dominated by the interests of the Forest Department and is used to harness local politics and spread misinformation based on the need of the moment.
In the context of Shimoga, the Forest Department’s “need of the moment” was uncultivated land. Foreign plantation owners gave the Forest Department crores of rupees to provide open space for a plantation, as per Kesavan, a local gram sabha member. The co-managers of the Village Forest Committee, shrewdly chosen by the Forest Department, signed away the village land rights under a cloud of misinformation. Shortly thereafter, foreign businessmen came and surveyed the lands. The next day, JCBs and Hitachis began cutting trenches.

What does the future look like?

At present, the court case slapped on these 87 people has been dismissed, as the families got approval at the Tehsildar level to cultivate. However, in the long-term there is no resolution as the power of the Supreme Court overweighs this Tehsildar document at all levels. Furthermore, a month back the foreign plantation owners came to survey the lands and found it cultivated even though they had given many crores to the Forest Department asking for open lands! They are likely to mount pressure through the Forest Department again.
The feeling in the village is calm, yet some people talk of sleepless nights. There are rumours that twelve people have died in the last year due to the constant pressure and stress from the Forest Department.
“The lands we cultivate are not even forest lands. These are hullubanniharaju or revenue grasslands! The Forest Department has no proof or certificate to say these lands belong to them,” informs Manju showing us the official document from the Tehsildar’s office that these lands were under revenue lands and up for bidding. Some villagers show us documents that demonstrate their grants to these lands.
It is a lose-lose situation. As one villager put it, “Even if we have documents, the amount the government will compensate us [for selling] cannot buy a house, our food, or education! The value of our land is much more than what they claim.”
Yet there is a resilience, reason, and strength in some voices, from those who have fought before and will fight again.
Two local villagers, Rammegowda and Nagegowda, work every day to look after a plot of sugarcane owned by MPM Paper factory. One offered, “In Haihodde, many politicians own large plots of 100 acres of Forest Land. Even MPM paper factory and VISL own a total of 31,000 acres in Bhadrawati area. But the Forest Department comes only after poor people, and leave the rich alone,” says Rammegowda. “Only if the Forest Department takes over the lands of the rich, will we give up ours!”
“We are now ready to die. If the Forest Department comes back for our lands, we will fight till our death,” shouts a confident Ratnamma.