Wednesday, March 18, 2015

1000s of farmers decide to stay put in Kisan Maha Panchayat on Parliament Street in Delhi: Farmer Unions launch massive agitation against NDA’s anti-farmer policies

New Delhi, March 18th 2015: Major farmer unions of India affiliated with the All India Coordination Committee of Farmers Movement (AICCFM) have launched a massive agitation against NDA’s anti-farmer policies, and to seek a resolution to several burning issues pertaining to farm livelihoods, on March 18th 2015 through a Kisan Maha Panchayat in the heart of India’s capital. Thousands of farmers have resolved to stay put on Parliament Street in India's capital until the government engages them in a dialogue to resolve various burning issues. Anti-farmer measures through the Land Acquisition Ordinance, recent report of Shanta Kumar High Level Committee on restructuring FCI, the mindless push by the government of GM crops, lack of fair and remunerative prices for farm produce, demand for a farm income commission, removing agriculture from free trade agreements including WTO, adequate disaster relief for farmers etc., are issues on the agenda of these farm unions. The acute farm distress in India, marked by unabated farm suicides was flagged as a matter that needs urgent address. It is reported that during the NDA Government since May 2014, more than 7000 farmers have committed suicide. The government, instead of increasing Budget allocation to deal with the agrarian crisis, has drastically reduced agriculture budget drastically from around 31 thousand crore in 2014-15 to around 25 thousand crores in 2015-16. In fact, the budget outlays for Dept of Agriculture and Cooperation as well as for animal husbandry and fisheries are down to the levels of budgetary allocations five years ago!

To protest against various anti-farmer policies, and to secure some long pending demands that will guarantee minimum living incomes to all farm households, thousands of farmers from all over India have congregated at the Kisan Maha Panchayat on Parliament Street in the heart of the capital today (March 18th 2015).

All the unions threatened to step up their agitation if the Ordinance-routed dilutions to the Land Acquisition Act of 2013 were not rolled back by the government. “In the current debate unfolding in the Parliament, we are watching out for those political parties which are ready to sacrifice farmers’ interests as well as the food security interests of the country, in their mindless support for the industry. We would like to warn them that they will have to face increased opposition from citizens who are fighting for their basic right to livelihood. Even a preliminary prima facie analysis shows that at least 50% of the tens of lakhs of hectares that have been acquired in the name of land banks, industrial corridors, freight corridors, highways, airports and so on have remained unallotted or unutilized for the stated purpose – given that the average Indian farm household has just around one hectare of landholding, this means dispossession of lakhs of farmers straightaway, and this is totally unacceptable. In such a scenario, protecting farmers’ interests without diluting consent and comprehensive impact assessment clauses in law becomes critical”.

Shri Ajmer Singh Lakhowal, President, BKU Punjab said that various moves by the government in the past few months belie the BJP promises before elections that emphasized on increase in farmers’ income with an acknowledgement that agriculture is the largest employer in India. “Whether it is the reported plans to dismantle the current procurement system in the country in the name of a High Level Committee report for restructuring FCI or the lack of any moves to announce MSPs that give a margin of at least 50% over cost of cultivation, it is apparent that this government is not committed to reviving agriculture or securing sustainable dignified incomes to farm households. We demand that the MSP should be at least 50% over cost of production, and that procurement systems in the country be strengthened further and not weakened in any way. We need a system which will create a win-win for food security of consumers and livelihood security of farmers”, he said.

Speaking to media persons, Shri Rakesh Tikait, National Spokesperson, Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) demanded that the Government should set up a Farm Income Commission to guarantee minimum living incomes to all farm households. While such living incomes can be ensured through adequate, fair and remunerative price decisions coupled with procurement and other market intervention mechanisms, there is also a need to compensate for losses due to various natural calamities including wild animal attacks on crops. He also demanded that all arrears due to sugarcane farmers should be paid immediately and the same recovered later from the sugar industry.

“The government is exhibiting its pro-industry stance by pushing for unneeded, unwanted and unsafe GMOs in our farming. We want all open air field trials of GM crops stopped immediately in the country since such open air trials pose not only a risk of contamination but also risk of trade rejection. Further, any moves towards trade liberalization in agriculture whether through the WTO route or through free trade agreements are unacceptable to us. FTAs such as Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and EU India FTA will lead to slashing of agricultural tariff and allowing import of cheap subsidized foods which would further depress farmgate prices and drastically impact farmers’ livelihood. The issues with Agreement on Agriculture are not limited to just MSP and procurement but the fact that we are getting priced out due to unfair and cleverly-camouflaged subsidies elsewhere. This is now a well-understood issue and the government has to ensure that AoA is removed from the WTO and that all FTAs being negotiated by the government should immediately drop any agriculture-related clauses”, said Shri Yudhvir Singh, Convener of the All India Coordination Committee of Indian Farmers Movements.

It is important to note that these farmer unions are not affiliated with any political party and farmers affiliated with these unions have come from far and wide, spending their own resources, to get their voice heard with the government and to assert their rights.

For memorandum to the Prime Minister of India, follow the link

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Realities of Rural Women across South Asia - a report from North India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka

On the International Women’s Day, La Via Campesina South Asia issues a call for gender justice:

LVC poster for International Women's Day 2015
Women of the World, Unite! Farmer, adivasi, pastoralist, and landless women – defend your rights! Without organized women, there can be no agroecology, no agrarian reform, no food sovereignty! We struggle against violence and agribusiness!

For the full international call, please click here.

Rural women of the world, unite!

Though word “farmer” is gender neutral, when people think of farmers, they automatically picture men. This is so internalized that we have to specify “women farmers” to address the significant half of ‘the farming world’. The blindness to women in agriculture goes beyond language; the visible-invisible contribution of women in the agriculture sector and rural society is completely neglected. Members of LVC South Asia take this day as an opportunity to share the realities of rural women in each of our areas – farmers facing sexual violence in North India, religious fundamentalism in Bangladesh, and militarism in Sri Lanka.

North India – Bharatiya Kisan Union
Ms. Ketki Singh of the Bhartiya Kisan Union says, “About 80% of the workforce on farms are women but their work is not recognized and has no quantified value. Women have no rights and are given no respect for their work either on the field or in the household.

Ketki Singh at VI Global Conference of LVC in Jakarta, Indonesia
Homemakers enable the family members to step out by catering to the household responsibilities, something never acknowledged. Further, sometimes farmers work from dawn to dusk under very harsh weather conditions, and women farmers are not able to properly take care of young children nor their own needs.”

 Rural young girls may end up dropping out from schools or, even worse, are never enrolled in schools because they are free (wo)manpower. Ms. Ketki Singh said, “I come across such women farmers and girls who face sexual harassment and exploitation when they go out to relieve themselves in the fields or while they are doing farm work. Even so, they are forced to go out every day at odd hours. They become more susceptible to abuse when people are aware that the woman has no male in the family. Even women exploit women and leave no opportunity to use her vulnerable situation to make profit.”

She also insists on the fact that women farmers need not reject men; all they need is recognition for their work. Women need to get aware of pro-women legislation and not be victim to poor implementation mechanisms or social stigmatization for asserting their right to justice.

“Enough is enough! The need of the hour is to fight for our rightful place in the society and that we should not bow down to any form of oppression. Let’s pledge to raise our voice against gender discrimination and fight for equal status as men!” – Ketki Singh

Sri Lanka– MONLAR (full report to be published later)
In the aftershocks of the war which ended in 2009, rural women are still in the process of combating the militarism which pervades their everyday lives. There are nearly 90,000 war widows in North and Eastern Sri Lanka, 12,000 of whom are young widows. 40,000 female-headed households are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment, exploitation and assault. Many households are living in refugee camps where sanitation and health facilities are severely affecting their well-being, as well as further damaging their psychological stability.

Many kinds of violence are carried out on women through militarization in Sri Lanka.
First, they face barriers to agricultural work and threats to their economic security. In Periya Ullai (in Ampara) women complained that even to enter their own fields they are required to sign in and out with the military and certain areas that belong to the community have been barred under the claim of finding archaeological “treasures”.  Women used to guard their fields at night however now due to military presence this is no longer viable. Many women’s livelihoods in this area have been agriculture and collecting and selling firewood. All these activities have been banned by military men.

Woman demanding release of Jeyakumari Balendran, a social activist under military
custody, from MONLAR Gender Program Facebook Page
Land grab is displacing farmers from their source of livelihood. In Vattakachchi land has been taken by the military for farming and people have been employed in the same. In several areas the military has been engaging in farming and selling of vegetables and fruits which has curbed women’s access to economic ventures such as running small shops, growing vegetables and farming. In many areas lands belonging either through permit or title deeds to women continue to be taken away by the forest and the archeological departments. Military has influenced the civil administration and in some cases gone against the district court verdicts in their effort to continue their occupation of people’s land.
There are cases of sexual abuse by the military, which rarely find justice. Women are unable to travel for court, and court proceedings are usually held in a language they do not know. Similarly, when women file Habeaus Corpus applications in relation to their missing and loved ones, the justice system drags its feet.

Women are also being criminalized by the military without base. A group of women from families of surrenders gathered for prayer at Killinochchi Murugan Kovil and CID and military surrounded them.The organizer and a few other women were interrogated later. To date these women have been carefully watched by the CID and a month ago the military walked into their meeting and tried to obstruct it.

“We demand justice for women and the realization of their economic, social and cultural rights! We demand an end to sexual violence against women, and return of lands grabbed by the military!”

Bangladesh – Bangladesh Krishok Federation
Though women as a whole have great contribution to the national economy that is not officially counted, Bangladesh is a country dominated by patriarchy, where women are viewed and treated as inferior to men. In Bangladesh, women face many kinds of violence: religious violence, domestic violence, sexual abuse, human trafficking, child marriage, polygamy, dowry system, etc.

Many Muslim women endure violence as a result conservative forces within Bangladesh and conservative, male-dominated family structures. For example, according to the Fatuah of Muslim religious leaders, women should not come outside the house, should not work in the office, should not study past class four, etc. From childhood, women are taught that heaven is at the feet of her husband, so she should abide by his repression. Domestic violence, though common (in all religious communities), is quite invisible and survivors rarely receive justice. Women also face harassment in the workplace.

The fight for land rights for women is ongoing in Bangladesh. Women’s right to land is key for her financial security and autonomy. As per Muslim Shariah law, daughters get half of what the son gets from the family land property. In Bangladesh, few years back, a policy was declared by the government to protect the rights of women, including the provision of the equal right to paternal property.  It was extremely protested by religious fundamentalists, who use religion as a mask to their chauvinism. 

“It is our task as members of a secular society to defend against religious fundamentalism – a strong force of oppression for women in Bangladesh and beyond!”
Women from LVC movements dancing at Women's Assembly at our regional meeting at Sevagram in August 2014

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Budget 2015, a let down for farmers and agriculture ---- BKU, बजट 2015 ने कृषि और किसान को किया निराश----भाकियू

Budget 2015, a let down for farmers and agriculture ---- BKU

Chaudhary Tikait said that in a country where 70 percent of the total population are farmers, the budget allocation for agriculture is only 24, 8000 million, whereas a tax reduction amounting to Rs. 23,0000 million to the corporate houses is appalling. It is evident from the budget that agriculture is not the primary concern for the current government. The budget cut of Rs. 1,2000 million in agriculture sector is beyond comprehension and indicates that agriculture is not the priority of the government. The policies regarding Krishi card, irrigation, livestock, etc. which the Government talks about will die its own death due to lack of funds. Budget was an opportunity to make policy decisions on the livelihood of farmers who are suffering from drought, flood and are forced to commit suicide but these have not been given attention by the government. The high hopes of farmers from Narendra Modi's government were shattered post budget. Increase of crop insurance coverage, fixed minimum income for farmers, adequate price for crops, direct subsidies to farmers, the reduction in the costs of chemical and fertilizers etc. such were the expectations of the farmers but the allocated budget left the farmers distraught. The budget has made it clear that the BJP government village is anti-rural, anti-poor and anti-farmer. The farmers will be forced to leave agriculture and commit suicide or they would lose their land in debt. It is clear from the budget that under the BJP government farmer will have bad days and corporate houses will have good days.

बजट 2015 ने कृषि और किसान को किया निराश----भाकियू

प्रेस नोट
बजट 2015 ने कृषि और किसान को किया निराश----भाकियू
देश की कुल आबादी के 70 प्रतिशत किसानों के लिए केवल 24800 करोड का प्रावधान, औ़घोगिक घरानों को 23000 करोड की छूट शर्मनाक-----चै0 टिकैत
भारत सरकार द्वारा की गयी बजट की घोषणा से निश्चित है कि सरकार की नीति में कृषि प्राथमिक मुद्दा नही है। बजट में कृषि की घोर उपेक्षा की गयी है। कृषि क्षेत्र जिस दौर से गुजर रहा है उसे सम्भालना सरकार की जिम्मेदारी थी, लेकिन कृषि बजट में 1200 करोड की कटौती कर स्पष्ट कर दिया है कि कृषि सरकार की प्राथमिकता में नही हैं। बजट आवंटन की राशी को घटाना समझ से परे है। कृषि कार्ड, सिंचाई, पशु पालन आदि की जो बातें सरकार द्वारा की गई है, बजट आवंटन राशी को देखने से लगता है कि यह सभी योजनाएॅ धन अभाव के कारण दम तोड देगी। आज देश का किसान सूखा बाढ़ आत्महत्या से पीडित है बजट में किसानो की आजीविका तय किये जाने की आवश्यकता थी लेकिन इन तथ्यो पर सरकार द्वारा ध्यान नही दिया गया है। किसानों के साथ भद्दा मजाक किया गया है।
देश की 70 प्रतिशत आबादी के लिए बजट की राशी का आवंटन 26 हजार करोड से घटाकर 24800 करोड कर दिया है दूसरी तरफ औघोगिक घरानो को 23000 करोड की छूट प्रदान कर दी गई है। किसानो को नरेन्द्र मोदी की सरकार से काफी उम्मीदे थी जो बजट के बाद निराशा मे बदल गई है। किसानो को फसल बीमा योजना का दायरा बढाने, किसानो की न्यूनतम आमदनी तय किये जाने, फसलों का लाभकारी मूल्य, किसानो को सीधी सब्सिडी, रासायन एंव उर्वरको के मूल्य में कमी आदि कई योजनाओं की उम्मीदे थी। लेकिन बजट आवंटन की राशी ने किसानों को झुनझुना थमा दिया। बजट से यह स्पष्ट हो गया है कि भारतीय जनता पार्टी की सरकार गांव, गरीब और किसान विरोधी है।
यह बजट किसान विरोधी है। इससे किसान खेती छोडने और आत्महत्या करने को मजबूर होगा और कर्ज के जाल में फंस कर अपनी जमीन खो देगा।
इस बजट से स्पष्ट है कि भारतीय जनता पार्टी की सरकार में किसानो के बुरे दिन और औघोगिक घरानो के अच्छे दिन आ गये है।

                                                                       चै0 राकेश टिकैत
                                                                     (राष्ट्रीय प्रवक्ता भकियू)

REPORT: January 24 and 25, 2015 -- Karnataka State Farmers’ Association (KRRS) holds Study Camp for Women Farmers

January 24 and 25, 2015: Karnataka State Farmers’ Association (KRRS) holds Study Camp for Women Farmers

KRRS activists involved in land struggle in Shimoga district
On January 24 and 25, Janapada Loka, a campus filled with Karnataka Folklore, turned green as nearly two hundred women from KRRS participated in a Women’s Study Camp, shawls on their shoulders. The first of its kind since 1987, this Women’s Study Camp was an opportunity for KRRS women to learn about the need for gender justice in agriculture. From the speeches from visiting guests Neela K, Kavitha Rai, Stanley K.V., and Dr. Aruna, to the small group discussions on women’s struggles in each district, KRRS women created a female-friendly space open to laughter, banter, and even kabaddi! (an Indian sport that combines tag with wrestling)

 “KRRS has existed for more than 30 years,” Chukki Nanjundaswamy and Nandini Jayaram welcomed guests. “We have tackled challenging social questions like caste and dignity for farmers in that time, but never gender. Women do 70% of agricultural work, yet do not see themselves as farmers – only as farmers’ wives, or daughters! We are here to build a KRRS Women’s Wing – to create and defend a space for women in the farmer’s movement and build the identity of women as farmers.”

Day One

K Neela, Karnataka office-bearer of All-India Democratic Women's Association
and professor in Bidar, North Karnataka
K Neela inaugurated the assembly by debunking many Indian myths about gender. She supported women’s right to 50% of land and property, advocated for women’s reproductive rights (in the face of recent right-wing claims that Hindu women should have 4-5 children), and criticized social taboos related to widows. Memorably, she called out the tendency to blame the victim in rape cases: “Society says that if women wear skimpy clothes or Western wear, they are more likely to get raped. But Western wear can be less revealing than the traditional sari. And, while working in the fields or transplanting paddy, women must hike their sari up above the knee. When a man rapes her, we blame her – ‘Her legs were showing!’ Men also wear lungi, and tie it up revealing their thighs! But how many men get raped for such skimpy dress? We must identify and combat the real causes of rape.”

Kavitha Rai, professor of gender studies at Karnataka Open University, deepened the inquiry: “We think of men as the promoters of patriarchy. But women also promote violence on women, just look at the relationships between daughter-in-law and mother-in-law. Actually, the problem isn’t men or women – the problem is power. Power doesn’t have any gender.”

After a post-lunch community theatre performance, KRRS senior leaders took to the stage to tell the women’s history (her-story?) of KRRS.

Listening to senior women activists' struggles
Annapurnamma, from Shimoga district, shared, “In the 1980s, loan collectors would come home to confiscate all our things if we defaulted on the loans. The men would jump the back wall, leaving the women at home. The collectors would take our year’s supply of rice and our vessels – but more than losing that, we lost our honour. I had a one month old baby, and I was very shocked. In that pain, my breast milk stopped flowing for a couple of days. With determination, I joined the Raitha Sangha and went village to village to build women’s committees at every level – village, Taluk, District. From that point we started to fight, and no one came into my house for confiscating. I dare anyone to try!”

Raji from Hassan district told, “In my village, I have been a part of many struggles. We fought for electricity bills to be waived by a collective boycott. We refused to pay water bills until each of our homes had a tap. We also fought against the police who had privatized a community fishing pond. We rooted out corruption in our local PDS system, once we were aware of our entitlements. In another instance, a corrupt doctor asked a bribe from the family of a child with appendicitis. With the help of KRRS, we went to the Lokayukta (Anti-Corruption) office and set a trap to catch him red-handed. Now he’s in jail.”

The evening closed prematurely after dinner, only to reignite 15 minutes later in singing and dancing, pulling most activists out of bed to enjoy the unique female-only space for a few more hours.

Maadevi from Shimoga District
Day two

Early morning, small groups formed from each district to discuss and strategize around women’s problems and solutions in each KRRS group’s territory. Each group made a presentation of their discussion.
Mandya district women pointed out the many types of freedoms farmer women need: financial freedom, freedom to make choices, freedom of expression. From Chikballapura, many concrete ideas for direct action came out – dismantling of the scanning centers where sex-selective abortion take place, for example. A campaign to demand equal land rights for women was proposed, as well as a campaign 50% women’s participation in the politicial process (currently the quota is 33%).

Stanley, from Odanai NGO in Mysore, and Dr. Aruna, survivor of a child marriage and now teaching doctor at JSS women’s college, discussed the importance of farmer women’s wellbeing next.

Stanley discussed the link between rural crisis and violence against women – women are migrating into precarious situations, where they are more likely to be sex trafficked or forced to commercialized their body due to distress, “While farmer men commit suicide out of desperation, farmer women go into sex work in order to take care of their families. This issue should be as closely addressed as the farmer suicide crisis.”

In the afternoon, KRRS women sat together and decided how to participate in the KRRS state committee. Women from each district present were selected to attend state committee meetings, quadrupling the number of women hitherto involved at that level.

Embracing the all-female space for some dancing and sports

Men serving women food in a rare role reversal