Thursday, May 18, 2017

Free, prior and informed consent is must to tackle agrarian conflicts: La Via Campesina in Geneva

A large delegation of peasant women and men, youth and indigenous people representing La Via Campesina are in Geneva this week along with allies from NGOs and Workers' Unions, to take part in the fourth session of the working group meeting to negotiate on a UN Declaration for the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas. 
On May 15, while intervening during the discussions on Article 1 till 4 of the draft declaration, Geeta Devarajan representing La Via Campesina's South Asian movements cited the issue of displacements in rural areas and emphasised on the need for free, prior and informed consent. 
Here is a full text of her speech. 

Madame Chair-Rapporteur, Delegates of the Council,
I am Geeta Devarajan from La Via Campesina, India.
I take this opportunity to urge the delegates of the Asian region in the United Nations to look into the situation on the displacement of the peasants and other people working in rural population. The issue of displacement and its consequences are also noted in the final study of the Human Rights Council which is the basis of this process towards a UN Declaration.
The displacement is caused by indiscriminate access to commercial organisations, like transnational corporations or big plantations to rural economy. The role of these organisations in rural economy endangers the livelihood of peasants and other people working in rural areas. The crucial importance of peasants, particularly ensuring food for all, not the few, in combating climate change and on conservation of biodiversity is further hampered by the displacement thereby endangers the Mother Earth.
The declaration promotes and protects the crucial role of peasants agriculture and ensures that peasants' rights are human rights. I request the Asian governments to take the problem of displacement seriously. The Asian community has a very strong responsibility to end hunger and poverty.
Furthermore, we would like to highlight the importance of the article on the general obligations of state—which would enable peasants to realise their rights. More importantly the emphasis on the free, prior, and informed consent of peasants and other people working in rural areas stipulated in this article. This will be crucial to tackle the conflicts over natural and agrarian resources all over the globe.
We support these provisions and hope that the declaration is adopted by the Council at the earliest. The declaration will be a great achievement, not only for the sake of the peasants and other people working in rural areas, but also for the sake of a better world for generations to come.
I thank you.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

KRRS Organizes Inter-caste LOVE marriage in Hassan

KRRS has always stood up against the caste system as well as upper caste authoritarian Hinduism /hindutva.

They have organized several inter-caste, or what they call "caste-less" marriages, including inter-religious marriages. over the last two decades.

Article only available in Kannada -ಮನೆಯವರ-ವಿರೋಧದ-ನಡುವೆ-ಪ್ರೇ/

Saturday, May 13, 2017


Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements
Road No. 2, A – 87, Mahipalpur Extension, New Delhi – 110 037, IndiaTel:+91-9899435968 ; Email: 
Date : 13-05-2017


Shri Anil Madhav Dave,
Minister for Environment, Forests & Climate Change,
Government of India.

Dear Sir,


We are writing to you from the Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements, which is a network of farmers’ movements that is committed to dignity and self-respect for farmers. Several of our members also are part of the international peasants’ movement La Via Campesina.  We represent thousands of villages in South India and hundreds of thousands of farming families. Our member movements, such as Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, have taken staunch action against the giant enemies of farmers since it’s founding in the 1980s (For example Operation Cremate Monsanto in 1993, which created an international fervor). We have, and continue to, reject the so-called benefits of GMOs to our farmers, environment, and citizens. Last March 2014 we occupied the home of Union Minister  Veerappa   Moily after he gave a sweeping approval to GM trials, and we continue this fight even under the new government; we will not hesitate to take to the streets to make stand that GM is a dangerous bargain known to the world.

We are deeply dismayed and disappointed with the decision of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) to recommend genetically modified (GM) herbicide tolerant (HT) mustard developed by the Delhi University for commercial cultivation. We understand that the decision with regard to approval or rejection will now be taken by you.

We urge you to reject this application in toto and not approve this GM HT mustard which has no utility for farmers and is in fact against our economic interests. This GM mustard engineered with herbicide tolerance trait will only benefit the large agro-chemical corporations like Bayer, which are seeking to expand markets for their poisonous chemicals (glufosinate herbicide in this case), and lock us into the package of external seed supply with associated pesticides.

The reason being cited for introducing this crop is better oilseed production through higher yields. In reality, this GM mustard yields lower than many recent, popular hybrids and varieties. The testing has been rigged to have favourable results for this unsafe GMO. Some of us who participated in a special GEAC meeting have found that the regulators are biased, unscientific and even lack integrity required.The GEAC has ignored all the many valid questions raised by scientists and others and chose to function in an unscientific and biased fashion. By clearing GM mustard, the GEAC has shown itself to be anti-science, anti-farmers, anti-environment and anti- consumers.

Genetically modified crops are a threat to the livelihoods of the farmers of the nation; one threat among many, in truth. The proliferation of GM crops will transfer the ecological wealth that farmers conserve and protect to the bank accounts of profit-hungry corporate interests. The privatization of seed and the property rights associated with Genetically Modification Organisms is a dangerous weapon against farmers who can be sued by corporations for “infractions” and a push towards acute economic distress. It is also an affront on the sovereignty of our nation and our right to control our own biological diversity.

Regarding GM mustard, and other oil seeds, after the Rajiv Gandhi Oil Seed Mission, you may recall that India was nearly self sufficient in oil seeds. Only after that, in 1994, when cheap oil imports began after liberalization, the local market was crushed and our self sufficiency was eroded. Now, proponents of GM Mustard claim that it will increase yield and reduce our imports! We urge you to address the root cause of the issues, asymmetrical and harmful trade agreements and the project of neo-liberalisation, than stick to the ‘growth for growth’s sake’ propaganda that helps line the MNC’s pockets with profits.

However, this is not just about oil seeds. We are concerned about the environment, which affects farmers, consumers, and other agricultural producers and the urban poor alike. GM crops are designed to be grown in a mono-culture, chemical input-intensive, large scale manner. Industrial agricultural is environmental suicide. This is not an exaggeration – more than 50% of greenhouse gases are produced through this unsustainable, illogical, and corporate-driven system. Climate change is real, and it is has already started. Conflicts such as the war in Syria can be traced to climate-related migration. If we do not halt climate change we will not only see the destruction of our planet but the destruction of global harmony as we know it.

This is why we take action to promote small scale farming, as a solution to climate change and as a necessary ingredient to a self-sustaining and resilient India. Agriculture is more than just an industry whose profits can be maximized and its costs reduced: it is a way of life, a social structure, a collaboration with nature, and, first and foremost, the only method for us to feed ourselves. We promote peasant agroecology by saving our local seeds, strengthening our local economies and carrying for our unique ecological systems. We defend our seed sovereignty as an essential piece here: seed is patrimony, developed by generations of farmers through their intellectual labour. All the varieties of mustard that we have today have been developed by farmers over time. India is a Center for Diversity for mustard, and perhaps even a center of origin. 12,755 accessions of rapeseed mustard are available in India according to Directorate of Rapeseed Mustard Research of Indian Council of Agriculture Research. Introducing GM Mustard is a threat to this biodiversity as farmers increase market dependency and stop saving seed.

The food supply being contaminated by GM crops is a risk we farmers are not willing to take. Long-term, independent studies to verify the safety of GM crops have not been completed. The studies which exist were completed by the corporations themselves: how can the sick man be his own doctor? In countries such as the United States, citizens are unaware that 90% of their food is genetically modified and are rushing to get it labeled. Corporations are blocking them. Citizens want to know if their food is safe. Why are the corporations so scared if they have nothing to hide? India can go one step further by stopping the invasion of GM crops before it is too late. Before we are another example of a country who jumped on the “technology” wagon without realizing it was a doomed journey.

GM crops are an unproven technology, which has not stood the test of scientific rigor. They are an unnecessary addition of pressure into a system that is already squeezing the farmer dry. And they are an unchangeable relinquishment of national sovereignty to corporate interests that will threaten our food supply and our ability to control our own food chain. In short, the case for GM crops is weak, though the vested interests are strong.

We are shocked to see BJP deviating from its Manifesto[1] and its National Executive’s Resolution on Agriculture that condemned GM crops and clearly demands moratorium on it and following the path of its predecessor in betraying the interests of farmers. We hope that you stand for what you promised us and demonstrate the self-respect that we demand of our state’s farmers.

We strongly oppose and urge you to take these points into consideration, to stop and reject the approval of the GM Mustard and all other GM field trials. In doing so you avoid the irreparable damage that GMOs will cause to our food sovereignty.


Yudhvir Singh , General Secretary, All India Coordination Committee of Farmers Movement (AICCFM)
K T Gangadhar, Coordinator, South India Coordination Committee of Farmers Movement (SICCFM) and State President, Karnataka Rajya Raita Sangha (KRRS)
Rakesh Tikait, National Spokesman, Bharath Kisan Union
ChamarasaMali Patil, Hon. President, Karnataka Rajya Raita Sangha (KRRS)
KS Puttannaiha, Karnataka Rajya Raita Sangha (KRRS)
ChukkiNanjundaswamy, Karnataka Rajya Raita Sangha (KRRS)
Vijay Jawandhia,, Shetkari Sangathana,, Maharashtra
C S. Kannaiyan, Secretary, South India Coordination Committee of Farmers Movement (SICCFM)
Ajmer Singh Lakhowal, State President, Bhartiya Kissan Union (BKU),  Punjab
Jagdish Singh, State President, Bhartiya Kissan Union (BKU), Madhya Pradesh
Vidyadhar Olkha, State President, Bhartiya Kissan Union (BKU), Rajasthan
Ratan Singh Mann, State President, Bhartiya Kissan Union (BKU), Haryana
Sukhdev Singh Gill, State President, Bhartiya Kissan Union (BKU), Himachal Pradesh
Satnam Singh Cheema, State President, Bhartiya Kissan Union (BKU), Uttrakhand
Dhan Singh Sherawat, Bhartiya Kissan Union (BKU), Maharashtra
Gurman Singh, Bhartiya Kissan Union, Haryana
K. Sella Mutthu, President, Tamil Nadu Farmers Association
Nallagounder,  Tamil Nadu Farmers Association
Rajariga, President, Women Wing, Tamil Nadu Farmers Association
M.S. Selvaraj, VivasaigalThoilarlagalMunnetra Sangam (VTMS)
CK Janu, Adivasi Gothra Mahasabha
DevisonA.K,  Kerala Coconut Farmers Association
P Raveendranath, Kerala Coconut Farmers Association

Friday, May 5, 2017


Karnataka, a state in the South of India, has been declared drought ridden for 11 of the past 16 years and yet there is no comprehensive drought management policy in place that can kick off immediately to address rural distress.

139 out of 176 taluks[1] have been declared as being under severe drought this year. This has had a massive impact on rural Karnataka with farmers and farm workers suffering massive crop losses and being unable to repay loans taken for agricultural purposes.

For peasant women, drought presents a double whammy. Women make up the majority of the agricultural workforce in India and yet their identity as a farmer or a farm worker remains unrecognised and their labour remains largely invisible. Land ownership among women is also dismally low, affecting their access to institutional and public credit systems. In a predominantly patriarchal system, peasant women are left to bear the burdens of both family and work.

It is in this context that self-help-groups came about, as an alternative to address the problems faced by peasant women.  A Self-Help Group (SHG) is a group of 10-20 women, usually very poor, from the same neighbourhood who know each other and come together. They save money regularly (weekly, fornightly, monthly) and this pooled savings become the source of credit for these neighborhood women. 

The idea got a boost when it was scaled up by the Government of Karnataka, in 2000-2001, under a State run initiative called  “Stree Shakti” (Women’s Power!). The stated objective of the program was to improve the financial conditions for rural women enabling them to gain more control over their lives through access to credit, trainings on skills that could create livelihoods and building a community based support and monitoring system that ensured compliance.

The SHGs were linked to nationalized/public sector banks. This system enabled women to take more control over their lives, guaranteed financial independence while simultaneously fostering a sense of community, thus providing an impetus to rural economies and helping curb the migration to cities.

As Farida, a peasant woman says, “what used to be individual savings earlier in one’s own kitchen became a community’s saving”

As of 2012[2], Stree Shakthi group members had saved Rs. 1118.05 crores (11 Billion Indian Rupees) since inception. 120,155 SHGs availed bank loans to the extent of Rs.1305.97 crores and have done internal lending of Rs. 3215.88 crores to take up various income generating activities.

Over the past decade, these SHGs have been approached by ‘private financial firms’ offering them better access to credit services if they banked with them. Their attractive offers coupled with the lack of access to government schemes/credit for women enabled the easy moving over from nationalized banks to private ones.

One of the biggest players in the field the Shri Kshethra Dharmasthala Rural Development Project is associated with a temple that enabled it to quickly build trust among the rural populations. Having now moved their savings these women have been accessing credit for various reasons which include agricultural investments such as expenditure on seeds, fertilisers etc; educational needs; health costs at private hospitals.

Over the past few years with successive droughts these SHGs have started to default on repayment. The failure of crops, the lack of compensation for crop loss, the lack of a drought management policy, no disbursal of insurance amounts for crop loss, within the State of Karnataka, leaves these women unable to pay their monthly installments. 

Since 2016,  conditions have worsened and these companies have been harassing peasant women in a variety of ways to recover their money. These tactics include turning up at odd hours in the night, verbally abusing women in front of others, pressurizing all the women from the self help group, locking up their houses and so forth.

In a society that is patriarchal and conservative, these tactics put women under extreme distress.  Suicides by peasant women and women farmers[3] are now increasingly reported from rural Karnataka and several reports suggest the inability to repay loans[4] as a triggering factor.

There are nearly 23 officially registered micro finance companies in Haveri district and some of them are:
  1. Shri Kshethra Dharmasthala Rural Development Project
  2. Gramshakti, Fullerton India
  3. Grameen Koota Financial Services Pvt Ltd
  4. Spandana Sphoorty Financial Limited ('SSFL')
  5. Bharat Financial Inclusion Ltd (formerly SKS Microfinance ltd)
  6. Navchetana Microfin services pvt ltd
  7. Belstar Investment and Finance Private Limited (BIFPL) from Hand in Hand
  8. L&T Financial services
  9. Equitas Microfinance/ Equitas Holdings Limited
  10. Muthoot Fincorp Mahila Mitra

Legally – these micro finance companies come under the Central Bank’s (RBI) fair practices code[5] wherein they are not allowed to use coercive methods in loan collection and cannot engage in harassment. Staff, from these organisations, are mandated to engage with defaulters in a non-coercive way. Although such a code is in place, very often women are unable to reach out to concerned authorities due to several cultural and social barriers. 

In December 2017, Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha - KRRS (a member of LVC) carried out a campaign to demand a complete waiver of loans loans taken by farmers including the SHGs. This was a demand that was articulated especially within the context of drought and other extreme climatic events. While the tenure over which loans have to be repaid has been extended owing to campaign pressure, small-farmers in the region say that it doesn’t really mean much.

On 9th March 2017, the women’s wing of KRRS took out a protest rally in Haveri  region and blocked roads. They demanded an end to harassments by the agents of the micro finance companies; asked for access to credit from public banks at 0% interest; and called for information dissemination about government schemes; apart from demanding access to such schemes; and an increase in funds made available to SHGs via nationalized banks.

On 7th April 2017, the women’s wing met with the Deputy Collector, Haveri. Later on in a joint meeting with the women’s group and the representatives of the private firms, the Deputy Collector ordered micro finance companies to carry out their tasks as per the fair practices code and warned against any form of harassments. All financial organisations have been asked to put on hold collection of loans till January 2018. It is a significant decision that provides an interim relief to affected families.

However the role played by private financial firms in rural credit calls for much deeper introspection and action and an international instrument in the form of a UN Declaration can play a crucial role in defending the rights of peasants.

This is an edited version of a report written by Rashmi Munikempanna at KRRS, with additional inputs from Faridabanu, Manjula Akki, Guttyamma, Sharada – all members of KRRS women’s wing in Haveri.

[1]It is the ultimate executive agency for land records and related administrative matters. The chief official is called the tahsildar or, less officially, the talukdar or taluka muktiarkar or Tehsildar. Taluk or Tehsil can be said sub districts in Indian (Bharat) context.

Monday, May 1, 2017

"A Movement within Movements" - Interpretation and Translation in our Multilingual Political Spaces

Spanish, Kannada and Singhalese interpreters at political
orientation session for Zero-Budget Natural Farming Training,
Karnataka (2014)
The South Asia region of La Via Campesina has initiated a process of language justice within our movements to ensure that speakers of all regional languages can understand and be understood in our political spaces. South Asia is very linguistically diverse, with India being the third most linguistically diverse country in the world. Since our movements and ally movements are comprised people from the grassroots across South Asia, it is a must that speakers of any language can participate and lead our movement forward. In our context, knowledge of certain languages, such as English and Hindi, gives activists and leaders an advantage in communicating. However, the more our processes become dominated by these two languages, the harder it is to be inclusive of all people. This especially impacts women and youth participation and leadership. In the spirit of ensuring our spaces are democratic, inclusive, and participatory we are pursuing language justice.

Solidarity interpreters in 
Jakarta at the 6th Global 
Conference of LVC (2013)
Interpreters have an essential role in language justice. Interpreters do more than translate from one language to another— they ensure speakers’ ability to communicate and listeners’ ability to comprehend. Many professional interpreters also engage with social movements as solidarity interpreters. For example, some solidarity interpreters are professional interpreters who work in institutional form (EU/UN) or the private market but also work in movement spaces, bringing a high level of professionalism and quality to multilingual meetings and events. They are especially visible in global and European meetings of La Via Campesina.

However, in our context, movements have not been able to engage solidarity interpreters or professional interpreters to support our processes. Till now, activists, volunteers, and allies who work with movements have taken up the majority of the interpretation responsibilities. Given their community rapport and deep contextual knowledge, these activist interpreters are ideally prepared to ensure communication. However, many times interpretation is a secondary duty to their primary political tasks. Thus political interpreters face double roles, overwork/burnout and sometimes conflicts of interest, causing the quality of the interpretation to suffer.

How do we ensure language justice given the limited human, financial, and physical resources of South Asian social movements? This is a common question of all social movements dealing with multilingual constituencies. La Via Campesina, along with other social movements, has begun exploring whether this common question can have a shared solution in the form of a pool of trained political interpreters.

After holding trainings in Bangalore and Kathmandu, La Via Campesina co-hosted a training in Delhi this April, 2017 with Delhi Solidarity Group. Delhi Solidarity Group provides support to progressive peoples’ movements of diverse constituencies across India. The 15 trainee interpreters included activists, students, and technical people associated with social movements, speaking languages including Bangla, Oriya, Hindi, Kannada, Tamil, and Malayalam, as well as Bahasa, Spanish and English. Veteran trainer and solidarity interpreter Katie Whiddon took the lead as trainer on interpretation skills and professionalism, alongside several seasoned political interpreters who added to the dialogue on the ethics of interpretation and the South Asian reality.

Yudhvir Singh, International Coordination Committee
member of LVC South Asia, gives a speech to 
participants for their practice (April, 2017)
This fast-paced, intensive training involved near-constant consecutive and simultaneous interpretation, even during Q&A sessions and discussions. Katie stressed many times that interpretation is not taught but practiced, and so the training was designed to afford participants maximum practice time with fellow language-speakers. Skills such as note taking with symbols, memory training, vocabulary activation, and research were highlighted. Participants gave peer feedback to one another on quality of interpretation (including accuracy, completeness, and political coherence) and public speaking, as did Katie. Though a two-day training is unheard of in the professional interpretation world, we did our best to ensure participants would be ready to cope when they are suddenly given interpretation responsibilities in intense political spaces. Two leaders from Bharatiya Kisan Union also attended to give speeches in English and Hindi on the agrarian crises facing South Asian farmers which provided challenging and relevant fodder for practicing simultaneous interpretation.

In May, 2017 we held a second workshop in Bangalore using the methodology from Katie's workshop as well as some online resources (available from Highlander (USA) here). Our fifteen participants were mainly Kannada speakers but also Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Kurumbar, and Hindi. This workshop, held with the support of Environmental Support Group, was an opportunity to try out our own curriculum and facilitation methodology. We also introduced more topics on planning for interpretation in multilingual spaces (technology and resources) and power structures associated with interpretation.

Language justice touches so many aspects of our movement culture and is deeply relevant to the post-colonial and pluralistic experience of South Asians in the “LPG” era (Liberalization, Privatization, Globalization). At the Delhi training, it was our first opportunity to analyze, process, discuss, practice, and give feedback on interpretation, which shattered our understandings of what interpretation is (especially as compared to translation!). Though in multilingual family, work, public, and market spaces, we are constantly interpreting, we rarely consider its political weight. We realized that interpretation can’t be taken for granted— it is just as important as setting up a stage and microphone. And in movement spaces, we need to find new ways to prepare interpreters so they are not “thrown into the fire” without orientation, preparation, and support.

We also went through a process of self-awareness as we discussed the power and positionality interpreters carry within our social movements. How do we, as interpreters, ensure a profound emotional connection between the speaker and the listener despite asymmetries of power that may exist? Language is political and has its own hierarchies, and each word comes with its own baggage and sets of assumptions. How do we counteract the elitism associated with English (and to some extent, Hindi) as interpreters, both through verbal and non-verbal communication? Our movements’ ability to organize and sustain struggle at regional, national, and international levels in many ways depends on our ability to communicate across realities. What is the role and responsibility of interpreters in this political process?

Many participants also reflected on their own experiences both with interpretation and also the complex notion of “mother tongue” in the Indian context. While interpreting, many became aware that their mother tongue vocabulary was dormant. Participants reflected that as interpreters they discovered themselves in a new way and raised many internal questions of their own personal identity in the context of linguistic hegemony of English and Hindi.

Key next steps include individual and group practice, curriculum development, further trainings (decentralized across South Asia and a longer residential course in 2018), mailing list of volunteer interpreters, collective glossaries/lexicons, and further awareness building with our movements. We are also looking into collective ownership of technology that can support interpretation and event-wise support to groups. In Nepal, ANPFa and Katie are exploring the possibility of a six-month course in interpretation.

 Left- First trained interpreters thanked by participants of ZBNF training, Amrita Bhoomi (2014). Trainer: Jorge Soriano; Right- Interpreter felicitated by Shanta Manavi, former ICC member, in Kathmandu in March, 2017

Delhi-based interpreters trained in April, 2017 in collaboration with Delhi Solidarity Group and with Katie Whiddon as lead trainer.