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Food Crisis An Outcome Of Failed Agrarian Reforms

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

25 May, 2011

Much before the world could rise about the context of land grabbing, we in India, know it well how people’s land was already grabbed by the ruling Elites. These people who we called as Dalits or most marginalised found that whatever land they had in their possession was annexed by those village elite which claimed itself as ‘farmers’. Farmer in India, is a peculiar term. They too have castes. They too have rigidities of life. They too suffer from a hierarchical value system which considers the most marginalised as subhuman and untouchables. Indian villages live in darkness, in caste system and in nepotism Said Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar who guided our destiny in the post-independent India as he drafted our constitution and became the emancipator and liberator of millions of oppressed communities all over the country.

While, we oppose all forms of discrimination by any one, and, all forms of land acquisition, a bit sophisticated terminology for land grabbing, we want to make it clear that we have become habitual of speaking the truth of convenience. Land grab is not just international phenomena but have been used by all the power elite in our societies. So, as I said in my opening statement, I am opposed to all forms of land acquisition including that by my own countrymen inside the country as well as outside it.

Let me explain it further. Before 1990, most of the Dalits and Adivasis found their land being annexed by the upper castes and middle castes farmers. In many places, Indian state refused to act as those whose land was annexed did not matter much politically. The government knew it well that a large number of these communities need their protection yet nothing happened. The first generation of land reform failed miserably because inherent racist nature of our society which never considered these issues important. We still know millions of people in India mostly the Dalits, the tribal and the most backward communities, have in their hand, their land entitlement yet they fail to know where that exact portion of land is.

Second failure of first generation of land reform was state’s failure to get the land ceiling laws implemented. Without active will of the state Land Ceiling Laws remain redundant. Most of the land still remains in the hands of power brutal village elite. We

Know that they have used the Indian courts to make the Indian laws completely redundant.

Many people talks about the Bhoodan Movement for land reform which was a complete eye wash actually to deviate people’s demand for land rights. We all know that these ruling elite would not give their own land at their own will that easily. To puncture the land rights movement, these elite trapped the whole social movements for land rights in Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh. We all know the out come of Bhoodan movement and how the land was used. Andhra Pradesh can give a better example of Bhoodan land.

Interestingly, Land Ceiling is for 12 acres of irrigated land while 18 acres for semi irrigated land. Land in India, is a state subject hence these criteria’s change accordingly. But the commonality of these things is that you can procure land in the name of gods and goddesses, in the name of church, temple and mosques and no ceiling law would impact you as all these Gods do not live with in the Ceiling act. You can also procure enormous land for your cows. It is only for human being that we have put ceiling laws. To evade the land ceiling laws, the ruling elite turn to religion, use it as a tool to exploit the most marginalised one. Rule of law have failed to protect and honor the most margainslied communities from being exploited.

In the post 1990s, when the Indian government went on Structural Adjustment programmes, became part of the WTO regime and abdicated all its responsibilities particularly related to land and agrarian reform, we saw a clamour for land acquisition in the name of ‘public interest’. Now, public interest during the British regime who drafted 1894 Land Acquisition Act, was much more different. At least the British created institutions in India, built our road networks and railways and hospitals were constructed but contrary to that our governments actually became ‘real estate agents’ and started land acquisition and handed them over to private companies. Most of the people who face this challenge are the communities of farmers, tribal and Dalits living in the villages and forest regions. Since 1950s, over 9 million tribal have become landless and displaced completely without rehabilitation. In fact, I call it, the annihilation of tribal culture and their land. It is criminal. Any protest for their rights and livelihood is being treated with much voracious state apparatus which criminalises the social movements and political protests. The tribal land is gone to mining mafias, timber contractors in the forest and then the environmental mafias who feel that the tribal are the biggest threat to environment. It does not care whether the tribal be honourably rehabilitated, or compensated for their sacrifices for making us live our today. The Indian state has failed to honor the tribal autonomy and continue to marginalise them.

The second kind of threat today is to the farmers in India through the Land Acquisition for Special Economic Zones ( SEZs), for the big roads, malls, companies. All over the country, the farmers are protesting against this illegal land grab. The state acquires their land threatening them with dire consequences if they try to stop the authorities from acquiring their land. A report in the Times of India suggest that in 17 States of India, 40 districts will lose simply 3,69,000 acres of land for various projects. The fact is the numbers are quite big and I would term it great Indian land robbery much bigger than any bank robbery. And these robbers have not come from out side India, the record of Indian companies is worst than their external counterparts.

For us this challenge is big. Though we know a large of number these farmers do not even consider Dalit and Adivasis as human being (caste being an important aspect of their arrogance) yet, if we have to understand the future of India and its food security, we must understand the conspiracy of the ruling elite and the powerful private owners who want to control our agriculture.

Yes, India’s communal land is under the grab. It was meant for the communities and their cattle for grazing and sitting and discussing their issues. But it is in the hands of powerful caste forces in the villages. We do not talk about it as it would expose our own imperialist culture. It is easy to fight against an external enemy but very difficult to fight against our ‘own’ people and it is applicable to each one us including the communities who I am talking about. Each one of us is a victim of not only external forces wanting to control us but also our own people wanting to be a stooge in the hands of these forces, to exploit our sentiments.

The issue of Food crisis is not just related to Food security. For us Food sovereignty is more important. We are not ready to accept that there is a food crisis and hence we need to import food to give it to our people. Food sovereignty is our food, our land and our farmers. You can not impose your waste food on our people in the name of food security. Food is a culture, it depends on local environment, it is developed over a period of time and hence our concern is food which is culturally conducive for our people.

Many Indian companies are procuring land abroad particularly in Africa. I know about the land struggles going on in these countries against this kind of imperialism. That is why I mentioned in my remark that we must oppose all kind of imperialist tendencies and not particular kind. If India indulges in that kind of approach, we must not suffer with a false ‘nationalistic’ sentiment because the same companies are disinheriting our own people from their land and using it for non agricultural purposes and then procuring huge land abroad to get it imported to India. It is a conspiracy to make our farmers workless and complete beggars. We must oppose to it.

We must also not lose sight of the fact that the current food crisis is not a day’s work. The issue of subsidy to the farm products and fertilisers are very important. If Europe and Americans are not ready to do away with it, they have no right to impose these conditions on our governments to kill our agriculture. It is because of this, we are witnessing farmers committing suicide as they are unable to face the market pressures. They are unable to produce their crop according to fancies of market. Not able to produce profit as we all know well, market gives you big dreams and yet in reality it works against the most marginalised one. It is monopolised by the big corporations hence how can a common farmer compete with them. The farmers have to procure the hybrid seeds to ‘increase’ their yields which has failed forcing them to commit suicide. Indian farmers’ continuous suicide is a direct out come the ‘green revolution’ where they shunned traditional practices and went following the ‘commercial’ practices. Scientific achievements were converted to commercial greed by the companies and we all know green revolution also undid the agrarian reform. It mocked at small land holding and compelled people to annex the land of the most marginalised. The most powerful regions of India’s ‘green belt’ have the worst record of violence against women and Dalits. It has the worst record of dilapidating our water resources. Today, the same farmers are willingly ready to sale their land for real estate purposes and the only struggle between them and the government is related to monitory compensation and the rehabilitation package.

India’s poorest people are living in richest zones. Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand, Oddisha, have rich wealth of natural resources. The companies are venturing there and sucking these resources while the indigenous people are on the road fighting in their own land for their own survival. Is it not an irony that in these rich mineral zones, people are still suffering from hunger? What have we given to them? Except than criminalising them, we have no shame in continuously marginalising and isolating them. A war is growing in the heart of people against this injustice. The state was supposed to protect and fulfil its duties towards its people but it has failed. Civil society failed in its duty. For social movements, it was plainly the issue of land but for millions of people it relate to their continuous marginalisation, cultural annihilation and social ostracisation with the rest of the country. We failed in our duty towards our indigenous people, our most marginalised communities and unable to accept them in our decision making so that they can speak about their issues and plan their future.

The crisis is enormous. You can not force an unwilling people to your thought. The efforts to privatise the agrarian system in the name of Food security would not succeed. It is an effort to kill the indigenous system of agriculture. It will ruin millions of farmers, indigenous people from their traditional method of agriculture. Such a food produced by big companies using the most ‘modern’ ‘technology’ might be large in quantity but will never be a qualitative food and will be resulting in annihilating our food culture. If the governments world over have failed to fulfil their duties towards their farmers, their indigenous people then they have no right to seize the resources of people which they have protected, nurtured so beautifully over the years. Do not blame these communities who protected our environment, our natural wealth for your mistakes. It is time, we must apologise to these communities and hand over their land and resources to them so that they are protected better. Let the big companies not worry about our food security. Those corporations can not feed the world who are responsible for killing thousands of farmers, indigenous people on whose ruins they produce their resources. Let us all boycott those corporations and products that are the results of the ruins of the farmers and indigenous people. If people are allowed to access their resources, there would be no hunger deaths. Hunger deaths are the failure of modern states which acquired people’s resources in the name of public interest but could never fulfil those promises to the people it displaced and killed. It is time; we need an informative debate on the issue of Food Security, Food sovereignty and on Land Acquisition. For that, we need to place a complete moratorium on all forms of acquisition that displace people from their natural resources and make them landless and then respect community’s sovereignty over their land and other natural resources.

* Contents of the points raised by me during my presentation at the International Conference on ' Securing Land Access to the poor in the time intensified natural resource competition', organised by International Land Coalition, Rome, in Tirana, Albania ( 24th-27th May 2011)

Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social activist.


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