Remember the Mahatma
Stop Bt Brinjal. Protect our Food Sovereignty
National Day of Fast - 30th January, 2010
Why the “National Day of Fast”?
In 2009 October, our country saw the making of the “worst disaster that can destroy India's self-reliance and sovereignty for ever”. India’s regulatory body for genetic engineering, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) hastily approved Bt Brinjal for commercial cultivation—the first time in the world that such a poisonous genetically modified (GM) vegetable was given clearance by the unnatural insertion of foreign genes into brinjal.
100 years ago, in 1909 the Father of our Nation, Mohandas K. Gandhi produced his central work, his key-text, his seed-text, the Hind Swaraj. This small 91-page booklet today reads almost like a prophecy that predicted all of 21st century India’s ailments. Gandhi clearly realised that the British continued in India as colonial masters not because of their superior military strength, etc., but simply because we Indians kept them “for our base self-interest.” He concisely remarked: “We like their commerce; they please us by their subtle and get what they want from us…”
Gandhi was clear that “India is being ground down, not under the English heel, but under that of modern civilisation [that makes bodily welfare the object of life].” He repeated, in different ways how “(modern) civilisation’s deadly effect is that people come under its scorching flames believing it to be all good.”
The approval for commercial sale of Bt Brinjal seeds developed by Mahyco, the Indian partner of Monsanto, the world's most powerful and sinister agro-business company, tragically reflects how they achieved this goal. The fact that the approval of a crop that will threaten life itself, cripple the environment and economy and decimate India’s national biodiversity of brinjals was not based on hard, scientific grounds or vision for sustainable development for all vindicates this.
In prophetic terms that warn us of the perils of globalisation the Mahatma said: “They wish to convert the whole world into a vast market for their goods…They will leave no stone unturned to reach the goal.”
On the other hand, the Mahatma realised that farmers are the backbone of our country and hence his idea of development always focussed around them. Along with that, management of natural resources, value-based education, Indian healing systems all centered in this philosophy. But the policy makers and scientists in Independent India, failed to understand this paradigm in its true sense and hence we went ahead with an externally-dependent development paradigm which turned out to be exploitative of Nature and people.
Now we are experiencing the brunt of it. More than two hundred thousand farmers committed suicides in recent years. Farming has become totally unviable and market dependent. Small farmers are unable to survive. Our soils and water are totally contaminated with chemicals. So also our food. Diseases do not even spare babies in the womb, neither the old. The country is fast losing its precious biodiversity.
Since the late-80s many farmers and sensitive and rational people realised these problems and started working on sustainable agriculture and now it has taken roots in the villages and peoples' mind all over the country. Few state governments have come out with policies for developing sustainable agriculture. And this is giving hope to the farmers as well as consumers who are looking for safe and nutritious food.
While this is happening, many seed companies (national and multinational) along with ICAR institutions are going ahead with another kind of agriculture development which will take away any kind of self reliance left with the farmers. Genetic Engineering of seeds of different crops in the country is part of this faulty approach. The first seed of this kind was approved in the country in 2002 despite stiff opposition from farmers, social activists and many experts. This was Bt Cotton. In just seven years’ time, the country has reached a stage where our cotton is owned by Monsanto, who by just franchising one gene – the Bt Gene – into all the Indian hybrids and varieties have subversively taken total control of the Cotton production in India.
Cotton was at one time a political tool used by Mahatma Gandhi to fight with the British. But what has happened to that tool? It has gone into the hands of Monsanto- a sinister American MNC who wants to control the entire food in the world through genetic engineering of seeds and take control through patenting of such seeds.
Now Monsanto-Mahyco and many Indian companies as well, franchised by them, are genetically engineering the Bt gene into brinjal, rice, tomato and almost all other food crops. If Bt Brinjal is approved, then in another 2-3 years’ time our brinjal seeds will also be in the hands of Monsanto. Eventually rice, tomato, cabbage, bhindi, ....every seed will be lost to such multi-national corporates and we will have to stand in front of them with a begging bowl. They will dictate what we should grow and what we should eat. Our children will be at their mercy.
India is the Centre of Origin and Centre of Diversity of brinjal. We have around 2,500 varieties of brinjal in this country. In every state it is cultivated and consumed by all classes of people. Many of these varieties are pest tolerant, some are nutritious, medicinal and culturally important. One example is Udupi Gulla from Udupi region of Karnataka. Farmers of this region cultivate Udupi Gulla as an offering to the temple there. This diversity is what keeps India going amidst various global crises. Once this is destroyed, then there is no India and there is no freedom. This is what Mahatma Gandhi always tried to tell us. But the scientists who are working on Bt Brinjal are least bothered about this. The sad part is that our policy makers tend to show more faith and commitment to these scientists and seed companies than to us. They have forgotten how we were enslaved by a British company for centuries and how we regained our freedom from them.
Freedom is more important than 'Pranavayu' for all of us. Hence we must protect our seeds and soil from multinational corporations and national seed companies who have joined hands with the MNCs. We have to reclaim our seeds from the hands of these seed companies. We have to protect our seeds and ensure seed sovereignty and thus, food sovereignty. The seeds should be in our farmers' hands. The safety and sovereignty of food in this nation can no more be compromised.
Towards achieving this, let us come together on January 30th, collectively remember Mahatma Gandhi, pray for his soul, understand what he told the nation during the freedom struggle and after independence, appreciate our diversity, culture and environment. Let us observe a one-day fast, to cleanse ourselves of wrong thoughts and doings, in order to begin a struggle to liberate our country and our soul from the profit-greedy corporations and their ways.
Remember, 'We are what we eat'. Let us resolve to keep our food free from genetic contamination. Let us take a pledge together to make this a reality. Let us observe this year’s Martyrs’ Day with a one-day fast and join thousands around the country doing so.