Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Bread, cake and the rulers of the land

When I last spoke to Dr Krishna Bir Chowdhary (chairman of the Bhartiya Krishak Samaj), he'd said one of those things I will not easily forget. He said, "The only currency this country recognizes is 'roti'."

Roti - our geography, our language, our politics, our currency.

Bread. Roti...

And we all know what happens when the people have no bread, and the rulers of the land talk about having cake... Heads roll; that's what happens.
When you talk of building another Shanghai before your citizens have even a tin shed roof above their heads, when you dismiss thousands of workers in your factories, when you build malls on land where mills gave people a livelihood... then cars are burnt down, Chief Ministers are bombed, policemen are confronted...
a lot happens when that do-waqt-ki-roti is at stake.

The lawmakers of this land would do well to do a rethink about laws that threaten the daily bread of the masses. (The draft Seed Bill 2004, for instance. Have written more on that in an article, which is in the current issue of Frontline, but there's no link to it, yet)

"After all, what is the largest issue in the world today?" Dr Chowdhary had said, "Food security. And India's food security is built on a combination of government procurement of grains and a public distribution system. Both these have been consistently undermined by our leaders and the administration.... people talk of dismantling the PDS. To be like the developed nations. The US gives it's farmers a billion dollars worth of subsidies, every single day! When you can match them with subsidies in excess of USD 365 billion, then you can talk about market forces... besides, what will the farmer sell [what will we buy?] if he cannot sow? The new seed bill will make it impossible for the small and marginal farmer to obtain seeds..."

And I'm wondering - even if I concede that the proposed law, which makes registration of seeds compulsory, has everyone's best interests at heart - how will you ensure that poor, uneducated farmers register traditional varieties? How will you prevent big firms from stealing their varieties? How do you decide who is stealing from whom? How will it help that firms and farmers register seeds? Who will be helped?
And, let's say, the big firms stop producing seed, just because they don't have monopoly rights over a given variety, who would be hurt? Who, but the firms themselves?
For, long before there were firms, there were farmers - standing at the mandi with their laden carts, bartering, sharing knowledge as freely as the non-patented breeze, selling, buying....
firms or not, they will go on doing just that.

Dr Chowdhary also says that we're going to be very badly beaten at the patent game. "We shouldn't put our noses into a game we can't win... I have seen, in my own village in the hills, that poor tribals are made to collect all kinds of herbs and give them to foreigne firms, along with a description of what purpose the herb is used for. The tribals are gievn a few ruppees a day for this, and they don't even know what is going on.... the big firms just take their knowledge, do some lab-work, and slam! There comes your patent!... And how will we research when the tools and infrastructure are denied to us? Even the tools for genetic research will be patented... bahut buri tarah pitne wale hain hum..."

Controlling seeds, patenting medicinal plants, toying with the dangerous rattle of daily bread denied... the lawmakers of this land need to brush up on their history.

Roti - our geography, our language, our politics, our currency... for we all know what happens when the people have no bread, and the rulers of the land talk about having cake... Heads roll; that's what happens.


livinghigh said...

ummm... perhaps its because our hands are tied by something called de WTO?

Alok said...

the lawmakers of this land need to brush up on their history.

History also teaches us the importance of private property and enforceable property rights which is what the new patent regime acknowledges. I think the problems with seed patents are all tactical and operational and in principle it should be in the interest of all parties involved.

And the french revolution metaphor is so tired and so cliched... We are living in a post-revolutionary age and thank god for that !

karthik said...

interesting article!

Anonymous said...

lovely blog. what do you say we talk about mine?

R. said...

Thanks for this post. It was a reality check.

The Shanghai model is flawed. China is a highly developed country in certain pockets but this has been at a huge human cost. It still does not have any labour laws (one of the reasons why it is an attractive investment destination) dissenting employees are taken care of by the provincial labour office. Not exactly something that we should aim at following. We seem to be doing just that in our own callous way.

Would much appreciate another post elaborating the issues raised on patents.

Annie Zaidi said...

on the seed bill issue, we aren't bound by the WTO, livinghigh...the article also mentions that.
alok, don't delude yourself about us living in a post-revolutionary age. We use a new language to euphemize discontent. Call it a coup (non-military), call it terror, call it separatism, call it civil war - the same situation persists, and the same ideals are being fought for.

Annie Zaidi said...

Deviant, we can talk about anything you like... it's an open space, for the most part.
r, will try and post more about patents later.

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