Thursday, December 31, 2009

Food for thought

Did you realise that the price of tomatoes is up nearly 500 % (at least in some cities in India)?

Also, did you know that India's daily turnover in vegetables and fruits is USD 59 million, which is three times that of a large firm like TCS. AND, did you know that the average wastage is USD 27 million?

Just visualise it. Rs 130 crores lying about in gutters and on the fringes of farmers markets, rotting. Every day.

And do you know that if the price of tomatoes rises by just 10 % - that is to say that, if you were paying Rs 10 for one kilo, you would now be paying Rs 11 per kilo - the increase would amount to ten times the turnover of all Reliance Fresh stores put together. Or that, Reliance Fresh makes no profit at all from its sales of fresh vegetables?

This info comes from a very interesting two-part article in a new magazine called Beyond Profit. Do check out the piece by Venkat Subramanium.

He also says that it is no point blaming the local subzi-wala for rising prices. It is really the agents and middlemen at work.

According to the article: "Each agent is networked with a few buyers in nearby areas, who are his key primary buyers. Nowadays, with the spread of mobile phones, SMS (text) messages flash back and forth in frenzy before any auction and most prices are predetermined." (emphasis mine).

Predetermined. Which means that there is a whole chain of agents who "keep close tabs on how many truckloads have been loaded up from villages and are on the way to a particular market. On a given day, if there are 20 trucks of tomatoes coming IN to the auction market, they may set price at INR10 (US$ 0.20). If they realize that only 10 truckloads are coming, then they increase it to INR20 (US$ 0.40). Often the farmers are unaware of this silent collusion between the transporters, loaders, and even local dabbha/mote wallahs and how information flows back and forth along the chain. Hence once price is set, it is unviable for farmers to even look for any other market as distances are too far and expensive. As a result, the farmer is forced to accept or dump the product in frustration."

And oh, all that bigmouthing about 'direct procurement from the farmer' and eliminating the middlemen? Turns out that all big brands that sell veggies in supermarket chains also shop at the nearest mandi. By which time, the farmer is no longer in any position to bargain.


You can read more here. The magazine also has a new piece on clean drinking water technologies that are now available at very reasonable prices. Do read.

Here's hoping the year ahead is happy, and easier on the heart, soul, wallet, etc.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Some mornings, I begin to believe that there is something to be said for cable television, after all.

When the newspaper doesn't arrive and you decide to get your morning fix of news visually, and then discover that there isn't more than five minutes worth of fresh headlines on TV news, and when you decide to channel-surf for a bit and you come upon the excessive sight of Kimi Katkar in a yellow saree making enthusiastic attempts to disrobe a rustic Anil Kapoor, flinging her pallu away from her chest, lip-synching lyrics like "Utaar apni dhoti, aur baandh meri saree."

For reference:

And this, followed up by the sight of two kids starving, waiting on the beaches of Bombay for someone to feed them, and then, delirious with joy at having eaten a little halwa, hopping from foot to foot, going around in circles.

Some mornings, I begin to almost believe in the benefits of cable television.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Am headed south for some poetry and stuff. If any of you are in those places, please do come. Bring friends. Pass the word on to others who might be interested.

In Chennai, as part of the Prakriti festival:
MGR Janaki College; 11 am
AMM School; 2:30 pm
Kalakshetra; 8.30 am

And in Bangalore:

Toto Funds the Arts is pleased to invite you to a reading of short fiction and poetry

Annie Zaidi
Saudha Kasim

Venue: Crossword Bookstore, ACR Towers, Ground Floor, 32 Residency Road, Bangalore - 1
Date and time: Tuesday, 22 December 2009 at 6.45 pm

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Look. Listen.

I have spoken of two violent incidents in parts of the country where tribals live, and which are supposed to have a naxal problem. But it is far, far better that you hear it from one who really knows. Himanshu Kumar, who lives in Dantewada and runs an NGO there, addressed a group of people at an event organised by Tehelka.

Anybody who wants to understand the roots of the problem, and the way forward, should listen to this talk. It is in four parts. Watch it right through.

Monday, December 14, 2009

More news that isn't making headlines but should

And speaking of social activists in tribal areas, in the naxal context, here's another note from Imran Ali, a law officer with the Human Rights Law Network, about some recent developments: "the arbitrary, unjust and illegal detention of social activist Kopa Kunjam and advocate Alban Topo on December 10, 2009 in Dantewada in Chhattisgarh"

Again, I have not investigated this piece of news myself so I will refrain from making random remarks about 'state oppression', which is a very complex, very loaded phrase that I will expand upon some other day. But I will say that attacks on fact-finding teams and independent investigators are a sure sign of trouble. Trouble spelt U-N-D-E-M-O-C-R-A-C-Y.

Here is what the HRLN has to say about the arrests:

"Ironically, December 10 happens to be the International Human Rights Day to which India is a signatory. As what can be called gross violations of human rights and Supreme Court guidelines, the Chhattisgarh police whisked away Kopa, an activist with a Gandhian non-profit organisation Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, Dantewada, Chhattisgarh, and a young lawyer of Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), Alban Topo, who is working on the Right to Food ongoing case in the Supreme Court and currently visiting Dantewada, without complying with the D K Basu guidelines of the Supreme Court. The two were not informed by the police as to why they were being detained and where they were being taken. Alban was brutally beaten up in over 18 hours of illegal detention and released today by the police in deep interior forests of Bijapur in Dantewada, with a warning that he better cease his association with Vanvasi Chetna Ashram. The HRLN team is yet to reach him and confirm his condition. Condemning the Chhattisgarh police action, senior Supreme Court Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves called it "shameful for democracy". He said that there is no democratic structure in Chhattisgarh. Alban Topo was illegally detained and assaulted by the state police and his release was sought after much pressure and protests, he added. Alban Topo is visiting Dantewada district as ration shops had been closed there and the starvation situation is quite grim due to the security forces operations. He is working on the Right to Food case filed in the Supreme Court and went Dantewada for fact finding.Vanvasi Chetna Ashram is run by Himanshu Kumar, a committed Gandhian social activist working among the tribals of Dantewada and Bijapur districts of Bastar regions. The Ashram has increasingly raised its voice against State atrocities upon tribal civilians. An all-India fact-finding was conducted by People's Union for Civil Liberties- Chhattisgarh in June 2009 where the team visited the site of the demolished Vanvasi Chetna Ashram (VCA) at Kanwalnar near Dantewada. The findings revealed that during the demolition, the State administration did not even spare the hand pump though it was installed by the Government itself. The fact-finding report claimed that the State is trying to use military means alone to address the problem of Naxalism in Chhattisgarh and anyone not with the state (read also Salwa Judum), runs the risk of being branded a Naxalite sympathiser."

News you might not have heard, or have seen and already forgotten

This is something I have received as a press note in the mail. I cannot claim to have investigated the matter, but I found it surprising that almost none of the major papers had something like this covered properly although tribal rights, Naxal violence and the roots thereof are supposed to be headline-making items in our country at the moment. I am simply reproducing what has been sent to me since I am not currently in a position to verify the claims of the activists. I am personally inclined to believe them. So, here goes:

An all-women fact-finding team was attacked on its way to Narayanpatna, Orissa, where a democratic tribal movement led by the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh is being brutally supressed by the police at the behest of local liquor mafia, landlords and mining companies. This team had gone to Narayanpatna to bring out the real state of affairs, particularly regarding the spate of rapes and molestations of women by the Orissa Police, CRPF and the dreaded Cobra battalions. The local media has actively tried to hide the truth, branding the peaceful Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh as a Maoist outfit.

Please show your protest by calling the DM and SP of the district.
DM -- Gadadhar Parida 0 94381 8184649
SP -- Deepak Kumar Chauhan 0 94379 62200

From the Press conference: Update at 9 December, 2009. 2.45 p.m.

The 9 (member) women fact-finding team just concluded a press conference at Parvathipuram, Vijayanagaram District, Andhra Pradesh. Here's the narrative of the day's happenings as told by Shweta Narayan and Madhumita Dutta to Nityanand Jayaraman over phone:

At 10 a.m., the All India Women's Fact Finding Team consisting of 9 women reached Narayanpatna Police Station and requested to meet the Station In-charge.
1. Sudha Bhardwaj, Advocate, Chhattisgarh2. Mamata Dash, Delhi
3. Madhumita Dutta, Chennai
4. Shweta Narayan, Chennai
5. Rumita Kundu, Bhubaneswar
6. Pramila, Bhubaneswar
7. Kusum Karnik, Bhubaneswar
8. Ramani, New Democracy, Orissa

9. Durga, Chhattisgarh

We were told that the policeman was busy, and were asked to come in the evening. The person questioning us asked us for names and mobile phone numbers and names of organisations. We gave all of that. We noticed quite a number of uniformed policemen, and many people in plainclothes. None of the people in uniform (we assume they were policemen) had any name tags. We asked one of them who the people in plainclothes were, and were told that they were all policemen. We asked the man how many police were there in this area, and he said more than 2000 police. One striking thing is that none of the many people gathered there were adivasi.About 20 adivasi men were huddled, squatting inside the police station premises. We asked the police man near us who they were, and were told that the adivasis were former activists of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh, who had come to surrender. This has been happening for a few days now, and many newspapers are reporting this.

By this time, the crowd of so-called plainclothes police were getting restless. We heard people commenting saying: "Ab aa rahen hain. Jab hamarey gaon jal rahe the, tho kahaan the?" (When our farms were being burnt, where were you? Now they show up.) Madhumita felt the situation was looking troublesome, and suggested we leave. As we were stepping out of the police station, our driver was cordoned off and was being questioned in a very hostile manner and being threatened. We heard someone saying that he is a regular to these parts, and they enquired as to his antecedents.We somehow managed to extricate the driver. One of the policemen in plainclothes, who we saw inside the police station premises, was taking photographs, and he said "Maaro Inko." (Beat these people up). That is when more than 200 people surged ahead. The driver was being slapped repeatedly. Madhu and 75-year old Kusum Karnik tried to intervene and that is when one man went for Madhu's throat. Kusum was hurt too.

Rumita Kundu was verbally abused inside the police station. One man crudely said that all these women had come to sleep with the men there. Mamta Dash was hit on her back, and abused. One man attempted to strangle madhu. When she moved to save herself, her jaw was injured. All this happened inside the police station premises.The driver was the one that was being assaulted most, and we did all we could to extricate him and board our vehicle. By this time, the vehicle was being broken. The rear windscreen was broken. With great difficulty, we fled the area driving towards Bandhugaon. We were followed by the plainclothesmen who claimed to be police on bikes. Somewhere between Bandhugaon Police Station and the village itself, we were stopped by two men in plainclothes. They said they were police, and they demanded to see the driver's license. As he was enquiring, about 20 people gathered there. But nothing untoward happened here. We were scared nevertheless.

From there, we proceeded to Kottulpetta. Even before we got to this village, news seemed to have reached them about our visit. A road blockade had been organised, with a bullock cart blocking the road. There were no oxen. The people there, again all non-tribals, pulled out the driver and started assaulting him. They tried to pull down another male colleague of ours, Mr. Poru Chandra Sahu and tried to beat them up. We intervened, and that's when Kusum didi, the 75-year old activist, was hurt on her head. We were there for more than 15 minutes. More violence. More damage to the vehicle. More slaps for the driver. Our friends outside had been notified almost as soon as problems began, and phone calls must have been pouring into the Collector and SP's office.

By this time, two bikes carrying one of the plainclothes "policemen" who had taken our names in Narayanpatna, and another plainclothes guy who was tall and burly, reached there and asked the youth to disperse. We reached Bondapalli, the border village within Andhra Pradesh. Almost in no time, a jeep load of Andhra Pradesh police along with plainclothes youth (young boys) armed with rifles and bullets arrived on the scene. They demanded to know who we were. We were treated more like criminals than victims, and our vehicle was searched. Only after Madhu spoke to the SP of Vijayanagar, and the DGP were we allowed to go. The police who stopped us immediately changed the tune, and offered to help us with medical assistance etc.

Our experience with armed youth and police has left us clearly terrified, and convinced that the situation created by the police in Narayanpatna and this part of Orissa is extremely vitiated. We have the following concerns and demands which we conveyed to the media at a press conference in Parvathipuram, Vijayanagarm District, Andhra Pradesh.


1. The scenario of terror that we witnessed, and were subject to shows the kind of tense situation prevailing in the Narayanpatna area post November 20, 2009's police firings in Narayanpatna.

2. There is no access for people to get in and out of the villages in Narayanpatna, with all routes blocked by armed goons.

3. There is no way to get information about what is happening inside, and no means of verifying the very disturbing accounts we are getting about abuses, molestations and violence against adivasi people.

4. The number of plainclothesmen who claimed they were police, and the comfort with which people outside the Narayanpatna police station were interacting with the police, and reacting to one policeman's instruction to beat us up, suggests that there may be some truth to reports that there is a Salwa Judum style Shanthi Samiti in this area as well. This may either be sponsored or working in close complicity with the police and state.

4. If the Fact Finding team of prominent women has been treated with such violence, it is clear that there is absolutely no room for dissent inside the villages.

5. All the people who attacked us were non-tribals.


1. The officers at the Police Station should be suspended to create an impartial stituation and enable the carrying out of investigations into the firing of 20 November, 2009, and the subsequent reports of atrocities against tribal people.

2. The SP Koraput should be suspended.

3. The Government should constitute a high-level independent investigation team and not depend on the police, who are clearly biased, and are using the language of terror and violence to suppress dissent.

Press Note ends here.

If you want to know more about what has been going on in Narayanpatna, here are a few basic facts, and some links:

Tribal land had been taken over by non-tribal forces, including industries, right since the 1960s. There had been a growing sense of alienation ever since. An organisation called the CMAS began a movement to reclaim tribal lands. About 2000 acres (some reports say, 1500 acres) was taken back, and according to some reports, a bumper harvest ensued.

On Nov 20, 2009, a group of tribals were protesting. The police opened fire. Two tribals died. One fact-finding team's report is here. The team found that the protests and the land movement was NOT led by naxals. Activists were concerned. A judicial probe was called for. Medha Patkar urged the governor to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.

And what else can I say? Just remember this incident an its historical context, the next time you hear about 'naxal-infested areas'. Remember this, when you wonder why there is violence brewing in the forests. Remember this, when you wonder about why people sometimes make violent demands for separate states, or separate nations. Remember this, the next time someone talks about 'mobs' or 'public anger' or the absence of a formal police complaint. Remember this. Record this. And remember too, that there are strong vested interests that prevent information from seeping through to the rest of the nation. If you reject this information now, you reject your own citizenhood, in a sense.

And yes, do call the DM and SP of the district. If you know the CM's number or fax, call to ask why something like this could happen, and what action has been taken against the guilty.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Song, 2

Poison breath, poison blood
Poison milk, poison mud
Poison pump, poison tap
Poison in your mama's lap
Eyes of milk, limbs askew
Dow child mine, is that you?

Baby-making, weird art
Many arrive with half their parts
You don’t know the nuts and bolts
Little girls bleed, women don’t
There's mercury and chromium too
Dow child mine, is that you?

Applications, admin blues
So many don’ts for one big do
Petition-petition boring game
How to run if you are lame
Dharna-dharna, starve and sue
Dow child mine, is that you?

Leader comes, toxin pet
Says I’m fine, not dead yet
He fought toxin long ago
Now he’s paid for, top to toe
Back bent whole, toothless too
Dow child mine, is that you?

© Annie Zaidi, December 2009
[Songs of sympathy, 1]

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Bhopal, Bhopal

Because you are Bhopali too. In wanting justice. In wanting wrongs to be righted. In wanting that people don't just shrug and look away and click their tongues and decide to forget, while you stand there, demanding that accountability be established. That people be protected from those who refuse to take responsibility for their actions. For those who place a lower value on Bhopali lives than their own. Because if you were not Bhopali on December 3, 1984, you were just plain lucky. But in every other way, and for every real purpose, you remain the person who could have been Bhopali on December 3, 1984.
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