Even as the United Nations declared October 2nd as the International Day of Non-Violence, a unique event was unfolding around the world which was perhaps closer to Gandhi’s principles and actions. More than 3000 people including 1000 NRIs took part in “Our Food, Our Farmers” global vigil in 58 locations. Responding to the call for a coordinated global event by Association for India’s Development (AID), dozens of organizations participated and voiced their solidarity with the farmers and expressed outrage at the policies which are deepening the crisis. Remarkably, these vigils drew thousands from urban India and NRI community who are typically very distant from the realities of rural India, and they spoke out in a strong voice, “Thousands of suicides, hundred millions in distress – the farmers’ crisis is unacceptable!”
In New Delhi, 2 days of street plays Connaught Place, Dilli Haat and other popular locations were followed by a Photo Exhibition on the evening of October 2nd visited by hundreds of people. AID-Delhi volunteers were joined by activists from Mehdiganj (UP), a few farmers from Vidarbha and Tamil Nadu and a large farmers’ group from AP who were on a dharna. The vigil at Hyderabad saw the participation of about 40 organizations. “We are all with you!” was the simple message to the farmers from a large crowd of IT professionals and students.
In all, 18 locations in India conducted various events like rallies, marches and candlelight vigils. Many organizations and individual activists have been enthusiastic partners, including Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, Bhumi, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Bharat Uday Mission and Youth for Social Change. Eminent citizens and experts on agriculture including Devinder Sharma, Prof. Arun Kumar, Dr. Ramanjaneyulu, Kavitha Kuruganti, Kishor Tiwari and others spoke at various locations.
In the US, about 1000 people participated in candlelight vigils held in 39 locations including cities such as Seattle, San Diego, Bay Area, New York and Washington DC, as well as university campuses such as such as Cornell, Univ. of Texas, Univ. of MD, West Virginia University and so on. Besides events at common locations like public parks, Gandhi statue and university commons, the organizers also used more unusual strategies to attract attention of NRIs such as gathering outside popular Indian restaurants and marching from one Indian grocery store to another one. One 65-year old visitor from Chennai informed AID volunteers, “Though I have lived all my life in India, I didn’t realize the magnitude of the problem until I heard you today.” Participants also reflected on their own consumer choices: “Why should food be cheap? People who farm need to make a living too. We want a 99 cent lunch but what is the big picture of this 99 cent lunch?”
Even as the organizers are deeply moved by the continuing spate of farmer suicides – 836 in Vidarbha alone in 2007 – they strongly believe that the underlying causes need be addressed to find a long-term solution. Eminent journalist P. Sainath, who was awarded the 2007 Magsaysay Award, says, “The tragic farmers’ suicides are, finally, an extreme symptom of a much deeper rural distress. The result of a decade-long onslaught on the livelihoods of millions. The crisis now goes way beyond the families ravaged by the suicides.”
The government policies in the past fifteen years have consistently removed support structures for Indian farmers while promoting unsustainable, high-input agriculture which farmers, especially in dry areas, cannot afford to practice. The petition circulated as part of this campaign has been supported by several thousand signatures and demands genuinely pro-farmer policies from the government. The demands include strengthening the minimum support price system to cover the real cost of production, waiver of debt and proactive support to low-input sustainable agriculture especially in rainfed areas.
Here it must be mentioned that developed countries such as US heavily subsidize their agriculture. It is estimated that nearly 25,000 cotton growers in America receive $3.2 billion subsidy per year, which affects the cotton prices world over. If the American government can act for its farmers, why is the Indian government allowing our farmers to kill themselves?
The organizers say, “The amazing response to this event which was proposed just 3-4 weeks ago, has proved that the farmers’ suicides and the underlying agrarian crisis stirs the conscience of people around the world. At a short notice, thousands of people who never participated in such events came out to voice their concern. Are the governments ready to listen and take the right action?”
The follow-up measures by AID volunteers include meeting policy makers with our demands and memoranda, building advocacy collaborations with activists, experts and resource organizations, and promoting sustainable agriculture practices through AID projects. We invite broad sustained support and involvement from all concerned citizens, especially those inspired by this effort.
Farmers Vigil Locations
|Atlanta, GA||New Delhi|
|Baton Rouge, LA||Bangalore|
|Bay Area, CA||Mumbai|
|College Park, MD||Chennai|
|College Station, TX||Paralekhamundi, Orissa|
|Gainesville, FL||Kakinada, AP|
|Harford County, MD||Doda, J&K|
|Los Angeles, CA|
|New York, NY|
|State College, PA|
|San Diego, CA|
|Santa Barbara, CA|