Indian Agriculture and Trade Liberalization

July 20, 2012

The situation of Indian agriculture (and of the whole society) is deteriorating very rapidly due to the globalisation process. The wave of suicides of peasants (since they cannot anymore compete on the market and are covered with debts) has stopped now (it will start again after the next harvest), but the desperation is leading to an escalation of tension and violence in rural areas. Few month back, In Haryana, 23 peasants were killed by the police, and 5 were killed in Karnataka. In the case of Karnataka, these peasants were protesting for the drop in the price of the peanuts that they produce, which took place due to the liberalisation in the import of vegetable oils that can substitute peanut oil (like palm oil). The Agreement on Agriculture of the WTO is at the root of these problems. These problems are of course also affecting the cities. The liberalization in the export of onions has led to a major shortage in their supply, which itself led to the rocketing of its prices (which went from 10 to 100 Rupees per kilo in a matter of weeks). Onions are one of the most important elements in the diet of Indians, especially poor Indians.

Key facts:

The farmers movement that was to give birth to KRRS in 1980 was initiated by 5 people in 1965. They see the movement as part of a very long process of construction of a new society, which must be driven by people at the local level but must reach the global level, and which cannot take place without the active and direct involvement of society as a whole.

There is no central register of KRRS members (it would be impossible to maintain, unless a huge bureaucracy would be set up). However, according to the information coming from the village units, the membership of KRRS is now estimated to be around 10 million people. Karnataka has around 50 million inhabitants in total, out of which around 10 million live in Bangalore and other big cities (Mysore, Hubli, etc) where KRRS is not active. 

Theories and strucrures:

The KRRS is not at all a sartorial movement, its work goes beyond the specific problems of farmers, it is aimed at social change at all levels. Another important element is that the autonomy and freedom of the village should be based on the autonomy and freedom of its individual members.

In terms of coherence and elaboration of its analysis and practice: KRRS is a Gandhian movement. This means that the final objective of its work is the realisation of the 'Village Republic', a form of social, political and economic organisation based on direct democracy, on economic and political autonomy and self-reliance, on the participation of all members of the community in decision-making about the common affairs that affect them, and on the creation of mechanisms of representation that ensure that affairs affecting several communities are decided upon through processes of consultation involving all communities affected by the decisions.

This model is applied to the internal organisation of the movement. The basic unit of organisation is the village unit, the only level where there exists membership (no central registers could be kept for a movement of this size). The village units decide on their own forms of organisation and finances, as well as about their programs and actions. Above the village level there are several other levels of organisation: the Taluk level, the district level and the state level. The decisions that affect more than a village but not more than a Taluk are taken at Taluk level. The decision-making body for the state level is the State Executive Committee, which consists of 400 delegates from all the districts. (KRRS is present in 17 of the 19 districts that form Karnataka).

Although KRRS is based on the conviction that a real social transformation can only happen from below, they decided to start contesting elections in 1987. They did so after seeing that a number of government policies, which were affecting farmers very negatively, were not being changed in spite of repeated massive civil disobedience. Their presence in the legislature provides them with one more tool to force policy changes. However, the participation in elections is subject to a number of conditions in KRRS. All candidates must pay a deposit in India in order to register their candidature, which they do not receive back unless they win the election; the candidates of KRRS are not allowed to pay this deposit themselves: the deposit must be paid by their local constituencies. This ensures that the decision about whether or not to run for election and who should run for them is controlled by the whole constituency.

 Since its beginning, the movement has also aimed towards cultural change. It has always denounced the caste system, promoting its elimination as a necessary step towards social justice in India. An example of cultural change promoted by the KRRS is the organisation of what it calls 'simple, self-respect weddings' as alternative to the very expensive and extravagant regular weddings (where peasants usually spend a fortune).

 The KRRS also has other programmes aimed at challenging patriarchal structures. Women have their own structures, mobilisations and programmes within KRRS, organise women's rallies, present their own demands, etc. The KRRS(both women and men) participated in the mobilisations against the celebration of the Miss Universe ceremony in India. It also has for a long time demanded and mobilised for the creation of women's constituencies so that a minimum percentage of the parliament seats are reserved for women. As a result of this pressure (which was joined by other, smaller organisations), the Panchayets in Karnataka became the first entity of India to create women's constituencies, so that now 33% of seats and offices are reserved to women.

 KRRS works under a clear commitment to non-violence (understood as violence against living beings, not against inanimate objects), and promotes the use of non-violent methods (particularly direct action) in order to solve conflicts and overcome problems. This anti-violent stand does not only apply for the protest against governments or companies; it is also generalised to broader areas of conflict, like communal conflict. For example, in the regions where KRRS is strong, the level of violence between different religious groups is much lower than the average.

 The KRRS is one of the most important targets of the BJP (the Hindu fundamentalist party which is now running the central government in coalition with 31 other parties), which has unsuccessfully used all kinds of means in its attempt to weaken the movement.

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