Int’l rural group backs 1M Indian farmers’ caravan for democracy and rights

The Peoples Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) on Monday expressed support to the upcoming march of Indian farmers and Dalits to Delhi. The international rural peoples’ movement also said the agrarian crisis in India stems from growing landlessness and unprecedented rise of land grabbing.

More than a million farmers led by different groups under the coordination of All India Kisan and Muzdoor Sanghatan (AIKMS) are set to march from different parts of the country to converge in Delhi on 29th and 30th of November. The  Samvidhaan Samman Yatra (caravan) led by the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) is also in solidarity with the  AIKMS culmination.

This march happens in tail of the recent brutal police dispersal and barricading of the capital to bar thousands of protesting farmers last October 2 at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border. The dispersed farmers led by the Bhartiya Kisan Union (BHU) were demanding minimum support prices, loan waivers, cheaper power and government intervention on unpaid dues of sugar mills to their producers. A government ban on diesel vehicles older than 10 years have also hit farmers.

“We are concerned with how violent Prime Minister Modi is reacting to the farmers’ legitimate demands. How a peaceful peasant protest was met with lathis and batons, water cannons and tear gas, while sugar and landgrabbing lobbies get ex-deals,” Sylvia Mallari, PCFS global co-chair said.

There are at least 649 cases of landgrabbing in the country spanning 2.4 million hectares,affecting 7.2 million farmers and indigenous peoples. In the last decade alone,around 83,000 hectares of land in India were grabbed by foreign companies,including a 71,000-hectare jathropa plantation deal that displaced thousands of Indian farmers.

Landlessness has been rising throughout the decade as 41.63% of rural households are landless,almost coinciding in numbers with the 300 million rural poor. On the other hand, 83% of landed farmers own less than 2 hectares and are forced to turn to loans to finance their years’ cropping.

Farmers’ trade union Andhra Pradesh Agricultural Workers Union (APVVU) will lead the Southern leg of the upcoming march on 29th November and will highlight landgrabbing cases as part of the farmers’ demands.

Building on towards the million farmer march,  the NAPM caravan started on 2nd October, on the eve of Gandhiji’s birthday, from Dindi, a coastal village in Gujarath. During this caravan, participants traveled more than 25,000 kilometers through 26 states in 65 days to hold meetings, discussions, and public events across the country meeting students, displaced people, urban poor and unorganized workers, fisherfolk,construction workers, farmers and rural communities including Dalits and Adivasis. The NAPM caravan will culminate in Delhi on the International Human Rights Day on 10th December. The main focus of yatra is to “Save the Democracy and Save the Constitution of India”

“We want to push the calls beyond the loan waivers and address the root problem confronting our small farmers –landlessness and corporate and government landgrabbing. We want to bring the small and landless farmers’ voice to the capital – to call for land, food, and food sovereignty,” Chennaiah Poguri, APVVU secretary general, said.

Only 15% of small farmers have access to formal loans covered by the government vouched loan waivers. Most of the small farmers turn to predatory informal lending institutions and individuals that can cost up to 50% interest.

“We are confronted with hunger, insurmountable debt, and rising prices of commodities every day of our lives as a result of landlessness and government neglect. On the other hand, our repeated pleas are always met with violence and disdain. We’ve had enough!” Chennaiah added. Chennaiah is also the newly elected chairperson of the Asian Peasant Coalition (APC).

Around 16,000 farmers kill themselves each year in India owing to huge debts, crop failures,and abject poverty.

“We call on all our networks and farmers across the globe, to support this historic march of small and landless farmers to uphold and defend their right to land and food sovereignty,” Mallari of PCFS concluded.

In Bhatkal, the Telangana Vyavasaya Vruthidarula Union (TVVU) led farm workers and marginal farmers in a rally against landgrabbing last October 24. The protest was welcomed by hundreds of farmers and culminated at the Thasil Office Hunwadamandal of Mahabubnagar District.

Similar farmers’ protests in their thousands are being held all over the country to drumbeat the November Yatra which will bring together groups like the APVVU, NAPM, the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), Democratic Youth Federation India (DYFI) and Student Federation of India (SFI) among others. ###

Photo form the Peoples Dispatch.

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