The Yatra entered Bihar today and the 3-day trip in Bihar began with a public meeting at Srikrishna Vigyan Kendra, Patna. The meeting was attended by farmers, farmer leaders with various unions, students from schools and colleges, urban consumers, media representatives and an ex-Minister, ex-MLA and so on and was chaired by the Chairperson of the State Farmers’ Commission, Dr Upendranath Verma (an active person in his 90s), who was also a former Minister for Rural Development.
Bihar State President of BKU, Mr Ramanuj Singh observed that no political party included any farmers’ issues in their election manifestos in the recently-concluded election, which is a worrisome factor. He lamented at the fact that lakhs of masoor was lying with very poor price support for farmers. He also questioned the institutional credit policies in relation to farmers – why is it that for every tractor that a farmer gets, the mortgage is worth eight to ten times, whereas it is not the same credit policy for other sectors, he asked. He also told the Yatris that if there is hope for a true farmers’ struggle rising up again in the country along the lines that Gandhiji dreamt of, it would happen from Bihar and West Champaran!
Mr Dhirendra Narayan Sharma of Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, said that the “Green Revolution in Eastern India” should be aptly called as “Loot ki kranti” (“exploitation-revolution”). He pointed out that this country never saw even one political leader who said that they will not accept any hikes in their salaries and emoluments unless farmers get proper remunerative prices and that is the misfortune of the farmers in the country. He also questioned the so-called organic farming implementation in the state of Bihar.
Mr Gowrishankar Nagdansh, an ex-Minister in the Bihar government also spoke. He raised issues related to sharecroppers and talked about a sahityakaar Pharmeshwar Nath “Renu” who did not send his children to school – “he understood that sending children to our education institutions will pull them out of farming I guess”, he remarked.
Mr Vijay Pratap of SADED, well known social activist, emphasized on the need to focus on rainfed agriculture – he reminded everyone that the rainfed belts are the ones which provide nutritious food for everyone. He also pointed out that other regions in India will have to experience the same plight as Punjab today, if we don’t correct our path and learn lessons from the earlier Green Revolution. He also questioned the government’s faith in the American farming models and pointed out that these have been proven to be unsustainable and adding to climate change. We have to come out of our aping of the western notions of development and change our thinking with regard to our farming. He said that the nation has to focus on the revival of the rural economy.
Dr Upendranath Verma raised his concerns against Monsanto being given an official status in India. Our decision makers are corrupt and I have no hesitation saying that here, he remarked. He hoped that the fire that will spread from this Yatra will consume the foreign companies in India and make them flee from here. “We need at least hundred such public meetings in Bihar to be organized after this Yatra leaves – we have to go to the villages with this message – let us get everyone here to shun GM seeds and to save their own seeds”, he said.
Yatris explained why the western influenced intense agriculture can never be a solution for the Indian model of small / individual and marginal farmers. The symbiotic relationship between organic farming and small and marginal holdings was explained. That the current crisis in Indian farming is also an issue for the non-farmers like the urban consumers was also explained in detail.
Other farmers, especially from Bihar Kisan Sangharsh Samiti who spoke in the meeting urged the ASHA people to stay away from (party) politics to ensure that farmers’ issues are carried forward in a non-partisanal manner. Pankaj Bhushan of Tara Foundation explained the nature of ASHA and assured them that this is not linked to political parties.
They also pointed out that there has been large scale failure of maize and matar (green peas) and nothing has been done to compensate farmers for the losses that they incurred.
The whole house rejected the Green Revolution proposals in Bihar by the Union Government. The Yatra put forward three main demands to the yet-to-be-formed government in Bihar:
- Promote organic farming in the state
- Not allow any GM seeds in the state including open air trials and make a legislation to that effect
- Pick up lessons from the earlier Green Revolution and ensure that the Green Revolution proposals are in the benefit of farmers and in a sustainable livelihoods framework
There was a rally afterwards uptil Gandhi Statue where Yatris and others paid homage to the Mahatma. “Mahatma Gandhi ka naara goonjega, is desh ke kone kone mein”, was the slogan that rented the skies. Then we moved to Taru Mitra Bioreserve, an ecological ashram set up by thousands of students across the globe. This place which was a rice field till 1996 was converted to the green heaven it is today by sheer labour from students. There is so much thrust on having as many local species of trees as possible and the fact that the students were not only enlightened about the need of such a spread but also other eco-sensitive issues. We interacted with students from different schools in Patna here.
The day ended with a fantastic public meeting in the Musallahpur bazaar with literally thousands of people listening to the Yatris. Leaflets flew in thousands and it was fantastic to watch people read the leaflets with great interest and do slogan-shouting along with us. The best part was that as we closed the meeting, we did not find a single leaflet dropped on the road – people carefully folded the handbills and put them in their pockets and left. We left for Muzaffarpur after this.