“Quit India!” Historical Slogan Energizes a New Seed sovereignty Movement in India
By C.G. Jacob, Coordinator of Chethana, JH India
Back in August of 1942, Mahatma Gandhi launched the Bharat Chhodo Andolan, or “Quit India Movement.” In British English, the demand to “Quit” a place is the same as “Get out!”. A resolution was passed on August 8, 1942 in Bombay by the All India Congress Committee, declaring its demand for an immediate end of British rule. The Congress decided to organize a broad non-violent movement. Every man, woman and child began dreaming of a free India. Their dreams came true three years later.
Today the slogan “Quit India!” is being used against a new invasive force - the “Seed Ruler” Monsanto. A large movement is mobilizing in India and around the world against Monsanto’s practices of seed privatization and monopolization. Many people have sacrificed their lives and livelihoods in this struggle. However, the voices of citizens, such as the 250,000+ Indian farmers that have committed suicide in the past 15 years due to debt, continue to be ignored.
Indian agriculture is in the grip of multinational companies like Monsanto
The government of India introduced a piece of controversial legislation in the Parliament, ironically on World Earth Day, April 22, 2013, in the form of the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill 2013, despite strident opposition from within and outside the Parliament.
This Bill proposes a fast-track approval mechanism for biotechnology, permitting entry of risky Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) into our food, farming and environment with little or no oversight. The form of “regulation” promoted by this bill fails to require independent assessments before approvals of new biotechnologies are made. GMO technology has been rejected in a number of countries worldwide, due to its documented adverse impacts on health, environment and the sustainability of farm livelihoods and farming.
If the BRAI Bill is in, safe food is out. The Bill, dubbed India’s Monsanto Promotion and Protection Bill, will likely lead to a decreased availability of diverse seeds, limiting the choices for average Indian citizens, while facilitating the takeover of our food and farming by multinational agri-business corporations like Monsanto“Quit India” Day
On August 8, 2013,“Quit India” Day was declared to protect our food, farms and freedom. A call was made for “all like-minded organizations, alliances and individuals” to join together in Delhi to demand that “BRAI, GMOs, Monsanto… QUIT INDIA!”
Reflection from one of the leaders of the event, Ms Kavitha Kuruganti of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA):
“More than 2000 citizens, mostly farmers, came from 20 states of India to join the protest. It was indeed a colourful, assertive event. We are certain that the message reached those for whom it was meant!
There were 18 Parliamentarians from 8 different parties who had come to extend their solidarity, either on behalf of their party or in their personal capacity. The Parliament Street police station inspector told us that he had never witnessed such a turn out in his 15 years of service, in any event!
Many major farmer unions and several social activists turned up to join the protest.
When people tried to march towards the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to deliver the non-Monsanto, organic Indian national flag, they were stopped; but after half an hour of negotiations and loud slogan-shouting etc. a delegation was taken by the police to the PMO; while the Prime Minister (PM) could not meet the group, the Minister of State in the PMO (Mr Narayanaswamy) received the flag and promised to hand it over to the PM.
There was a seed diversity exhibition set up by a few groups, and there was a fully organic, millets-based lunch served to around 1900 people.
There was at least an hour of huge downpour on the crowd; but they stayed undeterred, soaking wet, but still dancing, singing and shouting slogans...”
Read some of the media coverage
Down to Earth- 'Eat India companies threaten India'
Connecting the 1942 struggle with today
In our experience working in India, the most successful protests emerge organically from the grassroots. The “Quit India” movement in 1942 emerged out of the “Swadeshi” movement, an economic movement based on the self-sufficiency, self-reliance, principles of the people. The Swadeshi movement boycotted British products and thus revived domestic production Western clothes were thrown onto bonfires. Today farmers have set GMO test fields aflame in “Cremate Monsanto” actions. Mahatma Gandhi was a champion of “swadeshi,” or the local economy. People outside India know of Gandhi's campaigns to end British colonialism, but this was only a small part of his struggle. The greater part of Gandhi's work was to renew India's vitality and regenerate its culture, starting in the villages.
In 1942, the Swadeshi movement matched economic sovereignty with political agitation, and the same principle works today. This is why Indian activists are spending just as much energy creating our own alternatives today against corporate seed monopoly as advocating for legislative change.
Swadeshi principles avoid economic dependence on external market forces. It also avoids unnecessary, unhealthy, wasteful, and environmentally destructive transportation. Villages must build a strong economic base to satisfy most of their needs, and all members of village communities should give priority to local goods and services.
Seed-savers collectives, who promote traditional and indigenous seeds, are at the forefront of this movement. These collectives produce seeds for their communities, decentralizing seed production and minimizing market dependence for seeds and food. Local, non-hybrid, non-GMO seeds are oftentimes not available in many villages today. Seed-savers collectives address this market failure by working to preserve the bountiful biodiversity of seeds and ensure their availability.
Putting words into action, CHETHANA, the Joining Hands network in India, is starting the “Sow Against GMOs!” campaign, which does more than demand corporate influences to leave India, it demands farmers to reclaim agriculture in the fields as well as the streets.
Have just finished reading "Quit India" article which gave me joyful hope that the farmers and others who have joined together will successfully be able to sustain their communities using native seed. This has been a long time in coming. I spent 3-months in'08 visiting small villages w/Chethana. People in the US are also fighting against Monsanto. Wilma