There are two conflicting paradigms that have been co-existing in the contemporary history of our country.
The first is based on the ancient Indian philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – the Earth as one family – which makes it an imperative to live on this planet by respecting the rights of all species and cultures. This paradigm is the foundation of peace, justice and sustainability. It is one that has sustained India for more than 10,000 years and has made us a biodiversity-based economy and democracy. As Rabindranath Tagore wrote in his essay Tapovan, Indian civilisation grew from the forest and learnt its principles of democracy and diversity from it.
The second is a 500-year-old paradigm exemplified by the invasion of the Americas by Columbus and other colonisers, which is based on the assumption that the powerful can grab the resources of others, plunder the Earth and accumulate limitless wealth.
A paradigm shift
Over the last 200 centuries, this paradigm of man’s Empire colonising the Earth has been on an overdrive, with fossil-fuel based industrialisation giving rise to mechanical thought. Capital and machines have been assigned creative power, whereas people and nature are defined as inert or dead inputs with no power to create wealth and value.
The United States symbolises the second paradigm. Its foundation is based on robbing indigenous people of their land, making it the property of colonisers and then running plantations on the land with Africans captured as slaves – reducing them to property to be owned and traded.
Today, it’s a country that has imposed intellectual property rights on seeds and on life – defining life as an invention and seeds as machines. Having outsourced all its production, it aims to become an economy based on rent collected in the form royalties through such intellectual property rights.
Life, creativity, justice and sustainability have no place in the second paradigm. But when we adopt it in India, we call term this recolonisation as “development”. And its disastrous impacts are all around us – in the drought and water crisis in Marathwada and Bundelkhand, in the more than three lakh farmer suicides, in the fact that every second Indian is hungry and half of the country’s children are malnourished, and in the eight lakh cancer cases annually.
Back to the beginning
We need to make the paradigm shift from death to life, from slavery to freedom. And we need to act now.
Representatives of more than 10 million Indians farmers, doctors, policy makers, researchers and activists launched Jaivik Kranti – Living Revolution on May 21 to free India from the deepening agrarian, ecological and health and malnutrition crisis.
Through Jaivik Kranti, we will uphold the tradition of biodiversity, or Jaiv Vividhta, and the Earth as a family – Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. We will uphold every value that protects the planet and dignity and rights of all.
Biodiversity is the answer to the drought and water crisis, to food and nutrition security and to the agrarian crisis and farmer suicides.
No farmer who is a member of Navdanya (a network of seed keepers and organic producers) and has his own seeds is in debt or has committed suicide. In fact, they earn 10 times more through biodiversity and organic farming then adopting chemical agriculture or using Genetically Modified Organisms and commodity production.
Inherently poles apart
India has a civilisation and economic model based on biodiversity, a 10,000-year-old farming paradigm recognised today as Agroecology, rich indigenous knowledge systems in health care and food and an indigenous model of a decentralised democracy that Mahatma Gandhi called Swaraj (self-rule).
The US, on the other hand, is based on monocultures, monopolies, piracy and theft. The US has chemical corporations like Monsanto that grew to prominence out of the Vietnam War, that used genetic engineering to construct the idea of putting patents on seeds to collect illegal royalties, and then used their government to force it on countries through the World Trade Organisation.
These corporations also prevented the US government from functioning as a member of the international community. The US has blocked the review of the "patents on life" clause in the World Trade Organisation – something that was to be done in 1999.
The country has also not ratified the convention of biodiversity or signed the biosafety protocol. When it comes to international commitments on living as a member of an international community of nations, and as part of an Earth Family, the US is functioning as a rogue nation with the singular objective of spreading the control of its corporations on the seeds and food of all countries and cultures.
It is important to know that the so-called Terminator patent to create sterile seeds – a kind of technology by which seeds produced by a crop cannot grow– is held jointly by US government and Monsanto. Their work is an “innovation” for promoting death.
The US corporations would like to pirate and patent the rich biodiversity and traditional knowledge of India while deregulating all laws relating to Genetically Modified Organisms. After having corrupted the US government, they are now corrupting India.
India has so far protected her biodiversity through the Biodiversity Act, 2002 and has defended the rights of her people through Articles 3(d) and (j) of the Indian Patents Act – which state that merely discovering a new form of a known substance or use of a known process won’t qualify for a patent; neither will the arrangement, re-arrangement or duplication of known devices.
We have had to fight the biopiracy – appropriation of indigenous knowledge for profit – of neem, basmati and wheat, and in each case, India was able to show that what US corporations were claiming as their inventions was the pirated traditional knowledge and biodiversity of India.
But coming close together?
US corporations, however, would much prefer a regime that legalises biopiracy of our traditional knowledge and biodiversity. That is why they pressured India into getting the National Intellectual Property Rights policy readied before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US.
The policy’s main thrust is to patent our traditional knowledge and biodiversity. For this, our laws will have to be changed, especially our Biodiversity Act and our Patent Act. In a democracy, laws are shaped by people and the legislature. In the corporate dictatorship, which the US is promoting and imposing on India, lawlessness is spread by criminal corporations. The policy seems to be guided less by national imperative and more by pressure from US corporates.
A recent example of governments giving in to corporate interests is the reversal of a notification that sought to put a cap on royalties on seeds and regulate of licences for genetically modified crops, which was issued by Agricultural Minister Radha Mohan Singh. It was reportedly on orders from the “highest level” that he was forced to roll-back the May 18 the notification, according to which genetically modified crop technology developers could only licence their proprietary traits on demand and could not charge royalty exceeding 10% of the maximum sale price of seeds.
However, the royalty restriction, coming close to the date of Modi’s US visit, was removed after opposition from agro-chemical and biotechnology corporations.
The new policies can undo the good that our existing legislations have attempted to do.
I was a member of the expert group that drafted Biodiversity Act as well as the Protection of Plant Variety and Farmers Rights Act, 2001. We ensured that farmers’ rights were recognised in our laws. The Farmers Act stated that “a farmer shall be deemed to be entitled to save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share or sell his farm produce, including seed of a variety protected under this act, in the same manner as he was entitled before the coming into force of this act.”
Patents on seeds are unjust and unjustified. A patent or any intellectual property right is a monopoly granted by society in exchange for benefits. But society has no benefit in toxic, non-renewable seeds. We are losing biodiversity and cultural diversity.We are losing nutrition, taste and quality of our food. Above all, we are losing our fundamental freedom to decide what seeds we will sow, how we will grow our food and what we will eat.
The way ahead
These corporations are now looking to join forces and expand – there were talks of a merger between Monsanto and Bayer, which is stuck at the moment, but hasn’t been ruled out either. Both companies have a history that is linked to war. A joint venture of the two firms, called Mobay, had worked on the infamous Agent Orange herbicide used during the Vietnam War.
Bayer, in fact, was part of IG Farben, the cartel that provided the chemicals for Hitler’s Germany. These are all corporations selling toxic chemicals and genetically modified organisms and imposing patents on life and on seeds while deregulating and dismantling biosafety regulations.
IG Farben was tried during the Nuremberg trials. And today, a global group of environmentalists, professionals, scientists and others – the Monsanto Tribunal – are going to try another corporate giant at the Hague in October and through people’s assemblies everywhere.
When our prime minister meets President Barrack Obama in June, he should go as an ambassador of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, as a messenger of the Gandhian philosophy and as a promoter of India’s diversity, democracy and sovereignty.
India has a lot to teach the US about how to be free from corporate power. There are millions of people in India, the US and all over the world who stand committed to stopping corporate dictatorship over our food, to stop patents on seeds and to stop patents on life.
These people are committed to liberating life on Earth and ensuring there are no more indebted farmer and hungry children. We hope leaders will free themselves from corporates and instead derive strength from the movements of people, so that they work in the service of the Earth and its inhabitants.