27 March 2014
Photo Credit: Manvendra Singh Inaniya
Often it takes just a spark or friction, to set the dry drought ridden forest to fire. And Punjab for more reasons than one - cancer train, toxic food, falling groundwater level, dying biodiversity - had been sitting atop a sleeping stockpile of dynamites introduced by the experiments of the green revolution. This time, after the approval of GM field trials by the environment minister, V Moily, the people of Punjab have put their foot down in frustration. They are done being guinea pigs.
The false propaganda bantered by the ministry stating, 'GM technology for food security' shrouds the murkier ground reality of the failed technology. The government cannot guarantee the safety of GM food for our consumption. On the other hand, there are over 400 published research papers on their adverse impacts on our health and environment. Yet, our government is hell bent on setting fire to taxpayers' money to mask the failures of the corporates they fawn upon. In 2011 the state of Maharashtra paid Rs. 2,000 crore to 4 million Bt cotton farmers as compensation for failed crops. What is the justification for introducing a water guzzling technology in a country that's predominantly rain-fed and facing severe ground water crisis? Also, this season, Bt cotton farmers in Karnataka suffered a loss of Rs. 230 crore in 54,000 hectares due to defective seeds!
It started with a handful of concerned citizens coming together in Chandigarh on 22nd February. Scientists, professors, doctors, activists, farmer's union leaders, religious sect leaders and many other sat in horror as Kapil Shah, a farmer activist, shared his fear regarding GM crops and food. A pledge was taken by the 56 present to stop these monsters from entering our dinner plates at any cost.
The weeks that followed saw awareness workshops being conducted in different cities of Punjab with the help of these determined individuals to bring the issue to the wider public. Every meeting flowed through the same progression of emotions among the audience - indifference, confusion, horror, indignation and finally resolution. It was no longer a battle between a few concerned vs the giant corporations, but awakened citizens owning up the responsibility of their right to safe food and a safer world for their successors.
The most heart-warming moment for me was when a retired professor spoke up in one such meeting, "Instead of blaming the corrupt system for our helplessness and returning to the comfort of our bed at the end of the day, each one of us should state what we can do for the cause and take this battle to every street of Punjab!"
And thus, a revolution is born, from the heart of common men and women. Punjab shook for days to come with "anti-GM" sentiment splashing across the pages of every newspaper. A clear verdict on the power of the commons. And the commons will not stop till the government they voted for assures the safety of their food and health. More protests will follow by people from all walks of life - farmers, students, urbanites, till the Chief Minister of Punjab takes his stand against GM field trials in the state and support the people who brought him to power.
Manvendra Singh Inaniya is a campaigner with Greenpeace India