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The Narendra Modi government has allowed 21 new varieties of GMO crops for field trials in India. This decision was made based on the recommendations of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC). This is the new GEAC. The old GEAC had the first item listed under "Main functions" on its page as "To permit the use of GMOs and products thereof for commercial applications." This one has "approval of activities involving large-scale use of hazardous living microorganisms and recombinants..." and they are making decisions that will impact our food, here. This is rather like the world's nuclear "watchdog" being created to promote nuclear power.

It is rather strange that a body implies evaluation, but is actually created to proliferate. This GEAC rejected 1 application out of 28 it received. In a world where more and more countries are banning GM crops, India naturally is fertile grounds for yet another reject of the West, where opposition to genetically modified food is increasing. And of course, it helps that if anything can be centralized and made money out of, Indias political cartels will have takers.

In a country where farmers quit farming as a full time profession at a rate that amounts to 2000 less farmers each day over a decade and over a quarter of the country is below an insanely low poverty line, replacing seeds collected from harvests to seed next years crops with expensive genetically modified varieties that need to be purchased each year alone is an economic nightmare, even if GM crops were safe, which I'm going to show below that they are not. It is no coincidence that there are very few suicides among rice and wheat farmers in comparison with cotton farmers whose lives have been devastated by BtCotton.

First, raising some quality concerns. GM crops are not reversible. They introduce new traits into the ecology of the fields where millions of lifeforms live in a symbiosis. The impact of changed traits of crops on other life forms including essential microorganisms in the soil to beneficial insects and contamination of adjacent fields or wild plants is impossible to determine when there are no long term tests of any sort including direct impact on humans. The assumption that it is safe is naive at best and unleashes irreversible changes which cannot be erased with an "oops. Sorry, we thought..." in the future if uncontrolled hybrids emerge.

Additionally, when GM seeds like these - that are resistant to specific poisons are grown in a region, the adaptations of pests to survive result in pests of the region becoming more and more resistant to pesticides and requiring greater applications of chemicals to control crops (including on the GM crops). This has happened in India. In Modi's own Gujarat. India approved Bt Cotton in 2002. In 2010, it failed pest tests in Gujarat. By 2013, the five year decline in cotton production was being blamed on everything from lack of innovation to climate change by GM apologists in media. Anything but GMO. By 2014, Modi who was CM in Gujarat when above failure happened is Prime Minister and opening more crops like wheat, rice and maize for GM field trials.

And guess what Monsanto did? It blamed the farmers for not following the "fine print" like planting refuge areas. A refuge area is basically a strip of ordinary cotton planted around the main crop of BtCotton. Guess why? Because when pests susceptible to the Bt gene die, the ones that survive are those that are resistant to it. So the idea is that they will breed with the pests from the normal cotton and thus lose some of their resistance. And if this doesn't happen (and tough to imagine how that would work effectively given that species breed to become stronger and survive and most of the field is Bt allowing most pests to find their Bt resistant dates on hand, without going to the other crops), it is apparently the farmer's fault. In other words, GM is not responsible...

Of course, that isn't what they had said when promoting BtCotton.

It [traditional methods of farming] has been a complete failure, because you have to modify infrastructure, you have to re-educate them as to how to modify their farming practices themselves. But with biotech, the technology is in a seed. All you have to do is give them the seed.

Because of course the guy with the powerpoint presentation understands agriculture better than the guy who doesn't even understand English and is too dumb to read instructions.

While there is little evidence of safety on various issues, the evidence that GM crops are not safe is mounting.

About a year and a half ago, a farmer in Oregon, USA found some wheat growing in an empty field. He tried to kill it with a herbicide. IT DIDN'T die. Astonished, the farmer sent the wheat to the Oregon state University for testing and it was found that it was genetically modified wheat containing Monsanto's a Roundup resistant CP4/maize EPSPS gene. The USDA confirms this. When this happened, there was no GM wheat approved for use anywhere in the world. Field trials had ended in 2005 on the wheat that was not expected to be viable for more than 2 years. Do the math.

Chief Technology Officer at Monsanto, Robb Fraley tried damage control "It seems likely to be a random, isolated occurrence more consistent with the accidental or purposeful mixing of a small amount of seed during the planting, harvesting or during the fallow cycle in an individual field." However, that doesn't solve the problem that wheat had turned into what basically amounted to a weed. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan postponed wheat imports from the region to avoid the contamination.

This basically shows that GMO food crops are not a choice as advertized. Seeds propagate, and the best intentioned organic farmer may still end up with GM contaminants.

Speaking of GM maize, in Hesse, Germany, many cows in a slaughterhouse died when they were fed Syngenta’s genetically engineered maize cow food. The remaining cattle were slaughtered on the decision of the authorities to... you guessed it... prevent spread of contamination. Syngenta withdrew the "protein" (not one of the better associations with this word) after being charged for covering up livestock deaths including those on the farm of a tenacious farmer who participated in trials and his cattle developed diseases and five cattle died. Syngenta paid him forty thousand euros basically as hush up money and other cover ups, including in tests. In India, maize is not cattle feed, but consumed by humans for the most part. Remember your "makki roti and sarson saag"? Now Modi sarkar has allowed field trials on GM maize in India.

A research paper published by Dr. Judy Carman last year showed marked increase in abdominal inflammation and on an average a 25% heavier uterus among female pigs fed GM feed. In 2009, American Academy Of Environmental Medicine called for Immediate Moratorium on Genetically Modified Foods stating a whole list of health risks related with GM food.

Citing several animal studies, the AAEM concludes "there is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects" and that "GM foods pose a serious health risk in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health, and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health."

I could go on listing studies that have clearly shown the danger, but then what is my voice in the face of an all party (including BJP MPs) Parliamentary Standing Committee that overcame attempts of the state government to prevent them interviewing farmers and recommended against GM in its report?

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India’s Sovereignty, Security and Freedom at risk-

Is the IB being used by foreign corporations to take over India’s vital seed sector?

The IB report has a special section on GMOs (genetically modified/engineered organisms). It clearly supports the introduction of GM crops into Indian agriculture.

The IB report makes specific mention of the Supreme Court cases which have beenfiled. It curiously also accuses civil society organisations and individuals of influencing 3 Committees that were officially mandated to assess GMOs. The IB report objects to these formal government reports, the Moratorium Orders of Shri Jairam Ramesh, the Parliamentary Standing Committee Report and the Supreme Court-appointed Technical Expert Committee Report (TEC) because they find that on current evidence, GM crops have little to contribute to Indian agriculture, safe food and food security. These findings did not accord with the view of the PMO, when headed by the erstwhile Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh. This report was initiated under the UPA Government.

IB objects to protection of Indian seed and food sovereignty?

In 1998, when Monsanto introduced Bt cotton illegally, without the statutory approvals from the GEAC, we had to file a case in the SC to defend the laws of the land, our Constitution, our Seed Sovereignty and Food Sovereignty. When open field trials were being conducted without appropriate and independent Biosafety assessments, and expertise inthese matters, the current cases in the Supreme Court were initiated in 2003 and 2005 to uphold the law: protect the environment and safety of our seeds and food from irreversible genetic contamination, protect smallholder farming in India, and the health safety of 1 billion citizens. The country faces a major threat from the multinational Seed/chemical industry, seeking control over our seeds, our agriculture and our food. This is the corporate focus. This is their AGENDA. Thousands of organizations and many multiples of thousands of individuals are committed to resisting this unacceptable corporate goal for India.

IB favors the foreign hand in the ‘making of India’s Bt brinjal’:

The IB report quotes a Dr Ronald Herring of Cornell University who promotes GMOs and the monopoly of Monsanto. It is ironic that the IB report relies on the evidence of Dr Herring with his antecedents in Cornell University, a hub of blind GMO promotion. It is the direct foreign hand along with USAID and Monsanto funding, behind the ‘making of India’s Bt brinjal’. Here is a real foreign hand that informs the IB report. Has the IB report been written then with foreign influence, for the benefit and profits of foreign corporations? Thestrategy of the global GMO seed industry with their patents & IPRs (Intellectual Property Rights) is to bend regulation and influence governments and regulators to approve GMOs, by-passing scientific, transparent and independent safety testing.

Outrageous insult to our Parliamentarians and Contempt of Court by the IB:

The PSC recommended a high-level enquiry into how Bt brinjal was approved by the Regulators for commercial release. The self-assessed safety-dossier by Mahyco-Monsanto was a cover-up as evidenced in independent assessments of the raw data by several leading international scientists.  It staggers belief that the IB find it possible to hand out an outrageous insult to the Parliamentary Standing Committee, by suggesting  that they have in effect been led ‘by the nose’ by activists and civil society groups and have no competence to address their official mandate on the subject. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the IB report has been influenced by those who have most to gain by undermining our seed and food sovereignty ie. the foreign corporations.

The IB report has also attacked the government decision made under our Biosafety laws to impose a moratorium on Bt Brinjal. It is thus attacking our Biosafety. This will only suit foreign interests.

The IB is guilty of contempt of court since it attacks the Technical Expert Committee set up by the Supreme Court to look into the issues of GMOs and Biosafety. The case is still being heard.

The IB fails to refer to the important other official report, the ‘Sopory Committee Report’. This report of 2012 commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture itself is a stinging commentary on what is wrong with GMO regulation in India. Ourregulatory institutions and the MoA have been indicted in this report for lies, fraud and lacking GMO expertise. And the truth with regard to massive contamination was revealed in this report.

NGOs saving Indian seed and food sovereignty:

The biggest foreign hand by STEALTH and official COVER-UP will be in GMOs/GM crops if introduced into Indian agriculture. All that stands between a corporate takeover of our seeds and agriculture is the committed and exemplary work by the not-for-profit sector that helped create an informed debate on GMOs and has postponed, even stopped government action from introducing them for over 15 years.  In conspiring with deeply conflicted institutions of regulation, governance and agriculture, of which there is incontrovertible proof, to introduce GM crops into India, the IB will in fact aid the hand-over of the ownership of our seeds and foods to Multi-NationalCorporations. This will represent the largest take-over of any nation’s agriculture and future development by foreign-hands and this time it will be no bogey foreign hand. This will be for real.  China is on record as saying that she will not allow her armed forces to eat any GM food. This not-to-be-imagined future will plunge India into the biggest breach of internal security; of a biosecurity threat and food security crisis from which we will never recover. The fallout of this mere 20 year-old laboratory technology is, that it is irreversible. This is what must give us sober ‘food for thought’ uncontaminated by GMOs, something the IB seems to be supremely oblivious of. GM crops have already demonstrated no yield gain, no ability to engineer for traits of drought, saline resistance etc and have some  serious bio-safety issues which no regulator wishes  to examine.

Indian Cotton in Foreign Hands, Indian farmers’ hard earned money expatriated to foreign lands:

India’s Bt cotton is an outstanding example of the above scenario. It was introduced into India’s hybrids, not varieties so our farmers would be forced to buy seeds each year. This ‘VALUE CAPTURE’ for Monsanto which was contrived and approved by our own government mortgaging the public interest has ensured that in a short 10 years, 95% of cotton seeds in the form of Bt cotton are owned by Monsanto. The damage to India’s organic cotton market and status is significant. India is the largest organic cotton producer/exporter in the world. It is Monsanto now that decides where cotton should be planted and when by our farmers, a role that the MoA has absconded or been eliminated from. The Royalties accruing to Monsanto that have been expatriated are approximately Rs 4800 Crores in 12 years,   (excludingother profit mark-ups). What would this figure be if GMOs and propriety seeds flooded our farms without Biosafety assessment and regulation? This is the arithmetic the IB should have done, instead of throwing an arbitrary figure of 2-3% loss of growth. The IB is thus conspiring with global corporate interests to hemorrhage India’s agricultural economy. More than 284000 Indian farmers have been pushed to suicide because of a debt trap, lack of government investment in smallholder farming and dependence on non-renewable, propriety seeds and chemicals sold by the corporations. We call for an investigation on the foreign influence in writing the GMO section in the IB report.

If India's intelligence agencies become instruments of global corporations working against the public interest and national interest of India, our national security is under threat.

This IB report is deeply anti-national and subversive of constitutional rights of citizens in our country.  It does India nocredit.

Signed:

 Vandana Shiva,               Aruna Rodrigues,                Kavitha Kuruganti

Navdanya

8100 25169                       98263 96033                         9393001550

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As of August 4, 2014, selling food on the street will be a criminal activity. Say goodbye to your favourite panipuri wala, sandwich wala, frankies stand and every other kind of street food vendor. Also bid farewell to small establishments like the neighbourhood mithaiwala, street-corner bakery, doodhwala, lassiwala, kulfi-wala and roadside butcher-shops-cum-kabab-joints. You should worry even if you are one of those enterprising housewives selling homemade chocolates, cupcakes, marzipan bunnies and Easter eggs to your friends and neighbours in the festive seasons.

In the popular serial Taarak Mehta Ka Ulta Chasma, Madhavi Bhide — the typical middle-class housewife — supplements her penny-pinching husband’s income by supplying papads and pickles. Well, now Madhavi faces a choice: either take a license by paying a fee of Rs 2000/-, or face imprisonment of upto six months or penalty of upto Rs 5 lakhs, under Section 63 of the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006.

Read this notification: http://tinyurl.com/FSSAI-4-Aug-Deadline

Also read the highlighted paragraphs in (a) Food Safety Act 2006 and (b) Food Safety (Licensing) Regulations 2011. Download from http://tinyurl.com/Food-Act-Regulations

But a licence is only the beginning. The vendor must meet FSSAI’s high standards. This could mean serious money in modifying facilities, or else shut down. Failure to comply could be fined lakhs of rupees, or even imprisonment for six months. This setup is ripe for a thriving business in bribery. Needless to say, the expenses in being compatible with the law - both officially and unofficially will be recovered from the customer, which basically means more expensive street food.

Food Safety Standards Authority of India has notified August 4, 2014 as the deadline for getting registration and license with Food Safety and Standards Authority. We can hope that this deadline will be postponed as it has been since August 2012, the original deadline. But the sword will continue to hang over our heads… unless, of course, the new government elected at the Centre furiously back-pedals.

NOT JUST COOKS, BUT ALSO TRANSPORTERS AND SELLERS

The dabba-walla who transports a home-cooked lunch to your office is a transporter and handler of food, and a Food Business Operator as defined under the Food Safety (Licencing) Regulations 2011. Needless to say, most dabbawalas cannot possibly meet FSSAI’s hygienic standards - which presumably won't allow tiffins on the floor of dusty luggage compartments on local trains - even though the tiffin itself remains unopened and has been successfully going through this system for decades without health issues.

Your neighbourhood kirana-store, who sells grains, spices, nuts, oil, biscuits etc. is also in jeopardy. Unless he invests lakhs or crores of rupees for upgrading his shop with air-conditioners, glass doors, freshly painted ceilings and marble floors etc, he may not be given a license to sell food items. Then he cannot sell so much as a toffee or a bottle of packaged water.

This is the brave new world envisioned by Government of India. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Bubbling with good intentions, the Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Businesses) Regulations 2011, are a nationwide disaster-in-the-making. It is about to hit the common man right where it hurts most. Wham! Right in his wallet!

Indeed, the conditions imposed on storage, preparation and handling of foods are so stringent that a majority of household kitchens and office canteens would not make the cut.

BIG BUSINESS IS THE GAINER

Who can possibly meet the impossibly high standards of food preparation and storage set by dozens of scientists at FSSAI? The likes of McDonalds and Pizza Hut may have no difficulties, and ditto for Pepsi, Coke, Haldirams and Britannia. Also, big retail outlets like D-Mart and Big Bazaar.

But small outfits will have no option but to close down, or to operate on the fringes as criminal offenders and fugitives. The current dispensation has given a death sentence to the entire unorganized food sector spread all over the country — consisting of many million self-employed men and women living in various cities, towns and even the remotest villages. In tiny settlements on snowy mountain-tops, or in the midst of forests and deserts, entire families and communities work together to survive by selling various food products to travelers and pilgrims. This vibrant food service industry of India is now marked for slaughter. One wonders why.

A vast expanse of potential criminals waiting for discovery by any cop walking down the street and Shangri La for the greedy who deal in law enforced to taste for profit.

FLYING UNDER THE RADAR

How did this horrific thing come to pass? How did such a far-reaching legislation slip unnoticed, like a jumbo jet flying under the radar? One explanation is: it happened because the Food Safety Act 2006 and the lengthy licensing regulations seemed like a good thing at first.

Food was earlier regulated under various orders passed by the union government, such as Prevention of Food Adulteration Act 1954, Fruit Products Order 1955, Meat Products Order 1973, and Milk & Milk Product Order 1992. Some people in the food industry actively lobbied for all these orders to be unified, so that implementation would be easier. However, the unification exercise was taken up with so much zeal by bureaucrats that it led to a kind of bureaucratic overreach. In the words of Gokul Patnaik (098100 63433), a retired IAS officer who was formerly chairman of APEDA (Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority) is among those who lobbied for such a unification. And now, on hindsight, he regrets the outcome. “We seem to have created a Frankenstein’s monster, whose appetite for controlling our lives seems endless,” he remarks.

Indeed, if you casually browse through Food Safety Act and Regulations with a common man’s eye, it seems like a well-intentioned (if over-ambitious) effort to improve the quality of the food that all of us – both rich and poor – eat and drink. The standards imposed on the licensees are formulated by committees peopled by well-known scientists from all over the country. These standards are aimed at reducing pesticides, enzymes, antibiotics, harmful bacteria, and biological contaminants like hair. Who can possibly argue with that? How can anybody say that it is not a good thing for safeguarding public health?

Public consultations were also held in 2008, and trade bodies like FICCI and CII represented civil society. Hawkers and enterprising housewives were never aware of these consultations, and even if they were aware, would not have been able to put across their concerns in a way that the bureaucrats would understand.

Indeed, the impossibility of holding genuine stakeholder consultations becomes apparent when you consider the mind-boggling span of the term “Food Business Operator”. It climbs up the ladder of scale starting from the tiniest iterant chai-samosa vendors, temporary and permanent food stalls, home-based canteens and dabbawalas. It encompasses office and school canteens, langars in gurdwaras, distribution of various prasads in temples, religious gatherings and fairs, and wedding feasts. And at the top of the ladder are importers, packers, cold storages, warehouses, transporters, retailers, wholesalers, distributors and five star hotels.

Some traders’ associations and food manufacturers’ bodies opposed these regulations, but that too may have been written off as a knee-jerk reaction; after all, who among us says yes to more regulation? The remarks of Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) can be found here here: http://www.cait.in/cait-articles.php (Article titled “Top Three Issues Under Food Safety Standard Act Faced by the Industry”)

The members of All India Food Processors Association (AIFPA) are on the central advisory committee, scientific panels and expert groups of Food Safety Authority. Dharam Vir Malhan (9868218848), Executive Secretary of AIFPA and formerly head of the Modern Foods, a government enterprise, is coordinating the participation of these members, who are deeply aware of the beneficial as well as adverse consequences of the proposed new licensing regime. “Going from feedback that I receive from food industry stakeholders at various levels, the new regulations are over-ambitious and at many places, highly impractical to implement,” Mr Malhan says mildly.

This is an understatement. The administrative burden at various levels is enormous and widespread. Registration under the Food Safety Act is to be done by local bodies i.e. municipalities and gram panchayats. The licensing mechanism is in state and centre, depending on the scale of the manufacturer. Large scale entities will require multiple licenses – one for each separate activity such as import, repacking, transportation etc., and one for each location of factories, warehouses, etc. The multiplicity of the paperwork required, and the massive reach and discretionary powers of the officials within the registration and licensing mechanisms is a sure-fire formula for both corruption and administrative overload.

According to its preamble, the Food Safety Act was conceptualized to consolidate the existing food laws; one presumes that the intention was to simplify, and not to complicate. Very clearly, this exercise has gone off track.

KILLING MICRO-ENTERPRISES & SELF-EMPLOYMENT AT BIRTH

The full menace of the regulations has clearly not been understood by civil society and activists; otherwise human rights crusaders would have been up in arms! Because even mild enforcement of these regulations will criminalize over 99 per cent of the non-packaged food sector in our country, rendering them liable for penalties of several lakhs of rupees and several months of imprisonment. If that is not a human rights outrage, then what is?

Such a formal business environment – where one is required to get a registration and license before selling his first plate of vada-pav – means that tiny food businesses may never come into existence… or may be seen as an unlawful enterprise from day one!

Let us take an example to understand how small businesses grow. Take the case of a neighbourhood auntie who prepares delicious parathas. One day, a group of young MBA students move into the neighbouring flat as paying guests. As a neighbourly gesture, the auntie sends them six parathas to go with their morning tea. The love the fresh hot parathas, and so they request the auntie to send them a dozen parathas every morning for their breakfast, and they voluntarily offer to pay Rs 5 per paratha. And then, word spreads among their friends, and the auntie, who used to cook only for herself and her family, now finds herself supplying parathas to several groups of paying guests in the neighbourhood. Voila, a food entrepreneur is born!

However, FSSAI’s regulations say that as soon as the students offer to pay for the parathas, the auntie has to apply for a license from FSSAI and pay Rs 2000 for a license. The Food Safety Officer may then come to her house and check her kitchen. He may deny her a license if her ceiling paint is peeling off, and while parting, warn her that if she continues to feed her neighbours, he can fine her Rs 5 lakh or drag her before a special court and get her imprisoned for six months! Behold, a food entrepreneur has been killed at birth!

CRIMINALIZING INNOVATORS

Indian cuisine is full of experimental products, and street foods are at the cutting edge of experimentation. For example, popular items like bread pakodas, Chinese Bhel, roti-rolls and kathi-rolls and novelty items like ice-cream pakodas have all sprung up in response to entrepreneurial inventiveness sustained by market demand. All Indian foods have been created in this way. An over-scientific approach to the process and formulation is toxic to innovation. So, it is alarming that FSSAI’s bloated bureaucratic set-up wants to not only control the cooking and storage environment, but also control the FORMULATION of each and every item, and confine it within documented parameters!

Under the new FSSAI regime, all known items are standardized and their formulations are written down. If someone wishes to make a new item – say an item like bread-pakoda using crushed banana wafers in the filling – then he must first submit this formulation to FSSAI and seek their approval for it – a process that typically takes two or three years. And the new regime makes producing such innovative foods and selling them without approval a punishable offense!

It is both audacious and ridiculous to even attempt an exercise of defining standards for every food in India. Because a “chutney” in every state, every district, every tehsil, every caste and community has very different ingredients and methods of preparation. A simple thing like a roti tastes very different in every household, and has varying amounts of ghee, salt, thickness, diameter etc. The same goes for hundreds of types of halwas made in temples, gurdwaras and sweetmeat shops. How can a centralized body of scientists and bureaucrats like FSSAI impose standards for such things? But that is precisely what it is doing!

Manufacturing apart, it is also an offense now to import and sell a novel food that is well accepted abroad but not currently being sold in India – such as, say, fresh strawberries encased in a hard chocolate cover. Importers will not be able to release their stocks into the markets unless FSSAI first tests and approves it for public consumption.

Gokul Patnaik remarks, “If this sort of pre-approval process were in force in olden days, the halwais could never have invented foods like rasgollas and jelebis. Innovations happen in the kitchen at the spur of the moment, and the only approval needed is from the tastebuds of customers willing to pay for them. For bureaucrats to insist that a gulab jamun must only have this much sugar and this much ghee – no more and no less – is to impose a bureaucratic approach on cooking itself! This can only result in killing innovation!”

IMPOSING INSPECTOR RAJ OVER FOOD

The FSSAI Act mandates Food Safety Commissioners in every state to appoint numerous government employees as Food Safety Officers, with powers to slap a closure notice on any Food Business Operator, and also slap penalties of upto one lakh on them for any offense defined under the Food Safety Act. In the name of safeguarding the health and well-being of India, this is a return to inspector-raj and rampant bribery, far worse than the pre-liberalization days.

India’s people have to raise their voice against this over-zealous bureaucracy, and the time is now.

Edited from a press release ISSUED IN PUBLIC INTEREST BY
Krishnaraj Rao
9821588114
Mumbai

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In 2006, I attended an event of ISABS. I had just returned to Mumbai after spending several years in the mountains, and was still missing rural life. So when the community turned out to have two activists from rural Andhra Pradesh, who also happened to share the room next to mine, I tended to prefer their company

They were from Timbaktu. Kidding you not. It is a real place in/near Anantpur. The name caught my fancy, and I was curious. Dinesh also had vast knowledge of flora and fauna, which was very interesting.

Till then I knew zero about the agrarian crisis. I was rural, but hey, it doesn't get lush greener than Himachal (on this side of the rain shadow). Drought was something from black and white films or at worst, lesser crop for a year. Climate problems were more like snow being late, which meant a lower crop for the apples, but not the end of the world. "These activist types exaggerate everything" I thought, but it was better to "over care" about these things than the crap I was finding in the city anyway. By crap, I mean the average city attitude of not being bothered about the world around them, which was very garish after my long stay in the villages and wilds.

So I gravitated toward Dinesh and the colleague of his, Ashish who were attending, because they were rural folk. I enjoyed their company and thought all was good.

On the contrary, Ashish hit out at me viciously (verbally) saying stuff like he couldn't relate with the "likes of me" in the middle of some conversation. Very puzzling, because I liked him. So I asked him, and he spoke of inequality, and I was one of the "haves" - a callous person who lived in plenty while people died of hunger. I was astonished. It was unreasonable. I was the one in the torn shorts. Not him. Dinesh was the one with the laptop. So I challenged him on how I was a have and Dinesh or he weren't.

And out it came pouring. Difficulties farmers face because cities develop, and policies follow them, and so on. Farmers committing suicide because of failing crops and overwhelming debt. Lack of facilities to support agriculture, lack of water. It sounded like a tough deal, but I pointed out that I had led a rural life too, and was certainly not one of the "haves" as he said. If I had a choice, it would definitely favor the rural India.

We got along well after that, but I never forgot that blaze of anger. It made me curious as to what deprivation this person was seeing that he held me responsible for. What was it that was arousing such feelings? And I found out. I asked him, heard hours and hours worth his thoughts, stories, fears, concerns... there was little happiness.

They spoke of efforts for saving indigenous seeds, farming methods, loans, credit, weather, crop cycles, people committing suicide, indigenous species, genetically modified crops and such. I hadn't thought of eating genetically modified food till then. I was totally amazed to know that I was already doing it. The farmers suicides sounded surreal. Frankly, I didn't believe them. Who would commit suicide because of a crop failing? Try again next year!

I was naive, but I learned. And I came home and learned more (that part you know. I just dig in till I find out). News speaking of farmers, suicides, agriculture, and rural India in general started catching my attention and I followed it vaguely. Over time, I started developing some understanding of what was happening.

I am glad that I got on this track, because till then, I simply wasn't aware of most of India and its realities. Things take on a new context when you are thinking of a whole rather than a permanently segmented view or worse, a small cross section and imagining it to be representative of the whole. It helped me understand various objections and "anti-progress" attitudes that later turned out to be disagreements by people representing thoughts of significant populations on the publicized popular views.

India is a diverse country, and this learning curve helps me understand some of that diversity.