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The largest organic farming confluence in the world – over 2,500 participants from 22 states of India – gathered at the National Organic Convention in Chandigarh from Feb 28 to March 2, 2015. The flood of registrations had to be stopped a month in advance. Such zeal surely signals the growing recognition of agro-ecology as a burning imperative of our times, reflecting the Convention aim to ‘Mainstream Organic Farming!’

At the concluding session, Shri Prakash Singh Badal, Chief Minister of the frontline state of India’s ‘Green Revolution’, ironically hailed organic agriculture as “the need of the hour,” marking the full turn of a circle. He mourned the heavy burden of chemical poisons that the land, farmers and people of Punjab have had to bear, admitting sadly that “Mother Earth, Father Water, and Guru Air” have all been desecrated. Toxic pesticides have devastated the health of Punjab. “You people,” said Badal – addressing a packed auditorium of organic farmers, seed savers, ecologists, scientists and activists – “are the heroes of this new struggle to save the nation!”

The CM called for making Punjab the leading organic farming state of India, with diversification in place of present extensive monocultures. Announcing a 50% state subsidy for rearing indigenous cattle breeds, he also offered to provide retail/distribution shops and facilities for selling organic produce. Declaring the setting up of an Organic Farming Board, he promised panchayati land to set up a demonstration organic farm in every block of the State.

Earlier, at the Convention, Shri Manohar Lal Khattar, Chief Minister of Haryana, accompanied by his Agriculture Minister, pledged state support to turn at least 10% of its total cultivable land to organic farming. Smt Maneka Gandhi, Union Minister of Women and Child Welfare, rang out a grim warning against the highly dangerous neo-nicotinoid pesticides (used for treating Bt Cotton seeds) that were slaughtering the pollinating creatures like bees, an estimated 70% of which have already been wiped out. This would severely harm agriculture, unless banned, as in the European Union. “The owners of Bt cotton lied to us,” declared the Minister. “They told us that it doesn’t require pesticides… but now, we find that Bt cotton cannot grow without the most dangerous pesticides in the world.”

A few years ago, the beacon IAASTD World Agriculture Report bluntly stated: “Business as usual is not an option!” Prepared over 4 years by 400 international agricultural scientists/experts and 1,000 multi-disciplinary reviewers, this Report was endorsed by 58 nations, including India, as also representatives of FAO, World Bank, World Health Organization, UNEP, UNDP. Its recommendations stressed the urgency to adopt bio-diverse agro-ecological farming, and to support small family farms – to overcome the many serious problems confronting world agriculture. GM crops, it added, are not an answer to hunger, poverty and climate change, or to ecological, energy and economic challenges.

A riot of colours, costumes, cultures and cuisines greeted visitors at the ‘Nature and Kisan Mela’ and its ‘Organic Food Festival’ and ‘Biodiversity Festival’ that continued alongside the deliberations of the National Organic Convention. The Organic Food Festival, with ethnic organic fare from several Indian states, was a big hit. The Biodiversity Festival presented a dazzling display of over 2,000 distinct seed varieties of crops, brought by 270 seed conservator-farmers from all over India. Half a dozen new publications were released. Several book stalls, film screenings and cultural programmes of song, music and dance enhanced the charm of the memorable Organic Mela, dampened a bit midway by rain and wind.

The Convention was jointly organized by the Organic Farming Association of India (OFAI), Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), and Kheti Virasat Mission, in collaboration with the local host organization, the National Institute of Technical Teachers Training and Research (NITTTR). The deliberations were bilingual, with communications in Hindi translated into English for the participants from the south, and vice versa. Parallel translations into other regional languages – for those who understood neither Hindi nor English – were self-organised by the various state delegations.

The National Organic Convention simultaneously hosted meetings of the Bharat Beej Swaraj Manch (India Seed Sovereignty Alliance). This pledged to regenerate and widely share the enormously rich diversity of traditional crops and crop varieties in India as a collective open-source heritage belonging to all, free of any private/corporate Intellectual Property Rights. The Alliance also sought to reclaim the many thousands of native crop varieties collected from farmers all over India by national and international germplasm banks. It was suggested that every farmer or family should adopt at least one crop variety for decentralized on-farm seed conservation and open-source propagation.

In sharp contrast, Mr Swapan Dutta, Dy Director General, ICAR, declared a few years ago in an interview to the Wall Street Journal, that India had over 4,00,000 varieties of plant germplasm (both cultivated and uncultivated). These included crops with unique features like nutritional/medicinal qualities, drought tolerance, flood tolerance, salinity tolerance, and pest resistance, all of which it was willing to offer corporates for a small share of profits!

GM crops were categorically rejected as an unnecessary technology with numerous potential hazards. The serious contamination risk by recently sanctioned open field trials of GM crops – disregarding the recommendations of several Government, Parliament and Supreme Court appointed Committees – was warned.

Also part of the National Organic Convention was a scientific conference organized by the Society of Agro-Ecology, and the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture. This saw scientists from prime research institutions discussing with farmers and farmer-scientists their observations and research on soil health, plant nutrition, plant protection, water management, and Iivestock development, especially indigenous breeds.

With so many outstanding farmers around, and multiple parallel sessions on offer, participants felt they could barely whet their appetite. But they carried back a collective energy and renewed confidence, knowing they had a growing fellow community of organic pilgrims and path-finders they could call upon when needed.

Missing the vibrant presence of veterans like Nammalwar, who passed away last year, and of ailing Bhaskar Save, who completed 93 years in January 2015, the 5th National Biennial Organic Convention paid tribute to these towering, dedicated stalwarts, noting that they have inspired innumerable others on the natural, organic path. Tribute was also paid to Sir Albert Howard, considered ‘the father of sustainable agriculture’ in the west, who confessed more than a century ago that he learnt it all from humble peasants in India.

In 2016, the international community will return to draw fresh inspiration from India. It was announced that the ‘International Organic Farming Convention’ organized by the ‘International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements’ (IFOAM) will be held that year in India.

The final 16 point declaration from the convention pledged to safeguard and regenerate our soil, water, forests, biodiversity and seed sovereignty; and to work towards mainstreaming ecological farming in the country as “the only way forward for meeting the nutritional, livelihood, socio-cultural and spiritual needs of our people, including those of future generations.”

The Convention further declared that land under food cultivation must not be diverted for other purposes through forced land acquisition.

PM Narendra Modi called for the North-eastern and hilly states to become an organic hub. But ‘achhe din’ (good organic days) must include all of India! What we need to ‘Make in India’ is an agro-ecological paradise that gratifies all basic biological, aesthetic and spiritual needs, not a global factory for a growing array of resource-hogging and pollution-spewing, non-essential industrial and consumerist goods.

The overarching eco-spiritual tradition of this land is the unity of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – the earth is one family in one home. Mother Earth, the only known cosmic body with a living biosphere, must not now become a spew-chamber of chemical-industrial toxins, her inner vitals vandalized for short-sighted economic growth. The organic community is waking to the enormous challenges ahead.

Related reading: Declaration of the Organic Farmers community of India at the 5th National Organic Farmers’ Convention, 2015, Chandigarh, India

Guest post by Bharat Mansata

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There is some debate on whether Hindi should be used officially as a government language, that is meeting resistance from anti-Hindi quarters who see it as marginalizing the non-Hindi population of India. On the other hand, there are those who think that English marginalizes most people of India, since effective communicators in English are a minuscule part of the population. Both views have merit and the government will certainly need to communicate in one or more languages, none of which will be acceptable to the entire population, given India's regional and economic diversity.

On a related note, it is rather distressing to see that there is little focus on the development of the regional languages of India. Today, quality education is increasingly available solely in English. Students who study in regional languages are forced to adapt to English to pursue higher studies and employment.

Whether government communication happens in Hindi isn't as important to the larger picture, as the development of education in regional languages. Most of the time, the citizens of India are rarely paying attention to official channels of communication by the government, and their needs of understanding government communication are adequately met by media in every language of their choice.

However, day to day opportunities for improving conditions are another story altogether.

One evening, around the campfire at the Indian Homeschooling Conference, a homeschooling parent, who is a foreigner married to an Indian described property disputes they were having with villagers where they had built their home. They were on the side of the right, and the court ruled in their favor, but after the entire case being heard in Marathi, the judge pronounced the judgement in English. "I wanted to scream," she said. "Speak in Marathi, so that this crowd of twenty people understand what exactly is being said! Tell them that we have not broken laws and are harming no one, so that the threat of hostility to our family ends!"

This is one among many ways in which how a country operating in a language most people don't understand clearly leaves behind citizens while it chases the ideal existence.

Today, we speak of India as a wannabe world power. We speak of our economy and market and democracy and more, yet our standards of living compare unfavorably with some of the worst developed third world countries. We have a large population that is a burden to progress instead of asset, because most of the time, people don't really know what is "officially" going on, though everyone is a master of "everyone knows", bribes to get stuff done, and plain old jugaad.

While the processes of the country operate in a language most people don't understand, access to them will remain limited to the few who speak the language (or actively find other ways of interfacing). While access to knowledge remains restricted to languages other than the mother tongue of citizens, the instinctive absorption of information, trivia and a hundred other forms of knowledge that come from exposure beyond training in an alien language will remain elusive.

It isn't just languages, but languages are gateways to culture. As traditions die out, and large scale displacement accompanies development, is it not important to sit up and take note of the hundreds of Indian dialects already vanished and prevent more from going the same route? With disappearing languages are disappearing histories, disappearing bodies of knowledge. Will a focus on revival of languages aid access to indigenous knowledge that has evolved in the circumstances it will be applied in? It cannot be possible that a continuous civilization spanning thousands of years brought only religious knowledge to the world that is worthy of keeping.

[Inserted update] Harini Calamur points out in her edit in DNA: The Eligibility of Language:

The 2013 survey of Ethnologue, a website that catalogues the languages of the world, declared that there were 7,016 languages and dialects. In the case of India, Ethnologue has this entry “The number of individual languages listed for India is 461. Of these, 447 are living and 14 are extinct. Of the living languages, 63 are institutional, 130 are developing, 187 are vigorous, 54 are in trouble, and 13 are dying.” 

India seems to have got into a rut of seeing its citizens as a liability. Yet, the density of the population itself proclaims that India is a place where life can and does thrive. How is it possible that centuries of practices that allowed life to thrive are seen as so unimportant as to not merit efforts to keep alive and evolve further? How is it that our focus of language and learning is so externalized, that we are desperately applying solutions that evolved in another place to use us to build the empires of others and ignoring that which made India fertile and prosperous enough to be an attraction through the centuries?

If we look at developed countries today, they all operate in languages citizens know. Be it English speaking countries or France, Germany, China, Japan... They have their traditions, they have their unique practices and indigenous knowledge. They have entire sections of the internet buzzing with active users, advanced knowledge translated effortlessly because their languages were considered important enough to make knowledge available in. Citizens do not need interpreters to seek knowledge for themselves. Compare the French or Spanish versions of Wikipedia with Hindi or Marathi. Compare the quantity and quality of education in each language. See regional WordPress users timidly using minimal installs, while Indian software coders write fancy themes and plugins in English alone.

But open content volunteers are still making an effort to extend the knowledge to more and more people, while governments remain content to operate in English. It is intellectual inequality that appears to train some people for jobs, and others for joblessness. Where are the excellent educators in regional languages? Where are the efforts to raise the intellectual potential in regional languages? What would happen if there were ministries for languages at the state and center tasked with ensuring flow of information to all citizens in languages they understand?

And not just regional languages, but languages of different abilities as well! Where has Doordarshan's news for the deaf gone? Why are there no braille newspaper versions sponsored by government funds if necessary? Why can't newspapers be forced to supply braille editions - subscription only, if necessary - and news channels forced to broadcast at least news highlights, if not more in sign language?

Access to knowledge grows people. Access to knowledge in languages people understand grows more people.

Imagine a country with the size of India and the size of its population able to seek and grow knowledge in the language they are at ease with. Wouldn't our intellectual capital grow? Wouldn't more people engage with development more effortlessly? What would happen if agricultural colleges provided translations of important knowledge in the mother tongue of farmers? If economic theories were available in every citizen's mother tongue? Forget all that, we don't even have laws accessible in regional languages easily. Laws citizens are expected to obey - without having access to read them to know what they say. How would lawlessness decrease, if the word of the law never reached the ears of the common man in a language he understands?

In my view, more important than nitpicking about what language the government uses, it is important that excellent and advanced education be made available in regional languages. It is important that the government takes an interest in world knowledge being made available to Indians in regional languages by forming various task forces that translate it. Teams contributing translations to public sites like Wikipedia, special knowledge banks of important works in other languages and more.

Language isn't merely a symbol of unity or supremacy, it is the breathing thread that weaves citizens together. Important weaves must be woven with threads that connect people.

So, the real question isn't whether the government should tweet and update Facebook in English, Hindi or both, the real question is why official government documents are not available in ALL the regional languages of India.