Nepal Police Nab Former Ministers in Food Sovereignty Sit-In
KATHMANDU, Nepal, April 19, 2004 (ENS) - Former government ministers and leaders of nongovernmental organizations who sat down blocking a main roadway to draw public attention to the right of farmers to determine the food and agricultural policies that affect their lives, were arrested Saturday in Kathmandu.
Around 100 delegates who had attended the launch of the Peoples Caravan for Food Sovereignty earlier in the day sat in a peaceful demonstration near Ratna Park in downtown Kathmandu. The delegates waved flags and chanted, "Long Live Democracy!" "Down with Autocracy!" and "Long Live Peasants Struggle!"
Among those arrested were three former Nepali government ministers, among them the former Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Bamdev Gautam, who now chairs the All Nepal Peasants Association (ANPA). At another demonstration on April 4, Gautam was struck on the head and taken to the hospital in serious condition.
Also taken into custody Saturday were former Nepali Minister of Local Development Keshav Lal Shrestra, who is now ANPA vice chairman, and former Minister of Environment and Population Bidya Bhandari, who now chairs the All Nepal Peasant Women’s Association.
Arrested along with the former ministers were Sarojeni Rengam, executive director of Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific, and South Asian Peasants Coalition Secretary General Biplap Halim.
The protest was held also to mark the International Day of Farmers' Struggle. After the massacre of landless people on April 17, 1996 in Brazil, the day was set aside by La Via Campesina, an international movement which coordinates peasant organizations of small and middle-scale producers, agricultural workers, rural women, and indigenous communities from Asia, Africa, America, and Europe.
Rengam said, "This was in solidarity with the peoples’ struggle for democracy, including food democracy and right to decent livelihoods. We believe in and support the Nepali Peoples struggle that lies at the very heart of the movement for a fair and just society based on human rights and democracy."
Earlier in the afternoon, over 400 people filled the Auditorium Hall at Tribuvan University to attend the public launch of the Peoples Caravan for Food Sovereignty. Hosted and organized by ANPA, ANWA and the Rural Reconstruction Nepal, the launch highlighted the concerns and issues of the peasants’ movement in Nepal.
For 30 days in September, the People's Caravan for Food Sovereignty will hold simultaneous events and solidarity actions in 10 Asian countries - Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Cambodia, Korea, China, Japan, Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, and Nepal; with the possible participation of groups in Thailand.
A primary concern is food scarcity. Current figures show that there are 500 million people in Asia-Pacific who suffer chronic hunger.
As it moves across the region, the Caravan will advocate for food sovereignty - genuine agrarian reform that gives poor peasants access and control over land, seeds and water and yields which are free from pesticides and genetic engineering.
The demonstrators say they want guarantees of ecological production for present and future generations, and support for the rights of women.
Women and children are the most affected by hunger and poverty. For women, it is largely a result of gender inequality and their lack of economic and political rights.
Josephine of the Tamil Nadu Women’s Forum said, “Rural women bear the burden of long hours of working for low wages, and face multiple work days as they juggle agricultural work and responsibilities in the home. The health of the rural women, especially their reproductive rights, are violated. Where they do get work on the farms, they have to do the most backbreaking work and are poisoned by the use of harmful chemical pesticides."
"We took to the streets for three reasons," explains Dangal of ANPA. "Firstly to take the issues from the Peoples Caravan launch and Day of Peasants Struggle to the people of Kathmandu; secondly, to join the peoples' movements in Nepal in their struggle for democracy; and thirdly to assert the Nepali peasants’ calls for food sovereignty and social justice."
“Peasants spend all their days toiling the land but cannot make a living, many are dying of hunger" Dangal said.
Dangal blamed the World Trade Organization (WTO) and especially the Agreement on Agriculture for facilitating the dumping of heavily subsidized cheap food from developed countries into less developed countries such as India.
"This has only benefited the multinational corporations, and not the peasants and rural communities," Dangal explained. "This is why we are mobilizing peasants in a campaign to take WTO out of agriculture, and to assert our call for food sovereignty.”
The food sovereignty demonstration was but one of many - most of them political - that have rocked Kathmandu for 18 consecutive days, keeping police cells jammed.
The Communist Party of Nepal, the Nepali Congress Democratic and others held mass meetings at the Ratna Park intersection despite orders banning the gatherings issued by the government. Police have arrested hundreds of leaders and protesters who have kept the city tense - burning tires, obstructing road traffic and throwing stones.