The multi-national cola companies are entities who entered our country under cover of globalization. They made their beginnings by sucking water from the deepest water beds wherever possible, fattening their coffers through sweet drinks made from it and then making native populations taste the bitterness of life.
They ransacked fertile and water-rich places like Plachimada and Puthussery in Kerala and made the natives there stand in queue for drinking water before tankers, only to set foot later in new pastures. By that time, water, the elixir of life becomes a commodity available at a price. From water, they extend their sinews to agricultural land, and thereby to our basic diet.
The agricultural community, who even at the face of crisis created by climate change, water scarcity, crop loss, price falls and rising prices of essential commoditie, hold their feet firm on the ground, are now taken to court by one of the cola companies. On the allegation that the farmers cultivated the tapioca variety it had developed for making chips, Pepsico has shown the audacity to sue the tapioca cultivators in Banaskantha, Gujarat demanding crores of rupees as fine from the local farmers. No sooner was this complaint registered – that it incurred a heavy loss because of the farmers – a judge hastened to issue an order, even before hearing what the other side had to say, prohibiting the cultivation of a peculiar kind of tapioca.
It needs to be pondered how legal institutions that show zeal in protecting the cola companies' profits and rights, do not show the same enthusiasm to award any compensation for the Indian villages from the cola firms for making fertile land arid by draining its water and destroying them. There have been calls by civic activist groups, people have come forward to boycott from their dining table Pepsico's chips – that arrives with inflated claims of taste. Following this, the company has softened its stand, but still brimming with profit-motive and the urge to grab everything. What they are trying now is a plot to bring the tapioca farmers at their feet in the guise of a compromise formula. The concession dangled is that once the farmers join the growers's society under the company and grow the seeds provided by it, the farmers can avoid legal damages. Thus an American monopoly has come to decide what the native farmers, who for generations have been growing crops, should do in their land! It is time for the agricultural community to say No to such a compromise formula and for the country to come forward and stand firm by them.
Recall a similar multinational Monsanto who had come to India's cotton farms and lured farmers to their farm land with BT cotton seeds, with the temptation that the produce would be larger and thicker, would fetch greater profits, and it would be free from pests. They established their hegemony by influencing governments, bringing farmer societies to their knees and grabbing ownership of seed firms. Then it came to a situation that it would take a huge amount to purchase their seeds and still bigger amount to buy the pesticides to ward off pests. What happened thereafter is told by the thousands of farmer suicides in Maharashtra, Andhra and Gujarat.
Like soldiers, farmers are the guards of the country's greenery and food security. That they are forced to conduct a long march from scorched farmlands with cracking heels under our eyes, is indeed a shame for the country and for the governments - if left with a trace of patriotism and humanity. The lamentation of the growers is not something that can be hidden behind the 'jai kisan' slogans during election rallies and in front of TV cameras.
It is by taking ownership of seeds sown traditionally in the country and fondly protected by the previous generations, and by modifying them, that the monopoly companies present them as their own and extracting a price from us. It is imperative on governments to put an end to such domination and to restore the farmers' right to the agricultural land and and the crops. Our agricultural research centres also need to be made more creative and laws made more stringent. The real pests that stunt the growth of our agricultural sector are the authorities, the individuals and firms who are eager to meddle with the rights of the farmers. In order not to let water too become inaccessible like food, and to stop those who work on the soil falling dead at their own hands, they need to be eliminated from the scene.