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!"
Within 10 minutes, about 150 police arrived and encircled
the protestors, herding them towards police trucks.
The protestors, both foreign and local, were pushed
into the back of the trucks and taken to police headquarters
for questioning. They were released later in the evening.
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."
Caravan organizer Gilbert Sape of Pesticide Action
Network Asia Pacific, ANPA Secretary General, Prem Dangal,
and numerous other supporters of ANPA and the democratic
peoples’ movement of Nepal were also rounded up
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.
Food sovereignty is the right to access and control
the means of production and the right to safe, culturally
appropriate foods and sustainable food production.
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
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
"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 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.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All Rights