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
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 by police.
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 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.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All Rights Reserved.