It was amazing – the TNAU Vice Chancellor had deputed the Controller of Examinations to meet with us in response to a letter that the South Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movements (SICCFM) had given him some time back. Even this, after a long wait and some persuasion after the VC pulled out of the commitment made some time back to meet the Yatris and the Tamil Nadu farmer representatives.
What we got was a man who kept quiet through one hour of questions raised by several of us, a little note pad on which very little was jotted down by him from the points raised by us and a repeated entreaty to just hand over the memorandum that we were carrying (and to leave?).
We raised several issues with him: Farmers have been listening to what the universities and scientists have been recommending for decades now – it has only brought deep distress to farmers and erosion of their resources – why should farmers continue to listen to the University then? where is the need for Bt Brinjal? What is the accountability of the University in the case of unsustainable technologies that are resulting in deeper distress for farmers? What about transparency especially with regard to various collaborative research projects that the University is entering into? Who do Bt Brinjal varieties developed in the University through a sub-license agreement with Mahyco belong to and who owns them now? Does the University understand the nature of a monopolizing corporation like Monsanto and why is the company being actively encouraged, including by the University taking up its GM Maize trials? Why is the University taking up GM crop trials when not a single farmers’ organization has actually asked for this option and when an overwhelming majority of farmers’ organizations representing lakhs of farmers across the state actually are resisting the entry of GM seeds actively?
While all of these issues were met with a silence, there were two responses we did manage to elicit! One was a categorical refusal to have a conversation with farmers who were outside Tamil Nadu (we are not concerned about other states and their farmers)! Two was a quick exit from the room when we wanted to hand over the donation box to him. This donation box was our symbolic message to the University: “It appears that you will do research only for those who bring in funds to you, like Monsanto and others. In which case, here is our donation to you, from the farmers of Tamil Nadu – would you also please do research for us for our benefit, on sustainable technologies?”, we said.
There was a lot of chaos that the room (aptly named “Rasi Seeds Conference Hall”) witnessed after this. “If you can accept donations from Monsanto and Rasi Seeds, why can’t you accept donations from farmers?” shouted many of us. The refusal to accept this donation from farmers infuriated many of us. We did not take NO for an answer. We left the box at the Vice Chancellor’s office and left. While leaving, we chose to use the placards we were carrying for some photographs outside the swanky new building.
The Yatra reached Coimbatore today after leaving Salem in the morning. En route, it stopped at Perumanallur village to pay homage to three farmers who got killed during a police-firing some years back.
In Coimbatore, after a quick lunch, there was a small rally to the location where hundreds of farmers had gathered to receive the yatra. Here, farmer leaders like Dr Shivasamy and Chellamuthu addressed the farmers; scores of lawyers from the nearby district court decided to join the public meeting. Media, especially from TV channels were out in great numbers.
Land acquisition was an issue of great concern to everyone assembled there and this was highlighted by many speakers. Appropriation of farmers’ varieties and the promotion of unsustainable technologies by the agriculture university were other concerns highlighted in the public meeting.
We finished the day much earlier than usual and had a longish review meeting amongst the yatris. For a change, some of us decided to call it an early night.