November 10th 2010: Huge, colorful, festive rally in Visakhapatnam – Adivasis turn out in huge numbers along with dalit agricultural workers, to highlight specific issues of concern

For the Yatris, the day began on the beachfront, after we reached Visakhapatnam at around 2.30 am. We were put up in a youth hostel on the beach road and the sea beckoned many. “We began on one coast and here we are, on another coast”, remarked one of the Yatris.

The day began at around 11 am, with a traditional adivasi dance according a welcome to the Yatris at the Gandhi Statue where other loud protest meetings were underway. Media turnout was very impressive with TV9 having a live broadcast of bytes of some of the yatris. A long winding rally, with more than five hundred people taking part in it, followed the garlanding of Gandhiji by Savita from Mayurbhanj, Orissa, Gajanan Harne from Akola, Maharashtra and Kiran Vissa from Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh. The rally had at least six cultural troupes performing, including adivasi women dancing their traditional dances all the way throughout the rally. It drew a lot of attention in the main streets of Visakhapatnam.

In the public meeting at Ambedkar Bhavan, which reverberated to the sound of drums as the rally ended inside the hall, several Adivasi leaders of the area spoke. Pandu Dora of Adivasi Aikya Vedika said that the adivasis of the country are only asking for what is rightfully theirs – they are not eyeing the resources of others or demanding a share in that. He also talked about the erosion of diversity in the fields of the adivasis and its impact on their dietary habits and the health impacts. He also felt that the issue of erosion of livestock diversity should be highlighted more firmly – he shared that in the hamlets, the only breeds surviving are the native breeds of livestock and those animals which were brought in on grounds like high-yielding etc., have not been able to survive.

Babji highlighted the issues pertaining to agricultural workers and pointed out that in various “development” projects, the official figures have a gross discounting of the actual land that the poorest are cultivating since thousands of hectares of land being cultivated by the poor has not been regularized. He also said that issues of farmers are not just those of big landlords as in the past – all such landlords have already migrated out of farming and it is the erstwhile landless agricultural workers who are now cultivating most of the land by taking it on lease. He also pointed out that the Green Revolution has only left farmers with debts and our food poisoned.

Savita from Mayurbhanj shared the problems that adivasis of Orissa face and she informed that displacement for various development projects is a major issue, where no compensation or rehabilitation is being taken care of.

Srinivas, a representative of primitive tribes from Paderu pointed out that the government is pushing farmers towards commercial crops like coffee and rajma in their area. As the area under these crops increased and the production increased, the prices crashed, he said. “To assume that we would be able to sell something and then be able to procure the food grain that we need is a wrong assumption”, he said, lamenting the increasing dependency on PDS for food whereas diverse, nutritious food that used to be available with the adivasis was being lost. Nagaraju of DIMSA highlighted similar issues.

Nagamani of Natwan Sangam in Khammam highlighted the plight of koya women who are exploited by men from outside, as the men seek to take possession of the land of these women by false promises. She also demanded that the government promote only local seeds and take care of good remunerative pricing for all farmers for their produce. She exhorted fellow farmers to save their own seed, at least for better health.

K Srinivas, Senior Editor of Andhra Jyothy who joined as the main guest for the day’s events pointed out that Gandhiji’s dream of Swaraj is not to be found in today’s India. In fact, it is an irony that President Obama visited Rajghat in Delhi and Mani Bhawan in Mumbai – he has come to take away any remaining Swaraj in this country, he said. He said that ones who had taken our seeds from us centuries ago are now coming back to sell seed to our farmers and profiteer. He also pointed out that conservation of environmental resources should not be seen as a fancy idea but that our very survival depends on it. He lauded the efforts of the organizers of the Yatra and pointed out that we should speak louder and stronger for our message to be heard.

After eating some delicious delicacies made out of millets by adivasi women specially for the yatris, we left for Orissa and specifically, Kakiriguma in Koraput district. As we traveled into Orissa, the numbers in the bus were the lowest so far. Some of the promised yatris could not reach for some reason or the other, unfortunately. We look forward to more yatris joining us soon, where the numbers appear to be ready to swell again, with several farmers from Uttar Pradesh joining us for the first time.

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