Reclaiming Democracy? The Anti-Globalization ...

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behemoth it now is, India today is at the forefront of a mass movement of resistance against globalization. Be it in mega-dam projects like the Narmada Dam in ...

Reclaiming Democracy? The Anti-Globalization Movement in South Asia Author(s): Shoba S. Rajgopal Source: Feminist Review, No. 70, Globalization (2002), pp. 134-137 Published by: Palgrave Macmillan Journals Stable URL: Accessed: 13/04/2010 21:07 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected]

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ShobaS. Rajgopal

abstract This article studies anti-globalizationactivities in South Asia, and specifically the Indiansubcontinent,and discoversthat the commonpeople have beguna newformof civil disobedience in the country, to counter the machinations of multinational corporations.Many of the eminent writers and activists at the forefront of the movementare Indianwomen,a fact that may come as a surpriseto some, but is part and parcel of the movement'sbasis in sustainable developmentand resistance to patriarchalhegemony.

keywords multinationalcorporations;genetically modified plants; sustainable development

This article is dedicated to my belovedyounger sisterJ Padma Rajgopal, who passed away suddenly in August 2001. She was an activist, organic farmer, wife and mother, and was a great inspiration to me and many others in India. Ifyou would like to find out howyou can be involved in the work that she started, please look up her website: started by friends - and well- wishers from the UKw Globalization is increasingly seen by some as a synonym for postcolonialism. For the two terms share the same idea of cosmopolitan centres in changing relations with rural areas in the Third World. The most visible actors in this sphere are those abstract entities known as multinational corporations (MNCs).Indeed, the 'McWorldization'of the world, as Benjamin Barber (1995) would have it, seems imminent. However activists and concerned scholars around the world have begun to look askance at the phenomenon of globalization as it reveals profound asymmetries between centre and periphery. In Third World countries like India, governments are increasingly seen as agents not of change but of neocolonialism, functioning as the vassals of vested interests (read the business elite), and workingagainst the interests of vast numbers of the marginalized groups. In the words of eminent Indian



review 70 2002

(134-137) (i) 2002 Feminist Review. 0141-7789/02 $15

newspaper columnist, George, writing in that doughty old national newspaper, the Indian £xpress, 'We have ministers and bureaucrats and scientists ready to sell the country for 30 pieces of silver (negotiable). India's worst enemies are Indians with power' (2001: 10). Withthe collapse of the controls of the Nehruvianera, and the liberalization of the Indian economy, the privatization of the public sphere as well as of the entire state seems imminent. While much of the urban elite welcome this transfer of power from public to private hands, the voices of a few concerned citizens have started being heard. As writer/activist Arundhati Roy elucidates, in a country like India, 70% of the population lives in rural areas. That is 700 million people. Their lives depend directly on access to natural resources. To snatch these away and sell them as stock to private companies is a process of barbaric dispossession that has no parallel in history (Roy, 2000). However, the fallout of globalization in India does not stop with power production by MNCslike Enron. Chemical giants like the American MNC,Monsanto, have marched into the country to stake their claims, using genetic engineering and patents, even on life forms. This move has been stringently opposed by activist groups like the Karnataka Rajya Raita Sangha (KRRS),a militant farmers' association in the southern state of Karnataka. KRRShad first come into the limelight in 1995 with their protests against transnational food chains like Kentucky Fried Chicken, which had just opened the first of its planned 30 outlets in the country in the southern metropolis of Bangalore. The activists argued that the large-scale livestock farming necessary to feed the fast food industry would lead to similar problems as those faced in the West, including soil erosion of already degraded lands as well as the rise in cancer effected through overindulgence in junk food, among other things. On 28 November 1998, KRRS, led by its fiery leader, Professor Nanjundaswamy, embarked on Operation 'Cremation Monsanto', a campaign of civil disobedience which has over the last three years been spreading to farmers in neighbouring states as well. This entails the uprooting and burning of genetically modified cotton plants being grown under the aegis of the American chemical giant, Monsanto, in experimental farms all over the state. The farmers stated in their defence that terminator technology was being tried on unsuspecting Third World farmers by the multinational seed company, and claimed that they could not respect a government that was colluding with these interests. Ecofeminist and physicist-environmentalist Dr. Vandana Shiva puts it succinctly in her recent book, Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply: Whatwe are seeing today is the emergence of food totaliturianism, in which a handful of corporationscontrol the entire food chain and destroy alternatives. Thenotion of rights has been turned on its head underglobalisation and free trade. The right to food, the right to sufety, the right to culture, are all being treated as trade barriers that need to be dismantled (Shiva 2000; 17-18).

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Morethan a decade ago, Shiva started a movement known as 'Navdanya' or 'Nine Seeds,' wherein the farmers involved started shifting to organic agriculture and now it has expanded to thousands of villages in which farmers have basically created what they call 'FreedomZones' free of chemicals, free of corporate inputs, free of hybrid seeds, and free of genetically engineered crops. Following this process, which had been set in motion long before globalization grew into the behemoth it now is, India today is at the forefront of a mass movement of resistance against globalization. Be it in mega-dam projects like the Narmada Dam in northern India, or power projects like Enronin Maharashtra, in western India, or genetically modified crops via Monsanto in the southern states, the common people have begun to mobilize en masse against what they perceive as the downside of globalization. In northern and central India, for more than a decade, the people's movement of civil disobedience called the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA)has made great strides in raising the awareness of the country regarding the marginalization of thousands of indigenous people through the construction of a dam that they claim will ultimately benefit only the urban elite while rendering vast numbers of marginalized groups landless and destitute. This movement of resistance against globalization has evoked international attention, winning the NBAthe alternative Nobel award not too long ago for its non-violent struggle against the hegemony of government totalitarianism funded by the WorldBank. The cause of the activists has been furthered through the involvement of eminent writers such as Arundhati Roy. Unlike the situation in the First World, here even mainstream publications such as Outlook magazine have made their lead stories major articles against globalization penned by Roy. The fact that she has been vilified by the government as a Westernized 'anti-national' writer is beside the point. At least she has been permitted to represent in print the interests of the otherwise marginalized indigenous people who have managed to eke out a living for the past so many centuries on the banks of a river that is now threatened by the vested interests of elite groups. Can one imagine a similar situation, with Time magazine or Newsweekpermitting a leading activist to pen their cover story? But if there is no space for dissent, how can the public sphere be truly democratic and function as the forum of the people? As Roy (2000) puts it 'the only thing in the world worth globalizing is dissent'. Another noteworthy point is that many of the well-known activists against globalization in India have been women. FromVandana Shiva to Medha Patkar and Arundhati Roy, they have all catapulted Indian women to the forefront of the movement against globalization. But this cannot be dismissed as a mere result of the modernization of the country, for one of the earliest mass movements against environmental degradation in the Himalayas, the 'Chipko'movement, was started by illiterate village women who embraced the trees to prevent people from felling them. Indeed, since its birth over two decades ago, Chipko has grown into a






anti-globalizationmovementin SouthAsia






and has spread to

other parts of the country as well, signs of the growing militancy amongst rural women. American activist


in the Sierra Nevada, Julia Butterfly Hill's giant

redwood project 'Luna' can in this sense be seen to have a worthy forerunner in the dedicated

village women of the Himalayas. Feminist activists


of women in all these struggles

with sustainable

living and development

and scholars see the

as the direct connection

of women

and a definite stand against the iniquities

of a patriarchal world order.

author biography The author is a doctoral candidate

in the Media Studies Program at the University

of Colorado's School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

She has worked as a

broadcast journalist and writer in India, prior to her arrival in the US, focusing on the struggles of women and indigenous peoples in the postcolonial


She is currently working as an instructor

in the Dept of Ethnic Studies at the

University of Colorado, where she teaches

a course in Asian-American


references Barber,B. (1995) Jihad vs McWorld,New york:Times Books. George,T.J.S. (2001) 'Opinion'The Indian £xpress, June 23, p. 10. Roy, A. (2000) 'The reincarnationof rumpelstilskin,'Outlookmagazine, November27. Shiva, V. (2000) Stolen Harvest:TheHijackingof the GlobalFoodSupply,Cambridge,FlA:South £nd Press.

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