Bija Yatra – From Champaram To Rajghat : A Pilgrimage To Save Seeds, The Land And Our Farmers

Champaran, a little village near the Nepal Border in the State of Bihar became the site of Gandhi’s historic Champaran Satyagraha during India’s freedom struggle. During British rule farmers of Bihar and Bengal were forced to grow indigo, the source of blue dye, for the textile industry in England. They were prevented from growing food for themselves. Poverty and hunger increased in the areas of the indigo plantations.


Indigo trade became a rich source of high profits for the East India Company in India. However, its cultivation was too limited to meet the growing needs of the British textile industry. Retired officers of the East India Company, and young upstarts, who had previously been slave drivers in America, therefore, decided to acquire lands from native zamindars in Bihar and Bengal and extend the cultivation of this crop on a large-scale as a plantation industry. Tenants were forced to grow indigo under a system of great oppression.


The opposition from the cultivators to this serfdom was so great that the Governor-General in Council was forced to issue a circular as early as July 13, 1810 stating :


‘The attention of the Government has recently been attracted, in a particular manner to abuses and oppressions committed by Europeans, who are established as indigo planters in various parts of the country. The facts however, which have recently been established against some individuals of that class before the magistrate and the Supreme Court of Judicature, are of so flagrant a nature that the Governor-General in Council considers it an act of indispensable duty to adopt such measures as appear to him, under existing circumstances, best calculated to prevent the repetition of offences equally injurious to the English character, and to the peace and happiness of our native subjects.’


The circular charged the planters with these grave offences :


  1. Acts of violence, which, although they amount not in the legal sense of the word to murder, have occasioned the death of the natives.
  2. Illegal detention of natives in confinement, especially in stocks, with a view to recovery of balances alleged to be due from them or for other causes
  3. Assembling in a tumultuary manner the people attached to their respective factories and others and engaging in violent affrays with other indigo planters.
  4. Illicit inflictions of punishment by means of rattan or otherwise on the cultivators of other natives.


‘Let there be profit or let there be loss. I will die sooner than cultivate Indigo. No, I won’t cultivate indigo for any one on any account.’ – Dinu Mandal of Mozumpore, Factory Dalalnagar, Thana Damuhuda to the Indigo Commission (1860)


After the Indigo strike of Bengal in 1860, the planters moved to Bihar. In 1917, Gandhi launched the Champaran Satyagraha – a refusal to plant indigo.


On 26th of March, 2008 farmers from across India started a Bija Yatra (Seed Pilgrimage) from Gandhi’s Ashram in historic Champaran to save seeds, the land and our small peasants. Navdanya has set up a community seed bank of flood tolerant rices for climate change in Champaran.


Our seeds are under severe threat – from erosion of biodiversity, from patent monopolies that are making seed the property of giant corporations, and from genetic engineering and the use of sterile lives, which are spreading seed sterility and crop failure.


India used to have 200,000 rice varieties. These included flood resistant rices that survived months of flooding in the Ganges Basin, salt tolerant rices which could survive the salinity of coastal water, drought tolerant rices which could grow without irrigation. Today a handful of Green Revolution varieties dominate. Navdanya has rescued and conserved 3000 rice varieties in 8 community seed banks.


India used to have more than 1500 cotton varieties. Today hybrids and genetically engineered Bt. Cotton dominate. These non-renewable costly seeds are destroying biodiversity and trapping farmers in debt and pushing them to suicide.


An agriculture driven by corporations is destroying biodiversity and uprooting small peasants. Corporate driven agriculture is turning farmers into consumers of costly non-renewable seeds, agrichemicals and machinery, for which farmers have to borrow money. Because corporate agriculture is also driving down the prices farmers receive, farmers get into ever deeper debt and finally commit suicide or leave the land and become migrant labour in big cities like Calcutta, Delhi and Mumbai.


Farmers suicide and the migration of uprooted farmers is the biggest crisis on the economic and political front that India faces. The agrarian crisis is an unnecessary tragedy, resulting directly from an economics of greed and a politics driven by the economies of greed.


Our seed pilgrimage is a journey for hope and justice, for peace and democracy. We will travel through the poorest parts of IndiaBihar, Jharkhand, East U.P, Bundelkhand, Rajasthan. Our pilgrimage begins in Champaran because we believe that the agrarian crisis in India’s peasants are experiencing is similar to the crisis faced by indigo farmers a century ago. Today’s corporate driven industrial agriculture like indigo plantation is based on turning independent producers into slaves. When farmers can no longer save, exchange, grow the seeds evolved by their ancestors and must buy costly seeds every season from a handful of corporations, they have lost their seed freedom and entered into seed slavery.


When corporations decide what farmers should grow – indigo, cotton, corn or vegetables for export, farmers are no longer free producers, they are slave labour in a system of corporate farming.


Corporations trap farmers in debt by selling false promises of “miracle” seeds and super profits. However, the more the farmers dependent on corporations increases, the more the farmers indebtedness, hunger and poverty increases.


Through the Champaran Satyagraha we broke free of indigo slavery. Through the Champaran to Rajghat pilgrimage we pledge to break free of the seed and food slavery of corporations.


We will save our seeds and share our seeds freely by setting up community seed banks, we will boycott corporate seeds and poisonous chemicals, making our farmers chemical free and GMO free biodiverse organic farms.


We will grow nutritious crops and maximize nutrition per acre not corporate profits per acre.


We will drive away hunger and poverty through low cost high output farming which rejuvenates the fertility of our seeds and soil.

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