Nandigram a little known corner of Bengal, near the mouth of the Ganges river suddenly entered the nations consciousness in early 2007.
The fertile land of Nandigram had been identified as a Special Economic Zone (Zone) for a chemical hub to be run by the Salim Group. The Salim group is named after its founder Liem Sior Liong, alias Sordono Salim. In 1965, when Suharto overthrew Saekarno, Salim emerged as a crony who helped build Suharto’s $16 billion assets. In the 1980′s and 1990′s during Indonesia’s oil boom, Salim set up the Bank of Central Asia. He set up noodle, flour and bread businesses. He set up Indomobil Sukses Interantional to make cars, Indo cement Tunggal Prakasa to make cement. Altogether he held 500 companies in Indonesia. This is the group that was trying to grab the land of farmers in Nandigram.
Nandigram was chosen because it is next to Haldia, a major port. SEZ’s are tax free zones, where no law of the land applies – no environmental law, no labour law, no Panchayati Raj law for local governance. SEZ’s were created in 2006 through the SEZ Act of 2005, which allowed the government to appropriate farmers land and hand it over to corporations.
But the small and landless peasants of Nandigram stood up in revolt. They formed the Bhoomi Uched Pratirodh Samiti (the Movement against land grab) and refused to give up their land. In January, 2007 the first violence against the movement took place. On March 14th, 17 people were killed. On 29th April, another five lost their lives.
I was in Nandigram on 28th and 29th of April to pay homage to the martyr’s of Nandigram and to work with the farmers to give them Navdanya seeds for setting up seed banks and starting organic farming. The farmers of Nandigram had succeeded in driving out Salim’s chemical hub. I felt it was appropriate that we work together to make Nandigram a chemical free organic zone and the local communities were willing. All day we sat together and made plans while shootouts and bombing was taking place a few miles away. And during my visit to Nandigram I witnessed the practise of Earth Democracy in its most sophisticated form.
Nandigram’s Living Economy
Nandigram is rich in soil, water and biodiversity, the real capital of communities. Each village has its ponds, making for water sovereignty. Each farm is a multi functional production unit, producing “paan”, coconut, rice, bananas, papaya, drumstick and the richest diversity of vegetables I have seen or tasted. In fact, during our meeting, the village square blossomed into a farmers market – with farmers selling four kinds of potatoes, eight kinds of bananas, gur (sugar) made from date palm and Palmyra palm.
Farmers markets like the one in Nandigram need no oil, no Walmart, no Reliance, no middlemen. Farmers are traders, sellers and the buyers. The market is self organised. The community organizes itself for trade. There is no Government license raj, no corporate control. This is the real free market, the real economic democracy.
The rich biodiversity of Nandigram supports a rich productivity. In conventional measurement, based on monocultures, industrial agriculture is presented as being more productive because inputs are not counted, nor is the destruction of biodiverse outputs and the soil, water and air. In a biodiversity assessment, the biodiversity dense small farms of Nandigram are much more productive than the most chemical and energy intensive industrial farms.
The lunch the community cooked for us was the most delicious food we have eaten – greens from the fields, dum-aloo made from indigenous potatoes, brinjal that melted in the mouth – and of course for the fish eaters the inevitable fish curry of Bengali cuisine. All other meals we had in Calcutta or on the way to Nandigram in fancy restaurants were costly but inedible.
Nandigram has a food richness that big cities have lost. These are not impoverished, destitute communities but proud and self-reliant communities. In fact their self reliance was the ground of their resistance.
Nandigram is a post oil economy. Cycles, and cycle rickshaws are the main mode of transport. That is why when the Government unleashed violence against the people of Nandigram, they dug up the roads so no police or Government vehicle could enter. Their freedom from oil allowed them to defend their land freedom. Their living economy allwed them to have a living democracy. This is the practice of living economy, of Gandhi’s “Swadesh”.
The living democracy in Nandigram allowed the communities to resist. Many farmers used to be members of CPM but in their resistance to land they transcended party lives. The Land Sovereignty Movement in Nandgram is totally self organised. There has been an attempt to present the land conflict a party conflict.
However, it is a conflict between global capital and local peasants, and the peasants have got organised because defending land is not a new issue in Nandigram. Peasants of the region participated in the revolt against East Inida Company in 1857. Nandigram is a celebration of 150 years of India’s first movement of independence from corporate rule with a new movement for freedom from corporate control. Nandigram was also the site of the Tebhaga Movement for Land Rights after the Great Bengal Famine. One can only enter Nandigram as a guest of the community – with their consent and their clearance. There is a high level of self-organisation, with women and children, old and young all involved in keeping watch for unwanted outsiders. Real democracy and living democracy, Gandhi’s “Swaraj”, is the capacity of self-organise.
The real strength of the people of Nandigram is their living culture – an agrarian culture, the culture of the land. This culture is common to the Hindus and the Muslims. Nandigram is strong because these community has not been divided by communal forces and the forces of religious fundamentalism. Hindus and Muslims practise their diverse faiths, but are part of one community. Even in the struggle against the SEZ and Salim, they have fought as one. Their identity with the land, their earth identity binds them together.
I have come away from Nandigram humbled and inspired. These are the elements of Earth Democracy we need to defend and protect from the violence and greed of corporate globalisation.