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One Of The World’s ‘Most Evil’ Company Just Tied Up With The Maharashtra Govt.

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A farmer attends a day-long protest in New Delhi August 8, 2013. Thousands of farmers from different states of India on Thursday protested against the introduction of the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) bill in parliament by the union government, that would make a foray for genetically modified crops and its proponents like Monsanto, into India's food and farming, a media release said. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi (INDIA - Tags: CIVIL UNREST AGRICULTURE FOOD SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY BUSINESS) - RTX12DTI
Image Credit: Reuters/Adnan Abidi.

The recent controversy around the sedition charges being against the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union President has taken up a lot of space in all media publications and broadcasts. While the issue is gaining momentum with each passing day, it appears to have been used as a tool to divert attention away from other significant developments that took place simultaneously.

The recent agreement between the Maharashtra government and Monsanto, which is interested in setting up a seed hub in Vidarbha region, its biggest in the country, during the Make In India Week is an issue that needs serious attention.

Monsanto is an American multinational agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation that aims to deliver agricultural products that support farmers all around the world. It initially produced food additives, later diversifying into industrial chemicals and now focusses on biotechnology and genetically modified (GM) crops after the major success in 1983.

However, Monsanto has been criticised throughout the world and has become the face of ‘corporate evil’. The company and its genetically modified organisms (GMO) have become the subject of global protests and criticism from environmentalists. Documentaries such as Forks Over Knives and GMO OMG also condemn their activities.

The History Of Monsanto’s ‘Evil Corporate Face’

According to a report by Friends of Earth, around 90% of GM traits used in the world are supported by Monsanto. The company aims at expanding its base and penetrating new markets which could possibly make developing countries more susceptible to environmental, economic and social problems.

In its attempt to promote the shift from conventional to GM seeds, it is believed that Monsanto, instead of benefitting the farmers, deprives them of their basic choice and availability of alternatives to what it (Monsanto) has prioritised.

The Friends of Earth report also points out that Monsanto has been severely criticised for its assault on regulatory and policy regimes. The report suggests that the corporation has resorted to bribery to create a foothold in the world market. It states that, “an investigation by the US Securities and Exchange Commission revealed that over US$700,000 was paid in bribe to at least 140 current and former Indonesian government officials and their family members between 1997 and 2002, financed through the improper accounting of Monsanto’s pesticides sales in Indonesia.”

The report talks about several other criticisms of the company. In most countries, Monsanto has had the tendency of spreading contamination first and then legalising it. In India in 2002, contamination in the commercially released of Bt (bacillus thuringiensis) cotton was detected. The commercial release had taken place without authorisation and was approved after a few months. They have also been accused of “unethical and irresponsible” advertising to gain the confidence of farmers. In India, products were marketed through local newspapers, television advertisements etc. and were endorsed by famous actors such as Nana Patekar, who was the brand ambassador of Monsanto. This, according to the report, has been criticised as a form of “aggressive advertisement” by the National Commission of Indian Farmers.

The tough collection regime for royalties of GM products challenges the farmers’ right of seed saving as the royalty is collected in the form of ‘technology fee’ paid at the time when the seed is purchased. Farmers are made to sign an agreement which states that they can’t save any GM seed from their harvest for replanting.

Profound environmental impact has also been reported in countries like Argentina where an increase in soy production led to a decline in soil fertility and soil erosion. It has been predicted that the soil will become infertile in fifty years if this were to continue.

Does The History Of Monsanto In India Suggest That The Recent Deal Can Be Dangerous?

In a country like India, known to be primarily an agricultural economy, with a large number of farmers who are largely poor and uneducated, the entry of Monsanto changed the business market for cotton farmers in India. Contrary to the rosy promises made my Monsanto in the beginning, the consequences have been outrageous. The farmers have suffered a lot since the expensive seeds did not reap great harvests and led to indebtedness.

Vandana Shiva, an environmental activist and eco-feminist, explains how companies like Monsanto have turned farmers’ self-reliance regarding seeds into a dependency on purchasing seeds. Initially, the farmers are lured by the scientific advice of ‘seed replacement’ given by Monsanto who are even paid for giving up their seeds. However, the farmers ultimately fall into the trap of depending only on the seeds offered by Monsanto since there are no other alternatives since all other farmers in the neighbourhood are trapped in the same situation as well.

Apart from these, use of chemical pesticides, which weren’t required earlier, is also a problem now. Moreover, unfair U.S. subsidies for American cotton farmers further affect global prices. Local money lenders often cheat farmers for their own profit and free-market policies affect the cost of production regularly because of volatile global prices.

Impact Of the Recent Deal At The ‘Make In India’ Week

Having observed the historical impacts of Monsanto in India, the recent deal seems a threat to the future of farmers and the country. Large corporate interests may lead to the patenting, genetic engineering and mass marketing of all essential products in our country. The exercise of influence by Monsanto and other biotechnical companies has been so immense that they lead to the ushering in of poorly tested and potentially hazardous products through weak approval processes.

The issue of the loss of traditional methods of farming is of concern since most Indian farmers are poor and uneducated. Initially, there were incidents of farmers being unaware of the extra water requirement of GM seeds, which was much higher than that for traditional seeds. It devastated their harvest. Such issues need to be addressed before expanding the base of GM seeds in India. Moreover, in a country like ours where agriculture still largely depends on rainfall, rather than irrigation, and other traditional methods, the real question is: Are we ready for such a deal or has corporate power influenced our decision so much that, despite the scandalous history, the deal is being made?

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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