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The Irreversible Damage A Liberalised Economy Has Done To Indian Farmers

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By Nilanshu Kumar

India is the seventh largest, and one of the fastest growing economies in the world and the government policy think tank ‘Niti Aayog’ which has replaced the planning commission, has recently predicted that our growth rate could touch the coveted double-digit mark in the coming years.

In the last decade, when most of the countries were facing acute economic crises, India was among the few countries which boasted of robust economic growth. Currently, our economy is growing by a decent 7.6% when measured in terms of nominal GDP. We are also the third largest economy when measured in terms of purchasing power parity.

The Indian economy took a turn for the better after policies to liberalise the economy were implemented after 1991. In the last two-three years, the service sector in India has contributed as much as 57% to the GDP and is growing by 9% per annum. Our service sector is also one of the fastest growing in the world.

But if we were to look at the grassroots level, certain data won’t corroborate with the above-mentioned success story. We might chant about our growth rates on a daily basis, but we forget to talk about certain problems that have been plaguing our country for a really long time. We often say that the period before liberalisation (mainly, the 1980s), was the darkest period in the post independent Indian economy but the most crucial sector of the economy was performing much better in the period before liberalisation.

During the early twentieth century, the average per capita absorption of foodgrains was around 200 kg/year, but as we moved towards the 1950s, the figure came down to 144.1 kg/year. After the independence, when Nehru’s policies promised to protect our peasants, farmers and the domestic market from the rest of the world; the absorption of food grains on a per capita basis increased to 171 kg/year in 1961. The figures, however, turned stagnant after liberalisation and as of 2007 has come down to around 160 kg/year.

It is said that when we become better off economically, we start to consume less. By that logic, because our consumption has decreased, it would mean that we’ve developed or are in a better condition than before. We can debunk that logic with this statement – the USA has a per capita food absorption of 900 kg/year. The only conclusion that can be drawn is the fact that, even in the age of high economic growth, India has failed miserably in meeting the basic needs of many of its citizens.

For many people around the world, edible food is still a luxury. According to a UN report, there are 800 million hungry people around the world, and 90% of them are in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. In Asia, the largest number of undernourished people are in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

According to a survey conducted by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), India has topped the world hunger list with 194 million Indians either undernourished or malnourished.

Food security depends on adequate production, equitable distribution and clean fuel for its preparation. Foodgrains are produced in several regions in our country. If we were to look at the production of cereals, 20% of the world’s rice is produced in India. Right before the economy was liberalised (between 1980 and 1990), rice production in India had increased by 39%. If economic prosperity meant that conditions would get better, rice production fell between 2007 and 2010, a time when India’s economic conditions were better than they had even been since independence.

60% of the Indian population is employed in the agricultural sector, and even then it adds up to only 20% to the GDP. One of the sharpest drops in agricultural production in independent India was seen in 2003 when production fell by 12.6%. In 1991 (the period just after liberalisation), agricultural growth was 4.69% which came down to 2.6% in 1997-1998 and later to 1.1% in 2002-03. And the biggest contrast is that Indian economic growth in that period was 6%.

Farmers have been deeply distressed after the economy was liberalised. Seeds work as capital for farmers. Before liberalisation, the state would provide the farmers with seeds and the market was also maintained and well regulated. But with liberalisation, India’s seeds market was thrown open to global agribusiness. As a result, prices of seeds shot up and farmers were hit. From the 1950s to the late 80s, the state shielded our farmers from market forces. They provided the farmers (big and small), with subsidies, assurance of a remunerative price, invested in the development of rural infrastructure including irrigation, reservation policies in the handloom sector, etc.

In a neo-liberalised economy, we have linked our economy to the world and welcomed global financial flows. This has significantly altered the nature and functioning of the state. The state now has to cater to global economic interests; our domestic capital has also become an integral part of the process wherein we continuously cater to the needs, interests and demands of global capital. Farmers somehow seem not to have found a place on the Indian government’s priority list when it comes to economic development.

Capitalists can increase their market either by ‘accumulation through expansion’, where capitalists add their savings to enhance its capital or by ‘accumulation through encroachment’, where they exploit petty producers. Today, capitalists operate in the second mode and take over the state’s property, a process we can otherwise call, privatisation (accumulation by the capitalist at the expense of the state).

The market forces have been cruel to those in the agricultural sector; small producers have been migrating from agriculture to the informal sector.

Growth can’t be the only factor that determines the well-being of the people; we should also look at other facets of development. China is an example we can use to draw parallels. When land reforms were underway, the state supported farmers who had small land holdings. In China, a large number of farmers have small land holdings, and it’s one of the major producers and exporters of cereals and food grains in the world. Between 2000 and 2009, India’s agricultural sector grew at 2.9% while China’s grew at 4.6%. The productivity of China’s agricultural sector is higher than the average rate of agricultural productivity in the world.

China channelled a major chunk of its resources to reduce poverty levels. In 2005, China brought the levels of poverty down to 15.9% that was an 84% in 1981.

In India, levels of poverty were at 59.8% in 1981 that was brought down to 41.6% in 2005. In 24 years, China reduced the poverty levels by 69% while India managed to bring it down by only 18%. Growth rates alone can’t define if a country is prosperous or not. It is essential that India realigns its priorities and focuses on the kind of development that is inclusive in nature.


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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.

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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.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

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.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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