KRRS (Karnataka State Farmers' Association)

General context: Indian agriculture and trade liberalisation

The situation of Indian agriculture (and of the whole society) is deteriorating very rapidly due to the globalisation process. The wave of suicides of peasants (since they cannot anymore compete on the market and are covered with debts) has stopped now (it will start again after the next harvest), but the desperation is leading to an escalation of tension and violence in rural areas. In Haryana, 23 peasants were killed by the police in October, and 5 were killed in Karnataka in early November. In the case of Karnataka, these peasants were protesting for the drop in the price of the peanuts that they produce, which took place due to the liberalisation in the import of vegetable oils that can substitute peanut oil (like palm oil). The Agreement on Agriculture of the WTO is at the root of these problems.

These problems are of course also affecting the cities. The liberalisation in the export of onions has led to a major shortage in their supply, which itself led to the rocketing of its prices (which went from 10 to 100 Rupees per kilo in a matter of weeks). Onions are one of the most important elements in the diet of Indians, especially poor Indians.

Basis facts

The farmers movement that was to give birth to KRRS in 1980 was initiated by 5 people in 1965. They see the movement as part of a very long process of construction of a new society, which must be driven by people at the local level but must reach the global level, and which cannot take place without the active and direct involvement of society as a whole.

There is no central register of KRRS members (it would be impossible to maintain, unless a huge bureaucracy would be set up). However, according to the information coming from the village units, the membership of KRRS is now estimated to be around 10 million people. Karnataka has around 50 million inhabitants in total, out of which around 10 million live in Bangalore and other big cities (Mysore, Hubli, etc) where KRRS is not active.

Organisational philosophy and political structures

The KRRS is not at all a sectorial movement, its work goes beyond the specific problems of farmers, it is aimed at social change at all levels. Another important element is that the autonomy and freedom of the village should be based on the autonomy and freedom of its individual members.

In terms of coherence and elaboration of its analysis and practice: KRRS is a Gandhian movement. This means that the final objective of its work is the realisation of the 'Village Republic', a form of social, political and economic organisation based on direct democracy, on economic and political autonomy and self-reliance, on the participation of all members of the community in decision-making about the common affairs that affect them, and on the creation of mechanisms of representation that ensure that affairs affecting several communities are decided upon through processes of consultation involving all communities affected by the decisions.

This model is applied to the internal organisation of the movement. The basic unit of organisation is the village unit, the only level where there exists membership (no central registers could be kept for a movement of this size). The village units decide on their own forms of organisation and finances, as well as about their programs and actions.

Above the village level there are several other levels of organisation: the Taluk level, the district level and the state level. The decisions that affect more than a village but not more than a Taluk are taken at Taluk level. The decision-making body for the state level is the State Executive Committee, which consists of 400 delegates from all the districts. (KRRS is present in 17 of the 19 districts that form Karnataka).

Although KRRS is based on the conviction that a real social transformation can only happen from below, they decided to start contesting elections in 1987. They did so after seeing that a number of government policies, which were affecting farmers very negatively, were not being changed in spite of repeated massive civil disobedience. Their presence in the legislature provides them with one more tool to force policy changes. However, the participation in elections is subject to a number of conditions in KRRS. All candidates must pay a deposit in India in order to register their candidature, which they do not receive back unless they win the election; the candidates of KRRS are not allowed to pay this deposit themselves: the deposit must be paid by their local constituencies. This ensures that the decision about whether or not to run for election and who should run for them is controlled by the whole constituency.

Since its beginning, the movement has also aimed towards cultural change. It has always denounced the caste system, promoting its elimination as a necessary step towards social justice in India.

An example of cultural change promoted by the KRRS is the organisation of what it calls 'simple, self-respect weddings' as alternative to the very expensive and extravagant regular weddings (where peasants usually spend a fortune).

The KRRS also has other programmes aimed at challenging patriarchal structures. Women have their own structures, mobilisations and programmes within KRRS, organise women's rallies, present their own demands, etc. The KRRS(both women and men) participated in the mobilisations against the celebration of the Miss Universe ceremony in India. It also has for a long time demanded and mobilised for the creation of women's constituencies so that a minimum percentage of the parliament seats are reserved for women. As a result of this pressure (which was joined by other, smaller organisations), the Panchayets in Karnataka became the first entity of India to create women's constituencies, so that now 33% of seats and offices are reserved to women.

KRRS works under a clear commitment to non-violence (understood as violence against living beings, not against inanimate objects), and promotes the use of non-violent methods (particularly direct action) in order to solve conflicts and overcome problems. This anti-violent stand does not only apply for the protest against governments or companies; it is also generalised to broader areas of conflict, like communal conflict. For example, in the regions where KRRS is strong, the level of violence between different religious groups is much lower than the average.

The KRRS is one of the most important targets of the BJP (the Hindu fundamentalist party which is now running the central government in coalition with 31 other parties), which has unsuccessfully used all kinds of means in its attempt to weaken the movement.

Ecological approaches: alternatives and resistance

The KRRS has always integrated ecological issues in its work in a complete natural way, since the livelihoods that they are defending are a brilliant example of what 'experts' call 'sustainable development'. They have hence taken direct action against eucalyptus plantations.

For KRRS there is no sense in dividing resistance and alternatives, since none of them can take place without the other. Rejecting chemical agriculture and biotechnology necessarily implies promoting traditional agriculture.

One district unit in the South of Karnataka is building up a Global Centre for Sustainable Development, which will include the in-situ conservation and development of traditional varieties of seeds, a centre for traditional technologies, a centre for traditional medicines, a green school, etc.

The fact that traditional technologies and knowledge plays a key role in the alternatives proposed by the KRRS does not mean that they reject new technologies. For instance, the electric fence that will surround the centre for sustainable development (needed given the presence of wild elephants in the area) will be powered by solar energy. The criteria for the acceptance or rejection of technologies in KRRS are not related to their age; they are related to factors such as whether the technology can be directly operated and managed by the people who use it, whether it is labour-intensive or capital-intensive, and other political criteria.

KRRS has been opposing so-called 'Green Revolution technologies' (i.e. chemical- and capital-intensive agriculture) since day one, and now it is mobilising different sectors of society (not just its constituency) against biotechnology.

Very related to agricultural issues, trade liberalisation has also been a basic target of KRRS mobilisations for a long time. The KRRS was the first peoples' movement in India (probably in the world) to organise massive mobilisations against the GATT, with demonstrations of up to half a million people.

The main tools of action of KRRS are civil disobedience and direct action. They have organised a large range of really impressive actions, including an action of civil disobedience where 37.000 people were arrested in a single day. (This action was part of a period of intensive mobilisations on which such mass arrests were provoked by KRRS activists every single day).

An important component of KRRS' work is bringing global issues to the local constituencies, and fighting against global institutions and transnational corporations in Karnataka. They have also done spectacular direct actions, including the occupation by 1000 activists of the Cargill office in Bangalore (they threw all the equipment through the windows and made a big bonfire), the physical dismantlement with iron bars of a seed unit of Cargill that was being constructed in Karnataka, and the occupation of a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet. They are currently preparing a number of direct actions against Monsanto.

They have also created awareness (in Karnataka and beyond) about the impact of global policy-making bodies, tackling issues that are really not easy to bring close to people's lives like the multilateral trading system, the WTO, intellectual property rights on life, etc.

Besides taking global issues to the local level, KRRS is also very actively involved in national networking processes, since it is clear for them that global issues cannot be tackled unless awareness-raising and mobilisation take place beyond the local level. They have played a key role in bringing about national networking processes such as the one that gave birth to the BKU (Indian Farmers Union) or the JAFIP (Joint Action Forum of Indian People against the WTO, which includes movements representing farmers and other social sectors like industrial workers,women's groups, academics, etc.).

International approach

In terms of international networking, they were also a key initiator of the PGA process (Peoples' Global Action against 'Free' Trade and the WTO), and they were the ones to propose the Caravan. They are also one of the main actors within La Via Campesina, a world-wide network of peasant movements. They still are very actively involved in all these processes; for instance, KRRS will host both the Second PGA Conference in April 1999 and the Third International Conference of La Via Campesina in October 1999.

There is now an effort going on to include representatives of other mass-movements besides the peasant movements (tribals, anti-dam, women's, fisherfolk, etc.), provided that they share the kind of analysis reflected in the PGA manifesto.

Participation in the Caravan

The movements that will send representatives to participants in the Caravan are the state-level branches of the BKU (Indian Peasants Union) in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Maharastra, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, and of course Karnataka, where the idea came from and where the largest movement of India (the KRRS, member of BKU) is based. There will be about 170 people participating from Karnataka (selected directly by the district units of the KRRS, plus a special group of people who will be helpful for all the participants, like ten doctors, one dentist, one gynaecologist, etc.) and about 330 from the other states. However, the number of people who want to participate from each of these movements (especially from KRRS) is larger than the quota given, and the number keeps growing and growing. The applications that have been sent in so far are really serious, since the applicants are sending part of the flight costs (5000 Rupees, equivalent to about 120 US$) along with their applications. Most of them are small peasants, and they are getting the money for their flights from a combination of their savings, contributions of other members of their district and the free spaces offered by the airline.

There's more information about KRRS and related subjects:

photo's and information about KRRS actions against Monsanto: http://www.agp.org/agp/en/News/monsanto98/981128firstfield.html

The update from Vandana Shiva about the 'Monsanto, quit India campaign'

MNC Masala: about Indian Economy and multinational corporations (by Corpwatch)