From Bolivia to Cancun to Miami, this fall has seen major protests against corporate globalization across the hemisphere. Today we spend the hour listening to the words of Vandana Shiva. [Includes transcript]
- Vandana Shiva, Indian scientist and activist speaking recently in Northampton, Mass.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, today we’re going to turn to hear the words of Vandana Shiva, the famous Indian scientist and environmentalist, one of the world’s leading critics of corporate globalization and the international financial institutions, such as the World Bank. She is the author of many books, including Water Wars: Pollution, Profits and Privatization. She spoke recently in North Hampton, Massachusetts.
VANDANA SHIVA: Well you know I come from one of the great ex-colonies of the last empire, and the phrase that used to be repeatedly used for the British Empire was, “the sun will never set on the British Empire.” Of course, they meant it metaphorically and in a planetary way. Metaphorically, because they thought they would last forever, and in planetary terms because they controlled 85% of the planet’s territories, so no matter where in the world you were, the sun was shining. But the sun set.
I think history (I’m not very historically literate except when it comes to issues of trampling on our lives, then I do get educated about it), but history does tell us, (even in the little bit about it that people like me know who spent most of their lives training in physics and quantum theory), I have not in any historical record seen a sustainable empire. By the very definition of it the beast is a non-sustainable thing. What is sustainable is self-governance. And there you can find societies having governed themselves for 2,000 years, 5,000 years, 10,000 years. Empires have never lasted more than a few centuries. And the more non-sustainable they become, the more they try to stay in place with escalating violence. Something we’re very familiar with even in human life.
Every time there is the rise of a sense of “I can’t really control the other, I will use brute force.” In fact, the use of brute force is already a sign of defeat because confident systems never have to use force. The ideas are adopted without being forced. A spring doesn’t have to force itself on any of us to quench our thirst. We go to the spring, but Coke has to force itself on us.
And force, of course, can come in extremely overt ways and extremely covert ways. Advertising, in my view, is the subtle forms of forcing. So are trade treaties. Trade is ancient. In fact, colonialism, the creation of empires in modern times is rooted in chasing tiny pepper, the little black pepper. Because the meat used to rot and it used to be terrible and they needed a little flavoring to it, and in Europe they had to exchange a sack of pepper with a sack of gold. And at a certain point, countries in Europe thought it would be better to control the trade in pepper, which became the basis of all of colonialism. It became even the basis of the conquest of this part of the world with Columbus landing here and he thought he landed in India and called the Native Americans “Indians” forever after. But they were really coming to India to control the pepper. And pepper trade is as ancient as historical records go. So is the growing of pepper.
I worked in pepper gardens. I worked in the western parts where the pepper plantations are. This is what — one of the most sustainable ecological systems of the world. Every farmer — no farmer there has more than two to three to four acres of land. It’s all small farms. And at least nine-tenths of the land will be under food. One-tenth will be under the spices. And the spice gardens are about the most efficient use of ecological resources, five or six levels of plantings. The palm trees, the (?) nuts, pepper vines climbing along it, below it, the cardamom, the banana–very, very sophisticated system. From that system, I learned three or four things about non-violent trade. First, that you do not destroy your life for trade. You look after yourself first. And what’s amazing about these areas is you can go to the tiniest of villages, and every woman in the community will have an MSC in chemistry or a BA in psychology. Totally contrary to the image of the world, a peasant economy means denying themselves other alternatives whether it’s in terms of education, technology, et cetera. So, the first is, it’s food first, even if it was export of some of the most important and most precious item, it was still a food force first policy.
The second was that if what you have for someone else is really good, you can sell it without any form of brute force backing it up. And that’s why trade 'til the beginning of colonialism was by mutual agreement. The word “free trade” in fact is, the word — is an Orwellian word for trade that starts becoming unfree. It's no more exchange between free engagement between partners to say, I like what you have, I’ll give this to you, you give this to me now. It’s now forced trade. Free trade is literally forced trade. It’s unjust trade. It’s unfair trade. And it didn’t begin with the GATT, and the Uruguay Round, it didn’t begin with the WTO.
In 1711, coming back to the last empire, they started to set up trading posts, and in India, we have a world view, that someone coming to your home is divinity. So, you have to treat a guest as if the divine themselves is entering. You give whatever they ask for. So, when the traders came, we treated them like guests. We said, sure, you want this, you want a piece of land. Sure, you can set up a trading post. You want this, you can have that. After a while they realized, no, this is not enough and they had to have wars because so-called free trade must always go hand in hand with wars. The gunboat went hand in hand with expansion of the empire in the last round.
When you go into someone else’s home and someone else’s territories, they’re usually better than you at doing what has to be done, whether it’s farming or making textiles or growing food or making crafts, whatever it is. The people of the place are the experts, and by and large, you wouldn’t — not think of trying to compete with them. But if you do want to compete with them, you have to create new rules to destroy their production. And those new rules are the rules that came to be known as the free trade rules.
So when the East India Company, having come — East India Company by the way is the first corporation, 1600. That’s when the group of people — they used to be called merchant adventurers, and the merchant adventurers used to hire pirates. In those days, the pirates still had little black things over the eyes. The merchant adventurers realized that, you know, when you deal as individuals, the risks and the loot are both yours. And they created this brilliant invention of the corporation, which makes the profits yours and the liabilities, someone else’s. It was basically a way of never losing for those who controlled the corporation. And the East India Company after a while realized that during ordinary trade, they were never going to be better at producing textiles, selling textiles, et cetera, so the first thing they did was have a war.
The famous Battle of Plassey, and as usual they bribed their way through, they bribed the commander. This was in the eastern area in Bengal. And after the Battle of Plassey, they then came into Delhi and bribed the declining Mogul Empire. By then the Mogul Empire was quite dead, but whatever remained of it was — an emperor called Faruk Shi and they bribed his court 500 rupees which in today’s value is $10 to get the first free trade agreement of the world, I would imagine. And it’s written in Persian. I have a copy lying in my home and it says, “The free trade agreement between the right honorable East India Company and I guess by tacit definition, the not-so-honorable Faruk Shi, and it’s called the Faruk Shi (farmon). And basically, if you read the details of it, it’s exactly what the trade treaties of today are. The trade treaties of today have this phrase called “national treatment”, which basically says any foreign company will be treated in the same way as a national citizen. Except that when you are a giant corporation, and citizens are citizens, what you are really talking about is not national treatment to companies, you are talking about anti-national treatment to domestics — the public. Taking away their rights to produce, to be employed, to have jobs, to have security of land, security of homes, security of education, security of water, security of ecological sustainability, security of culture, everything else. That is what must get sacrificed in order to create this clause of national treatment. That’s exactly what happened with the Faruk Shi (farmon). The East India Company traders got the rights to have military protection, they got the right to be the only ones who would trade outside the country. The domestic traders had to deal with militarized trade on the one hand, and a blockage of having any rights beyond the country. They had unequal taxation–local traders had to pay taxes, East India Company didn’t have to pay taxes.
Exactly similar stuff as goes on in the current free trade agreements. But there were other similarities to that empire and the new empire. For example, the fact that the inevitable consequence of an empire at that time was what we experienced in 1942, that in a land where there had never been problems of food scarcity. Bengal, if any of you know, is richly endowed, it’s built on the alluvials of centuries of deposits from the Ganges and the Brahma Putra and it gets abundant rain. There should never be food scarcity. Biologically there’s never been food scarcity but politically and economically in 1942, 2 million people died of starvation. And we put it all behind, that movement — that famine it’s called the Great Bengal Famine led–fueled even more deeply the existing independence movement.
And 1942 was the year we started what was called, Ghandi started the Quit India Movement, basically told the British, it’s time for you to quit India — we’ll govern ourselves. And we put in place all kinds of policies and laws that prevented those famines happening in independent India. Showing very clearly that famine is very much a political outcome. Ahmad Gisen got a Nobel Prize for reminding us that starvation and famine is not about lack of food but lack of entitlements. And among the policies put in place was undoing the land monopolies that the British had created through the Zamidari System, the landlordism system where a handful of people would own the land, collect rent from the original cultivators, who were owners not in private property, but had rights to till and were owner/cultivators in the language that we have used in India. The Zamidari was abolished, the land was redistributed. Food was made a priority, not cash crops. Not the growing of indigo for coloring and cotton for exports. And besides this, the government made a commitment that rural areas would have security of livelihood. That was insured by two things. First of all, insuring that all farms would be small farms. You couldn’t have large farm. My own family lost all their land, very happily. But in India, by law, 'til the globalization policies, you could not own more than 17 acres of irrigated land and 35 acres of unirrigated land. Of course, there will always be a tiny percentage who will buy land in the name of a cat or a dog or something. But every society has that. But by and large, they're honest people, and this policy was called land sealing. It basically meant we became a society of small farmers, and we became a food secure society. And a livelihood secure society. The second insurance was the government intervened to insure that traders could not rip off the producers, and there was price regulation that no trader could buy below the cost of production. Now, these are precisely the things that globalization has targeted. And too, the land reforms, because land must be made tradable, but not only must land be made tradable. Biodiversity seeds, genetic resources, they must be made tradable, but to make them tradable, you have to first monopolize them. That’s why you get in the GATT, the Trade Related Intellectual Properties Rights agreement. The interesting thing about the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights agreement is it is literally an imposition on the word on monopolies over life itself, creating property in life itself. It has an article 27.53b. And that article is literally the reason for what I do. When I read the article way back in the late ’80’s, it is they want to patent life. They wanted to treat life as an invention. And I at once started — went home and started to save seeds. Everything in terms of the work and the institutions that I have formed since then has emerged from that particular article. Of that — that article has a review built into it–a review that should have been done by the year 2000. And every country has put in demands for the review. The African countries, interestingly, in these matters, have been the most progressive. Even until two months ago, they had put in a brilliant submission, a submission that said that there should be no patents on life, because life is not an invention, and this other crazy epidemic that spread as a result of the intellectual property laws of WTO, the piracy of third world knowledge, of traditional knowledge, that should stop.
We have had to fight the patenting of neem, an amazing tree that we’ve used for medicine and agriculture that was patented by the United States Department of Agriculture and W.R. Grace. And Grace was famous for the case around Massachusetts for putting toxic pollutants into the ground water.
AMY GOODMAN: Environmentalist Vandana Shiva speaking in North Hampton Massachusetts. We’ll come back to her address in a moment.
AMY GOODMAN: Nina Simon singing, “I Think it’s Going to Rain Today” here on Democracy Now!, democracynow.org The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman as we return to environmentalist Vandana Shiva.
VANDANA SHIVA: There was another case that we had to fight for four years and -neem we fought ten years and won that case. Basmati we fought four years. Basmati is a lovely, aromatic rice. And the original, authentic Basmati comes from the Hirodoun. So if you go to an Indian or Pakistani store, you’ll find sacks which will say the Hirodouni Basmati, but it really won’t be the Hirodouni Basmati because we can only grow Basmati within an area of two miles by two miles. The soil that gives the aroma is just that much. You plant beyond that two miles, you won’t have the aroma. Your grain will still be beautiful and it will double in length, et cetera, but a company called RiceTec in Texas, suddenly in 1997, I think it was, declared it had invented the aroma of the rice, the height of the plant, the quality of its cooking and even the methods of its cooking. So, of course, we start the campaign, we started to sue, we started to do cases. And when the Iraq war started, I said it’s just like our soil in the Hirodoun gives the basmati its aroma, you know it allows it to sort of express itself, there must be something about the soil of Texas that lets RiceTec believe that basmati is ours and lets others believe that oil in Iraq is ours. So what if they happen to be in other countries? So maybe we should deal with the soil of Texas.
And more recently, just about three weeks ago, we started another campaign because while Monsanto is trying to force US farmers and Canadian farmers to accept genetically engineered wheat which no farmer wants to grow because they know no one will want to buy it. It’s an absolute suicidal step. While genetically engineered wheat is being promoted by Monsanto here, Monsanto has taken a patent on an ancient traditional wheat variety of India that has extremely low gluten content, and very good cooking qualities. So, we have started to have to deal with Monsanto’s biopiracy. Which meant once you remove all boundaries of what can be treated, what can be owned privately and what could be treated as an invention then other people’s knowledge is your invention — other people’s property is your property, the commons can become your property and it’s endless.
Every southern country has insisted that this piracy of traditional knowledge must stop, and WTO must put in place laws that prevent it from happening. At this point, the laws actually promote it happening. The third issue of course, is the issue of monopolies, that an intellectual property is by definition a monopoly. It is an exclusive right to make produce, buy, sell, distribute. Being an exclusive right, when this right is expanded to vital things like seed and food and medicine, it basically is allowing the pharmaceutical industry, which is the same as the seed industry, which is the same as the biotech industry, which is the same as the chemical industry, they are no different, they are the same. They are five big giants now. For them, having a patent on a medicine means that you can prevent anyone else from making that medicine. Having a patent on seed means that you can prevent farmers from saving seeds in their own farms, from their own crops. A farmer saving seed is now defined as piracy. A farmer exchanging seed with a neighbor is defined as piracy. And if Monsanto’s GM seeds contaminate your crop, you are still defined as a pirate, because the genes are Monsanto’s property. And I’m not cooking this up, this happened to (inaudible) a Canadian farmer.
When the last ministerial meeting of the WTO happened, in Doha. You remember Seattle, no one can forget Seattle. Well, they ran away, they got so scared of the public here, they ran away to Doha, to the desert, and the Doha Declaration was literally a decision made under military threat. It was two months after 9-11, and every country was told, if you don’t fall in line on trade, you are on the side of the terrorists. It was still that language of if you are not with us, you’re against us. And so, if on trade, you wanted to defend your interests in agriculture and medicine, et cetera, you are our enemy. But in spite of everything, in the Doha Declaration, because these issues were so ripe, there was reference to the need for revising, reviewing, radically changing the agreement on intellectual property in the case of genetic resources, biodiversity , traditional knowledge. So, the discussion was first reduced to pharmaceuticals, then it was reduced to what would count as a public health hazard, and now they have made this pretended agreement, but if you read the details of the so-called agreement on public health and TRIPS, it’s basically saying if a country — a poor country in the south is having an epidemic and millions are dying, they must apply to WTO, WTO will then ask the pharmaceutical industry, which has patents if it’s all right to give that country permission to import cheaper drugs from another country under a compulsory license. The third country will have to create a new facility under different packing and different colors and different looking tablets so that cheap medicine doesn’t come to you, and it only goes to Africa or wherever, because your medicine issue is also a big issue here. Costly medicine is not just an issue for poor African countries. My sister is a doctor, she has just been filing a case in the India Supreme Court on the rising costs of drugs in India. It’s an issue in India, which has huge pharmaceutical capacity because we changed our patent laws in 1970. We got rid of the imperial laws. The imperial laws prevented us from making medicine. We had a ten-year debate, we wrote new laws, and in 1970 Patent Act was treated as the model law for the world. That model law said there can be no patents in agriculture because agriculture is too critical to human survival, so you can’t have monopolies in agriculture. And in health, you cannot have a monopoly on the product. You can have at best the protection of the invention in the method of making a drug. And those were called process patents, which is why we could make such cheap generic drugs. It needed innovation. It is not piracy. It needs thinking, it needs creative capability to find a different way to make something. As a result of which, we could make the same AIDS therapy that costs $20,000 here, we make it for $200. And the $200 imports from India to Africa became the basis of all of these wars on medicines in the WTO. Brazil, which had created a supply system, was threatened to be sued. 32 countries — industries got together. 32 pharmaceutical giants got together to sue South Africa because they were importing from us for their AIDS care.
Throughout the history of the general agreement on trade and tariffs, agriculture was never allowed to come into free trade regimes. It was too vital to food security. Then the US agri-business giants became big, the Cargills and the ConAgras and the ATMs, and Cargill officials were deputed to head your delegation. Cargill represented you in the negotiations and wrote the agreement that is now called the agriculture agreement of the WTO. It’s not an agriculture agreement, because an agriculture agreement in my world would mean you talk a bit about soil, you talk a bit about plants, you talk a bit about farmers and you talk a bit about food. No, you cannot find the word farmer or food or soil in that agreement. You have only three phrases — market taxes, export competition, domestic support. it’s about the Cargills getting access to the agriculture markets of the world, and agriculture markets of the world, even in situations where there are no markets, converting that into a market. What does it end up doing? It basically is bringing us back to that 1942 period.
In spite of India having surpluses of food right now, last year, we had 65 million tons in the stores. this year we have 30 million tons. In any case, we have enough food to feed our people, but more than 20,000 people have died of starvation since 2001. 2001 was the first year news started to come in about people dying of hunger. One week after 9-11, I was down in villages in Orissa because 23 people had died. And I remember writing then, and that was the year we were having a memorial worldwide about the victims of 9-11. We said, yes, they were victims, too. But there are other victims of other forms of violence and other forms of terrorism, including people who needn’t be dying I found that these were peasants and farmers who’ve grown food. But the trade system prevents a farmer from retaining what they’ve grown to feed themselves. A non-sustainable production system locked in with an unfair trade system, because the same people who push for so-called free trade, which is really forced trade, are the same corporations which sell the chemicals and the seeds and get the farmers into debt. So, starvation is one end of it, because you are losing your entitlement, and a new phenomenon in India. You know in India, we believe in reincarnation. This life is just a passing thing. I have come for a day to the valley, this life is one step. In India, could you never despair because there was another life and another life and another and another and another and another. And so what if things go wrong in this one. But globalization has literally changed even that optimism of reaching incarnation in India, and farmers are committing suicide–20,000 farmers–735 suicides in one state in the last month alone. And all of this has happened after the big companies came into the seed sector in India–started to sell costly seed and started to sell expensive chemicals linked to the seed and started to sell them with very aggressive advertising. People always say, “But why do the farmers buy it?” Because Monsanto doesn’t come selling seed as Monsanto. Monsanto comes firstly, selling seed through Indian companies they have bought up, but even more importantly, they hire all our gods and divinities. So in Punjab, they have Guru Nanak posters, who is the founder of the SIkh religion with Round Up and their seeds, and when the farmer suicides started in Andhra Pradesh I wish I had a camera, I never took a camera, but there was a wall — with you know, our lord Hanuman the monkey god, and he had carried a whole mountain to save Lakshmana in the (hamaran). Well, Monsanto seeds are this life-saving miracle. And you can imagine peasants who have some association with the mythology if the advertising of the companies comes through that mythology, you are not suddenly going to have a mind switch in the peasantry and say stop believing in your mythology. You are going to still believe this is the Hanumanji bringing you the ultimate deliverance from poverty. And then they bring lovely videos, they show American farmers with big combines and rich tractors and say, you will be like that. The farmers get trapped within the season. Every year I do a public hearing, and the last public hearing I did was in February and we called, I think, about 200 families where people had committed suicide. In every family, it was the women who were left behind. Because you know, the men go into the town to play a game of cards, drink a bit of Indian liquor, have a smoke. And that’s when they’re trapped by the agents of the companies. Usually the family doesn’t even know that this seed is ten times more costly, that this chemical is a poison. They have no idea, and eventually when the men can’t pay back the debt, they drink the same poisons to end their lives.
So, what’s left behind are women and children, and one by one, these women would come–a woman who used to own ten acres, today, begging on the streets to make a living. Another woman left with two babies, no land. Because the land is gone. (inaudible) mortgage. 20,000 farms is a very rough estimate, but when I read that 735 in one strict in one month, I think we are underestimating. But if you just run through individual cases — we were told that we shouldn’t grow wheat and rice. Why should we feed ourselves. We shouldn’t be thinking of feeding ourselves. We should be growing shrimps and fruits to export to rich countries. That you are desperate for our potatoes. So, we — everyone was asked to grow potatoes. And of course, the prices fell. Indian farmers grew potatoes at 250 rupees for 100 kilogram and sold them for 30 rupees a kilogram. The potatoes weren’t bought. And I had a debate with the Agriculture Minister on TV. This was all live —- and the farmers were saying that we— you were not buying the potatoes. They were telling the government “you told us to grow potatoes, you’re not buying it.” And the minister was saying, “But now it’s a free market and you have to sell in the market and your potatoes aren’t right.” I said, “why aren’t they right?” Because in India we use potato to boil and stuff in the paranta, the size, the shape of the potato is dissolved by the time that you boil it. But even our curries are not fussy about the length. It’s only what used to be called french fries that is now been renamed freedom fries. They’re fussy. They’re fussy about length. And so, what you are having is the entire diversity of the world redefined as deficiency and no farmer is doing the right thing anymore. 50 billion rupees is what farmers have lost in one season in one crop of potato–50 billion rupees. In the case of sugar cane partly driven by imports, partly driven by the fact that more and more of the industry, (and we were talking about this on the way over), sugar is no more coming from, not sugar cane and beets, it’s coming from corn, the high fructose corn syrup is becoming the base. And the entire soft drink industry, which is a very big user of sugar, has shifted because it’s cheaper.
It’s not cheap for our health. It’s very costly for our health, but it’s very cheap for the manufacturer. In this season, in the last season, 15 billion rupees losses for sugar cane farmers in India. They brought beta-contin, the first genetically engineered crop that Monsanto brought, total failure, in India. Our calculations, 1 billion rupees of losses. They took hybrid corn to areas where the corn is eaten. But this corn was not for eating in any case, it was for the high fructose corn syrup and it was for the cattle feed industry. In any case, it failed. The crop grew, the plant grew, the cobs were formed, but there was not a grain in the cobs. 4 billion rupees of losses by farmers in some of the poorest regions of India. Three hundred billion in milk. Two hundred billion in rice by falling prices because only one consequence of globalized free trade without regulation of imports or prices. And that is that the prices will go down for producers. That’s the only outcome, there is no other outcome. That’s where the design is. The design is to ram prices downwards and on a very rough cold calculation on just the five or six commodities we have looked at, and farmers we have worked with, my figures are per year, 1.2 trillion in five or six rupees, which is amounting to $25 billion losses. In all of this you are told — you must bear free trade because it’s making our farmers rich. No, our farmers are being wiped out both through imports, imports linked to the high subsidies which go not to farmers of this country, but the agribusiness of this country and those subsidies make the entire trade system distorted. No price tells the truth. Everything in the world is being sold at 50% below the cost of production. And in normal activity that phenomenon is called dumping. But the agribusiness in this country has made sure that dumping issues will never enter the WTO discussion in agriculture.
AMY GOODMAN: Environmentalist Vandana Shiva. We’ll come back with her speech here on Democracy Now! You can get a copy of the program by calling1-800-881-2359. Back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: Jim Paige singing, “Whose World is this.” You’re listening to Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we return to Vandana Shiva.
VANDANA SHIVA: Just as life was privatized the way land was commodified during the first empire, water, too, is being commodified and it is very much part of globalization. What I was doing before leaving home just now was working against the privatization of our very sacred River Ganga of which 635 million liters will be brought to Delhi and then sold by Suez. I have written an article three days ago, my secretary was calling me up after I arrived to say Suez has sent fat letter to say, “We do not believe in owning water. We are merely giving people of Delhi a service.” But the point is it is privatization of water and I tell you why it’s privatization of water. Even though the argument is that municipalities are too poor to run their services and that’s why we need the big corporations to enter our water supply, the reality is when corporations enter the water supply, the investment and costs are still borne by the public utilities, everywhere in the world. So, the investment is never private, It’s public investment. In the case of this particular plant, there’s a public investment of $2 billion for the plant because Suez is building it, the cost is $2 billion, the public sector would have done it for a billion. It’s using behind it investments of 2 trillion rupees. Two trillion rupees. A dam, a hundred, a thousand billion rupees for a dam, which has submerged 100,000 people, displaced them from the capital of our region.
And now because of the dam itself, rains have started — to avoid the valley because of the construction. even the villages that survive and the dam have no water. The women have to walk, 10, 20, 30 miles. When I have traveled in that area to work in villages, the records that have been given to me by local village women is approximately 100 women have committed suicide from not being able to walk for water anymore. The argument of the government is, “Oh, we sunk everything, all of the money that we had for water has now gone into this dam, so we cannot build local supply systems.” The water will then be diverted through a canal, and that canal costs huge investments. But the water will no more supply the agriculture of the region through which it flows. Two-thirds of the capacity of the Ganges will be diverted to be turned into sewage water. In addition, the public system must continue to bear the costs of all of the electricity to run these plants, and must give a guarantee of buying the water to then sell it on.
You know, very much like Enron, the so-called free market is a totally tied market. These companies never come and say, “Okay, here’s water to sell. How much will you buy it for,” no. What they do is force the public utility to invest and force the public utility to become a buyer. So literally we buy back what belongs to us. Meantime, tripling, quadrupling, making ten-fold, thirty times the price of whatever it was. And that is the trick through which privatization and commodification of our vital needs is happening. When I go back one of the first things I’m going to be doing is return to an area in Kerala — Kerala is the state with no lack of water–abundant water. But in a village called Platimada, Coca-Cola set up a plant to start extracting ground water for its bottling plant and bottled water. One million liters a day. Within a year, the water levels went down from ten feet to 100 feet. In an area of radius of about three miles, not a well, not a tank, not a stream has any water left, and the women — the tribal women of that region have been sitting in front of the Coca-Cola plant asking for its closure. The local authorities have asked for its closure. The movements are usually — they were talking about 20,000 people wanting to come — asking me to come down and support them. And we have a huge buildup of a boycott because after this whole movement became big, Coca-Cola tried to quiet this protest by giving them so-called free fertilizer. So a few farmers started to use it, and it turned out to be the toxic sludge from the industry, with very high levels of cadmium arsenic lead. Coke and Pepsi were found contaminated two weeks ago, full of pesticides. And we have had actions across the country asking for the closure. The parliament banned the sale. In the parliament, of course, Parliament — elected representatives are slightly higher beings than us, but the water privatization issue is very, very much at the heart of the new empire. And you just have to notice about what happened to Iraq. After, when the so-called war was declared to have ended, and we know it hasn’t because people continue to die, but the reconstruction — the first step was a $618 million contract to Bechtel, another water giant. And the slogan you had had for the peace movement was “No blood for oil.” And I wrote a piece after that, “No Blood for Water.” We don’t have to start shedding blood to be — to control the water of the region that’s called the cradle of civilization? The implications of that are huge. In my view, globalization is war by other means. That’s where the trade treaties are, they’re war by other means and war is globalization by other means. They’re just the same thing. But there is — if a coin could have three sides, and luckily, it only has two, the third side would be the rise of fascism and fundamentalism. Just as you cannot avoid in the empire based on greed and profit and trampling of other people’s rights, you cannot avoid the violence of war and militarism in the context of so-called electoral democracy, when globalization hijacks economic democracy, it leaves behind the ruins of fascism. Because if we cannot vote for how our water will be supplied, if we cannot vote for how our food will be grown, if we cannot vote for how our educational systems will run, if we cannot vote for how our health care will be provided, if in none of that do we have freedom to decide, freedom to participate, then those politicians who still want votes and have to come to us have only one vote bank left, and that vote bank is hate.
It’s not an accident that right wing fundamentalism is nurtured in the context of the growing economic totalitarianism of globalization on the one hand and the economic insecurities experienced by ordinary people on the second hand, who become, then, available to being mobilized on the hate vote. So, fundamentalism and the right wing tendencies we’re all experiencing, and the amazing thing is–even though it’s supposed to be organized around religion, all of the fundamentalisms have such an amazing partnership with each other. They have no problem with fundamentalism of another shade. They merely have problems with people of another religion. And the other thing is, fundamentalism — religious fundamentalism has no problems with free trade and trade liberalization. In fact, they work to mutually support each other. In the three months while Gugerat was burning, you know we had 2,000 people massacred in a state in Western India. In those three months, globalization decisions were rushed through. Patenting law changed, privatization of water introduced, and agricultural trade monopolies created. So, not only is fundamentalism a child of globalization, it’s also becomes a handmaiden. It facilitates the pushing through of decisions that people under normal vibrant democracy would refuse to accept. I think we have reached a stage where not only are alternatives desirable, they become necessary. They become necessary for survival on the planet. They become necessary for us to live in peace, in security. They become necessary for a real experience of affluence because under globalization with the justification that the poor are being made rich, what’s really happening is, of course, the poor are being made poorer, and are being wiped out. I had a meeting with a woman’s organization to prepare for Cancun. Just around the table, the women would talk, women working with migrant workers would talk, those who were working with unions would talk, those who were working with the peasant women would talk, and at the end of it the phrase that came through repeatedly, not from a theory in a university, but from the experience that people are going through, that people, human beings, have been reduced to disposable people under globalization–that this economy can only thrive by treating human beings as disposable. And this economy of disposable people is all imposed on us in the name of making the poor richer. I’m sure every day, every decision here is justified in the name of third world poverty, of removing third world poverty. GMO is about third world poverty, TRIPS is about Third World poverty, GATT and WTO are about Third World Poverty, even water privatization is about third world poverty. I think we need to start redefining wealth in a serious way. Because in the whole millennium–around in the United Nations Declaration, Millennium Declaration, everything was about a dollar a day or people are poor at a dollar a day. I’ve grown up in the Himalayas — there’s no cash economy there. People are wealthy at zero dollars a day. The point is that you need to have a clean stream. If your forest is intact and your stream is flowing and your knowledge is with you, and you can grow your food and you recognize the herbs that can cure you and you have mutuality of labor exchange, so that you come and work on my farm, and I come and work at your farm, why on earth would you need either dollars or rupees? On the other hand, if the water is commodified, if our seeds are commodified, if our medicine is monopolized, if there are no jobs. If the entire system is meant to merely be a source of profits for a handful of corporations, actually, you just have do your arithmetic, life becomes too expensive to buy. You can’t buy life. And now that they are trying to commoditize the very basis of life and own it and sell it back to us, basically the consequence is disposable people. Because for most people, then, life becomes unaffordable in any case, a life of that kind, even for those those who can afford it, is not life anymore.
In spite of recognizing the brutality and brutalization that we lived through in our times, I continue to be extremely hopeful, extremely optimistic. I also know that the momentum of these giant structures and inertia they have is huge.
Even though every signal is telling us Enron, WorldCom, just everywhere around, things are failing. Cargill had to wrap up, we started a movement against Cargill’s Nature Fresh Flour. And Nature Fresh Flour was neither natural nor fresh because they said it had gone through 26 steps of industrial processing and can last for six months on your shelf. The women’s movement in India said this is not nature fresh — remove this label, pack up and go home. And I’m not taking the credit, but they have actually had to pack up there before.
I think the most important thing for us is to recognize that we will have to shape the future we want to live in, nobody else will. And we have to shape it today. We have to begin today. And the only thing on which the sun doesn’t set is life itself. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Environmentalist Vandana Shiva speaking in North Hampton, Massachusetts. If you would like a copy of today’s show you can call 1-800-881-2359. Special thanks to Robby Lexer and Turning Tide Productions. Democracy Now! is produced by Mike Burkshreve, Fobdo Kadush, Anna Nogiera, Elizabeth Prestor, Jeremy Skahill, Purvay Sharma, Mike DiFilippo our engineer, our website democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, thanks for joining us.