By Manlio Masucci – L’Extraterrestre, Il Manifesto, 16 April 2020 | Source
A continent besieged by the economic interests of an empire, a harassed and exasperated population, a man who decides to fight the infinitely great with an extremely small means. This is the story of Mahatma Gandhi and his choice to oppose and defeat the arrogance of the British colonizers through the symbol of the spinning wheel-charka in Hindi- a rudimentary tool used to unwind cotton hanks. This is how the charka became the symbol of Indian independence, in so far that it was incorporated into the national flag in the 1940s. Although during his time, Gandhi had great difficulty in obtaining one, as they had already fallen out of use. Yet this small and inexpensive instrument represented the perfect symbol of the struggle for Indian independence, precisely because it carried such a strong message of how it could unravel the complex skein of corporate interests. Its message was that simple, following Mahatma’s words, to live without hurting others by reshaping the relationship between the rich and the poor and between capital and work.
It was a symbol with a message so empowering that it contributed to the unification of the Indian people toward the goal of independence. This makes it no coincidence that Vandana Shiva, Indian environmentalist and president of Navdanya International, began her last essay, “Semi di libertà” (Seeds of Freedom)*, recounting the story of Gandhi’s spinning wheel. Just like this modest symbol of Indian independence, a tiny seed also retains within it a similar great potential. The symbol of the movement against the globalization of multinationals can therefore be perfectly represented by a seed, guardian of that life under attack, disassembled and reassembled, labelled, priced and sold to the highest bidder. And it is still India that represents, both physically and conceptually, this place of battle, which at various levels, also concerns the whole planet. Today the Indian peasant class, being the largest in the world, faces an unprecedented challenge and risks extinction. As the land is still the largest provider of livelihood, ensuring the subsistence of almost two thirds of the population, seed is the largest and most common source for securing sustenance. Yet farmers cannot survive due to the monopolies dictated by the multinationals that modify and patent seeds with the aim of privatizing them. The debt incurred for the purchasing of seeds, with their necessary kits of fertilizers and pesticides, is progressively pushing the rural population off their land. Causing hordes of peasants to pour into the megalopolis, overflowing the dilapidated and unhealthy slums and leaving their land in the hands of large landowners and intensive monocultures.
In short, in a seed, social and ecological issues become intertwined. Uniformity, the mantra of globalisation, is a threat to our very survival.
Biodiversity conservation is the precondition for freedom for all; the prerequisite to ensure the blossoming of alternatives within society and the economy. Indigenous seed is therefore the spinning wheel of our time, the symbol of resistance to monocultures and multinationals’ monopoly. Another agriculture is possible, concludes Vandana Shiva, but we must overcome the logic of profit and return to safeguarding the work of farmers, people’s health and earth’s biodiversity.
*Ref: Vandana Shiva, “Iglesia viva: revista de pensamiento cristiano”, no. 272, 2017
Translation kindly provided by Arianna Porrone and Carla Ramos