By Carol W. LaGrasse, August 23, 2003
Something must be done to stop the push of villagers away from the rural countryside of India. Michael R. Hubert, a village leader in the area of Madras, India, is organizing seminars emphasizing farming solidarity. He brings together rural women to meetings and seminars with urban women where they can become acquainted and learn the truth about each other's circumstances.
"The need for the seminar was many farmers give up their farming activity for the reasons of low income, lots of debts, unable to pay the loans, water scarcity and most profoundly the bigger companies and industries and big people taking away the lands," he wrote to PRFA after a seminar in Madras during the spring, entitled Farming Solidarity.
"The reason we brought this seminar in the city was that there was always an alienation between city dwellers and village brethren," he wrote. "There were artificial myths that city life would be comfortable and more income-oriented."
"We had a wonderful seminar and lots of question and answer sessions, games and, most importantly, some of the sisters from villages interacted with sisters in cities and explained about their experiences and challenges," he wrote, mentioning the "good delicacies" that were served, for which Indian cuisine is noted. Photographs of the meeting depict the spirit of the meeting, with the women clad in brilliant saris, gathered with their children in obviously cordial discussion in a circle of chairs or seated cross-legged before place mats while partaking of dinner on the gleaming floor with a few men.
During July, Mr. Hubert, whose organization is known as Shabnam Resources, sent a report with photographs about a meeting of the program, Move United.
"We wanted the participants to take initiatives on the ways to protect the village and farming brethren," Mr. Hubert wrote. "We had lots of city dwellers that attended and discussed how to protect the farming community to live in their own environment and why they should not be pushed into cities."
"Well, yes, we work among poor farmers," Mr. Hubert wrote in answer to a question during one exchange of correspondence, with which he enclosed a photograph of himself at the podium during a solidarity meeting. "The sad situation is that farm lands are becoming housing developments and industries by the wealthy might. We encourage such farmers not to give up the farming, but they take loans and if the monsoon fails they loose everything."
In the United States, a loan to buy farm animals, movable equipment, or fertilizers and seed cannot justify a lien. Broadly speaking, liens can be attached to real property here only for those materials and services used to improve or finance that property. In some states, mortgaged debts are not even recognized as liens unless a mortgage deed is given. However, regulatory restrictions and debts can still destroy farmers financially and personally.
"You would have heard lots of farmers commit suicide for the reasons that they were unable to pay loans," Mr. Hubert pointed out. "We meet with bankers and ask for extended time to pay the loans. We are also planning to give them some skilled training to reach out for crops which consume less water."
Private property ownership by countless ordinary individual households was the hallmark that enabled rural America to flourish during the nineteenth century. However, property ownership is not so well-protected in many of the countries of the world, particularly those that are not prospering. This year, the nation of India was ranked by the international research institution, Fraser Institute, at a bit lower that midway in the world on the annual "Index of Economic Freedom" in which it ranks 123 countries of the world. The rating of 6.1 of a possible 10 was similar to those of Fiji, Lithuania, Mexico, and Poland.
Fraser Institute's ranking of India at 5.7 for its "Legal Structure and Security of Property Rights" was moderately low, but not extremely so, placing the nation among the rankings of Greece, Poland, Sri Lanka, and Taiwan. (Economic Freedom of the World - 2003 Annual Report, Fraser Institute, Vancouver, Canada)
People are widely aware that Indians have long suffered under a social structure involving the caste system. However, relatively few are aware of the fact that the ending of colonial British rule was accompanied by a strong sympathy with socialism.
"Jawaharlal Nehru considered private property to be 'immoral, far more so than drink,' because it gave 'dangerous power to individuals over society as a whole,'" observed Tom Bethell in his book The Noblest Triumph about private property and prosperity throughout the ages (St. Martin's, 1998). Further paraphrasing a remark in Mr. Nehru's autobiography, Mr. Bethell wrote that the nation's first prime minister believed that, "There was no way to end India's poverty, unemployment and degradation, he remained convinced, 'except through socialism [and] the ending of private property.'"
Mr. Bethell discusses land reform efforts in his book, observing that in Japan, land reform was accomplished and clear property rights were successfully created after the Second World War, which created a clean break with the past. But in India, a strong land reform movement has not taken hold.
As I continue exchanges with Mr. Hubert, it will be important to learn how the ownership of private property in the Indian villages exists and to consider how it can be strengthened.
Mr. Hubert is basically working to empower the villagers, as well as their city brethren and sisters. In the course of our correspondence, it became apparent that his leadership work toward rural solidarity takes courage.
"In our work among the brethren, we were threatened many times, also beaten," Mr. Hubert wrote. "The threats and beatings would never deter our work."
Commenting about the "consultative networking with Move United," Mr. Hubert wrote recently, "We submit this to your blessings and support." Certainly his work to strengthen the villagers and their ability to keep their farms deserves the heartfelt attention of those who believe in freedom.
Michael R. Hubert