Did IPS put out a plagiarised feature?

IN Media Practice | 16/09/2005
"The writer has quoted me, but he has never taken the trouble of speaking to me or the other people quoted in the story above."

Hoot Desk

Copy of a letter sent to Editor, IPSnews.org

Dear Sir,

I am a journalist based in Shillong, Meghalaya and I regularly read IPS on the net and admire the work being done by journalists who take pains to write about the true situation of the struggling peoples. However today I read this piece ?DEVELOPMENT-INDIA:In Mizoram, Women Face Problems of Plenty? by Suresh Pramar and I was very disappointed.

I hope the reasons which I lay before you will convince you to remove this report from your website immediately.

1. The writer has quoted me, Linda Chhakchhuak. But he has never taken the trouble of speaking to me or the other people quoted in the story above.

2. Grassroots Options is not a Mizoram based NGO as mentioned in your report, but it is a magazine, which is a media initiative of a group of working journalists of the north east region who want to write about the issues of region not covered by the larger media. It is published from Shillong, Meghalaya  We strictly avoid the term NGO as this terms lacks credibility in the region.

3. The writer of the report has lifted the whole report  including straight quotes from farmers interviewed by me for the report  ?Women Farmers Vie for Space in Aizawl? from a report carried in Grassroots Options (Spring 2005 issue) without acknowledging the magazine as the source.

4.Sir, I hope you take action against such unethical journalism by a writer who did not even visit the place which is used as the dateline of the story. By default it reflects on the integrity of the IPS which was created to carry authentic stories about people in the globalised era.


Linda Chhakchhuak
Publisher of Grassroots Options

Did   Inter Press Service News Agency put out a plagiarised feature? Read the articles and judge for yourself.

The original story in Grassroot Options

Mizo women farmers vie for space in Aizawl

Ignoring the women farmers¿ means ignoring the only bright spot in Mizoram¿s economy. A report

It¿s eight o¿clock on Friday night. There is a buzz around the Muallungthu village, but no, it¿s not the bustle for a weekend party. The activity is by the vegetable farmers of the village, 98 percent of whom are women, who are packing their bundles of freshly-picked-from-the-jhum-field vegetables, into the waiting bazaar bus to ferry them to Aizawl city.

They will stay overnight on the pavements of the main Aizawl Bara Bazaar to ¿reserve¿ their spaces so that they will have somewhere to sit and sell their produce the next day which is Saturday, the weekly market day. ?If I don¿t occupy this place like this, I will not have any place to sit as all the spots will be occupied by the others,? said one of the farmer-sellers.

They are small hill farmers. They grow a wide variety of vegetables for which there is a captive market in the city. They want to sell their own products as it will give them good returns. They don¿t want to give it to middlemen, at least not just. But for some odd reasons, the authorities are doing their best to keep the hill producers from the main marketplaces. This is the peculiar situation that small and tiny hill farmers are grappling with in Mizoram, one of the mountainous states in north east India, where hill agriculture is the mainstay of the majority of the people who depend on it for their livelihood.

This treatment to the hill farmers who produce most of the fresh vegetables needed to supply the kitchens of the capital Aizawl, is quite a paradox considering the Government of Mizoram¿s aggressive campaign to encourage self-reliance and self-sustenance under what it has dubbed it¿s ¿Mizoram Intohdel Policy (MIP).¿ This translates into, ¿Mizoram¿s policy of Self Reliance,¿ by which they urge people to stop depending on goods from outside the state, and start producing and selling their own, particularly agricultural goods with added value wherever possible.

If there¿s anyone doing this in Mizoram, it is the women vegetable farmers who grow anything from beans, pumpkins, greeneries, squ-ash, oranges and other fruits, chillies, and many other local jhum products, including the ubiquitous mustard leaves in all its varieties locally called antam, without which no meal would be complete for any family in the state. In fact, these farmers have plugged a large hole in the state¿s economy by ensuring that crores of rupees are saved from going directly outside the state for the purchase of these same vegetables. Just by growing antam for the Mizo table, the women farmers  ensure that the state keeps at least Rs.two lakhs per day in circulation within the state.

But the Mizoram state seems to be pursing its MIP merely as a populist slogan. These farmers have been struggling for their right to sell their produce in the main market, Bara Bazaar since the early 1990s but have been thwarted so far. Earlier, they were allowed to use the footpaths at Dawrpui, Bara Bazaar on Saturdays, which is the main market day in Aizawl, but the local authority drove them out after sometime, refusing to further give them permission to continue. Left with no option they went in a delegation to the then Agriculture minister Aichhinga, who allowed them to do business in the premises of the abandoned Millenium building in the upper road, but this lasted only for a while before they were thrown out when the construction work resumed.

The state government seemed to relent when they were allotted space on the roadside outside the main road, bordering the Millennium building. But no sooner had they settled there than they were forced to vacate the place. In fact, in November last they were bodily lifted along with their wares when they refused to move out.

The unfriendly farmer policy followed by the state has pitched them against the Aizawl-based ¿brokers¿ locally called Kharchawng, who being city based persons, have stalls on a monthly rent basis in the government market complex. They rely on the farmers produce which they buy from them when they are forced to them sell off at a cheap rate. Incidentally most of the Kharchawng are also women.

Many local people spoken to said they failed to understand the reason why the political leaders, various departments of the government, the locality authorities and the state¿s social organizations who are usually so vocal about ?self reliance¿ so immune to the issues of the hill farmers?

Zothanpari, president of the United Mizoram Grassroots Women (UMGW) feels that their issue is not making any impact because they happen to be mostly women, and being so, are not taken seriously by authorities who see their contribution as being ¿small and inconsequential,¿ a typical problem of perception of patriarchy.

?Because we are women our problems and our issues are not seen as having a major economic impact,? she told the Grassroots Options (see interview). While the state government and the political leaders day dream about earning huge dividends by promoting cash crops like ginger, passion fruit, oranges and so on through export, they fail to see the major contribution to the state economy by the vegetable farmers, who through their production of food, are already the major stakeholders in the self-reliant economy they are part of ? something the authorities are still dreaming about.

Local activists said that the trade generated through the products of the local farmers is quite large and a majority of families in the state depends on it. Hlimpuii,  who along with her husband and teenage daughter are fully engaged in their jhum and permanent fields in a nearby village stresses, ?We sell our produce in the Aizawl city and this is our only source of livelihood, but we are having a hard time these days because we are not allowed to sell our wares in the main market,? she said. During the main seasons they earn a minimum of Rs.2000 per market day, she said, an amount which sustains them.

?Even the Kharchawng tell us that they earn their livelihood through re-selling the vegetables which they buy from us,? she said. The farmers stressed that they had nothing against selling to the Kharchawng but they wanted to do the selling on their terms, and not as distress sales, which is the case when they have no choice as they are hounded out of every market.

?We have repeatedly petitioned the government to understand our need and give us space in the market so that we can sell our produce, but they just don¿t seem to understand or care. They want us to sell our produce in the city outskirts,? she said.

These farmers wonder how a government which speaks of agriculture and self reliance can rent out all the floors of the newly constructed market complex to cloths and second hand clothes sellers, while refusing to allot them some space. Neither are they being allotted any space in the other complexes being built by the state government, such as, the Millennium market complex, nor at the Aizawl City Centre, another shopping cum leisure mall.  ?The government seems obsessed with the ?needs? of the rich men and consumer class, mostly the salaried class,? noted an economics teacher spoken to. All this makes a mockery of the MIP.

The government has its reasons worked out. The Director of Trade and Commerce, when contacted was dismissive about the farmers¿ demand.  ?These women are producers who want to sell their own goods. We can¿t give them space in our market because they come to sell their wares only once in a week and the department will lose revenue. Second hand sellers are there the whole week and pay a daily market toll besides the rent? he said. What the farmers need is a whole sale market which does not exist in the state, he said.?Even if we did make a market for them they will not be able to sell anything and they don¿t produce enough either,? he said.

If this is the argument the government is basing itself on, they seem to have stood its policy of MIP on its head.  In ordinary language, it means that the government is not willing to invest in its own farmers, has no faith in their work, in fact.

Such an attitude can only be excused as it seems to be born of ignorance. Historically, ¿market¿ is a relatively new concept in the hills of Mizoram as traditionally, the tribes here did not evolve a market structure as each village  was basically  self-sufficient. The markets in the various urban centers of Mizoram including the Dawrpui, Aizawl¿s Bara Bazaar, have a relatively recent history starting with the British Raj.

In this backdrop, for the hill farmers here, growing for the market and not for self-consumption is a relatively new phenomenon. With the booming urbanization and the need to earn money income these hill farmers have begun producing for the markets.

The  small volume of production of earlier days  has grown to  a stage where they are producing enough to replace many of the vegetables being  imported by middlemen from outside the state.  ? Now we are producing for the market and coming to the market almost on a daily basis and we need space,? said the women farmers.

They  reached this stage without much of government help. Now instead of recognizing  their farmers potential and responding positively by creating facilities for their further expansion, the government  seems  hell bent on curbing the only real growth in the economy of Mizoram

The feature issued by IPS:

In, Women Face Problems of Plenty

AIZAWL, India, Sep 11 (IPS) - Activists for gender equality who stroll through bustling Bara Bazaar (Big Market), that dominates this town, capital of eastern Mizoram state, should have no reason to complain -- nearly every shop and stall here is run by women, many selling their own farm produce.

Yet, closer inspection of the working of the market reveals cracks in this powerful image of busy women, empowered and running their own lives in this hilly state of 900,000 people that has borders with Bangladesh on its west and Burma to its east and south.

The Mizos (or hillmen) are closely related to the Chin tribes of Burma, a fact which has made the state a choice destination for Burmese refugees fleeing the repression and forced labour in their military-ruled country.

A distinctive feature of the Mizos is that they do not draw status distinctions between the sexes and follow `Tlawmngaihna`, a simple code of ethics that says all people are born equal and should be unselfish to each other--even Chin refugees, now a familiar sight in Aizawl.

Indeed, the general air of equality and the high literacy rates (90 percent for males and 86 percent for females) might have made Mizoram a showpiece for United Nations` Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) relating to gender equality and literacy set for the year 2015.

Situated on a hill, Aizawl, one of the oldest urban centres in India`s remote north-east has a population of over 250,000 people, most of whom follow the Christian faith brought to these parts by evangelists in the 19th century.

Bara Bazaar is busiest on Saturdays when the townfolk turn out for the haat (weekly market) to stock up on the week`s supply of fresh fruits and vegetables grown in the fertile, moisture-laden valleys and hills of Mizoram and brought in by women farmers.

Many of these women catch the last buses headed for Aizawl on Friday nights carrying baskets laden with a profusion of bean varieties, pumpkins, squash, citrus fruits and leafy greens,including `antam`, a variety of mustard leaf that is a must at every Mizo meal.

The women, young girls and grandmothers among them, reach Aizawl in the wee hours of the morning and sleep with their produce on the pavements, so that they can get into Bara Bazaar early enough and capture strategic spots-- even if they are on uneven ground beside the steep steps leading to the crowded market.

Well over a century old, Bara Bazaar consists of shops and makeshift stalls, set on terraces cut into the hill slope and operated mostly by women who guard their turf jealously and are hostile to the vendors/farmers who come in from the villages for the weekend haat.

``If I do not come in early enough and reserve a place for myself, I will not get place to even sit on since all the available space would have been captured by the regular shopkeepers,`` explains Lillianpuii, 45, who has been selling her produce in Bara Bazaar for over a decade now.

Like the other women, Lillianpuii could make around 50 US dollars on a good Saturday haat, enough to see her family through for a whole week.

If the women do not sell their produce fast enough, they face the prospect of resorting to distress sales at the end of the day, returning home late and a week of hardship to follow.

Yet, it was not always like this. The hustle and bustle began just a decade ago when the state government began discouraging the traditional, though ecologically unsound, jhum (slash and burn) cultivation, suited for maize and other grain staples and grow, instead, cash crops like fruits and vegetables.

Called `Mizoram Intodeldna (self-sufficient) Policy`, the idea was to get the Mizo people to be self-sufficient, rather than depend on costly farm produce hauled over long distances by road from the Indian mainland.

If the idea worked, it worked rather too well, according to Linda Chhakchhuak, at Grassroots Options, a local non-government organisation (NGO). Within a decade, Aizawl was awash with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that also brought hard cash for the hard-working, village women.

That is the happy part. The sad part is that while encouraging the women farmers to grow cash crops, the government did nothing to provide suitable space in Aizawl where the women could sell their produce without hurting the interests of local traders.

In fact, whenever the village women have found themselves a suitable location, in or near Bara Bazaar, they were shooed away by municipal officials, who openly sided with the Kharchawngs (brokers) -- mostly tough women who run shops in the market and pay monthly rents to the municipality, that the village women cannot match.

The Kharchawngs have a genuine grouse. They depend on the farmers for their stocks and do not like women coming into the market to make direct sales and depriving them of commissions, according to a system that worked well for maize and grain but not perishables like vegetables and fruit.

Lillianpuii and other women farmers say they are not against selling their produce to the townswomen, but they resent the fact that they get bargained down to a point where farming and carting produce to Aizawl becomes unviable.

``Now that there is a growing demand for our produce and our own needs have grown, it is essential that we continue to sell our produce in the capital for hard cash but the municipal authorities are deaf to our demands,`` said one woman.

Zothanpari (one name), president of the United Mizoram Grassroot Women (UMGW), an NGO said the government refuses to intervene ``because we are women and our problems and needs are not considered as having a major economic impact in the state.``

She believes that the state can prosper only if the villages gain in economic strength but the government preferred grandiose plans and have no time for grassroots people, especially women. ``The government is obsessed with the needs of the rich and the salaried class that live in the towns.``

``It was the government that asked us to grow vegetables and other produce and now we have done that they should provide us space to sell our produce--they are aware of the problem and also how it can be solved,`` Zothapari said.

There are other complaints. ``Initially, to encourage the self-sufficiency programme, we were granted transport subsidies by the State Directorate of Trade and Commerce, but we never saw a penny and were told that the money was being spent under some other head,`` Zothanpari said.

Said an official: `` We can`t give them (village farmers) space in the market because they come to sell their produce only once a week and the government will lose revenue. Even if they were provided space they will not be able to sell anything since they don`t produce enough``.

The farmer women contest this. They claim that their produce has increased manifold over the years and there was demand enough for many of them to come into Bara Bazaar on weekdays (besides the Saturday haat) to sell off produce that now includes fine grape varieties.

Said Linda: `` Publicly, the government of Mizoram claims that more than 80 percent of the population depends on agriculture but it is yet to respond to the needs of small farmers meaningfully-- its much touted policy of encouraging self-reliance among the Mizos is actually a sham.``

Speaking at a recent public function state agriculture minister, H. Rammawi, said Mizoram was ready to totally abolish destructive slash and burn cultivation. ?We need to abandon our traditional `jhum` farming, for which our forefathers knew no substitute.. We need to find cash crops suitable to Mizoram, facilitate the market and educate the farmers to grow these crops,`` he expatiated.

But Rammawi had nothing to say about the tussle between women farmers and women traders that has been going on in Bara Bazaar for several years now and is growing worse by the week. (END/2005)

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