Does India Understand these Dangers of #GMO Food?

Where GMO food is a major concern for the public and environmentalists in other countries, in India, the environment minister seems to be a comfortable supporter of the government’s eagerness to open the floodgates to GMO vending corporations!

Geneticist Suman Sahai, founder of Gene Campaign in India, in her recent interview warns the nation of the dangers of GMO and lists the following reasons why (in her words) India does “not have the competence to play around with GMO food.”

1. No technological expertise: Our biosafety (prevention of risks associated with biotechnology processes) competence has not improved at all. We need officials trained in genetics who can understand the biosafety data. We have none.

2. No proper field trials: The GMO crop trials are understood [but] nobody follows them. Take the trials of Bt rice conducted in Jharkhand in 2004. We found that one of the farms was in the midst of the farmers’ fields. No signboard, no fencing, no containment of any sort. One farmer put in charge of it had been threshing the produce and may have even eaten it. Later we found volunteer plants (those that grow on their own) had come up on the farm. We sent them for testing and of course they were GM.

3. Government corruption and greed: When we informed the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) that Jharkhand has the highest genetic diversity of rice and such lapses contaminate everything, they sent us a showcause notice for entering the field instead of taking action against shoddy trials.

4. Danger of losing biodiversity: Both brinjal and mustard [two crops India are allowing in] are cross-pollinating plants, so the consequences will be no single, non-GM mustard or brinjal left. Some say you can segregate, but have we managed to segregate Bt cotton? It has gone everywhere.

5. Larger impact on the environment: Uniformity of biodiversity will have its own environmental implications. There is a well-known phenomenon called gene silencing. Very often plants altered genetically don’t survive because you have interrupted the natural process. Those that do survive, certain genes may stop expressing. What can get silenced we have no idea. Yet we are ready to risk the entire germplasm.

6. Risk of Toxicity in food: Brinjal belongs to the Solanaceae family. It’s the family of not just tomato, chilli and potato but also datura (angel’s trumpets) and belladona. These are some of the most toxic plants. We can’t Read the full post »

Standard Chartered @StanChart: Your Bank Helped an Illegal Account Steal From My Mother

As a feminist activist for women’s rights in India, I find it hard to explain to people that even when you are educated, and know your rights and can fight for them, there will always be a network of educated, and professional people (men) who will blatantly violate the laws and your rights along with it.  And so I share here with you the nightmare I am going through with my mother as a multinational bank arrogantly violates her rights.

Below is a letter that I have sent on behalf of my mother to Standard Chartered Bank requesting them to protect her legal rights and her money as a customer at their bank, which the bank has blatantly refused to do.  I want to point out that their officers have been calling us constantly, for what reason we don’t know! Because they’ve done nothing! Our complaint is that another account in this bank, which is for my mother’s building funds, has cheated my mother not only of her money, but actually tried to steal her PAN no. (which is like the Social Security no. in the US) and in India there is widespread identity theft through this number and extensive money laundering.  We found out that this other “building” account actually was not a building account. It had no registration and has no legal documents!  And it has been in the banks own legal department since 2010. But even on our repeated insistence, to protect her money and follow the procedure set by the government, the bank refuses to freeze the account.  The account landed in the banks legal department in June 2014 again and they are supposed to freeze it immediately. But despite 4 years of knowing that this account is completely illegal (from 2010 onwards), and that its activities are very nebulous, and that it has other people’s money in it, who it has deceived,  the bank has refused to freeze it!  On 29th November, a few days after a senior bank official assured us of a freeze in the account, the signatories Mr. Biman Dhar and Mr. N.C. Roy, pulled out almost the entire amount in one go and wrote a check out to some company called ‘Sriram.’ [STANDDARD CHARTERED WILL HAVE TO GET THIS MONEY BACK IN THE ACCOUNT!] We have no idea what is going on with this account, or with its “business” activities.  One of these two men, was thrown out of a multinational company for financial irregularities, and that was in the national newspapers in India! Why wouldn’t the bank be extra careful with someone like this or heed our complaints and warnings? How much of a liability is this is for us who own apartments in this building? And all this has been going on with the banks blessings! Indeed full support!

Here is the letter and details

To The Standard Chartered Bank HQ, London, England, UK

This is a letter of request my mother, Indira Banerji, had tried to hand-deliver to your bank, in Kolkata’s Church Lane branch where she is a very old customer. The manager read the letter, gave her a verbal assurance, but refused to accept the letter. The letter simply requested a written assurance from the bank that her PAN number would be used only for her personal account with the bank. Given the circumstances, as explained below, a written assurance from the bank in her case is necessary, and so we then tried to deliver the same letter to the bank via registered post. The letter was accepted by the bank on November 10, 2014, and two weeks her letter was put into an envelope and returned to her with a standard nonsensical note from the bank, like they were sending back trash! After I began to tweet this post to your bank’s head quarters in the UK, a senior official from India called, and tried to tell us various convoluted statements they could give us. But all we want is a simple statement saying “Your PAN will be used only for your personal account and no other account in our bank.” That actually is a legal responsibility of the bank to its customer, but your bank refuses to give us this statement! What’s going on? Why would your bank refuse to give this statement?

Included at the bottom of this post is a scan of the letter sent and its enclosures which explain my mother’s problems with another account, the ‘Palm Place Syndicate’ (PPS) account, which is at the same Church Lane branch, which necessitates her specific request.

The ‘Palm Place Syndicate’ account is for the building maintenance fund for the flat owners in my mother’s building, where for many years she has deposited a monthly maintenance payment. However there were a lot of problems such as no accounting, billing details, or even an audit report for 2014. More so, we also found out that despite there being other residential flat owners the signatories of this account had retained a person who owned no flats in the building, and had been deceased for 9 years as the third signatory on this account.

The primary signatory of the PPS account who had sold his flat in the building but retained control of the account for a year, even as he informed the other owners that he had no interest in the problems of the building, suddenly decided a year later in August 2014, that he was resigning, and my mother was asked to be a new signatory.

We then found out that this account has no legal standing, and it has been used by the signatories to convince flat owners to put money into it!  In fact even as they knew this account faced closure, they told the owners to increase the monthly maintenance payment! Why would your bank allow this account to continue even though this account has already been to your legal department 4 years ago, still continues to sit in your legal department since June 2014? And your bank has even refused to freeze this account to protect our money which a State Bank official advised us is the RBI required procedure and should have been implemented immediately.

However we did not know this before. When the old signatories asked my mother to be a new signatory, they refused to provide vital information about this account and its history, such as the registration certificate for the PPS, the resolution, mode of operation etc, or even what type of account it was, and whether it was in accordance with the West Bengal Apartment Owners Laws. My mother thought, perhaps being a signatory would put her in a position to prevent the mismanagement of the funds and protect her own money too. But hesitant to sign blindly to the account, my mother approached your bank for this information and exchanged a series of emails describing her situation and her concerns to your bank’s Head office customer service. They informed her that unless she was a signatory they could not give her that information.

Thereafter, my mother filled the forms that the existent signatories provided her with, and on their request gave them a copy of her PAN card. It is thereafter, while making her monthly payment to the PPS at another branch, that my mother found out that this account had been in the bank’s legal department because it did not have the very documents she had been requesting, which are in fact required as per RBI rules for it to even have any kind of legitimacy. In fact the account was in the bank’s legal department in 2010 too, but for some reason was allowed to continue without these documents. Below is a copy of the printout we were given.

We then sought counsel and were told that she was being deliberately misled. This was not a society type of account for apartment owners, that is the norm, and that my mother was being led to believe it is. That this account seems to be set up as some sort of business partnership account, and its activities seem rather murky. Most importantly she was told that the signatories had no right to take her personal PAN for this account. Palm Place Syndicate must have its own registration number and PAN, which it didn’t, and therefore we needed to be extremely concerned about their intentions when they took her PAN number from her. In fact, when she demanded her application and PAN xerox back, we were concerned how evasive and aggressive one of the signatories got! On counsel, my mother then via email informed all the PPS signatories and members of this, as well as the bank’s customer service, and asked that the bank protect her PAN and give her an assurance in writing that it will be used only for her personal account.

An email response from your head office indicated that the kind of forms she was given to fill were not the ones required for this account. And the manager of the Church Lane branch told her that they never asked for the personal PAN for this kind of account.

However my mother did not know that, and what option did she have? She had already explained to the bank that she was literally a financial hostage to this account. On one hand she had been putting her money in here, and that the mismanagement of the funds also affects her life as she is a resident in this building. She thought perhaps being a signatory would allow her to have an input on the fund management. Yet, without the prior history and documents how could she sign blindly to this account? But even there she got no help from your bank. The only reason she continued to put money in here, and in fact even agreed to be a signatory is because she believed in your bank. The fact that your bank had allowed this account to continue made her believe that it must be at least legitimate, even if there seem to be problems with its handling.

We do not understand why the PPS seems to be set up as a business partnership when it is not. We now have many other concerns about what’s really going on with the Palm Place Syndicate account, and whether we are in the dark about other activities which would become a liability for the flat owners. One of the account’s signatories, who owns no apartments here and does not reside here, owns a private business, where he shows the building address exactly as it shows on the Palm Place Syndicate account as the registered address of his business (on this link). The other signatory, who owns a small house, a separate property, which stands within the apartment complex with its own walls and gates, rents it out commercially to a high-end fashion store, called Avoire. We have no confirmation on whether he has a commercial license for renting it out, or why he has periodically put a maintenance for this house into the PPS account which he’s not supposed to. More so, while our property deed clearly indicates that the house is separate and only has the right of passage through the apartment complex, and indeed has its own compound wall and gate, without the permission of the flat owners, the owner has allowed Avoire to put a massive hoarding in front of our apartment building gates essentially marking our residential building complex as a commercial complex. In fact the house and the apartment building have the same address “Palm Place” and are differentiated only by a number, 1A and 1B. Therefore, we are concerned that the “Palm Place Syndicate” account name may have left out the apartment building number 1A, and included “syndicate” instead of “Association of Apartment Owners” as is usually used, to be deliberately ambiguous.

My mother is a widow and a senior citizen. As a women’s activist in India, I have seen women like her, harassed and taken advantage of by men and the larger systems, one too many times, and I’m obviously very upset. But the fact also is, as my mother herself has told me many times, that she had approached the bank repeatedly because she trusted it after so many years of being a customer there. She had told the bank she was being asked to be a signatory, why this account was important to her living conditions and cash investment, and that she was not being given the right information. Then at point shouldn’t the bank have given her some sort of warning to hold off, knowing that the account was sitting in your legal department ? Indeed, the RBI rules which for some reason were repeatedly waived for this account, are there for the protection of all customers. And as a result this has caused a lot of financial and emotional stress to customers like my mother.

I also repeat the request we’ve already made to your bank’s head office’s customer department. Please take into account the information you  have been provided with here and in my mother’s previous letters to your bank, and freeze this account till my mother talks to some of the other residents and they open a legitimate account for an Apartment Owners Association in a nationalized bank, as is specified by the RBI, in accordance with RBI rules and so they can protect their funds and have it transferred to the new account. Many people have put their money in this account which the signatories have treat with utmost secrecy as if it were their personal account and have recklessly and arrogantly abused it. It has made no difference to them how it would impact on the owner-residents of this building since one of them doesn’t own a flat here or live here, and the other has another base where half his family lives. Even though some of the other owners have grumbled about their money, they are too intimated to stand up to the signatories. In fact, some of these owners also told us that they are aware that one of the signatories was fired from a big company for financial mishandling, and this was in the national newspapers. And they say that these signatories are so wealthy and socially well-connected that even the bank caters to them, despite this. I sincerely hope that is not so! And that your bank will give my mother the assurance she seeks, and put an immediate freeze to the Palm Place Syndicate account, till the apartment owners of our building get a legitimate explanation from the signatories, and set up a legitimate account for the building’s maintenance.

PPS closure warnings




How Can We Raise Strong Daughters? 10 Suggestions….


As a feminist activist and director of The 50 Million Missing Campaign to end female genocide in India, one of the questions I’m often asked in interviews is “How do we raise strong daughters?”

I have to admit, that there’s a part of me that is always uncomfortable with this question being asked in context of violence on girls and women.  Because what I feel it does, is that in a round-about-way it puts the onus or blame of gender-based violence on the victim.  It’s almost like saying, the reason girls and women get battered and/or killed is because they are weak.  And if they weren’t they wouldn’t.  Sexist and misogynist violence effects even the strongest of women, simply because the system (social, religious, legal etc.) permits it. In fact determinedly perpetuates it.  Victims of violence, be it race, religion or gender based violence, are NOT inherently weak, but are weakened by constant social battering.

So I believe the process of raising strong daughters is to off-set the very social and cultural conditioning and values that are meant to rob us of our strengths and potentials as individuals.  These are ideas and values that many of us, even those opposed to sexist societies, imbibe and perpetuate unconsciously.  Below I talk about 10 such things that we, as mothers, fathers, teachers, and guardians need to be mindful of, in how girls are raised in society, so we don’t rob them of their inherent strengths and potentials.  So that we consciously provide our daughters with an environment where they can realize and proudly assume their powers in full.  And are able to let “their strong woman within” shine through.

1.Teach her to know her Self by listening to her inner voice, instincts, thoughts and inclinations.

2. Teach her to be comfortable with what’s different in her even when it is at odds with what society says she should be.

3. Teach her that she is exceptional in her own way, and that you are going to be by her side as she discovers, explores and expresses her individual identity.

4. Teach her that choices she makes come with responsibilities that she must also assume. But that they also come with the freedom to make a new choice if she finds her first choice to be wrong.

5. Teach her that she has the right to be wrong, and that’s the path of discovery and growth.

6. Teach her that if she believes in herself, and her dreams and goals, she does not need the approval of the whole world.

7. Teach her that she will face harshness in this society, and she will face rejection, and that it does not matter as long as she believes in who she is and what she is doing.

8. Teach her to value experiences and work that allow her to be herself.

9. Teach her to value people who love her for who she is not what she does or has.

10. Teach her to celebrate each time she takes a stand against social or cultural pressure to conform and stands true to what she knows and believes in, even if at the end of the day, she won’t get a public award or standing ovation for it.

Why We Have to Talk Safety Before We Can Talk About Educating Girls in India

The reason The 50 Million Missing Campaign decided to make the post which I’ve re-blogged below is because we realized that the issue of escalating and systemic violence on girls in India is often getting trivialized in how the public, government and organizations are responding to it. ‘Educate them’ has become the automated, unthinking response to increased violence, indeed sexual violence on girls in India. It is almost a refusal to look at the reality of the SYSTEM and its participation in this systemic violence, because even as we say ‘educate them’ we fail to acknowledge that schools themselves, teachers, administrators, school bus drivers, etc are a part of the predatory network.

Where is a girl safe in India today? Not in her home, not on the streets, and not in the schools. For those who say, that this won’t change overnight, I say it’s an opinion that only the ‘unaffected’ can afford to offer, and therefore it is unconscionable! If your daughter was gang raped in school or on the school bus or walking to school, and the administration and police looked away, would you sit back and say “It won’t change overnight. We have to educate society and change its mindset?” No you would not! You will demand immediate safety and justice for your child! So why do we get so tolerant and accommodating in our attitude to the safety of girls when it is not one of our own children who is victimized? Why aren’t girl child organizations campaigns and NGOs, — speaking for the victims and their families instead of mindlessly preaching ‘educate them?’ Perhaps because those of us who recommend ‘education’ and ‘changing mindsets’ as the solution, are not just not among the directly affected people, but also who for some reason believe they won’t be?

What will stop the rapes and violence on girls in India? Ask those who have been DIRECTLY IMPACTED. And then become THEIR VOICE FOR CHANGE!


Prime Minister Modi recently told a nationwide gathering of students, that he intends to make the education of girls a priority for India.  He said his government has put into place many measures to ensure education for all girls, such as building toilets for girls. There are states in India where half the schools don’t have toilets, and this issue certainly needs attention.

RIGHT TO EDUCATIONHowever, The 50 Million Missing Campaign believes that one of the most critical issues that needs to be urgently addressed, is the escalation of incidents of rape and violence on girls while they are in school or while they are on their way to or going home from school.

Schools are now increasingly seen as unsafe places for girls in India.  This is one of the major reasons many families in rural and slum areas are unwilling to send their girls to school, and often…

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