"Liberalisation? Some of us are quite sceptical about it, others think it might work. But we all agree that the government of India should make more efforts in its struggle against poverty," says Gerard Oonk, campaign officer of the India Committee of The Netherlands (ICN). The organisation supports and promotes solidarity with progressive movements in India, aimed at the structural improvement of the position of the poor.
"The development aid from both the Netherlands and the European Economic Community (EEC) should be more canalised toward the poorer sections of the society," says Oonk. Support of the employment guarantee movement of agricultural labourers is the main current campaign of the ICN.
In Maharashtra, such a scheme has been in existence for already over 15 years. The scheme aims at ensuring that labourers in rural areas get a right to work, and otherwise they get a small unemployment allowance. Through labour intensive public works - such as irrigation and afforestation - unemployment has been considerably reduced in the areas the scheme has been in active operation.
The ICN assists non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and trade unions in other states like Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu by urging the Dutch Ministry of Development Cooperation and the EEC to back their programmes partly by foreign aid.
The ICN is - with its 200 active members and 800 subscriptions for the bi-monthly magazine 'India Now' - one of the biggest solidarity groups in the Netherlands. In cooperation with other Dutch groups it focuses on certain topics, like Bhopal, urban problems, environment, women and fisheries. Apart from supporting Indian NGOs and lobbying in Europe and Holland, it tries to stimulate the interest of the Dutch public in India, her culture and the people.
Towards these ends, ICN undertakes research, maintains a public library, publishes books, brochures and a magazine, lends out videotapes, slide shows and exhibitions and organises symposia, like on telecommunication and on Dutch multinationals in India. ICN raises funds from her members and NGOs in Holland.
The organisation started in 1977 - after Indira Gandhi declared the Emergency - by a small group of people who had studied or worked in
India. They found that the Dutch newspapers gave "too positive and too little" information about what was actually happening in India. In their opinion the Emergency was an anti-democratic move. The ICN's first act was the publication of a general booklet of India, which has been the best sold on the country in the Netherlands.
In 1981 the ICN launched its first big campaign. Six million traditional fishermen and their families saw their livelihood threatened by indiscriminate trawling and overfishing in coastal waters. At the same time the Dutch Ministry of Development Cooperation wanted to finance the export of a number of fishing trawlers to India. Together with India's National Fishermen's Forum, ICN successfully stopped this type of development aid.
Since the end of 1985 ICN has intensively campaigned against EEC dairy aid exports and animal feed imports from India under the slogan 'EEC Milk Out of India'. In that year India, through the National Dairy Development Board, asked the EEC of new multi-annual milkpowder and butteroil gifts for 'Operation Flood'. ICN's claim is that the national dairy development programme has generally failed to benefit the small milk producers and the consumers for whom it was initially designed. The organisation claims that since 1970, the EEC programme has been depressing milk prices and production in India while animal feed imports by the EEC has deprived Indian farmers of scarce concentrate feed, hence pushing up its price.
This campaign - in which the ICN collaborated with other European and Indian NGOs - resulted in postponing the EEC decision, a new,
critical evaluation and some important concessions. The EEC now wants to ensure that its dairy aid does not repress milk prices and be used for bottle feeding. Cattle breeding policies are being reoriented to the improvement of local buffaloes and cattle breeds. EEC animal feed imports are continuing, but the debate on it in Europe and India has certainly been stimulated.
Oonk fears that the tightening ties of the EEC will lead towards a "superficialisation" of development cooperation in the European countries. The Netherlands, for example, has always played a leading role in this field - not only by spending 1.5 per cent of its net national product on foreign aid, but also by supporting progressive programmes, such as on women and environment. This might change.
On request of the Indian Council for Indigenous and Tribal People (ICITP) the ICN will also be involved in development education and lobbying on the labour conditions of tribal women on tea plantations. Oonk says: "Tea is an excellent product to start a campaign. You can actually put a glass of tea in the consumer's hand and ask him: What are you exactly drinking? You know where it comes from and what the labour situation is? And the next thing to do is show him the alternatives, like the shops we have in Holland which sell products for a fair price."