Speech by Sophie Prize winner Thomas Kocherry

Oslo Sophie Prize Ceremony June 15, 1999

Dear chairperson and friends,

Speech by Sophie Prize winner Thomas Kocherry

Thomas Kocherry

First of all I want to thank the Sophie Foundation for honouring me with the Sophie Prize. In particular I thank Jostein gaarder for creating the Foundation for honouring such ventures to recognise and to encourage re-imaging a world where every human being is equal in opportunities; without discrimination on the basis of caste, class, creed, religion or gender. Please accept my heartfelt thanks.

Today we are in the context of GLOBALISATION - LIBERALISATION. The words look very attractive, but the vast majority of the people, are the victims of Globalisation. Globalisation began with COLONIALISM. In the sixteenth century Europe was overpopulated and the people began to migrate from Europe to other continents as if they were discovering new places. It ended up with conquering other places and people. Sword and Cross went together. They forcefully enslaved and converted natives and indigenous people's. They conquered lands, exploited the resources and accumulated wealth.

In the 20th century, the world witnessed the uprising of people's for political freedom. However economic exploitation continued through Multi-National Corporations (MNCs) and Trans-National Corporations(TNCs). But the rich and the ruling class of the newly freed 3rd world countries generally sided with the MNCs for their own advantage, against the interest of the common people. Again the natives and the indigenous people's were the worst hit. As a result, according to a UN study, today 20% Northern minority of humankind has:

  • 82.7% of world gross national product
  • 81.2% of world trade
  • 94.6% of all commercial lending
  • 80.5% of all domestic investment
  • 80.6% of all domestic savings
  • 94.0% of all research and development

It is in this context that we should understand GLOBALISATION today. Those who have more are bound to get more. This means more accumulation and centralisation. The Northern 20% people are better placed to take away even the 10-20% of the wealth in the hands of 80% people in the South. The real Centre is G8 countries and of course the USA is the real centre of the centre. They are wielding POWER of WEALTH and ARMS. They are placed in a better position for quick profit at the expense of the vast majority of people and the environment. All the rest are in the periphery. Thus, PHERIPHERALIZATION of the vast MAJORITY is the other side of Globalisation. In the period following de-colonisation and political independence of the Third World (South) countries particularly after World War II, the international relationships among the countries at bilateral and multilateral levels were considered very important and viewed as mutually beneficial. This language and practice seems to be in the wane today. The Northern MNCs want to take over the control of UN. If the UN does not dance according to their tune they will not give their share. They are more interested in strengthening the WTO than the UN. They talk of DEMOCRACY and HUMAN RIGHTS but they have NO CONCERN FOR PEOPLE IN THE SOUTH. Market economy determines everything, there is no other value in life. MONEY HAS MORE VALUE THAN PEOPLE OF THE SOUTH. The UN has become a weak instrument. Globalisation is beneficial to those who have. All those who are have-nots are the victims. Globalisation is a mechanistic process (and therefore most easily manipulatable by the wielders of power) in the face of which there is no choice and alternative. This is the most insidious aspect of this ideology: that it could present itself as the only possible way of being. It creates a certain sense of inevitability and absoluteness. Outside Globalisation-and Market Economy, there is no salvation.

Let me show how this is true as regards the fisheries sector. In the 1990s fishing reached the point of diminishing returns. Many fish populations have fallen to levels from which they can no longer recover without significant reductions in the catches or a moratorium on fishing. There are simply too many boats catching too many fish. The first surge in numbers of fishing vessels occurred during the industrial revolution. This upwell tapered off during the two world wars, but boomed again in the 1950s through 1970s. The world's fishing fleet doubled between 1970 and 1990.

More than 100 million people in developing countries (South) are dependent on fisheries for our livelihoods. For us fishing is a way of life, not just a source of income. Sea is our MOTHER. Traditionally, small-scale or artisanal fishers have provided fish for local consumption; but as fish becomes scarce and its value increases, it enters the global market and becomes unaffordable for common people. In the process we are displaced and the MNCs take over completely.

Most governments, particularly of the North, are trying to prop up an unsustainable fishery. According to the FAO, every year governments world wide pay US $ 116 billion to catch just $ 70 billion worth fish. Developed nations, which have over fished their own waters, have headed into the waters of the developing nations. The European Union (EU) has around 40% more vessels than necessary to catch fish on a sustainable basis. Volatile 'fish wars' are a common place. There are more than 1 million large industrial fleets in the world. They have depleted all the oceans in the world. They have become a threat to the 100 million fisher people in the world. Further these have organic link with the coastal mono shrimp culture. The fresh fish caught by the industrial vessels are converted into fishmeal for the production of shrimp. Ten thousand tons of fish that would have been available for common people are converted into fish-meal to produce one thousand tons of shrimp that only the rich can afford to buy. Further coastal shrimp industry depletes fishing grounds, salinates drinking water, destroys mangroves and displaces fisher people and agriculturists who depend on these resources for their livelihood. Further, the North American Free Trade Agreements (NAFTA) have shifted polluting industries to the coastal belts of the developing nations, threatening the very lives of small fishing communities who are totally dependent on fishing and fishing alone. All over the world the victims of Globalisation -the small fishing communities- are realising the need of coming together to establish our right to life. We want to establish our right as persons. The World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fishworkers is the result of this realisation. The Forum is involved in a campaign to establish the right of the fishing communities to own the water-bodies, including seas and rivers, fishing implements and distribution of the catch. The management of the distribution of the catch should be done by the fisherwomen. We have declared November 21 as WORLD FISHERIES DAY to claim and to campaign for this right. We wish to establish our right by exercising our duty, even through struggles and sacrifices. The 10 million fisher people in India were able to change the government policy of Joint and Lease Fishing through long standing struggles. The Canadian Fisher People have been fighting against huge fishing vessels. The Gloucester Fisherpeople in the USA, particularly the wives of fishermen, have succeeded in banning factory trawlers through legislation. In Senegal, fisher people are on a war path against destructive fishing. In Brazil the fisherpeople are involved in a struggle against predatory fishing. In Pakistan and in South Africa the fishing communities are struggling to establish their right to life.Thus the fisher people both in the North and South, who are victims of Globalization, are involved in establishing a new paradigm of Development and Politics.

We, the fisher people in India, are part of a larger alliance - the National Alliance of Peoples Movements (NAPM) - all of whom are victims of Globalization. There are over 150 people's movements in this alliance, not only struggling to survive, but searching for alternatives to the present form of development, which in the long run is destructive for all. It is through these struggles that the whole of humanity is going to be saved. True development is not by conquering and enslaving, not by accumulating and centralizing, not by displacing people and destroying cultures. True development is only by integrating and working together, through distributive justice and decentralisation by nurturing and including Native and Indigenous people's.

It is here that the struggles of the victims of mega dams in India can be understood. There are 3600 mega dams in India. These have displaced 50 million natives, tribals and fisherpeople and have proved to be MASS DESTRUCTION'S rather than DEVELOPMENT. These victims are involved in a long standing struggle to create a new paradigm of DEVELOPMENT, where native skills and technologies are enhanced, small is accepted as beautiful and sustainable and simplicity has become a way of life with due respect to native cultures. We have gone to the extent of JALASAMATHI- sacrificing ourselves in the rising reservoirs- rather than inflicting violence upon others, for the creation of this new paradigm. Right now, about 400 leaders, representing different movements in India -Farmers, Fishworkers, People displaced by the Narmada project and others- are in Europe campaigning against MNCs, TNCs and the WTO. For the first time such a mass campaign is taking place. The victims of GLOBALISATION are asserting their rightful place in this planet. We feel an urgent need to create a new paradigm of development and politics, a paradigm in which all human beings have right to live, with equal access to the resources and opportunities. Development cannot be measured solely by the quantity of production, but by its sustainability by its capacity to protect the livelihood of all human beings. Production should be coupled with distributive justice. There is no Development for the sake of Development. True Globalisation should make free movement of labour unhindered by national boundaries. Let the year 2000 be a real Jubilee Year; let the debts of the developing countries be wiped out; and let all nations experience true freedom and equality.


Thomas Kocherry
June 15, 1999