Receiving Stolen Goods

We'd invited some friends round for a meal.

"Are these your own potatoes?"

What the question really was about was whether we'd grown the potatoes ourselves, or bought them from the shop. But having as I do a penchant for wilful misinterpretation and a willingness to lie transparently for the sake of a laugh, I answered,

"No, I stole them."

We had in fact bought them in the shop. We hadn't harvested our own yet.

Today our lunch was vegetable curry and rice. All the vegetables were from our own garden – potatoes, French beans, shallots, fenugreek leaves and chillies. But the rice was stolen. Well, okay, from the shop really. We'd paid for it.

But was it stolen further back up the chain of supply? Probably not.

Depending how you look at it. I don't doubt the shop paid the suppliers, and everyone paid everyone else all up the chain right back to the farmer. So it wasn't stolen.

Except in one – important – sense. This rice came from Pakistan. Rice exported from Pakistan (or India, for that matter) comes from big farms, owned by rich people who make lots of money exporting rice – and often other farm produce, too. These big farms occupy land that used to be divided into numerous small farms, owned by much less rich people – from whom the land was stolen.

Stolen? Well, often simply that; but also often taken by foul means within the law – much in the fashion of the Highland Clearances in Scotland. One favourite method is lending money to poor people, for things like weddings, at extortionate rates of interest; and then, when they seem unable ever to pay you back, you demand the land as surety, and finally "repossess" it. Another favourite method – popular in Chhattisgarh and Orissa at the moment, where big companies (such as Vedanta, quoted on the London Stock Exchange) want the land for bauxite mining – is to bribe the police to ignore the way your goondas (thugs) are simply driving people off their land, or even to join in the fun alongside your goondas. Murder a few on the way, to encourage the others to run – nobody will take any notice, they're just poor people and the police are on your side.

So there you go. The aluminium (made from bauxite) is stolen, too. (For more on this, with pictures, see Bloody Bauxite.)

And some people think poor folks migrate from the countryside into the cities for a better life – well, better than living in the country without any land, or getting beaten up or murdered by goondas, maybe.