•  World Social Forum - India
Another Asia is possible
Opposition to mindless globalization, and an emphasis on peace and communal harmony, will be the key themes of the Asian Social Forum in Hyderabad.
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December 2002, NEW DELHI, (IPS) - Countering neo-liberal globalization will be among the topics dominating the Asian Social Forum to be held in Hyderabad next week, as a prelude to the World Social Forum (WSF) at Porto Alegre, Brazil later in January.

"Capitalist globalization, accompanied by military and other interventions by world powers has greatly accentuated the lack of peace and security in the Asian region," said Kamal Mitra Chenoy, professor of international studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University and member of the host committee of the Asian Social Forum (ASF), to be held Jan. 2-7. Asia, Chenoy said, is one of the key sites in the world today of the unfolding of capitalist globalization and of its impacts.

Yet Asia, with its history of struggles against colonialism and feudalism and independent models of state and nation formation, is also uniquely positioned to lend support to the Porto Alegre banner - 'Another World is Possible'. Conflicts in Asia have assumed dangerous proportions and include those between ethnic, religious, sectarian and other contending groups. Nowhere is this more evident than in the host country and its immediate environs.

Earlier this year, the state of Gujarat, which shares a long border with Islamic Pakistan, was the scene of a vicious pogrom against its Muslim minority. This resulted in the deaths of more than 2,000 people and the displacement of more than 200,000 others. There was international condemnation of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the state for its role in the pogrom, and constitutional bodies like the National Human Rights Commission and the Election Commission expressed their horror at the violence. But these seemed only to have increased the popularity of the party, which strode to a two-thirds majority in elections to the Gujarat state assembly elections last month.

Many traced the ferocity of the sectarian violence to people frustrated by unemployment resulting from the closure of the textile mills that Ahmedabad, Gujarat's main city, was once famous for but is now in the doldrums as a result of economic liberalization. "Here is a classic example of increasing disparities and loss of livelihoods getting turned into sectarian and ethnic strife by politicians who then swear that they are fighting international terrorism," said ASF host committee member Anil Mishra.

Another provincial election restored popular rule in October to Indian Kashmir, a territory whose possession has been disputed for more than half a century by Pakistan and brought the nuclear-armed South Asian neighbors to the brink of war in July. Pakistan and India have been vying to be partners with the United States in its 'war against terror' that it unleashed following the Sep.11, 2001 aerial attacks on Washington and New York and is now poised to move on to its next stop -- oil-rich Iraq.

"After Sept. 11, there has been a sharp increase in militarism and adoption and use of draconian laws and measures under the garb of curbing terrorism, so that the security of individuals, communities and societies continue to be neglected as compared to state security," Chenoy observed. "The links between militarization and economic globalization are becoming more clear than ever as also the fragmentation of popular resistance through religious and ethnic sectarianism," said Dinesh Abrol, an activist and expert on science policy. Speakers at the opening plenary of the ASF on Jan. 2 will include leading human rights activists as Asma Jehangir from Pakistan, Walden Bello, commentator on globalization from the Philippines and Samir Amin, the France-based authority on western imperialism.

When the meet closes on Jan. 7, it will be addressed by India's former president K.R. Narayanan, Afro-Asian Peace and Solidarity Network secretary general Nouri Abdula Razzak Hussain, and Francisco Whitaker, one of the founders of the WSF and currently member of its international secretariat in Brazil. The days in between will be an open forum, structured into eight major conferences and smaller seminars and workshops and discussions, in which some 10,000 delegates from more than 300 organizations representing social movements, trade unions, youth groups and activists will participate. "While it is an open forum, the only requirement is that participants oppose imperialist globalization and religious sectarian violence and have commitment to democratic values, plurality and peace," said Mishra.

A highlight of the ASF will be testimonies by "victims of the violence of globalization" and profit-driven development paradigms, including people like Nora de Cortinas of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, an Argentinean group of mothers and grandmothers who sought to recover persons disappeared under the country's military dictatorship. From Afghanistan there will be Sahar Saba, spokeswoman for the Revolutionary Association of the Women in Afghanistan (RAWA), the oldest women's political and humanitarian organization in a country riven by religious fundamentalism and imperialist interests.

According to Jeevan Reddy, a former judge and chairman of the host committee, the WSF, of which the ASF is a regional extension, has already emerged as the rallying point for those opposed to globalization and the 'Washington Consensus' on economic liberalization. The ASF, he said, is intended to be a part of the mobilization that emerged in Seattle in 1999 against the World Trade Organization, but represents much more than just opposition to globalization. "It stands for the globalization of people," Reddy said. "The meet stands for the true globalization of people and represents much more than just the building up resistance to economic globalization," he added.

For now, with barely a week to go before the forum starts, ASF organizers are grappling with a host of logistical problems, starting with the inability of a 70-strong delegation from Pakistan headed by rights activist Jehangir and anti-nuclear activist A H Nayyar to get visas. "We hope that at least a handful of the applicants will be cleared in time for the meet," organizer Amit Sengupta said Friday.

Ranjit Devraj
December 2002

Ranjit Devraj is a correspondent with Inter Press Service, a global news resource faciliating south-south and south-north dialogue on important economic, social, environmental, and other issues. IPS is distributed by Global Information Network