The Asian Social Forum (ASF) - a platform with huge potential - held its first-ever meeting in Hyderabad in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh between January 3 and 7. Over 500 social activist groups from the continent met and deliberated, and called unanimously for setting up a social order that rejects the regressive and exploitative policies of the United States and its allies.
The ASF emerged out of the global movement that began in 1999 in Seattle, USA. This led to the World Social Forum that has been meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Its slogan: 'Another world is possible'.
In Hyderabad, the ASF called upon the international community to work towards a global system that ensures people's social control over their resources, more decentralization in decision-making process, and ultimately greater independence along with a just democratic order.
About 10,000 delegates participated in the Forum - seminars, panel discussions and testimonies unfolded through more than 200 events held in 25 venues. The participants included social activists, grassroots workers, women's groups, artists, writers, thinkers, academics, political leaders, peasants, workers, students and housewives. Folk groups from all over the country peppered the discussions and talks with cultural performances.
The desire for unity in the struggle against globalization and the fight against market fundamentalism and religious fanaticism was reflected in all the meetings of the ASF. And each meeting, seminar or event reiterated that another world is possible.
In a seminar on 'Ecology, Culture, and Knowledge', Walden Bello, Director of Global South, an NGO in the Philippines, analyzed how globalization and the market-driven economy results in the monopoly of multinational companies over the natural resources of the Third World. "The creation of demand was the primary concern of capitalists. To create this demand for their bulky stocks of industrial products, multinational companies want to expand their market into borderless nation-states. Neo-liberal thinkers named this process globalization. Since the Rio convention on the protection of the earth, the MNC hegemony over the natural resources of the third world has increased."
Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, gave a vivid description of the impact of globalization on the poor. "This phenomenon called globalization is against the very basis of the Indian Constitution. It is imperative that all forces against globalization come together to fight this menace. A new paradigm for the world order has to be created. And the need of the hour is finding unity within this diversity around us." Most delegates agreed that any idea of a humane IMF, WTO and World Bank to change the present system was foolish and dangerous, as the system itself was centralized and supportive to global capitalism.
In another seminar, 'Women Resist Globalization', Subhashini Ali, president of All India Progressive Women's Association, argued that both wage and non-wage women are producers of wealth. "The closure of industries and corporatization of public sector units has resulted in huge unemployment,
which ultimately increases trafficking and prostitution." And social activist Vandana Shiva stressed that neo-liberal policies are limited, blatantly exploitative of water, seed and jungles, and ultimately of women.
Several speakers expressed their common concern over the privatization of drinking water and the attack of multinational companies on the livelihoods of people. Oscar Oliviera - leader of the Cochabamba anti-water privatization struggle in Bolivia - called upon people to fight unitedly against water multinationals like Vivendi. "I am aware that many states in India are trying to privatize water distribution. I can only ask them to take a look at our experiences in Bolivia. The private exploiters are not concerned about the welfare of the people. Ultimately the poor in all countries will suffer. Don't let your natural resources be eaten away."
Tom Clement, the well-known Greenpeace activist, noted that it was the crisis the Bush administration faced in US that is leading to the heightened tensions in the name of an external enemy. A leader of the anti-nuclear movement since the 1980s, Clement said the US promises to destroy nuclear arms in Iraq and North Korea, but is attempting to re-deploy its own nuclear arsenal in the name of missile defence technology.
"There is no effective opposition which can contain Bush's aggressiveness. This is not a war against terrorism, but it is very much a war of terror. It is meant to expand US military hegemony throughout the world. It reduces democracy and multilateralism to a farce. Before he took charge of his office, the present US secretary of defence was the most important arms supplier to Iraq," Clement said.
A strong message to move away from tobacco cultivation was delivered by the workshop on 'Action towards a Tobacco-Free World'. Says Suvarna Sharma, a development activist working with women in tobacco farming: "Tobacco work drains them of their energy and health and often strains family
relationships to the point of breaking them due to the long hours of work during the farming season. It leaves them no time to attend to household chores and children. Many of these children eventually drop out of school and are taken to work on tobacco farms."
Deena Farhab from Afghanistan pointed out that women and children bear the brunt of violence of war or civil war, whether in Palestine, Kabul, Bosnia or Kashmir. Her voice quivered as she spoke, "The Taliban tortured and killed my husband because I could not deliver the ransom money in time. They looted and burnt my house. The agony we women face in Afghanistan is not always highlighted. But we are determined to go ahead and fight the forces of war, exploitation and fundamentalism."
At the conference on 'Debt, Development and Trade', Professor Walden Bello spoke of the accumulation of surplus funds through the US policy of pushing big money from the OPEC countries into US banks, and how, therefore, the control of finance capital became easy. "It became a magic wand in the hands of USA for global domination."
Keo-Ho of South Korea and Titi Soentoro of Indonesia dwelt on the grim situation of public debt in East Asia as a result of the massive privatization of public assets. One speaker called upon third world countries to follow the slogan 'Don't Owe, Won't Pay'. And economist Farhad Mazhar from Bangladesh pointed out the importance of localization of food security of the farming and production agencies and protection of the agriculture sector.
While many speakers presented an insightful analysis of the global situation, several participants felt that many groups and people could not interact effectively or adequately. Although people were enthusiastic and responsive, the language barrier did pose a problem.
On a positive note, however, Al Shamaa Hummam, professor of economics in the University of Baghdad, said international platforms such as the ASF could work as a counter-balance to the US's imperialist hegemony. "Such meets can fuel energy into people's movements all over the world and
utilize people's capacity to resist imperialist plans."
Prabir Purkayasatha, one of the organizers, says the ASF didn't have an agenda other than to bring together various people's movements from the sub-continent. "It is for the participating groups to evolve a consensus on their struggle against the exploitative social order. This meet will have to be followed up by action and more gatherings, which will eventually lead us to a point of agreement on the battle ahead of us."