ASF - Hyderabad 2003

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It is a mela of a different kind. There are seminars, lectures, dances, slogan shouting and exhibitions". This is how a local newspaper described the Asian Social Forum held in Hyderabad from January 2–7, 2003. ASF was all about the struggle of the people against inequitable globalisation, rabid communalisation and economic, social and political insecurities and inequalities of the subalterns.

Over 15,000 people from across Asia thronged Hyderabad for this mela with one slogan in their hearts and on their lips, "Another World is Possible". They were there to show solidarity with the struggling people of Palestine and the relentless fighters in Argentina. They were there in solidarity with the families of the farmers who committed suicide in Andhra Pradesh and the helpless victims of the Gujarat genocide. They demonstrated their solidarity with the fighters for democracy in Burma and against the Indian government’s denial of visaas to IA Rahman, Asma Jahangir and Pervez Hoodbhoy, who are among the leading lights in the campaign for democracy and human rights in Pakistan.

The following conversation between a journalist, who identified himself only as MD, and an auto-driver, Rashid, illustrates the effect that the ASF has had not only on the diehard activist but also on the common man.

Describing the ASF, Rashid says to MD, "Bahar se hamare sarkar log bahut paisa karza le lete hain. Is ke khilaf yeh log meeting rakhe." (Our government is getting enmeshed in too many loans from overseas. Their meeting is to oppose this).

MDL:"Bahar se paise lene mein kya kasur? Bahar se paise aane se dekho hamare sadkein kitne acche ho gaye. Us paise se Chandrababu ne flyover banaya. Kya Kya nahi kiya Babu ne?" (What’s wrong with loans from abroad? After all, it has helped improve our roads. Chandrababu has made so many flyovers with some of this money).

Rashid:"Paise udhaar kar ke bacchon ko padhana, chota dhanda kholna theek hai. Lekin udhaar ke paise se colour TV kharidna, ayyashi karne se zindagi khatam ho jati hai." (Its one thing to take loans for children’s education, starting a small business. But to get loans for colour TV and other indulgences can only be ruinous).

Rashid had gathered all this information from the delegates whom he was ferrying to and fro during the ASF.

Former President KR Narayanan, speaking at the valedictory of the ASF, summed it up most appropriately: "This is the voice of the people against globalisation and imperialism. This voice cannot be suppressed and will be heard across the globe. ASF is the representation of the voices of the weakest, the suppressed and the poor who are victims of globalisation. It is an answer to the World Economic Forum."

Conferences on ‘Peace and Security’, ‘Social Rights in the Context of Globalisation’, ‘Debt Development and Trade’, ‘Democracy, Nation State and Exclusions’, ‘Women Resist Globalisation’, ‘Dalits, Other Social Groups and Globalisation’, ‘Alternatives and Peoples Movements and Ecology’, ‘Culture and Knowledge: Defending People’s Rights to Resources’, were addressed by an array of activists like Vandana Shiva, Rajender Singh, Medha Patkar, Ruth Manorama, Admiral Ramdas, Praful Bidwai, Aruna Roy, Swami Agnivesh from India, Walden Bello from the Phillipines, Chandra Muzaffar, Malaysia, Abdel Jawad Saleh, Palestine, Samir Amin, Egypt, Zafarullah Chowdhry, Bangladesh, Thin Thin Aung, Burma, and many more.

One got to hear heart-rending stories from victims of hate at the session — ‘Peoples’ Voices’. The testimonies and experiences shared at this session were eye–openers for many.

Ø Miyoka Mitsubara recounted the horror of nuclear bombing in Hiroshima, of how the bomb devastated a peaceful and serene area. Miyoka is a walking symbol of the horrors of war and its accompanying insecurities.

Ø Shabbir Karam, a 14-year-old Kashmiri student, recalled how terrorism had destroyed the lives of thousands of people in the valley.

Ø Zeenat Omar from Afghanistan spoke of how the Taliban kept women away from education, and as a consequence of which the female literacy rate in Afghanistan fell to 12 per cent.

Ø Waheeda Bano, a 14–year–old victim of the Gujarat genocide described how her house was looted and family members killed. Due to the intervention of an IPS officer, she received Rs. 5,000 as compensation, but even from that Rs. 1,500 was taken away in bribes by the officials.

ASF was the melting pot for artistic and cultural expressions, novel demonstrations and protests against the hegemony of imperialist forces, the greed of capitalists, the ruthlessness of the market, insane forces inciting hatred and discrimination on grounds of religion, caste and race. A group of youth from Nepal lit candles on the pathway inside the ASF venue.

"Come sir…. see it. We want to light up the lives of those discriminated against in the name of caste in Nepal," said Ashok Bikarm Jiaru from the Nepal National Social Welfare Association. A social activist from Tamil Nadu who was watching the proceedings remarked, "We too have this problem. We need to fight collectively."

Elsewhere, there were shouts of ‘Hindutva, down down!’ from a group of youths while women from Rajasthan raised the ‘WTO Murdabad’ slogan and later burst into Rajasthani folk songs. The venue was transformed into one big open space for theatre groups, folk songs and dances from all the Asian countries. Often, people joined in these performances by groups from places as far and diverse as Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and other states.

The ‘Another Film Festival’ probably drew the most crowds. People thronged not only to watch films but also to participate in the discussions and debates on the issues raised by them. 93 of the films were documentaries, of which 3 premiered here. Stalin K, one of the film festival’s organisers, observed that the most important contribution of this film festival was that it got people who work on similar themes with similar concerns together and this helps build friendships and networks. Already some are enthused enough to give concrete shape to a ‘Peoples’ Film Festival’ about which much was said earlier but which never materialised.

The First Asian Youth Camp was also organised under the aegis of the ASF. It brought together 750 delegates between the age group of 15 to 35 from 21 Indian states, 10 Asian and 6 other countries. Throughout the day they deliberated upon an array of subjects –‘Struggle of the Palestinian People’, ‘Alarming Rise of Violence Worldwide’, ‘Youth and Fundamentalism’, ‘Detrimental Effects of the Privatisation of Basic Services like Education, Water, Health and Electricity’, ‘Impact of Globalisation on Livelihoods’ and the history of various movements. A spontaneous cultural programme took place every evening.

The ASF also had its moments of dissent with Gadar, the Marxist-Leninist singer appealing to the Dalits, tribals, minorities and backward communities to boycott the Forum as some NGOs participating in the event were allegedly agents of multi-national companies and imperialist forces. But it is the aspirations and sentiments of the common people as expressed by Mriganh K Roy, a 12-year-old student from Lucknow, that drives us to stick together and to work together in spite of our ideological and organisational differences. "We need peace, not war. If war breaks out, people on both sides will suffer heavily. The leaders may escape, but the common man will become the first casualty. Can’t we stop the war rhetoric and consider ways and means of establishing close relations? Can’t we resume sporting ties?"

The Asian Social Forum concluded with activists making a firm resolve to build peoples’ movements to fight communalism, fundamentalism and inequitable globalisation.

Another world is not only possible but also sorely needed.

Archived from Communalism Combat, January 2003 Year 9  No. 83, Breaking Barriers

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