Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The World Social Forum in India : Explorations and Reflections

Symposium and Final Workshop of the CACIM Forum Fellowship Programme 2007-8 and post Symposium Consultation

YWCA, Ashoka Road, New Delhi - August 29-30 2008

Struggles for Social Justice in India Today: How Relevant is the World Social Forum ?

A Summary Note

towards carrying the process forward

CACIM, on behalf of the participants at the Symposium; September 15 2008

What is the state of struggles for social justice in India today ? And just how relevant to them is the World Social Forum ?

This Note, the first outcome of two days of intense discussions held in Delhi recently around these two questions, attempts to quickly summarise and present the main contours of the deliberations that took place there[1]. As everyone at the meeting was aware – and was made aware of each hour, as more news came in – we were meeting at a time when there were fires raging across the country, from Orissa to Kashmir, from Gujarat to Kerala, and from Chhattisgarh to Singur in West Bengal. Participants at the meetings therefore specifically requested that CACIM bring this Summary Note out quickly so that all participants, and all others anywhere – in movement, in research, and others – who are interested in these questions and the issues listed below, can – if you find them relevant – take steps to address them, including by initiating similar / related discussions at a more local level than the ‘national’. Or you can write to us at CACIM (at cacim@cacim.net) and we can put you in touch with all those we know who are taking such steps.

The two days of intense discussions at the Symposium and Consultation called by CACIM in New Delhi on August 29-30 2008, on the question of ‘Struggles for Social Justice in India Today : How Relevant is the World Social Forum ?’, saw wide-ranging exchange, and a considerable amount of cross-questioning. This discussion is presently being summarised in an account of the meeting to be circulated in draft form at the earliest, preferably by the end of September 2008. The account will be circulated to all participants, first in draft form for comments and approval and then in final form, and posted on the CACIM website and on different listserves.

In the meanwhile, and without privileging these particular questions – which are drawn from a much larger list that was generated at the meeting – some of the questions that the meeting felt needed to be addressed were[2] :

  • How should movements address the increasing density of the state-capital nexus ?
  • How can we all bring workers and the working and labouring classes, both organised and unorganised, back into focus ?
  • How do we bring the question of nuclear ‘power’, the current nuclear deal, and peace and disarmament, into focus in the course of everyday social movement ?
  • How can we bring about real interaction and intersection between different streams of movement, and a real incorporation of each other’s agendas ? So that, for instance, structural issues such as patriarchy and caste, and a respect for diversity, are integrated into every movement’s perspective, and not left and treated as superficial issues to be addressed by superficial measures ? In particular, how can we develop a sharper focus on caste politics, and on the position of Dalits in social movements ?
  • How can social movements deepen their ability to theorise and strategise ?
  • How should we address the apparently increasing ‘symbiosis’ between state, capital, and movement – where, on the one hand, there is increasing (and deepening, and widening) resistance to manner in which the state is today governing, and capital colonising, and on the other, where both state and large sections of civil society, such as the big media, are increasing seeing the widening resistance not as expressions of democratic right and will but as impediments to ‘development’, and taking steps to muzzle, threaten, and suppress such movements ?
  • How do we address the bogey of terrorism – the use by the state (and much of civil society) of the threat of terrorism to justify both repression in particular situations and the reduction of civil liberties, in general ?
  • How do we address the abdication of political resistance and opposition to contemporary imperialism by those in social and political movement to religious fundamentalists ?
  • How can we develop a harder, and less romantic, understanding of social movement in the country ? How can we develop a more nuanced analysis of what we mean by social movements ? Is there a difference between protest-based and struggle-based movements, between social movements and political processes and movement, and between movements directly affected by the changing relations to capital and those relating to other forms of oppression ?
  • How do we develop a closer analysis of issues that are often used to close discussion down, such as “foreign funding”, “violence”, “NGOs”, etc ?.
  • How do we address issues arising from the co-option of language ? Where those in movement become puzzled and sometimes even fooled by the adoption in establishment discourse of terms, such as rights, justice, and diversity ? Is this mainstreaming a positive development ?
  • Given the schism that has taken shape in India over the past year or so between independent social movements and some parts of the political party left (as a result of the incidents at Nandigram in West Bengal and Chengara in Kerala), how can such movements develop a deeper and more critical understanding of the political party left in India today ? More generally, what is the perspective with which such movements should view the political party left, and what can and should their relationship be ?
  • How should movements relate to political phenomena such as the BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party)?
  • How can movements move more to proposing viable social and political alternatives, as well as to diversifying their modes of resistance ?
  • How can, and should, social movements address the issue of violence, and non-violence, in movement ? And not just get hung up at the level of “violence vs non-violence” ?
  • How can movements better address questions of internal democracy ?
  • How should mainstream social movements in India address the almost complete absence within movements, movement alliances, and networks of minorities – and most of all, of Muslims and of (non-fundamentalist) Muslim movements ? And how should such communities and minorities, and their movements, regard mainstream social movements ?
  • How can movements enable a greater contribution to movement by non-literate peoples ?
  • How can movements be enabled to themselves document their experiences – of resistance, of suppression, of victories, of alternatives ? So that we create a collective memory, to learn from and to draw on ?

And in terms of the WSF:

  • Has the WSF, by focussing on the social as opposed to the economic, lost sight of the economic ?
  • What have been the social and political consequences of the WSF – in India and internationally? How, if at all, is the WSF contributing to social and political change ? Are there any connections between the political changes that have taken place in Latin America, in Pakistan, and in India, to the activities of the WSF in these countries / regions ?
  • Has the WSF played any role in the articulation of new politics – or were these already taking shape and is the WSF only an expression of these changes ?
  • Is the weakness of the WSF in India a function of the fact that the conditions that existed in Latin America that brought it about (including the concept of open space) do not exist in India / are very different here ?
  • How can we address the tension between WSF as process and the WSF as event (and also the WSF as metaphor) ?
  • The meeting felt that even if the WSF process in India is today inactive, there is still a definite value to a space such as the WSF in today’s conditions in the country, where diverse questions can be addressed. So the question is : Can something like the World Social Forum – in its original incarnation, an open space for a sustained and free sharing of experience and for the forging of alliance – play any role in helping contemporary movements in the country to reflect on questions such as those listed above, and to exchange views and experiences ? And if so, and even as we try to understand and engage with the weaknesses of the WSF in India, should we move to taking steps to organise another WSF process, not the ‘official’ one ?

There was a clear affirmation at the Symposium of the relevance of and need for more such discussions, and of related initiatives. This was only strongly reinforced by the number of people who elected to come to the Consultation on the second day and also, more concretely, by their strong participation in the discussions and by the positions they then took. Participants put forward a wide range of ideas and made a series of offers, including :

  • Organising follow-up meetings in November 2008, possibly in Bangalore, Pune, and/or in Delhi;
  • Organising similar meetings at state and local levels, perhaps especially in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Bihar;
  • As many as possible participants as possible writing critically reflective and analytical papers, periodically
  • Publishing collections of social movement documents, including from the past, as Readers;
  • Translation and circulation of material produces in different Indian languages and also Nepali, to widen readership; the proposal to also do so in cross-border, international languages (Bengali, Tamil, and Urdu);
  • Collaboration with CACIM in the publication of material;
  • Preparing course modules on issues in social movement; and –
  • Using films as a way to open questions and debate.

The participants in the Consultation agreed to take these and more ideas back with them and to network over the next while, among themselves and within their respective networks, on how to build and carry forward the steps taken in Delhi on August 29 and 30.


Annexure to Summary Note : A summary of the meeting process

Some fifty people – movement activists, people from related support organisations, researchers, and others; women and men, from many parts of India, and some 5-6 from abroad, including one each from Nepal and Pakistan – met in New Delhi, India, on August 29 for a Symposium convened by CACIM (www.cacim.net), on the theme Struggles for Social Justice in India Today : How Relevant is the World Social Forum ?[3]. Some twenty-four of them came again the next day for a Consultation to follow up the discussions of the first day – to share their sense of the meeting and to see how we could take the ideas forward.

At the outset, Jai Sen on behalf of CACIM explained that it called the meeting on the basis of its interactions with various people – in movements, and in research – over the past year and its association with the WSF over the past several years. He said that CACIM saw the Symposium as only the beginning of an extended process of critical reflection that it feels is urgently necessary, in both the areas covered by the title. On behalf of CACIM, he invited and urged others – organisations and individuals – to take similar initiatives, independently or in collaboration with it.

The opening presentation by Jai on behalf of CACIM of a Theme Note prepared for the meeting was followed by keynote presentations by Gabriele Dietrich (of the National Alliance of People’s Movements and the Centre for Social Analysis in Madurai) and Vinod Raina (BGVS and Jubilee South, and member of the International Council of the WSF on behalf of Jubilee South). Delhi feminist historian and theorist Uma Chakravarty then critically engaged with issues arising.

The discussions were given some further substance and focus by the presentations by the three CACIM Forum Fellows for 2007-8, Mamata Dash (‘The World Social Forum… as movement groups in India see it’), Susana Barria (‘Main debates around the WSF 2004 in Mumbai’), and Mayur Chetia (‘World Social Forum and the Reaction from the Indian Left’), by the presentations that were then made by the invited discussants (C R Bijoy, Ashok Chowdhury, and Sumanta Banerjee, respectively), and by the discussions that followed each presentation. (see details of CACIM’s Fellowships programme and the Programme of the Symposium)

The fourth and final session of the Symposium was, like the first one, focussed on the question of the ‘Relevance of the WSF to Struggles for Social Justice in India’. Presentations by three invited speakers (movement researcher Alf Nilsen, Lata P M of NCAS and earlier the NAPM, and Vijay Pratap of Lokayan and SADED) were followed by open discussion, with presentations and interventions by other participants at the Symposium.

The two days of intense discussions saw very wide-ranging exchange and discussion, which is presently being summarised in an account of the meeting to be prepared at the earliest, preferably by the end of September 2008. In the meanwhile, and as first step, CACIM agreed to prepare a Note summarising the main outcomes of the meeting and to circulate this in draft form at the earliest, for comments and finalisation[4]. The account will be circulated to all participants, first in draft form for comments and approval and then in final form, and then posted after finalisation on the CACIM website and on different listserves.