The Social Forum Phenomenon

The Idea of Open Space

The recent years have seen the rise and spread of local, national, regional, thematic and global social forums, inspired directly and indirectly by the World Social Forums (WSF) and its Charter of Principles. Any Social Forum, inspired by the WSF, and the WSF itself is conceived as an open space that facilitates the coming together of people to engage with each other on diverse social-political issues, and to oppose neo-liberalism and the domination of the world by Capital and any form of imperialism. They are committed to building a planetary society directed towards fruitful relationships among Humankind and between it and the Earth. Indian social and political activism has shown tremendous energy for the Forum in these years: Activities of the WSF process in India were initiated in early 2002, and were designed to set up and build a World Social Forum process in the country, towards hosting the Asian Social Forum in Hyderabad in 2003 and subsequently the World Social Forum in Mumbai in 2004. And now, the proposed India Social Forum in Delhi from 9 to 13 November 2006 marks the initiative to further advance the movement against neo-liberal globalisation, sectarian politics, casteism, patriarchy and militarization. Continue reading The Social Forum Phenomenon

Azad Media ki Ajeeb Dastaan

Strange tales of the independent media

Tale #1

Recently, after endless rants against the NBA our favourite paper, The Indian Express, finally gave some space to Medha Patkar to set the record straight (November 4 2006). Her blunt and effective challenge to Indian Express common-sense concluded with some record-straightening by the Express Kolkata office.

The supposed response from the newspaper to Medha’s pointed questions, consists SOLELY of information from government sources: “according to the Addl District Magistrate”; “We have verified this from Singur’s block development officer”; and “land compensation rates reported by us are all official figures.” The best part is where they triumphantly say – the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 is the law of the land, much though Ms Patkar may view it as a one-sided process.

Hello – have you missed the point? She and thousands of others all over the country, insist it is an anti-democratic and draconian law and it must be radically changed. So you simply reiterate that it is the law of the land? THIS is a debate? Here are some other Laws of the Land: the Armed Forces Special Powers Act that keeps the North-East under the military jack boot; Section 377 that says if you have sex that the judge thinks is against the order of nature, you’re a criminal; rape laws that say it is not rape but a much lesser crime if someone shoves a finger up an infant’s vagina…

Who ARE these people who get hired to write this stuff? They’d fail a decent BA degree.

Continue reading Azad Media ki Ajeeb Dastaan

Whose City Do We Live In?

On September 18, 2004, newspapers carried a mandatory Public Notice issued by the DDA, inviting objections and suggestions to a proposal to modify the Delhi Master Plan (2001). The DDA wanted to change the classification of six hectares of land that lay right by the Yamuna — just south of the erstwhile Yamuna Pushta slums — from “riverbed” to “commercial”. The change was needed to accommodate an it Park as part of the collaboration between the Delhi government and the Delhi Metro.

At first sight, the notice appears much like any other of the dozens one skips rapidly past every morning. What makes this notice different, however, is that, at the time of issue, the it park had already been under construction for over a year despite a 2003 Supreme Court order to clear all riverbed encroachments, and to stop all construction on the Yamuna banks. The DDA’s “proposal” was, in effect, simply a de-facto regularisation of what planners argue is an illegal encroachment. Just a few kilometres away, accused of violating the same Master Plan, and under the directive of the very same Supreme Court verdict, another kind of “encroachment” had no public notice in its defence, as tens of thousands of people were forcibly evicted from the slums of Yamuna Pushta — home to some of them for twenty-five years. Continue reading Whose City Do We Live In?

Dam the Media – Give Them Land in New Harsud!

Before the ‘Battle for Truth’, Reveal Your Assets, Honourable Men and Women of the Media

Today’s Indian Express carries Medha Patkar’s response to a long continuing rant by the paper on a series of issues ranging from compensation for the displaced of Narmada valley to the whole issue of SEZs. She has thrown the gauntlet – a challenge to the newspaper to join her in a ‘Battle for Truth’. The Express has of course joined it right away in the most unbecoming way that has by now become a hallmark of its ranting style: It barely lets Medha conclude and puts in a rejoinder from its “Kolkata Bureau” – they could barely wait for her to finish and if the form did not impose the limitations, one could imagine them jumping up and down and shouting her down, booing her in the middle of her speech…

So gentlemen and women of the media, before you really join the Battle for Truth, the time has come for you, especially senior media persons – Editors and senior Commentators, the custodians of public opinion (or Truth, should we say?) – to declare your assets and their sources. You have been very vociferous about maintaining public standards and have campaigned tirelessly to see that politicians are forced to declare their incomes. Since the functions that you honourable people perform are no less public – you too must lay yourself open to public scrutiny. When the CEO of Xphatic or some secretary-general of a Corporate Association or a Chamber of Commerce writes, we know exactly where they speak from and for whom. But when “journalists”, “Editors” and political commentators  – in this and other papers and news channels – write or talk, they supposedly talk from the “objective” position of truth. Everybody in the trade of course knows that there are crores of rupees of ill-begotten wealth circulating in the media that shapes the Truth. The defence campaign of the takeover of farmers’ land for a leading corporation by most of the English media is not unrelated to the circulation of this strange thing. This is not an insinuation against any specific person/s but surely a declaration of assets should become the voluntary practice of all those who desire and fight tirelessly for probity in public life. What say you gentlemen and gentlewomen?

But what of those really innocent ones who may not be otherwise part of corrupt corporate power nexuses? Their naïveté  is so truly astonishing that it would make you gasp. These really innocent ones are products of the New Age who have taken in the new theology hook, line and sinker. Immediately after deaths in police firing on protests against takeover of tribal land in Kalinganagar by the government for a private company, a well known TV journalist demanded of the hapless tribals  – “But why are you against industrialization?” Holy shit! You are against Industrialization! Next you will turn against your own Self – Don’t you see that it is the messiah who has come to redeem you and deliver you from your hellish existence! One can hardly respond to such innocence except by saying Dam the Media for starters – and give them – all the displaced journalists some Cash Compensation. Oops! That is one thing they are not short of – How about some land in barren New Harsud town.

Doublethink in the Time of Criminal Reform

Orwell created a range of wonderful concepts in his dystopic novel 1984 to characterize the language of power. One such phrase Doublethink referred to the ability to hold “two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them” without being aware of their contradictions.

The latest addition to the vast repository of doublethinks in the archives of the Indian state comes from the background note of the new committee formed for the reform of the criminal justice system. Barely a few years after the controversial Malimath Committee, yet another committee has been formed under the chairmanship of Dr. Madhava Menon (the founder of the National Law School in Bangalore). The National Criminal Justice System Policy Drafting Committee (“NCJSPDC”) has been constituted “taking into account changing profile of the crime and criminal” We can safely assume in the context of the global war against terror, what the changing profile of the crime and the criminal refers to. Continue reading Doublethink in the Time of Criminal Reform

On dilemmas about property

When I was in Mumbai, I would talk of property from the point of view of an outsider. In that space, I was largely a participant-observer. Now, in Bangalore, I am involved in the everyday conflicts about property. Let me talk of some of my recent experiences in Thilaknagar.

Thilaknagar is touted as one of the most successful slums in Bangalore (I don’t know here what the benchmarks/parameters of this measured sucess are).

In the month of July, the street in my lane was dug up so that it could be concretized. It was agonizing to be part of this process because for fortnights, the muck would lie on the street and rains would make it sloshy, but the contractor would nowhere be seen. (This would have been the usual rant of inefficiency in the language of Civil Society!) Continue reading On dilemmas about property

Beyond the Tyranny of Blueprints: WSF as Experimental Form

Published earlier in Social Action, Vol 54, April-June 2004

Shortly after the World Social Forum (Mumbai 2004) I came across an article by Cecilie Surasky, an American Jew, posted on a discussion list by a friend from Amsterdam. The article was startlingly entitled “Anti-Semitism at the World Social Forum?” and naturally invited one to read it immediately. It transpired that the author was the Communications Director of an organization called “Jewish Voice for Peace” that works for a peaceful and democratic resolution of the Palestinian problem and is therefore, also anti-Zionist. She was writing from within the specific context of a well-known but disturbing trend in Jewish politics, particularly in the US. A glimpse of this troubling context is provided by the fact that important voices among Jews, the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) in particular (which has been known for its important work in hunting down Nazi criminals worldwide), has been portraying the World Social Forum (WSF) “as one of the centers of the ‘new anti-Semitism'”.

Surasky further reports that “these charges have been picked up by various journalists as evidence of a dangerous new trend on the left.” The SWC had described the atmosphere at the third WSF in Brazil the previous year as “anti-Jewish”, according to her. She therefore landed up at Mumbai to check out first hand: “I have come to the WSF to be loudly and visibly Jewish…and to see for myself this purported new tidal wave of hatred of Jews from the rest of the global left.” The actual event of course, turned out to be something entirely different and if anything, Surasky ended up making some of the most moving friendships with many Arabs. Her account of these friendships in the article is quite touching in itself. What was most amazing for her, however, was that on return she found that the SWC had published an article on the WSF in the Jerusalem Post, entitled “Networking to Destroy Israel”. It further claimed that the WSF Mumbai event had been hijacked by “anti-American, anti-Israel forces”. As Surasky puts it, it became clear that many of these propagandist accounts made practically no distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism or in fact, any criticism of Israel.

The important thing about the WSF however, was that it provided a space to some one like Cecilie Surasky, a “come out” Jew, as she puts it, to meet, exchange notes and make friends with people from the Arab world. So did it to the innumerable others who have so far only known about the ‘Other’ through representations by propaganda machines like the Simon Wiesenthal Center and their Arab counterparts – or through the US media. This is of course, one small episode in the big event called the WSF. But the WSF is actually made up of literally thousands of such episodes. It was an occasion where the displaced Tibetans – supporters of the Dalai Lama – could move about prominently, distributing their literature, making friends and allies from different parts of the world. It was an occasion where the Dalit groups of India could make their voice heard before a vast gathering of people who were all fighting for their own liberation from oppressions of different kinds.

Continue reading Beyond the Tyranny of Blueprints: WSF as Experimental Form

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