WSF Mumbai 2004 Voices Against War and WTO

B UILT AROUND the slogan “Another World is Possible,” the World Social Forum had its fourth annual congregation at NESCO exhibition grounds in Goregaon, a northern suburb of Mumbai this year. War and its impact on the lives of people was the dominant theme at this anti-globalisation meet that opened in Mumbai on 16 January. Addressing around 80,000 participants from all over the world, speakers from many countries repeatedly spoke about the war on Iraq in particular and the many conflicts around the world that remain unresolved. Abdul Amir Al-Rekaby from the Iraqi National Democratic Currents said, “The war against Iraq is not an accident, it is not an exception. If the US wins in Iraq, it will affect the whole world”. Eminent writer Arundhati Roy said, “It is not enough any longer to talk about resistance, all of us and those at Mumbai Resistance (MR-04, the parallel forum) must turn our gaze on Iraq because it is the culmination of neo-liberalism and imperialism… We must not just support resistance in Iraq but we must become the resistance.”

A panel, chaired by Captain Laxmi Sehgal, spoke at the opening ceremony. It included the Nobel- Peace Laureate, Shirin Ebadi from Iran as well as Mustafa Barghouti from Palestine, Abdul Amir Al-Rekaby from Iraq, the writer Arundhati Roy, the Labour MP and anti-war activist Jeremy Corbin, Shabana Azmi, actress and until recently Rajya Sabha MP and Chico Whitaker from Brazil.

Mr. Mustafa Barghouti spoke about the gross violation of the rights of Palestinians that was taking place everyday in his country. Referring to the security wall being built by the Israeli Government, he said, it was “worse than the Berlin Wall” as it was cutting Palestine into pieces. Apart from war and conflict, the concerns of many countries about the impact of the World Trade Organisation on their economies was voiced by Mr. Jeremy Corbin. He said the collapse of the Cancun Summit was “also as a result of world public opinion being radicalised.”

Music, art, celebration are all part of the spirit of the WSF. People from different parts of the world have come together to exchange not only ideas and opinions, but also their cultures. The opening night also had the Pakistani Sufi-inspired rock band Junoon. They have faced flak for speaking and singing about peace between India and Pakistan even when the two were in the throes of war. Transcending cultural barriers, the South African troupe Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre’s performance had the audience dancing to their hypnotic beat. Two stages and an amphitheatre, and three ‘nukkads’ were the venues for street theatre and performances by internationally renowned troupes.

In the debut conference on “Land, Food and Water Sovereignty”, speakers held that the WTO must get out of the food and agriculture sectors. “The post-Cancun official-level meeting has shown that nothing has changed. And that is why WTO must get out of agriculture,’” said Jose Bove of France, jailed thrice for opposing WTO-related activities. Medha Patkar said that the World Bank, the IMF, the multi-nationals, including Indian ones, were in the forefront of “economic terrorism”.

Echoing the sentiments of Kashmiri Muslims, Sajjad Lone of the People’s Conference, said at a seminar: “As a Kashmiri Muslim, I admit my shame and guilt at not being able to do anything to stop the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits… but Kashmiri Pandits should understand that if I failed to save my own father from bullets then how could one do anything for them.” He added: “The pain of the past must not become an impediment for the future”.

Mr. Geelani, a Delhi teacher who was held under POTA and awarded death sentence in the Dec 13 attack on Parliament case, held that the divisions that were taking place within Kashmir’s composite culture were not on religious lines but had political overtones.

In the WSF, however, there was a debate on alternatives to the economic domination of a few powerful countries. Whereas Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate and former World Bank chief economist, held that the current system can be made more humane, Prof. Walden Bello asserted that the only way to a more equitable economy was to derail these institutions controlled by the most powerful nations of the world. Prof Prabhat Patnaik held that we couldn't have a fair globalisation given the unequal distribution of power. George Monbiot, British writer and activist, insisted that institutions like the IMF and the World Bank were “un-reformable.” Class conflict rather than “civil society” movements can force change, said Brazilian economist Laura Tavares Soares. She said terms like “civil society” were being used to undermine the fact that there was still class conflict in poor countries with vast inequalities.

However, participants agreed that compared to earlier meets, WSF Mumbai has seen an unprecedented participation from the poor and marginalised communities.