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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 January, 2004, 15:25 GMT
World Social Forum: Two views

World Social Forum
A masked entertainer passes through the WSF crowds
The World Social Forum 2004 in Bombay has attracted almost 100,000 anti-globalisation activists from not just across India, but around the world.

It is the fourth year that an event has been held in parallel with the World Economic Forum, a gathering of business leaders and politicians in Davos, Switzerland.

Two delegates to the conference describe their experiences and examine the usefulness of the event.

Drums Drown Out Voices
by Farida Akhter
UBINIG, Bangladesh

The World Social Forum ultimately became a carnival of the oppressed.

On the last day of sessions, I could only hear loud drums in the rallies. No one could hear each other near them. No one could hear the demands they were making in the large seminar rooms which were only one-quarter full.

Farida Akhter: Drums not voices
The sound system was inadequate to make people hear what the speakers were saying. As a speaker or an audience, it was frustrating not to be able to engage into any discussions because of these technical problems.

The Koreans were fantastic. They used more visual placards with anti-war demands, against Bush and Blair. They did not need any loud sound to make them noticeable. Those rallies were really beautiful, did not need much sound, but were impossible to ignore.

A few Tibetan monks sat in front of the Hall A, and were beating simple drums at a rhythm with full devotion. Who could ignore them?

So the loud drums were not, in my view, very useful. It silenced others, and made people's voices marginalised.

Intimate debate

In small tents which were the seminar rooms, where there were no microphones, interactions were better.

I enjoyed the feminist critical discussions on new reproductive technologies, which are affecting women both in the developed and the poor countries. While genetic screening does not allow babies with certain deformities to be born, sex selection is leading to femicide in many countries.

Is there any declaration coming out of the World Social Forum? No one knows.

There is no such space to engage people to prepare declarations. Everyone was talking about imperialist globalisation and its effects on people.

Thousands of pieces of evidence were presented in each and every session. But the forum was not picking up those demands in a systematic way.

It is impossible to do that under such arrangements.

Ms Farida Unnayan Bikalper is executive director of Unnayan Bikalper Nitinirdharoni Gobeshona (Policy Research for Development Alternatives), a non-governmental organisation based in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Message of Hope
Sandeep Chachra
ActionAid India

A new world is both a hope and a dream and one that is possible.

This was the resounding message from representatives of dispossessed people at the World Social Forum in Mumbai.

Sandeep Chachra: Message of hope
More than a 100,000 people sang, danced and protested. We found collective dreams. And we discussed and debated with hope and enthusiasm. Friendships defined the forum.

While many questions were asked, many answers were found.

Why do people go hungry? Why are people excluded? Why do nations suffer and who creates the suffering.

Why do nations kill? What can we do to stop this? How do women define the world?

Why are minorities pushed and killed? What does religion teach? How do we redefine the world order?

Equity, justice and peace were at the crux of all the answers.

African participation

It was the first time the forum had a large African participation and that HIV/AIDS was discussed on a number of platforms.

It was also the first time that the World Social Forum was not held in Brazil, enabling groups from across India to take part.

The forum brought together small groups for poor people, larger non-governmental organisations, social movements and trade.

They shared one platform, along with their differences, to debate issues such as land and housing rights, religious fundamentalism, ethnicity and issues which concern excluded groups such as disabled people, sex workers, street children, those living in chronic hunger, HIV-positive people, "untouchables" and tribespeople.


Alliances were formed. One such, which ActionAid India helped facilitate, was the Alliance of the Marginalised People.

More than 1,000 people joined the alliance to develop an agenda for care and social change.

Participants joined from all over India - homeless people, street children, sex workers, HIV-positive people, those with disabilities, people living in chronic hunger, landless labourers, "untouchables" and others affected by violence and conflict.

The forum conveyed messages in more powerful and effective ways through cultural events. These included picture exhibitions, stage and street drama, poetry recitals, songs, dance, mimicry and documentary films.

When the forum started, a young woman asked me what she could take away from the event.

She wanted to know more about the world.

It was perhaps enough just to go around the forum, participating and learning about protests against injustice happening around the globe.

It would have been instructive of how the world is today and what life is like for millions of people.

And she made new friends at the forum. This young woman could see for herself the bricks which can build a new world.

It will need her strength of will, united with the collective effort of many others, to turn our shared dreams into reality.

Sandeep Chachra is policy and partnership director for ActionAid India

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