01/21/2004, 00.00
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The Social Forum places poor to the side

Bombay (AsiaNews) – After six days of meetings, the World Social Forum (WSF) ended today with a large rally in downtown Bombay, India's financial capital, in which over 100,000 people from 132 countries participated. The march winded through the city's streets accompanied by singing and slogans chanted against the war in Iraq and capitalism as well as red and white signs reading "Another world is possible. No more war", words which had become the summit's symbol.

This was the first year that the forum was not held in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The decision to move the international summit to Asia was made with the hope of giving greater support to a continent inhabited by half of the world's population and which is oppressed by poverty and injustice.

Even the topics taken up during the World Social Forum's six days of events were more "Asian". Issues of poverty, hunger and exploitation were discussed. More than half of the participants in the march were Adivasi, tribesmen deprived of their rights because of economic and religious discrimination, and the Dalits, the so-called "untouchables" outside the Indian caste system.   

While speakers at the forum took turns at the microphone on the stage, people all around them broke into spontaneous exhibitions of traditional song and dance, one of the most important kinds of artistic expression in India.

 Western activists curiously watched the show, while some joined in on the dancing and others snapped photographs. But the interaction with these people seems to have ended here.  Daybay, a 63 year-old Indian activist, said: "I don't know if this can be considered a great gathering of activists. They should join us. To understand village inhabitants, you have to live like them."

The Jesuit Jo-Jo Fung, who works with East Asian indigenous people and a representative member of a Jesuit-led international delegation, harshly criticized the forum's management: "The presence of marginalized groups at the WSF was really stunning and moving. Despite this, the forum itself, which had as its objective to increase poor people's power of self-determination, seems to have placed them to the side, relegating them to small areas where they could show off their dancing." The Jesuit continued, saying that having such dances and shows once again "away from" the main stage, symbolizes that the forum itself has in a certain sense failed to liberate such oppressed people. Hence he wondered: "Is the WSF is really a bearer of freedom for those it intends to liberate? Is it right that the voice of the 'outsiders', that is to say the intellectuals, is chosen to be the "voice" of those who have no voice? No one among the "insiders", the Adivasi, Dalits, farmers, miners or women from the countryside, had the chance to speak about themselves or their very own people. I find this discordance to be a serious injustice against marginalized peoples." (SF)
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