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Friederike Habermann © 2004

 

 
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Everybody is pulling together. Finally the net, heavy with fishes, is pulled on deck. But now somebody else is rocking the boat: two thousand rupees, the wholesale trader is willing to pay, but the fishers want five thousand. Five thousand! They chant their demand until the police arrive and bludgeon them down. But its not over yet: behind the police is the Indian government, with the Western great powers behind them, until finally one of the fishers gets beaten, stabbed and incinerated.

No curtains are necessary to prompt the applause of recognition.

The stage is a street in one of the many slums in Mumbai. But this group of the WFFP, the World Forum of Fisherpeoples, does not push its way into the World Social Forum. Instead, theyíre angling to enter the Peoples Movement Encounter II. Its the sequel to an event parallel to the Asian Social Forum in Hyderabad one year ago. This had been the place where many grassroots movements got together in dissociation from the WSF. Domination by Western NGOs and sponsors, exclusion of have-nots due to the entrance fee, cold-shouldering by the predominant use of English these are a selection of the criticisms.

Which is why its astonishing to enter the PME II venue and to hear only English spoken on the stage it takes some time to realise that the long pauses punctuating the speeches are used for the whispered translations within the different groups of listeners on the ground. What use would it be to speak Hindi on the stage, while Marati-speaking people from Mumbai gather here as well as, among others, fishers from Sri Lanka, Pakistan or Kerala (where the main language is Mayalayam), or womens organisations from Nepal and Bangladesh. Many of these groups are dressed similarly, so that the different translation groups appear like a colourful pattern on the ground. Attendees from non-Asian countries are hard to find, though. Obviously the existence of the PME II hasnít become common knowledge, even though it neighbours the WSF venue.

Just opposite the WSF, across one deadly causeway, are the tents of Mumbai Resistance. The reasons given for their non-participation are similar, but the orientation is less grassroot and more Maoist. The farmers organisations have joined them, after their withdrawal from the WSF organizers committee; their call for a huge farmers assembly within the WSF had been blocked, and Mumbai Resistance is their outpost.

During this World Social Forum there are no common demonstrations of workers with lesbians; this had been The Times of Indiaís headline the day the WSF began. No: no common demonstration, but the gaylesbianbisexualtransgender / sexworkers march is hard to ignore, even for the straightest working class guy. Everybody holds a rainbow flag, and the outfits vary from the traditional sari yes, in most cases, this via Hijras (the Indian third sex) to drag-queens from Kerala. Non-Asians are rare here too. But even if not everybody is ready to join this march, it feels like just another element in a huge colourful movement. To imagine this demonstration on the other side of the street at Mumbai Resistance or at the Peoples Movement Encounter is hard.

The National Alliance of Peoples Movements, the NAPM, is represented with its different member organisations in all three places. This is a balancing act since some of its members oppose the WSF strongly. Meanwhile the figureheads of the grassroots movements, who are simultaneously the celebrities of the WSF, let themselves been seen in all places: Medha Patkar, the well-known speaker of the Narmada movement, encourages the fisherfolk before they go off to blockade the railway near the CST station in Mumbai city; Arundhati Roy is it really her, sitting among the audience in Mumbai Resistance? Yes, itís her.

In order to win something, she had said at the opening of the WSF, we - all of us gathered here and a little way away at Mumbai Resistance - need to agree on something. That something does not need to be an over- arching pre-ordained ideology into which we force-fit our delightfully factious, argumentative selves. It does not need to be an unquestioning allegiance to one or another form of resistance to the exclusion of everything else.

At the same time she sees the risks of the WSF: if all our energies are diverted into this process at the cost of real political action, then the WSF, which has played such a crucial role in the Movement for Global Justice, runs the risk of becoming an asset to our enemies. What we need to discuss urgently is strategies of resistance. We need to aim at real targets, wage real battles and inflict real damage. Gandhi's Salt March was not just political theatre. When, in a simple act of defiance, thousands of Indians marched to the sea and made their own salt, they broke the salt tax laws. It was a direct strike at the economic underpinning of the British Empire. It was real.

No direct actions emanate from the WSF: only the NAPM occupies an office of the government. The March of Mumbai Resistance gets banned, but it happens anyway. The blockade of the railway by the fisherfolk is prevented by the police, who lock the gates around the meeting point. The will for direct action is fierce, but it isnít all spent. Short-fuses are lit when the subject of the division comes up - on all sides. At least there is unanimity on this: the WSF process has widened the gap between different groups instead of generating new strength from diversity. It will take time, this is the general assessment, time and effort until everybodyís pulling together.

Friederike Habermann, Mumbai 2004

   
   
   

 

 
   
         

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