Challenges and Opportunities

1. Introduction:

Let me take this opportunity to express my gratitude to Developpement et Civilisations, Lebret – Irfed (DCLI) and Association for Rural Education and Development Service (AREDS), and Society of Women in Action for Total Empowerment (SWATE) for giving me a space to share with you, a group of vibrant young people who have gathered here from across the world representing various countries, cultures, ethnicity, languages etc. I am personally overwhelmed to see many of you coming from the developing[1] world. It is an encounter; an encounter in India in the backdrop of today’s youth crisis. It is an opportunity to meet one another face to face, share with others who we are and what we are, the hopes, dreams, vision that we have for ourselves individually and collectively as youth, to understand the crisis the youth go through and to commit ourselves to transform this crisis ridden world. It is in this background I have titled my paper as ‘Towards rights and values realised youth – Challenges and Opportunities.’

At the outset, I must confess that the perspective I will be developing in this presentation will have strong Indian experience-base. But in a globalised world I believe that the so called ‘Indian’ experience, particularly the experience of the poor and the marginalized, has much in common with poor of the many developing countries and less developed countries. As a preliminary comment I should also say that the youth crisis cannot be viewed in an isolated manner, though there are some important issues and concerns which are specific to youth. Youth crisis is part and parcel of or very often the result of a systemic failure.

2. The Indian Context:

This encounter takes place at an appropriate time in India when you can personally witness how the largest democracy plays out in the hands of the corporate, rich, casteist and male leaders of India. On the other, it is interesting to note that despite all odds, the poor of this country still live with hope that the alliance of the marginalized could still engage in a democratic struggle challenging money, market and mafia power with soul power. Thanks to democracy! Even within the shrinking democratic space the voices of the poor still count and have the potency to change the course of history. This has been the history of elections in India, including the recently concluded one.

As you are well aware, India is huge country with more than a billion population. It has given birth to four major religions Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism. If one goes around India, especially the public places like market places, bus stations, railway stations etc what strikes most is the variety and diversity – ethnicity, language, culture, traditions and practices, art and architecture, including the dress and food habits. Indian nationalism is without a nation (G Aloysius 2007). Unfortunately, the rich diversities of India are swallowed up by one phenomenon to which every Indian is a slave by birth – the caste system – a principle of hierarchy, built up on policies of discrimination and exclusion, which considers over 180 million of people as ‘untouchables’. Caste system is a curse to Indian society. If there is one rigid structure which has not been broken down the years, despite modernism and new developmental discourse, it is the iron grip of caste system.

Let me start with the premise for this encounter. It is clearly stated that the youth in crisis. No doubt, when you look around the world there is economic crisis, financial crisis, environmental disaster, humanitarian catastrophes etc. It is not my intention to elaborate the varied types of crisis of the youth today. The background paper, sent out by the organisers, “Youth in crisis – coming of Age in the 21st Century” exhibits the youth scenario crystal clear. My attempt in this paper would be to identify some of the major causes of the present youth crisis in the backdrop of the larger crisis and look for an appropriate response.

3. Understanding Youth Today:

How do we understand the youth today? Traditional definitions look at youth either through a prism of time of life or state of mind. But I think the youth of the 21st century cannot be contained in these traditional understandings. The youth worldview today is much more complex than ever before. Eighties and nineties of the last century witnessed emergence of new world order. Obviously the present youth is the product of a new, revolutionised and uni-polar world. Expanding his thesis written in 1989, ‘The End of History’, Francis Fukuyama, in 1992 wrote a book titled, “The End of History and the Last Man”. In the context of the collapse of USSR, which put a full stop to the first, second and third world concepts, Fukuyama wrote, “”What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government”. An optimist Fukuyama in 19th century ended up as pessimist in the 20th century. He said, “The science and technology that were supposed to save humankind, instead ended up destroying it and today’s modern society creates modern conflicts”. During the youth encounter programme I wish that you keep in mind the following questions: What is my world view? Am I an optimist or pessimist? Do I have a vision of life or vision of the world? How can I relate my understanding of the vision of life with those who are marginalized and victimized today? What can I learn from them?

4. Hard talk:

  • Americans fed their 75 million dogs and 88 million cats almost $16 billion worth of food in 2006. That amount surpasses the GDP of almost 100 of the world’s 229 countries. The $38.5 billion that Americans spent on pets last year is slightly less than the GDP of Kenya for its 35 million people. (http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/3130/poisoning_pets_with_industrial_food/). According to UNICEF report 30,000 children die of hunger and malnutrition every day. This means about 7.2 million die every year. Two years ago, Bill Clinton said, “All that we need to feed, educate and care for all the third world children is just 10 billion US dollars”.
  • In April 2007, the Jharkhand government returned Rs. 4700 crores back to the Central Government. This was the amount given by the Central government for the development of the poorer areas of the state. Jharkhand and Chattisgarh are two tribal states in India where livelihood options have radically shrunken forcing hundreds of tribal boys and girls to flee to various places as migrant labourers, often working under inhuman conditions.
  • African countries owing money to foreign creditors, including banks, governments and multilateral institutions, can only pay off the debt with earnings in foreign currency. That is, they must use money from exports, from aid, or from new foreign loans. Ethiopia’s debt of $10 billion ($179 a person) at the end of 1996 may not seem like much compared, for example, to the $11 billion Europe spent on ice cream in 1997. But it was almost thirteen times the amount the country earned in exports in 1996. Ethiopia used the equivalent of 45 percent of its $783 million in export earnings on debt payments. Even after such a crushing payout, Ethiopia’s debt is still unbearable. Development aid, which has been in steep decline in recent years, does not make up the gap. In 1996, sub-Saharan African countries were paying out $1.30 on debt service for every $1 received in grant aid from donors[2]. (http://www.africaaction.org /docs99/dbt9903b.htm). As long as the debt is not cancelled, the constant pressure to pay it off is unrelenting. “Must we starve our children to pay our debts?” asks former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere[3].
  • The World Bank’s International Comparison Program (ICP) in 2005 updates Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) rates last calculated in 1993 to produce an international poverty line of $ 1.25 a day. According to this, the proportion of the world’s population living in poverty has fallen by approximately one percent a year since 1990. At this rate, it is unlikely that the developing world outside China will reach the MDG poverty goal. The author says in India the number of people living below $ 1.25 rose from 421 to 456 million during 1981-2005 and the number of people living in the 25 cent interval between $ 1.00 and $ 1.25 rose from 124 million to 189 million during 1981-2005 (Ravallion, M. Economic and Political Weekly, India 2008)
  • In 2006, the Defence Department of US said that it was spending about $4.5 billion a month on the conflict in Iraq, or about $100,000 per minute. In Afghanistan it was about $800 million a month, or about $18,000 per minute. The defence budget in 2007 was a whooping $439.3 billion.
  • Countries rich in minerals such as cobalt, coltan, cassiterite, copper, and gold are often marred by corruption, authoritarian repression, militarization, and civil war. Rebel groups, governments and mining companies exploit mineral resources, fuelling civil and interstate conflict as players vie for control over riches. Countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo[4] have fallen victim to rebels who use revenue from minerals such as diamonds, coltan and cassiterite to purchase arms and fuel conflict[5]. Governments often establish repressive military regimes in mineral producing regions to protect their “national interests,” but local populations rarely see the profits and are subjected to environmental damage wrought by corporations[6]. (http://www.globalpolicy.org/security/natres/mineindex.htm).
  • Despite two major peoples’ revolutions Philippines is a victim of corruption, crimes and poverty.
  • US proxy war against Mexico, Bolivia, Venezuela, Brazil and other Latin American countries has destabilised their economy.
  • Free Economic Zones in Korea or Maquiladoras in Mexico or Special Economic Zones in India have tuned out to be Special Elimination Zones of the poor.

I am sure you would add more to this list from your experiences. At the same time I would like to turn your attention to another side of the reality.

  • “We need the American people to know that we are dying of hunger in Brazil because of our government’s policy, which, in turn, is imposed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund,” said Katia Grams de Lima, with the Movimento Sem Terra (MST), based in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Most of Brazil’s rich agricultural land is concentrated in a few wealthy hands, leaving nearly five million rural workers landless. MST has organized 1.5 million landless and rural workers for “land reform from below” and helped hundreds of thousands of families gain access to productive land. It provides health care and education to landless families and organizes occupations of idle land, transforming them into productive agricultural cooperatives focused on local consumption, not export. Some 400 such groups are now operating. (http://www.mstbrazil.org/nccNews101001.html)
  • In India Dalit, Adivasi (indigenous peoples), Women, Agrarian and Fish-workers movements have ushered in new hopes for a better society through their struggle using their soul power. On 2nd January 2006, 12 Adivasis were killed in police firing as over 1,000 people gathered in Nuagaon village, Kalinga Nagar Police Station, Jajpur district protesting against the erection of TATA Steel plant, which would have displaced thousands of Adivasis. In the same manner the Anti-POSCO struggle, a South Korean based steel company is also very much active in Orissa. The poor Adivasis are ready to sacrifice their lives to protect their lands and ready to wage a struggle against the imperialist powers.
  • Despite being a nation with millions of hungry people, a timid and fragile economy that was growing neither fast nor big enough, Zambia denied to receive GMO food aid worth US$50 billion from the US government. This is why Annuradha Mittal, co-director of Food First, said, “Zambia is the mouse that roared.” The US government responded to government’s announcement of a food crisis by offering a US$ 50 million grant of US maize that was certified as a GMO product. After meticulous analysis of both the advantages and threats to accepting or denying the maize, the government finally decided not to accept the GMOs even with the food deficit. (http://www.jctr.org.zm/downloads/GMOsitali).
  • In 2003, when Lee Kyang Hae scaled a metal security fence and plunged a knife into his heart on the first day of the Fifth Ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Cancun, Mexico, he was trying to speak for tens of millions of small farmers around the world who find themselves at the losing edge of economic globalisation. “For the first time in over two decades, the most powerful poor countries have gotten together and taken a stand in their interests,” said Cavanagh, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Policy Studies, who attended the Cancun meeting. “They stood up to pressure that, in other times, they would not have been able to do. This may be a new era”.
  • The Social Forums, international and regional, with its slogan ‘Another World is Possible’ is yet another historical process which has brought together many like minded groups and organizations across the globe to fight against neo-liberalism and imperialism.

These are signs of hope. How do we amplify such voices and expand such spaces is the challenge before us.

5. Four Major movements of 21st Century:

The crisis that we are experiencing today is not a result of a natural selection process but definitely wo/man made. But it is not any wo/man but one loaded with an ideology. It is an ideological wo/man, group of wo/men, belonging to a particular class in the present society. Unlike earlier years these cannot be located in a continent or country but they are spread across towns to cities and countries to continents. A class that is virtually connected! It is an invisible body, clearly working in and through democracies and dictatorships, governments and bureaucracies, local as well as world institutions and peace initiators as well as arms traders, ultimately creating invisible exploitative structures.

One can identify four major movements in the 21st century.

  1. Movement of Globalisations (neo-liberalism)
  2. Movement of Fundamentalism (religious-cultural nationalism)
  3. Movement of Patriarchy
  4. Movement of the Marginalized


A. Movement of Globalisation:

Globalisation is the extension of unbridled capitalism and continuation of colonialism. The free market concept promoted by liberalization process demanded ‘deregulation of the economy of all varying controls’. Coupled with this, the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP)[7] ushered in a massive shift in the development discourse. In order to make corporates globally competitive, the every developing country state had invoked the ‘animal spirits’ of the local entrepreneurs. The only entity which enjoys total freedom in the developing world is the finance capital.

Today governments are everywhere embracing the free-market gospel preached in the 1980s by President Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Britain. The expanding power of the market led to Washington Consensus package in 1989 furthering monopoly capitalism. Though the package was projected as a standard reform package to the crisis-ridden developing countries through International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB), the process ultimately resulted in the expansion of US market base, destroying the self determination of the state and promoting market interest over the state and citizens. The market fundamentalism talks only of GDP led growth without any consideration for the basic needs of the citizens. It has promoted growth without democratic content. While the freedom of finance and movement of goods is ensured, breaking the boundaries of the countries, the freedom of labour is not ensured. When American, European, Chinese and Indian companies can invest and occupy the African lands and exploit the natural resources, why not the African have the freedom to go anywhere and make a living? Investment climate is given priority over survival of the poor, with enormous tax exemptions, free electricity, water, land etc ultimately destroying the local industries.

State, instead of regulating the market, has allowed itself to be regulated by the market and thus creating euphoria that there is ‘no salvation outside the market’. Neo-liberalism aims at the following:

– To change the human into merchandise / consumers (worker is no more a creator)

– To make profit (easy, quick, huge)

– To create a depoliticised citizenry

– To develop homogenous world (politically and culturally)

– To promote pre-emptive wars

– To destabilize the sovereignty in democratic nations

– To suppress all democratic forms of struggles and protests

The final outcome is the withering away of the welfare state. Prof T K Oommen said: “globalisation is polarizing the world into two, the connected few and the excluded many”. Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz in his book ‘Globalisation and its Discontents’ said that ‘privatisation is briberisation’. In one of his recent writings he said, “It is the dishonesty in the finance sector which is the root cause of the global financial crisis”.

B. Movement of Fundamentalism:

With crisis in development capitalism and the power of welfare state shrinking many forms of fundamentalism is emerging in the world. We seem to be moving towards finding our identity in our differences than our similarities. Fundamentalism is based on politics of hate. Fundamentalism exhibits itself clearly dividing the society into ‘we’ and ‘they’, defining the self as superior and the other as inferior. A step further taking recourse to legendary pasts, fundamentalism creates myths and stories to establish one’s superiority and their right to control the other. If their supremacy is challenged the fundamentalists turn out to be fascists and they consider it as their right to annihilate the other.

The religious nationalism promoted by the Hindu fundamentalists in Indian asserts nation building based on five “unities” – geography, race, religion, culture and language. Those who do not subscribe to this view are perceived as pseudo-secularists and anti-nationals. The genocide in Gujarat 2002 where over 3000 Muslims were murdered or the attack on Christians in Kandhamal Orissa and Karnataka are clear expressions that the minorities need the patronage of the Hindu majority for their survival.

While there are fundamentalist groups in every religion, starting with Christianity, after 9/11 Islamic phobia is systematically perpetuated in the world demonising Islam and labelling every Muslim a terrorist. Though in Europe the migrants, particularly the Africans, do most of the menial jobs, they are treated as second-class citizens in all respects. Elections are fought in the name of safeguarding purity of race and culture.

In general fundamentalists advocate minority viewpoints. They consider themselves as righteous. They admire a cult of violence; promote war and militarization of society. Through a process of homogenisation the fundamentalists would like to establish their hegemony.

C. Movement of Patriarchy:

The empowerment[8] of women is one of the central issues in the process of development of countries all over the world. Issues of gender equality are discussed in World Conferences, National and International Conferences, etc. Though equality before law, universal adult franchise and equal opportunities for men and women as fundamental rights is guaranteed by law in many countries the condition of women when compared to men clearly indicates that this world is a male dominated world where significant power in all the important institutions in society — military, political, and religious institutions – are with men and the women and children are deprived access to such power[9]. In India the Women’s Reservation Bill is pending for the last three decades. Despite repeated promises by various political parties, there is no political will to share power with women.

Deeply rooted discrimination against women in political, economic, social and cultural spheres weakens society as a whole, the UN human rights chief has said on the occasion of International Women’s Day in 2009. Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that the effect of meltdown in global markets and financial institutions and ensuing recession is likely to have a disproportionate impact on millions of women, who already formed the majority of the poor and disenfranchised even before the crisis developed. She said, “Unless gender-sensitive policies are adopted, I fear we may well witness a serious setback in areas where progress has taken decades to achieve”.

Let me highlight two issues for your consideration. While the women as women go through huge discrimination in the male dominated world, the condition of marginalized women like the dalit, adivasi or Muslim women is pathetic. The Government of India initiated a study on the socio-economic conditions of Muslims in India. The study revealed an alarming data that not even 4% of the Muslim women enter the school. The second aspect is the role played by religions in promoting male chauvinism. No religion is an exception to this. In the name of religion the women are being discriminated. Any attempt to question the male dominated religious structures ends up often in religious sanction.

Before we look at the movement of the marginalized let us understand the impact of these movements in the lives of the poor and the marginalized.

Impacts of these movements:

a. Poverty amidst plenty:

A cursory look at the world development scenario of the last 20 to 30 years amply shows that the wealth of the world has multiplied many times. There is quantum leap in progress at many levels, scientific advancement, knowledge base, information and communication revolution, increase in life expectancy, reduction in child mortality etc.

At the same time, there is a general perception that the type of development that is being promoted in India and in many developing countries is lopsided, resulting in the widening of the gap between the rich and poor. The wealth that is produced by millions of people finally lands up in the hands of a few, living in the rich enclaves. It is partly true that India and China, the two rapidly growing economies, will be the future destinations for many. Obviously India is not poor but the number of poor in India is on the increase. More and more poor are driven to the periphery to eke out their survival. The youth and women are the worst sufferers.

b. Poor becoming development victims:

In ‘Development or Development Terrorism’, Amit Bhaduri argues that in the present strategy of development, the state blindly joins the corporations to dispossess large number of people of their livelihood irrespective of the political label of the political parties in office. In India in the name of development after the independence over 40 to 50 million people have been displaced from their original habitats. The worst affected are the Adivasis. How do we define development? [10]

Destination Europe is the dream of thousands of North and sub-Saharan Africans crossing northern Moroccan shore. Thousands of Africans try to make the journey to Europe each year as illegal migrants – risking smugglers, deserts, sea crossings and the possibility of being sent home, all for the dream of a better life. Africa has huge deposits of natural resources. These resources, instead of being used to enhance the quality of life of the Africans have become sources of potential conflicts and war. Consequently the Africans have become victims of development process in their own home land and land up in Europe to live a subhuman life.

c. Exploitation of the developing world:

It is only after 1960’s most of the developing countries defined their own path of development and nation building. Much before these countries could grapple with the issues of nation building, the neo-liberal policies hit them hard, starting with Structural Adjustment Programmes. In the name of financial assistance, more than Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), huge amount of portfolio investment landed up in the developing countries destabilizing the economy itself. Later all sorts of labour-intensive industries and environmentally hazardous industries were implanted in the developing world and in many cases the developing countries became dumping ground for the developed countries.

As the capital moved far and wide with the sole purpose of maximising profit, it also demanded total freedom, freedom from the existing labour laws and in many cases abolition of labour protections. For the poor in the developing countries, who were living in poverty, though these industries provided some relief in terms of employment opportunities, fundamentally they destroyed semi-mechanised local industries. Competition, one of the primary strategies to keep the price rise under control, has paved the way for large scale mergers, acquisitions and outsourcing[11]. This led to huge unemployment problems.

The neo-liberal policy has led to increased contractualisation, informalisation, outsourcing, casualisation, feminisation of work and closure of small-scale industries resulting in increase in the size of the unorganised sector forcing them to live under the ‘tyranny of market raj’. Ultimately the unorganised workers[12] are experiencing the withering away of the welfare state, a state that positively dismantles the collective bargaining of the labour. Growing unemployment had been a potential atmosphere for growth in terrorism.


d. Growing religious conflicts and violence against women:

Religion has become a political weapon in the hands of the rich. The leaders of the organized religions, instead of promoting peace and harmony fall into the trap of doctrines and dogmas, often at the cost of human rights. The violence against women is on the increase. Despite many attempts by UN like The 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women etc newer forms of violence against women are emerging. Trafficking, sex trade, domestic violence, AIDS etc are some of the major issues face by the women today.

e. Rising Depoliticised citizenry:

Privatisation has changed the way the citizens think and act. Increasingly there is a drastic change in the citizen – state relationship. The middle and upper class feel that more and more they do not need the state. They say that the state and public sector units have reached an unredeemable state of affairs. State is corrupt, inefficient and deadweight. In contrast they believe that private is efficient, assures quality and non-corrupt. So much so there is a conscious attempt to minimize the role of the state vis-à-vis the citizens.

Some are even happy to be disassociated with the democratic political processes. The identity provided by pop and mall culture, fast food and bar culture is preferred to asserting the citizenship rights. In other words the consumer identity is valued more than citizenship identity.

f. Escalating ideological vacuum:

Pro-globalisation lobby claim that ‘There Is No Alternative’ (TINA) to neo-liberalism and they demand the people and countries to accept is as inevitable. They demand that market should be freed from state control so that real progress will take place. On the other hand the Socialists claim that ‘Socialism Is The Alternative’ (SITA) to present day crisis. And they condemn all other ideologies either as capitalist or as imperialist. But there are serious apprehensions raised regarding the type of socialism that is being promoted in many countries. The example is India itself, where Marxists followed market dictum at the cost of the poor.[13]

There are two strong views among the civil society organizations. Globalisation is not a result of a natural process and it is human-made. If it is human-made, this ideology can be dismantled with another pro-people ideology. Critiquing both TINA and SITA syndromes the civil society organizations look for an alternative with broad based people’s support. The Social Forum process with its slogan, ‘Another World is Possible’ is one of the expressions of such search processes. Definitely the growing ideological vacuum calls for the attention of all of us to meaningfully fill it with mass oriented, rights based ideology.

g. Shrinking democratic space

The major victim of these ideologies has been one of shrinking democratic space. Those individuals, groups and organizations, which have questioned these inhuman ideologies, have been silenced by iron hands. State with it political and military power instead of protecting the rights of its citizens has been the forefront to attack the democratic voices. In the name of fighting against terrorism and protecting national security many individuals Binayak Sen, Sharmila of Northeast and leaders of mass movements[14] have been booked under black laws of the country. All over the world there has been increase in the number of anti-people policies and laws.

h. Collapse of Civil Society:

Shrinking democratic space and weak civil society presence are two sides of the same coin. A section of middle class which till now had been instrumental in amplifying the voice of the poor were to a large extent co-opted by market ideology. Can the civil society withstand the ‘temptations’ of the market hegemony? The fast changing culture of International Non-governmental Organisations (INGOs) is a clear example of this trend. A number of INGOs and some NGOs funded by corporate companies or multinational companies have become victims of the corporate culture with fat salary, perks and perquisites, high level of bureaucracy and minimum contact with the poor. In some cases the presence of INGOs is a real threat to people’s movements at the grassroots.

i. Collapse of value system:

“U.S. Is Exporting Its Free-Market Values Through Global Commercial Agreements” wrote political analyst David Sanger in New York Times. The Information and Communication Technological (ICT) revolution, telecommunications, the Internet, advanced computer technology, and the other wonders created by the exuberant American entrepreneurial spirit unleashed by the market was heavily made use of to propagate the ‘American values’. The prominence of ‘Individualism’ over communities and groups has changed the rules of the games everywhere.

The visual media and the advertisement industry never bothered about any ethical or humanitarian values but went all out to woo the consumers to earn big money. Growing individualism and consumerism resulted in sharp decline in concern for others, particularly the poor. Involvement is social concerns and human rights issues were considered as waste of time and energy. The sole criteria to measure the standard of a person, is equated with his capacity to make money.

Religio-cultural nationalism destroyed the social capital. Mutual trust and confidence were broken among the peace loving communities on the basis of religion, gender, ethnicity, language etc. My neighbour has become my enemy. Instead of celebrating diversities we use such occasions to fight against the other. The various religious festivals have been made use of to further communal conflicts. In the same manner women are considered as objects of pleasure than partners in the developmental process.

D. The Movement of the Marginalized

Let me try to characterise these movements. The foundation of the movement of the marginalized is faith in the poor that they are not just objects of history but subjects who have the potency to transform the crisis ridden world in an egalitarian society and make this unjust history into sacred and divine. It is built up not on money or muscle power but on the number and conviction, commitment and dedication. Their vision is to build an egalitarian society and to achieve this end they are ready to struggle and even ready to lay down their lives. Why should Sharmila continue to struggle for the past 7 years demanding the abolition of Armed Forces Special Powers Act in the Northeast? Why should the poor adivasis of Kalinga Nagar or anti-POSCO movements continue to struggle for years together? They strongly believe that not only another world is possible but necessary. They know it very well that they may not see the fruits of their struggle in their life time but they know that one day their future generation will live with dignity and honour. It is this faith that energises them to carry on the struggle, which their forefathers have left for them.

The poor demand justice and they are not satisfied with works of charity. They look for accompaniment and partnership in their struggle towards building an egalitarian society. The invitation for us is a call to conversion, to speak out the truth boldly and courageously; to increase the hope all around; to amplify the voice of the poor; to read the signs of the times and respond to the situation from the perspective of the poor; to join the poor in their joys, aspirations and hopes not only to contribute for their betterment but also to reenergize ourselves and be ready to travel the unravelled tough path; and to increase our faith and expand our vision.

What can we learn from the movement of the marginalized?

a. Promoting development with a human face:

The problem with capitalism is that it does not know its limits. It wants more and more and more. It is high time that we realise that Capitalism is untenable and learn to say enough is enough. So in all development efforts we need to ask development for whom and development at whose cost? The last and the least should be the centre of the development process. Development has to start from the antyodaya and reach out to sarvodaya. This world has enough for the needs of the people but not for any one’s greed. This also includes respect for nature and spirituality of stewardship.

b. Ensuring State accountability:

Increasingly the state is seen as upholding and serving the sectoral interest, namely the market, often at the cost of its own citizens. The state in conjunction with market forces has considerably reduced the service space. This process has to be reversed. If there is no state there is no citizenship. The primary function of the welfare state is to ensure that its citizens can access and afford to basic services like education, health, transportation, employment and other basic necessities of life. Down the years India has considerably reduced its budget allocation to service sector and privatised the basic services. Obviously the rich and the neo-middle class, the beneficiaries of globalisation, do not need the state for their well-being. But the poor have no other go except to depend on the state for their survival and to realize their citizenship rights. The state is expected to be responsible, responsive, transparent and accountable. There had been attempts in India making the state responsible and responsive. The emergence of pro-people legislations like Right to Information Act 2005 and National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 are clearly the outcome of prolonged battle by the civil society groups. The civil society organizations have to ensure that this dialectical process is taken to its logical end.

c. Building movement-base to expand rights space:

The challenge is to build rights realised communities. Towards this end we need to consciously move from charity-based and developmental-based towards movement-based approach. Mass mobilisation, organisation of people on theme based or issue based to assert their rights based on scientific analysis of the present day challenges and working out clear strategies and vision for the future with creative and appropriative alternatives is the need of the time. Networks, campaigns, advocacy works etc can be useful tools to expand the democratic space. At all levels, be it family, work place, institutions etc we need to consciously develop Human Rights Culture.

d. Promoting Ethical Market, Responsible State, Enlightened Civil Society:

‘Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity; it is an act of justice. It is the protection of fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life’. This was the message of Nelson Mandela from Johannesburg on the occasion of ‘Making Poverty History’ a world wide campaign that took place in the first weekend of July 2005. To achieve this end all three main stakeholders – market, state and civil society – have to clearly articulate the reciprocity. The current ethos is one of shrinking state, expanding market and non- assertive civil society. However, this mood is against the very grain of human society because human beings are three-in-one entities. They are at once citizens, consumers and communitarians. Citizen is the creature of the state; one cannot meaningfully think of entitlements, duties and rights of citizens without reference to a state. Market produces consumers, much of their needs and aspirations are created and sustained by the market. Civil society prompts the emergence of communitarians, ideally the communitarian spirit of interrogation is informed altruism. If the ongoing process gains momentum, we will enter a world torn asunder between the citizen, consumer and communitarian. And this should be arrested (T.K.Oommen, 2008)

e. Building up collective responses:

The three crises that have been mentioned above have close national and international linkages. The problems of the globalised world need both local and global responses. It is said that we need to think globally and act locally. But today we need to think globally and act locally as well as globally. The local problems are the effects of global processes. So there is a need to construct national and international networks to address these problems.

6. Conclusion:

No doubt, growing poverty and unemployment, denial of human rights, looting and plundering of poor countries by rich nations and international institutions are surely breeding grounds and largely responsible for growing terrorism in the world. The youth are victims of this process. Market has to be freed from free trade to fathom fair trade. Protecting, promoting, respecting and fulfilling citizenship rights and collective rights of the marginalized and excluded have to be the paramount agenda of the state. The civil society has to get out of its set mentality and look for new answers in close interaction with market and state. It is the responsibility of market, state and civil society to build another world that is just and humane. That world is possible and necessary!

Let me conclude this presentation with the vision Fr. Kappen SJ: I dream of a society where,

  • Humans will no more be estranged from nature
  • The product of labour will be bond of love
  • People will exercise control over the production of goods, ideas and symbols
  • The greatest need of a human being will be the need for his fellow humans
  • Freedom will be realized less in the production of the useful than in the creation of the beautiful
  • Shaping the future collectively with concern for common good and commitment to the creation of beauty
  • It is an utopia that cannot perish, will not perish; it can only degenerate or be marginalized as a temporary phenomenon

Joseph Xavier SJ

Indian Social Institute


[1] I personally prefer to use the term developing world to the traditionally called third world, since the concept for First, Second and Third world exists no more, geographically.

[2] 33 of the 41 countries identified by the World Bank as “Heavily Indebted Poor Countries” (HIPC) are in Africa

[3] Make Poverty History campaign in 2005 or Jubilee Debt Campaign were different efforts by the faith based organizations to address African debt issues.

[4] During the African Social Forum in 2007 a Jesuit companion told me, “In Congo we have huge amount of coltan mineral which is used to produce microchips of mobile phones, computers and other sophisticated electronic gadgets. But the Congolese do not have them. We do not have arms and ammunitions producing companies in Congo. But every Congolese possesses one”.

[5] Read the Human Rights Watch Report 2005. The Curse of Gold Democratic Republic of Congo. http://www.globalpolicy.org/security/issues/congo/2005/0505gold.pdf

[6] It is a fact the finance policy of most of the African countries are determined outside the country.

[7] The major conditions of SAP were: Cut government spending; Remove subsidy; Privatize the public; Devalue local currency; Develop export oriented economy; open the door to foreign MNCs/TNCs and reduce duties and tariffs on imports.

[8] Empowerment means moving from a position of enforced powerlessness to one of power

[9] It doesn’t mean that all men are powerful or all women are powerless–only that the most powerful roles in most sectors of society are held predominantly by men, and the least powerful roles are held predominantly by women.

[10] In contrast Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen defines the core of Development as Freedom.

[11] Robert Reich in The Work of Nations says, “We are living through a transformation that will rearrange the politics and economics of the coming century”. He gives the example of a Pontiac worth about $ 10,000 in the US market: of which $3,000 goes to South Korea for routine labour and assembly operations, $1,750 to Japan for advanced components (engines, transaxles and electronics), $ 750 to West Germany for styling and design engineering, $ 400 to Taiwan, Singapore and Japan for small components, $ 250 to Britain for advertising and marketing services, and about $ 50 to Ireland and Barbados for data processing. The rest, less than $ 4,000 goes to strategists in Detroit, lawyers and bankers in New York, lobbyists in Washington, insurance and health care workers all over the country, and General Motors shareholders – most of whom live in the United States, but an increasing number of whom are foreign nationals. In the recent past in the name of outsourcing the developed nations have managed to further exploit the skills and talents of the people in the developing nations for a paltry sum. The people in the developing countries, due to shrinking job markets locally get employed in these jobs under tough labour conditions not even knowing for whom they work. The exploitation is more and more invisible.

[12] As per the recent data about 93% of the workers are engaged in unorganized sector and the organized sector had been shrinking every year.

[13] In the past the formation of social action groups, people’s movements and civil liberties associations drew much inspiration from Marxism, basically using the class analysis as a way to understand the socio-political processes. To that extent the civil society groups developed a liking for leftist ideology, sometimes even uncritically. In India, for long, more than home grown ideologies like Gandhism or Ambedkarism, it was class analysis which dominated the thought pattern of the civil society groups. Much later when the class analyst Marxists of India bracketed caste and refused to incorporate caste into the analytic framework, the civil society groups looked for an answer outside the class analysis.

Recent red developments, particularly in West Bengal, have raised critical and uncomfortable questions leading to rupture in the ideological relationship between civil society groups and the ideologues of left political parties. One of the major achievements of the people’s struggles at Nandigram is that it has exposed the Indian Marxists and growing contradictions within their ideological discourse. The blood of the innocents of Nandigram has also created a ‘sense of shame’ among the true Marxists who still work beyond the party lines, but within the ambit of the civil society institutions. The statement by veteran Marxist and the politburo member Mr. Jyoti Basu was a clear indication of evaporation of Marxism from Indian Marxists. “Socialism is not possible now; we have spoken about building classless society, but that was a long time ago. Socialism is our political agenda and was mentioned in our party document, but capitalism will continue to be the compulsion of the future” (Indian Express Jan 6, 2008). Following this Mr. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya also commented that there was no need for any political interference in the process of industrialization. Later, almost as an after thought, Mr. Jyoti Basu said, “We also should safeguard worker’s interests” (The Hindu Jan 6, 2008).

[14] The leaders of Narmada Bachav Andolan, Anti-Posco Movement or people who fought against Nandigram and Singur were often termed as anti-nationals.

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