WSF Process in India

Activities of the WSF process in India were initiated in early 2002, and were designed to set up and build a World Social Forum Process in the country, towards hosting the Asian Social Forum meeting in Hyderabad in 2003, and subsequently the Global Forum (World Social Forum) in 2004 and further to organise and co-ordinate activities related to globalisation in the country.

The WSF process in India was conceived as a symbol of unity and democratic space for people to assert their rights for peace and a world free of violence, bigotry and hatred. The WSF India process not only focuses on imperialist globalisation but also on the issues of religious and sectarian violence, casteism and patriarchy. The WSF process in India makes space for all sections of society to come together and articulate their struggles and visions, individually and collectively, against the threat of neo-liberal, capitalist globalisation on one hand and uphold the secular, plural and gender sensitive framework on the other. All those who take part in the World Social Forum – in India as elsewhere in the world - should be in broad agreement with the Charter of Principles of the WSF. The process in India makes space available for all sections of society, but most importantly, it makes space for all those in society that remain less visible, marginalized, unrecognised, and oppressed. This entails the opening of a dialogue within and between the broad spectrum of political parties and groups, social movements and other organisations. The WSF-India process aims to be widespread and inclusive by allowing for a space for workers, peasants, indigenous peoples, dalits, women, hawkers, all minorities, immigrants, students, academicians, artisans, artists, the media as well as parliamentarians, sympathetic bureaucrats and other concerned sections from within and outside the state. The WSF process bring various mass organisations, new social movements and NGOs on one platform, for the first time in recent Indian history. The WSF process is being deepened at the grassroots by initiating social forums in states, districts and towns of India.

The process has advanced the debate on concerns Indian and yet simultaneously maintained an international perspective. A basic and underlying organising principle is that all activities initiated by the WSF process will be both serious and purposeful, addressing the hard ground realities that we live in and struggle with, and also be vibrant celebrations of life, of alternatives, of possible other worlds.

Asian Social Forum in Hyderabad (January 2-7th)
The Asian Social Forum in Hyderabad, organised betrween January 2nd - 7th, 2003 was the culmination of the first phase of WSF activities in India. The programme for the Asian Social Forum evolved in co-ordination with partners across Asia. The Forum itself, in the WSF spirit, provided a platform for groups across Asia to exchange views, experiences and dreams. The Asia Social Forum 2003 saw participation from all the many Asian sub-regions: Central Asia, West Asia/Middle East, South Asia, North Asia, South-East Asia, and the Pacific.

The Forum saw the participation of 15,500 thousand registered delegates and another 800 in the youth camp. Apart from this, there were about 2,000 cultural activists, 1,000 volunteers and a large number of people who came but did not register. More than 22,000 participants, in all, attended the Forum, and this included 780 foreign delegates. Delegates were drawn from 860 organisations and 42 countries.

From Asian Social Forum to World Social Forum

In 2003 the IC of the WSF strongly felt that the WSF needed to move beyond Brazil and Latin America to be more inclusive of peoples of Africa and Asia: the peoples facing the brunt of imperialist and neo liberal globalisation, and enjoined in strong popular struggle against it. Keeping this in mind, India was chosen as the host country for the WSF 2004 so as to bring in Asian and African concerns to greater prominence. With the success of the Asian Social Forum in Hyderabad, India in January 2003, tremendous enthusiasm had been generated within Asia about the WSF process.

WSF India organised a large national consultation in Delhi on February 14-16, 2004, where it was decided that WSF-India would accept the suggestion of the International Council of the WSF to organise the 2004 WSF in India. The next meeting of the WSF-India in Nagpur, on 21-22 March, 2004, decided that the venue of WSF 2004 would be Mumbai. At this meeting a three tiered structure consisting of a India General Council (IGC), India Working Committee (IWC) and India Organising committee (IOC) was set up. Different functional groups to oversee different aspects of organising the WSF were set up dealing with areas like: Programme, Mobilisation, Venue and Logistics, Finance, Media, Culture, and Youth

The WSF-India process was designed to be a broadbasesd, inclusive process, uniting the social movements, mass organisations, and non-governmental organisations from diverse sectors of society building upon and broadening the alliances forged during the Asian Social Forum in Hyderabad in January 2003. It also attempted to integrate with other regional and thematic social forums held around the world on a common platform.

In several states of India, state social forums carried out their independent activities. Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkand, Chattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tripura, West Bengal, Assam, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, and Karnataka were some of the key states where such activities were organised. These State Forums were set up to discuss the WSF’s ideas, coordinate and evolve strategies at the local level, and lead lead up to social forums in each of these states.

In addition, sectoral processes were initiated, where groups including women; dalits; adivasis; rural and agricultural workers, and youth carried forward the WSF process in the interiors of India, besides mobilising for the WSF 2004 at Mumbai. Organisations organised jatha that traveled across the country addressing issues such as health, education, social equality, etc, and propose alternatives.

World Social Forum 2004 in Mumbai

The World Social Forum was a six day long event, between January 16th and 21st, 2004, having a participation of more than 90,000 participants including about 15,000 international participants. The World Social Forum was conceived as an international forum against neo-liberal policies and capitalist-led globalisation built around the slogan Another World Is Possible. It provided a space for discussing alternatives, for exchanging experiences and for strengthening alliances between social movements, unions of the working people and NGOs.

Moving from Porto Alegre (Brazil) to India in 2004, the Forum saw the participation of poor people's movements, notably movements of adivasi and dalits. The presence of these movements in such numbers transformed the culture of the WSF.

The six-day forum heard many eminent speakers. These include the Iranian Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, American Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz, French small farmers’ leader Jose Boye`, Canadian activist Maude Barlow, Algerian freedom fighter Ahmed Ben Bella, Trevor Ngwane, author Arundhati Roy, activist Medha Patkar, Asma Jehangir, Marxist theoretician Samir Amin, Nguyen Thi Binh (vice-president of Vietnam), Nora Cortinas of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina, United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women Radhika Coomaraswamy, British member of parliament Jeremy Corbyn, the hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) and Peace Boat from Japan, Palestinian freedom fighters, and delegates from 111 countries.