I was all excited for the World Social Forum(WSF) to begin, more so since I am a student volunteer at WSF, 2004. The first thing that stuck me when I entered NESCO grounds, goregaon was the sea of humanity that I envisioned. There were people everywhere. Living in Mumbai one just gets used to the colossal crowds that we witness everyday. But this was different. There were people who had come from different parts of Maharashtra, different parts of our country and also from various parts of the world. NESCO grounds had become a melting pot of myriad cultures, religions, people etc. The very casualness in which everybody went about doing their work amidst so much differences be it cultural, religious, linguistic etc. just overwhelmed me to a large extent. It was beautiful. It took a while to sink in though.
WSF 2004 was inaugurated by noted freedom fighter Captain Lakshmi Sehgal. The opening ceremony saw dignitaries like Nobel peace Laureate, Shirin Ebadi (Iran), writer- activist Arundhati Roy, prominent leader for Palestinian struggle Mustafa Bargouthi etc. to name a few. Shirin Ebadi spoke about Patriarchy. She denounced the patriarchal system and expressed sadness by the fact that women all over were directly responsible for the continuation of patriarchy. I thought that it was extremely noteworthy for her to speak against patriarchy especially since Iran being an Islamic country has patriarchy rooted in its society. Patriarchy is very inherent in India, something I am sure everyone encounters at his or her homes itself. It was a powerful message since most of the Indians have more or less accepted patriarchy as matter of fact without any questions against it. Mustafa Bargouthi talked about the freedom struggle in Palestine, which everyone heard, with rapt interest. He retorted that most of the people are misinformed about the Palestinian conflict and he held media responsible to certain extent. I thought that was interesting. Almost all the speakers condemned the USA’s occupation of Iraq and denounced the growing US imperialism.
The translation system at the WSF is very innovative. Media persons and other delegates are equipped with a FM radio. In case of a speech in English, Hindi etc. simultaneous translations take place in Spanish, French and other languages, which the person can hear with the help of the FM radio. The translators have come all the way from France, Spain etc. to help assist WSF. They are very quick and efficient at their work.
I met lot of interesting people on the way. Earlier in the day I met two journalists from Germany who trying to talk to the cab driver to take them to hotel Sea princess. Then I realised that the driver had no plans of going to Juhu and he was busy trying to tell them that he is not going in that direction. Obviously the foreigners didn’t understand. This is where I stepped in. I asked them to go by an auto rickshaw since there weren’t any cabs in sight then. They were quite amused by the name “Reekshaw”! I also told them about the meter-reading system too. They thanked me and left.
There were people from remotest parts of India and they were quite overwhelmed by the presence of several foreigners and their whacky dressing styles. I overheard two Malyalee guys talking, “Ivada noka, idhu onnum ittutillya” (Look there, she’s hardly worn anything) I just burst out laughing.
The highlight of the day was the performance of Pakistani Band, Junoon. They played their hit numbers, Sayyonee, Dosti etc. and enthralled the crowds. It is here that I met some members of Swati, an NGO working for women. SWATI is women’s movement against poverty and violence working mainly in Tamil Nadu. I started talking to a few members in Tamil. They just couldn’t believe that I could speak Tamil. But later the funny or tragic part was that they couldn't figure out what i was talking. Ok my tamil was sooper-bad and every sentecnce contained 3-4 english words. Man I am pathetic. Ultimately i ended up speaking to Ms.Lalitha in English. Geeeesh!!!!!!! SWATI works with rural women in Tamil Nadu. They help them gain employment, teach them skills like tailoring etc. she said that, “People in rural areas don’t realise the ill-effects until they are affected by it. We believe that globalisation is dangerous and we are involved in education the women in the grassroot level.” I didn’t quite agree with her because I feel that globalisation in totality is not bad but certain practices definitely are. But I did not argue. What she further said was quite interesting. She said, “Globalisation is responsible for the growing violence against women. She also said globalisation has resulted in reduction of jobs, also the voluntary/compulsory retirement schemes have proved to be really harmful. Men with no jobs on hand tend to be more violent with women.” I later wished her luck and departed.
On my way home I met a group of chinky eyed women who asked me the route to the railway station. I guided them and then asked them about their country. They replied that they were Indians. It was embarrassing for me. I mistook them for someone else. I felt really foolish. I mean I would have felt very offended if someone Indian might have asked me whether I am an Indian or not. It just reflects the sad fact that we are so ignorant about northeast.
It was a great day at the WSF. What I noticed was a growing resentment against the growing hegemony of USA and its actions. Also it was an eye opener since I found scores of people being hit by unfair practices of globalisation. Also it was lot of colour, culture at day one at WSF.
(More to come later as and when I would get time)