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Process to World Social Forum and beyond…ASR’s Intervention in WSF

ASR was involved at many levels at World Social Forum. Our mission was “Process to World Social Forum and Beyond” because we believed that WSF was not a goal in itself but an opportunity to talk about issues and problems faced by the world and find solutions for them. ASR believes that these voices should be taken beyond this event to the rest of the people to continue work on the issues raised. Keeping this in view, ASR had many levels of involvement – all interrelated to each other.

First of all, objectives, themes and programmes of WSF were kept in mind and ASR’s advocacy team comprising of eight people went to the field trying to reach out to the most marginalized communities and minorities, such as, religious, ethnic, linguistic and sexual, and indigenous people all over Pakistan to meet and mobilize them to participate in the World Social Forum on ASR’s platform. The main target group was around 150-200 people, preferably women. ASR also defined its geographical limitation to find out the people according to the objectives, since it was nevertheless important that the slogan and mission of ASR should not be left out while finding people from the whole country. ASR was able to mobilize 143 people from the different field areas, but due to visa restrictions, only 103 people could go to India to participate in WSF.

The team traveled to meet people at Skardu; the Northern Areas as a representatives of stateless people, Peshawar; Khyber and Malakand Agencies to identify the Sikh as religious minorities; Chitral; Kalash for the identification and getting awareness of indigenous people from Kelash as dissimilar identity and ethnicity; Loralai; Turbat; Gwadar to meet the affecters of so-called development of Gwadar port and how Baloch people are suffering under the shadow of imperialist globalization; their position under the crucial past experience as most deprived nation and province; Badin; Karachi; Hyderabad; Dadu and Sukkur,  Tharparker to get the view and concerns of Sindhis as an ethnically, linguistically conflicted nation; water issue for Sindh and the problems of Thar people as being religious minorities and as worst sufferers of border between India and Pakistan; Taxila, Gujranwala; Thal; Rahim Yar Khan; Sheikhupura; Bahawalpur; Abbottabad; Muzaffargarh; South Punjab was also included in the area since few volunteers self sponsored activists were also identified who had their previous background in fighting for their rights and political movements.

Nighat Said Khan (Executive Director of ASR Resource Center, Dean of IWSL) was in the working group of the main theme of War and Peace, which means that everything related to the theme (which includes many specific sub-themes on different issues and aspects of war and peace on which events would revolve around) becomes the responsibility of this working group. Secondly, ASR was on the steering committee of a vast network called the Asian Peace Alliance (APA). APA was also involved in various events, mainly, panel discussions on different issues of peace and globalization with a specific focus on women in conflict situations. ASR, particularly Nighat Khan, of course, was involved in the planning of the events.

ASR booked a space for a huge tent. The multi-purpose tent actually acted as an informal meeting place for all. ASR was interested in those people to represent Pakistan who are in minorities and who have had no chance previously to raise their voices to express their problems. It has given them an opportunity to come out of their areas to tell the whole world about the problems they face and what kinds of demands they do have. Besides this, they were able to make their own contacts with all over the world by meeting different people from different communities and, with this, they would also be able to show the cultural aspects of their lives – their dresses, dances, music, crafts etc. Their participation showed the world the diversity of Pakistani cultures and languages and ways of living.

A bookstall was also set up by ASR with all previous ASR publications as well as new ones that were in the process and were meant to be out before the Forum. With that, ASR planned to made posters and cards.

ASR wanted to work with those people and organizations that were interested to take the mission beyond WSF and would also work in the future. The ASR’s process to WSF and beyond wanted to provide a space for those whom voices have never been heard on any platform, who always remain in silence, or never given place as being marginalized, unrecognized, and oppressed. Its process also the vision to broaden the space for workers, peasants, indigenous peoples, schedule caste of Hindus, women, all minorities: sexual, religious, ethnic and linguistic, students, academicians, artisans, artists, the media, and other concerned sections from within the country’s most remotest areas.

ASR was also involved and did many initiatives for the networks that were working towards the World Social Forum, particularly in the Asian region.  In addition to this, it was actively involved both in terms of activities and in the organization of the Asian Social Forum held in Hyderabad in India in 2003.  For the World Social Forum 2004, it had registered itself as coordinating the “Process to the WSF and Beyond, Pakistan and Beyond.”

After a long journey, the participants reached Mumbai in the afternoon of 15th January 2004. On 16th January 2004, the opening of the World Social Forum has started and the opening ceremony was held at 4:00 pm. Three groups were working in different fields i.e. one was paying the registration fees of all participants and collected bags and name tags for everyone. The second one brought some traditional things like mud glasses, pitchers and floor carpets etc. The third group arranged the display center. Actually, ASR had a stall, which comprised of 4 units, the size of each unit was 3MX4M.  ASR dedicated two units for books and the other two were a display center, discussion place, where the DVDs, CDs of selected songs i.e. Iqbal Bano, and others were played throughout the stall timing and our local singers from different marginalized communities also sang there. The unit was comprised of all the traditional things from all over Pakistan, which showed Pakistan in small units. The most important and interesting thing was ASR had pitchers and glasses at their stall on the other side people were paying for water. So that was an attractive thing.  

People liked ASR’s publication especially the book related to the issues of women, peace, sexuality, and feminist perspective. Our postcards and posters were also popular in the World Social Forum, which was the really attractive thing for people especially those posters, which had been printed with the themes of the World Social Forum. That was the place where ASR’s people were interviewed and exchanged their views with other people from all over the world. People were really inspired by ASR’s work and interested to do work with ASR.

On 17th January 2004, ASR had a seminar on “ Women in Conflict Situation” which was a big event and about 1000 people were expected there, but due to non-availability of speakers, who were from Palestine, Isreal, Both Kashmirs and Korea, the was merged with the workshop of Asian peace Alliance on 20th January 2004.  That was really good and informative for the women of third world countries as well as for the developed countries. Especially those belong from Kashmir, Iraq, Iran, India etc. about three hundred people were present in that seminar.

On 18th January 2004, ASR had a seminar on “ Fundamentalism, Left, Right and Center”. The reason behind conducting this seminar was a discussion on the history of extremism and fundamentalism followed by what went wrong and how? The concept of “ Truth” was analyzed interweaving it with religiousness or lack of it for creating and/ or promoting fundamentalism of any sort. People from Gwadar and other fisher folks attended this seminar. That was the first and last platform where Gwadar people raised their own problems. International media also gave much attention and coverage to the issue.

On 18th January 2004, the books launching ceremony was scheduled but due to non-availability and lack of time, it was not possible to implement that activity. The book launching was planned for the following four books:

Networks for Peace in South Asia by ASR Resource Centre, a resource book containing profiles and information about various national and regional peace networks.

Up Against the State by Nighat Said Khan about Military rule and women’s resistance.

Watching Them Watching Us by Afiya Shahrbano Zia, a study of English language media’s perception of women.

Figure: the Popular and the Political in Pakistan by Farida Batool, deconstructing the common belief that figurative representation of forbidden in Islam.

In the evening ASR had a “discussion on Kashmir issue” at ASR’s bookshop, where about 150 people were present. Ayesha Afroz from the National Liberation front (Pakistan) and Ms. Nusrat Andrabi (India) were speakers.  Due non-availability of Ms. Nusrat Andrabi, the entire discussion was conducted by Ms. Ayesha Afroz. That was an open forum. After that discussion we realized that people of both sides want a stable relation between India and Pakistan, some people said that there was no real problem. Both governments have created this problem because they were getting some aid on this issue.  

On 19th January 2004, ASR’s participants performed music, songs, dances, and cultural presentations for about 60 minutes at stage Kabir, in which singers from Sindh, Bheel from Cholistan performed.  People really enjoyed that and nobody can imagine that who Pakistani and who Indian? That was the stage where all of us were together despite our religious, linguistic, and ethnic differences; people really loved and enjoyed that programme.

On 20th January 2004, ASR had merged its seminar on “ Women in Conflict Situation” with a seminar on “ Women and Reconfiguration of US Military Bases in Asia after 9-11” by Asian Peace Alliance (APA). That workshop was also good; our performer also performed at that workshop.  ASR had a bookstall there. Ayesha Afroz from Azad Kashmir delivered her speech there regarding the situation of women in Kashmiri perspective, which is a conflict area since 1947.

On the very same day at 1:00 p.m. PRISM had a seminar on “ Sexuality, Nationalism, and Fundamentalism”. Which was really good, Ms. Nighat Khan was the moderator of that seminar. About three to four hundred participants were present there.  The specialty of that seminar was the speakers gave very good presentations. ASR also had their bookshop there.

On 20th January 2004, ASR had a workshop “ Is Another World Possible”? This was particularly for the youth below 30 years of age.  People from the new left, feminism, pro-indigenous, anti – militarization, and other marginalized groups had come together to discuss the prevailing situation of imperialism and Capitalism and work out their strategies to counter this menace. A detailed discussion was held to change the world into more equal and equitable Struthers. Practical steps, short and long-term goals were the main focus.  Mr. Rafay Alam was the moderator of the seminar.

21st January was the last day of the World Social Forum. ASR got 30 minutes to present their performer in the closing ceremony. The Bheels and people from Cholistan performed in the ceremony in front of about twenty thousand people, which was a huge population. The closing ceremony was held in Azad Ground. The people appreciated on presentation and were very interested in experiencing the performance again but due to time limitations, we had to step down.

The delegates from ASR’s platform also spoke in about 14 workshops and seminars in which they highlighted their indigenous and local problems at a bigger level. They spoke on fundamentalism, globalization, the Kashmir issue, and women-related issues. We can say that they were really succeeded to get the attention of the public and organizers as well.

The ASR delegation also arranged a peace rally, in which many of Indian was present. The local singers from ASR sang the peace song; people were really delighted and enjoyed that. When the rally came back a lot of foreigners were with them. They did not understand the words of that song but they were dancing and trying to sing together. That was really good and energetic for all of us. After that daily, we had that kind of programme.

The Indian and international media also gave good coverage to our activities and many of our delegates were interviewed by the TV channels and print media. This media presence also helped us raise our concerns on issues facing Pakistan and its citizen.

During that time every department of ASR was busy with various works and had different tasks. We must mention here because without their cooperation it was impossible to complete the task of the World Social Forum.