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Carnival Of The Unlettered
And Dispossessed

By Aniket Alam

The Hindu
20 January, 2004

"Porto Allegre was more academic, but Mumbai is a sheer carnival of the unlettered and the dispossessed" says Silumko Nondwangu, general secretary of the South African Metalworkers Union comparing the World Social Forum currently on in Mumbai with the three previous editions in Porto Allegre in Brazil.

Carolina Gil from Brazil agrees that WSF Mumbai has seen an unprecedented participation from the poor and marginalised communities.

"That is the reason for so much sound and dance through the day", she adds, referring to the incessant rounds of dancing and singing and drum beating that has characterised the WSF since its start on January 16.

In fact there was a troupe of drummers and dancers from Jharkhand who wound their way into a debate on WTO and disinvestment.

The speakers stopped for some time as the drums rolled on.

The drummers with paint and traditional costumes would, perhaps, not have understood the grave arguments that were being offered in English, Spanish and French, but they announced that they too were part of the WSF.

Many are the seminars and debates which have been drowned in the sound of drums, singing and slogan shouting. When this correspondent pointed it out to Ian C. Rivera, a Filipino working with agricultural workers, he replied that dance, slogans and music were the way the poor and illiterate people were participating in the WSF.

"It is important to realise that they may not have attended the big seminars and participated in the debates, but they have seen each other and gained strength from being witness to the struggles from all over the world", he said.

Like Konyfrancis Lushai and Meshing Ching Marma from Bandarban district of Bangladesh these young girls from the Chittagong Hill Tracts have never visited Dhaka but now speak of meeting young women like them from South Africa who are struggling with HIV/AIDs and with sex workers in Mumbai. She understood how these women were organising movements.

The main road inside the WSF campus had become a permanent platform for every movement attending the WSF as hundreds of activists mingle with their posters, banners and music with each other in a sea of humanity.

Agricultural workers from Karnataka and tribals from Madhya Pradesh were huddled on the platform of Goregaon station singing songs and baking rotis.

They too were WSF participants, as their badges announced.

Bamba Niang from Senegal said that unlike in Porto Allegre there are many more people and a larger variety of concerns at WSF Mumbai.

He said George Bush and his war on Iraq has united everyone and the concerns for food security, job security, security from pollution and security from war were now woven in one single strand. That is the abiding contribution of WSF Mumbai, he said.