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How to make ‘another world’ possible?

It was a great experience to watch the powerful upsurge of the civil society and the excitement, enthusiasm, determination and hopes of several thousands of people at the World Social Forum. The loud chants of young and the old alike, the huge banners displayed by the activists, the jangling of anklets of the dancing ‘Adivasis’ (tribals) attired in colourful dresses, Dalits (‘the untouchables’ of India), peasants, workers, migrants and the development institutions, the anti-globalisation forces, former child slaves, the disabled, victims of child abuse and gender atrocities and many more from all over the world provided ample evidence of Mumbai brimming with strong emotions.

All wanted to make their strong presence felt by shouting slogans, distributing pamphlets and setting up their stalls and exhibitions to attract people. Hundreds of workshops on all kinds of social issues that one can possibly think of were organised.

A better world for people to live in

Very few know that the three richest people in the world have assets that exceed the combined gross domestic product of the 48 least-developed countries. The world’s 225 richest individuals have a combined wealth of over one trillion dollars - equivalent to the annual income of 47% of the world’s population. How can we say the world is so poor that we cannot protect and educate our children or feed the hungry people with adequate food and water? "

While walking inside the sprawling grounds of the World Social Forum, the angst against injustice - social and economic, caused due to age-old practices and on-going globalisation, was palpable. The participants, comprising mostly of youth, had on their faces a frenetic urge to find solutions and alternatives. I feel that besides being optimistic for the future, we must carefully acknowledge such demands and urges for alternative answers. All kinds of questions have been raised in the past, which is a positive sign. But they demand answers too.

Interestingly, the poor people and those living in the remotest villages as well as activists and their organisations have proved that there are solutions to every problem. It’s clear. It’s visible. There is a need to widely disseminate such stories of hope and to build a synergy around them. It is much important to underline the commonalities of action in answering the vital question instead of engaging ourselves in mapping and analysing the ideological differences. If we don’t move in that direction as soon as possible, the enthusiasm of WSF will soon collapse or it will just turn into a social pilgrimage or a mere development jamboree.

While participating in WSF for six days, I was trying to assemble bits and pieces of what has transpired in the world during that time. And when pieced together, the picture poses alarming challenges before us. Over one hundred and eighty thousand children had died before reaching their fifth birthday due to preventable causes and dearth of basic medicines during the period. Hundreds of thousands of young ones have entered into labour market and servitude and many have left school by then. One should also know that every night an estimated 842 million go to their bed hungry. At the same time the world has generated a wealth of 500 billion dollars. Very few know that the three richest people in the world have assets that exceed the combined gross domestic product of the 48 least-developed countries. The world’s 225 richest individuals have a combined wealth of over one trillion dollars - equivalent to the annual income of 47% of the world’s population. How can we say the world is so poor that we cannot protect and educate our children or feed the hungry people with adequate food and water?

These are not just mere data and figures which I am using from various official UN bodies but a cruel reflection of today’s world’s reality and the present day globalisation is only adding to it. The most alarming impact of globalisation is the creation of a new power troika. There always have been three key controlling powers - state, market and knowledge.

Only until a few decades ago, there were distances between these three so that they could counterbalance each other. However they were mutually complementing and supplementing in other areas too. Now the situation has completely changed. It’s hard to discern the distance between them. The process of liberalisation, globalisation and privatisation has merged with them. The blue chip technology has played a critical role in the fusion of market, state and knowledge powers. The tendency can be compared with India’s infamous caste system where society was broadly divided into four categories. Initially this was a kind of classification based on their vocational interests and capabilities and thereby interchangeable. Later on it became more rigid and was determined by birth.

The master of knowledge – Brahmins, state – Khastriyas and trade – Vaishyas had outcasted a vast majority – Shudras making them untouchables. There was a period when the Brahmins, Khastriyas and Vaishyas were independent of each other so at least a counterbalance was maintained. There were some chances for the Shudras or either of the other classes to enter into any of these power groups. Later the dynamics changed, the three powers combined and the outcast remained in the periphery to offer services and produce wealth for them.

To give a more concrete example of the present power troika, the frontline industries like space, nuclear, genetic, information technology are nothing but a manifestation of the most sophisticated knowledge power combined with state and wealth. Where is the dividing line between them? We all know that the global corporate is completely in connivance with the state power. Ironically this intricacy of knowledge advancement unfurls the fear of an inexplicable era of confrontation. It is really frightening because soon the conventional wars, be it nuclear or biological will be replaced by space, digital and blue chip wars. This can lead to an unlimited set of problems and is far more advanced and lethal than we can possibly imagine.

The fusion is actually widening the gap between the rich and the poor and thereby leading to more complications in the process. We should not forget that over a billion earn less than one dollar a day and the daily earnings of more than half of the world’s 6 billion population is less than 2 dollars! But who becomes the worst sufferers?—the children of the poor people and countries, particularly girls, who are reduced to mere animals, subhumans and sometimes even non-entities!

Looking at not only the problematic areas but the openings and solutions through ongoing people’s movements and civil society efforts in different fields, I think we have five ways to break this menacing power troika to make a better world for people to live in.
They are:

(i) Knowledge for all as the fundamental human right
(ii) World’s income for all -more share for the poor
(iii) Global trade for all with fairness
(iv) Nature-friendly development for all
(v) Peace for all as everyone’s right.
In addition, gender equity and child rights are critical crosscutting aspects in all the above issues.

Knowledge for all as the fundamental human right

When we talk of knowledge, it also includes the most advanced and sophisticated information that could only be achieved through proper and good quality education. Education is the key to empowerment in the present era of knowledge economy. The famous futurologist Alvin Tofler in his “Powershift”, some three decades ago predicted that a new era of knowledge-capitalism would originate due to the emergence of Blue Chip technologies replacing the manufactories. His was a far more pragmatic prediction. Many have forecasted before him that democratisation would empower everyone through a new era of equality, fraternity and liberty. Their prophecies never came true and still are a fantasy and today we see that Tofler’s prognosis has materialised into reality.

It’s not a mere coincidence that the poorest of the poor who don’t get adequate food to eat and those who are illiterate are more or less the same. To be more specific, 842 million people who don’t get adequate food to eat are almost equivalent to the number of people who are illiterate, estimated to be 860 million. Almost two-third of the world’s illiterate masses is women and girls. We have a vicious cycle of hunger, poverty and illiteracy.

There has always been a tendency of the power clique to keep a vast majority uneducated so as to maintain powerlessness and poverty. This power troika which is controlled by a select few determines the fate of the rest of the world. Even if the poor are imparted full education, a double standard is used. I have often said that there are four types of teachings – let me elaborate with an example. The first is to say ‘yes’ to the chair; the second is regarding how to make a chair; the third is on how to keep the chair firmly on your shoulders and the fourth is to sit on the chair and rule. To put it plainly, the first remains uneducated, the second receives poor quality education to know and believe in the decisions of powerful people, the third are the ones who belong to service class like teachers, clerks etc. to protect the interests of the powerful ones and the fourth receives best quality education right from the beginning and eventually gets to rule.

About 113 million children have never seen the door of a school and 60% of them are girls. This reflects a discernible correlation between gender discrimination and illiteracy. These issues are always perpetuating each other. We, at the Global March Against Child Labour and Global Campaign for Education have been advocating for free and compulsory quality education for all children as their fundamental human right and as a top priority. "

About 113 million children have never seen the door of a school and 60% of them are girls. This reflects a discernible correlation between gender discrimination and illiteracy. These issues are always perpetuating each other. We, at the Global March Against Child Labour and Global Campaign for Education have been advocating for free and compulsory quality education for all children as their fundamental human right and as a top priority. There should be education for all, of all and by all or in other words there must be a complete decentralisation, democratisation and universalisation of education. It is education and education alone, which has potential to change the tide in favour of the oppressed. It has potential to illuminate the world by ushering in an era of justice, fair play, level playing field by removing darkness engulfing the 'vast-universe' of 'little people'.

The good news is that the NGOs, teachers and trade unions and the religious bodies, development institutions have come closer at the time of UN’s official meet on education i.e. Dakar Forum on Education in 2000 to challenge the slow pace in achieving education goals. In its years of efforts the Global Campaign for Education has built enormous pressure on the governments and UN agencies to bring education and subsequent funding for it on the top of the agenda. It has also generated tremendous awareness among the masses both in developing and developed world through regular Global Action Weeks and ongoing campaigns to make them realise that education is the key to justice and equality. It has also been playing an important role in pushing for the Fast Track Initiative to mobilise additional resources to fill in the financing gaps, and to monitor country by country progress. This brings promising hope and the need to be strengthened further as the worldwide movement.

World’s income for all - more share for poor

In the above few paragraphs I have shared some facts which clearly demonstrate that the polity, economy and culture of poverty is something which is maintained by the rich for their immediate benefit and long term interest. The promises made by the world leaders and the international community over the past few years have proven hollow. Take the example of Millennium Development Goals— how enriching were the promises made during the UN Social Summit in Copenhagen in 1990 and in Geneva in 1995, combined with Washington, Doha, Monterrey and so on. In one of the goals, poverty has been singled out as the paramount enemy to humankind and it was pledged to halve it by 2015. Several measures to achieve this have been suggested and agreed upon.

One of them was to earmark at least 0.7% of rich countries income to go as the development aid for poor nations. But this remains a far-reaching dream. Excepting five countries, Luxemburg, Norway and Sweden, Denmark and Netherlands, none have honoured their own commitment so far. Friends, let me mention a few startling facts. Six percent of the world's population controls 50 percent of the world's income and wealthy countries contribute only two out of every one thousand dollars of their incomes to the countries in greatest need. One must also ask as to where this money comes from!

The average African household today consumes 20 percent less than it did 25 years ago, one of the several ill-effects of globalisation. The rich countries spend only $56 billion in development assistance in comparison to $300 billion they spend on their agricultural subsidies and $600 billion on defence.

We at GCE are trying to get half of the eleven billion dollars meant for the basic education of children. The current level of support for basic education amounts to only US$1.5 billion per year. The amount needed as an external support to reach gender goals and universal primary education by 2015, is estimated at an additional US$5.6 billion per year. As far as world debt is concerned, it has surpassed US$33 trillion. And the biggest irony lies in the fact that the Third World pays the developed North nine times more in debt payments than they receive in aid. Africa alone spends four times more on repaying the debts than it spends on health care.

The Global March Against Child Labour has been advocating that the children’s need must come first in the development financing agenda. We have been spearheading campaigns to demand at least 0.1% of rich countries’ income as the financial assistance to the cause of children of developing countries. We are pushing for developed nations to put their money where the biggest urgency lies when it comes to helping children. That small percentage would mean about $30 billion a year that could be allotted to their health, education, well-being and development. Unfortunately children don’t have any say in the ‘aid-politics’ and ‘aid-industry’. But that doesn't mean that they have no stake in the outcome. Making a world fit for children is a dream we all share, but to make this a reality we need more than just plans or promises. This will require specific, measurable and significant commitments of funds.

Here I want to emphasise that ‘income for all’ should be a philosophy and a way of life. Why I am saying is this because the disparities and discrimination in consumption patterns not only exist internationally but also extends in communities and families. The state of the poor countries being deprived from the world’s income share is no less different from the state of the women and children, particularly girls who are forever denied their due share or say in the family’s income. Their hardship and household chores cannot be explained merely in financial terms and most of the times their toil remains hidden and unacknowledged by the society.

Despite these problems, the good news is that the understanding, analysis, internalisation, anger and action against the widening income gap have been increasing significantly around the world. It has been manifested in almost all occasions where the international community gather to take financial decisions, be it IMF, the World Bank meetings, financing for development meetings, the G8 summits and similar such ones. The growing anguish of people is the most visible factor transcending the political and geographical barriers. WSF is a clear indication that people want a larger share for poor in the world’s income.

Global trade for all with fairness

The ongoing globalisation is nothing but a free license to loot. As we all know the sole motive behind globalisation forcing privatisation of production and liberalisation in regulation and laws is to make ‘easy profit ’. Poor countries with raw materials, cheap labour & land and sometimes corrupt governance are easily exploited by the modern state culture of the rich combined with the speedy information technologies and digital data management combined with self-determined market rules to achieve this motive.

If you look at international free trade agreements and the pacts between the national governments and the transnational corporate carefully, you will find that they offer various laws and all sorts of global and national protection for their intellectual and property rights. But there is no guarantee for the indigenous landowners and workers. A danger which always persists is ‘channelling out’ of the profits earned instead of reinvesting them in the same country which augurs loss for the local economy. The industry of primary commodities is another issue of great concern. Goods such as cocoa, coffee, and sugar are the ones whose prices rise at a very slow pace or sometimes even plummet in the international market. They are preferred to the manufactured goods as the bulk imports from developing countries. The ‘terms of trade’ decline was particularly sharp between 1985 and 1993 when the real prices of the primary commodities fell by 30%.

This translates into losses of billions of dollars. Free trade agreements do little to enhance the trading positions and commodity prices of the poor countries. The net result is that big companies like General Motors, Mitsubishi, Shell, Philip Morris and 200 other larger firms are now controlling one-fourth of the world’s production. The internal sharp competition in consumers prices and induction of the most sophisticated hardware and software technologies effected in cutting jobs, wages and other benefits to their workers.

The fairtrade movements are gaining ground everywhere. This is indeed good news and something which was not seen until few years ago. The terms- ethical trade, corporate social responsibility, monitoring and certification of fair trade products were not common in our vocabulary then. But now these issues are surfacing and turning into a reality. However of $ 3.6 trillion of all goods exchanged globally, the fair-trade accounts for only 0.01%. This requires a more collaborative endeavour and momentum. The consumers’ and workers’ campaigns around coffee, cocoa, carpets, apparels and garments, cottonseed production, sugar, leather, sporting goods and several others have emerged as major areas of concern to ensure core labour and environmental standards, particularly the employment of children.

Over 250 million people are directly affected by desertification and one billion people are at risk. One sixth (1.1 billion) of the world’s population is without access to safe water supply and two-fifths (2.4 billion) lack adequate sanitation. According to UN reports, 31 countries are facing water stress and scarcity. By the year 2025, as much as the two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in conditions of serious water shortage..."

I can still recall those days in the late 80s when the first anti-child labour consumers’ campaign on carpets was launched in Germany and the rest of the Western world by me and some of my friends. There was a lot of apprehension and questions as to how consumers can play an effective role in reduction or elimination of child labour in another part of the world. But it worked extremely well and resulted in the first child labour free social label ‘Rugmark’campaign. This gives an alternative to child labourers, manufacturers, dealers and consumers in terms of education, fair production and ethical purchases. Apart from this, our own experiences with sporting goods, firecrackers, apparel & garments and football industries also resulted in establishing some fairtrade practices in the industry. But the whole trade debate has a larger context to understand and all the dimensions can’t be put together in one speech alone. Few of the trends must be taken into account.

A lot has to be done to ensure global fairness in trade. The workers and consumers must unite to protect the human life and dignity as well as ecology. The independent, global and local monitoring mechanisms to ensure fairness in trade together with internal code of conduct to maintain corporate social responsibility have to be effectively implemented.

Nature-friendly development for all Since time immemorial the greed for materialistic pleasures and amassing wealth has always been a human instinct. This kind of pursuit has led to many problems and conflicts among human beings. In addition, the formation of power troika (state, knowledge and market) in fewer hands has brought us nearly to the brink of extinction of humankind and also the death of ‘Mother Nature’.

he so called ‘development’ for short term material gains has created destruction throughout the world. The ancient forests and the people and civilisation attached to them are facing serious crises today. Between ten and twenty percent of all species will be driven to extinction in the next 20 to 50 years. We may choose to destroy ourselves. But who has given us the right to destroy hundreds of thousands of flora and fauna of this planet and the lives & livelihoods and the spirituality of indigenous people around the world?

Who will answer the future generation on global warming which causes droughts, floods and storms and wreaks havoc on this planet? We are living on the edge. Our planet is in serious danger or to be blunter, our lives are at stake. According to UN studies, the global temperatures will rise by 1.4-5.8 degrees Celsius (3-12F) by 2100, mainly because of human emissions of gases such as carbon dioxide. This spurs more extreme weather like floods, heat waves and tornadoes. Every year there are between two- three million new cases of non-melanoma and skin cancers and more than 130,000 new melanoma skin cancer cases worldwide. The cause of many of these skin cancers is due to the ultraviolet radiation from the sun.

If we go by figures there are many yet the problem remains the same- our ‘Mother Nature’ will soon perish if we deplete our resources at this rate. Desertification and land degradation threaten nearly one-quarter of the land surface of the globe. Over 250 million people are directly affected by desertification and one billion people are at risk. One sixth (1.1 billion) of the world’s population is without access to safe water supply and two-fifths (2.4 billion) lack adequate sanitation. According to UN reports, 31 countries are facing water stress and scarcity. By the year 2025, as much as the two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in conditions of serious water shortage and one-third will be living in conditions of absolute water scarcity. Rupture of nature deprives millions of people their livelihood resources. Once again children become the worst victims of this destruction and displacement. What’s more, they are also adversely affected and die as a result of unhealthy environmental conditions. It is believed that around two million children under five die every year from acute respiratory infections aggravated by environmental hazards such as air pollution. The second most common cause of child deaths is diarrhoea due to children consuming pathogens or toxins or contaminated water or food. As a result 1.3 million deaths occur every year.

However amidst the doldrums we have good news to share as well. The mass movements, academic discussions and even the government initiatives in a number of countries to stop ecological degradation are gaining momentum in identifying the above major global concerns. The campaigns are new but one should not forget that across the world, the people in ancient times used to live in complete harmony with the nature. They had kept the air clean, water full, lands fertile and space undisturbed as we see in today’s satellite and digital age. It is also good that the new social movements have started learning from our ancient treasure-trove of knowledge and experience.

The anti-deforestation movements in Asia, Africa and Latin America by the ‘Adivasis’ or the tribal people, the anti-big dam and anti-displacement mass movements around the world, the success of campaigns to ban landmines, animal protections, the Greenpeace movements and so on, are not symbolic but they have brought significant impact on national and global policies. They are also giving pro-people development paradigms as alternatives. This process has to be documented, publicised and made more popular among the common people so that these movements could be broadened and strengthened. It gives us hope and brings promise for a better tomorrow.

Peace for all as everyone’s right

The unfortunate and shameful day of September 11, 2001 has provoked altogether new understanding and debates on global terrorism, war and for peace. This also gives rise to a very basic question, “Who will define ‘Peace’?” Is it one country or a group of countries which feels that ‘Peace’ is their platter of cake and that they have the liberty to dictate terms and conditions and impose them on the rest of the world? Or is peace the fundamental right of every individual born on this planet earth? I am afraid that the 'war industry' or in the other words ‘war economy’ should not hide behind the new definition of ‘Peace’ in the wake of the fight against global terrorism. This is essentially ‘peace economy’ emerging for the benefit of a few nations.

The terrorist groups are not surviving and flourishing and driven by religious extremist teachings alone. Their strength comes from the most hi-tech and expensive weapons they carry, training given to them at an early age and the monetary temptations involved. Let me tell you- more than 500 million small arms and light weapons are in circulation around the world. It’s hard to even estimate the cost!

There are approximately 30,000 nuclear warheads in the world today. Some 5,000 nuclear weapons are on hair-trigger alert, ready to be launched on a few minutes notice. Landmines maim or kill approximately 26,000 civilians every year, including 8000-10,000 children. It is estimated that there are between 60-70 million landmines in the ground in at least 70 countries. Who produces these arms? Who gives them money, training and technological support? All these questions have to be answered to buy permanent peace! There have been over 250 major wars in the world since World War II, in which 23 million people have been killed, tens of millions made homeless, and countless millions injured and bereaved. We should also keep in mind since 1945, 3 out of 4 people who were killed in ongoing 35 major conflicts around the world, were women and children. Out of total killed, 90 percent were civilians.

Our children are the worst hit in wars. Thousands of them in the world have been killed, separated from their families, orphaned, and physically, emotionally, and psychologically scarred by such violence, often deliberately targeted at them. Deprived of health they are forced to take up labour as an option. Instead of being given books and toys in their tiny hands, over 300,000 children hold guns and bombs. And to make things worse they are not listed as development priority.

And yet the military expenses keep on increasing. Friends, to be precise, Africa has spent nearly 14 billion dollars , a nearly 20 percent increase in 10 years, Asia-115 billion dollars, around 50 percent increase in a decade and 30 billion dollars in case of Latin America, 50 percent increase in 10 years. The question is if we can afford to spend so much on arms and weapons, then why is it that we are falling short of money as far as the welfare of the poor and children are concerned. Children are often used indiscriminately in wars as child soldiers and thereby become a victim of lifetime abuse and exploitation. What right do we have to deprive them of a healthy childhood and be extravagant on wars that are only leading to nothing but more and more destruction and corruption? How can the world afford to spend $900 billion as military expenditure which leads to nothing but perpetuation of poverty? Isn’t it a shame that only 3 days of military expenditure of the world can solve the illiteracy problems of the world’s children?

You cannot separate the upsurge of terrorism with the war industry, economic and political interest of rich countries, vested interests of the political leadership of poor nations, ignorance and illiteracy which is further advanced and exploited by religious fundamentalism and the global socio-economic disparities. The combination poses the biggest threat today. The only way is that everyone, poor and the rich alike, North and the South should not only internalise but also voice and act for peace as everyone’s fundamental right and way of living.

Again, the good news is that the quest for peace is becoming a worldwide mass movement. It’s heartening to see millions of people on the street against war in the recent past. The ordinary people who are always peace loving are compelling their governments to resolve border conflicts and internal territorial and ethnic issues. This present trend is a promising silver lining amongst the ongoing problems. We should all assemble around this optimistic note.

The Synergy of social movements for a better future

Friends, I am neither a scholar nor an expert on the above discussed issues. My only purpose is to share three things which are essentially practical in nature. Firstly, if we go into a deeper analysis, we find none of the issues can be addressed and resolved completely in isolation, be it education, equality, justice, sustainable development, child rights and peace in the context of globalisation. Secondly, I feel that while focusing on specific campaigns in the process of mass mobilisation or political pressure building, it’s very much possible to associate ourselves with other issue-based campaigns and movements as there are several common grounds and actions. Thirdly, the emergence of civil society and people’s movements can definitely combat the present trends of injustice and inequality and create a new world based on justice, equity and peace.I also believe that the synergy of these social movements must be built. During the past few months, I have been sharing the idea of “coming together” on some common understanding and actions to help build broader civil society movements. I am not asking the issue-based movements to divert from their focused areas or make any kind of compromises. As a matter of fact the plurality in ideologies and approaches in achieving their respective goals is a beauty and strength in itself. But as I said, the demand of situation to meet the challenge of globalisation is to find the possible commonalities and synergy in action. As I am actively engaged in the fight against child labour and in favour of quality education, I realise that while evolving and implementing various strategies and approaches, it becomes essential to interlink with other vital issue based campaigns. Presently some of them are very much interwoven and even seem to affect child labour directly.

Recently, I have shared my point of view with some key leaders like Ms. Evelyn, the former Dutch Minister, the head of the UN programme on Millennium Development Goals and its director, Mr. Salil Shetty. I had also a very fruitful discussion with Sylvia Borren, Executive Director of the NOVIB on the possibility of organising a good brain-storming session between major international civil society/ peoples’ movements like Civicus, Social watch, Global Campaign for Education, Global March Against Child Labour, UBUNTU, Jubilee, as well as movements on gender justice, environment, banning the landmines etc.

Most of them had brought enormous hope in the world and have been able to make a significant impact in the global policies. However, they work independently, sometimes even parallel to each other. I would also like to acknowledge that certain efforts of mutual cooperation and alliances do exist but a lot more has to be done. We must jointly address the demands and urges of the thousands who were present at the World Social Forum along with millions of those who are confronting a plethora of questions and problems in their countries and are looking for effective solutions.

Kailash Satyarthi... the seeker of truth
Copyright © 2016 Kailash Satryarthi
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