Orientations for social activists


In the last Panel, Fr. Joe Xavier, Sr. Jeanne Devos, Mr. Yves
Berthelot and Ms. Mary Chelladurai were invited to share their
perceptions of the Colloquium and present some perspectives for social activists. Fr. R.V. Mathias was the Moderator.


R.V. Mathias

This Report highlights Three Images of India, The Participants’
Strong Realisations during the Colloquium and the Individual and Collective Responses of Activists.

1. Three Images of India

I would like to describe Three Images of India.

1. A glittering and shining India is often projected in the local
and international media: the future superpower, a strong economy with 9.5% annual growth; successful IT engineers and ambitious businessmen; many high-paid job opportunities...

This represents only a small section of our country, that of about 15% well-off of our population: the very or relatively rich people linked with the global market and its political and business advisers, executive officers and engineers, and its IT and other workers who carry out the tasks given by their ‘masters’.

2. The fate of most of the other 85% of the population is however very different. They are the oppressed, discriminated against and excluded Dalits and Tribals, the increasing number of rural and urban poor, the exploited women and children, unorganised workers and migrants, the despairing peasants deprived of their lands and other livelihood resources, the impoverished fish workers with their meagre catches because of the powerful rich who indiscriminately deplete the sea, and so on.

3. The third image comprises a special category of people, namely, the socially conscious and dedicated persons who do
not accept today’s established order that is centred around the economy alone, thus alienating and excluding millions and depriving them of their human dignity and rights. They believe in the development of each person and the whole person, the complete and integral development of the entire humanity. Whatever may be their background, these persons of ‘good will’ (we may say, these activists) are committed to, and work for, the creation of more human conditions, the possession of life’s necessities for all, the broadening of knowledge and culture, the transformation of oppressive social structures, etc. (Paul VI, On the Development of Peoples, 1967, #14, 17 & 20-1).

2. The Participants’ Strong Realisation

During the Colloquium, the participants deepened their understanding and reinforced their convictions. These are some
of their experiences and realisations.

• While discrimination, exclusion and exploitation of the
marginalised have increased down the years, the globalisation era has brought in new forms of marginalisation. Our experiences show that today there are more subtle, invisible and multiple forms of exploitation. The identification of our enemy was rather easier some years ago, using various tools of socio-cultural analysis. Today the enemy is here as well as far, within and in the structures around.

• In the Indian context, the victims are ultimately the Dalits,
Adivasis, women and children. The Colloquium moreover highlighted the wretched conditions of Muslim women and child workers. The marginalisation process of these communities cannot be merely attributed to factors like non-literacy, lack of skills and poor hygiene; the fundamental realities of resourcelessness and powerlessness are clearly at work.

• There is a close nexus between the state and the market
forces. The state has conveniently forgotten the principles enshrined in the Constitution of India and is increasingly playing the role of ‘broker’ for the market forces, changing overnight the existing policies and laws. These changes, which claim to usher in the ‘new’ (e.g., by speaking of the New Economic policy, New Industrial Policy, etc.), have one common characteristic – they are all anti-poor. Ironically, they have all been introduced in the name of ‘development’! The Dalits for example are not any more only the victims of the caste system and patriarchy, but have also become the victims of development.

• After the introduction of globalisation, privatisation and
liberalisation, the marginalised experience the shrinking of the
democratic space and the expansion of the private space. The
market forces are itching to make huge, easy and quick money, and are willing to get rid of all those who cannot contribute towards this goal. Any attempt to confront the state and its policies are dealt with an iron hand, resulting in the gruesome killing of the marginalised.

There is a blatant violation of citizenship and the livelihood rights of the poor.

3. Individual and Collective Responses of Activists

• We, the social activists, reaffirm our faith in the ‘small
people’, in the power of the poor, exploited and excluded, who
are the main agents of the reconstruction of society on the basis of human dignity and justice. Along with value-based intellectuals and spiritual leaders, we proclaim our solidarity with the poor and the marginalised to facilitate this change process towards a new paradigm of development.

• The NGOs too often adopt a project-oriented approach and
develop donor-driven attitudes. Having realised this syndrome, we need to make a conscious shift from a project- to a process oriented approach. Instead of being project implementers, we must become monitors of the people’s agenda. We must shift from a need-based to a rights based approach. We should not be
concerned only with charity and mere economic development, but with social justice. In this, the primary task and priority is to
hold the state accountable and responsible for the well-being
of its citizens. The NGOs should not try to run parallel governments!

• The primary purpose of all our educative and conscientising involvements is to create a ‘politicised citizenry’. All our interventions must aim at making people aware of their rights and enabling them to assert their rights and thus become
‘subjects’ of history.

• As activists involved in NGOs and people’s movements, we need to build synergies and promote collective action. A meaningful blend of various stakeholders is very important
in this process. The following are some of the areas of concern. To strengthen the quality of their response, the NGOs must rope in committed intellectuals. Large and small NGOs engaged in
specialised sectors like health, education, economic development and human rights, or working with specific groups like women, Dalits and farmers or in different geographical areas, all should find ways and means of collaboration and networking. We also need to establish linkages between general commitments, focused interventions and participation in broad solidarity platforms. Both local interventions without global linkages and participation in global networks without live contacts with local realities are quite insufficient. .Solidarity in
action is real power/shakthi.

• The globalised world adheres to the principle of TINA – ‘There
Is No Alternative’ to globalisation. It either co-opts or trounces all democratic alternatives. Yet, new emerging spaces like the World Social Forum with its slogan, ‘Another World Is Possible’, give us new vistas for constructing a better world, a world with dignity and life for all. How do we strengthen and expand such new spaces?

• Such colloquiums can be held on a regular basis. They should
pay attention to the new forces that will contribute to shape the
future. Three such factors may be mentioned here. The first is climate change with it consequences on migrations. Ecological refugees will probably be numerous in South Asia and India. Second the growth of the world population, the market for ‘green-oil’ and the forces of globalisation and industrialisation are likely to result in greater competition for land with serious implications for small farmers and food prices. Third, the emerging powers will increasingly challenge the US hegemony and its ideology.

• Participative governance is a new way of living. While demanding a culture of participation, transparency and accountability from the state, NGOs must develop the same culture at their level of organisation and work.

• In their personal lives, relationships and involvements, the
social activists must adopt the new mindset, values, attitudes and behaviour patterns highlighted in this Colloquium. This is indispensable to get the trust and confidence of the people and be effective in our work. In our struggles with the people, we must grow with them in our attention to human rights and justice, our concern for equality, participation and solidarity, our gender sensitivity and deep respect for all people, and so on. This is the only way to achieve a human-centered development, resulting in harmony and peace.

R.V. Mathias has been the National and International Animator of the YCW (Young Christian Workers) movement for many years. He is now the Rector of Christ Hall Seminary, Madurai.

SOURCE: Colloquium - The response of activists to development challenges, AREDS/CSA/Centre Lebret, in  Integral Liberation Vol. 11, No. 4 December 2007 at p.303.