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World Social Forum - Another World Is Possible Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Hira Nabi, Pakistan Oct 3, 2006
Environment , Human Rights , Peace & Conflict   Opinions
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World Social Forum - Another World Is Possible It was a hot and dusty Karachi that greeted us as we stepped out of the air conditioned environs of Quaid-e-Azam International Airport. Coming from rain drenched Lahore, we were more than a little chagrined. Of course Karachi, vast and sprawling, polluted and populated, with all its shimmering vibrancy was very different from Lahore. This wasn't the first time that I was visiting Karachi, but it was my first conscious moment of realization. Somewhere at the back of my imagination, I could see my Karachiite friends smirking. All their cynical wisdom about "big cities" and the cosmopolitan wonders rang true on a certain level. They also rang hollow, when I began to think of the insurmountable range of problems Karachi faces on a daily basis.

I was in Karachi to attend the World Social Forum (WSF). Taking place from the 24th to the 29th of March, this was the last leg of the poly centric WSF planned for 2006. This year the organizers planned a decentralized event, it was being held in different places around the world. Bamako (Mali, Africa), and Caracus (Venezuela, Americas), had already played host to the WSF, in January. The Karachi event was delayed due to the devastating earthquake, which hit Pakistan in October 2005.

WSF was conceptualized in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2001, as a parallel forum in reaction to the World Economic Forum, taking place simultaneously in Davos. It has sought to provide an open space for social movements, NGOs, civil society organizations to come together and discuss ideas, to pursue their thinking, to come up with alternative proposals; to formulate a global resistance to neo-liberalism and the mass influx of exploitative capital, or any form of imperialism.

According to its Charter of Principles, “the World Social Forum is also characterized by plurality and diversity, is non-confessional, non-governmental and non-party. It proposes to facilitate decentralized coordination and networking among organizations engaged in concrete action towards building another world, at any level from the local to the international, but it does not intend to be a body representing world civil society. The World Social Forum is neither a group nor an organization.”

We reached the KMC Sports Complex around noon. Traffic in Karachi is crazy, and as predicted, we had at least one minor accident before reaching our destination. It was funny how so many people living in Karachi had no idea that the WSF was taking place in their very own city. Or, they didn't seem to care enough to venture out, foregoing their weekend-leisure, in order to pursue "well-meaning, but meaningless activities." Shrugging off the lazy skepticism, we stood outside the gates of the sports complex, watching people queue up, with separate lines for men and women, in order to enter. Once inside, after passing through metal detectors, and getting our bags checked, (the boys were perfunctorily patted down) we had to register ourselves. A short while afterwards, hallmarked with WSF, our name tags slung around our necks, and a WSF cloth bag on our shoulders, we were allowed to roam freely.

And we roamed. While it was only mid-day of the second day of the forum, programmes were already scarce. We were left to our own intuition to gauge which way to go, and which session to attend. The morning sessions had ended and there was a break before the scheduled afternoon sessions. In the meantime, we wandered around, trying to get a palpable feel of the place. I was struck by the energy and vigor of everyone around me. There was an immediately discern-able sense of purposefulness; of coming together…it was a wave of people that threatened to deluge everything else in its way. It was people power, and about time!
While walking around the venue, one was bound to run into a dozen different protests, marching and rallying, replete with slogans and banners; one of my favourites was ‘When Bush comes to shove: Resist!’ I remember walking amidst clouds of swirling dust, tired, hot, thirsty, but exhilarated.

It wasn’t too hard to see who made up this forum: workers, peasants (more notably the ones who made it all the way from Okara), the fisher folk community, the Hindu community of Pakistan (arguably the most oppressed people in this country), the Baloch people (who quickly formed alliances with the Palestinian delegates), Dalits (protesting against the caste system), social activists, landless farmers – a friend noted that it was people with grievances speaking to other people with other grievances. The Palestinian delegation was severely reduced in strength due to the Israeli enforcers who run the Jordanian administration. The Chinese peasant and worker movement was absent from the proceedings of the WSF. The entire Kashmiri political scene seemed to have moved southwards, while notable members of the British parliament, and the Indian Congress, alongside members of the Indian Communist Party were in attendance at WSF. Pakistani politicos were only conspicuous by their absence. One would think visas and travel wouldn’t be an issue, given that the WSF was taking place in their own backyard.

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Hira Nabi

for one day, i want to be a paan wala. just for one day. i want to stand behind the makeshift stall/counter, and have a zillion Lil vials, vessels and caskets in front of me, filled with oddments, spices, colourful condiments, old world scents, and indigenous flavours =)
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