The South Asia Thinkers’ Workshop was jointly organised by the South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication (SAAPE), Social Scientists Association (SSA), Colombo and the Centre for Labour Studies (CLS), Bangalore from 09 to 10 March 2017.
Balasingham Skanthakumar of the SSA welcomed the participants remarking on the necessity of collaboration and co-operation at the regional level in South Asia. Netra Timsina, regional coordinator of SAAPE, also welcomed the gathering. He placed the workshop in the context of ongoing work of SAAPE and hoped the outcomes of the workshop would give strategic direction and thematic focus to SAAPE in the coming years. The welcome address was followed by introduction of participants.
In her key-note address, Harini Amarasuriya, shared her experiences being part of the Public Representation Committee to submit ideas and suggestions of people of Sri Lanka toward constitutional reforms. Drawing on her experiences of travelling to all districts of Sri Lanka for public hearing on the constitution, she said that people had great hope in direct consultation of deepening democratic processes but this feeling co-existed with skepticism of politicians.
In the first session on State in South Asia chaired by Devinder Sharma, speakers from all South Asian countries shared their view of state and its relation to capital, religious fundamentalism, feudalism, patriarchy and corporate interests, drawing on the experiences of individual countries. Ahilan Kadigramar, Akhil Ranjan Dutta, Tanzim Khan, Padma Khatiwada and Farooq Tariq participated in the discussion as main speakers. The following session on agrarian crisis in South Asia chaired by Babu Mathew had participants Devinder Sharma, Balasingham Skanthakumar and Himanshu discuss the problem of raising farm income as a sustainable solution to agrarian crisis. It was stressed that the narrative should move from increasing productivity and making agriculture globally competitive to bringing farmer’s livelihood at the centre of the debate. In the following session on labour informalisation in South Asia chaired by Mohan Mani, Prashanti Jayasekara, Babu Mathew, AKM Mustaque and Farooq Tariq the discussion centred on the changing production relations and how labour movements can respond to the emerging labour issues. A brief summary of outcome of the All Asia Peasant Convergence that was held in Kathmandu on 2-3 February 2017 was also presented by Praman Adhikari.
The second day of the workshop had public forum facilitated by Nalini Ratnarajah in which social activists from Sri Lanka discussed their experiences with post-war rural reconstruction, mega development projects and highly exploitative labour relations of plantations. Sr Christine, Logeswari, Francis Raajan and Ruki Fernando spoke about the realities from grassroots political activism. In the following session on religious and secular fundamentalisms, the state collusion in creating powerful narratives that excluded the minorities and the rampant use of violence on its citizens was discussed in a panel discussion led by Dinushika Dissinayake. The main speakers were Zakia Soman, Padma Khatiwada, Farooq Tariq, Mark and Tanzim Khan.
The fifth poverty report of SAAPE was released in the concluding session. Netra Timsina introduced the editorial process that produced the report. Lead editors Farooq Tariq and Deepa Kylasam Iyer spoke about the significance of the report coming in the wake of strong meta-narratives of the state that legitimised neo-liberal economic model of development.