SAAPE was established as a regional platform for the South Asian like-minded peoples and groups and the basic objective of SAAPE campaign has been to establish relations of poverty with politics and human rights. The mission of SAAPE is to facilitate the process for establishing suitable mechanisms thereby ensuring people’s genuine participation in the decision making processes at all levels which would contribute towards creating a South Asia where all individuals are able to fully enjoy all human rights for dignified living. This chapter is intended to highlight SAAPE’s milestones since the Manesar meeting in 2000.
In the year 2000 civil society actors from South Asia and their well-wishers from Europe came together in Manesar, India to collectively fight against poverty and injustice in the South Asia region. The factor that brought these actors together was the recognition that civil society organisation and NGOs’ expertise in macro-economic and political frameworks could help in effectively addressing rampant poverty and injustices prevailing in the region. The meeting consequently formed the South Asia Civil Society Network (SACSN) and also adopted the “Manesar Declaration.”1 The declaration recognised that the economic policies of globalisation, liberalisation and privatisation promoted by the International Financial Institutions (IFIs) and the non-participatory development model followed by the South Asian States as the major reason for growing poverty and deprivation in the region. The participants of the meeting resolved that only a ‘rights based approach’ to social development would help in eradicating poverty and ensuring the dignity of poor, marginalised and deprived peoples of South Asia.
As a follow-up to the Manesar consultation, the SACSN met in Kathmandu, December, 2001 with the theme of “Fighting unitedly against poverty, hunger and injustice”. The Kathmandu meeting felt the need for an Alliance to further pursue their goals which subsequently led to the creation of the South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication (SAAPE). SAAPE, since then, is firmly based with the vision of creating a society free from poverty, hunger and injustices so as to strengthen peoples’ democracy and their empowerment. Since its establishment, the mission of SAAPE has been to facilitate the process for establishing suitable mechanisms so as to ensure people’s genuine participation in the decision making processes at all levels to contribute towards poverty eradication.
“Power, Politics and Poverty in South Asia”
The First General Assembly of SAAPE was held in Colombo from 14 to 16 June 2003 with the theme “Power, Politics and Poverty in South Asia.” The purpose of the Assembly was to analyse poverty, politics, power and the politics of development in South Asia, to formalise the SAAPE alliance and to strategise about how SAAPE could better facilitate the work of its member organisations in eradicating poverty in the region. The meeting also intended to provide a space for sharing experiences from the various social struggles and mass movements represented by the SAAPE membership, and discussing how to work together, learn from each other, and formulate constructive next steps forward. The Colombo Declaration reiterated the Manesar Declaration and reaffirmed the power of people in the South Asia region to regain control to abolish both poverty, and the politics that creates this condition. The country focal points were also established at the First GA meeting.
“Struggles for Grassroots Democracy: A South Asian Civil Society Perspective”
The real challenge in most countries in South Asia is to improve the process of governance in such a way that public policy fundamentally protects the general public interests rather than being a hostage to vested interests keeping the vast majority of poor and marginalised deprived of access to political decision-making, natural resource use and human development. Increased commitment to democracy and justice are, therefore, prerequisites for the South Asian countries in order to achieve their development goals. It was against these background, the second General Assembly of SAAPE held in Kathmandu on 2-3 July 2006 focused on the theme of “Struggles for Grassroots Democracy: A South Asian Civil Society Perspective.” Given the historic failure of the IFIs policies in eradicating poverty and development, the participants of the GA called to downplay and delegitimise the International Financial Institutes (IFIs), and international capital for their self-proclaimed right to set agendas for poverty eradication and development. The participants took note of the region’s food crisis and the severity it could bring to the millions of the South Asian population and therein, committed to work towards realising food sovereignty and food security for the people of the region, and struggle to create a supportive policy framework – promoting Eco- Agriculture, opposing GM food, and promoting peasant alliances for ensuring food sovereignty.
“Global Financial Crisis and Implications in South Asia”
The global economic crisis that began in 2007 is in fact symptomatic of the broader failures of neo-liberalism and casino-financed capital system. Its impact in South Asia could be felt in terms of food crisis, fuel crisis and financial crisis. Therefore, the 3rd General Assembly held on 8-9 August 2009 in Kathmandu, Nepal under the theme “Global Financial Crisis and Implications in South Asia.” The Assembly recognised that the neoliberal economic policies has not only led to the loss of millions of jobs and intensification of poverty in South Asia but has also deprived the South Asian population their rights to life and self-determination. The GA, therefore, called the South Asian Government and the international community to recognise and support the development alternatives initiated by the communities that incorporates the principles of gender justice, ecological sustainability and participatory democracy. It is only under this development paradigm that would fulfil the basic legal, social and economic rights of all citizens in the region.
“People’s struggle for poverty eradication: Towards a new development agenda in South Asia”
South Asian region is often characterised by deeply rooted structural poverty, food insecurity, poor governance, exclusion, gender injustice and conflict. Of the eight countries in the region, four are Least Developed Countries. Despite the growing trend of democratic discourse in South Asia, the greater section of the population continue to be impoverished, marginalised and deprived of their fundamental rights. Prevalence of neo-liberal policies in the region that prioritises on profits than on people, has added to the plight and misery of those already marginalised by creating a further divide in terms of access to and distribution of wealth between the haves and the have nots. As such, the 4th General Assembly held from 18-19th December, 2012 in Kathmandu, Nepal highlighted the struggles of poverty eradication in the region as well as the need for an effective, all-encompassing development paradigm. The participants recognised the region as a whole has witnessed the rise of democratic struggle. The General Assembly also called Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to recognise the aspiration of ordinary people and to strive for a new world order. It was urged CSOs to come together in preparation of upcoming People’s SAARC. Additionally, pertaining to the theme of the Assembly, ‘The Poverty and Vulnerability Report’ which SAAPE published every three years was also discussed.
“Gender, Poverty and Constitutional Rights: South Asian People’s Struggle”
Despite the continuous struggle of women’s movements for liberation from gender-based discrimination, women in South Asia are deprived of their fundamental rights to dignity with patriarchal systems impinging every spheres of their lives. Economically, they remain without access to control of resources, and rights, equality in wages. There are uneven level of constitutionally recognized rights that women enjoy in countries of South Asia. However, rights do not get automatically implemented in the absence of any political will. In this context, the Fifth General Assembly of SAAPE was held from 02-03 September, 2016 in Kathmandu. The speakers and participants of the program discussed the key challenges in South Asia including fundamentalism, shrinking of civic spaces and violation of human rights. The General Assembly also discussed on the SAAPE Poverty and Vulnerability Report 2016. Country perspectives on People’s SAARC 2016 and preparations for the same were deliberated. Besides, the General Assembly threw light on the progress made so far on Food Sovereignty Campaign, Women Rights Campaign, Demilitarization and Social Protection Campaign. Lastly, SAAPE’s strategic direction 2017-2020 was also discussed along with the adoption of Kathmandu Declaration.