Crises, vulnerability and poverty in South Asia: People’s Struggles for Justice and Dignity
South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication (SAAPE) has launched its 4th Poverty Report 2013 on 11 September 2013 amidst a South Asian Women’s Political Rights Conference which is attended by the political leaders, parliamentarians, civil society activists and human rights defenders of the South Asian Countries. The report was launched by Rt. Ho’nable Permananda Jha, Vice President of Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal accompanied by the senior women political leaders and parliamentarians of South Asia include Ms. Bidhya Bhandari- Chairperson of All Nepal Women Association and former minister of Nepal, Pasya Padma- Chairperson of farmer union of Andra Pradesh and executive member of All India Kishan Shabha of India, Ms. Sazida Zulfiqar- Member of Parliament- Pakistan, Ms. Thalatha Athukorala- Member of Parliament, Srilanka, Ms. Rangina Kargar- Member of Parliament, Afghanistan Ms. Rowshan Jahan Shathi- Member of Parliament, Bangladesh and Dr. Shobha Raghuram- Founder and Advisor of SAAPE.
Summary of the report
Most governments of South Asian countries claim to be stern upholders of democracy. They claim to have maintained high levels of transparency and accountability and to have respected the rule of law necessary for the promotion of the interests of their citizens. These are nothing but political dogmas preached by most of the political forces in the region. This report provides and discusses evidence based narratives that uncover the realities of the concerned governments and their responsiveness to the social problems endured by the poor. Irrespective of the nomenclature of the political system and the political forces in these countries, they follow the modus operandi prescribed by the formidable structures of the neo-liberal economic development doctrine that promotes profit at the expense of people. A broader analysis of the dominant development paradigm in operation is made in this report, highlighting its market centric nature and growth (not equity) led development, guided by the harmful principles enshrined in the texts of Washington Consensus and World Trade Organisation (WTO), International Financial Institution (IFIs) and other instruments created for the suppression of the toiling masses in our parts of the world; this has led to the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, widening the gap between the rich and the poor. Unbelievable scientific innovations and socio-political transformations have swept over the world during the past decades, impacting the great changes in South Asia, but they have failed to bring about significant developments in the social, human rights, peace and justice fronts. Despite the oppressive forms of political and economic systems existing in South Asian states, the diverse forms of rights movements in the form of resistance movements are increasing. Peoples’ struggle against the ill forces of suppression, exploitation and marginalization is becoming more and more purposeful, igniting the hope that these anti-people forces will soon be crippled.
The current report is the fourth in the series of SAAPE’s publication on poverty analysis and alternative development paradigms. The first report published in 2003 was an introduction to the status and nature of poverty in South Asian countries. The second, published in 2006, focused on five thematic areas; food sovereignty, gender justice, labour rights, peace, justice and demilitarisation and democratic and just
governance in the region. The third report of 2010 analysed the poverty and vulnerability cycles, capturing the narratives of the survival and struggles of people in the region. All of these are available on the SAAPE website. This time, the report focuses on the crises, vulnerability and poverty in South Asia, building and expanding on previously discussed issues. The report features the voices of people against the injustice and indignity caused by the crisis-led vulnerability and poverty across the sub-continent and suggests sustainable alternatives. Thus, this report provides a critical review of the broad economic policy regime adopted by the South Asian states, the actors and factors influencing or dictating them. This is followed by an examination of transmission mechanisms and the likely effects on the national economy as well as living conditions of the people at the grassroots. The broad ramifications and impacts of the economic crisis on vulnerability and poverty have been analysed along with its impacts on various socioeconomic groups. Further, an assessment on the effect of globalisation on female workers in particular has been made within which the relation between the macroeconomic and labour policies and globalisation is debated. Other important analyses in the report concerns the ongoing social movements in South Asia and the impact of the acts of resistance against the effects of neo-liberal led policies and programmes. Finally, this report presents possible alternative development paradigms based on the emerging trend across South Asia of the peoples’ movements in the fight for restoration of the right to life and dignity. The alternative paradigms presented in this report do not stand independent, rather it strongly links the knowledge already built on by SAAPE in the poverty report of previous years.
The alternative paradigm demands the reversing of the trickle-down or top-down approach of the dominant paradigm that perpetuates the exploitation of the deprived and downtrodden through grabbing of resources, opportunities and benefits. The root of the problem is systemic and is linked to a state system driven by anti-people legal, regulatory and related institutional setups. The introduction of various people-centric progressive provisions in the constitution in South Asian countries should be regarded essential and recognised as one of the major ingredients of the alternative paradigm. It can be done through contributions towards transforming the status quo to a more progressive democratic system, not corporate interests, which are rapidly seizing state influence and directing state policies away from the people. An alternative paradigm advocates the need of comprehensive economic policies that could lead to enhanced productive capacity of the economy in which growth and productive employment of the workforce could go in tandem.
At the grassroots level, community and cooperative-based production, services and organisations form the important ingredients of an alternative paradigm. Denouncing militarization and campaigning for mutual trust and cooperation among the South Asian countries should be an implicit part of the alternative paradigm for South Asia. For the purpose of defending the alternative paradigm, an alliance-building of people facing deprivation and marginalisation is the most powerful tool that can challenge the unequal power relations. It is required urgently that we develop strategies for investing in alliance-building that bring social transformations which last and profoundly affects people as individuals and as members of their communities. Social and existential problems do not deserve instrumentalist and technical solutions. Building durable and sustainable alliances while working through rights and dignity issues guarantee their realisation for millions left outside of development rights and entitlements. Strong alliances of social movements and peoples’ platforms in South Asia present rays of hope that bring countervailing power from people, thus returning power to the people at every sphere of life.