(27 January – 1 February, 2009 Belem, Brazil)

The World Social Forum (WSF) is an open space – plural, diverse, non-governmental and non-partisan – that stimulates decentralized debate, reflection, proposals, sharing of experiences and building of alliances among movements and organizations engaged in concrete actions towards a more solidary, democratic and fair world. The WSF is in a way an opportunity for people from diverse cultures and different nationalities to dream together of a new world and a new society. It is with this realization that the Justice, Peace and Development Commission (JPDC) of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India chose to be part of the WSF – seeing in it an opportunity for learning as well as educating. In fact, JPDC has had an active engagement with WSF since 2004 when the WSF took place in Mumbai, India.

JPDC at the WSF-09

This time round, JPDC became part of SAPI (South Asian Peoples' Initiative) – a platform shared by more than 100 faith-based and secular organizations in India, Sri Lanka and Nepal. SAPI, animated by the Jesuits of South Asia, was floated in 2003 in the context of WSF 2004 that took place in Mumbai. The JPDC team consisted of Fr Nithiya ofm.cap, Executive Secretary of JPDC, Sr Mariola, National Coordinator of JPDC Campaign for Right to Food (RTF), and Mr Antony Arulraj who is in charge of the Commission"s advocacy work. The JPDC team joined the orientation programme organised by SAPI at the Indian Social Institute, New Delhi, on 21 January. This programme shed light on the theme of the SAPI workshop at WSF: The Indigenous people challenge Developmental Terrorism. With the addition of JPDC team, the SAPI team had the strength of 29 members. The SAPI team was divided into various sub-groups, each sub-group being assigned responsibility for works like workshop management, campaign and street theatre cum cultural programme. Each one of the JPDC team was part of these sub-groups.

The Pre-Forum?

The team arrived in Belem in Brasil on 23 Jan night and on the following day, at 5.00 pm participated in the inauguration of the three-day Pre-Forum? that was presided over b y the Archbishop of Belem. The Pre-Forum? was organised by the Jesuit Conference of Latin American countries. The Pre-Forum?, which had the theme Religious Faiths and Defense of Life, saw the participation of 200 activists associated with the Jesuit Social Organisations from all over the world. Eminent persons like Ms Marina Silva, a former Minister of Brasil, Fr Jose Comblin, a renowned theologian, and Dominican Friar Frei Betto who is an advisor to Brasilian President Lula shared their reflections on the following topics:

  • Religious Faiths, Churches, Social Struggles and Public Service;
  • Challenges of the World to the Faith;
  • Faiths, Religions, Cultures, Global Challenges, Peace and Reconciliation.

Senator Marina Silva spoke on the meaning of faith in the struggle for the protection of environment. She affirmed that social movements are faith imperatives and political actions are necessary for the implementation of Christian values. She emphasized the link between Jesus' commandment "GO" and the social movements. Fr.Jose Comblin spoke on the signs of times that are available to us immediately: He spoke of the financial crisis as an opportunity to bring about radical changes in the society. He highlighted on the end of the so called irreversible ideology of privatization and neo-liberalistic Globalization. He also spoke of war with Islam and the time of the Laity.

Frei Betto, a Dominican brother, writer, political activist and an advisor to the President of Brazil on "Zero Hunger Programme". He began with a meditation on "Inner Ecology". He pointed out that our generation is the last generation of modernity. Now the holistic paradigm must guide the humanity. It is not mere study of earth but the ways of administering the earth with human beings. So the study must be ECOBIONOMY: Caring for the life in the house. One can enter the paradigm only when one sees and feels God's presence everywhere.

These presentations highlighted the point that faith should enable and empower the faithful for an active engagement in struggle for justice and in defense of human life. Besides, groups that were working with the indigenous people in Latin Amrican countries, in Africa and in Asia shared their experiences of their faith in their struggles for justice. The SAPI team made a presentation on the struggles of the indigenous people in South Asia. The JPDC team actively participated in the open discussion that preceded the conclusion of the Pre-Forum? and made valuable interventions. The Pre-Forum? was concluded with lunch on 27 Jan. Fr Nithiya was on the drafting committee that compiled the joint statement of the Pre-Forum?. Sr Mariola was a moderator at the group-discusstion on Faith and Human Rights.

Participation at WSF
  • In the evening of 27 Jan, the team participated in the Inaugural March along the streets of Belem –braving heavy downpour and displaying banners with slogans on the theme of justice and peace.
  • On 28th the JPDC team displayed the same banners in prominent places in the venue of the WSF. It is worthy of mention here that the slogan No Peace without Human Rights was cited in one of the local dailies both in English and Portughese.
  • The JPDC team was involved in the supported the SAPI programme at the Workshop on 29 Jan on Indigenous Peoples of South Asia. Mr Antony, coordinated the SAPI campaign group and drafted an urgent appeal for Indigenous people and secured hundreds of signatures.
  • The team of Fr. Nithiya, Sr. Mariola and Mr. Antony played a vital role in presenting the issues of Indegenous people at the WSF through their interventions at the sessions.
  • The JPD Commission presented cultural programmes on 31st Jan thorugh Songs, dance and street theatres. Fr Nithiya directed two street plays on the themes on Gender Exploitation and War Vs. Peace.
  • The JPD team participated in various sessions of the WSF on topics concerning Women's Rights, Globalisation, South – South Coalition networks, Global Peace Initiatives. They also made important interventions.
JPD Team at the General Assemblies
  • The various issues of Human Rights, Peace, Indegenous people etc were focused into Assemblies on the final day of the WSF, 1st Feb. The Commission for Justice, Peace and Development, (JPDC) team participated in these Assemblies and also involved in the statements and proposals of the Concluding Assembly of the WSF.
  • Fr. Nithiya, the Exec. Secretary of JPDC, Spoke at the Assembly on Peace and Disarmament and spoke about on the South Asian situation. The JPD initiatives on Peace Clubs in Schools and University Colleges were taken up as models in creating Peace Culture.
  • Sr Mariola, the Coordinator, Right to Food Campaign, JPDC, spoke at the Assembly on Gender Justice and made commendable interventions. She highlighted on how the Commission takes up the Right to Food to reach out to the masses through Campaign.
  • Mr Antony, the Social Advocacy Officer, JPDC, spoke at the Assembly on Human Rights about the Violence against the Christians in Orissa. He was accosted by a Brasilian Bishop Jose Luis Azcona who, on behalf of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Brasil, promised support for the cause of the afflicted Christians of Orissa.
  • As an effort to internationlize the issue of violence against Christians in Orissa, the JPDC team widely distributed copies of the recent issue of Just Peace, the quarterly Bulletin of the Commission, that featured special articles on Orissa.
  • Later that day, Fr Nithiya and Sr Mariola were interviewed by TV crew from Spain. During the interview, the Commission's works such as the peace initiatives especially on Arms Trade Treaty, Peace Clubs and social advocacy on the right to food were highlighted.
  • The JPDC team seized the opportunity to meet the Religious and the members of Justice and Peace Commissions of other countries from Europe, South America and Africa in view of future networking.
  • On 2 Feb, Fr Nithiya and Sr Mariola attended a special meeting organised with the National Justice and Peace Commission of Chad and Caritas France for a special discussion on Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Fr. Nithiya who is lobbying at the United Nations on ATT explained to his African counter part on the methodology and future planning. This has enabled a future global initiative for Peace and Disarmament.
Proposals for future:

The JPD team in its review and reflection on the WSF09, made the following proposals.

  • Keeping in mind the vibrant interest in the Church's concern for the poor and the marginalised, the JPDC should initiate a National Colloquium on this theme.
  • The JPDC should address the Growing Regional and National Conflicts through capacity building programme and Peace initiatives at local level. Our educational institutions and Basic Chrisitan / Neighbourhood Communities should be motivated.
  • The Justice and Peace Commissions of the Episcopal Conferences should make use of the potentials of WSF and internationalise the issues of the Justice and Peace in view of international solidarity and action plans.
  • In future World Social Forums, there should be wider participation of the JPD Commissions in support of the vulnerable people. Our Commission should network with the JP Commission of the host country for special session.

The JPDC team did its best to raise the human rights issues of India at the international arena. The team was inspired by the engagements of various groups from different parts of the world in promoting justice, human rights and peace. The team also realised that Another World is not only possibe but necessary and urgent. It is the duty of the JPD Commission to involve more affirmatively in this process of social transformation, especially in the light of the social teachings of the Chruch. The WSF exposure has strengthened the commitment of the JPDC team to the cause of justice and peace and to creating a new world and a new society.