HYDERABAD, India – The Asian Social Forum (ASF) was held in the capital of the Indian state Andra Pradesh from Jan. 2-7. Conceived as a part of international debates that have been taking place after the birth of the World Social Forum in Brazil, ASF has become the venue for organizations, unions, intellectuals, workers, dalits, peasants, tribals and activists who are engaged in creating an alternative world order and socio-economic system. Around 50,000 delegates across Asia attended, representing 42 countries, 840 organizations and coalitions.

Over 300 seminars and workshops were organized from the impact of neo-liberal globalization in developing and under developed nations, to environmental issues, global disarmament, alternative energy resources and the unhealthy and oppressive attitude of the U.S. government and corporations towards third world countries and progressive ideologies.

Trade union representatives and tribal leaders spoke out about the unequal social and economic system prevailing in third world countries, especially after the introduction of neo-liberal globalization.

Privatization-generated problems were highlighted throughout the Forum. The selling of public properties at throw away prices is a major threat to the third world economies. This was a common theme discussed by most of the delegates.

Addressing the opening plenary, noted Professor of Economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University Prabhat Patnaik explained the major outlines of neo-liberal policies on developing and under-developed governments. “Global finance does not want an active state that is a welfare providing entity. Instead, the state took measures that resulted in the contraction of national economies, particularly focusing on undermining welfare measures and reducing development expenditures,” he said.

“Globalization maniacs” are now vigoursly selling off natural resources such as rivers, pools, riverbeds, seasides and ground water. In India, one major river is now in the hands of the private sector. People who live on the river’s banks lost their right to use the river for their livelihood. The private entrepreneurs control water distribution, once a duty of local governments.

Women participants revealed their personal and sometimes shocking experiences. One woman delegate from the Indo-Nepal border exposed the increase of women-trafficking after India embraced these economic policies. Women in underdeveloped nations are considered only as mere commodities, she said.

Delegates from South America also attended. Oscar Olivera, a labor activist and champion of the anti-privatization movement in Bolivia attended the ASF. His presence livened the whole conference. “Privatization could not be reversed unless government institutions were made more accountable to the people they served,” he told to the media. “Only genuine participatory democracy, which will ensure the community’s control of these institutions, can be the real alternative.”

Kjerd Jakebsen from Brazil’s major labor federation CUT, explained the hardships faced by his country from neo-liberal economic policies. He said foreign direct investment in Brazil is coming only to buy state- owned properties at cheap prices. He expressed great hope for the newly elected government led by President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org