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People’s SAARC Assembly: Thiruvanathapuram Declaration

People’s SAARC Assembly:  Thiruvanathapuram Declaration 

People’s Movements Uniting South Asia        

9 November 2011 

We, the participants of the People’s SAARC India Assembly 2011 met in Thiruvanathapuram on 8-9 November 2011 to affirm our commitment to justice, peace and democracy in the region. We also affirm and commit ourselves to the vision of an alternative political, social, economic and cultural system that enables social and sustainable development in the region that will do away with discriminations based on gender, caste, religion, language and ethnicity; lead to a situation free from exploitation and oppression; create a climate in which each individual will have the opportunity to realize full development of her or his human potential; restore the balance and harmony with nature; eliminate the artificial and human barriers that divide lands, peoples and mind; and transcend all boundaries.

The India assembly was privileged to host vibrant social movements, trade unions and activists from across India and abroad. Over 250 activists participated in three plenary sessions and 7 workshops on issues such as trade and livelihoods, natural resources, women’s role in people’s movements, de-militarization, labour and exclusion and discrimination. The assembly culminated in a colourful march to the Kerala Secretariat.

People’s Movements Uniting South Asia 

A genuine South Asian consciousness, which has been present in a historical sense, is growing today among the peoples of this region. In recent years the urge for regional cooperation and interaction has manifested itself at different levels. Writers, poets, artists, scientists, social activists, human rights and women’s rights activists of South Asian countries have initiated concrete moves towards establishing mutual contacts and developing cooperation among themselves.

This declaration captures this paradigm shift of people’s movements uniting South Asia.

State Repression and Militarism undermining democracy: 

The people of South Asia are witnessing the militarisation of state and society. The dominance of militarist thinking in the governments, the doctrine of preventive intervention and terrorism as a State policy has prevented the strengthening of the fraternity of the people, consolidation of the political constituency for peaceful resolution of conflict and build a common identity for South Asian people.

The context of rising terrorism is being used by the ruling elite to shift public opinion towards an internal security doctrine that is undemocratic, chauvinistic and anti-people.

We condemn the increasing budgetary allocation on militarization by diverting resource from social welfare by the governments in South Asian. The reduction of tensions between South Asian countries means the reduction of defence budgets in both countries. This will have a major and meaningful impact on the well being of each country’s citizens.

We are also alarmed by the accelerated militarization in the region in the name of countering terrorism, eroding democratic space, undermining basic human rights and humanitarian law principles, has resulted into further terrorization and radicalization the affected civilian populations.  We are deeply concerned at the expanding role of the military and para-military forces in the development processes including mega development projects and extractive mining, plundering the natural resources, marginalizing and displacing the indigenous peoples inhabiting the region. We must ensure that our governments stop militarising society by developing the doctrine of internal security, as extensions of war concepts into society, and creating armed forces for internal war.

We call for the inclusion of a policy on human rights in the SAARC platform. In Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan a vision of national security and guise of counter terrorism is being used as a tool for suppressing democratic peoples movements. Whether it is the struggles of communities over control of natural resources, or struggles against state repression or against corporate power or against communal profiling of populations, the dominant policy in all these states are against the will of the people. Hence there is a need for a clearly articulated human rights policy to be included in the SAARC.

We salute the extraordinary resilience of Irom Sharmila Chanu as she enters the twelfth year of a hunger strike in solidarity confinement demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958, which has chronically militarized and displaced democratic governance in North East India. We must ensure the reduction of influence and control of the military and make it accountable and subordinate to the will of the people.

We call upon the governments of South Asia to immediately halt the futile process of militarization generating a spiral of insecurity and to redirect its resources and energy to build genuine democratic institutions to ensure the human security including education, health, housing and other welfare of the people.

Women in Peoples Movements:

Women have played a crucial role and spearheaded several movements. However in many movements’ women and those from marginalised groups including dalits, adivasis, the disabled, minority communities and those from LGBT groups are seldom heard or their separate needs acknowledged. To create a larger Peoples movement of South Asia this understanding needs to be integrated so that these identities are not submerged in larger forums and spaces but that they are included and made visible.

We need to create ways of working across differences and identities without making them invisible. This has to be based on principles of human rights, commitment to equality and non discrimination focussed on the advancement of human security and human dignity. The intersectionalities between different movements and identities needs to be recognised and integrated so that we can look at ways of coming together. This presents us with many challenges and complexities because in practice it is difficult for different movements to come together.

The Women’s Movement has been connecting across borders since the 1970’s; this has helped in strengthening our work, learning from each other as well as creating stronger bonds between us. As women we have always been suspicious of narrow nationalism and patriotism because of how it affects women. It has also presented many complexities and challenges in our vision of a Peoples Union of South Asia. There is a need to have dialogues across movements and borders on similar issues, we have a lot to learn and contribute to each other’s work. However the question is how to integrate a feminist framework of analysis and understanding in these various movements. This is so we can create better integrated movements, where the voices of the marginalised are given space as well as awareness about the intersectionalities between different issues and themes. 

Re-building Labour movement:

Contractualisation, migration and the non-implementation of labour laws are common issues in the region.

We demand that labour be included as an area of cooperation in the South Asian cooperation framework.

Large scale privatization, both direct and indirect, closures and retrenchments have lead to job losses and created conditions for capital to deny labour rights and introduce new labour practices that affect the labour adversely. In the process, rights to organization and collective bargaining became a casualty. We call for the ratification of ILO core standards by South Asian countries and constitute a SAARC mechanism to ensure reporting on compliance on ILO core standards and redressal of complaints. Further, we call upon SAARC to adopt the ILO guidelines on TNC as a enforceable mechanism to regulate TNCs in the region.

The right to mobility with dignity is a human right. Migrants should be assured of dignity and the right to work as well as adequate wages and human working conditions. Safeguards for the basic rights of the local people must be instituted. We demand a SAARC mechanism to facilitate and promote labour migration with dignity and the institution of a SAARC work permit as a first step to institutionalise this process.

Labour movements in the region have to establish closer cooperation and take an organizational structure at a South Asian level. In priority, we need to work towards integrating different sections of workers currently marginalized and working people not even recognized as workers, into the ambit of labour movements, social security regimes and within the collective bargaining framework.

Trade and livelihoods:

Current trade policy is undemocratic, pro corporate, anti environment and adversely impacts livelihoods of South Asian peoples. Free trade agreements implemented in South Asia such as the India Sri Lanka FTA have adversely impacted livelihoods of farmers, especially in the state of Kerala. Free trade policies under the WTO have resulted in a loss of food sovereignty due to the loss of control over tariffs and quantitative restrictions. We call for trade and economic cooperation in the region and oppose the current trend of advancing the FTA agenda in South Asia and beyond.

We recognize that to bring the people in the region closer, there should be more people to people contact and cooperation. On trade, this would imply a paradigm shift with due process of consultation with legislative bodies and affected groups such as farmers, fishworkers and labour. Further any trade should be based on complementarity, environmental sustainability, food sovereignty and should enhance livelihoods. There should be due mechanisms to monitor the impacts of trade on livelihoods with policies to protect and compensate any communities that could be adversely impacted. We stand for progressive people led regional cooperation in South Asia and call for the normalisation of economic relations between Pakistan and India. 

Exclusion, discrimination and oppression:

We express concern about the increasing incidence of state repression against peoples who are fighting for their democratic rights. Dalits, adivasis, sexual and gender minorities, religious minorities, human rights defenders are under constant threat of a militarised state and corporate greed. The struggle of the marginalised for a better democracy needs to be strengthened by rendering solidarity at the South Asian level.

Community control over Natural resources 

We note that the current model of development is devastating South Asia’s natural resources. Investment zones such as SEZs that displace people, undermine democracy and national laws and destroy the environment must be stopped. The principle of prior informed consent of the local communities should be followed for all projects. We note with concern the revival of the nuclear industry despite the lessons from the Fukushima Daichi disaster. We support the valiant peoples struggle in Koodamkulam and Jaitapur and call for a halt to these nuclear projects.  There was a decision to call upon Governments to declare a nuclear free South Asia and promote people centred non conventional and sustainable energy sources. At the same time there was another viewpoint to focus on a nuclear weapon free South Asia as there was a wider consensus in the country on this issue.

We call for a ban on genetically modified seeds in SAARC countries. Governments in South Asia should stop production, distribution, consumption and export of all Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) including endosulfan.

We call upon the people to be cautious that there is an imperialist agenda to use so called environmental concerns to undermine sustainable development and livelihood needs of the people of developing countries.

South Asian coastal and forest communities are facing the brunt of so called development and corporate greed. We call for the implementation progressive legislations for protection of the environment and livelihoods in the coastal and forest regions.

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We resolve to deepen the Thiruvathapuram process through continuous interaction and consultation to enable people’s movements to express and define the South Asian dimensions of their struggles and on that basis build a genuine unity of South Asian people’s movements.

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About Intercultural Resources

Intercultural Resources is a forum for research and political intervention on issues related to the impacts and alternatives to destructive development. Our effort draws upon the social, cultural, material and intellectual resources that have been generated in the course of dialogues between people of different cultures on questions of social justice, development and self-rule. We are of the view that dialogue can sustain plurality and open possibilities for recovery of the ground lost on account of inter-cultural alienation, which is manifest in a variety of forms of violence that we encounter everyday at different levels of social life. Intercultural Resources is based in Delhi, India. Email: ihpindia@gmail.com

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