- The Washington Times - Friday, January 23, 2004

BOMBAY — After a day campaigning for a gentler world this week, elderly Indian villager Dayabai spent the nights in a tent, while most of her Western allies at the World Social Forum were driven off to comfortable hotels.

The clash of cultures was a marked one. Performers from the most remote stretches of host India beat drums and blew horns during the day on the cluttered pavement of an exhibition ground in Bombay — the first time the anti-globalization meeting has come to Asia.

Western activists watched the show with curiosity, some joining in and others snapping photographs. But for most, the interaction was then over.

Dayabai, 63, a trained social worker who like many Indians uses only one name, reached Bombay after more than 540 miles by train from her village in the central state of Madhya Pradesh.

“I didn’t know this would be such a huge gathering of activists,” said the barefoot woman. “They should be reaching out to us. But it is their choice.”

Dayabai said she is used to sleeping in the open in her village.

“To understand villagers, you have to live like them,” said Dayabai, wearing a green sari and a tribal necklace made of silver.

The estimated 100,000 activists at the six-day forum that ended late Wednesday ranged from Indians in saris and sarongs who had rarely seen a foreigner to high-flying activists clutching bottles of drinking water and wearing the trendiest threads from Western boutiques.

At the lawnside food court, forum delegates from the developed world ate with plastic spoons and forks, while many Indians used their hands as they squatted on the ground.

Some of the foreigners preferred dishes such as the Thai red curry and Tibetan momos, costing up to $4 a serving, or stopped by the “Croissants, Etc.” stall near a meeting venue.

But the longest food lines were exclusively Indian as men and women trudged forward in single file for plates of rice and curry costing about 50 cents.

Thousands of low-caste Indians came to the Bombay meeting as part of a nationwide campaign to publicize the lingering discrimination under Hinduism’s centuries-old social hierarchy.

Klaus Milewski, who works for a water advocacy group in Hamburg, Germany, said there was no effective communication between the Indian and foreign activists.

“I don’t know the reason. The kind of cultural shock may be one problem, and the other definitely is the language. Not many Indians speak English,” Mr. Milewski said.

“I think a roundtable for all of us to meet and exchange ideas is needed at the next meeting,” he said.

The first World Social Forum was at Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2001, and was held there for the next two years to build on the occasionally violent protests held in Seattle during the World Trade Organization negotiations of 1999.

The forum was brought to Asia this year in the hope of gaining more support on a continent that is home to half of the world’s population and living amid gaping inequalities.

Elina Raask, who works for a development group in Estonia, said most Westerners — herself included — chose to stay at quality hotels because they were unsure about their safety and were looking for comfort.

“I got a shock of my life when I saw so many people at one place. Most of them [the non-Indians] are in a similar state. In the United Kingdom or any other developed country, such a demonstration of grass-roots scale doesn’t happen,” she said.

“The other problem any foreign delegate faces is the heat, dust and the noise level. It is a little bad,” she said.

Giovanni La Guardia, an Italian here from the Communist Refoundation Party, said he could not take the crowds.

“In Europe, you can never meet so many groups and people. It has always been an individualist approach,” he said.

As the World Social Forum ended in a sea of banners and flags, thousands of people danced together to music from three continents and chanted the event’s slogan: “Another world is possible.” But some in the anti-globalization movement wondered whether six days of talking would lead to anything concrete.

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