The World is a L(U)DA –

Impressions of and thoughts about the World Social Forum 2004


by Michael Winkler, IÖR Dresden


The World Social Forum – what, who and why

The 4th World Social Forum (WSF) held in Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay, India) from January 16-21, 2004 addressed various social, economical and ecological problems concerning to common people from different perspectives. It was the first time that this forum, which was founded in Porto Alegre (Brazil) in 2001, moved to another place. There were some doubts before the event took place whether a World Social Forum in India would attract so many people (in 2003 about 100.000 people came to Porto Alegre). In the end the figures of participants varied from 75,000 to 120,000 (about 10.000 Non-Indians). People from about 130 countries and 2600 organisations (different NGOs, activist movements, etc.) exchanged their ideas and thoughts at about 1,200 seminars joined under the common slogan “Another world is possible”. That there are different ideas how to reach another world became quite obvious since opposite to the venue of the WSF at NESCO grounds in Northern Mumbai another big event – “Mumbai Resistance” – took place simultaneously. About 10,000 people had gathered there raising their voices “against imperialist globalisation and war”. Whereas “Mumbai Resistance” was rather on the search for an action plan about what to do, in particular regarding the situation in Iraq, the charter of the WSF said: “The World Social Forum is not an organisation, not a united front platform, but ‘…an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and inter-linking for effective action, by groups and movements of civil society that are opposed to neo-liberalism and to domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism, and are committed to building a society centred on the human person.’" [1]

Manifold global topics discussed within those six days in Mumbai gave an extensive overview of subjects like the role of the UN in world’s future, liberalisation of public services (GATS), child labour, women’s rights or racism of any kind to name just a few. The world’s financial market largely governed by the politics of the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were scrutinized from thinking of a common man. It was visible that there was kind of split among the people who are against globalisation and those who demand to alter globalisation. In most of the cases this might be mainly influenced by the way the economic globalisation is affecting people’s lives and what chances they see to stand the neo-liberal politics of the Western countries mainly forced by multi-national companies which are in search for the maximum profit without any concern about human rights, social security and environmental protection. But the WSF was not just a “market place” for the suffering and unheard it was moreover a meeting point for different cultures, different colours, different languages and different ways of living.

There were about 240 German participants including 40 delegates from “attac Germany” making it the largest group from Germany. I assume those six days in Mumbai might have changed the character of the problems we presently face back at home in Germany. In a country where 260 million people live below the poverty line with an income of 1 $ a day, things like social welfare, unemployment payment, health security, etc. are just things people can dream of. As a matter of fact it was quite remarkable that many of the Indian participants came to Mumbai by virtually spending their last rupees while most of the participants from Western NGOs stayed in 3- to 5-star hotels in Mumbai’s best regions (including myself).


Mumbai – A Perfect Venue for the WSF

Most probably there could not have been a better place then Mumbai to be the venue for an event like the World Social Forum. A concrete jungle, just two or three times larger than Dresden, but at the same time giving room to about 16 million people, the financial and business centre of India, the city with the largest film industry world-wide (known as “Bollywood”), a city with land prices sometimes higher than in Hollywood, and also a place where you can find the largest slum in Asia (Dharavi).

But what is very interesting in Mumbai is the fact that the slums are in close neighbourhood to the 20-storey-buildings of the middle-class people and the really rich. Isn’t that another way of integrating socially disadvantaged people? Isn’t that better than to push the poorest of the poor out of the cities giving them separated areas away from the eyes of the rich and the tourists? Sure, slums and the people living in there are things that have to be seen as a challenge for the whole society, but some people also claim that it also gives freedom to people belonging to the outcaste. There are about 150 million Indians, the so-called “dalits”, who belong to none of the four castes. When living in the villages they can be easily identified and thus discriminated since they do the jobs no-one else does. On the other hand the Indian government provides more than 50% job reservation for the lower class people. For this reason some people also say that the era when dalits were exploited is gone, and nowadays money plays a more important role in determining once social status. However, India is such a vast country with a population of 1.07 billion people and different cultures making this subcontinent as diverse as the European Union. Apart from that there might be tremendous differences between urban and rural areas.

In addition to that attempts of the government to provide new flats to inhabitants of the slums outside of the slum area have failed. It was reported that some of those people (dalits) have rented their apartments to other people and used it as a source of extra income. Changes cannot be done merely by giving people a new flat unless their other basic needs have been satisfied. They might have no money to afford these flats, food and perhaps the cost for public transport should also be considered. Moreover, after some years such slum-dwellers seem to get used to live in a slum and the only way to improve their conditions is the development of slums like Dharavi itself. [2]


Final remarks

As the former head of the UNESCO, Federico Mayor Zaragoza, put it [3]: “I sometimes think that for there to be progress, a crisis is needed. In order for there to be great change there must be a great crisis, and we are experiencing crises like never before.” And he continues: “I have never lived a situation like the present. We are seeing an international reality that is totally anti-democratic: The media are used as arguments, preventive acts of war are carried out. There is an increasingly loud outcry against this. And Mumbai is part of that outcry.” But as a journalist, one week after the WSF had finished, stated in “The Hindu”: “There are probably 75,000 ways of looking at the WSF”[4]. I think it was that united diversity supported by the invisible spiritual power of India which made this Forum a success. One of the most crucial outcomes of the WSF many people claimed the better education of women in order to empower them and to give them an essential role in a world still dominated by men.


Finally I would like to state that we have to recognise that globalisation is no one-way-street. As we are living in the so-called Western World we have to realise that we are not only part of the globe but moreover that the problems we nowadays face e.g. in Germany are tremendously influenced by the economic globalisation. Therefore, it may be that the whole world seems to be a LUDA or even a LDA. Thus, in order to bring change to the social, ecological and economic situation in any L(U)DA it is first of all important to see the global contexts determining it. If we seek to change parts of the world in a sustainable way we first need to understand how it runs.


[1] Taken from the WSF Charter of Principles;

[2] “Dharavi could be a liveable township soon” (The Times of India, 02.02.2004,

[3] Taken from an interview in “TerraViva”, Independent Newspaper of the WSF, Jan 20, 2004.

[4] Taken from “The Hindu”, February 1, 2004.

Website of “Mumbai Resistance”:

Also worth reading: Rahul Rao, “The World Social Forum: a worm's eye view”,


N.B.: I would like to thank Pradeep Pareek from the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi (currently PhD student at TU Dresden) for correcting my English and giving some extra insights in the Indian life.