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Colloquium Populorum Progressio in India

Future oriented concluding remarks, by Yves Berthelot

Images and reality

Seen from abroad, India is an impressive power by the number of its inhabitants, the strength of its economy, the capacity of its engineers, and the ambition of its businessmen. In addition, it is the greatest democracy in the world.

During this colloquium, I heard convergent testimonies on the fate of the Dalits and, the increasing number of poor, the exploitation of women, children, unorganised workers and migrants, the despair of peasants deprived of their land and fishermen fishing in waters depleted of fish by motorised boats. I heard, also, about the incompetence of teachers and civil servants, the corruption of the police and judicial systems, and the lack of interest of the politicians for the concerns of the immense majority of the citizens.

These are two images of the reality. But, there is another one. The third image is that of thousands of dedicated persons who, like you, do not accept the established order and are taking initiatives to change it. Their action appears in full harmony with the main message of Populorum Progressio as it aims at “the development of each man and the whole man”. The accent you put on dignity and education is also in harmony with the goals Populorum Progressio assigns to development : “the acquisition of life’s necessity, the elimination of social ills, broadening of knowledge”. It is this image that I will take back home, and I consider it as my duty to disseminate it.

Four future-oriented concluding remarks

These four remarks are reactions to some of the points made during the colloquium ; they relate to analyses, dignity, human rights and the role of NGOs/movements..

Analyses and understanding

It appeared clearly that your actions are based on analyses of the situation at the local level and on clear understandings of political and economic mechanisms and forces at play at the State, national, and global levels. It is always necessary to enrich our analyses and understandings and colloquiums of this sort offer opportunities to do so. I would suggest that you organise such colloquiums on a regular basis and would recommend that you pay attention to new forces that will contribute to shape the future, among which :
- climate change and its consequences on migrations. Ecological refugees are likely to be many in this region : A growing world population and the market for green-oil. These are likely to result in competition for land with implications for small farmers and food prices :
- Challenges to the US hegemony and its underlying ideology by emerging powers.

Dignity

Dignity was the most used concept during the colloquium. I do believe, as you, that to make a man, a woman, a child, a community conscious of its dignity helps it to overcome injustice and violence and the gives it the strength to react. I would suggest that you also consider how to call on the dignity of policemen, civil servants, politicians, and employers. They cannot be all corrupt and prisoners of the system.

Human rights

Three points related to human rights and rights based approaches.

Education
It is a role for people movements and NGOs to educate people about their rights. It was agreed that people who know that they have rights are more conscious of their dignity. They have to exercise their rights when necessary. The difficulty is that most often officials also are not aware of the human rights provisions and other principles and conventions that India has signed, ratified and translated into national laws. The civil society organisations should undertake to educate civil servants and police on human rights and consider with them how best implement these rights.

What is a human right ?
It is important not to mislead people on what human rights means. Individual and political rights are clear. The economic, social, and cultural rights, like the rights to food, water, housing, education and healthcare, oblige the State to conduct policies that enable people to enjoy these rights, but does not mean that people are entitled to be given food, water, houses, employment by the State. It also obliges the State to respect these rights (for instance not to deprive a peasant from his land without equitable compensation) and to protect the people against violation by a third party (for instance, when a t a factory uses up water traditionally used for irrigation). Even with this strict definition, there are many cases where the State should be challenged.

Interrelations of human rights
In the short contribution I prepared for this meeting, I underlined that violations of economic social or cultural rights may lead to protests that are often met with violations of individual rights, including arbitrary detention, degrading treatments, and even torture. The examples given during the colloquium establish similar links between violations of economic, social or cultural rights and violations of individual rights. This is likely to become more frequent with the increasing income gaps and the greediness of the powerful for assets of the poor like shelter, space and land. To mitigate this risk, you may consider
- Establishing closer links between Human rights NGOs and development NGOs. The latter could alert the former of decisions that would likely trigger protests and the second be present when authorities or enterprises take action and remind them of the people’s rights. I have in mind destruction of slums or poor housing in the centre of cities and confiscation of lands.
- Denouncing these violations to national courts and if necessary to regional or international human rights bodies. The World Organisation Against Torture in Geneva can among others assist you in the preparation and presentation of cases.

People movements/NGOs role

Movements and NGOs have regularly to question their goals and approaches. Colloquiums like this one offer an excellent opportunity to do so. I will pick only two issues that deserve to be addressed in future meetings you may wish to hold.

- How to strike the proper balance between your own experience and conviction of what is good for the people and the wishes and priorities that the people express ? So many Western NGOs impose their views with their money, which, often, leads to disasters like in the post tsunami year. Empowering the people may be the best response to the question ; it is worth discussing it.
- How top strike the balance between the aspiration to grow in order to reach more people and gain influence vis-à-vis the authorities and the risk of bureaucratisation that would cut you from the people ? An answer could be networking and alliances. Again, it is worth discussing..

In conclusion of these remarks, let me say that you have the duty to make your success stories and approaches known in India and the entire world. I know the limits and even dangers of exchange of experiences ; I know also that they have the merit to stimulate, to show that there are answers to intractable problems - in a word to give hope.


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