Social Justice in BRICS: Peoples’ Perspectives

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South Solidarity Initiative, Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, and Centre for Peace Studies co-organised a workshop on Social Justice in BRICS countries at the People’s Forum on BRICS in Goa. The workshop saw the participation of several academics, activists and students.

Jorge Romano, Professor and Researcher talked about the situation of minorities in Brazil. He said that discrimination against black and brown communities continues unabated in Brazil. Despite the fact that 54 per cent of the Brazilian population is black, the highest rate of unemployment is amongst the black community and black women are extremely vulnerable to violence. He also highlighted the increasing incidences of violence against indigenous communities. He expressed disappointment that the new unelected government has brought in a constitutional reform that has put a freeze on public spending on health, education, and other public services for the next 20 years. He also lamented that as the discourse in BRICS countries and in many other countries across the world is becoming more right-wing, the space for pluralist dialogue is substantially shrinking, further threatening the most marginalised and vulnerable communities.

Korivi Vinay Kumar, National Federation of Dalit Land Rights Movement said that caste has been used as a powerful tool of exploitation and discrimination and as a result there is no change in the status of Dalits since independence. In fact, atrocities on minorities have increased and in spite of legal mechanisms, constitutional provisions, and budgetary allocations, exploitation of dalits still continues. He said that Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) constitute 16.6 per cent and 8.6 per cent of the population respectively as per the 2011 Census but nearly 66 per cent of the Dalits do not even have access to toilets. He also referred to the discrimination that dalits face in terms of jobs; while a majority of small and marginal farmers are Dalits, SCs, STs, and Muslims, the same groups find it extremely difficult to get jobs in the private sector. He added that corporatization and consumerism is affecting indigenous people; all resource dependent communities including tribals are being displaced and are being denied basic rights. He identified unemployment, social discrimination, and resource looting as the major challenges in India and concluded that BRICS must address the issues of social justice by ensuring greater participation in decision making, equitable redistribution of resources, and social security.

Dontha Prashnath, Student Activist said that the caste system has created segmented markets restricting labour from moving from one job to another, thereby leading to underemployment and unemployment that impede growth. Despite our progressive constitution, customs dominate the society and therefore, caste system still exists just as before independence. In the present context, cow has become more sacred through Brahminical dictum than the life of a Dalit. Dalits remain at the lower rungs of the occupation ladder. Only 6 per cent of Dalits are graduates and even if some of them manage to enter higher levels of education, they have to face discrimination. He said that social justice seems to be a dream of only the socially marginalized but the government should instill confidence in the people by taking progressive measures.

Katherine Robinson, Queer Activist began by saying that South Africa is the most progressive nation amongst BRICS on LGBT rights as there is a non-discrimination clause in the constitution to protect LGBTQI people. But while the constitution is very progressive, the ground reality is different. Hate crimes against the LGBTQI communities are on a rise and there are massive impediments to LGBTQI people accessing resources and their legal rights. She added that more than half of the country is reportedly homophobic and only 20 per cent of people who identify as LGBTQI are aware of their constitutional rights. She pointed out that identification as LGBTQI is not an end in itself as it reduces people to their sexual identities, but it is simply a means to an end for greater rights.

Dr. Noorjehan Niaz, Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), said that BMMA was established in 2007 to create space for Muslim women within the Muslim community and in the larger Indian community. Muslim women have not been recognized by the state for the last 70 years. Further, they face poverty and marginalization and are denied basic rights within the community. Muslim women suffer greatly in the absence of a codified Muslim personal law; there is a strong need for such a codification and also democratization within the Muslim community. The BMMA has come up with a draft code demanding no to polygamy, no to halala marriage and no to triple talaq. Thus, the BMMA is trying to create alternate structures and raise the voices of Muslim women. It is also attempting to challenge Islamophobia at a global level and the rise of Wahabi Salafi Islam within the community. She emphasized that all marginalized communities should come together for social justice.

Omhle Ntshingila, Student Activist said that even post-apartheid, racial discrimination has continued in South Africa. She brought attention to the fact that it is difficult for black students to access education and that they are at a huge relative disadvantage as compared to white students. Several universities in South Africa have a high registration fees which makes them unaffordable for black students and therefore, they are typically unable to access higher education. The mass students’ struggle ‘Fees Must Fall’, which is currently going on across university campuses in South Africa, recognizes access to education as a basic human right and is demanding a rollback on proposed fees hikes. However, the government has retaliated very high-handedly, often resorting to violence and trying its best to silence the voices of the protesters. Omhle also exhorted civil society to provide support to this struggle and ensure justice for black students who have been devoid of affordable and quality education. The fight is not between ‘us’ and ‘them’ but against systematic exclusion, she said emphatically.

Laura Trajber Waisbich, BRICS Feminist Watch, said that the objective of the BRICS feminist watch is to monitor the BRICS agenda and bring a feminist perspective to it- there is a need to create solidarities amongst women’s movements in BRICS countries and pressurize domestic governments and the BRICS forum to incorporate and address gender in their policies and developmental models. It is a parallel initiative which strives for a sustained engagement with the BRICS rather than simply analyzing or denouncing BRICS declarations. She added that the key ask of the platform is to recognize the role of women in development. Other asks include moving from an aid effectiveness approach to a human rights based development cooperation, developing gender indicators to measure equality in political, social, and economic rights, recognition of care work and women’s right to livelihoods, recognition of women’s vulnerability in conflict situations, and promotion of women’s digital capacities.

Stalin K, Video Volunteers talked about the important role of the media in highlighting social and political issues and thereby enabling and effecting change. However, mainstream media is increasingly moving away from focusing on issues on the ground and therefore, there is a need to bring back the focus to localized, issue based coverage. With this objective, video volunteers trains and equips people in underdeveloped areas with video journalism skills, thus empowering communities to expose underreported stories of poverty, injustice and inequality and take action to counter regressive forces. He also showed a series of videos to demonstrate the utility and power of people’s journalism.

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