Secularism, as a concept, appears to be in danger from both the left and the right. Among feminists, it tends to be only some minority women scrambling for the soul of secularism. It is time for all feminists to muck in, says Rahila Gupta
Marieme Hélie-Lucas, founder of Women Living Under Muslim laws (WLUML), speaking at a conference on ’Secularism, Racism and the Politics of Belonging’ organised by the University of East London and Runnymede Trust in January , posed an important question: in the face of so much discrimination, why do women of migrant Muslim-descent still choose to support secularism? She was, of course, speaking about the the North African community in France, particularly Algerians, who had fled the rise of religious fundamentalism at home. However, it is no less valid a question to pose about minority women in the UK despite their very different histories. It is also important because it shifts the focus from those women who use their religio-political identity to challenge racism to those who recognise the dangers of that strategy.
As much of state policy constructs minority communities in terms of their religious identity, it is a question of particular interest to Southall Black Sisters (SBS) who have resisted religious categorisation in their provision of a secular service to women escaping domestic violence. Their new report, Cohesion, Faith and Gender  which will be launched on 16 March explores precisely this question through in-depth interviews with women of Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian backgrounds who use the centre. For those who associate secular ideals with Western values, it may come as something of a surprise that all but one of the women did not want religious authorities to shape their lives. Whilst the majority of women were believers, they wanted a clear separation of their spiritual needs from their social needs. Most felt a primary loyalty to their gender identity and found that any attempt to assert their rights had met with the disapproval of religious leaders. They welcomed an inclusive and secular space such as the one provided by SBS because they carried memories of the gendered, caste-based and religious discrimination they had faced in their countries of origin.
To some extent public policy is influenced by the public debate. Secularism, as a concept, appears to be in danger from both the left and the right. The growing popularity of the term, secular fundamentalism, an oxymoron if ever there was one, is part of the continuing attempt to discredit it. Although secularism was traditionally the preserve of the left, some on the left have abandoned this territory, in the face of rising anti-Muslim racism and the state’s War on Terror, and developed an anti-racist politics that gives succour to religious extremism rather than challenging it. The marches against the war in Iraq, for example, that were organised by the Stop the War coalition in which the major partners were the Socialist Workers’ Party and the Muslim Association of Britain, often used slogans like ‘We are all Muslims’. Rallies started with prayers from the podium! This is not the way we tackle ‘islamaphobia’, certainly not by squeezing our public secular spaces.
Similarly, the alliance of anti-EDL (English Defence League) forces in June 2010 in Tower Hamlets, which included Respect, SWP and the East London Mosque , illustrated very neatly the capitulation of the left to the fascists within while organising against the fascists without. When a member of Women Against Fundamentalism challenged one of the organisers, an ex-Respect member, on the make-up of the alliance, he dismissed her reservations as a counsel of perfection. The only threat that he could see was from the white fascists, he was not interested in the complex and complicated way in which Islamic fundamentalist forces were vying for power and for the leadership of the anti-racist/anti fascist movement in Tower Hamlets.
There are also attempts by academics to chip away at the theoretical basis of secularism. Haleh Afshar, an ex-Marxist, Muslim feminist academic and member of the House of Lords, wants to ‘problematise’ the notion that secularism is ‘an avenue towards equality’ . She believes that adopting it in order to be inclusive has not worked because ‘people of faith feel excluded by the faithlessness of society’. This is a particularly enervating construct of ‘people of faith’ and does not reflect the lived reality of the women who come to SBS. In any case, people of faith are likely to be at greater danger from each other i.e. from different faiths rather than the faithless and would therefore benefit from a level playing field. Secularism is not about hostility to religion but about not privileging faith over non-faith.
Further constraints on secularism are placed by those who argue that religion is not a matter of choice but should be considered to be as primordial a part of one’s identity as ethnicity; a position that was articulated by AbdoolKarim Vakil of King’s College at the UEL conference. If religion is not a belief system, chosen freely, but seen as an embedded part of one’s identity, then any critique of it becomes offensive and is collapsed into the same category as racism. As Haleh Afshar puts it, ‘If what you say belittles me, if what you say disempowers me…then we can’t be equal, we can’t have the same rights’. But there’s an unacknowledged substitution of ‘me’ for ‘my beliefs’.
Vakil also questions the neutrality of the secular space as a way of undermining it: because ’it is basically the way the state regulates a space in which the differences that are acceptable can manifest itself and differences that are unacceptable are excluded’, and because that entails ’the disciplining of certain subjectivities and their acceptability for the public space’ he argues that it cannot be neutral. But does it matter? Especially if it means discipling of certain subjectivities such as misogyny or homophobia. He appears to further condemn ’the secular as a thickened state that’s already a sedimentation of our relations, including over the very conceptualisation of what is religious, what is secular, what is political.’ But as these concepts are continually contested, it is a dynamic process, a churning and not a setting.
At the far-right end of the spectrum, secularism has been hijacked as a way of asserting national identity. In France, a constitutionally secular country, Bloc Identitaire, to the right of Le Pen’s National Front, embraces secularism as a way of ’othering’ Muslims. Marieme Hélie - Lucas reported that in parts of Paris where Muslims pray on the streets outside their mosques, the Bloc holds provocative picnics with wine and pork on the same streets. In the UK, the Stop Islamification of Europe (SIOE) group also seems to be supporting secularism when it argues that,’SIOE wants all religions to be treated in law the same way as politicial parties, with no special legal protection.’ However, their secularism is implicitly and explicitly defined as an Islam-free space, a position shared by the more sophisticated though equally racist EDL. A similar attempt to assert national identity by the BNP and the English Democrats takes them down the opposite route: identifying with Christian values in Britain, constitutionally a Christian country.
With the resurgence of religion, secularism is bound to be contested territory. The women who come to SBS to rebuild their lives testify to the importance of secular spaces. One woman said, ‘I would like my views represented by women, not by community and reigious leaders...If religious leaders bring their laws where can we run to? There will be more suicides, depression, castaways, conversions. It would be the biggest disaster.’ Among feminists, it tends to be only some minority women scrambling for the soul of secularism. It is time for all feminists to muck in.
8 March 2011
In February 2011, the President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, celebrated the 63rd anniversary of the island’s independence. In his speech, he stressed the necessity of “protecting the reconstructed nation”, as well as protecting “one of the oldest democracies in Asia”, its unity and its unitary character.
This speech came nearly two years after the end of the war on 19 May 2009, between the Sri Lankan state and the "Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam” (LTTE). The military command of the LTTE was decimated in the last two months of a merciless war which had led to tens of thousands of deaths since the early 1980s.
Some thirty years of civil war have transformed the Sri Lankan political landscape. Once an island characterised by a developed social policy and high development indicators, Sri Lanka is today ravaged by state violence, the militarisation of society and an authoritarian state.
The end of the war has in no way opened a period of peace and still less settled the Tamil national question. The Sri Lankan government, whose powers are concentrated in the hands of Mahinda Rajapaksa and brothers, has not sought to remedy the structural causes which led to the civil war. The state remains Sinhalese nationalist and racist in its essence and rejects any devolution of powers which would allow the different communities to envisage the future together.
The President is at war against his people. State violence is also exerted against Sinhalese, journalists and political activists who oppose him but also against workers as a whole. Despite the end of the war, the government has maintained the Prevention of Terrorism Act which allows it to muzzle its opponents. All communities suffer from the collapse of the rule of law. No peace can last if it does not rest on any political will to settle disputes.
The history of Sri Lanka is rich in lessons. It illustrates to what point attacks against minorities are the premises of more general attacks against workers whatever their ethnicity. They lead inevitably to a weakening, if not a collapse, of democracy. It is important and necessary to review the historic roots which are at the base of the formation of this specific state having led to the emergence of two antagonistic nationalisms: Buddhist Sinhalese nationalism and its reaction, Tamil nationalism.
Sri Lanka, Ceylon until 1972, has been profoundly marked by several centuries of colonisation. The strategic position of the island in the Indian Ocean explains its successive conquest by the Portuguese, Dutch and British.
The main communities of the island, the Sinhalese and the Tamils, originate from successive migrations from India. The first took place in the 6th century BC by migrants coming from the North West of India and practicing Buddhism . They slowly melted with other groups coming from southern parts of India to form the Sinhala community . This was followed around 300 years later by a smaller migration of Hindu Tamils from the south of India. The Tamil migration continued in the north of the island for several hundred years and at the end of the 12th century, the peninsula of Jaffna constituted a separate state with a culture and language different from Sinhalese.
Neither the Sinhalese nor the Tamils can claim to be the first to have peopled the island since when they arrived, Ceylon was already occupied by a hunter gatherer people, the Veddah or Wanniyaletto, who are today almost completely assimilated in the different communities.
The different social formations which would emerge on the island were however not compartmentalised. In the kingdom of Kandy, for example, the Nayakkar dynasty emerged from the Vijayanagar Empire of southern India. Although the dynasty had been Tamil and originally Hindu, they converted themselves to Buddhism and were fervent promoters of it.
Under Portuguese and then Dutch colonialism, the coastal regions of the island were integrated into world trade in agricultural products from the early 16th century, facilitating the rise of a merchant capitalism. The coastal population was in its majority Sinhalese and Buddhist but trade exchanges made it a place of interconnection where Arabs, Sinhalese, Tamils and Burghers mingled .
In the peninsula of the North, which was poorer, only the missionaries ventured, converting a minority of the population, previously mainly Hindu, to Christianity. Social relations of a feudal type, in particular a rigid caste system, persisted.
Upon their arrival at the end of the 18th century the British extended foreign domination to the interior of the island in the kingdom of Kandy. They developed big plantations there, imposing a new mode of production, plantation capitalism. They grabbed the communal lands previously devoted to pasturing of herds and the forests where the peasants practiced slash and burn cultivation, characterising them as “waste lands” to better resell them at a derisory price to British colonists. They would develop infrastructures which would allow the direction of the products of the plantations onto the world market.
Even if it only partially destroyed the pre-capitalist modes of production, plantation capitalism imposed itself rapidly, coming to dominate the island’s economy from the beginning of the 20th century.
The dominant classes of the pre-existing formations became almost naturally the comprador bourgeoisie . Whether of Sinhalese, Burgher, Muslim  or Tamil origin, they found a common interest with the nascent bourgeoisie of the planters. Imbued with the colonial culture, they would send their children to study at Oxford and Cambridge, so as to ensure a place alongside the colonial aristocracy.
Numerous members of the Ceylonese bourgeoisie owned their own coconut, coffee or rubber plantations. Thus, unlike neighbouring India, in Ceylon a national bourgeoisie fighting for independence did not emerge. The latter did not play a motor role in the first movements of agitation against the colonial power at the end of the 19th century. Opposition first took the form of Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim religious movements who fought against the privileges of the Christian minority (made up of both Sinhalese and Tamils) and against Western culture.
The British colonial power, which feared a coming together of the interests of the Tamil and Sinhalese bourgeoisies, played upon division to the hilt. Specific and community-based interests became paramount. The Tamil elites demanded favourable treatment in exchange for their loyal service in the colonial administration. For their part, the Sinhalese built networks of communal associations, the Mahajana Sabha, resting on the rural Sinhalese elites – ayurvedic physicians, Buddhist monks, schoolmasters and so on.
The Ceylonese workers’ movement emerged at the same time as plantation capitalism. The Ceylonese workers were mainly Sinhalese peasants expelled from their ancestral collective lands by the colonial power to work in the construction of roads and railways and in the docks. They maintained a toehold in the rural world however. Meanwhile, to ensure work was carried out on the plantations and in the towns, the British colonist had called on Indian Tamil workers from Tamil Nadu who they kept apart from the local workers. The workers’ movement was thus divided from its birth.
Although there were in the early 20th century several workers’ struggles involving workers of all origins and confessions, the nationalist and xenophobic discourse of the Sinhalese nationalist leaders had a profound impact on the working class of Sinhalese origin.
In the 1920s, new workers’ struggles allowed the development of an urban working class which was more unified, defending its own class interests beyond the castes which had survived and community based identities. A trade union confederation and a political party modelled on the British Labour Party emerged under the leadership of A.E. Goonesinha. The political control he exerted, both on the party and the trade union, was however fatal to the workers’ movement. During the great depression of the 1930s, Goonesinha did not hesitate to brand the Tamil plantation workers as being responsible for high unemployment and to accuse Indian merchants of dispossessing small Ceylonese landowners. The use of Sinhalese chauvinism was an easy and rapid means of constituting an electoral base which allowed him to win the parliamentary elections in the Sinhalese constituency of central Colombo. This was a fatal blow to universal suffrage - which had just been granted in 1931- by an unscrupulous politician who deployed it to electoralist ends.
Nationalist and racist themes were subsequently regularly used by the ruling politicians for electoral ends or to implement a class policy. Thus, the first law adopted by the first independent Ceylonese government , the Citizenship Act, rendered stateless the Tamil “Indian” workers who had been settled for three of four generations in the island, under the pretext that they could not prove that they were Ceylonese by parentage or by naturalisation. The second law withdrew the right to vote under the pretext that they were not Ceylonese!
These laws took the vote away from all the plantation workers of the centre and south, or a tenth of the electoral body. That allowed the ruling UNP to eliminate a million votes, much of which have previously gone to the Left parties and the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), the main Ceylonese workers’ party. . This party had been created in the 1930s by young intellectuals who had been won to Communist ideas during their studies in Britain and the United States of America.
The Tamil workers on the plantations would not find much help from among the North-Eastern Tamil members of parliament. Most of the latter voted for these retrograde laws. A dissident group led by S.J.V.Chelvanayakam founded the Federal Party 
This was a fatal blow against the Sri Lankan workers’ movement which became divided along ethnic lines. This major political defeat was a portent for the future. The use of nationalist appeals against a part of the population, considered wrongly as foreign, was soon applied to other ethnic minorities and in particular against the Sri Lankan Tamils from the north and east of the island. From 1949, the UNP government of DS.Senanayake put in place a policy of attribution of land to Sinhalese peasants who had been deprived of it. This policy was applied in the east of the island in a Tamil majority area. The arrival of these peasants modified substantially the demographic and therefore electoral composition of the constituencies concerned and thus gave a fiefdom to Sinhalese politicians who had lacked one.
In 1951, Bandanaraike , motivated by personal ambition, left the UNP to found the Sri Lankan Freedom Party (SLFP). It rested on the Maha Sabha , one of whose main objectives was to promote Sinhalese-Buddhist culture throughout the island. The SLFP was constituted on the basis of the Sinhalese petty bourgeoisie giving it support among the rural masses neglected both by the comprador bourgeoisie of the UNP and by the LSSP whose base was rather among the workers (even though it represented also paysants in some rural constituencies).
1956 constituted a major political turning point for the island. A year of presidential elections, 1956 also represented for the Sinhalese Buddhists the 2,500th anniversary of the death of Buddha as well as the anniversary of the “peopling of Ceylon” and the origins of the Sinhalese people. The electoral campaign was the opportunity for Sinhalese chauvinist outbidding.
Bandanaraike campaigned on the slogan “Sinhala Only” and proposed that Sinhalese replace English as the sole official language of the island. In the 24 hours following his investiture, the measure was decreed. This law was all the more unjustified in that before independence in 1944, the legislative council had voted by a very large majority for a law adopting Sinhalese and Tamil as official languages for education, examinations and parliamentary debates, recognising the importance of the equality of the languages.
The Sinhalese community was not however homogeneous. It was itself divided by lines of caste, class and regional differences. The state identified itself with Sinhalese nationalism but not with the Sinhalese community as a whole. It was the middle classes and the Buddhist clergy, through the Maha Sabha, who would contribute to the dissemination of Sinhalese nationalist ideology. This petty bourgeoisie was convinced that this chauvinist policy would bring it jobs by reducing the opportunities of the Tamil minority.
Founded in 1935, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), Ceylonese section of the Fourth International from 1940 onwards, was the first party to demand the independence of the country against British imperialism. From its foundation, it developed significant work in the mass movements and trade unions. The second biggest party on the island in terms of size, the LSSP was the main workers’ party and also the main opposition party in parliament until the emergence of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.
A multi-ethnic and multi-cultural party, it included among its members militants of different languages, religions, genders and castes. Its activists fought attacks on workers whatever they were as well as the inter-communal divisions of the working class. Thus, when after independence, the first UNP government voted through the Citizenship Act rendering the plantation Tamils stateless, the LSSP was one of only two parties which opposed it. The party denounced a racist decree, directed against the working class and damaging to democracy.
However, in 1956, the internal situation of the party had qualitatively evolved. Internal struggles and a first split in 1945 had weakened the party. The divergences mainly concerned the question of the construction of the party: branch of a South Asian party or party in the national framework. In 1950, after several years of political conflicts fed by personal rivalries and generational divergences, Philip Gunawardena, main founder of the LSSP, left the party and founded a new one, the Viplavakari - LSSP (LSSP-Revolutionary). A third of the party joined the VLSSP following the political reverse by the LSSP during the general elections of 1952. During the presidential election of 1956, the VLSSP allied with the Bandaranaike’s SLFP to form a coalition, the People’s United Front (MEP), which came first in the elections. The VLSSP openly betrayed the workers by voting for the "Sinhala Only Act” with all the majority parties. Only the Tamil minority parties and the LSSP opposed it in parliament. The leader of the LSSP, Colvin R. de Silva, presciently observed that this law, which made Tamils second class citizens, rested on a disastrous logic: “two languages, one nation; one language, two nations”.
The passing of the "Sinhala Only Act” in 1956 was followed by strong protests from the Federal Party. In 1957, the SLFP in government and the Federal Party signed the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam agreements promising a regional autonomy to the provinces of the North and East. Tamil, in particular, became the official language of the administration of these two regions. But the Sinhalese chauvinist forces organised by the Buddhist monks, on whose support Bandaranaike had relied to gain power, launched a virulent campaign against this agreement. On April 9, 1958, the United Front of Monks (Eksath Bhikku Peramuna-EBP), an organisation of reactionary and racist Buddhist monks, besieged the residence of the prime minister. The same afternoon, one year after having signed it, Bandaranaike renounced the pact. Subsequent Tamil demonstrations in Jaffna were severely repressed by the police. In Colombo and other regions Sinhalese nationalists launched pogroms against the Tamils leading to criminal arson and murders organised in complete impunity by Sinhalese hooligans and thugs. The violence unleashed soon escaped any control but Bandaranaike refused to intervene for fear of upsetting the Sinhalese nationalists. In vain. In 1959, he was assassinated by a member of the EBP.
The Buddhist monk making vows of abstinence and poverty gave way to a much less spiritual monk who used his traditional position to exercise power. Bandaranaike had utilised Sinhalese nationalism to come to power but he was incapable of detaching himself from it after he had succeeded in his aims. The Pandora’s box was opened, and it was impossible to contain the Sinhalese nationalist racist forces unleashed.
The LSSP could have been an important element to oppose this nationalist and racist drift. Its strength rested in its ability to organise the masses at the rank and file. It has shown this during the organisation of an immense hartal  against the UNP government in 1953 which paralysed the country. Overwhelmed, the government took refuge on a ship. But when it was in a position of strength, the LSSP did not push the struggle to its advantage. 
This positioning prefigured the capitulations to come. The working class base of the party shrunk under the pressure of the inter-communal conflicts and the electoral successes of the SLFP destabilised the leadership of the LSSP. Defeat in the elections of 1960 disoriented the party. N. M. Perera, the main organiser of the LSSP’s mass work, proposed forming a coalition government with the SLFP which was rejected by the majority of the party, but the LSSP parliamentary group supported the vote of confidence in the newly elected government against the “main enemy” of the UNP which had continuously ruled Ceylan since 1948 . In 1964, Perera engaged the majority of the party in a coalition government with the SLFP and the Ceylon Communist Party , the government being led by Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the widow of the prime minister assassinated seven years earlier. The earlier political demands of the two left parties in favour of equal rights for the plantation Tamils and parity of status between Sinhalese and Tamil languages were put aside. In the same year, the LSSP was expelled from the Fourth International which saw entry into the SLFP government as a political treason.
A minority group around Bala Tampoe and Edmund Samarakkody continued to defend the traditional positions of the LSSP in a new party. But the only mass political party which had defended workers regardless of their ethnic origin had betrayed, leaving a political vacuum in the working class and strengthening Sinhalese nationalism. 
In 1968, the SLFP, LSSP and CP formed the United Front which won the 1970 elections. The LSSP and CP, definitively converted to parliamentarism, justified this alliance by the desire to oppose the UNP, “the party of foreign and Ceylonese capitalist interests" whereas the United Front campaigned for a policy of industrialisation through import substitution, the development of social protection and the nationalisation of the Bank of Ceylon, transport and the tea plantations.
The policy of this government was however less progressive than it appeared. It was Sirimavo Bandaranaike who pushed further the political logic of discrimination against North_Eastern origin and plantation Tamils to satisfy her electoral clientele. That had significant repercussions on the economic policy pursued. In a difficult economic conjuncture owing to the first generalised world recession in 1974-75, with an unprecedented increase in unemployment, the UF government sharpened discriminatory policies which were already in place and invented new ones: the “Sinhala Only Act” was used to exclude Tamils from the police, army, courts and governmental services in general; the policy of colonisation of Tamil areas was accentuated; the plantation Tamils were voluntarily or forcibly repatriated to Tamil Nadu. Standardisation of access to universities, which was deeply discriminatory against part of the Tamil community, was imposed. This racist policy was implemented by parties who identified themselves with the workers’movement. How could the coming generations of young Tamils still have confidence in the Left parties?
All these discriminatory policies had the goal of transferring resources to the Sinhalese to the detriment of the Tamils. In 1971, however, the government faced a very significant insurrection from the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), a group made up of young Sinhalese living in the south of the country, mainly rural and members of the petty bourgeoisie. Such an uprising of youth, supposedly the main beneficiaries of the political measures taken, show how much the discrimination against the Tamils did not benefit the majority of Sinhalese and did not alleviate poverty and unemployment. The ruling coalition responded with a terrible repression. Several thousand youths were killed by the army and the police and more than 10,000 were jailed 
In the early 1970s, the crisis in relation to the Tamil minority deepened. In 1972, Colvin R. De Silva, the former historic leader of the LSSP and then minister for constitutional affairs, drew up a new constitution which, among other things, gave Sinhalese the status of sole official language, established Buddhism as virtually the state religion. It removed section 29 of the 1947 Soulbury Constitution that guaranteed certain protection clauses for ethnic and religious minorities. It also introduce a new fundamental rights chapter that was applicable to North-eastern Tamils but not to those plantation Tamils who were stateless because it only protected citizens.
At the economic level, the policy of the government was profoundly discriminatory with respect to the Tamil community. The nationalisation of the plantations was accompanied by a redistribution of land in favour of the Sinhalese majority. The linguistic policy of the government deprived young Tamils of jobs after their studies. The new standards of access to the university were perceived by middle class youth as one discriminatory measure too far with respect to their community. This measure mainly affected the young Tamils of Jaffna, who were more educated. It did not affect the youth of the East, from Vanni and the plantations of the centre who for the most part did not go to university. It was nonetheless the detonator for big mobilisations and the entry into politics of a new generation of Tamil youths.
The Federal Party and the Tamil United Front (TUF)  began to distil a nationalist rhetoric which proclaimed the unity of all Tamils beyond class and caste inequalities. At this time, the notion of Tamil identity was real but it was not the substance of the Tamil community. In everyday life, belonging to a caste and a village constituted the main vectors of identity and dominated social relations.
The battles of the FP and TUF did not go outside of parliament, leaving a vacuum occupied by these young Tamil militants in Jaffna. Since independence, the attempts at political negotiations with the different parliamentary parties (SLFP and UNP) and the campaigns of Satyagraha  of the Federal Party had brought no solution to the Tamil cause. The refusal of the state to accord a minimum of autonomy and devolution led these young militants to reject the policy followed by the traditional Tamil political parties.
The young Tamil generations no longer believed in the possibility of developing their rights by democratic means. Only a separate state seemed to them to guarantee their linguistic, religious and cultural rights. Thus the question of a separate Tamil state emerged as the sole alternative and the means of winning it could rest neither on parliamentary battles or traditional campaign of agitation.
A major event marked the beginning of a cycle of violence . In January 1974, a literary meeting to celebrate Tamil language and culture was organised in Jaffna. It was supported by the TUF. The coalition government led by Sirimavo Bandaranaike did not like it but did not dare to oppose it directly. When a final meeting attracted nearly 50,000 participants, the riot police attacked the crowd leading to the death of seven people. Following this event, the TUF and FP accentuated a campaign against the mayor of Jaffna , launched from 1972, accusing him of being a "traitor". These vicious attacks ended with him being assassinated on July 27, 1975 by a member of an organisation formed in 1974, the Tamil New Tigers. This new organisation changed its name to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 1976.
No less than thirty groups engaged in violent actions of which the assassination of the mayor of Jaffna was the symbolic beginning. Among these groups, some like the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) and the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) were left-wing organisations. The LTTE for its part was situated on a nationalist and pragmatic terrain. But they were above all fashioned by the origin of most of the founder members, educated young students from the Jaffna middle class and rather high caste.
Ethnic tensions worsened throughout the 1970s but the armed Tamil groups remained marginal until the mid 1980s. In July 1983 a second major rupture took place. Following an ambush in which 13 police officers were killed by the Tigers, Sinhalese nationalists unleashed a pogrom in Colombo and its surrounding areas. Several thousand Tamils were killed, houses burned, shops looted. That led to a significant wave of immigration of Tamils to the north of the island and abroad. Following this tragic event thousands of young Tamils joined the armed struggle and the guerrilla struggle turned into civil war.
No progressive organisation was in a position to offer a political alternative. Sri Lankan democracy had been profoundly sapped for too long a time. In 1977, Junius Richard Jayawardene, elected Prime Minister following the victory of the UNP against the United Front, again changed the constitution, concentrating powers in the hands of a super President. He had created the National Union of Workers (Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya – JSS), in fact an organisation of hooligans used to intimidate, indeed kill his opponents, break strikes, and attack Tamils. The Sri Lankan working class was more than ever divided according to ethnic lines. The main left parties, the LSSP and the CP, had been contributors to this situation having for a long time renounced their convictions and political principles in exchange for ministerial posts. Everything was in place for a civil war which would lead to new massacres and precipitate the retreat of the workers movement as a whole especially after the defeat of the July 1980 strike movement.
On the other said of the Palk Strait, India was not indifferent to the pressure exerted by the 50 million Tamils living in Tamil Nadu and sympathising with the Lankan Tamil cause. During the 1980s, certain Tamil groups were militarily trained, armed and financial supported by the Indian state’s intelligence arm, the Research and Analysis Wing – (RAW).
Following the Indo-Lanka accords of 1987, India intervened directly in the north of the island. It deployed a “peacekeeping force”. The agreements, signed in July 1987 by the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the Sri Lankan President J. R. Jayawardene, sought to establish a certain autonomy in the North and East where Tamils were in the majority, the fusion of its two provinces (fusion which should be validated by a referendum) and the recognition of an equal status between the Tamil and Sinhalese languages.
But despite a common reference to the Thimphu Declaration  which aimed to present a unified and common basis for the many Tamil groups, the political divisions and personal antagonisms remained. Among them, the LTTE would emerge as the dominant group. From the early 1980s, the Tigers organised the brutal killing of the main leaders of the other armed Tamil groups, in particular those organisations identified with Left and therefore mass-based politics
Moderate Tamil activists, pro-Indian activists, and democrats not supporting the objective of a separate Tamil state were forced into exile or killed. The TULF was considerably weakened politically by the LTTE’s assassination of its main leaders, A. Amirthalingham and Yogeswaran. By eliminating or forcing into exile the main leaders of the other organisations of struggle, the LTTE destroyed all democracy inside the Tamil national liberation movement. They did not seek to unite the different Tamil-speaking communities of Sri Lanka. On the contrary, in 1990, they were guilty of ethnic cleansing, notably by the expulsion of almost 100,000 Tamil speaking Muslims from Jaffna district in the space of 48 hours. In a certain way, the LTTE shared with the Colombo government that they fought the same criminal conception of an ethnically pure society, rid of every minority.
In the early 1990s, the Tigers no longer had any real opposition. They could then present themselves as the “sole legitimate representatives of the Tamil people” and seek external political support. Their objective of a separate Tamil state became the sole proclaimed objective, separating it from the question of the rights demanded by Tamils and mortgaging any democratic resolution of the civil war.
This historic recapitulation of the Tamil question in Sri Lanka allows us to draw valid political lessons for other continents and other struggles which give it a universal scope.
The organisations of the workers’ movement should never abandon a part of their own. One cannot claim to emancipate the workers from exploitation while allowing a minority among them to become the victims of vindictive racism, indeed worse, directly participating in their oppression. Discrimination and violence exerted against an ethnic minority will return later against the workers as a whole and their organisations. Sri Lanka is the sad illustration of it. The Sinhalese workers have gained nothing from the oppression of the Tamils and the LSSP and CP, in allowing them to fall, precipitated their degeneration.
So far as the Tamil Tigers are concerned, full scale militarisation and maximalism were fed by the negation of the democratic rights of the Tamils themselves and thus the possibility of self-organising struggles. No socialist and democratic society can be created by organisations which justify murder in the name of the necessities of the armed struggle.
In all fights against national oppression, or against the oppression suffered by certain ethnic groups, there is the need to recognize the right to self-determination. The only progressive solution is the defence of equality between citizens, whatever their origin, sex or religion. Today the material and political conditions for the exercice of self-determination rights do not exist. Since Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious state, its minorities should be granted rights including political, cultural and linguistic rights, to reverse historical oppression or discrimination.
Today, there is an urgent need to address justice and reparations for the Tamils and Muslims who were displaced and dispossessed during the war and for the Hill-country Tamils who are still economically disenfranchised. Rather than so doing, the current government of Sri Lanka has profited from the military “victory” over the Tamil Tigers in 2009 to restrict still further democratic liberties, block any opposition and on this basis attack all workers whatever their ethnic origin. The new trend in economic development further causes uneven development and inequality for the majority of the Sri Lankan people. Therefore, there will not be any progress toward social justice and democracy without linking the political settlement of minorities’ demands with the class struggle of all workers for social justice and redistribution. In that perspective, devolution of state power could be an important step to empowering local communities and minorities against this authoritarian and centered State.
Danielle Sabaï a member of the NPA and the Fourth International. She is one of IV’s correspondents for Asia.
 Buddhism, which emerged in the 6th century BC in India, was originally an interpretation of Hinduism based on tolerance and moderation. Its main divergence with Hinduism rests on the rejection of the caste system. Ceylon is the only place where Buddhism developed by maintaining the caste system
 See, Meyer Eric Paul (2009). The Specificity of Sri Lanka: Towards a Comparative History of Sri Lanka and India.Economic and Political Weekly
 Descendants of mixed marriages between Dutch or Portuguese and Ceylonese
 The word “comprador” designates a bourgeoisie in a developing country drawing its wealth from foreign trade rather than a bourgeoisie having interests in the production of national wealth
 In Sri Lanka, Muslim identity does not rest only on religion but has developed as a specific ethnic identity. Although most Muslims speak Tamil, they do not consider themselves as "Tamil Muslims” but as Tamil-speaking Muslims
 The first independent government in 1948 was led by D.S. Senanayake and his party the United National Party (UNP).The UNP was the party representing the interests of the comprador bourgeoisie. It won power at independence without ever having led the struggle against British imperialism
 For more details on the LSSP refer to Pierre Frank, The Fourth International: The long march of the Trotskyistspublished by Ink Links, London, 1979, pp 112-117. Ervin, Charles Wesley. "Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and Sri Lankan radicalism," in The International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest Ness, Immanuel (Ed). Blackwell Publishing, 2009. Blackwell Reference Online. 07 May 2009
 The Federal Party was a party of parliamentarians representing the interests of the Tamil bourgeoisie. The Tamil name of the Federal Party was the Lankan Tamil Self-Governement Party. However, its programme was not addressed to the Tamil workers of the plantations who fought for their political rights but to the Sri Lankan Tamils originating from the North and East of the island.
 Solomon Bandaranaike was a rather distant relative of Senanayake in the hierarchy of the UNP, the party of “nephews and uncles”, too distant to hope to come to power .This is what led him to set up his own party, the SLFP, to ensure himself as rapidly as possible an electoral base. There were Tamils among the founders of the SLFP but they left the leadership once the party became aggressively Sinhala Bouddhist. Nevertheless the SLFP always had Tamil members and supporters including in Jaffna and the East even during the years of war
 A Sinhalese association defending Sinhalese culture based on the Mahajana Sabha which grouped the rural elites
 A general strike and a complete cessation of any activity
 For a critical analysis of the position of the LSSP following the hartal of 1953, see: Sivanandan Ambalavaner. Racism and the Politics of Underdevelopment. Race & Class- XXVI-1, and Hensman, Rohini; The Role of the Socialist in the Civil War in Sri Lanka.
 The Fourth International publicly disavowed this vote as well as the budget vote the same year
 The Ceylon Communist Party was formed in 1943 after the expulsion of the Stalinist current of the LSSP in 1940. This current refused to lead the struggle against colonialism because of the alliance between the USSR and British imperialism during the war
 Up to 1985, the RMP (Revolutionary Marxist Party), led by Bala Tampoe, was recognized as the Sri Lankan section of the FI. Another prominent RMP leader was Upali Cooray. Following a division in this organisation in 1981 there was not de facto a functioning section until 1991 when the World Congress recognised the Nava Sama Samaja Pakshaya, although Bala Tampoe and the comrades around him continued as individual members.
The origins of the NSSP are in a Left or "Vama" tendency that emerged inside the post-1964 LSSP. This tendency, leaders of which were expelled by the LSSP in the early 1970s, developed around students and lecturers in Peradeniya University then broadened to include working class members of the LSSP as well as more radical older leaders of the LSSP. The Vama tendency became an open organisation in 1977, after several years of maintaining an inside/outside relationship with the LSSP and took the name of Nava Sama Samaja Pakshaya (New Socialist (or Social Equality) Party). The NSSP was banned in 1983 after the July pogroms and only legalised again in 1985. Some of its leaders and members were killed by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) during the 1987-1990 insurrection and also by the LTTE in the same period. The NSSP is one of the few parties that has consistently defended the right to self-determination for the Tamil people.
The Vama tendency had come into contact with the Militant Tendency (Ted Grant) through its supporters who went to Britain to study. They became affiliated with the Militant international current but developed ideological differences as well as strategic differences on Sri Lanka. The NSSP broke with the Militant tendency in 1988-89 and developed relations with the Fourth International.
 The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna was a revolutionary movement but since its beginning it had xenophobic tendencies, regarding Hill-Country Tamil workers saw as fifth-colomnists for india expansionism . It became an unbridled Sinhala chauvinist Party.[[For more on JVP see Skanthakumar, Balasingham. “People’s Liberation Front of Sri Lanka (JVP)” in The International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest, Ness, Immanuel (Ed), Blackwell Publishing, 2009. Blackwell Reference Online. 07 May 2009.
 Coalition formed in 1972 comprising several Tamil parties including the Tamil Congress (ACTC) and the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) and which became the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) in 1976 after the Federal Party had joined the coalition
 Peaceful mobilisations of the type advocated by Mahatma Gandhi
 He was elected as an independent but supported the SLFP
 On July 13, 1985, the different Tamil groups, meeting in the capital of Bhoutan Thimphu, agreed on three key points: recognition of a distinct Tamil nation and its right to self-determination, the guarantee of the territorial integrity of an independent Tamil state, the safeguarding of the fundamental rights of Tamils outside of their state.
I do no know any young Baloch of my generation who was not keen to meet Professor Saba Dashtiyari during his early school days. As a school student in Panjgur, my hometown, I first heard about Saba, who was brutally shot dead on Wednesday night in Quetta where he was among the very few remaining brave men who would still take a walk on Sariab Road in spite of serious law and order problems confronting the provincial capital.
As young kids, we had heard charming stories about a Baloch professor who was an atheist but, ironically, taught theology and Islamic studies at the University of Balochistan. Another thing that fascinated us about him was the narrative that he spent most of his salary on the promotion of Balochi language academies and preparation of Balochi text books.
I was in my early teens when I met Professor Saba at Panjgur’s Izat Academy, a local organization that used to publish a Balochi language liberal magazine Chirag under the editorship of Karim Azad. The magazine was eventually shut down because of a chronic financial crunch.
My interactions with Saba increased in Quetta at the University of Balochistan. There were always two things one could not overlook while entering the University: the heavy presence of the Frontier Corps (FC) and Saba Dashtiyari’s table surrounded by students. Saba ran kind of a (liberal) university within the (strictly controlled) university. He was an easily approachable professor who would sit outside the canteen to share ideas with students. While getting into our classrooms, I would often see two to three students sitting with the Professor at around 10:00 am. Within two hours, when I’d walk to the same place, the circle of the students by that time would have expanded to 20 to 30.
If you walked individually, he’d excuse the group of students surrounding him and call at you “Biya day bacha” (Come over, boy) but if you walked in a group of students, “he’d pluralize it “biye e day bachikan” (Come over, boys).
The group of students that surrounded the Professor often comprised of progressive and liberals. One would barely make sense of the composition without squinting at the books they carried in their hands. These students held books written by free thinkers like Bertrand Russell and others held some Russian fictions by Leo Tolstoy or Maxim Gorky. There were the ones who’d be holding Syed Sibth-e-Hassan’s work or that of Dr. Mubarak Ali.
After seeing these books, one would sit down to listen to the contents of the discussion taking place on this exceptional circle. Discussions headed by Saba were far more liberal and enlightening than what we could learn from our classrooms. The participants of the discussions would talk on a variety of topics ranging from politics, religion, revolutions, nationalism to taboos like sex and homosexuality. Students often wondered why rest of the professors at the university were not as liberal and easily approachable as Saba.
The great Professor’s humbleness dated back to his family background. He came from a low-income family of Karachi which had actually migrated from Dasthiyar area of Iranian Balochistan. Thus, he alluded to his ancestral town throughout his life with his last name “Dashtiyari” (which meant someone who came from Dashtiyar).
Saba was born in 1953 in Karachi and attained his basic education in the slums. He obtained a Masters degree in Philosophy and Islamic Studies from the Karachi University. In 1980s, he began to teach at the University of Balochistan. His love for different languages took him to the Iranian cultural center where he spent four years to learn Persian and then learned Arabic from the Egyptian Radio.
Very few people took the responsibility of promoting Balochi language and culture with such a great personal and professional commitment as Professor Dashtiyari did.
Although, he silently remained involved in teaching and promoting the language for around two years, he subsequently realized he was not sufficiently contributing to the Baloch movement. Thus, he walked outside the University and joined as an activist. During the last three years, Saba was seen in the forefront of the movement demanding the release of thousands of missing Baloch persons. He used to sit at different hunger strike camps to sympathize with the families of the missing persons and address various seminars.
In one such seminar, a female journalist interrupted Saba’s speech and said she would not let him speak on Balochistan. The lady’s interruption did not discourage or humiliate the Baloch professor who said in front of an august gathering that he would exercise his right to freedom of expression. Freedom in its all forms meant a life to him.
Two days before coming to the US, Saba and I spent around five hours together in Quetta. After he transported two boxes of books to a Karachi-based academy, we sat along with some other friends in Quetta’s Pishin Stop at a fast food restaurant to discuss the situation in Balochistan.
I inquired about the remarkable transformation in his personality and the causes that forced him to become an activist. In response, he sounded very frustrated with the state of affairs in Balochistan and did not mince words.
“Pakistan is a colonial state,” he said, “It is trying to eliminate the Baloch people and their culture. As professionals, we have to understand it’s our responsibility to come forward to assure our people that they are not alone.”
He believed that the Balochs should establish parallel educational institutions to counter the official propaganda and efforts to assimilate the Baloch into an alien culture. He was perturbed over the lack of official encouragement for the Balochi language and emphasized on the need for societal efforts to preserve the Baloch identity.
A practical man, he had established a prestigious Balochi reference center which was named after Syed Zahoor Shah Hashimi, another respected Balcoh intellectual.
He never married; spent whole his life for the promotion of Balochi language and culture.
Before I bid farewell to him outside his residence at the University Colony, Saba referred to my upcoming trip to the US and instructed: “Day Bacha mara odha washnaam bekan” (Oh boy, do make us proud there — in the US).
It is utterly futile to demand an inquiry into Saba’s murder as a probe is not what is going to help. All that we need to mourn is the great loss of an extraordinary educator of Balochistan. This is no longer a secrete how the government is target killing Baloch professors, writers, journalists, lawyers, human rights activists and political leaders. This is a period of unity among the people of Balochistan and the Balochs all over the world.
Every day, I receive a number of phone calls, emails and Facebook messages advising or ‘ordering’ me to “be careful” over whatever I write. What does it actually mean to be careful? There is no way carefulness can bring an end to this traumatic cycle of systematic elimination of Baloch scholars. It is worse not to speak up against this barbaric cycle of violence. The killing of enlightened writers and professors, such as Saba, is simply a clear message to all the liberals that we should either give up or get prepared to be killed.
I know getting killed is a heavy price for anyone of us to pay for our work but to live under oppression and injustice is like getting killed every other day. There is no justice without struggle. We all need to stand up for truth and refuse to succumb to this challenge.
It’s no cliché: Saba was unique and irreplaceable. You will not find a man who’ll spend his salary to impart cultural awareness and secular education at a time when the State of Pakistan is spending billions of rupees with the assistance of its Saudi cronies to radicalize the Baloch society by constructing more and more religious schools to counter the liberal nationalist movement.
After several years of stagnating, the Assembly of Social Movements (ASM), a process that brings together anticapitalist social forces, achieved a significant qualitative leap forward during the latest WSF that was held inDakar from 6th to 11th February 2011. Over and above the popular success which meant that the assembly was one of the major events of the WSF, the ASM succeeded in reaching a consensus on a truly shared agenda of struggles, as well as respecting the diversity and various priorities of respective social movements. It also made major decisions on the next steps to be taken towards a genuine international coordination of social movements. Such breakthroughs now have to be carried through into the field of social struggles, and this progress now needs to be consolidated through struggles on the ground, as well as facing the huge challenge : how to provide a global response to the new offensive of major capitalist interests, and make a positive contribution to transforming the balance of power in relations in favour of the working classes in the South and in theNorth.
The ASM in Dakar 2011: a popular success story
After the WSF opening march on 6th February that brought together some 60,000 participants, the ASM was one of the main events of the forum in terms of participation, mobilization and convergence. In a highly charged atmosphere, almost 2,000 activists, including dozens ofsocial movements and networks from all over the world came together on 10thFebruary. This atmosphere was partly due to the current revolutions in the Arab world. The participants reasserted their determination to fight together against capitalism, patriarchy, imperialism, and all forms of oppression and discrimination. The social movements present also adopted and applauded a final declaration that will be a roadmap for struggles to come.
This success was no mere chance. It was the result of the intense efforts made by the ASM international facilitating group over the previous months. The third world seminar of social movements that took place in Dakar in November 2010 was one of the key elements. During that strategic seminar several Senegalese and African social movements were able to share their views on the next WSF, appropriate the ASM process, and decide to get involved. The creation of a specific group for the preparation of the 2011 Assembly played a major role, not only in terms of the quality of support and massive mobilization during the assembly, butalso to ensure a greater degree of involvement, transparency and democracy in the decision-making processes: extensive invitations to preparatory meetings, fast and efficient communication, organization of several hours of debate, creation of a drafting committee for the final declaration… such elements are far from negligible details, and they should be maintained as examples for the future. It is important to bear in mind that logistics and politics cannot be dissociated, and that behind each political act there are committed men and women who are working and shouldering responsibilities.
In spite of all these efforts, there was no guarantee of success. In recent years the ASM has gone through difficult times. On the one hand several social movements dissociated themselves from the process; an example was those that chose to focus on climate change. Other social movements were caught up in supporting movements that have implemented neoliberal policies (the Prodi government in Italy from April 2006 to January 2008 to mention just one example).The WSF in general and the ESF in particular are definitely weaker than they were in the past. On the other hand, the ASM was ‘attacked’ by part of the International Council of the WSF that sees it as a threat and does not want it to become too significant within the WSF. For over two years, several social movements have managed to restore a constructive dialogue within the IC on the legitimacy and usefulness of the ASM, including for the WSF process as a whole. This did not prevent some people from trying to lay obstacles in the path of the ASM in Dakar 2011. One illustration: a couple of hours before the assembly was scheduled to be held, we did not know where it would take place… Fortunately the preparatory group was able to respond swiftly and ensure that the ASM had a room with enough seats, a sound system, and interpretation.
Two other positive elements deserve to be mentioned. First the ASM invited new actors to participate, in particular the Senegalese hip hop movement, which not only gave strength and power to the meeting by their forceful opening, but also contributed to the ASM dynamics by sharing their experience of local struggles, and contributing their expertise in communication and popular education. Secondly, in spite of the many activities around the WSF, after expressing their support for the Tunisian people following the overthrow of the neoliberal dictator Ben Ali, the ASM were able to hold an action in support of the Egyptian people. This took the form of a sit-in in front of the Egyptian embassy in Dakar on 11th February 2011, only a few hours before Mubarak’s official departure.
Dakar 2011 ASM: a political success
Over and above the significance ofsuccessfully holding the final assembly as such, we should bear in mind thatthe ASM is first and foremost a process that aims to support the convergence of struggles, help articulate social movements and construct common agendas and schedules for actions and mobilizations. After some difficult times in the past few years, the social movements involved in the ASM in Dakar succeeded in defining interesting strategic and political perspectives, particularly on the thorny issue of prioritizing struggles.
For several years the social movements involved in the ASM had faced the challenge of how to define priorities in struggles. It was essential for the ASM to resolve this issue since consolidating our struggle against capitalist globalization and reversing the labour/capital balance of power at global level involves articulating our various approaches in a general movement that needs to be both massive and coordinated. This can only happen if the social movements define shared priorities in their various actions. We must find the means of repeating what happened in 2003 with the war in Iraq: there was global mobilization by hundreds of social movements that brought together millions and millions of people who demonstrated. Even though this mobilization with 12 million people demonstrating in February 2003 did not prevent the war, if we want to win victories, to conquer and defend people’s rights, we still need massive popular mobilization to counter the cold logic of capital. Recent uprisings in Arab countries are a timely reminder.
Reaching a consensus on the need to reach this goal was not at all an issue within the ASM. However finding a single concrete objective on which to focus energies was a different matter entirely, as choosing one automatically means abandoning another. Social movements generally focus on one or several issues: food sovereignty, water, biodiversity, public debt, women’s rights, racism, war, militarization, neocolonialism, GMOs, human rights, climate change… to name but a few . What basis is there for deciding that, say, food sovereignty will be the priority issue for a couple of years? The question had not been solved before the Dakar WSF. Discussion had always come to thesame conclusion: while it is necessary to come together to support specificshared demands, all struggles are equally important, and it is most difficultif not impossible to choose one specific issue and decide it will be the shared priority for all social movements.
However failing to resolve this issue had concrete strategic consequences for the ASM: the final declaration at the end of global assemblies or strategic seminars listed all sorts of issues in anattempt to be inclusive, and outlined a calendar of events with the main dates for action and mobilization already scheduled by the various social movements. This certainly comforted connections and solidarity but it failed to federate social forces around any single issue. This resulted in the dissipation of strength.
At the 2009 Belem WSF a first qualitative leaphad consisted in deciding on ‘only’ four dates for global mobilization in 2009. The ASM Belem declaration was a significant step forward in that it provided the catchphrase ‘another world is possible’ with a concrete content as it focused on a number of radical anticapitalist, antiracist, feminist, ecological and internationalist alternatives.
At Dakar, the preparatory session discussion focused global mobilization on two dates: one on March 20th, to support the continuing revolutionary processes in the Arab world. The second is October 12th, with a global day of action against capitalism. Many people did not expect an outcome like the support for the revolution and struggle against the capitalist system. Of course, the international context has played a decisive role, with a global crisis of the system and popular uprisings that have (finally) restored legitimacy and a new dimension to the concepts of anti-capitalism and revolution. Another key element is the integration of these two dates with four major global struggles: the fight against transnationals, the struggle for climate justice and food sovereignty, the fight to end violence against women, and the struggle for peace, against war and colonialism. Thefinal declaration made these key current struggles of the social movements more visible. Although the specific dates connected to these struggles do not inthemselves appear, they are implicit. It is important to bear in mind that the huge amount of preparatory work contributed greatly, and explains this success story, as well as contributing to the hours of high-quality discussion between members of social movements from all over the world.
Of course we are still a long way from winning the struggle. Today’s battles are still all too weak and isolated, compared with the global strength of capital; and in spite of the victories that certain peoples have succeeded on winning, capital remains hegemonic and continues its hold on all aspects of life (political, social, ideological, the media…). It is not because two global dates have been chosen that the situation will change more quickly. Nevertheless the declaration and the orientation agreed on, show that the social movements are gaining in political maturity and, given the current international context, that they are ready to include their specific struggles in an overall struggle against the capitalist system.
Another positive aspect emerging from the Dakar ASM is its enlargement and its internal functioning. An observation must bemade: after ten years existence, the ASM still has not managed to develop avirtuous dynamic that would allow it to create a genuine coordination of global social movements. The causes are multiple, and are both internal and external. Tensions with the WSF process have certainly played a role, but are far from being the only reason.
An important element to bear in mind is the fact that the ASM has always wanted to avoid institutionalisation, a rigid structure and international leadership, a political orientation set in stone or even formal and exclusive membership. Although these concerns are perfectly legitimate in principle, an overtly restrained strategy has resulted in an opposite excess, namely that of a lack of identity and definition of a specific way of working; all this has caused low visibility and appeal of the process.
The ASM process has involved deep reflection in recent years; this has been especially supported by organizing strategic seminars that identified weaknesses, and introduced remedial measures. At the Dakar WSF several very important decisions were taken in this regard.
Renewal and strengthening of the ASM facilitation group: the first global seminar on social movements was organized in Brussels in September 2006, a global facilitation group of ASM was formed. The objectives of this group, composed of around fifteen networks and movements in order to maintain a geographical and sectoral balance, were to develop the entire process as a whole, stimulate exchange and convergence, facilitate the preparation of major events such that the WSF, ensure continuity of discussion, improve communication by circulating relevant information and facilitate linkages between the ASM and the WSF process, especially the International Council. Unfortunately, this group failed to function and achieve the objectives. There are many reasons for this, but the cause was the inability of movements - already deeply involved in their own series of struggles - to delegate a specific person to take up the work required by these tasks.
Various discussions have however indicated that the facilitation group is a positive initiative. This means that five years after its creation it now needs to be renewed and revitalized. The main idea is to achieve a positive balance, (at thematic, sectoral, & geographical level, withoutforgetting gender balance) and work in a relatively open and flexible way. It is important to bear in mind that the ASM is not aimed at becoming a structure with its own leadership or specific goals. The ASM is a tool that emanates from real, existing struggles, in order to strengthen, articulate and help them to converge. Nevertheless, in order to make decisions that are relevant to andinvolve social movements around the world, it is necessary to have a space for discussion and decision-making that is both efficient, transparent and democratic.
Continue the expansion work: This step is fundamental because to build a real capacity for mobilization at all levels, international or regional networks will not suffice. It is important for all the social forces that are part of the ASM dynamics to assume genuine ownership for it, and support and strengthen it by translating it into their own realities and actions. But for the moment, apart from the social movements that are active in the WSF process and / or involved in international dynamics, the thousands of social movements bravely struggling to defend their rights at local and national level are essentially unfamiliar with the ASM. The facilitation group and all social movements involved in the ASM now need to address this urgent and importantissue. They need to make contact with and establish dialogue and cooperationwith these movements.
Continue to decentralize: In 2006, after five years of participating in the WSF and ASM, it appeared important for social movements involved in this process to take stock, both of the state of the process itself and of the evolution of the international situation. This was achieved at the first global seminar on social movements that was held in Brussels in September 2006. A hundred delegates, representing fifty organizations from around theworld took part. In January 2010, the social movements decided to hold a second global seminar in São Paulo from 22nd to 24th January. Understandably, thisseminar was characterized by a strong Latin American presence; it contributed to making concrete progress on a number of things, particularly in relation to the Latin American context, such as conducting a major campaign against foreign military bases in Latin America. Based on these results, it was decided to develop the decentralization process by holding similar seminars in four continents. The third seminar of social movements was held in Dakar in November 2010 ahead of the WSF. Given the impact of this seminar, both in terms of involvement of African social movements as well as the success and the global dynamics of the ASM, it is clear that this process of continental decentralization should continue. An agreement of principle was reached to hold the next seminar inAsia. As well as the strategic seminars, it would also be interesting to develop Continental Assemblies of social movements over and above the global assemblies that take place during the World Social Forum. This decentralization is especially important to expand the process, thereby increasing the capacity to mobilize at local, national and regional levels; this is a fundamental aspect if we want peoples’ demands to have a real impact on politicaldecision-making.
Develop a more precise reference document on the political orientation and the working of the ASM: One important issue facing the ASM is that it is impossible to know precisely which social movements are part of the ASM process. Indeed, there is no ASM membership list, and none of the final declarations adopted at a WSF have listed the signatures. Although this mayrepresent certain advantages, it nevertheless weakens the process, hiding its true representativity, and raising questions about the democratic nature of its operation. What is the ASM? What does it represent? Who are the members? How does it work? How are decisions taken? How is an ASM statement written? Formost individuals and social movements, apart from those who are active in the process, it is very difficult or impossible to answer these questions. During discussions conducted in Dakar, the ASM facilitation group decided to launch a process to develop a reference document that would provide a clearer definition of the political orientation and ASM working methods. Although its nature and scope have yet to be determined, the preparation of this document, whether it will be called a charter, a platform or a reference text, needs to be drawn up with all due consideration and as collectively possible; time needs to be taken for the drafting process to allow the expansion of the dynamic and involvement of new social movements.
If things move forward in the right direction, that is to say, with an active facilitation group involved in the coordination of social struggles, a broadening of the process in as many countries and regions as possible, a clear political orientation and effective and democratic functioning, as well as an ability to massively mobilize at global level, the ASM can fully play its role: that of transforming the balance of power in favor of the oppressed all over the world.
After a relatively weak but nevertheless positive global action on 20th March 2011 that was linked to the urgency to show immediate support and international solidarity with the struggling people in the Arab world, the global action that is planned for next 12th October will provide a new important test for assessing the commitment of social forces within the ASM. Irrespective of this, as a process of convergence for anti-capitalist struggles, the ASM has its place and its legitimacy in the struggle against capitalism and in building a world that is socially just and respectful of nature.
Translated by Christine Pagnoulle, Sushovan Dhar and Judith Hitchman
 C.f. Olivier Bonfond, «Historique et perspectives de l’AMS» ; http://www.cadtm.org/Historique-et-perspectives-du (in French)
 C.f. report at http://www.cadtm.org/Report-of-the-Social-Movements
.CADTM as well as several other social movements have always favoured this position and ar eprepared to defend theidea of a shared single theme without however setting aside their central theme.
 C.f.: http://www.cadtm.org/Historique-et-perspectives-du (in french)
After two decades of litigating on behalf of over 50,000 women across Maharashtra, our experience has been, that when a destitute Hindu woman approaches a court for a meager sum of maintenance under S.125 Cr.PC, the common ploy adopted by the husband (under the guidance of his lawyer) is to deny the validity of the marriage by pleading that he has an earlier valid marriage subsisting and hence the woman is not entitled to maintenance.
It is an irony that while it is the man who has flouted the law of monogamy as prescribed by the Hindu Marriage Act, it is the woman, who is called upon to pay the price. She is denied the crucial and basic right to maintenance. This is indeed a travesty of justice.
Over the years, several judges of various High Courts and the Supreme Court, have tried to give some respite to women by invoking the principle of ‘beneficial legislation’. In an important ruling in 2005 in Daga v. Daga, the Supreme Court had commented that bigamous marriages, though illegal, are not ‘immoral’ and maintenance cannot be denied on this basis rendering the woman a destitute. Way back in 1976, Justice Kania of the Bombay High Court (who later became the Chief Justice of India), while upholding the rights of a woman in a bigamous marriage under the Hindu Marriage Act had held that
“Since the Act is a social legislation, it could not have been the intention of the legislature to deprive a Hindu woman, who was duped into contracting a bigamous marriage, her right to claim maintenance.”
Several other rulings have held that the right of maintenance under S.125 Cr.PC is a beneficial provision enacted for the purpose of providing a summary remedy to a wife to prevent vagrancy and destitution. It does not finally determine rights and obligations of marriage. It is a well settled principle in law, that beneficial legislation must be liberally interpreted in order to benefit the very class of people for whom it was enacted. Thus, the section must include within its purview a wife whose marriage suffers from some technical defect.
But the recent ruling, D. Velusamy v. D. Patchaiammal in October, 2010 which denied maintenance to women in marriage like relationships with men who are already married seems to have undone the positive impact of all the earlier judgements. In this ruling, Justice Markandey Katju termed such women as ‘mistresses’ and ‘keeps’ undeserving of maintenance. He discussed in great detail, how a married man is not free to contract with another woman and hence is not liable to pay maintenance, even if he is living with this other woman. Not once in the judgement is a word of reprimand to the man who has duped both his first wife and then the second woman. Subsequently, the review petition filed by some concerned groups before the same bench pleading the court to expunge the derogative comments has also been dismissed.
It appears that instead of moving forward we seem to be moving backwards into regressive spaces by placing ourselves on a moral high ground by endorsing a fallacious belief in the monogamous nature of Hindu marriages. Today the ground level reality is that, because of the adverse publicity that the judgement received, trial courts are rejecting petitions of women who are unable to ‘prove’ a valid marriage, at the time of filing under S.125 Cr.PC.
The ruling has also blocked the remedy under PWDVA which was supposed to bring redressal to precisely this category of women. PWDVA uses a broad (and presumably Western) term ‘live in’ relationships in order to cover the widest range of relationships, it does not specifically address the situation which is most common in India, of women who are in marriages which are accepted by the community as valid, despite the fact that the woman is the ‘second wife’. Hence, after the Velusamy ruling a need has arisen to address this concern frontally.
It is common knowledge that despite the codification which brought in monogamy, Hindu marriages have continued to be bigamous. The question that we need to ask is NOT whether they ‘ought’ to be monogamous, but whether we are bound by a constitutional duty and obligation to protect the basic and fundamental rights of a large number of both rural and urban women, the citizens of India, who wittingly or unwittingly, are entrapped within technically defective marriages.
We at Majlis are planning to launch a campaign to undo the harm caused by theVelusamy ruling. We are looking forward to your support to strengthen this campaign. We will also appreciate if you would share with us cases that are dealt by your group / organisation, where women have been denied maintenance on the sole ground that the marriage is invalid as she is the second wife. This will help us to take the campaign forward.
We thank you in anticipation of your support.
With warm regards,
Flavia Agnes and the Majlis Team.
Support the Campaign
Judgements that have upheld the rights of women in technically defective marriages.