At a moment when the market is projected as the emancipator of all miseries, the SAAPE Poverty Report is of the view that market glorification has multiplied peoples’ misery in South Asia, paved the way for backward and obscurantist forces to grow and the corporate sector to loot the common resources in the region.
The South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication (SAAPE) launched its fifth triennial Poverty Report in Colombo, Sri Lanka on 10 March in the concluding session of the first South Asian Thinkers Workshop organised by SAAPE, Social Scientists’ Association (SSA), Sri Lanka and Centre for Labour Studies (CLS), India.
The report was titled ‘South Asia and the Future of Pro-People Development: The Centrality of Social Justice and Equality’. SAAPE has been publishing the triennial South Asia Poverty Report since 2003 with the intention of critiquing the existing development paradigm.
“This report is a knowledge document that brings out the commonality of experiences of all south Asian countries. We find declining quality of public institutions and dismantling of public services everywhere. In the absence of state- support, there is farmer suicide, mass migration, exploitation and bonded labour and even statelessness. The report questions the role of state in this context,” says Netra Timsina, regional coordinator, SAAPE.
While South Asia houses 22% of the world’s population, the region, however has only 1.3% of the world’s income. The idea that market will correct imbalances through demand and supply has led to the gradual withdrawal of state from publicly providing services like education and health. Depleting investment and state support has resulted in a crisis in agriculture, compromising food security and farmer’s livelihood. Growing informalisation of labour added on to the misery of the people.
Obsession with ‘growth economics’ in the region designed under the neo-liberal model has resulted only in intensification of inequality which in the long run has provided fertile grounds towards breeding extreme ideas of religious fundamentalism. The failure of the state in addressing popular discontents around the basic social security concerns has strengthened fundamentalist ideas in all South Asian countries breeding an ‘us versus them’ narrative. This is at the heart of violence and repression that minorities of all kinds are subjected to.
“State is the space for political negotiation for people, especially the minorities. The minorities turn to the state for rights and security – for example, women’s movements in south Asia. A repressive state really closes this space for negotiation,” says Nalini Ratnarajah, human rights activist from Sri Lanka, on the inevitability of returning to the state for problems of development.
The report also highlights the rising military expenditure of the state with a proportionate dismantling of social security system. The argument is that unless a 10% annual reduction in defence expenditure is made by the governments of the region, social protection of the masses will become impossible. The report documents the creative use of constitutionalism in critiquing neo-liberal economics. “The Poverty report does not negate economic growth- in fact, it argues for growth through justice rather than mere growth with justice,” remarks Babu Mathew, Professor of Law, National Law School of India, Bangalore. “It consolidates people’s creative struggles to reclaim their fundamental rights by using constitution and instruments of law. The right to life jurisprudence in India and Jan Andolan II of Nepal are examples.”
The renewed vision of state is also mediated through resistance movements from the grassroots – be it right to education, livelihood, minimum wages, health services, maternity benefits or collective bargaining. In the end, it is the people renewing their contract with their state for development.
The launch of the report was attended by participants of the workshop, drawn from activism, academia and advocacy, from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The report is free to download from http://saape.org/.