Jesuit explains India’s right to food at world forum

WSF is the largest gathering of civil society in the world

By Matters India Reporter

Salvador: The ongoing World Social Forum (WSF) in Brazil heard a Jesuit priest from India explain about the right to food movements in his country.

Jesuit Father Irudya Jothi, director of Udayani (awakening) of Kolkata, said he addressed one of the crowded sessions under the Magis Brazil, the youth movement of the Jesuits of the Latin.

“I had the opportunity to present the ‘Right To Food’ movements in India and the role of the Udayani. It was well received by the youth,” he told Matters India.

The WSF is taking place at Salvador, Bahia, Brazil from March 13 to 17. Father Jothi addressed the forum on the third day.

Father Jothi said he shared his sights and experiences in making the legislation known among grassroots women and others in West Bengal, eastern India.

The “National Food Security Act” was passed in the Indian parliament in 2013 to provide subsidized food grains to approximately two-thirds of India’s 1.2 billion people. The law converted existing food security programs into legal entitlement.

They include Midday Meal Scheme, Integrated Child Development Services scheme and the Public Distribution System.

The Jesuit priest screened a movie titled “Behind India” on the movement. It was produced by Fernando Vera and Inigo, filmmakers in Spain. The one-hour film in Bengali with Spanish subtitles narrates the story of Udayani’s women.

Father Jothi, who has a Master of Social Work from Bombay University, has stayed in rural villages in the Burdwan, Hooghly and 24 South Parganas districts of West Bengal for about 18 years. The experience helped him understand the struggles and pains of villagers, he claims.

He became the director of Udayani in 2007. Udayani Social Action Forum is the social outreach arm of the Calcutta province of the Jesuits. It works with schools, parishes, spiritual centers, international immersion groups, NGOs, and other organizations to foster a faith that does justice. It also serves as a link between the Jesuit social works in India and the priorities of the Jesuit Conference of the South Asian Assistancy.

His organization involves in rights-based movements to bring social changes. Realizing that women are the most suited vehicle of this transformation, Udayani has set up Self Help Groups of women in rural West Bengal.

These women have become a force to reckon with in their villages especially to implement the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and National Food Security Act.

The women have lobbied for the enactment and implementation of these acts in their villages and even gone to the national capital and other places to press their demand along with network partners from all over the country.

Their rallies and deputations compelled the West Bengal Government to implement the National Food Security Act 2013 as ‘Khadya Shati’.

Fr. Jothi has helped empower the Santal and Dalit women through social engagements and transformed micro-credit based groups into a policy influencing force.

Around 40 village activists work with the Jesuit priest to facilitate training and to guide and support the self-help groups of non-literate, economically poor, socially- politically exploited and excluded people.

The Jesuits efforts are in tune with the motto of the latest WSF –“Resist is to Create, to Resist is to Transform,” It stressed the need for alternatives for another possible world.

The WSF is the largest gathering of civil society in the world. It welcomes people, organizations, social movements, networks, platforms of movements, and organizations from across the globe that are sensitive to civil society’s primary areas of concern with regards to globalization (social development, solidarity economy, human rights, feminist struggle, democratization, racism, and (de)colonization.

The WSF tries to find solutions to the problems of the time. Started in 2001 in Brazil, the WSF brings together in each of its edition tens of thousands of participants to more than a thousand activities (workshops, conferences, artistic performances) on various themes (social, solidarity economy, environment, human rights, democratization.)

In the midst of many setbacks, loss of rights, democratic guarantees and freedoms throughout the world, the WSF would reflect on the common solutions for humanity, in a solidarity, democratic perspective, respect for diversity, to face the causes of various forms of violence, social and regional inequalities.

The WSF is an open meeting space for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and interlinking for effective action, by groups and movements of civil society that are opposed to neoliberalism and to domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism, and are committed to building a planetary society directed towards fruitful relationships among Humankind and between it and the Earth.

Democratic and popular forces have been revaluating their strategies in the latest historical period, reassessing mistakes, achievements and necessary corrections. Therefore, an edition of the WSF in Salvador will be an important opportunity to meet the various experiences of resistance and proposals to face authoritarian thinking in Brazil and in the World.

The last WSF was held August 9 – 14, 2016 at Montreal, Canada.

Father Jothi had also attended WSF in Mumbai in 2004.

“As WSF is for the social activists in the world, I was present that time too with my team from West Bengal with some 50 delegations from Udayani. It was really wonderful to meet individuals and groups with one voice and belief ‘another world is possible,” the Jesuit recalled.

“I got a lot of energy as a young priest getting involved in people’s movement and meetings different groups gave me new energy and orientations for social empowerment and social activism,” he added.

The Jesuit also said he expected to learn from the South American people the methods of resistance to the development models projected by many governments which are basically crony capitalism.

“We cannot afford to be mute spectators to the systematic eliminations of Dailts and tribals of India in the name of development. The basic question is development for whom and at whose cost—why it is always the vulnerable poor tribals and Dalits pay for the development of the business houses?” he asks.

He said his presence at the Brazil summit is “a simple” way showing his appreciation for the resistance movement taking place in the world. “Participating in this forum helps me offer pro-active in support such a move,” he added.

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