NEW DELHI : As the 15th General Elections are round the corner, the South Asian Peoples’ Initiatives (SAPI) and the Indian Social Institute (ISI), New Delhi organized a three day workshop on ‘Preparing Peoples’ Manifesto’ at Indian Social Institute, New Delhi, February 3-5. Over 110 participants from all over the country participated in this workshop, that primarily attempted to prepare a ‘peoples’ manifesto’ to be circulated prior to the elections.
The role of the citizens in the General Elections had been often passive, and SAPI and ISI had initiated a process whereby the citizens put forth their demands before the candidates, and vouch to support them only in as much as they promise to implement them on coming to power.
Striking a key note for the workshop, Swami Agnivesh touched upon some of the often forgotten areas : he proposed that we include in the manifesto demand for national minimum wage on par with the class four government employees, eradicate alcohol, gutka, tobacco products, equal wages for women, abolish discrimination on the basis of religion, especially for Christian and Muslim dalits.
On the first day, there were some input sessions by social scientists and activists (including professor of social development Manoranjan Mohanty, and Mainstream editor Sumit Chakravarthy, dalit writer and activist James Massey, head of tribal unit at ISI Marianus Kujur, and women activist Manisha Sethy) discussing with the concepts of lopsided development, areas we need to focus on the manifesto, but a greater part of the workshop dealt with state-wise and zonal group discussions, wherein different groups came up with the aspects they wish to include in the manifesto. There were a wide-range of focus groups that put forward their demands : dalits, tribals, women and children, fisherfolk and religious minorities.
A select group undertook to incorporate the suggestions and proposals of the members in a national draft manifesto, which was again taken up for further discussion and finetuning. The members also discussed how they would translate this manifesto for their own state, inviting like-minded NGOs to join hands with SAPI-ISI to promote a peoples’ manifesto.
All the groups have decided to translate the national level peoples’ manifesto into the local vernaculars, adapting them to their own particular situations, and circulate them as widely as possible so that the voice of the aam admi is heard.
For the dalit delegates coming from Tamil Nadu, this workshop had given them an opportunity to interact with groups from all over the country, and they realized that they were not alone in their struggle for justice and their due rights. On return they hope to organize people in different levels to conscientise about their electoral rights and privileges.
The Jesuits of South Asia, under the leadership of Jesuits in Social Action (JESA) and SAPI coordinator Father Xavier Jeyaraj, took an active part in the workshop. Over 20 Jesuits had brought members of their social centers for the workshop. ISI acting director Fr Thomas Kunnunkel and Father Xavier Jeyaraj believe that the process has just begun and it will continue even after the elections when the citizens will cross check if the elected representatives fulfill their promises.
SAPI invites non-government organizations who support free and fair polls, and wish to join hands with SAPI units all over the country in encouraging the populace to present their due demands to the electoral candidates, as presented in the people’s manifesto, to endorse it and adapt it to their regional situations. SAPI’s People’s Manifesto is available at JESA’s website : www.jesaonline.org
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