We all strive for a better world for ourselves and our children’s future. While finding that balance between what we hope to achieve and the reality that surrounds us, we sometimes get lost in a myriad of struggles. To help understand social issues on a bigger platform by getting policy makers and all stakeholders involved in its implementation; together, ‘Difficult Dialogues’ was founded by business woman and philanthropist Surina Narula. In collaboration with The South Asia Centre, London School of Economics (LSE), ‘Difficult Dialogues’, an independent, non-partisan forum for discussing critical issues in South Asia, hosted the ‘LSE India Summit 2016’ in Goa 28th to 30th January 2016.
Held in Goa at International Centre Goa and Cidade de Goa, the event saw policy makers, businessmen and prominent personalities from across the society coming together to deliberate on issues facing the world today and find a common ground. The three day event included four panel discussions, alongside an exhibition of rare documents from the archives of the Reserve Bank of India, and two specially curated talks, one by the Serbian political thinker Srdja Popovic on non-violent forms of protest, and the other by award-winning novelist Amitav Ghosh on trading and traveling by Indian merchants to China in the 19th century. To be held as an annual festival of topical ideas and motions, it is premised on the conviction that knowledge sharing is the cornerstone of progressive change in this fastest growing, volatile region of the world. The event was inaugurated at the ICG by Chief Minister of Goa, Laxmikant Parsekar, which was followed by a dance performance by a group of differently abled students from the New Dawn Ashadep School, Vasco. The performance was choreographed by well-known classical dancer and theatre artist Mamta Hussain.
At the summit, in association with Dialogue Derivatives 2016, the travelling Kathmandu International Film Festival showcased some of the recent and exciting films about mountains, mountain environment, mountain cultures and communities from various corners of the world. The summit also saw Saurya Sengupta from Kolkata winning the daring debates finale which was moderated by journalist Shazia Ilmi and judged by Pooja Bedi, Sudhir Kakkar and Atmaram Nadkarnni.
According to founder and director of Difficult Dialogues, Surina Narula, her experience of working with NGOs spanning over 20 years had given her a deep understanding of the pressing need to work with policy. “Brilliant ideas fall short at the formation, implementation and dissemination stage. With ‘Difficult Dialogues’ I endeavour to provide a common platform to bridge this very gap and work with individuals, organisations, think-tanks, media, government and parastatal institutions to debate South Asia amidst its constituent countries and with the world at large,” Narula says. “We look forward to an encouraging response leading to meaningful actions by people across sectors and policy makers that will bring about the desired change in the society,” she adds.
Talk 1: People Power: How Non-Violent Strategies are Shaking and Shaping the World
Speaker: Srdja Popovic
“From Arab streets to Wall Street, non-violent protests and their strategies are shaking, re-shaping political and social arenas across the world,” says Serbian political thinker Srdja Popovic in his address to the gathering, adding that while some of these struggles succeed, many others fail as it all comes down to proper planning, execution and discipline. According to the visionary, for successful non-violent movements you need — ideas on ‘planning’ unity and ‘disciplining’ for non-violence — rhythms common to successful movements that have let so many Davids challenge Goliaths since Gandhi’s legendary victory over colonialism. Attendees got first-hand knowledge about various non-violent movements, struggles and problems faced by emerging leaders of the new world order and the way forward.
Srdja is best known for leading the student movement Otpor! that helped topple Serbian dictator Slobodan Milošević. He established the Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS) in Belgrade in 2003 working with pro-democracy activists from more than 50 countries, promoting the use of non-violent resistance in achieving political and social goals. He has also authored his own book, Blueprint for Revolution (with Matthew Miller, 2015).
The second day began with an exceptional public exhibition of rare documents from the archives of the Reserve Bank of India (Pune) at the International Centre Goa. The RBI Archives were established in 1981 with the objective of serving as a repository of their non-current permanent records. The event was followed by 2 panel discussions, 4 panel dialogues derivatives and a talk.
Difficult Dialogue 1: Global Finance
Moderator: Nasser Munjee
Speakers: Erik Berglof, James Crabtree, Nicolas Stern, Sam Pitroda
The discussion on global finance looked at the extraordinary world we are living in and how global finance, financial policy and architecture, and technology can affect change in our current crisis. In a world where, as Nasser Munjee put it, “trust in the authorities, in civil society, in bankers and the financial system has all but evaporated.” Panelists put forth their thoughts on what the future would look like and what to do today to better tomorrow.
Sam Pitroda posited the view that the “existing design [of the world] is just obsolete,” explaining the need to redesign the system and to stop seeing “the future through the glasses of the past.” Professor Nicholas Stern spoke on the need for increased investment in infrastructure, emphasizing how the decisions made in the next twenty years will be some of the most important decisions in human history. While Professor Berglof highlighted the need for a new architecture in the financial system as well as the need for more initiative in financial research in emerging markets to facilitate this change in architecture, Mr. Crabtree directed his thoughts more towards the level of global integration in markets such as India and the potential benefits and costs to the state in the face of increasing openness.
Difficult Dialogue 2: Civil Society
Moderator: Craig Calhoun (President & Director of LSE & Political Science)
Speakers: Meera Devi Jatav, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Priyanka Kotamraju, Shubhranshu Choudhary, Vidhya Das and Yogendra Yadav
The discussion on civil society focussed on the nature of civil society in India and how it can be improved to affect positive change. The panel focussed on issues such as gender equity, the need for increased dialogue – particularly with the rural areas that account for the vast majority of the Indian population – and the need for reformation in the political system via potential changes to political parties. The panelists opined that to change society, we must first promote dialogue. The media needs to be more accessible so as to allow more voices to be heard from across the country, promoting a truly civil society where all opinions are noted and brought to the table.
Dialogue Derivatives Panel 1:
Panelists: Manu Chaturvedi, Sanjoy Hazarika, Suman Sahai, Darryl D’Monte, Govind Nihalani
Is society missing learning from a generation that garnered stories and experiences through transgressive actions? What would a shared vision for the next generation in the social change-making look like? The disenchanted youth is restless and quite clear is the impact. But then, the generations have always adapted and learnt. Is vision the derivative of the times? This is exactly what the panel debated upon and how to involve youth in social making and social change. Issues discussed, included the better application of RTI in Kerala as compared to Rajasthan from where the movement stemmed from, need for creating new enterprises for the youth, migration of youth of North East to the rest of India in search of greener pastures, malnourishment which remains unaddressed, space for idealism and dissent in today’s times etc. A need was felt on the whole to adopt strategies and interventions of communication on how to engage the youth and build an inter-generational dialogue.
Dialogue Derivatives Panel 2: Child Marriage
Panelists: Patrelekha Chatterjee, Arti Kirloskar, Gopalkrishna Murthy, Smita Bharti, Naina Kapur, Arvind Ojha
Deliberating on the legal framework, causal factors and implications of early marriage, current policies and programmes and advocacy related to this issue, the dialogue brought to focus the issue, gaps in programming, policies and legal framework and managing these effectively. Philanthropist Arti Kirloskar showcased Plan India’s work in Rajasthan, in partnership with Urmool. How volunteers in villages are raising awareness and preventing child marriage – it’s all about changing the mindset, she says. While Patrelekha Chatterjee pointed out that child marriage results in stunted growth, sterilisation of women, issues during and after pregnancy, etc. which affect women’s health and children’s health. Some of the panelists were of the opinion that gender discriminatory norms create child marriage and that the law has not necessarily delivered in the way that it ought to have. Arvind Ojha said that his organization was able to rid the menace of child marriage in 150 villages of Rajasthan.
The panel concluded that in order to eradicate child marriage there must be a focus on birth registration, education and making it a public health issue.
Dialogue Derivatives Panel 3: Society and Street Children
Panelists: Prakash Khatri, Father George Kollashany, Bhagyashri Dengle, Advocate Emidio Pinho, Father P.S. George, Sanjay Gupta
The panel on ‘Society & Street Children’ spoke its heart out about what is not going in favour of the more than 4 million street children in India. The discussion gave a ray of hope and proposed practical solutions to ensure that the children are main-streamed in society as citizens with dignity.
At the discussion, panelists felt that children’s opinions need to be taken into consideration if they have run away from home. What they need is a relationship, accommodation, support systems and home integration. “A street child is a bundle of possibilities, so a preventive approach is needed. A massive awareness campaign to society through media to involve the community and to get the community to take responsibility to create a loving family home,” says Father P.S. George. “The solution lies in government implementation,” concluded Surina Narula, Founder of Difficult Dialogues.
Dialogue Derivatives Panel 4: Wealth for Personal Possession or Social Change
Everyone wishes they had wealth. No exceptions. How they perceive this wealth differs radically for everyone especially after it has gone beyond fulfilling the core needs such as security, comfort, luxury and the fulfillment of dreams and desires. Is it a meaningless possession or a social responsibility? Former Finance Minister Yeshwant Sinha stated that everyone wants to accumulate wealth for personal pursuits and reluctant to part with it. It is human nature. He said that there are many organisations that want to do charity. However to curb malpractices there is need to regulate NGO’s and tax Charity Trusts, he said. Among the panelists, philanthropist Aarti Kirloskar said after one achieves wealth, one could either over indulge or have momentary happiness or they can take joy in giving happiness to others by way of social work and bringing about a change in society.
Talk by Amitav Gosh – ‘From Bombay to Canton: Travelling the Opium Route to 19th Century China.’
Ending Day 2 on a high note award-winning novelist and author, most recently of Flood of Fire (John Murray, 2015) which is shortlisted for the biennial Man Booker International Prize, Amitav Ghosh, gave a lecture on ‘From Bombay to Canton: Travelling the Opium Route to 19th Century China.’ He said, Guangzhou (also known as Canton) is one of the world’s great cosmopolitan entrepots. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, it was through this city and its environs that opium was funneled into China by British, American and Indian merchants. This trade was to have an enormous impact on India, since the subcontinent was the world’s leading opium-producing region under the British Raj, he added.
Difficult Dialogue 3: India and West Asia
Moderator: C Uday Bhaskar
Speakers: Darryl Li, Toby Dodge, Talmiz Ahmad, Siddharth Varadarajan
The panel looked into the issue of India’s relations with the West Asian region, also referred to as the Middle East. The panel started the discussion by limiting their discussion on the region to the states stretching from Iran to Israel, looking at the topics of jihad, the progression and reasons behind the turmoil the West Asian region is currently facing and how it affects India, the Indian-Israeli relationship, Indian-Iranian relationship in the general context of the Indian relationship with the region as a whole.
Difficult Dialogue 4: Infrastructure
Moderator: Devesh Kapur
Speakers: Partha Mukhopadhyay Rukmini Banerji, Adam Roberts, Lisa Bjorkman
The panel on infrastructure narrowed the topic to a more focussed discussion on potential India has in the field of renewable energy, ways to improve the Indian Railways and maintaining quality of infrastructure for education and infrastructure of water supplies in urban areas. Rounding up the panel discussion, Lisa Bjorkman underlined the need to truly consider the technology and human capital going into the set up and further development of urban infrastructure over time.
Dialogue Derivatives Panel 5: Social Exclusion
Moderator: Shoma Chaudhury
Panelists: Paul Divaker, Belinda Bennett, Wilson Bezwada, Stalin K., Hansal Mehta
The panel and audience paid tribute to Rohith Vermula’s death and held a moment of silence in his memory. In the wide debate, panelists spoke about the need for contesting the term ‘social exclusion’ as it does not sufficiently highlight the violence or the horror that excluded communities face. “Discrimination is a shared value of every Indian,” Belinda Bennett was of the opinion. Paul Divaker spoke about the atrocities against Dalits and several violations with regards to funds allocated for the community. Other topics discussed were the need to oppose manual scavenging, exploitation of adivasi and tribal communities, arrests of innocent Muslim boys in the name of terrorism, gay rights etc. Moderator Shoma Chaudhury concluded that there is not a revolution happening every day. Precipitation is required to enhance the movement to end such discrimination and individual responsibility (from each of us) is required to tackle the issue of discrimination against Dalits and minorities.
Dialogue Derivatives Panel 6: Youth, Agriculture, Migration, Smart Cities
Panelists: Ajay V Jakhar, Kishalaya Bhatacharjee
Does decreasing number of full-time farming practitioners and fewer young farmers have a link with growing numbers of urban slums? Aren’t the people living on the fringe in the artificial ecosystems of dispassionately rising and violently glaring cities – the actual benefactors for the ‘Smarter Cities’? Discussing this topic, panelists felt the need of smart villages and not just smart cities. Batting for conducive agriculture-friendly policies, Ajay V Jakhar, said agriculture is in a serious crisis in the country with increasing number of farmer’s suicides. Distress migration occurs because of the way farm subsidies are structured. If farmers were to increase their income, they would not leave their farms and stop farming. Industrialisation is not the solution to job creation, he opined. While Kishalaya Bhatacharjee stated inadequate and lack of livelihoods leads to insecurity as can be seen in the case of migration in North East and Kashmir. Panelists felt that large scale acquisition of land for dams, mining and other projects has led to displacement of people, which has in turn affected agriculture and increased migration.
Dialogue Derivatives Panel 7: Tourism Policy in Goa
Moderator: Subodh Kerkar
Panelists: Nilesh Cabral, Vijay Saredssai, Suraj Morajkar, Yatin Kakodkar
With a lull in foreign arrivals in the past year, Goa faces a new challenge in the tourism sector. Panelists debated on the existing policies in the state and how can policy makers and stakeholder make Goa a leading destination for international travellers. It was noted that the state has suffered the consequences of a large influx of visitors every year, leading to increased garbage, sewage treatment, traffic and ecological considerations. It was also felt that a sustainable tourism economy was the need of the hour.
Dialogue Derivatives Panel 8: Is Dialogue Dead?
Moderator: Lakshmi Choudhary,
Co-Founder of Firstpost.com
Panelists: Sudhir Kakar, Yashwant Sinha, Sitaram Yechury, Siddharth Varadarajan
After the three-day event, it was time to deliberate upon the need for a dialogue in today’s world. Whether it’s alive or dead. Political or non-political. Citing examples where dialogue was helpful in breaking impasse in government logjams and mistrust between nations, panelists concluded that without a broad minded all-inclusive dialogue it is impossible for society to move forward in this day and age.
Curtain Raiser on Difficult Dialogues 2017
Talk: Medical Ethics
Speaker: Sridhar Venkatapuram, King’s College London
In as many words, Sridhar Venkatapuram, spoke about what the next summit in 2017 would stress upon i.e. medical ethics and how to tackle new diseases. Shedding light on various viruses like H1N1, swine flu, ebola etc. that are prevalent, he stated that the world has to come to terms with new health disorders.
As the Goa bid adieu to the thinkers from across the globe, it was time to return back to daily doldrums of life, albeit with a new in-depth vision on how to change and view the society we live in. How to solve difficult dialogues. As the father of nation Mahatama Ganshi rightly put it – “Be the change you wish to see in this world.”