Headquartered in a mud and stone hut in a village in central Rajasthan, the MKSS was committed to realising the collective promise of a Constitution born out of the national movement for independence, and to use and strengthen the mode of non-violent struggles by political and social movements to hold power to account.
Despite working under hostile and unfavourable economic and social conditions, some seminally important MKSS’s struggles inspired and powered the progression of nationwide campaigns and social movements, for the right to information as well as the right to work. These two movements asserted the economic, social, and political rights of ordinary people, and the use of people centric transparency and accountability to move towards building a participatory democracy. A period of intense people’s engagement with policy and legislation, resulted in a spate of rights-based laws in India, including a landmark law on the Right to Information and a path breaking National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.
However, in contemporary India, the democratically elected government is not only turning fascist, but also using the market theories of neoliberal globalisation to justify the suppression of protest, dissent, and for quelling the democratic rights of people. Covid-19 has given the state a grand opportunity for exercising arbitrary and discriminatory power, leveraging fear of the epidemic, and leaving millions of workers stranded without livelihood, food, shelter, and the right to travel home. Under the justification of rebuilding the economy, some states have suspended basic labour laws and protection for a period of three years, and even the sacrosanct eight hour working day and statutory minimum wage have been removed. All this has resulted in severely impoverishing a large section of society which has been fuelling the Indian growth story, while bearing the brunt of some of the harshest working conditions for workers. Now, with the brazen removal of even the fig leaf of rights, it is the beginnings of an economic emergency. Workers are being pushed back to the dark ages that preceded the French revolution.
India and the world face a crisis that threatens the historical narrative that facilitated both the understanding of oppression and helped organise to end it. It has come on the back of an already catastrophic global decline, where totalitarianism, environmental destruction, humanitarian crises, and inequality were on the rise. For every voice of protest around the world, there are draconian laws and policies that suppress and fragment communities.
The Progressive International is being organised at a critical time when transnational solidarity of progressive voices is imperative to overcome the current oppressive economic, political and social order. Even self-proclaimed democracies have lost their moral objective of protecting their weakest citizenry. It is perhaps crucial for all of us to unite, as progressive forces, to re-imagine a new world and design frameworks for public action based on equality and justice.