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Put poor at centre of reforms, foreign policy: Ela Bhatt


New Delhi : Even as the government announced a massive loan waiver of Rs.600 billion for farmers, eminent social worker and crusader for women’s rights Ela Bhatt Tuesday called for putting the poor and homeless workers at the centre of the country’s economic and foreign policy.

“Put the poor at the centre of economic reforms. Local people do not appear fully on our foreign policy agenda,” said Bhatt, the founder of Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) – a pioneering organization that has transformed lives of thousands of Indian women workers through innovative methods of market mobilization and micro-finance.

“Globalization is encroaching and corporate power is increasing, leaving the poor lost. The role of the state in alleviating the condition of the poor has declined,” Bhatt, or Ela Behn as she is fondly known, said in a lecture entitled ‘The Globalising Local: SEWA Journey’ at Sapru House. She was delivering the annual lecture organized by the Association of Indian Diplomats, a body of retired diplomats.

“India can create a paradigm of a new superpower that empowers culture and communities and not the one which dominates others,” the 75-year-old social entrepreneur said.

“The poor need to join hands across the borders. There is a need to improve the conditions of working women across centuries,” she said.

Although critical of exploitative aspects of globalisation, Bhatt underlined that if harnessed creatively, globalization can work for the poor also. “Globlaisation is not for multinationals only. Poor people also can come together and reap benefits of globalisation,” she said while stressing on the need for more economic interaction with workers in South Asian countries.

Based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, SEWA is the largest single trade union in the country with a membership of over 700,000 women. SEWA has become a movement, “a journey”, in Bhatt’s words, towards transformation and empowerment of women workers whose contributions to the economy are still not recognized.

Vegetable and garment vendors, in-home seamstresses, head-loaders, bidi rollers, paper pickers, construction workers, incense stick makers, and agricultural workers are all part of the SEWA’s journey, Bhatt said.