Today in New Delhi, India
Apr 22, 2019-Monday
New Delhi
  • Humidity
  • Wind

World Social Forum: A tale of two elusive women

Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi and Winnie Mandela did not mingle with participants, reports Viju B.

india Updated: Jan 20, 2004 21:12 IST
Viju B
Viju B

They are more pricey than Hollywood's top stars. And nothing, but nothing persuades them to mingle with the minions they are said to represent.

The World Social Forum has its elusive and elite list of members who think they are more than just social activists, and hang on to that celebrity tag attached to them.

Nobel prize winner Shirin Ebadi (from Iran) must be the most elusive woman in this country today after South Africa's Winnie Mandela.

Getting her to talk has been one Herculean task for journalists. "She just does not want to talk, then why is she here,'' asks a journalist from a foreign agency.

Ebadi has no English but she has a bouncer, who doubles as her interpreter.
But there are no translations on offer, only putdowns by this fellow Iranian who guards her against one and all.

When Ebadi finally arrived at the Gujarat Social Forum venue on Monday to release the book of riot victim Naseem Banu, who saw 22 members of her family being killed, Ebadi did not bother to speak to Banu. All Shirin did was release the book and say three lines about how happy she was to do so -- on the insistence of the organisers.

When journalists asked her for a reaction on the Gujarat riots, the interpreter-bouncer jumped in, shielded her from them and shoved all reporters aside.

"Can you just give two minutes of your time,'' a cub reporter from an afternoon newspaper cried.

"No. She does not have even that much time. She has to rush for an urgent afternoon meeting,'' the bouncer replied.

The journalists followed her to the next hall where she actually got in to a small tent of Figh, an NGO, and sat there as if nothing had happened. The bouncer came out, this time removing his coat and in a tight T-shirt. "I have to go out. But do not dare to disturb her. You will not be able to meet her today or tomorrow as she is resting,'' he said.

Desperate calls to Fair Seasons hotel in Juhu today, where she is put up, got no response. Shirin would not come on the line and the bouncer always said 'No'.

Another such case is that of Winnie Mandela, ex-wife of former South African President Nelson Mendala, who was supposed to come for the opening ceremony but never turned up. However, one photographer suddenly spotted her on the streets of Mumbai on Monday, and just about managed to click her picture before she did the disappearing act.

Winnie, though, was a little better than Shirin. At least she called a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, even if she cancelled it after all the journalists had turned up in full force! No reasons were given, though there was a promise of a meeting in the evening.

"She may hold a press conference some time in the evening," the apologetic organizer hoped. But, of course, it never happened.

"These activists behave as if they are more pricey than Hollywood film actors when they should actually be moving with the masses. But they are so insulated from the masses that the forum should be called World Elusive Forum instead of World Social Forum,'' fumes one frustrated activist.

Accessibility score card (1-10)

Winnie Mandela - 0

Shirin Ebadi - 0

Arundhati Roy - 5

Medha Patkar - 6

Mary Robinson - 7

Joseph Stiglitz - 7

George Monbiot - 8

First Published: Jan 20, 2004 21:12 IST