AIPSG 6th Annual Conference

The sixth annual conference of the Association of Indian Progressive Study Groups was held in New York on November 23, 1996 to mark the launch of its program on the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of Indian independence. Over 45 activists and participants from New York, Boston, Washington DC., Detroit and other cities participated in the proceedings that also dwelt on the question of identity, particularly as it has emerged in relation to second generation South Asian youth abroad.

The first session of the conference, titled India: Fifty Years after Independence began with the presentation of a message sent by Hardial Bains, titled To Be or Not to Be. In his speech, Hardial Bains placed the work of the AIPSG within the following context:

People will affirm themselves through their work to carry out the deep going transformations which are the order of the day. They can do so only by thinking out things themselves. They can only think out things by beginning from the present state of being, the state of the collective, the all-round economic, political and cultural life, the very condition of being. The topics set for this conference begin from the present, from the very state of being...

This was followed by a number of presentations on specific issues that have emerged as the most pressing today.

Dr K.M.Alamgir made a presentation that discussed the experience of parliamentary democracy in Bangladesh over the past 25 years. The presentation highlighted the serious shortcomings that are becoming evident in the existing parliamentary institutions, and of their glaring failure to empower people, while instead serving to concentrate power in the hands of a small political and economic elite. He also cited the example of recent elections in India and the U.S. to draw parallels to very similar probems that are becoming apparent in these countries. He concluded by stressing the importance of intervening to reverse this trend by creating mechanisms to modernise and renovate the institutions of democracy.

Dr S.Talwar made a presentation on the question of nations and nationalities in India. He drew attention to the history of the present Indian union, and to the conflicts and insurrections that have continually erupted against it. He cited numerous examples including Nagaland and Assam in the north-east, and Kashmir and Punjab in the north-west to conclude that the national question remains fundamentally unresolved today. Further, he discussed the way in which the dictum of "national unity and territorial integrity," posed as a matter of law seriously exacerbates this problem, as it is routinely used to dismiss legitimate national claims in the political sphere as questions of "law and order."

Sandhya Mishra made a presentation titled Women and Minorities that discussed the struggle of women in South Asia, and of their relationship to South Asian women abroad.

She used the examples of Propositions 187 and 209 in California - and of the Mandal and Masjid issues in India to illustrate that this question appears as a problem in the sphere of rights. She argued that instead of recognizing the legitimate claims of minorities or women as fundamental rights, they are treated as a matter or privileges, to be distributed or denied to elites within these groups as an act of pure political patronage, with the aim of securing "vote banks." This system, she said, is creating and perpetuating a dangerous situation whereby the polity is strictly divided on grounds of religion, caste, and even gender, and where each group, and ultimately the entire society is then reduced to a number of lobby groups fighting for their own narrow interests. She called for all people, including women and minorities, to fight against the trend of social cutbacks, and at the same time, to be at the forefront of the fight for a modern definition of rights for all society.

The second session was devoted to the recently concluded International Conference of South Asians in Toronto in which AIPSG was a co-sponsor. The first presentation by Hardeep Mann explained the decisions and outcome of the Toronto conference. Ms. Mann started by explaining the history behind the Toronto Conference, and of the significant preparatory work that went into it over the last ten months. This preparatory work, which included the founding of the Standing Conference of South Asians (SCSA), and the convening of four regional conferences held in Toronto, New York, London, and Winnipeg over the past summer were instrumental in developing an agenda that was adopted at Toronto. She described the proceedings of the conference, which was attended by over 120 people, - primarily second generation South Asians and women, and explained the work that has emerged, particularly on the issue of identity, culture and racism, and of the decisions of the conference to launch a youth commission and a women's commission. (Verbatim proceedings of the conference are available, see next page).

In a related paper, Rajesh Gopalan made a presentation discussing the topics of identity, culture and racism, specifically as they relate to the problems facing second and third-generation South Asian youth. He argued forcefully on the crucial importance of the question of identity, particularly of a collective identity that provides individuals with a sense of belonging and participation in a larger collective consciousness. The attack on identity, and the "identity crisis" that it has engendered lays the basis for more serious problems in the South Asian community than is apparent, he remarked. He went on to discuss the negative impact in the political sphere of a "hyphenated citizenry," of the definite need to build and develop South Asian cultural institutions, and on the importance of opposing all forms of racism that are emerging.

Following this, a reception was held in celebration of the 10th anniversary of IPSG New York that highlighted the continuous work that IPSG has done throughout this period. The reception brought together a cross-section of people who have been active with IPSG over the years. It was highlighted that youth and students, who have always been the mainstay of this work, have never hesitated to take up causes "larger than life" and are once again, taking the lead in coming forward and defining the agenda of the day.

International Conference of South Asians - Nov. 2-3, 1996

The Association of Indian Progressive Study Groups (AIPSG) was very active in the past year as a sponsoring organisation that worked to convene he first International Conference of South Asians (ICSA) - which was successfully held in Toronto on November 2-3, 1996.

As part of the work, IPSG-New York hosted one of the Preparatory Meetings leading up to the Toronto conference on June 22, 1996 at Columbia University.

The Toronto Conference, which was convened after more than a year of such preparatory work, was attended by delegates and participants from the U.S., Canada, Britain and India. The conference focused on three main topics: (i) Identity, Culture and Racism; (ii) the Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy; and (iii) the Problems of Minorities and Women in South Asia - and included panelists that spoke on topics including political theory and philosophy, rights, immigration and citizenship, nations and nationalities, and languages.

The conference was attended by over 120 delegates, the majority of whom were youth and students. In the two-day long event, panelists and delegates participated extensively in all sessions and gave rise to an important rendition of the concerns and aspirations of South Asians the world over in our times. Particularly in the case of young South Asians growing up in Britain, Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere, the conference was instrumental in highlighting their desire to be recognized as a people of significance.

Conference Verbatim Proceedings Now Available

The Standing Conference of South Asians (SCSA) is pleased to announce the release of the verbatim proceedings of the first International Conference of South Asians, which was held in Toronto last November. The SCSA has published the entire verbatim proceedings of the International Conference of South Asians in booklet form as a contribution this work and to broaden the discussion that has already begun.

The verbatim proceedings are a valuable source for those wishing to familiarise themselves with the proceedings and the work of the SCSA as well as an important reference work for all those working in this field.

Copies are available for $15 from :

Indian Progressive Study Group

Earl Hall, Columbia,

New York, NY 10027.


phone/fax: (201) 384-7331.