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
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
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
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,
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.