Response to Critics of AAS-in-Asia boycott: Ajantha Subramanian et al

Continuing the debate on the controversial Association of Asian Studies conference recently held in Delhi, to which Pakistani participants were denied visas by the Indian government, following which there was a call to boycott the conference.

Nandini Sundar wrote an article in The Wire which we re-posted on Kafila. This is a response to that article by Ajantha Subramanian, Suvir Kaul, Rupa Viswanath, Rebecca Karl, Ania Loomba and Nate Roberts, also in The Wire.

As signatories to the call for a boycott of the AAS-in-Asia conference in Delhi (July 4-8, 2018), we have been vocal critics of how the Association for Asian Studies – a membership-funded professional organisation based in the US for scholars of Asia around the world – has handled the government of India ban on Pakistani scholars (based on both nationality and descent). We now write because the debate that our call for action provoked raises important questions about location, ethics and nationalism when it comes to the right to protest. These questions are important in our age of escalating international exchange as well as national chauvinism.

Our critique has focused on the AAS, an organisation that was informed of the preemptive ban and which, in conjunction with Ashoka University, their private university partner in New Delhi, concealed it from the general membership – as well as the general public – for months. Although the organisation claims it did its part by putting the letter banning Pakistanis on its conference website, no one would find it unless they were looking for it. Knowledge of the ban only became public when The Wire broke the story on June 7, 2018.

Read the rest of this article here.


One thought on “Response to Critics of AAS-in-Asia boycott: Ajantha Subramanian et al”

  1. Well , i’m quite surprised at the unnecessary emphasis on ‘elite’ and ‘liberal’ critics of the “boycott” . Is this is a contest on who’s more priviliged ? then the global scholars do loose, since ofcourse none of the signatories here are themselves excluded from the category as merely global scholars!!!- so its ‘elite global’ vs ‘elite local’ academics ( in that case the added priviliges of the latter should also be recognized – after all , those here facing the brunt of the current regime , especially Ms Sundar , do not have the same choices and priviliges available to them – however elite they might appear!). The question however is not of who’s more elite( would Sundar’s response have been more acceptable if it had come from a supposedly “non – elite” quarter?) here,but what forms can international solidarities take and should there not be an ethics of engaging through awareness of locational priviliges ? And can there be no differences on the modalities that can be expressed ? Boycott is an extreme step , unless the complicity of AAS in instituting the ban can be marked out and to that extent the argument here that the boycott was asking “AAS to account for both its de facto and de jure agreement to the ban on Pakistani attendance at the AAS-in-Asia conference, and for the months of concealment of that agreement from its general membership.” still provides legitimate grounds to think around these issues . But to argue that boycott of a conference attempting to move its location from the US to the third world context it speaks of ( canada cannot be an answer here) is the only way to think of this engagement while being cognizant of the realities of the subcontinent , where both INDIAN and PAKISTANI scholars are routinely denied conference visas for events across the borders, does amount to locational privilige. Are we then going to ban all conferences in both India and Pakistan ? Who wins and who looses? Nobody should have any doubt about the complete indifference of the modi government to such boycotts at times like this and perhaps a similar situation exists in pakistan. One cant blame Sundar for pointing out how much easier is it to do so from outside a context – should we only think of boycotts in India, Pakisatan, Afghanistan, Turkey , Iran and so on everytime conference visas are denied on certain pretexts , with conference organisers often unable or powerless to do anything about it – and meanwhile allow flourishing of all these conferences on THESE very regions in the US despite a travel ban , because ofcourse its conveniently only the us govr which needs to be opposed there and conference organisers exempted ? OR should we look at other modes such as in -venue protests, skype and other online engagements to provide access to pakistani scholars , thereby doing something more for them than a mere boycott is going to bring about. And exhausting all possibilities before moving to boycott? One can differ on the modalities and debate , but not by defensively throwing the charge of elitism back here, which serves no purpose , because the need to point out the locations here on part of Sundar was obvious in terms of what this strategy would lead to . Boycott conferences which denies even exposure to those who would otherwise not have a similar access when these continue to be held in teh US ( and who are in no way responsible for these boycotts themselves) , especially in times when scholars in these contexts are already facing innumerable restrictions , can be questioned . Because its far easier to take these stands from outside. Ofcourse global scholars should and must participate in all forms of resistance and we should not think of making borders stronger at this moment in particular. But there are questions of locational engagements which must be raised in these debates without them inviting unproductive defensive counter attacks . This is not about ‘nationalism’ but ethics of north -south engagements , which one assumes scholars located at the intersection would be even more aware of. Lastly, at a time when public universities are under attack and a whole public discourse being crushed, ofcourse these ethics provide many other grounds of debate about the role of organisations like AAS which attempt to enter the arena with a new kind of branding in association with private universities and the challenges it poses for a rich open public culture which is fledgling now. Those debates however require more productive grounds for engagement than merely trading charges on elitism.


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