Many of us have been working for the past few years on related projects whose main point of agreement has been a commitment to social justice, secularism, and equality. Although these are very abstract ideas, in such perilous times our meanings of these ideas are under threat. During the past year, we have spoken to a number of people about creating some sort of a clearinghouse for radical Indian activists in the United States, Canada and England: some place for us to share information, offer support, and encourage each other to write in the open media on issues pertaining to Indians overseas and India itself, and help build projects that make our radical politics more material. We feel it is time to launch such a forum so that in time we might join together to take common positions and intervene on political matters. Isolation only helps the ruling clique; we need to organize ourselves. Hence FOIL!
Why India? Not just to give ourselves a nice acronym! There are certain issues that are bound by the nation-state and its products overseas which are not identical with those of South Asia as such. Also, we think it is important that we not call ourselves what we are not. As Nahid Islam points out in her essay in Our Feet Walk the Sky, there are many groups that call themselves South Asian but mainly involve themselves with India alone. Given that those of us who have been speaking to each other about this forum have all been Indians, we have decided not to assume a larger character right now. This is of course open to debate, and we would gladly welcome it. If tomorrow a debate opens up on this issue, and South Asians other than Indians are part of it, then it is distinctly possible that this forum will change accordingly.
What work will the forum take up? Again, the specific projects are not for the few of us alone to define, but for a larger collective to put its wits together and come up with. As of now, we feel that the domains on which we need to put our intellectual wits together are those related to: combating the IMF/World Bank/MNC onslaught against the Indian workers and peasants, opposing the saffron wave across India, England and North America, and preventing conservative middle class politics from shaping the politics of the entire community. We need to make our politics visible in the open media, for it is in such a sphere that we can, as a group, make some sort of an impact; the more we write as a group, the more we will be able to pressure common sense. We need to build relations with second-generation Indians who are seeking modes different from that outlined by their conservative parents - maybe a summer school, maybe internships with specific radical NGOs in India, maybe support for the many progressive community organizations that attempt to build these bridges. We are floating this forum without a fixed idea of how it will function; we only know of what we urgently need to accomplish.
The idea is a simple one. Most of us work within the intellectual domain. We write, teach, and talk for a living. We could ensure our constant presence in the public media, and in the activities of various organizations, and thus, in the long run, influence the politics of the community.
If you know of other Indians who would find such a forum
valuable, please request them to join FOIL write
to any one of the addresses below. We hope you will join.
FOIL is a clearinghouse for a number of projects. There are multiple issues on which we need to be active and, we can, depending on our resources, expand or modify the initial list of ideas presented below. Here are some initial ideas that came up as we began on the exercise of forming FOIL:
The US, for the past three years, has been considering banning the import of any products made by children. At face value, most Leftists must agree with the impetus which drives this policy (driven by Tom Harkin, good Lefty himself). The central target countries are India and Pakistan. The problem is that the US, through its unofficial appendages -- IMF and World Bank, forces these countries to export goods to the world-market (to become export-oriented rather than pursue sustainable development strategies -- which might be a future dynamic if these nations have better governments). The US and our liberal Indian friends cannot have it both ways: structural adjustment as well as an end to child labor. Child labor is a result of structural adjustment: we need to make this very clear.
This idea was later transformed to a FOIL Pamphlet series:
Pamphlet Series #1 on Child Labor.
[Pamphlet series #2 is on the new growth of India Studies in the academy (such phenomena as Dharam Hinduja Indic Studies Center at Columbia, India Chair at Berkeley etc.). ]
Contact Gautam Premnath for volunteering on this project.
The unique strength of the Indian left outside India is that a significant number of us make our living through writing - either within the academy or outside it. For a group with such a skill it is indeed surprising that our presence in the diaspora's media arms - newspapers, magazines, tv shows etc. is next to nonexistent. A constant and visible effort in such centrists newspapers such as India Abroad, India Tribune, India West etc. is possible with a little planning. One way of looking at it is simply that between the fifty odd of us, if each of us volunteer to put out one article for one such newspaper or magazine every year we would have said something literally every week.
Contact Amitava Kumar for volunteering on this project.
A recent Nation carried a rather lop sized essay on AIDS in India ("India's Shame"). Without any context and any discussion of the active struggles of unorganized activists and those organized into AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan. The left-liberal media (such as the Nation) and the newspapers (notably the New York Times) produce stories on South Asia based upon the informed opinion of reporters who spend brief periods in there and on conversations with our bourgeois 'leaders' in the US. Those interested in this 'Project' can organize rapid collective responses as well as contact the local media to ensure that they have your numbers in their rolodex -- in order to contact you next time they have a story to write on South Asia.
Contact Amitava Kumar for volunteering on this project.
A group of Foil members have volunteered themselves to speak to different Indian/South Asian student and community organizations on different topics related to South Asia. The list of these speakers would be made available to all South Asian organizations/groups. There will be no fee charged for these speakers only their trasportation and loddging should be paid for.
Contact Vijay Prashad for volunteering on this project.
This is FOIL's magazine aimed at providing a forum for a conversation within the left for clarifying/pushing our thinking further. Based on the experience of running a lefty magazine called Sanskriti for six years, a group of former Sanskriti editors suggested that FOIL take this magazine over.
Contact the Ghadar coordinators: Mir Ali Raza, Shubra Gururani, Niraj Pant for volunteering on this project.
To combat the organized resource availability of both the Hindutva and pro-liberalization crowd it is critical that we create and manage a resource site of our own on the Web. Hence the creation of this web site - The Progressive South Asian Exchange Net (proXsa).
Contact Rahul De'.for volunteering on this project.
Suggested in tandem with the Web project, but with a slightly different idea of putting out alternative text book/young adult material that could be used in schools.
Contact Radhika Lal for volunteering on this project.
Each year a number of South Asian Americans travel to South Asia to visit relatives or to tour the country. Some go to work for brief periods with charity organizations (Mother Theresa, Spastic Society, etc.) or with nongovernmental organizations. Our plan is to hold a week-long summer school (in 1997) for those who are going to the subcontinent for whatever purpose: the school will train these travelers to understand the role of the state, the history of political struggle as well as to offer the progressive travelers a network for when they return to the US (to carry forward their experiences). This project requires much energy and enthusiasm, so hopefully all of us will donate some time to it.
Contact Sangeeta Kamat for volunteering on this project.
A group of NYC based Foilers have been attempting to put into place some kind of a basis for intervention in some NYC schools that have a large South Asian/Indian population with an aim of providing an alternate fora for cultural/political articulation among second generation South Asians/Indians.
These are some ideas: if you have others, please forward them. FOIL is about our various ideas, so please get active.
I hope that we can now get to work and help build FOIL. Our bourgeois 'leaders' and their friends in Washington need to get a wake-up call which blows their eardrums: I think we can in our noisy, desi manner concoct something suitable. Let FOIL be that noise!