Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

4 January: Seminar on Non-Violence and South Asian Realities

In the morning, we were joined by local WILPF members and members of the Gujurati NGO community for a seminar on non-violence and South Asian realities. During the first hour, there were introductions: of the leaders of WILPF India and WILPF international, along with the panel of speakers.

We also received a written history of the Indian section written by Krishna Ahoojapatel, the IB member from India. I hope that this history will be available soon on the international website.

Due to time constraints, the seminar speakers felt it was prudent to speak very quickly in order to complete their remarks during the allotted time frame. Unfortunately, it was very difficult to follow the seminar because everyone was speaking so quickly. Some things that I was able to discern:

There is some discrepancy on what constitutes South Asia. Some people are expansive, including all countries from Afghanistan to Sri Lanka to Nepal. The smallest definition is Pakistan and India. Usually, it refers to Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.

South Asia has a common history, but rarely had a common government. It was a political dispute that led to the creation of India and Pakistan following independence from Britain. (Though this could be construed as politicized history, it's generally believed that the leaders of independence could not agree on a power-sharing structure, leading the Muslim leaders to agitate for their own country - hence the creation of Pakistan. However, it is false to assume that all, or even most, Muslims moved to Pakistan following the division. In fact, India is a vibrant mix of multiple religious groups, most prominently Hindus and Muslims.)

Originally, Pakistan had a Western and Eastern side. Urdu was declared the only official language, which discriminated against the citizens of Eastern Pakistan and was one of the reasons for the war of independence and the creation of the state of Bangladesh in 1971. [Aside: I heard an interesting description of this history from a Bangladeshi woman in the Singapore airport who was on her way home to happily participate in an arranged marriage.]

An interesting point was made by Shri Prakashbhai Shah (sp?), the journalist on the panel: India's democracy, especially its vibrant journalism, creates the space for the free flowing of ideas and emergence of new theories and practices not seen in the West.

Dr. Indira Hirway, the economist on the panel also hinted that there are economic theories and practical applications being created in India that could be replicated in other places, but said there wasn't enough time to go into details.

Social scientist and gender expert Dr. Kamla Bhasin was also on the panel. Some of her published work (in Hindi and English)is available from Sangat, South Asia Gender Activists and Trainers. Dr. Bhasin was also the South Asia coordinator for the 1,000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005 campaign.

Dr. Puspha Motiyani, Vice President of WILPF India introduced the panel, which was moderated by Vice Chancellor Dr. Sudarshan Iyengar.

I really hope we have the opportunity for further collaboration with the intellectuals featured on the panel. I also hope we have the opportunity to learn more about the academic and political work of our WILPF India sisters. Dr. Pushpa Motiyani, as an expert in Gandhian philosophy and feminist activist would be a perfect candidate for a US speaking tour.


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