"The fact that the Ministry of External Affairs of the Government of India has decided to deny visas to Pakistani scholars (including scholars of Pakistani origin who are citizens of other countries) to attend the AAS-in-Asia conference in Delhi is not in tune with the open exchange of ideas and knowledge that is the very purpose of the conference. However, neither the Association for Asian Studies nor Ashoka University has the authority to tell the Government of India, a sovereign nation, to whom it may and may not grant visas, and nor have we been able to influence the Government of India to reverse its decision in this case."
Rather than take a strong stand against this blatantly exclusionary, anti-intellectual government position, the organizers have confirmed the right of governments to use visa regimes to deny the principle of academic freedom. They go on to claim that there are pragmatic reasons why they cannot cancel or scale back this conference, and that they had, in March 2018, informed the academics affected by the government’s decision. This action, and the fact that they are attempting to use Skype to allow some academics to participate from a distance, in no way exculpates them from what was clearly a decision to keep these inconvenient facts from the other participants in the conference, and from the public at large.
As concerned academics, members and non-members of the AAS, we find this situation reprehensible and unacceptable. Given the intransigence of the Indian government, the only responsible path open for the AAS would have been to refuse to host this conference in India; it is all the more objectionable that the organizers were willing to go ahead when scholars from the very region the association is meant to study cannot attend. There is much more at stake than the inconvenience of cancelled bookings and refunded conference fees; to go along with the partisan and punitive actions of governments who wish to blunt critical thought and scholarly exchange is to be complicit with policies that a great many of us have contested in our research and writing. There are many moments in which we are called upon to stand up for our ideas; this is a particularly important moment to do just that.
The complicity of the AAS with the Indian government’s violation of academic freedom compels us to boycott the conference. We do so in solidarity with our Pakistani colleagues and to express our commitment to the unfettered exchange of ideas. Today, this government has decided to ban Pakistani scholars. Tomorrow, another might decide to deny Indian or Chinese or British scholars, or issue conference visas on the basis of religious identification or sexual preference. Would we still allow pragmatic reasons to dictate our participation? Boycotting is an obligation we owe not only to our Pakistani colleagues, but also to the values of open and inclusive intellectual exchange that we cherish.
Boycott letter FAQs: https://tinyurl.com/y867epl2
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