Alliance of South Asians Taking Action (ASATA)

Another coalition member of CAG is the Alliance of South Asians Taking Action (ASATA), “a San Francisco Bay Area all-volunteer group working to educate, organize, and empower the Bay Area South Asian communities to end violence, oppression, racism and exploitation within and against our diverse communities.”[1]

The group’s purpose sounds commendable and something that well-meaning, left-leaning, socially liberal youth and adults can resonate with. While the group shows instances where it has participated in discussions, events, etc. that address the issues listed above, the information below shows that it toes the same line of “Hindu savagery” as other children of the Forum of Inquilabi Leftists (FOIL).

Section 15.01     ASATA – A New Child of FOIL

A close examination of ASATA shows that it is yet another creature of FOIL. In fact, it is a new incarnation of FOIL initiatives such as Youth Solidarity Summer and Organizing Youth!, (both discussed here).

The Projects Section on its website lists something called “Bay Area Solidarity Summer (BASS)”.[2] The project is a summer camp aimed at:

…Desi teenagers to learn about progressive issues, gain organizing skills, connect with other South Asian activists and develop themselves into leaders. The all-inclusive camp [aims to provide] space for young people to learn skills on how to be a social activist, as well as learn about issues affecting the South Asian community both locally and globally [emphases added].”[3]

On surface, such initiatives appear rather innocuous for South Asian teens. But, the “Learn More” link directs you to BASS’ website (http://www.solidaritysummer.org/). Under “Why was BASS formed?” the About/FAQ section clearly states the following:

BASS was formed because many of us had gone through South Asian youth organizing programs when we were younger [emphasis added], and we wanted to give back. BASS builds on the tradition of Youth Solidarity Summer (New York), RadDesi Summer (Austin, Texas), and Organizing Youth (SF Bay Area), as well as our peers in at DC Desi Summer (Washington, DC) and Chicago Desi Youth Rising (Chicago) [emphases added].[4]

ASATA_BASS About FAQ_Solidarity Summer Website

All of the above legacy groups are children of FOIL. In essence, the activists that run ASATA and BASS have undergone training via radical leftist programs in New York, San Francisco and other places. These activists have now formed ASATA to extend FOIL’s radical leftist thought leadership to a new generation of South Asian Youth. Such activism, as illustrated under FOIL here, subscribes to inaccurate and pejorative notions such as the Hinduism = caste = racism view and propagates the theme that all horrors of South Asia are caused by “Hindu savages” in India.

The information below sheds some more light on the activists involved in ASATA.

The “Who is Bass?”[5] on ASATA’s website section provides short biographies of activists that run this project. One of them in Anirvan Chatterjee, an activist from Berkeley, California.[6] BASS’ website is also registered to Chatterjee as per a WhoIs.Net Registration Search. The search also reveals the same physical address that shows up in the registration of ASATA.[7] Hence, Chatterjee is one of the main forces behind BASS and ASATA, which he also discusses on his personal website.[8]

Besides ASATA and BASS, Chatterjee is involved in DESIst, an initiative of FOIL and many of its affiliates in the CAG. He provides a link to the November 2005 issue of FOIL’s Mouthpiece, Ghadar, on his profile on BASS, for readers to learn more.[9] The Ghadar article states that “The Alliance of South Asians Taking Action (ASATA), and Friends of South Asia (FOSA) are part of this coalition as are others of us as individuals.”[10] What’s more, DESIst was formed in September 2005 “…just hours prior to and across the street from a panel entitled Self Determination in South Asia.”[11] Interestingly, this panel was organized by FOSA and featured Vijay Prashad, Angana Chatterji, Abdul Nayyar and Snehal Singhavi (whose views were discussed under FOSA here).[12] Besides decrying India’s “pro-imperialist elites” and arguing for Self-Determination on Kashmir, the panel discussed opportunities that such situations present “to build Indian communism and fight the agenda of the global ruling class.”[13] Thus, DESIst was a call for anyone interested in anti-American activities that showcased the United States as an imperialist oppressor. Indeed, the Ghadar articles describes DESIst as “a coalition of [South Asians] who are united against the war and US imperialism in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Haiti, Palestine and other nations…who believe that being anti-war (or) anti-imperialist is not a choice but an imperative.”[14]

DESIst’s main contact email is listed as “DESIST[at]southasianprogressive[dot]org”.[15] This group is discussed next.

Chatterjee was involved in the South Asian Progressive Collective.[16] The initiative’s website is also registered by Chatterjee.[17] The group has not had any activity over the past 10 years and its only claim to fame were two conferences organized in 2003 and 2004 respectively, the years after the 2002 Gujarat riots. The website is fairly empty and barely contains any information about the group and its activities. There is hardly any information on the 2003 conference, except that it was the group’s first one and was attended by some 150 people. While the Asian Week link doesn’t work anymore, an Internet Archive’s WayBack Machine Search to retrieve the link demonstrates that this conference was being organized by various members of the CAG, including “Alliance of South Asians Taking Action (ASATA), the Coalition Against Communalism, Ekta, [emphasis added] South Asian Sisters, Third World Majority, 3rd I: South Asian Independent Films and Trikone.”[18] The article also highlights two things  – a) It quotes Chatterjee as a member of ASATA, thus showing that Chatterjee has been involved with ASATA for at least the past 11 years; b) The event was organized at the California Institute of Integral studies where FOIL stalwart Angana Chatterji used to be a professor.

The South Asian Progressive Collective provides some information about the 2004 Conference, along with topics and organizers, as shown in the figure below.

South Asian Progressive 2004 Conference

Again, this is the usual cocktail of Hindu/India bashing, the recipe of which is jointly fathered by Association for India’s Development (AID), EKTA/CAC, FOSA, Organizing Youth!, and others. While there was a clear push for advocacy of the rights of Muslims and Arabs in the wake of 9/11 terrorist attacks, as one of the sessions shows,[19] the group’s anti-India bias is evident in one of the sessions titled “Minority Rights and Sexual Minority Activism in India.”[20] In this session, each minority group such as gays and lesbians, Muslims, Indian Catholics and Sikhs laments about its problems and so-called “oppression” in India. The Muslim section is clearly a focus on the 2002 Gujarat riots and the “Hindu savagery” with such inaccurate and exaggerated statements as:

Hindu armies/fighters were very familiar with and good at identifying Muslim homes – a well-known fact – because of state backing. Lists were faxed and printed with names of [the Muslim] businesses – extremely systematic, well-concerted plans were executed with no protection from the police at all….The violence was so intensified in Gujarat because the BJP ruled there longer than any other place.[21]

If these are merely summary notes, one wonders what else was discussed in such a conference. In addition, what or who was the data source behind such far-fetched conclusions?

Besides Anirvan Chatterjee, BASS’ website also lists Anantha Sudhakar, an Assistant Professor at San Francisco State University.[22] She is also a member of SAMAR, The South Asian Magazine for Collective Action and Reflection. SAMAR is a member of the CAG, and contains radical leftist writings from many of the prominent FOIL members. For example, Balmurli Natrajan, a long-time FOIL member wrote a derisive article on the Bhagavad Gita and Hinduism in SAMAR, which was under the section on FOIL here. In fact, SAMAR contains writings from Chatterjee, Sudhakar and Simmy Makhijani, another BASS volunteer discussed below.[23]

Another person listed as a BASS activist is Simmy Makhijani. Among other things, “she has completed her Ph.D. course work in Anthropology and Social Change at the California Institute of Integral Studies, and is currently working to complete her dissertation.”[24] CIIS was the home of FOIL stalwart Angana Chatterji. Makhijani was an active voice in the 2005 California Textbook Campaign arguing against a fair portrayal of Hinduism in 6th Grade California Textbooks.[25]

To conclude, ASATA is nothing more than another incarnation of FOIL youth organizations such as Youth Solidarity Summer, Organizing Youth! and RadDesi. In fact, FOIL has successfully managed to groom several Indian American youth into radical left-wing activism and a pejorative view on Hinduism and India, as evidenced by the comments and works of Chatterjee, Makhijani, and others in ASATA/BASS. While these “radical desis” stand up strong for topics like Islamophobia and “US imperialism” in the Middle East and India, they are seldom found shedding a tear for their Hindu brethren whose religion and culture are heavily misunderstood and prejudiced against. In addition, gender and sexuality issues in Pakistan and Bangladesh are almost never discussed or highlighted, thus giving the unsuspecting audience and youth volunteers an overarching impression that such problems are prevalent only in India and sanctioned by Hinduism.

 

 

[1] http://www.asata.org/history. Accessed January 16, 2014

[2] http://www.asata.org/projects. Accessed January 16, 2014

[3] Ibid

[4] See the sub-section called “Why was BASS formed?” at http://www.solidaritysummer.org/aboutfaq.html. Accessed January 16, 2014

[5] http://www.solidaritysummer.org/who-is-bass.html. Accessed January 16, 2014

[6] See Chatterjee’s personal website at http://www.chatterjee.net/. Accessed January 16, 2014

[7] See the Whois.Net search for BASS at http://www.whois.net/whois/solidaritysummer.org and for ASATA at http://www.whois.net/whois/asata.org. Accessed January 16, 2014

[8] See Chatterjee’s personal website at http://www.chatterjee.net/. Accessed January 16, 2014

[9] See Chatterjee’s profile on BASS at http://www.solidaritysummer.org/who-is-bass.html. He provides the following link to Ghadar’s November 2005 Issue: http://ghadar.insaf.net/November2005/MainPages/desiST.htm. Accessed January 16, 2014

[10] “Cease and DESIst: An Experiment in (re)claiming a Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Space in South Asian America”, Volume 9, November 2005, Ghadar: a publication of the forum of inquilabi leftists, http://ghadar.insaf.net/November2005/MainPages/desiST.htm. Accessed January 16, 2014

[11] Ibid

[12] http://www.friendsofsouthasia.org/events/selfdeterminationpanel/. Accessed January 16, 2014

[13] Ibid

[14] “Cease and DESIst: An Experiment in (re)claiming a Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Space in South Asian America”, Volume 9, November 2005, Ghadar: a publication of the forum of inquilabi leftists, http://ghadar.insaf.net/November2005/MainPages/desiST.htm. Accessed January 16, 2014

[15] Ibid

[16] Chatterjee mentions is involvement in this initiative on his person website ttp://www.chatterjee.net.  The initiative’s website is http://www.southasianprogressive.org/. Accessed January 16, 2014

[17] http://www.whois.net/whois/southasianprogressive.org. Accessed January 16, 2014

[18] Ji Hyun Lim, ‘South Asian Progressive Gathering Hopes to Set Agenda for Activism’, Jan 24th – Jan 30th, 2003, Asian Week, archived at the Wayback Machine Internet Archive, https://web.archive.org/web/20090201061505/http://www.asianweek.com/2003_01_24/bay_progressive.html. Accessed January 16, 2014

[19] http://www.southasianprogressive.org/2004/notes/civil_rights.html. Accessed January 16, 2014

[20] http://www.southasianprogressive.org/2004/notes/minority_rights_india.html. Accessed January 16, 2014

[21] Ibid

[22] http://www.solidaritysummer.org/who-is-bass.html. Accessed January 16, 2014

[23] http://samarmagazine.org/archive/topics/diasporamigration. See the list of Authors in the “Filter by Author” section on the bottom left. Accessed January 16, 2014

[24] Ibid

[25] “Victory over Hindu nationalists in California textbooks rewrite”, February 28, 2006, http://www.friendsofsouthasia.org/textbook/FOSACACPressRelease_022806.html. Makhijani is quoted, for example, arguing against the supposed ‘rewriting of history’. Accessed January 16, 2014