Seminars/Conference/Symposium

People to People Exchange Programme at Bangkok, 10 February, 2019

The Centre for South East Asian Studies, Gauhati University organised the seminar and dialogue on “People to People Exchange Programme” as a part of the North East India Festival held at Centara Grand- Central World in Bangkok (Thailand) on 10th February, 2019.

In her address, H.E. Mrs. Suchitra Durai welcomed all the distinguished speakers and audience to the discussion. H.E. Mrs Suchitra Durai traced back the socio-cultural similarities of India and Thailand from ancient times and the endeavours initiated by the Government of India in connecting the people further. Underlining the geographical significance of the North East India and its diversity in socio-cultural terms, Ambasador Mrs. Durai sees ample scope of people to people cross border connections. Ambassador Durai also shared the positive approach of the Government of India in starting of a direct flight connectivity between Guwahati and Bangkok that will substantially reduce the travel timing.

Mr. Lakhya Konwar, the Tai Ahom Leader and Member of Secretary, Government of Assam also highlighted the migration and settlement of the Tai-Ahom people led by the ruler Sukhapha and the shared similarities of the five Tai groups with the people of Thailand.

Dr. Mridul Hazarika, Hon’ble Vice Chancellor of Gauhati University emphasised the significance of People to People Exchange connections of North East India with its neighbours in South and South East Asia and particularly with Thailand. Dr. Mridul Hazarika underlined the importance of educational and academic exchange programmes that can be served as soft power and medium of fostering people to people linkages. He also referred to the academic exchange programmes initiated by Gauhati University with the universities and institutes of neighbouring countries like National University of Laos PDR, Royal Bhutan University and the students presently pursuing the Indian Studies Programme for One Semester of Pridi Banomyong International College, Thammasat University.

Prof. Nani Gopal Mahanta, Director of the Centre for South East Asian Studies, Gauhati University gave a very lucid introduction of the Dialogue and its purpose and extended an invitation to the institutions and universities of Thailand to have more collaboration and exchange programmes that can play a key role in connecting the two countries.

Following the inagurual addresses of the Dialogue, Mr. Shyam Kanu Mahanta, the Organising Head of the North East India Festival at Bangkok gave a presentation on the North East India Festival and the Cultural Performances organised in the Festival. He also extended his note of thanks to the Indian Embassy and Mrs Suchitra Durai for facilitating in organising this event.

After that the technical session was hosted by Dr. Sangeeta Gogoi and Prof. Nani Gopal Mahanta moderated the session. In the first presentation of the Dialogue, Prof. Chattip Nartsupha, Professor Emeritus of Economic History at Chulalongkorn University talked on his research experience on History and Culture of the Tai Ahom People of North East India and the his understanding of the region. He also showcased the rich cultural heritage of Tai Ahom people and how the interested researchers about Tai Ahom culture can go for future studies.

In the next presentation, Prof. Chirapat Prapandvidya of the Sanskrit Studies Centre of Silpakorn University gave a pictorial presentation on the rich sources for Studies in North East India and emphasised his own understanding and experience of the Culture and heritage of Ahom and other tribes from his field investigation.

Dr. Sombat Mangmeesukhsiri of Sanskrit Studies Centre, Silpakorn University spoke on Kaziranga National Park of Assam as the role model of Safari tourism for Thailand. Despite having rich biodiversity and forest coverage, Thailand lacks a comprehensive eco-tourism policy. In that sense, Dr. Sombat has tried to draw the attention of the people to make Thailand a tourist hotspot and destination adhering to a green tourism policy following the reference of eco-tourism policy adopted in the Kaziranga National Park of Assam.

 

Dr. Sommai Chinnak gave his presentation on North East India Study in Thailand and  he has endeavoured to investigate the status of North East India Study in Thailand by survey documentary research. He highlighted the contributions made by several noted academicians in popularising the North East India studies among the Thai Scholars and referred to the names of Dr.Khun Banchob Bandhumedha and Prof. Chattip Natsupha who are the pioneers in this field. He also made the observation that the main interest in Thai academic society about North East India still focused in society, culture, languages and history of Ahom and still less than 20 works. Then when compare with the Indian Study in Thailand, the North East India Study in Thailand is not yet popular in Thai scholar’s society and it seem to be under the India Study shed also.

 

Dr. Rajen Singh Laishram of Manipur University shared his hands on experience of the Manipur-Myanmar Border and the implementation of the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway Project. Though the construction of the Trilateral Highway is yet to complete, he highlighted the positive aspect of the enormous trade volume happening through highway project and possesses extreme potentialities in integrating and connecting North East India with the South East Asian countries.

Dr. U-tain Wongsathit presented his lecture on “The Cultural Links of Tai-Phake and Thailand”. Dr. U-tain made the observation that among Five Tai groups, only three groups i.e. Tai Phake, Tai Aiton and Tai Khamti can speak Tai language in daily life and maintain strongly the Tai culture. Other three groups had lost Tai language in daily life, but try to proserve their culture. Tai Phake tribe in Assam can effectively continue their language and culture for centuries and use as their identity. The pride in their identity shows the very strong cultural links with Thailand. The comparative study approves similarity between Tai Phake and Thailand. This can drown attention to Thai people of Thailand to visit their brother in India. This is considered as a very good source for tourism attraction. The understanding of cultural links between Tai Phake of India and the people of Thailand can convey solid connection of the people of Northeast India and Thailand.

 

In her lecture on “We look alike only”, Ms. Kanopporn Wonggarasin of Mahidol University talked about the Thailand’s Cultural Linkages with Assam and some parts of Arunachal Pradesh having similar historical background, communities, physical appearance, nature of people, food habit and rice architecture. By the physical appearance, she believes, between Thais and people of northeast that look alike, Assamese feel closer to people from their eastern side such as Thailand and most probably than inside country at far distance. The unique northeast has many interesting views to learn and understand as it is not general India as generally thought by outsiders. The proper understanding can lead to strong linkage.

 

Mr. Paim Thee Gohain, a Youth leader of Tai-Phake community has given a very interesting lecture in Tai language and presented the videos and images of the rituals and cultural and religious festivals of the Tai-Phake community and their similarities with Thailand.

 

Ms Kanokwan Jayadat presented her paper on “The Study of Tai Ahoms Spirit Calling Texts, the Priests and the Rituals” on the basis of her field based information. She shared the belief that the study of Ahom manuscripts is one of the most important research areas in Tai studies might be because many scholars believe that these manuscripts are the container of the essence of Tai culture, especially in the case of the “spirit calling texts” (Riak Khwan – in Thai). However, the latter has not been studied systematically and seriously until now compared to the former such as Buranji (Ahom chronicles). Perhaps one of the main reasons is that a large body of these texts remains in the hands of Ahom Priests (Mo – in Thai) who still live in the country. Therefore, the most initial and crucial step for those who aim to study the spirit calling texts, like in this case, is solely rest on field investigation.

 

Mr. Thanapat Choompolsil of UNIMIT, Dr. Surat Horachaikul of Indian Studies Centre of Chulalongkorn Univeristy, Dr. Damrongphon of Silpakorn University also shared their understanding of the Thailand.

 

Mr Chakri Bodhimani talked about the feminism in Nagaland and the social structure of the Naga society and the conditions of women therein.

 

In the concluding session, Dr. Sangeeta Gogoi, Coordinator of the Dialogue shared her greetings and gratitude to all the distinguished speakers for accepting the invitation and delivering their lectures on several significant aspects of North East India and Thailand/South East Asia Socio-Cultural Connections. She also reassured to come up with an edited volume from the papers presented in the Dialogue at Bangkok.

'NATIONAL NARRATIVE, REGIONAL SUBTEXT : UNDERSTANDING THE POLITICAL CHANGE IN NORTH EAST INDIA'

 A two day International Seminar titled, 'National Narrative, Regional Subtext : Understanding the Political Change in North East India', was organised by the Centre for South East Asian Studies, Gauhati University from 28th to 29th August, 2018. The seminar was inaugurated by Dr. Mridul Hazarika, Hon'ble Vice Chancellor Gauhati University. Prof. Udayon Misra, former National Fellow, IIAS graced the seminar as the Chief Guest. Prof Pralay Kanungo, ICCR Chair, Leiden University and Professor CPS/JNU delivered the keynote address. In his address, Prof. Nani G Mahanta spoke on, ‘NRC and Dilemma of Assamese Nationality’. 

The participants in the seminar included faculties and students from JNU, Gauhati University, Assam University, Dibrugarh University, Jamia Millia Islamia, Cotton University, CSDS, Ashoka University, Manipur University, Nowgong College,  IIT Guwahati, OKDISCD,  TISS  and  

Seng Khasi College, Shillong.  The seminar also had participation of the colleagues from the Department of Political Science, Gauhati University as well as Centre for South East Asian Studies, Gauhati University. They contributed immensely in making the seminar a memorable event. The MPhil- PhD students from Department of Political Science helped in organising the event. 

In all, the seminar witnessed participation of 28 presenters with 10 sessions including the inaugural session. Prof. Misra in his address argued that one needs to understand the ethos of the northeastern region, its plurality and diversity, its unending struggles for greater autonomy, its stress on regional priorities and above everything else, its mindset of separateness from the rest of the Indian sub-continent on several parameters. This idea of difference, of being part of the country and yet being different in so many ways, may be said to be applicable to the northeastern region including, of course, the present state of Assam which, unlike several of its hill  neighbours, has had centuries of cultural and religious ties with the rest of the Indian sub-continent.  One should not foreget when talking of political change and BJP’s success in the elections that, unlike the rest of the country, one is dealing with small nationalities, many of whom had never participated in the Indian national struggle against colonial British rule, though most of them have their  own stories of  heroic struggles against British occupation. So, any reference to the “national narrative”, must take into account that  even during the heydays of the Indian National Congress led by the tallest of leaders, this region stood for its autonomy and freedom  and always cherished its independent existence. Therefore, while discussing the BJP’s “strategic appropriation of the politics of indignity” one must always remember the region’s continued quest for greater autonomy within the Indian Union and its grave reservations about the “national narrative”. Also, can one really talk of one  “national narrative” in a country as diverse and plural as India?  While discussing the recent electoral changes and the rise of the BJP in Assam and other states of the northeastern region, it is evident that this success has not been built on any Hindutva agenda but on an agenda that has been specifically regional in content and centred around identity politics and ethnic demands. This could be said about the entire northeastern region except perhaps for Tripura where anti-incumbency clearly had its toll. But even in that state, there was no major fall in the percentage of votes polled by the CPM (42%) while the BJP mainly ate into the Congress’s share of votes which  went down from 36.5% to a mere 1.8%. Thus, it  would perhaps be a bit too early to conclude that electoral changes  have actually triggered off a major political shift in the region. The electoral success of the BJP need not, therefore, be seen as an ideological shift towards the right on the part of the people of the northeastern region and particularly in Assam. On the contrary,  recent trends in public mobilization in Assam and the northeastern states indicate a strengthening of  regional autonomous  feelings and identity concerns as against efforts by the  BJP and its ideological wing the RSS, to subtly  promote  a monochromatic and mono-cultural idea of the nation under the guise of a developmental agenda. Finally, it  would be interesting to see as to  what shape the inherent contradiction between the sub-text of regionalism and the “national narrative” of the BJP  takes in the years to come.

In his key note address, Professor Pralay Kanungo observed that regions had always been the texts rather than sub-texts in the evolution of the Indian nation. Empire-building projects in India did not succeed. Empires like the Mauryan, the Gupta and the Mughal, despite being powerful, failed to control regional suzerainty. Thus, empires in India had been fragile and short-lived. India’s struggle for independence brought different regions together on a common platform thereby ensuring India’s liberation. Though Indian Constitution declared India to be a Union of States, simultaneously, it was committed to federalism as India would be ungovernable if its pluralities and diversities were compromised. Hindu nationalism, from the beginning, was committed to a unitary India—one nation, one language and one culture. From Savrkar to Golwakar to Balraj Madhok, had no faith in federal form of government as it would be inimical to a strong united Hindu nation. Thus, Hindu nationalist leaders pleaded for adoption of Hindi and creation of linguistic states; Hindu nationalism opposed the Punjabi Subba demand of the Akali Dal and claimed that Tamil language

Hindu nationalism started introspection as it failed  to make much impact on regions and made a shift in its strategy particularly when the Congress list its monopoly in 1967 as its control on regions began to erode. The SVD experiment and later the Janata experiment brought it closer to regional parties and propelled to have a greater regional thrust and to seek legitimacy in regions and championing federalism. All through the RSS has been working through its strong organizational network cultivating conservative regional elites across India and even joining in different movements in regions where it found ideological congruence. For instance, the Sangh Parivar supported the AASU movement against illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. The success story of the Vajpayee government was also a great evidence of Hindutva’s flexibility to deal with regions. Besides, his policies in Kashmir and the Northeast demonstrated a new approach to regions.

 Meanwhile the Sangh Parivar had Successful penetrated in regions through the Ramjanmabhoomi movement. Moreover, by adopting region-specific strategies the Sangh Parivar has successfully spread the ideology of HN in remote corners of India. In the northeast it allied with indigenous community leaders and challenged Christian missionaries and to counter their influence it opened schools and hospitals

This, Vivekanda Kendra became a  fulcrum of ideological expansion and welfare activities in Arunachal Pradesh. Professor Kanungo brought out some interesting aspects of his research on HN in Arunachal Pradesh. He argued that Hindutva’s domination in Contemporary India has become a reality as Hindutva becomes regionalised, vernacularized and normalized. Simultaneously he warned that if Hindutva attempts to crush diversities and pluralities, stifle regions and threaten their autonomy then Hindutva will face the same fate of the Congress.

In his address, Prof. Mahanta argued that in contrast to a viewpoint of branding NRC as a tool of Hinduisation of a smaller nationality at the behest of BJP and RSS, one needs to look at the historical context under which NRC has been evolving. Who are the actors involved in the process of conceptualisation, evolution, articulation and implementation of NRC.  He argued that Assam adopts one of the most flexible accommodative approaches to the issues of ‘inclusive citizenship’.  The cut off date of 1971 25th March in Assam accord, inclusion of huge chunk of foreigners from 1966 to 1971 through legal and political process, amendment of citizenship laws till 2004 are some of the testimonials of  such accommodative character.  However when basic character of a smaller nationality is jeopardised by a massive growth of immigrant population, the demand for detection of illegal migrants through National Register of citizens has become more pronounced. However, he did not endorse ‘the 3 Ds’ formula of some organisations such as AASU. Prof. Mahanta urged for accommodation of the identified ‘illegal migrants’ through a process of ‘working permit’ and proportional distribution among various provincial states of India.

NATIONAL SEMINAR ON FOLKLORE AND URBANIZATION : 23 & 24 MARCH, 2018

A two-day national seminar on ‘Urbanisation and folklore: Emerging issues and perspectives’ was organised by the Department of Folklore Research, Gauhati University, in collaboration with the Indian Council for Social Science Research (NERC)Shillong and the Centre for South East Asian Studies, GU, on 23rd and 24th March, 2018. The seminar was inaugurated by the Vice Chancellor of the University Dr Mridul Hazarika, who highlighted the value of folklore research and stressed that as one of the oldest folklore departments in the country, the Folklore Research Department of Gauhati University has a legacy and responsibility to confront the challenges in an age of overwhelming technological penetration.

Dr Anil Boro, Head of the Department, in his welcome address emphasised the relevance of the topic and gave an outline of the theme of the seminar.

Prof Kishore Bhattacharjee, in his speech, shed light on the study of urbanisation and folklore and how the process of shifting rural areas into urban ones has impacted the folk life.

 

The chief guest of the session, Dr Sujay Mandal of the University of Kalyani, West Bengal, called for extending deliberations on the topic and for utilising the innumerable scope for further development in the field of folklore research. Dr Pallabi Borah offered the vote of thanks.

Altogether 103 research papers, with topics ranging from the impact of urbanisation on folklore, commodification of folklore, Assamese folklore among the young users of social media, use of new media technology in the promotion of folk materials, use of folk culture as an instrument of political campaign with special reference to electronic media of Assam, portrayal of folklore in digital world, folk speech, jokes, urban legends, graffiti, urbanization and changing world-view of folklore, commodification of folklore and urban folk festivals and ceremonies, were presented at the seminar by scholars from different parts of the country.

Established as well as budding folklorists aired their views at the seminar on the myriad dynamics and relationships between urbanization and folklore and discussed about the potential ways for retention of folklore, the press release added.

The seminar concluded with a valedictory function, which was graced by the Registrar of the University, Dr Suresh Kumar Nath, as the Chief Guest.

INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON  RESURGENCE AND REVERSALS OF DEMOCRACY IN SOUTH AND SOUTH EAST ASIA

The Centre for South East Asian Studies (CSEAS), Gauhati University in collaboration with the Department of Political Science (under UGC-SAP II), Gauhati University organised the two days international seminar on “Resurgence and Reversals of democracy in South and South East Asia on 8th and 9th March, 2018 at Gauhati University.

The Conference was inaugurated by Dr. Mridul Hazarika, the Hon’ble Vice Chancellor of Gauhati University and highlighted the importance of the theme of the Conference in integrating North-East India with South and South East Asia.Following this, Prof. Udayon Misra delivered his inaugural address of the Conference. In his address, he stressed on the importance and rationale of citizenship rights in a democratic country particularly referring to the issues associated with updating of National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam. Prof. Misra highlighted the responsibilities of a democratically elected government in ensuring and  

 protecting the interests of its citizens that is the core of a true democracy.

The keynote address of the Conference was delivered by Prof. Swaran Singh, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Prof. Singh outlined the commonalities in terms of the forms of Government the South Asia and South East Asia had experienced. Both the South Asia and South East Asia have experienced military led governments and democratically elected governments in their evolution of nation states and political systems.

Following the inaugural session, the Conference organised a special session on “China, South and South East Asia”, wherein two eminent experts on Chinese Studies namely Prof. Manoranjan Mohanty and Ambassador Prof. Phuncok Stobdan delivered their respective addresses. Prof. Mohanty who talked on “China’s Global Vision: Implications for South and South East Asia”, mentioned that China’s expansionist idea of a global power is driven by democratic vision. He considered that this Chinese global vision is guided by both political ambitions economic aspirations. He also referred to the China’s One Belt and One Road (OBOR) initiative and India’s opposition to it. He concluded his presentation with a positive note that China’s economic policies and global vision will help in building a community with shared future for mankind that will bring down global political and economic instability.

Prof. Stobdan in his presentation on ‘China’s Buddhist Diplomacy in South and South East Asia’ focused on commonalities shared by Indians and Chinese in regard to their food habits, dressing and other cultural codes. He also highlighted the practice of Buddhism in North East India and China. He considered Buddhism as one of the key determinants of Chinese diplomacy.

The valedictory address of the Conference was delivered by the eminent academician and Ambassador (Prof.) S.D. Muni of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Prof. Muni applauded Nepal’s move of transforming its nature from a Hindu theocratic state into a secular polity and termed it as an inspiring and progressive example for other countries as well. In his address, Prof. Muni outlined the significance of elections in a democracy, both in parliamentary and presidential system, where people gets the opportunity not only in choosing their representing their candidates but also to advance their interests and problems. Prof. Muni referred to the cases of Nepal and Myanmar from the South and South East Asian region as these two countries had evolved from a theocratic and dictatorial states to a modern day citizen-centric democracies that implies, as he believes, the expansion and consolidation of democracy in the South and South East Asian region. Prof. Muni concluded his address with a positive note of continuing the democratic regimes in the world and this region in particular even though they encounter political instability and chaos.

This two days Conference brought together a number of experts from both India and abroad like Nepal working in the field of Foreign Policy and International Relations and more particularly in the areas studies of South and South East Asia. A total of 14 invited resource persons presented their papers in Five Technical Sessions apart from the inaugural panel lectures and Special session on “China, South and South East Asia”. The technical sessions of the Conference were:

Technical Session 1: South Asia and South East Asia: Country Perspectives (Chaired by Ambassador (Prof.) Phunchok Stobdan

Technical Session 2:   Judiciary and Democracy (Chaired by Dr. Manindra Nath Thakur)

Technical Session 3: India-ASEAN and OBOR (Chaired by Mr. Subir Bhaumik)

Technical Session 4: Development, Democracy and Gender (Chaired by Prof. Nandana Dutta)

Technical Session 5: Primordial Identity and Democracy (Chaired by Prof. Bidyut Mohanty)

It is expected that the discussions and debates made in the brainstorming sessions will help in the policy making level and the papers will be published in the form of book from a prominent publishing house.

TRANSCENDING CULTURAL BOUNDARIES: STUDIES OF FOREIGN LANGUAGES, LITERATURE AND CULTURE IN INDIA 

The Department of Foreign Languages, Gauhati University in collaboration with  Institute of South Asian Studies, Russian State University for Humanities, Moscow, Russia and Centre for South East Asian Studies, Gauhati University organized a two day International Conference “Transcending Cultural Boundaries Studies of Foreign Languages, Literature and Culture in India” on 8-9 March, 2018 to commemorate 50 years of Teaching of Foreign Languages, Literature and Culture in the North-East India and 70 years of Diplomatic Relations between India and Russia.  The Conference has been organized as part of the Golden Jubilee celebration of the Department which was established in 1968. Throughout history, cultural forms and ideas moved across borders. In a media rich world today, it perhaps moves more than ever. The study of Language, literature and culture of another nation with a cross cultural perspective emphasizes the importance of cultural literacy and sensitivity to cultural difference both within individual societies and in the global context.

 

The teaching of Foreign Languages, Literature and Culture in the North-East India had a humble beginning with the establishment of the Department of Foreign Languages in Gauhati University in 1968 by introducing a Certificate course in Russian Language. During the journey of last 50 years, the Department could not only successfully transform itself into a premier centre for teaching-learning of Foreign Languages, Literature and Culture but also became a destination of many scholars wishing to pursue interdisciplinary research in language, literature and culture.  

It is in this context, the Department of Foreign Languages, Gauhati University decided to dedicate the International Conference to completion of the 70 years of Diplomatic relations and 50 years of teaching of Russian languages in the north-east India.

 

More than 150 delegates representing various universities from Russia, Thailand, Laos, Bangladesh and India participated in the Conference. Prof. Abhai Maurya, former Vice Chancellor, English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad delivered the key-note address, Prof. Alexander Stolyarov, Director, Institute of South Asian Studies, Russian State University for Humanities, Moscow, Russia and Prof. R. N. Menon, President, Indian Association of Teachers of Russian Language and Literature & Former Dean, Jawaharlal Nehru University graced the occasion as Guests of honour. Dr. Mridul Hazarika, Vice-chancellor, Gauhati University inaugurated the Conference.

INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE LOCATING NORTHEAST INDIA: HUMAN MOBILITY, RESOURCE FLOWS AND SPATIAL LINKAGES 

This conference belongs to the series of international conferences on Northeast India, held previously in Sikkim University (November 2016, Gangtok), Jamia Milia Islamia (February 2015, New Delhi), University of Vienna (June 2013, Austria), University of Göttingen (December 2011, Germany) and Leiden University (Spring 2006, Netherlands). It brought together a group of distinguished scholars and social scientists from different disciplines doing innovative research in Northeast India and its adjoining areas of Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Myanmar and Nepal. It also provided a platform for fruitful interaction among scholars, policy makers, community leaders and activists working in the region.

This year the conference was hosted by Department of Sociology, Tezpur University, Assam. The Centre for South East Asian Studies, Gauhati University was the main collaborator of the Conference.

Around 200 academicians, scholars and researchers from as many as 10 countries attended the 3-day event including 5 keynote lectures, 2 plenary discussions and 30 panels. A 2-day Graduate Seminar was also organized just before the start of the conference where about 30 research scholars drawn from various universities in India and abroad participated. An additional feature of this conference was the series of films and documentaries that were screened and a book exhibition where the latest books authored by the participants were displayed.

 

This conference focused in particular on ‘flows’ of people, goods and ideas, and how these combine, strengthen or obstruct one another. Northeast India is increasingly emerging as a ‘resource frontier’, that is, a provider of resources newly ‘disengaged’ from its local ownership and made available to global markets (Tsing 2003). New resource ‘chains’ are developing, extending the trajectories that channel investment, labour, profits and consumption. These transform and redefine environmental, economic and developmental interests. Resource mobilization transforms spaces, and the relationships that people maintain to these. It results in economic gain for some, often combined with the deprivation of (many) others. Northeast India has historically and politically come to constitute a region, yet an exploration of its human mobility, resource flows, and spatial linkages forces us to look across borders as well (Van Schendel 2002). This conference attempted to ‘localise’ Northeast India amidst the processes.

The inaugural programme of the conference took place in the afternoon of 9 January, 2018. The session was chaired by Professor M.M. Sarma, Vice Chancellor (Acting) of Tezpur University.  Professor Chandan Kumar Sharma, the principal organizer of the conference, welcomed the delegates and introduced the theme of the conference. Professor Rehman Sobhan, distinguished economist and the Chairman, Centre for Policy Dialogue, Dhaka delivered the Inaugural keynote address of the conference. The title of his lecture was Reimagining Asia: Boundaries without Borders. His insightful lecture emphasized on the countries in the region forsaking their frozen attitude toward their neighbours and work ward transforming their borders into boundaries of opportunity. Dr. Mridul Kumar Hazarika, Vice Chancellor of Gauhati University delivered his lecture as the Distinguished Guest on the occasion and dwelt on the importance of international collaboration in a fast changing world. He also spoke on the opportunities the Act East Policy can bring to the northeastern region. Professor Sanjoy Hazarika, Executive Director, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi, also spoke on the occasion.

 

After the inaugural keynote address, there were four more keynote addresses and two plenary sessions.

 

The first Keynote Lecture was delivered on 10 January, 2017 by Dr. Rajdeep Singha, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Guwahati on Doing Different Things: Employment Diversity, Unemployment and Inequality in Northeast India. His lecture emphasized on importance to understand the link between labour market development through employment diversifications and its impact on the poverty and inequality on the different segments of the economy, with special reference to the structural changes that are taking place in the labour market in the northeastern region. The session was chaired by Professor Raunaq Jahan of Columbia University.

 

Dr. Dolly Kikon, University of Melbourne, delivered her Keynote Lecture in the forenoon of 11 January. The title of her lecture wasOne of Us: Forging a Politics of Hope. Her lecture reflected on the ongoing conversations about the “Act East” policy and drew attention to the “Look East” era in the light of her work on human rights, violence, and militarization in the region.The session was chaired by Professor, Bengt G. Karlsson of Stockholm University.

 

In the afternoon of 11 January, the third keynote lecture was delivered by Professor Duncan McDuie-Ra, University of New South Wales, Sydney on Concrete and Culture in Northeast India.By using ‘concrete’as the subject of analysis, his lecture encouraged and emboldened researchers to consider modern ‘things’ – objects, materials, buildings – that have escaped detailed analysis but are, arguably, as instructive as the standard ways of narrating the past, present and future in the region.Professor Sanjib Baruah, Bard College, New York chaired the session.

 

Professor Sanjib Baruah, Bard College, New York delivered his Keynote Lecture titled Frontier Politics: Making Sense of Resource Flows from Northeast Indiain the morning of 12 January.The lecture outlined an argument on howthe institutions of governance of these areas, that can be traced back to the region’s colonial past – with legacies that persist into the postcolonial present – have shaped the making of Northeast India as a resource frontier. Professor Chandan Kumar Sharma of Tezpur University chaired the session.

 

The first Plenary Discussion titled Writing the Northeast was moderated by Professor Sanjoy Hazarika, Executive Director of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi in the evening of 10 January. The panelists included Preeti Gill, editor and writer, New Delhi; Mitra Phukan, novelist and short story writer, Guwahati; Ankush Saikia, Novelist, Assam/Delhi and Mona Zote, poet, Aizwal. This session discussed about their experiences and reflections on writing on northeast India and what the future holds for the writing out of this vibrant and varied literary landscape, looking at fresh interpretations of myths and maladies at an exciting time of fact and fiction of and in the ‘North East’.

 

The next Plenary Discussion was on Talking Tea: A Dialogue on the Tea Plantation Industry in Assam. The moderator of the session was Professor Virginius Xaxa, Professor of Eminence, Department of Sociology, Tezpur University.The panelists in the session included Professor Chandan Kumar Sharma, Tezpur University; Bibek Das, trade union leader,and Stephen Ekka, an activist from the tea tribe and Director of Pajhra, an NGO. The discussion flagged out various issues concerning the tea industry in contemporary Assam including the factors accounting for the ‘crisis’ in the industry and the condition of the labourers.

MEGA NATIONAL INTEGRATION CAMP COMMEMORATING INDIA-ASEAN SPECIAL SUMMIT, 2018 (Valedictory Session)

         The valedictory session of the “Mega National Integration Camp: Commemorating India-ASEAN Special Summit 2018” organised by the Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan in collaboration with the Centre for South East Asian Studies, Gauhati University was held in the Birinchi Kumar Baruah Auditorium of Gauhati University on 31st January, 2018.

        The Welcome address of the Valedictory Session was delivered by Prof. Mridul Hazarika, the Vice Chancellor of Gauhati University. He holds the belief that the strength of a country solely lies on the youth, and in making India strong and prosperous, the contribution of the young generation is enormous. He has highlighted the significance of education that holds the potential in the effective implementation of the Act East Policy, as connecting the people of these two regions  is  a  prime focus of this policy along with the  economic  integration. 

Education can better connect the people and societies of these two regions as it transcends all the territorial barriers. In his concluding remark, he has promised to provide all the necessities and requirements to the Gauhati University that can be used as a connecting point with the South East Asian Nations. 

Prof.Nani Gopal Mahanta, Director of the Centre for South East Asian Studies, in his address gave special thanks to the Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan (NYKS) for organising this mega integration event and for giving the opportunity to the Centre for South East Asian Studies, Gauhati University to conduct the Closing ceremony at the university. Prof. Mahanta had highlighted the civilisational linkages India and more especially the North East India shares with the South East Asian countries. He has emphasized the importance of ‘Track-III Diplomacy’ and ‘People-to-people Contact’ as the major channels of connecting the people and societies that would ultimately result in the integration and bonding of these regions in all the spheres. He considers that the educational exchange between the two regions can boost the ties and integrate the relation which is mandated by the Look East turned Act East Policy of India.

Following this, the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Assam, Mr. Sarbananda Sonowal delivered the special address of the valedictory session. In his opening remarks, he has given a particular call to the audience to strengthen the Indian nation by uniting the people with the help of unity and fraternity. He believes that only youth of the nation possess the ultimate ability to make the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Ek Bharat Shrestha Bharat” a grand success. The future, prosperity and well-being of a nation solely rests on its youth and India is called as the “Youngest Nation in the World”. He has extreme faith on the ability and power the youth of India possesses. The Hon’ble Chief Minister also made a reference to the Skill India Mission, the first mega mission launched by the Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi after coming into power, that seeks to provide technical skills to make the youth economically self-sufficient. He had also emphasised that national integration process is always dynamic and there are many things yet to do in uniting and integrating the Indian nation and its people.

ASEAN- INDIA DIALOGUE PARTNERSHIP: 25TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION CONFERENCE 

           The Centre for South East Asian Studies (CSEAS), Gauhati University organized the 25th anniversary of the ASEAN- India dialogue partnership celebration conference today i.e. on 23rd of Nov at the BKB Auditorium of Gauhati University managed by the department of Political Science. It was a well organised event which began with the presentation of Lao dance and music. The event was inaugurated by the Hon’ble Vice Chancellor of Gauhati University, Dr. Mridul Hazarika. The conference was attended by Dato’ Ramesh Kodammal, Chairman of the ASEAN- India Business Council, from Malaysia; HE Savankhone Razmountry, Vice Minister, Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, Lao PDR and HE Southam Sakonhninhom, Ambassador of Lao PDR to India; Habib Choudhary, Chairman, AIBC, Lao Chapter. The guest of honour was State Commerce and Industries Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary.  

           The conference was mainly to celebrate the healthy  25 years  of  relation between India and the South Asian countries and its growing diaspora. The Hon’ble Vice Chancellor of Gauhati University Dr. Mridul Hazarika and Prof. Nanigopal Mahanta , Director of CSEAS, Gauhati University through the event have informed the gathering about their fruitful visit to Lao with the initiative of Habib Chodhary where they signed a MoU with the National University of Lao under which few students of the Lao University will undertake a 3 months course in Gauhati University in the IT and Science and Technology Department. Hon’ble Vice Minister, Savankhone Rajmountry and Ambassador H.E Southam Sakonhninhom addressed the audience by describing about the country of Lao and its progressive educational development and the similarities between the two countries. Hon’ble State Commerce and Industries Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary enlightened the audience with the agenda of the Assam Govt. which is working actively for the Act East policy. He mention about the MoU signed with the Singapore Government for skill development and also about future agreements to be signed with Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. The state is also working hard for the road and air connectivity between Assam and the South East Asian countries, said by Chandra Mohan Patowary. The event concluded with a token of appreciation to Habib Choudhary, Chairman, AIBC, Lao Chapter who played the lead role in organizing the event.

INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON ‘INDIA’S ONE BELT ONE ROAD CHALLENGE: VIEWS FROM NORTH-EAST INDIA’ 

        The Centre for South-East Asian Studies, Department of Political Science, Gauhati University organized a two day’s International Conference on India’s ‘One Belt One Road’ Challenge: Views from North-East India. The Conference, first of its kind in India’s North-East, saw participation and paper presentations from across the country. The welcome address was delivered by Prof. Nani Gopal Mahanta, Director i/c, Centre for South-East Asian Studies, Gauhati University and Head of the Department of Political Science. Prof. Mahanta highlighted the objectives behind organising this Conference and stated how OBOR is different from colonialism, welfare state model, communism and the process of globalization (in the form of liberalization, privatization and globalization). He said OBOR is a conglomeration of economic and security strategies envisioning an overland Silk Road Economic  Belt and  the  21st  century  Maritime Silk  Road  to  foster trade and new markets. 

He ended by posing certain questions on pertinent issues such as- OBOR as a prospective counter narrative to globalization, India’s perceived isolation vis-a-vis its abstention from the OBOR meet as well as its position in the South Asian region, Chinese’s hegemonic counter to US and India’s response in this regard and so on.

Dr. Mridul Hazarika, The Vice Chancellor of Gauhati University in his speech pointed that the OBOR project in general and Silk Road Economic Belt in particular tries to facilitate economic reforms in Asia-Pacific and Eurasian region and he appreciated the initiative of the Centre of South- East Asian Studies, Political Science Department, Gauhati University for organizing the conference on a topic of both regional and global significance.

Shri Ram Madhav, Director, India Foundation inaugurated the session. In his speech, Ram Madhav stressed on national interest of a nation and supported India’s stand on China’s initiative on One Belt and One Road. On an apprehensive note, he opined that the main objective of the project is to provide employment opportunities to the Chinese people and to develop the economic sector of the country and considered it as a Chinese strategy to breach India’s sovereignty. He believes that India will not become an isolated country by not participating in the BRI, as it is already the member of many other significant regional organisations like BRICS, Shanghai Corporation and so on.

Jayadeva Ranade also shared the same view and concern on OBOR and India’s stand. According to him, OBOR is a grand Chinese vision for its own national interests. He has given comparison of the competitive advantage of the Chinese products than Indian manufactured goods. China wants India in this initiative for its own profit and it assumes that India might be the spoiler of this whole project. Lastly, he said that territorial claims of China in India’ s territory like areas of Arunachal Pradesh as well as Ladakh is challenging India’s sovereignty. He ended up his speech by encouraging North-East India to export its products internationally as well as develop innovative thinking for the development as well as prosperity of the region.

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