Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Southern Crossings: Indian activists and the Afro-Asian movement in the early Cold War era

What ideas and aspirations caused organizations and individuals to leapfrog the national level in favor of an Afro-Asian platform?

2018 - 2022
Carolien Stolte
NWO Veni NWO Veni
Afro-Asian Peoples Solidarity Conference 1957-8

The 1955 intergovernmental Conference of Asian-African Countries at Bandung is widely regarded as the prelude to the non-aligned movement. It is less well known that just eleven days prior, a Conference of Asian Countries that must be considered its non-state counterpart was convened in New Delhi. In sharp contrast to Bandung, which was not open to the public, the nongovernmental nature of this conference enabled thousands to attend. Its success in terms of attendance, media coverage, and the participation of writers, artists, and activists, soon gave rise to a set of additional Afro-Asian gatherings across the globe. Also in contrast to Bandung, this movement sought bottom-up, mass-based support for decolonization through popular expressions of international solidarity.



Moments like the Afro-Asian Trade Union Conference (1957) or Afro-Asian Women’s Conference (1961) cannot be categorized by ‘bloc’ membership. The collection of people and ideas that was the Afro-Asian movement showed an almost cheerful disregard of both ideological and geographical divisions. Its networks reveal where Afro-Asianism was most successful: not at the governmental level, but at an institutional one that was much more fluid. This project reconstructs Indian participation in the mentalities and sites of Afro-Asianism that drove the movement in its early years (1945-1960).

Bukharan Dancers in New Delhi, December 1955.

This project re-reads the ‘Bandung Moment’ by focusing not on intergovernmental, but on broad-based Afro-Asianism, and placing its start in Delhi. It renders visible the ideas and actions of Indian activists in this ‘Afro-Asian moment’ through the informal networks that that made the Delhi conference possible: older anti-imperialist alliances that gained new meaning in the era of decolonization, grassroots gatherings, and affective relationships. The project will argue that the early Cold War was marked by intensive popular interaction across Afro-Asia as much as by diplomatic actors. Uninhibited by the restraints of intergovernmental cooperation, these Afro-Asian activists engaged critically with the world, reassessed their politics, and built networks that cut through the political demarcations of their time.

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