Cambridge University, History
At the Fringes: the French Settlements in India c.1900-1954
This paper will explore the category of ‘space’, as understood in the context of the French presence in India. From being equal contenders for the ‘Indian empire’, by 1815, the French presence in India was reduced to five small scattered pockets, namely Pondicherry, Karikal, Chandernagore, Mahé and Yanam and a few plots of land (Masulipatam, Calicut, Surat, Balasore etc.) As a result of their insignificant presence, they also began to disappear from the narrative of colonial India. Forgotten by both the British and the French, ‘L’Inde perdue’ gradually disappeared from the story of competing colonialisms in South Asia. However, the presence of a French colonial state in India was a reality that not only shaped the lives of the inhabitants of the French Settlements and beyond but also a peculiarity with which the British in India had to contend.
The uniqueness of the French position in India lay in the fact that, even though they were geographically insignificant, they were an international sovereign power, unlike the Princely states and other subordinate powers in the sub-continent. Thus, the Anglo-French border in India often became a site at which different notions of empire and sovereignty were articulated, contested and transformed.What did the French settlements represent? For the Government of India they were ‘non-governed’ areas, which provided avenues for ‘illegal’ movement of people and commodities. Smuggling of first opium and later cocaine and arms became a major cause for worry, as did the use of this ‘space’, by criminals and political agitators to escape British law. The most famous examples are Aurobindo Ghose (1909) and Subramniam Bharti (1908). A different legal, political system also meant that the French subjects were granted universal male suffrage in 1871, though limited. Time and again the French settlements were idealised, including once by Gandhi, as spaces embodying the ideals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. These areas thus came to acquire and idyllic status in political imagination.
Elaborating on these, I am going to try and explain how the existence of the French settlements in India, provided a space, both in real and conceptual terms, for transcending British control.
Columbia University, MEALAC
Mapping the Mughals in Sanskrit Literary Culture: Cross-Cosmopolitan Encounters in Siddhicandra’s Bhanucandragaṇicarita
In his Bhānucandragaṇicarita, The Life of Bhānucandra (BhC), Siddhicandra offers an anecdotal account of the presence of Jaina scholars at the Mughal courts of Akbar and Jahangir. Despite the title of his work, Siddhi’s primary criteria for including events is not that they relate to the life of his teacher, Bhānucandra, but rather that they are encounters between Jaina intellectuals and Mughal imperial figures. Siddhicandra was not the first to write in Sanskrit about such cross-cultural interactions, particularly in the Jaina tradition. However, he stands alone as the only Sanskrit intellectual to make such encounters the primary unifying subject of a literary work. In this paper, I explore how BhC defines this new object of study in Sanskrit and consciously fashions a Sanskrit historical memory of relations with the Persian-speaking world.In the first part of the paper, I highlight Siddhicandra’s innovation against the wider backdrop of a sustained series of exchanges between Sanskrit and Persianate spheres in Mughal India. Within this larger field, Siddhi narrows his interests in several ways that allow him to use cosmopolitan exchanges to speak to a series of more localized concerns. I unpack these issues in the remainder of the paper as I explore how Siddhi envisages a dynamic relationship between power and culture under Mughal rule within a conservative, Sanskrit literary landscape.
As Siddhicandra transcreates what already existed as a historical reality, namely Jaina-Mughal relations, he designs a new type of cross-cultural encounter that reimagines the world of the Mughal court through Sanskrit literature. Such literary interactions have long been ignored in modern scholarship or mined solely for historical information. I propose, instead, to treat BhC on its own terms as a creation at the crossroads between Sanskrit and Persian cultures.
Kansas State University, Sociology, Social Anthropology and Social Work
Urban Ecology and Crises of Space in South Asia
The concept of urban ecology and space is very vital to the study of urbanism as a way of life in South-Asia. Presently, the urban space is riddled with problems most of which are due to human intervention. The problems are relating to the forces of industrialization and urbanization which actually lead to the problems of overpopulation and overpopulation often leads to the environmental problems due to the scarcity or the lack of resources. The major focus of the paper is to formulate an understanding of urban ecology and the influence of the environment on the urban ecology. This paper would attempt to draw insights on the kinds of environmental crises in the third world, and also on the impact of the environmental crises on the urban space. A comparative understanding of the third and the first world countries with regard to environmental crises may be analyzed through the data available. The paper would also look at questions like how environmental crises is likely to be determined by the urban space, and also how the concept of urban space suffers from crises due to environmental concerns or reasons. The problem at the level of urban ecology gives rise to certain other problems in the life of urban man, thus the forces leading to the crises at the level of the urban ecology are important and need to be analyzed. This paper would also like to analyze how urban poverty is brought about by the crises in the environment and the urban space
Remembering the Time of the Mughals: Muslim Artisans and the Importance of Zikr
In this paper, I discuss the ways in which the past is appropriated to construct identities that have been broken through a history of, as Spivak writes, “epistemic violence”. I look at the narratives of craft production by Muslim artisans in Old Delhi, which invoke the time of the Mughals, while the more recent era of late British colonialism remains absent. In particular, the remembering of the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar and his royal courts is commonly evoked, but what is curiously missing from these narratives is any recollection of the three elaborate “Imperial Assemblages” in Delhi orchestrated by the British in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In studies of memory and nostalgia, it is commonly argued that the act of remembering the past imbues the present with forms of value and authenticity. This restorative capacity of remembering is certainly valid for many artisans in Old Delhi, who are constantly confronted with the de-valuation of their craft due to the drive for mass production and export. In this paper, however, I want to focus on another aspect of remembering, which is located within instantiations of Islamic notions of time. I will look at remembering through the Sufi idiom of zikr (loosely translated as recollection) as it is embodied by artisans. I argue that these profoundly embedded notions of time collapse distinctions between faith, ritual and work practices and consequently pose incisive challenges to conceptions of modernity, particularly those rooted in India’s colonial past.
UC Santa Barbara, Ethnomusicology
Reassessing the Shift from Muslim to Hindu Dominance in North Indian Classical Music
This paper brings new evidence and critical perspectives to debates regarding the nationalization, classicization, and Hinduization of Indian music during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Specifically it addresses one of the most profound changes resulting from these processes: a shift in population of professional musicians from Muslim to Hindu, particularly within the vocal genre of khyal, the most wide-spread form of Indian classical music, and in several instrumental traditions. While scholars have made efforts to both critique Hindu domination and champion the voices of Muslim musicians who negotiated the shift, this paper shows that in doing so they have made essentialist claims regarding the imperviousness of a Muslim past and the intentionality of a Hindu nationalist present that, for all their progressive political intentions, reduce the complexity of social negotiations and obscure the collaborations between Muslims and Hindus during an earlier era. Through oral narratives and newly discovered primary sources, this paper attempts to reconstruct the history of a family of Hindu musicians who first entered the field of music by apprenticing themselves to Muslim hereditary professionals in the early nineteenth century. In addition to questioning the invented tradition of a Muslim intransigent monopoly, this history reveals an alternative path of Hindu musical participation that precedes the processes of national-classicization. By historicizing the shift from Muslim to Hindu, this paper seeks to understand the complexity and irreducibility of music’s modernity while attending to the risks of essentialism inherent in our work as social and cultural historians.
York University, Political Science
The Necessary Incompletion of “Progress”: Epistemology, Temporality and Subjectivity
Within post-colonial and anti-racist scholarship, it has been argued that the de-colonization of minds and imaginations is integral to visions for social transformation. By foregrounding and politicizing the imagination, these contributions indicate the necessity of attending to the relationship between knowledge and subject formation. However, it is precisely around the category of subjectivity that recent scholarship has raised concerns, by examining the ways in which it is bound to and limited by Euro-centric assumptions, in which “other” bodies are temporally distanced from the modern and scripted as embodiments of the past. As such, our epistemic frames are unable to recognize ways of being, knowing and inhabiting the world located in historical trajectories that are different from those of a modernist narrative of human progress (Mahmood, 2005). This paper will attempt to contribute to these discussions which aim to accord more complexity to our understanding of subjectivity, and correspondingly, to the nexus of knowledge/ power. Specifically, it will examine the significance of temporality(s) for tracing what Spivak calls the “itineraries of the subject” (1988). I begin by examining how competing understandings of the spatio-temporal dimensions of modernity have consequences for how we theorize the kinds of claims made upon, and knowledge(s) produced about, modernity by those subjects written out of or occupying the borders of, a Euro-centric narrative of progress. I suggest that it is necessary to go beyond the identification and critique of the linear, homogenous time-space of Euro-centric capitalist modernity, and consider the possibility of writing the social, and thus, the subject, through multiple temporalities, in order to disrupt the terms upon which knowledge about “othered” bodies is produced. Through an analysis of India’s National Knowledge Commission, specifically, the series of Reports to the Nation it has published with the objective of transforming India into a “knowledge society”, I illustrate how this interrogation of knowledge, subjectivity and temporality can further our understanding of how narratives of globalization are framed and contested in post-colonial societies such as India. Reading these reports as an articulation of multiple temporalities which conflict, align and stabilize in particular ways enables us to consider the subject(s) assumed in the creation of a knowledge society in a way that can account for the historical trajectories, discursive formations and social relations that are subordinated in theorizations of subjectivity that assume a linear, homogenous conception of time.
University of Chicago, Anthropology
Death of a Mazdur: Force, Respect, and Atonement in Proletarian Delhi
This paper discusses the death of a migrant mazdur (wage worker), who died from an accident incurred while pursuing the payment of his wages in an export factory of contemporary industrial Delhi. I describe the turbulent events leading to his death, the politics surrounding his last rites, and the aftermath of his death, in the struggle of his co-workers to protect their jobs and secure employment for his widow. The paper probes proletarian understandings of the person, as constituted in the body (sharir) and soul (atma), both deserving of respect (izzat), which may be violated by political rituals of protest, and delves into ideas of the non-corporeal existence of the person as wandering spirit and witnessing presence. The paper discusses proletarian categories for describing persons, within conditions of difficult and depleting work, as ‘quasi-dead’ or ‘animate corpses’, who intimate death within life. The paper draws upon the writings of Freud, Weil, and Gandhi in seeking to demonstrate how the forces of life (eros), truth, and non-violence are able, at times, to restrain the workings of the forces of necessity (ananke) and death (thanatos) in workers’ worlds.
University of Kent, School of English/ Centre for Colonial and Postcolonial Research
The Construction of Male Colonial Modernity in the Urdu Literary and Public Realm of the Late Nineteenth Century
I will be approaching this question with reference to the broad category of models of personhood in the study of South Asia. With specific reference to an early Urdu novel, The Son of the Moment (Ibn-ul-Vaqt) by Nazir Ahmad, published 1888, I propose to look at the construction of North Indian male modernity, particularly in the wake of the Revolt of 1857. This I will treat with reference to three particular frames of analysis. First, the relationship between Revolt and reform, and its direct consequences on the person and habits of the reformer and an entry into consciously courted modernity through a reviewed relationship with anglicisation. Second, the recasting of the instrumentalist position of the class of native interpreters envisaged by the Macaulayan programme (culminating in the later 19th century agenda of useful, didactic prose) as a subjective and polemical space for self-fashioning and political engagement. In particular I will explore how the aesthetics and acts of prose writing, rational argument, and public address are pressed into its service. Insofar as these acts and aesthetics relate to a new configuration of the individual and the community (Margrit Pernau argues that with the formal dissolution of Mughal rule, there is post-’57 a concentration of focus on the individual, rather than the state/monarch, as the validating unit of Muslimness of the community), it would be productive to explore the implications of authorship and public speaking in later 19th century Urdu discourse. At their broadest, the questions are who speaks, for whom, to whom, and how. Nazir Ahmad’s status as an early Urdu novelist, a participant in didactic causes, an author of ‘prize-winning adab’, an highly popular writer among the Urdu reading public, a continuing partaker of the conventions of the dastaan and the ghazal, and a prolific and impressive public speaker make him a complex and relevant study for emergent models of male modernity in the Urdu public realm. Lastly, Nazir Ahmad’s most well known and indeed, ‘prize-winning’ novels are those concerned with the conduct of women’s lives (The Bride’s Mirror) and the family (The Repentance of Nusooh). The Son of the Moment, despite its subject being the ‘Mutiny’, is a less known and celebrated novel, and it would be worth considering why the colonial focus on women’s spaces and female reform seems to have been accompanied by a relative subordination of texts and practices relating to the conflicted politics of the construction of male modernity in late nineteenth century Urdu discourse.
University of Chicago, Anthropology
The coming of the Thali: Metaphoric interpretations of objects in the production of meta-narratives of ancient Indian history
The historical study of ancient India has been dominated by a particular meta-narrative which has over the last 50 years set the agenda, framed the questions and enunciated the key categories for any such project about the ancient pasts of south Asia. Central to the dominant meta-narrative and in different ways for those who contest it are particular modes of negotiating questions of text and archaeology, which crucially structures the form and content of the histories which are produced. Nationalist, Colonialist or Revisionist, all imaginaries of the ancient South Asian past have taken the category of ‘Aryan’ as an a priori and have organized all else, including diverse material cultures around such a starting point.
This paper shall proceed in a two-fold manner, the first part examining and highlighting the reasons why an ineluctable return to text-based categories has always framed the interpretation of archaeological artifacts. The second part relocates the discussion to the northern half of the subcontinent and in particular to the debates which frame the archaeology of the Ganga basin. Specifically, it shall draw attention to how archaeological ceramics in particular have served perversely as carriers and agents of absolutely any ethnic or racial charge they could be imbued with. This paper examines shifts in specific categories of ceramics: looking particularly at the finely produced table wares which are documented in the archaeological record for the region. The emplotment of the Harappan civilization in any of these narratives has posed awkward problems and a discussion of the emergence of thali like tableware ceramics serves as one of the most useful and graphic sites to evaluate and revisit these foundational debates. This paper re-examines the evidence and the genealogy of those interpretations in light of the recent archaeological documentation of more varied patterns in the Ganga basin and explores the implications of the possibilities of alternate narratives which could be built more centrally around an archaeological understanding of ancient south Asian pasts. In conclusion this paper shall use these discussions to ask questions of the objects themselves and highlight how their testimony can help raise substantive critiques of the dominant discourse and outline new paths into the questions of identity and ethnicity foundational to the study of early south Asia.
Columbia University, International and Global History
Woven Stories and Dyed Motifs: Indian textiles in Colonial Mexico
Indian textiles have received some scholarly attention by historians who have studied their role in early modern global trade and others who have written about their impact on Southeast Asian and European fashion and design. This paper investigates the unique place of Indian textiles in Mexican history to show how the study of material objects can reveal connections that have been obscured thus far in early modern history. In addition, the paper will argue that such a study can also help us understand how people interpreted and incorporated foreign objects in that time.These arguments will be explored through two different objects, la China Poblana and the paliacate. La China Poblana was a slave from India who became a hero in Mexico in the seventeenth century. Today she is often credited with giving birth to the Mexican national dress because she was imagined as wearing flowing, colorful garments from India. Although she was not responsible for creating the dress, the story is not entirely implausible since Indian textiles could be found in colonial Mexican markets. They were brought on the Manila Galleon from the Philippines along with other commodities such as Chinese porcelain and Japanese lacquer.
One such object on these ships was a block-printed cotton handkerchief from India that is known as the paliacate in Mexico. Adorned with Indian motifs the handkerchief’s origins are obvious to the knowing eye, but unlike la China Poblana its Indian heritage is all but forgotten and it has become a part of Mexican daily life. My paper will argue that the study of material objects, such as Indian textiles, gives us the opportunity to consider South Asia’s connections with parts of the world that were not part of the British empire. Also, by comparing la China Poblana and the paliacate the paper will consider how the materiality of the object affects the way it is incorporated into a new society; it will ask how stories were woven about la China Poblana and how the foreign motifs of the paliacate were made local.
Columbia University, MEALAC
Visualizing Masculinity: Men and Masculinity in Tamil Visual Culture, 1870 – present
Masculinity is an important category of literary, historical, and anthropological analysis, but it is often overlooked in scholarly discussions of gender in South Asia. This dearth is unfortunate because colonial and postcolonial south India is a fecund site to develop a critical study of masculinity. From the turn of the early modern period, masculinity emerged at the center of struggles to define Tamil language, culture, society, and history. Hotly contested debates over Tamil masculinity (aanmai) manifested in a wide range of cultural expressions in the public sphere. Sculpted by the nature of colonial modernity, and shaped by the complex interactions between vernacular and cosmopolitan cultures, Tamil publics consist of a wide range of cultural forms, including visual culture. Scholars of modern South Asia recently integrated the politics of gender, sexuality, caste, body, community, and nation into the study of publics and, in doing so, continue to widen the objects of analysis to include an array of textual, visual, and performative practices. However, critical studies of masculinities and visual culture in southern India in this literature are few and far between. This paper will examine mass-produced images of men and masculinity in Tamil south India from the 1870s to the present. This vast visual archive, which includes billboards, advertisements, cinema posters, political images, and calendar art, provides a spectacular entry into the historically dynamic relationship between visuality and performativity. New technologies increased the circulation of visual representations of masculinity and these often intersected with embodiments of gender, caste, body, community and the nation. An in-depth look at consumption and production habits of public culture produced by technologies like the printing press, photography, and film will shed light on the varied performances of Tamil masculinity.
University of Illinois at Chicago, Jane Addams College of Social Work
Disability in India: Neoliberal State and Personhood
Andhra Pradesh (AP), a state in south India, is widely hailed as a forerunner of neoliberalization in India, a state that has succeeded in driving home the mandate through large-scale reforms in governance. In line with neoliberal governmentality, AP, with funding from the World Bank, adapted self-government techniques, such as, community driven development, decentralization, social capital, and grass-root empowerment to limit the scope of the state. This paper focuses on one such community driven development project in rural Andhra Pradesh, that organizes large-scale grassroot self-help groups (that of women, Dalits and disabled people among others), with a view to shift state’s developmental responsibility on these collectives in the name of self-help. Based on my ethnographic fieldwork in AP, I will tease out the politics of “self-help,” underlying these self-help group projects, with special reference to disability as an analytic. I explore how this politics unfolds in the cultural and economic context of south India, ways in which it is depoliticized, appropriated, and even reclaimed, by all actors concerned—the state, civil society and disabled people. Though the notion of self-help carries possibilities for disabled people, the project is simultaneously fraught with contradictions given its culturally removed understandings of what constitute personhood in South Asian context, and its disconnect with the larger structural divide that underscores rural India.
I foreground the discussion on disability as a subaltern category, a growing constituency, a relatively new identity category that offers new perspectives to understand and critique debates around personhood in the context of India in particular, and South Asia in general.
University of Chicago, Anthropology
The “Value” of Action: Money and Morality in Phulbari, Bangladesh
This paper captures a particular moment in the political culture of Bangladesh of recent times in which popular commentaries about political power relied on a complex dialectic of its revelation and concealment. It is an excerpt from my ethnography on an anti-mining movement in Phulbari in northern Bangladesh the research for which took place during a nation-wide state of emergency. Here, I focus on a small episode from Phulbari – an act of plunder – to complicate the otherwise dominant framework of “resistance” in which such actions are narrativized. The events around money as a form of value are symptomatic, I aruge, of a historical moment when currency had become a material embodiment of the corruption of those in power. More importantly, the analysis that I offer looks beyond “resistance” to situate the actions on the ground as efforts as value creation at a time when larger discourses of crisis around value, of both moral and material kinds, created the conditions for the violent repression of the Phulbari movement and the declaration of the Emergency.
University of Chicago, Divinity School, Philosophy of Religion
Crossing the Street with Devadatta
When Devadatta crosses the street and we ask for his reason, we recognize a distinction between action and movement. While our demand for reasons is comical in the case of other featherless bipeds, it is part and parcel of our recognition of Devadatta as a person–minimally, a being accounted capable of action as distinct from movement.
Can one maintain a distinction between action and ‘mere’ movement if one gives up on an account of persons which takes them to consist in a self-identical continuant? Some think not, a view which holds agent causation responsible for the individuation of events as actions. Vasubandhu, among other Buddhist philosophers, defends a conception of persons that excludes any role for a self-identical continuant in the constitution of beings like us. We are, on the view he defends, ‘streams’ consisting in causally connected, momentary events, not one of which could count as a referent for ‘I-thoughts’, not one of which, possesses enough structure to count as an action per se, or as an agent for a later action. The causal connectedness of the series, furthermore, has been described in such a way as to count as a variant of Humean ‘mental ballistics’, a reduction of the possible relations among events to a mechanical model of causation. These considerations seem to lie behind the tendency to treat Vasubandhu as being committed to–when he is not described as endorsing–a view which reduces actions to movements. A charitable form of this interpretation has it that Vasubandhu has principled reasons for denying that there is a metaphysically deep distinction between actions and other, passive, events.
Recognizing the merits of this interpretation, I argue nonetheless that any reading of Vasubandhu which has him endorsing a reduction of actions to movements importantly misconstrues the metaphysical picture of persons developed by Vasubandhu. Basing myself on two of Vasubandhu’s essays, one devoted to action (karmasiddhiprakarana), another to persons (pudgalapratisedhaprakrana), I develop a different account. On my reading of Vasubandhu, Devadatta need not be a self-identical continuant in order to count as crossing the street, as opposed to being merely moved across it. Our intuitive distinction between actions and movements is captured in a genuine, metaphysically deep distinction between ways in which ‘streams’ can be constituted.
University of Chicago, SALC
Religion, Territory, Language: Aspects of Identity and Politics in the Deccan Sultanates
Following the disintegration of the Bahmani Sultanate around 1500 C.E., the Deccan faced a process of political fragmentation. Bahmani officers were struggling to carve independent polities for themselves, local factors strived to mobilize themselves upwards, and neighboring powers tried to increase their influence in the region. The social situation was not any simpler: each of the newly established polities was comprised of various linguistic, social, and religious groups negotiating and fighting for status and power within the ranks of the political, military and administrative elites.To what extent were the political groups defined in their own eyes? A few studies from the last decade suggest that at least a few of the actors in the period may have, indeed, developed a sense of identity, creating well-defined closed groups. The nature of these group identity structures seems to be comprised of various components acting simultaneously in both positive and negative manners. Factors such as religion, language, origin, territory and historical memory had much significance in the way the groups perceived themselves, and hence, acted within the larger political and social spheres. Albeit the elite groups presumably possessed clear sense of identity, contemporary writings do not explicitly address those notions. A possible way for us to explore this issue is by analyzing the actual policies and behavior of these actors, and reconstructing their perception.
Within those limitations, this paper will try first to address the issue of the various components of identity prevailing among some of the groups sharing political power in the Deccan, and second, to analyze those groups and their actions not as isolated actors but between each other, within the larger political, social and diplomatic system. Patterns of cooperation, coexistence and conflict will be examined, and possible model to explain the politics of the period vis-à-vis issues of multiple identities will be suggested.
University of Chicago, SALC/English
Pastor’s Power: Writing Life’s Labor in Colonial Orissa
Late in the eighteenth century, evangelical Christianity entered colonial India with the promise of producing good political subjects. In its own language, it inaugurated a political project of public welfare; reformed the bodily, intellectual, civil and religious habits of Indians and trained them in leading a public life committed to producing public good. Nonconformist missions dissociated political life from questions of sovereignty and made the model available to Indians prior to the historical emergence of nationalism in the colony. My paper will explore certain features of this pre-nationalist political life of the colonized subject. Focusing on Baptist missions to Orissa, I will offer a reading of some Victorian preaching manuals and journals of early Oriya pastors, which were published in England during 1830s, and 40s. My reading will be organized around three basic categories, those of power, labor and representation. The paper will start by discussing the technologies of power a pastor mobilized to effect public welfare. It will move on to describe a governing principle of a pastor’s public life: the crucial idea of ‘self-denying labor’ or labor that did not produce property. The paper will come to a close by studying the ways in which Oriya pastors represented their lives for Victorian consumption.
Heidelberg University, Cluster of Excellence
Prostitution in Nepal and North-Eastern India: Discourses around Gender, Self-Perception and Sexuality
For decades social and medical sciences have treated women and men involved in prostitution, i.e. exchanging sexual activity for profit, as “deviant” and a “risk group”. The opinion of those involved generally remains ignored. This is especially true for Nepal and North-Eastern India, where tightly bound cultural traditions, political tensions and international development programmes shaped a transcultural meaning of prostitution excluding the women and men (mostly transgender) concerned. Providing a clearer picture of the difference between the actor’s self-perception and the imaginary of prostitution may provide information on multilayered social, political and cultural interferences influencing the understanding of prostitution, revealing asymmetrical shifts in concepts and traditions under political and social tensions. The theoretical framework employed will draw upon Appadurai’s “scapes”, “deeply perspectival” constructs resulting from historical, political and linguistic environments, where individual actors embody and play important roles (Appadurai, 1990). Fieldwork will be conducted in either or both Nepal and North-eastern-India, where prostitution has been traditionally addressed in relation to female trafficking. Recently Nepal’s internal movement has risen, fuelled by economic hardship, increased foreign presence and the Maoist conflict. The capital Kathmandu constituted the epicentre on these trajectories and it is here that prostitution flourished along with “transaction venues” such as “dance bars”, “cabin restaurants” and “massage parlours”. Another seemingly concealed phenomenon seems to occur in Darjeeling, West Bengal’s hill station, where stories about “flying sex girls” are not uncommon. The matter however seems not to enter official discourse, still focusing on trafficking. My attempt is to draw an ethnography placing women and men’s narratives and lives at the centre, evaluating their position within dominating local iscourses and those deriving from the international arena. How does their self-perception compare to what is said about them?
Moderator: Gary Tubb
University of Chicago, Divinity School, History of Religions
Myth and Anti-Myth in European and Indian Scholarship on the Licchavis of Vaiśālī
This paper is a study of both Indian and Western scholarship on the oft censured story of the origin of the Licchavis of Vaiśālī and nationalistic laudatory citation of the Licchavi’s supposed republican government. It is part of a longer paper that proposes a new interpretation for Buddhagosa’s Licchavi origin story, which will be given in condensed form. In this paper, I intend to argue that scholarship’s fixations on etymology and lineage purity through incestuous marriage are determined by Western hermeneutic obsessions with philology, the relatively “anomalous” and “shocking,” and an overemphasis on lineage to the detriment of a clearer understanding of caste. These circumscribed attentions have impelled Western scholarship, as well as Indian scholarship which has adopted the historical methodology of the metropole, to overlook many important dimensions of the Licchavi origin story. Furthermore, the ubiquitous overstatement of the myth’s lack of historicity by Indian scholars belies an attempt to eradicate the fanciful in Indian history, and thus to gainsay Orientalist critiques of Indian thought. The attention on historicity is also intended to suggest objective acumen on par with an idealized Western scholarship. Finally, the frequent citation of the Licchavis as an exemplum of India’s republican past is a move by Indian scholars and politicians to create a nationalist, mythical history of republicanism in order to challenge the West’s colonialist perception of India’s need for external, despotic rule. The historical Licchavis, along with other gana-sanghas, have been co-opted to equate ancient India’s history with that of ancient Greece, but it appears that this was only feasible if the more legendary elements of that history, their so-called myths, were vehemently discounted. In sum, the paper will address how scholastic agents writing on the Licchavis and their origin story have constituted what is and is not historical knowledge.
Columbia University, MEALAC
Translating Knowledge: Indo-Persian Awareness of Vernacular Language and Culture
This paper will consider the degree to which knowledge systems are dependent on the high prestige languages in which they are typically expressed. Complex knowledge is clearly wrapped up in the language in which it is written down, and yet knowledge often travels across linguistic boundaries. In pre-modern societies where the high prestige language of knowledge production (e.g. Latin in Europe or Persian in India) was different from the local vernacular, there was an implicit act of translation that we are apt to forget in Anglophone academia because we write our scholarship in the same language that we speak every day. It is no accident that some of the earliest fragments of European vernacular languages are bits of “local speech” embedded on a lark into Medieval Latin texts. But what happens when scholarship in the high prestige language deals with a vernacular topic, for example, not theology but animal husbandry? Indeed, what are the strategies employed by texts written in scholarly languages to describe the vernacular?
The question of how the vernacular was represented is critical for our understanding of late pre-colonial South Asian intellectual history because vernacularization (the gradual replacement of a “classical” language with a vernacular language) is considered one of the hallmarks of Modernity. The moments when scholars writing in Persian consider the vernacular are fascinating: Indo-Persian writers have a very sophisticated theoretical grasp of how language works and yet they are completely uninterested in the rigorous classification typical of modern linguistics; for them the vernacular is worth acknowledging but not specifically defining. This paper will primarily consider two Indo-Persian texts, Mirza Khan’s Tuḥfat al-Hind (c. 1675) and Khan-e Arzu’s Mus̤mir (c. 1760), both of which directly address what we would call sociolinguistics. Full vernacularization did not happen in northern India until comparatively late (the nineteenth century) and yet these Indo-Persian studies of the vernacular show a society with distinct parallels with Early Modern Europe.
University of Chicago, South Asian Languages and Civilizations
The Early History of the Unspeakable
The Jaina syādvāda system of logic which arose in the 6th and 7th centuries CE was the product of a complex and mutual influence between the epistemic philosophy of the sacred āgamas and the works of the earliest Jaina logicians. Syādvāda is based on three primary categories of being: astitvam, nāstitvam, and avaktavyatvam (existence, non-existence, and inexpressibility/unspeakability). Frequently dismissed as an entirely irrational concept, the idea of ‘unspeakability’ has troubled many non-Jaina scholars and philosophers, but there have been few attempts to situate the concept in a historical context. The most accessible and influential analyses of ‘unspeakability’ are based primarily on late works such as Malliṣeṇa’s 13th-century Syādvādamañjari, rather than the foundational texts of the syādvāda system.
I examine several of the earliest known definitions of avaktavyatvam in the works of the syādvāda logicians, as well as several quotations from canonical literature embedded in these passages. By considering the ways in which pre-existant āgamic and tarkic categories were reinterpreted by the syādvāda school, I demonstrate how avaktavyatvam serves both to acknowledge the limitations of human reasoning and to schematically incorporate them into a system of formal logic.