1. Safoora Arbab, University of California, Los Angeles
North West Frontier of India: The Creation of Borders and Pakhtun/Afghan Representations
The north west of India, historically a fuzzy unbounded space of passage, was progressively incorporated and territorially delineated by the idea of the nation-state, first by British India, and then by Pakistan. The north west of India, historically a fuzzy unbounded space of passage, was progressively incorporated and territorially delineated by the idea of the nation-state, first by British India, and then by Pakistan. Designated as the North West Frontier Province in 1901, it was mutated into the contentious frontier of empire upon which the great game of nations was waged, and still is, now as the site of the war on terror. The hegemony of the land, and the closed borders necessary to uphold the idea of the nation-state were perpetrated in tandem with, and dependent upon, particular representations of a people—of the Pakhtuns and Afghans—which were framed within colonial desires of control, so that the once honorable tribal or noble savage transmutes into the inherently violent, uncivilized, Muslim zealot, in the ethnographic texts of Mountstuart Elphinstone, Alexander Burnes, Henry Bellew, and Winston Churchill, amongst others. I want to highlight that the enclosure of this land or its physical borders, are predicated upon, legitimated and enabled by, the production of clearly delineated epistemological categories, while dislocating self-imaginaries counter to such representations. Drawing upon Pashto literature I will present contra-imaginaries that frame the non-violent movement of Indian independence led by Abdul Ghaffar Khan, (also known as the Frontier Gandhi), as an example of what Walter Mignolo calls “border thinking,” and also point to why it was necessary to violently crush such Pakhtun self-conceptions by state-systems. The crucial question in the ravagement of the land and the people, first by colonialism, then by the Pakistani nation-state, and now by US empire, is whether this is also the destruction of the last vestiges of an ethos belonging to the few remaining nonstate spaces. And why such spaces and imaginaries are perceived as perilous to the framework of the nation-state.
2. Pierre-Julien Harter, The University of Chicago
Path and conceptualization: an investigation of vikalpa in the Path of Preparation
The Abhisamayālaṃkāra is a Buddhist text from the 4th century that has yielded an impressive amount of commentaries in India and later in Tibet. The text explores the metaphysical and soteriological principles that support the possibility of a Path (the process that leads an individual from our ordinary condition to the perfect state of Buddhahood) in the context of late Indian Buddhism. At that time, the reflections upon emptiness (inspired by madhyamaka or yogācāra trends) were so dominant that some scholars wondered whether emptiness was not making impossible the pursuit or even the existence of any Path. In particular, the corpus of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra shows a specific suspicion towards the notion of conceptualization (vikalpa), and interpreted the Path as the gradual removal of conceptualizations. My paper proposes to present the controversy among Tibetan commentators over the question whether the Path of Preparation (prayoga-mārga) is itself conceptual or only associated with conceptualizations. The Path of Preparation is the moment on the Path that precedes immediately and introduces to the Path of Vision (darśana-mārga), which is defined by the direct and non-conceptual vision of the truth (the four Noble Truths). Consequently, determining exactly in what relationship the Path of Preparation stands with conceptualization is shaped and shapes how commentators understand the nature of conceptualizations, the function of the Path, and its capacities. Tibetan commentators, more than Indian, display differing perspectives on the matter. In comparing the positions of Ar byang chub ye shes (11th century), Dol po pa shes rab rgyal mtshan (1292-1361), and Yag ston sangs rgyas dpal (1350-1414), I want to show how this issue is significant for our understanding of the notion of the path and for the consequence it has for the soteriological paradigm at work in the conceptions of the Path.
3. Chandani Patel, The University of Chicago
Brown East Africans: The Writing of Precarious Genealogies
When scholars write about the South Asian “diaspora” in England and North America, there is rarely an engagement with the different historical circumstances under which its members arrive at these places, occluding differences in class, religion, language, and also varying ideas of “home”. This paper will examine how M.G. Vassanji and Abdulrazak Gurnah emphasize the heterogeneity of East Africa, creating a space to articulate the precarious position of South Asians in both colonial and post-colonial configurations of the region. Reading Vassanji’s The Book of Secrets (1994) and Gurnah’s Desertion (2005) specifically allows us to consider the portrayal of the contradictions amongst the South Asian community, the reflections on the writing of history, and perhaps most importantly, the problematic depiction of South Asians’ claims to East Africa at the same time that this possibility for belonging is foreclosed. Home in both these novels, we understand, does not refer to India but to Africa.
Working against the reading of South Asian East Africans as either being caught between two loyalties or left without an attachment to either, these novelists demonstrate the connection to Africa that many of them foster and bring with them even when they are forced to leave the region. I ask, then, how this community challenges the idea of a diaspora that maintains a relationship with a “homeland” as well as how its history illuminates another trajectory of the transnational South Asian community, one that accounts for the multiple ways in which its members think about belonging. Vassanji and Gurnah’s stories of the marginalized South Asian East African community reveal their particular conditions, while at the same time meditating on the construction and reconstruction of history through fragmented memories, a process I will try to understand in this paper.
4. Julia Kowalski, The University of Chicago
Weapon or Support? Ideologies of Care and Matrimonial Legislation in Jaipur, India
In contemporary India, matrimonial legislation is the subject of great controversy. On one hand, laws protecting women’s access to property and support in the face of neglect and violence are seen a necessary interventions to protect women as vulnerable citizens of the state. Yet no sooner are such laws passed than they become objects of intense suspicion, as commentators fret that they are merely “weapons in the hands of unscrupulous women.”  How can one piece of legislation come to be seen as both weapon and support? In this paper I explore this puzzle through an ethnographic examination of efforts to implement the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 among NGO practitioners during the period of my fieldwork in Jaipur. I argue that NGO practitioners frame their work to implement the law as caring labor (seva), presenting their interventions on behalf of both the law and women who seek its support as caring labor, and claiming that the presence of violence in women’s lives represents failures of care on behalf of both individual families and the state. Yet by framing their interventions in terms of care, practitioners introduce the seeds of this discourse of legal abuse. Because Jaipuri ideologies of care posit women’s entitlements to care and support in terms of their roles as structurally dependent mothers, daughters-in-law, and wives within a distinctly Indian family structure, claims about care destabilize efforts to grant women their rights through the legal system as unmarked citizens of the state, making women who turn to legal, rather than familial, forms of support appear manipulative and cunning. As a result, by using claims about care to frame these new forms of institutional work, NGO practitioners draw together state, family, and NGO resources to produce—sometimes inadvertently—new claims about authority and dependence.
5. Deepa Acevedo, The University of Chicago
Divine bachelors, female devotees and the law at Sabarimala 2006-2011
In June 2006 an astrologer practicing at the Ayyappan temple at Sabarimala, Kerala, declared that the temple had been defiled by an impure presence—specifically, a woman’s. Since Ayyappan, the bachelor son of Vishnu and Shiva, is believed to dislike the presence of physically mature women, female devotees cannot visit Sabarimala between the ages of 10 and 50. Shortly after the astrologer’s declaration, a minor Kannadiga actress came forward to admit that she had accidentally entered the sanctum during a pilgrimage in 1987, when she was in her twenties, but that she had been unaware of the prohibition. This paper examines the consequences of that admission as it pertains to tensions between individual rights and the rights to self-management of religious institutions in a state where the government administers Hindu temples. In particular, I examine how the judicial concept of “essential religious practices,” as measured by scriptural support, was appropriated and adjusted by participating judges, activists and government officials.
6. Nabanjan Maitra, The University of Chicago
A Play on Words: Krittibasa’s Ramayana as Poem and Performance
This paper examines the implications of understanding the Krittibasa Ramayana as located in the genre of Pancalis – long religious, narrative poems that were performed by a singer or a troupe of singers. It argues that by understanding the medieval Bengali text as part of this genre, we can better imagine the systematic way in which Krittibasa adapted Valmiki’s Sanskrit Ramayana into the Bengali idiom. The paper identifies three differences between the same story – the story of Dasharatha’s curse — in two different Ramayanas; the Valmiki Ramayana and the Krittibasa’s Ramayana from medieval Bengal. First, the location of the story in the two texts points to a radical transformation of the chronological organization of the narrative from Valmiki’s layered structure to Kritiibasa’s strictly linear chronology. This linearity, I argue was critical to the performance of the text, and further that the performative element of the text should be the primary hermeneutic approach to texts belonging to the Pancali genre. Second, I demonstrate the deployment of subversion in the story in the Krittibasa text, a serious departure from the grave ethical concerns of the episode in Valmiki. I argue that subversion –pervasive in Pancali literature – ought to be understood as an integral element of performance. I suggest that subversion introduces a range of possibilities in the performance of the text, from the humor engendered by reversing the outcome expected by an audience, to providing a critique of institutions of control. Lastly, I adduce evidence to show that a number of Puranic stories, absent in the Valmiki Ramayana, were borrowed by Krittibasa for his poem. This I argued is yet another shared characteristic of Pancali texts, and could have contributed to the performance of the text, by playing on the expectations of the audience for dramatic irony or subversion.
7. Andrew Ollett, Columbia University
What is Bhāvanā?
Āpadeva in his Mīmāṃsānyāyaprakāśa (17th c.) wrote that “the entire Veda eventuates in purposive significance” (prayojanavadartha). The understanding of this significance, both as the point of human action and as the meaning of a text, was one of the goals of Mīmāṃsā, for which Mīmāṃsakas developed the concept of bhāvanā. Bhāvanā brings purposive action under an abstract structural description (X brings Y into being by means of Z) to which discourse—primarily but not exclusively Vedic discourse—can be systematically related. It establishes, in other words, an isomorphism between action and discourse, with consequences in tow for the understanding of normative statements in a text and normativity in general. Bhāvanā is therefore of critical importance to Mīmāṃsā, especially in what I will call its broad construal as a “science of discourse” (as opposed to a narrow organon for Vedic ritual), which is why Āpadeva begins and ends his text by discussing it. But bhāvanā—what it is, how it works, and how it figures in Mīmāṃsā’s philosophical system—has hardly been discussed in the Indological literature. My paper will offer a discussion of bhāvanā, first as it is sketched by several important Mīmāṃsakas (Śabara, Kumārila, Someśvara, and Pārthasārathimiśra), and secondly in comparison with other attempts to understand the nexus between action and discourse, both in India (the kāraka theory of the grammarians) and further afield (in Western moral philosophy and philosophy of language). Situating bhāvanā in these wider contexts allows us to see what is at stake in its precise characterization, and debates concerning its most basic definition, which we encounter in handbooks such as Āpadeva’s.
8. Anand Venkatkrishnan, Columbia University
Hum Hain Naye, Andaz Kyun Ho Purana? Hermeneutical Innovations in Advaita Vedānta Intellectual History
The sixteenth-century South Indian polymath Appayya Dīkṣita opens his popular encyclopedic work on historical variations in Advaita Vedānta, the Siddhāntaleśasaṁgraha (Brief Compendium of the Doctrines), with a series of debates on the śravaṇavidhi, the so-called “injunction to listen” to the teachings of the Upaniṣads. How did the topic of the vidhi, the Vedic injunction, come to gain such prominence in Advaita discourse, which, in its initial phases, tried relentlessly to distance itself from the ritualist implications of its hermeneutical predecessor, the Pūrva Mīmāṁsā (Prior Analytics)? In this paper, I will follow Appayya’s historicist instincts and extract vignettes from the intellectual history of the śravaṇavidhi, in order to argue: a) that the lure of Mīmāṁsā for Vedāntins may have owed in some way to the consolidation of monastic institutions in medieval India (13th-14th C.), and b) that the growing challenge of a rival theological school in Dvaita prompted Advaitins in the early-modern period (16th-17th C.) to make new use of this theme to draw clear sectarian lines.
9. Elaine Fisher, Columbia University
The Sources of Sectarian Debate: The Extra-textual Life of Sanskrit Philology in Seventeenth-century South India
The religious landscape of early modern South India witnessed a number of dramatic social and cultural transformations, including a significant restructuring of the institutional foundations of sectarian religious communities. Far from being restricted to the walls of the monastery or temple, these transformations coincided with new developments in the textual culture of the region, as communities of Sanskrit intellectuals began to challenge the legitimacy of rival lineages through new interpretive strategies. In particular, philological reasoning and text criticism take on an unprecedented centrality in intersectarian debate. In the place of doctrinal and philosophical critique, scholars frequently challenged rival schools on the grounds of textual instabilities in the scriptural source material of their tradition. This trend raises numerous questions about the continuing, and even innovative role of Sanskrit discourse in shaping the social and cultural reality of South India far beyond the boundaries of Brahmin villages or courtly literary societies.
This paper explores the extra-textual ambitions of this heightened text-critical reasoning, focusing on select examples of intersectarian debate between prominent Saiva and Vaisnava intellectuals in the seventeenth-century Tamil region. Fueled by a heightened awareness of the instability of textual recensions and of the potential doctrinal relevance of such variants, scholars from the late sixteenth-century onward began to confront contemporary representatives of rival sects largely on the basis of perceived misreadings of sacred texts. For instance, the sixteenth-century polymath Appayya Diksita set forth a stringent attack on Madhva for founding his arguments on unattested scriptural sources. In the present work, I trace the intensification of the trend in the seventeenth century through an examination of the works of two noteworthy authors: Narayanacarya, who marshals a Madhvite response to Appayya’s critique, and Nilakantha Diksita, who dismantles the accusation of his Vaisnava opponents that the Saiva Puranas are invalidated by their numerous textual corruptions.
10. Abhishek Kaicker, Columbia University
The Emperor’s Right-Hand Woman? Bibi Juliyana and the Mughal Harem in the Early Eighteenth Century
On the 4th of December, 1711, a Dutch Embassy approaching the Court of the Emperor Bahadur Shah I at Lahore received a signal honor from an unexpected visitor. Two miles from the city, a carriage covered in red silk arrived met the Dutch procession to lead them to the city. Inside sat the Bibi Juliyana, a European lady of great power in Bahadur Shah’s Harem, who was to subsequently play an important role in Dutch negotiations with the court. While the Bibi was clearly a figure of considerable power and importance, very little is known of her life and works, and her existence has made no dent in the historiography of the later Mughal Empire. Using a brief Persian manuscript written in the latter part of the eighteenth century, in this paper I trace the contours of the Bibi’s life and career: one so stellar that her name became the title for the chief European woman in the Harem. While much of the details presented in the manuscript are clearly apocryphal, this paper argues that the brief story of the Bibi’s life can nevertheless be read to unveil a discourse of idealized female authority within the domain of the Harem. A close study of this discourse, I suggest, enables historians to revise their understanding of the institution of the Mughal Harem as a center of political power; and to reconsider the literary tropes of Mughal decline, supposedly precipitated by rampantly powerful and uncontrollable women.
11. Marta Becherini, Columbia University
Forging Hybridity in Medieval Ladakh: Quotation and Artistic Invention in the Murals of the Sumtsek Temple, Alchi
The exquisite murals decorating the walls and ceilings of the buildings within the medieval Buddhist monastery complex at Alchi (Ladakh) represent a major source for the study of the mechanisms of circulation of artistic motifs from different traditions within the Himalayan region. The present paper focuses on the paintings that decorate the interior of the Sumtsek temple, one of the buildings within the complex, and that were produced between the end of the twelfth and the beginning of the thirteenth century by artists coming from Kashmir. Besides bearing traces of Kashmiri pictorial conventions, these paintings also carry visible hints of their myriad inspirations, largely by virtue of the centrality of Ladakh at the crossroads of civilizations. Through an in-depth exploration of a specific theme within the paintings, i.e. the representation of dancing scenes, my study shows how the impact of different artistic traditions – from Western Indian manuscript illumination to the pan-Asian production of textiles of Sasanian inspiration – may be discerned in the overall compositional scheme of the paintings as also in the representation of the figures’ dressing attires. My argument is that the makers of the murals in the Sumstek temple made deliberate references in their work not only to artistic traditions and techniques across a vast geographical area, but also to artifacts produced at different periods in time, thereby crossing both spatial and temporal boundaries. Further, I elucidate the ways in which such quotations from multiple sources were eclectically blended in order to create decorative patterns of the richest variety and visual complexity. The concluding remarks of my paper attempt an explanation of the motivations behind what appears to have been a conscious borrowing of motifs from different traditions and their adaptation to the local scheme.
12. Samiparna Samanta, Florida State University
The Diseased and the Dead: Rinderpest, Meat and Veterinary Medicine in Bengal, 1850-1920
This paper examines the spread of cattle epizootics in 19th century Bengal, and demonstrates the connection between disease control, animal protection and veterinary profession. Linking the subject of animal cruelty/protectionism to veterinary science, colonialism and knowledge-formation, it elucidates how rinderpest was at the center of a heated debate in late 19th and early 20th century Bengal that affected the Bengali bhadrolok, colonial authorities, Calcutta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (CSPCA), and veterinarians as different parties viewed disease, meat-consumption, animal cruelty, and public health in varying ways. First, I follow the interactions between the farmers, medical surgeons, go-dagas (Bengali cow doctors), colonial government and public attitudes to rinderpest, and explore the conflicts between these groups about how to control rinderpest. The contests over appropriate measures for rinderpest became part of wider debates over the extent of state intervention in the private lives of the colonized subjects and the politics of class that were taking shape in the reconfiguration of the boundaries of the colonized and colonizer, of “humans” and “animals.” Second, by examining late 19th and early 20th century Bengali periodicals, I demonstrate how cattle epizootics made diseased meat into a concrete threat. It pushed the issue of diseased meat into the political arena and quickly came to stand at the heart of bhadrolok debates on animal disease and public health. At a theoretical level, I demonstrate the ways in which animal protection/cruelty was constructed in a space where human cruelty, submission, and control were a dominant form of governance. The colonial project of protection towards domestic animals mirrored an irony in that it exposed the disjunction between the claims of a benevolent colonial state and a powerful, not-too-benign reality in which the colonial state constantly sought to control, subjugate and discipline its subjects—human and non-human.
13. Shankar Nair, Harvard University
A Sufi Translation Theory?: Reconsidering Persian Translations of Hindu Sanskrit Texts in the Mughal Period
During the height of the Mughal Empire in pre-colonial South Asia (16th-17th century C.E.), Muslim nobles, faced with a religiously plural and multicultural populace, facilitated the translation of numerous Hindu Sanskrit texts into the Persian language. While this “translation movement” had long been attributed to the reputedly liberal, tolerant, and enlightened personal inclinations of the Mughal emperors, scholars in recent decades, suspicious of essentialist and nationalist historiography, have begun to re-evaluate the phenomenon, arguing instead that practical socio-political considerations and quotidian cultural processes best explain the nature of the translation movement. What such analyses lack, however, is a sustained consideration of how the Islamic – and, in particular, Sufi – worldview(s) of the nobles in question shape the inner workings of, and motivations behind, the movement. In this essay, I take up one such translation from the Mughal period – Mīr Findiriskī’s Muntakhab-i Jūg Bāsisht, a translation of the Sanskrit Laghu-Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha – examining not only its content in relation to the Sanskrit original, but also the manner in which Sufi thought and metaphysics informs the very process of translation itself. I argue that Findiriskī’s translation instantiates an emergent Sufi framework for making sense of religious diversity and interpreting pluralism in the context of Mughal South Asia. I also consider the potential influence of Hindu Sanskrit sources on certain features of this framework.
14. Sanjeeta Aheibam, University of Hyderabad
Poetry in a Time of Terror
Indian English poetry from the North East of India suffers from the same drawback that characterizes most aspects of the region: its relative obscurity is equaled only by the typecast images that proliferate around it. Even as the North-East of India is imaged by most of mainland India in stereotypical ways, as “a troubled zone”, a land of exotic natural beauty, a place with an uneasy balance of primitivism and modernity, etc., the poetry from the region is also pigeonholed as being excessively “political” and/or “romantic”.
This paper analyzes the poetry against the sociopolitical and historical background of the region and looks at the main themes which recur and interrogates into those important aspects that the poetry from the region has been typecast as . I argue that even as the poets bear witness to the tremendous upheaval that characterizes everyday life there, to the violently troubled and traumatic present they also write alternative histories of the area so that the authoritative, state-sponsored version of events is not the only one recorded for posterity. Further, even as the poets see the violence filled present as an inescapable reality they advocate the building of a community as a viable alternative, a possibility for a different future. In doing so the poetry formulates new bonds between poets, new formulations of “home” and “homeland”.
15. Rebecca Grapevine, University of Michigan
Cruelty and Concurrent Powers: The U.P Amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1962
India’s Constitution provides powers to both central and state governments to legislate on personal law. In 1955, the central government enacted the Hindu Marriage Act; seven years later Uttar Pradesh (U.P.) took advantage of its concurrent powers to amend the Hindu Marriage Act. The U.P. amendment added cruelty as a ground for Hindu divorces in the state. Cruelty had been a legislated ground for divorce under Muslim law since the enactment of the Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act in 1939. Between 1939 and the U.P Amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act in 1962, legal actors in U.P. discussed cruelty, the roles of husbands and wives in marriage, and ultimately religion and the state. This sustained conversation took place within a legal tradition that included common law, equity, and Hindu and Muslim law, and it produced a relatively progressive legislative outcome.
In the decades after Independence, U.P’s legal tradition provided a forum for thinking about an important relief for Hindu wives sixteen years before similar reforms were adopted at the national level. Since then, differences between Hindu and Muslim law have been mobilized by narrow political interests, sometimes with destructive outcomes. However, in the 1950s and early 1960s, political and legal institutions in U.P. accommodated a discussion of personal law on much broader terms, terms that included a wife’s right to independent legal, and physical, existence. Examining India’s personal law at the state level provides a very different understanding of the nature of women’s rights, religiously-divided personal laws, and perhaps even Indian secularism, than a solely national frame allows.
16. Aryendra Chakravartty, Pennsylvania State University
The Curious Case of Magadha: Archeological Production of a “National” Historical Landscape in 19th and 20th Century Bihar
Beginning in late-nineteenth century, the idea of “Magadha” emerged from local histories on to a national platform, largely through archeology’s engagement with the landscape of Bihar. Unlike the connection between archaeological intervention and a nationalist consciousness as established by Tapati Guha-Thakurta, in Bihar, this engagement instigated a multilayered dialogue between local, regional and national articulations of identity. Magadha was inscribed as a “historical landscape” and a symbolic repository of relics from an ancient and glorious national past. Unlike cases in Tamil (Sumathi Ramaswamy), Bengali (Sumar Sarkar) and Marathi (Prachi Deshpande) regionalism that were defined either through exclusivity from a national narrative or through exclusive claims over it, I argue that the tensions in articulating a Bihari identity were embedded in the complete imbrication between local, regional and national histories. Encouraged by an institutional initiative privileging objects and artifacts embedded in the local landscape as “true” sources of history, archaeological research wove a narrative that brought together the history of the region and the nation. This allowed for a seemingly seamless merger of an ancient Magadhan past with the golden age in an Indian past. However, this historical narrative was fissured by a persistence of localized accounts commemorating a past that lay beyond the formal discourses of history. This paper will explore the tensions and transformations that underscored the making of Magadha as a symbol of a classical national past which subsequently shaped the regional history of Bihar, therefore forever tying the regional and national narrative together as one.
17. Rohit De, Princeton University
Kaushalya Devi’s Profession: Sex, Work and Freedom in the Indian Constitution
Freedom had many meanings for Indian women in 1947. For nationalists and leaders of the Indian women’s movement this meant the achievement of constitutional and legal equality, the freedom of women from trafficking and violence, and the emergence of the republican woman citizen as a moral, productive member of the society. To this end, the constitution banned traffic in human beings and the legislatures, urged by women’s organizations enacted the Suppression of Immoral Traffic in Women and Children Act. The figure of the prostitute had been a problematic one for nationalists, who had sought to simultaneously portray the women as victims and criminals.
However, legislators and social workers were soon confronted by a different conception of freedom, when sex workers began filing constitutional challenges to the SITA Act. They asserted their constitutional right to practice their trade and profession, their fundamental right to reside and move freely across the country, attacked procedural irregularities in law enforcement, and sought to free themselves from remand homes and rescue shelters.
Through a study of constitutional litigation by sex workers after independence leading upto Kaushalya Devi’s case in 1962, this paper argues that the adoption of written republican constitution transformed the everyday regulation of sexuality in the Indian republic. It demonstrates how a constitutional narrative intervened in a problem framed as criminal regulation. It expands the debate over gender and citizenship, which has largely been confined to debates over family law, to include the woman outside the domestic sphere. Finally, it excavates a pre-history of the robust political engagement by sex workers over the last decade and explores the possibilities of subversion through law. Using the trope of work and citizenship, it hopes to complicate the binary of agency-oppression that debates over prostitution get mired in.
18. Charu Singh, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Yale University
Configuring the Monsoon: Nature, Knowledge and the Making of Meteorology in nineteenth-century British India
In my paper, I historicize the idea of the monsoon by focusing on the arrival of meteorology in the Indian subcontinent in the early nineteenth century and its development and institutionalization as a state science. As the colonial state encountered the new climate of its colony in the course of its expansion and consolidation, it took strong measures to safeguard the health of its soldiers and to predict and secure the
revenue generated from land and agriculture. Consequently, careful understanding and monitoring of the weather became crucial to the logic of the colonial state. As I show, learning to predict the monsoon was a critical part of the meteorological project of knowing Indian weather, which gained a political urgency after the recurrent famines in late-nineteenth century British India. Thus, I examine the significance of a colonial
project that sought to define, predict and control nature – a history that links natural events like rainfall and disease with colonial concerns for agriculture and the generation of capital.
I explore the production of the idea of the monsoon by showing how it was configured through the lens of science. How was the monsoon rendered legible and assembled as scientific knowledge by meteorology, which became the dominant discourse on weather in the subcontinent? I go on to reflect on the problem of colonial archives by asking how it is possible to even conceptualize a history of a phenomenon such as the
monsoon, for which no ready archive exists. I conclude by engaging with the limits of official sources in writing a history of the monsoon and suggesting the possibility of an “alternate” archive.
19. Nikhar Gaikwad, Yale University
Commercial Companies and Colonial Legacies
When evaluating the impact of colonial institutions on long-term outcomes, scholars have largely focused on institutions developed during periods of official military annexation. I argue that this approach potentially limits the sets of institutions under analysis and, hence, might circumscribe our understanding of colonial legacies. In particular, institutions developed by outside powers during pre-colonial periods might plausibly have shaped both colonial and postcolonial institutions and outcomes. I study the effects of one such pre-colonial institution: the ports and factories built by the British, Portuguese, Dutch, and French in India during the era prior to the Battle of Plassey (1757), which marked the onset of the English East India Company’s annexation of parts of India. Investments in uncertain and often hostile environments, these hubs heeded a particular commercial call: to secure assets from expropriation and to maximize profits by developing particular types of export economies. The dual drive to fortify and specialize hubs created institutional variation that impacted long-term political economy outcomes, such as those pertaining to investment, land-labor relations, and political competition. While earlier studies have found that colonial institutions have had lasting legacies, they have largely treated these institutions as black boxes, without delving into the substantial variation that existed between different types of institutions within colonized nations. By distinguishing between the influences of the different European companies in India, I study how their historically contingent business decisions shaped future political economy trajectories. Moreover, by distinguishing between the pre-colonial and colonial phases of colonization, I conceptually demarcate pre-colonial commercial imperatives from colonial military, political, and social imperatives and, hence, provide a finer-grained study of colonial legacies.
20. Julian Lynch, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Music and Riots: The Violent Shaping of Communities and Communalism in Modern India
The final decades of the 19th century marked the emergence of a disturbing and violent pattern in sectarian relations across British India, and music appeared to be at its very center. Cities and villages throughout the subcontinent found their daily affairs severely disrupted by what has since become a familiar narrative in the history of communal violence in South Asia: the eruption of rioting over musical processions of one religious community being lead directly in front of the place of worship of another. With some notable exceptions, the clashes occurred primarily between local Hindu and Muslim populations, most often during the celebration of religious festivals. By the early decades of the 20th century, these outbreaks over music had become more frequent, more destructive, and more geographically widespread. Given centuries of Hindu-Muslim cohabitation, what specific social changes brought about such a phenomenon?
Discourse on the subject of so-called “music-before-mosque” riots tends to disregard the musical dimension of these riots, viewing music merely as the initial “spark” for the expression of more substantial and pre-existing issues, or perhaps even obscuring the “real problems” festering beneath the surface of these social tensions. However, this paper does not seek merely to resolve that a distinction exists between the “spark” igniting so much communal violence and the friction that has come to produce it. Perhaps, it could be said that music in this case represents not the immediate cause of violence, but rather a weapon used towards violent ends, and much more. This paper, therefore, focuses upon the involvement of musical practice in the shaping of communal conflict and community consolidation.