Muhammad Ali Nasir (University of Karachi, Pakistan): “An Archaeology of Identity: Defining the Muslim in British Indian Politics”
This paper critically examines the dialectic of crisis and reinterpretation, and the shifting ground of locating ‘culture’ in post-1857 Muslim thought on the Subcontinent. Reflection on the causes of contemporaneous downfall, the impact of ‘indigenous Orientalism’ and the acceptance of culture as a conceptual category all gave birth to Muslim Nationalism (Syed, Iqbal, Rahmat Ali) as a vehicle for a genuine self-expression of a peculiar Muslim Weltanschauung. Contrastively, proponents of Indian Nationalism (Azad, Madni) advocated a case for composite ethnonationalism based on a conviction that ethnic and religious identities are complementary to each other. The third strand of thought, which we might label as ‘Paranationalism’ (Maududi, Bukhari — i.e. the concept of umma) also countered the emergent ideology of Muslim Nationalism with its reliance on a tradition of classical Muslim thought, belief in Islam as universal message, and a critique of culture as a conceptual tool. Both Indian Nationalism and Paranationalism, however, prophesied the transformation of Muslim Nationalism from a supranational to an ethnocentric identity. With this working background, I seek to excavate defining moments in history from the Aligarh to the Pakistan movement. I argue that ‘culture’ as an overall stable intellectual parameter is not only porous and expansive, but also fails to do justice to the nuances of collectivities and identities in South Asia. Only the commonality of historic experience may provide utility in considering the region as a domain capable of general or comparative analysis. Consequently, South Asia as presently understood – a monolithic, broad cultural category – appears to be under crisis and requires reinterpretation.
Namrata Amin (New School for Social Research): “Women, Partition and Nationalism: The violence, silence and incomplete identities explored through Bapsi Sidhwa’s Cracking India“
In this paper I will focus on one particular piece of literary fiction merely to highlight the “historical” experience of women during Partition and Recovery that was left somewhere in the “crossfire of nationalist demand.” Testimony, fictitious and not, are of equal importance, and they also demand attention as well in piecing together what had been excluded from history. Bapsi Sidhwa’s novel Cracking India plays an important role in the genderized “memory” and violence of partition where it attempts to neutralize the political players while, in the words of Sangeeta Ray, “represents the manner in which referent home is unmoored from a localized space and translated into a metaphor – the motherland- in masculine, nationalist vocabularies.” Much of the accounts of women’s experiences have remained within literary fiction and in various published interviews, therefore, how has this violent “memory” been historicized and where within the frameworks of nationalism do we place the feminine? The feminine remains locked into a masculine history, thus her identity never complete in a “fundamental substance [the nation] which itself is continually being renewed” (Franz Fanon). Cracking India is only one “documentation” of what history has failed to document and “even as they [Pandey, Butalia, Menon, Das] critique the closures of historiographic narratives and recognize the absences that such accounts enforce, they seem to suggest that literature might be able to breach this repression” (Sujala Singh). The events of Partition and recovery, in relations to women, remain in fragments. If Partition memories lay in fragments, then it is important to look at the “particular” rather than the “general” in an effort to disrupt the state’s universalizing narratives, which is what has occurred to women’s narratives in the purely historical context of nationalism.
Fauzi Dossul (Columbia University): “The Majẕūb of Deoband: Intoxication and Devotion in the Poetry of Khvājah ʿAzīz al-Ḥasan Ghōrī Majẕūb (1884-1944)”
Conceptions of Islam in South Asia and the entities therein have often been prey to generalizations that have ossified into “common sense” notions that permeate the discourse. An effective way to arrive at a more nuanced understanding suggests Barbara Metcalf, is to incorporate individual voices from within these traditions and explore the lived experiences of real people in real contexts. It is in the spirit of Metcalf’s suggestion that we examine the life and poetry of Khvājah ʿAzīz al-Ḥasan Ghōrī Majẕūb (1884-1944). Majẕūb was a close disciple and “official” biographer of the Deobandi scholar Ashraf ʿAli Thānawi (1863-1943), who has been described by Frances Robinson as arguably the most influential South Asian Sufi of the Twentieth Century. Although Sufism is an important dimension of modern Deobandi thought and practice, it is often overlooked in favor of the “common sense” notion that perceives the Deobandi orientation as the exemplar of a narrow scripturalist approach; best understood as an ideological predecessor to the Taliban in Afghanistan.
In light of the increasing academic interest in the Sufi traditions of Deoband and that of Thānawi in particular, this study presents some valuable insights. Majẕūb’s voice is unique for several reasons. Firstly, he was not a formally trained religious scholar; he was instead a civil servant in the British colonial administration. Secondly, he was an exceptionally gifted poet whose chief inspiration was the bond of love between him and his Sufi master. Thirdly, Majẕūb was amongst the disciples closest to Thānawi. As a poet, Majẕūb excelled at the use of the profane allegorical symbols of the ghazal genre, as well as composing Sufi poetry of important functional natures. His legacy still persists in the spiritual pedagogy of contemporary Deobandi Sufism, and has even found its way into the mainstream popular culture in Pakistan.
Erin Epperson (University of Chicago): “Translation as a Translinguistic Phenomenon: The Case of Tibetan translations from Sanskrit”
This paper explores the concept of translation as a medium through which to address the concept of a ‘limit’ of Sanskrit literature and language. While it has always been clear that Sanskrit courtly life was never adopted in Tibet, this boundary is not so clear at the linguistic and literary level. Sheldon Pollock’s notion of a Sanskrit ‘cosmopolis’ is perhaps weakened a bit by the Tibetan case. Unfortunately, Tibetan translations of Sanskrit texts and the methods and techniques thereof are understudied in modern scholarship. The introductory section of the 9th century Tibetan text, the Sgra sbyor bam po gnyis pa, which served as an edict for translators, strikingly favors Tibetan conventions and ease for the translators whenever possible and only begrudgingly advocates preference for a Sanskrit convention. This is at odds with the well-known trope that Tibetan translations are inordinately faithful to the Sanskrit often at the expense of sensible Tibetan syntax. In order to qualitatively assess the degree to which late-spread (11th-14th centuries CE) Tibetan translators may have favored more Sanskritric elements in their translations, I conducted a systematic examination of the Cittaviśuddhiprakaraṇa for which, in addition to the translation preserved in all editions of the Bstan ’gyur, the Sems kyi sgrib pa rnam pa sbyong ba, the Snar thang Bstan ’gyur preserved a second translation titled Sems rin po che sbyong ba. This paper is a case-study, exploring translation as a translinguistic phenomena. Despite the Classical Tibetan language’s affinities with Sanskrit and the history of Tibet’s dependence on Sanskrit for its literary identity, in the case of the Cittaviśuddhiprakaraṇa, it is clear that in practice, although translators often preferred Sanskritic elements of the language, this was not always the case. Tibetan linguistic identity was a process involving both negotiation with and reaction to, Indian Sanskritic influence.
Monika Freier (Max Planck Institute, Berlin): “Feeling Rules: Probing the Theoretical Boundaries of South Asia”
In asking ‘Can the subaltern speak?’ Gayatri Spivak pointed towards a problematic issue in the field of South Asian studies. She was concerned that the post-colonial academic discourse might, while trying to deconstruct past and present forms of imperialist dominance, actually reinforce the same colonial ways of surveying and classifying ‘the East’. Likewise, many scholars working on South Asia use theories developed in and applicable to the western hemisphere of the world. The emerging field of the History of Emotions is no exception in this regard, although its scholars consider feelings not to be a universal psychobiological phenomenon, but rather analyse the impact of emotions within socio-cultural and historical processes.
This paper focuses on mapping the theoretical framework for my dissertation project on Hindi advisory literature in colonial India. Instead of discussing the epistemological location of South Asia, I present the limitations and challenges of a young South Asianist in finding a suitable way of conceptualizing her approach on emotions.
Self-help books, domestic manuals and other normative works written in the late 19th and early 20th century are situated within broader discourses on religious and social reform, negotiating gender roles, and community formations. Feelings and the way they should be controlled, mediated or expressed in private and social settings are an integral part of the general guidelines on morality and ideal conduct that such books provide. In order to investigate the historical impact of these feeling rules, some methodological questions need to be clarified first: How are social norms for feelings and their expression connected to community concepts? What is the link between morality and emotions? Can genuine South Asian conceptualizations of emotions fit in this framework? Addressing the issues suggests the fresh impetus that the rather elusive seeming sphere of emotions can provide for historical research.
Kyle Gardner (University of Chicago): “The Education Complex: Imperial Anxieties and the Case of Five Tibetans in England, 1913-1914”
In 1912, acting on the advice of the British Political Officer for Sikkim, the thirteenth Dalai Lama decided to send four young Tibetan aristocrats to England for education in various practical technologies in order to “help to draw closer the bonds between the two countries.” Kusho Lungshar, an ambitious 4th rank Tibetan government official was tasked with accompanying the four boys, who pursued mining, surveying, electrical engineering, and military studies. Even before he left Calcutta, Lungshar proved to be a challenge to the British. While the British considered him to be simply a chaperone, Lungshar had bigger ideas. His official credentials from Lhasa invested him with “power to discuss matters for the benefit of Tibet.” Lungshar exercised this role as diplomat when he reached Britain, much to the India Office’s annoyance. Despite several formal appeals to the Dalai Lama to recall Lungshar, and the decision to settle him in an isolated village in Cornwall, the ambitious young Tibetan official went about his diplomatic role with energy, causing the India Office to employ a team of Scotland Yard agents to keep close watch on him. This encounter was set against the backdrop of a series of conferences held in India to discuss the status of Tibet with respect to the newly formed Republic of China, and define the state of trade relations between Britain and Tibet. The India Office’s Political and Secret Department’s records offer a unique insight into the inner workings of this early 20th century diplomatic exchange. For this paper, I’m interested in examining the materials associated with this encounter as it evolved through the various paths of communication among Lhasa, Gangtok, Calcutta and London and the various bureaucratic channels which blended diplomatic correspondence, accounting concerns, student progress reports, and surveillance records. Part of the importance of this encounter lies in its foreshadowing of Britain’s ambiguous policy toward Tibet and its encouragement of technological modernization to facility trade between Tibet and India during the years following the British invasion of 1904 and the Chinese Revolution of 1911. The debate sparked by these imperial ‘anxieties’ truly tests the ‘limits’ of South Asia as a political, economic and diplomatic construct.
Abhishek Ghosh (University of Chicago): “Rethinking Kṛṣṇa: Bhaktivinoda’s hermeneutical strategies in the context of 19th century attitudes toward Kṛṣṇa’s eroticism”
The sacred love-story of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa found in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa has become increasingly popular in South Asia at least since the tenth century and has passed through several modes of reception since then. The narrations of their esoteric erotic play (līlā) not only attracted serious hermeneutical exegesis in dualistic philosophical schools of Vedānta, but also found widespread cultural expressions in South Asian literary, pictorial and performance arts. This text asserted that Kṛṣṇa was not an ordinary human lover but the ultimate personification of God. The essential core of this text eulogized his amorous dalliances with several rural girls (gopīs/gopinīs) of Vraja, especially with an unnamed heroine, described as his ‘best worshipper’. The zenith of the narrative was a nocturnal circle dance (rāsa-līlā), where his numerous gopinīs left behind everything they ever cared for – their homes, husbands and children – for his sake, to be united with him. They found Kṛṣṇa hidden in the forest groves of Vraja on a beautiful autumn moonlit night, playing on his flute as if anticipating them. And when they came, Kṛṣṇa mystically expanded himself to be individually with each and every one of them, reciprocating their devotional act and dancing all night to their hearts’ content. The Bhāgavata portrayed this particular Kṛṣṇa-līlā to be the highest vision of godhead and represented the intense conjugal devotion of the gopīs as the pinnacle of spiritual perfection.
This particular representation of God in Caitanya-Vaiṣṇavism and its popularity in Bengali religious life, however, was headed for a conflict in the colonial period. This conflict was inevitable because Bengal was one of the first loci of India’s encounter with European modernity and the resultant developments transformed the contours of the various indigenous traditions, one of which was Caitanya-Vaiṣṇavism. In the nineteenth century, Bengal imbibed the Victorian puritan cultural milieu not only through the colonial and missionary authorities but also through a newly western educated indigenous intelligentsia called the bhadralokas (or, in Bangla, the bhadralok). Both of these groups perceived Kṛṣṇa’s erotic image as vulgar, and the negotiations between the bhadralokas and the Europeans constituted a watershed in the history of Caitanya Vaiṣṇavism in Bengal because the indigenous ‘tradition’ had to justify itself in the face of colonial and missionary encounter.
In my paper, I shall try to answer my particular research question, which is, how did a particular member of the bhadralok, Kedarnath Datta Bhaktivinoda (1838-1914), through his systematic theology, revise and reorient the approaches to Kṛṣṇa presented in the Bhagavata Purana without compromising Kṛṣṇa’s eroticism? And how was his approach different from that of his bhadralok compeers? To answer this, I will look at his arguments in the context of missionary critiques of Hinduism in general and Kṛṣṇa in particular, along with three bhadralok responses, those of Rammohan Roy (1772 – 1833), Bankimchandra Chatterjee (1838 – 1894), and Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902). After briefly exploring the historical context of European missionaries’ proselytizing efforts in colonial Bengal and the onset of Hindu reform movement, I shall turn to these individuals’ intellectual negotiations to reorient or bowdlerize Kṛṣṇa’s eroticism and see how Bhaktivinoda’s received and represented Kṛṣṇa and his erotic aspect. I will argue that Bhaktivinoda’s ‘reform’ did not try to purge the text of its esoteric erotic elements through denial or reinterpretation, as Rammohan and Bankimchandra tried to do, nor to explain it though the lens of Advaita Vedanta (non-dualism), like Vivekananda; rather, he tried to reorient it through constructive theologizing, in order to preserve the essential understanding of Kṛṣṇa’s eroticism.
Greg Goodman (University of Chicago): “Lost in the Red Labyrinth: Reflections on Sonagachi and the Politics of Intervention”
Sonagachi, located in Kolkata, is one of the world’s best-known and most-intervened-upon red light districts. A host of Indian and international NGOs operate in Sonagachi, working variously to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS, rescue women in prostitution, and empower sex workers to fight abuses and improve their own conditions – projects that can sometimes come into conflict with one another. These interventionist agendas are further complicated by the presence of the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, a sex worker union with its own vision of empowerment and sex worker politics. Over the last two decades, Sonagachi and its sex workers have been represented in a multitude of ways by these interests, as well as by documentary filmmakers, travelers, and activists from other fields.
This paper will explore several international debates that have been brought to bear upon representations of Sonagachi, including western feminist debates over prostitution and its proper feminist response, debates over the definition of human trafficking and the appropriate international response to its policing, and debates over international public health policy. It will attempt to trace these debates from their original contexts, the ways in which they have crafted their own Sonagachi narratives, and the ways in which they have interacted with and influenced similar debates, policies, and programs in Kolkata. The paper hopes to demonstrate the often ideological nature of many of the representations of and interventions into Sonagachi, and calls for more objective and less ideologically charged scholarship on the red light district in order to better assess the consequences of and future directions for such interventions.
Maira Hayat (University of Chicago): “The Swat Conflict, 2007-09: some notes on history, (un)civil society and the state”
In 2006, the Swat valley of Pakistan came under the control of a group calling itself the Swat Taliban. This paper examines the conflict that developed as the Swat Taliban’s hostility towards the state morphed into active subversion and they established a ‘state within a state’. The conflict officially ended in May 2009, after the government conducted a military operation in Swat to ‘cleanse’ it of militants. The Swat Taliban’s violence and the resultant military operation left hundreds of civilians, militants, police and military personnel dead, and displaced over 2.5 million civilians. This paper explores the evolution of the conflict in a global and national milieu shaped by the ‘war on terror’, but emphasizes the local underpinnings of the conflict to counter the widespread tendency to see it as simply a microcosm of the ‘war on terror’. In this paper, therefore, the 2006-09 conflict is seen in the context of its precursor, the lesser known 1994 insurgency in Swat. The analysis begins with the early history of Swat’s encapsulation by the Pakistani state. This allows us to locate the roots of the conflict in ‘the local’ – these include an ineffective justice system, corrupt state practices, and a historical imaginary and political habitus unique to Swat. The analysis then proceeds to the present, along the way noting key actors and the impact of global developments such as the Afghan jihad of the 1980s. The analysis builds upon notions of habitus, liminality, (un)civil society and state effects.
Kathryn Hardy (University of Pennsylvania): “Aamchi Bihar, Hamaar Bambai: Setting the Limits of Bhojpuri Regional Identity in Mumbai”
Bhojpuri, usually described as a Hindi dialect spoken in eastern Uttar Pradesh and western Bihar, appears indelibly tied to these two states. Yet migration from these places is extremely common, and cities with high numbers of Bhojpuri-speaking migrants, like Mumbai, are very much a part of the Bhojpuri imaginary. Urban migration, along with a vibrant regional cinema industry, provides pressure to define the limits of the language and the region, as “Bhojpuri” becomes both a marketable asset as well as an insult hurled at migrants. This paper examines competing claims for Bhojpuri—a dialect, a language, a geographic region, a marketing segment—as Bhojpuri itself migrates. The question of what Bhojpuri is remains unsettled, though many have ideas about what it should be.
This paper examines several instances of people grappling with these questions in the spaces of urban migration in Mumbai—a filmmaking studio, a political rally, and the Bihari seaside festival of Chhath Puja. In the studio, filmmakers decide which utterances can legitimately be called “Bhojpuri” on film, making linguistic choices based on perceptions of authenticity, but also based on business expedience. Bihari politicians in Mumbai call forth a community called “North Indian,” collapsing boundaries between Uttar Pradesh and Bihar as well as Hindi and Bhojpuri. The public religious festival of Chhath Puja, celebrated both with official pomp and massive, nearly uncontrollable crowds, shows how officially sanctioned expressions of identity are exceeded and displaced by the lived experiences of diverse groups of people who have ties to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar but reside in Mumbai. Examining these attempts to define and control Bhojpuri as a regional identity within the context of internal migration in India, I demonstrate ways in which fluid linguistic, geographical and political spaces become bounded and charged with meaning.
Hayden Kantor (Cornell University): “Poisoned Futures: Farmer Suicides and the Limits of South Asia”
Since the early 1990s, more than 150,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide in response to the mounting hardships of agricultural life. Centered largely in cotton-growing regions of India, the proximate causes of the suicides are chronic drought and debt. Yet given the fact that these conditions are pervasive throughout rural India, why are these suicides happening in these particular places and moments? More troublingly, still, these agrarian suicides often occur when farmers ingest the pesticides that were to be applied to their fields. So what does this use of pesticides in this context reveal about the situation facing Indian farmers?
In this paper I argue that, more than just enactments of despair or hopelessness, these suicides are communicative and political acts–embodied rejections of prevailing agronomic practices. Specifically, the use of pesticides in this way represents a metonymic relationship between the failures of the Green Revolution and the mis(use) of one of its supposedly productive commodities. With these suicides-by-pesticides, farmers are expressing the perceived impossibility of imagined futures–the unfulfilled promises of the developmentalist state in the neoliberal age. Through a consideration of the suicide notes left by these victims, I show how these acts index a larger struggle over development policy and ethical conduct in India. In this regard, this paper takes up the idea of limits of South Asia by layering the concept of limits across several dimensions — geographical and moral, personal and political — in order to interrogate the causes and social meanings of these farmer suicides.
Rehanna Kheshgi (University of Chicago): “Performing Assam: Bihu as a ‘national’ expression of communities across the globe”
India’s northeastern region is often described as peripheral to the Indian “mainland.” This state of marginality, fortified by colonial policies of segregation, has been perpetuated by the Indian media’s emphasis on separatist insurgency and ethnic clashes. My paper will focus on performance as a powerful mode of physical and emotional engagement with cultural memory that challenges stereotypes in important ways but can also tend toward standardization, privileging one interpretation over others.
As evidence for this position, I will draw on a series of ethnographic moments, united by the occasion of Bihu song and dance performance, associated with the Assamese springtime festival of the same name. Whether located in Assam’s capital Guwahati, in the far eastern town of Margherita, on the international platform of Delhi’s Commonwealth Games, or among Assamese communities in London and Chicago, each Bihu performance evokes a particular Assam, proposing alternatives to the negative images inscribed in the Indian imaginary. But although musicians and dancers have a certain amount of creative freedom in Bihu performance, other parties such as sponsors, government bodies, media promoters and cultural organizers who also have a stake in what is being represented contribute to the shaping of performance practice. For example, a relatively standardized “Assamese” Bihu has taken precedence over the varieties of expression associated with tribal communities. Outside Assam, Bihu performance has added layers of significance, heightened by practical complications of distance and pressures of maintaining connections to often imagined pasts.
In addressing the question of whose Bihu is chosen to represent Assam, I will focus on key agents and organizations involved in the transformation of Bihu song and dance into “national” genres. Set against this backdrop, the networks that link my geographically disparate examples will emerge as important channels by which performance mediates memory and participates in defining what it means to be Assamese.
Ammara Maqsood (Oxford University): “South Asian or Muslim? Islamic Consumption in Urban Lahore, Pakistan”
This paper explores the limits of South Asia as a conceptual category in understanding religious consumption in Muslim South Asia. By looking at trends in religious consumption in urban Lahore, the paper asks whether there is anything particularly ‘South Asian’ about this pattern or is it instead reflective of larger processes of transnational identity-making. A study of religious consumption – headscarves, cds of sermons, Islamic mobile ringtones, Quran storey-books and games for children – in Lahore shows that the popularity of religious goods is often determined by their perceived popularity in the Arab Gulf and Saudi Arabia, and of late amongst Muslim diaspora in the west. The different styles of wearing headscarves for instance, are often imitated from television presenters on channels aired from the gulf. Similarly, people buy Islamic storey-books and board-games after seeing their relatives settled in the west use them. Shops specializing in such goods have now opened in Lahore in order to cater for this growing demand. Religious consumption, as this paper shows has become a way of constructing an ‘Islamic life style’. At the same time, pre-existing ideas of status and class are interwoven in these choices. For example, foreign made religious goods are preferred to local ones, building on the pre-existing notions of imported goods being better and more ‘modern’.
The growth of religious consumption in Pakistan matches that seen in other Muslim countries in South East Asia and the Middle East. The question that arises is this: how does this reflect on the approaches used to study South Asian Muslims? Is there a need to move away from a regional approach and towards a focus on the growing articulation of a globalized and unified Muslim identity? Is contemporary ‘Muslim South Asia’ becoming simply ‘Muslim’?
Durba Mitra (Emory University): “Prostitute, genealogy, history: the science of aberration in colonial India”
This paper considers the limits and possibilities for writing histories of sexuality by examining the figure of the prostitute in South Asian colonial history. I engage with historiography on gender and sexuality in modern India, as well as primary representations of the prostitute from colonial Bengal. I suggest that the prostitute presents a historical conundrum because of she is always an uncertain character, a contradictory figure who represents a range of deviant acts and identities. Yet much historical scholarship on gender and sexuality abstracts the category “prostitute” across colonial South Asia, without attending to the acts of translation that produced and transformed the “prostitute” in particular spaces and moments. As a result, unique histories are reduced to a universal notion of prostitute as “sex worker” across time and space. Prostitute remains an unchallenged, “original” identity despite the ambiguity and contradictions of the category in different colonial and vernacular records.
In order to consider these historical contradictions, I will attend to a particular appearance of the prostitute in a 1923 Bengali text on the scientific roots of degeneration and progress in modern Indian society. In his Rati Yantradira Pida (Sexual and Venereal Evils), Jnanendrakumar Maitra weaves an extraordinary narrative of the evolutionary biological roots of the ganika (literally, a woman had by many) in Bengal. The text makes claims to scientific authority through a narrative that traces the ganika through evolutionary biology, genealogy, and history. I explore the essay’s epistemological claims about India’s natural progression towards modernity and its reading of social degeneration and the abherrant woman – who appears in the essay as ganika, beshya, patita, and prostitute. Through this reading, I consider some potential shortcomings and possibilities for thinking sexuality in history writing in South Asia.
Nabila Pirani (Columbia University): “Imagining the Motherland: Hindu Revivalist and Nationalist Conceptualizations of ‘India’ in the Context of Partition”
This paper argues that academic discourse on Partition (1947) is overly-concerned not only with questions of religion, but also with the actions and philosophies of the Indian National Congress, the All-India Muslim League and the British Raj’s administration; thus, it studies Hindu revivalism and nationalism in an attempt to showcase a school of thought that has been left largely unexamined. Furthermore, while the partition of the Indian Subcontinent in 1947 was certainly a religious affair, in that the languages elucidating the desires for and against Partition used religious vocabularies and symbols in a significant manner, it is often forgotten that Partition was ultimately a struggle for dominance over territory. It is this particular process of territorial construction, deconstruction and (eventual) reconstruction in the forms of India and Pakistan that this paper examines through the similar (yet quite distinct) lenses of Hindu revivalism and nationalism. As such, this paper focuses on these two movements, particularly on the manner in which their key philosophers construct various imaginations of Indian and Hindu territory in the late-19th and early-20th centuries and seeks to explain the changes in thought that occur as the Subcontinent moves towards 14-15 August 1947. It does so through a discussion of a) the manner in which the idea of India as an object of territorial representation first arises, b) an imagination of India as a loosely-bound collective of political spheres and, c) an idea of India as a holistic political unit with delineated frontiers and limits. As I will demonstrate, these changes in conceptualization are intimately related not only to the increase in calls for Independence and Partition that occur from the 1920s onwards, but also to the rising politicization of Hindu revivalists in the early 1900s.
Retika Rajbhandari (University of Chicago): “The making of the ‘real’ Far Western Nepal”
This paper is an attempt to draw a parallel between Herder’s romanticism of the Volk in the late eighteenth-century Germany and the Far Western romanticism of the “traditional” in the late twentieth century Nepal. I analyze a popular commercial song “Paiya Gudan Lagya” (The Wheels are Turning) from the Far West of Nepal in order to unfold how the song projects a fixed traditional image of the region. The Far West region has historically been regarded as the traditional “other” by the Nepali nation-state. Geographically closer to the Indian capital, New Delhi as opposed to Kathmandu, the Nepali capital, the Far West historically has had no direct relationship with the Nepali state. The intellectual Far Westerners have always felt obligated to bring the region in dialogue with the rest of Nepal and to showcase the Far West’s cultural uniqueness. Production and massive circulation of regional songs that capture the “real” life of the Far West has become an effective project to popularize the region and its people. In this paper, I argue that “Paiya Gudan Lagya” becomes part of a larger authoritative discourse for the Far Western elite to maintain a traditional order in the region to maintain their status quo. I explore why the song resonates with the quotidian reality of the average Far Westerner, especially a woman despite its traditional-ness. I demonstrate that the song becomes an indexical icon through which the Far Western elites perform their Far Westernness under the guise of a “mass song”. In essence, through similarities of the Far Western experience that the song captures, it creates dissimilarities between the intellectual Far West and the “folk” Far West reifying social inequality that exists in the region.
Mohammad Sajjad (Max Planck Institute – Berlin): “Love in Master-Disciple Relationship: A Contested Concept in 18th and early 19th Century South Asia”
The master-disciple relationship is one of the significant aspects of Sufism. Classical Sufi works, which had their origin in the Arab world and in Persia, describe the disciple as dependent upon the master for spiritual progress towards God. Emotions such as innate affinity, love, respect and devotion feature prominently in this relationship.
The paper will discuss the concept of love and respect in the master-disciple relationship in pre-colonial South Asia from the perspective of history of emotions. In a period marked by the disintegration of political authority and the necessity of moral rejuvenation of the Muslim community, scholars and Sufis had to engage with concepts and turn to institutions (hospices and madrasas) and texts which were familiar to them. This resulted in debates over key concepts including the Sufi concept of love and formulations of ‘emotional rules’ for the master-disciple relationship. The ‘reformists’ who aimed at purging Islam of practices they saw as ‘polytheistic innovations’ and ‘Hindu influences’, reinterpreted the key concept of love and criticized some mystical practices. They also rejected the practice of tasawwur, and tawajjuh whereby the disciple, through a constant contemplation, becomes mentally absorbed in the master who apparently transfers spirituality to the disciple. The ‘counter-reformists’ in their literature, responded to this critique.
The paper addresses the contestations over the Sufi concept of love and the institution of master-disciple relationship in South Asia. It explores the multiple possibilities and limits of Sufism in South Asia within the larger historical context of religious revival and reform in the Islamic world. South Asia emerges as a distinct and yet deeply connected site of debate and consensus in the shaping of Sufi concepts of appropriate emotions and practices.
Maritta Schleyer (Max Planck Institute – Berlin): “Limits of the Heart, Limits of the Nation: Emotions and Community in Khwaja Hasan Nizami’s da ’i-e Islam and his tabligh movement”
This paper looks at negotiations of the boundaries between the religious communities in South Asia in early 20th century as reflected in selected writings of the popular Urdu author and Sufi master Khwaja Hasan Nizami of Delhi (1878-1955). In many of his works he imagined South Asia as an inclusive nation-space situated largely within the geographic borders of British India, and based on shared feelings of love, compassion and grief. These publications show an effort to make Colonial India an emotional and a political home for its Muslims and to overcome the gaps separating the different communities. His 1923 pamphlet da’i-e Islam and other writings in the context of his ensuing tabligh-movement, however, formed part of Nizami’s campaign to teach the basic tenets of Islam to neo-Muslim groups in reaction to the missionary shuddhi movement of the Arya Samaj. While Nizami himself insisted that his Muslim politics found support with most Hindus, they were controversially received and he was targeted as a communalist rabble-rouser from various sides.
The paper asks to what extent the sources under consideration here offer changed lines of inclusion into the “emotional community” (Barbara Rosenwein) of the South Asian Muslims, held together through a different set of emotions. It traces the cleavages dividing the contemporary Indian society and limiting its capacity to form a nation through the emotional landscapes figuring in the discussed texts.
By focusing on tensions in Khwaja Hasan Nizami’s use of feelings, this paper aims to open up new perspectives on the intricacies of South Asian nation-building in the late colonial period. Besides this, it proposes the history of emotions as a fruitful analytical approach to South Asian cultural history (and ,vice versa, contributions of South Asian studies into a global history of emotions) in order to build a more nuanced and powerful theoretical framework.
Karin Shankar (University of California – Berkleley): “On the questions of Consciousness, Being, Becoming and Belonging in Premchand’s Kafan“
While much has been written about Premchand and Kafan, mostly on his politics of representation of the peasant class and the lower castes, I find that not too many critics pay heed to Premchand’s own words, of seeking truth in the climaxes of his stories. The final words in Kafan, are a one line of a song sung by the two drunk protagonists, Madhav and Ghisu, “Thagini kyon naina jhamkave,” which may be translated as, “O Deceitful One! Why do you dazzle me with your eyes.” After this pronoucement, the reader loses Madhav and Ghisu as they collapse from intoxication and the story closes. Indeed, “Thagini kyon naina jhamkave” are also Premchand’s final words to his readers, at least within the framing of a short story, for Kafan was the final of this genre that he ever wrote. I posit that these last words spoken by Madhav and Ghisu are a speech-act. J.L. Austin defines the speech-act or ‘performative’ statements as utterances that “do not express truly or falsely an already existing condition, but ones that, in fact, perform an action.” Such speech-acts, “do something while saying something.” This paper is an exploration the truth that Kafan performs. My interlocuters will be Veena Das on questions of recurrences and G.W.F. Hegel on consciousness—being and becoming.
Elizabeth Thelen (University of California – Berkeley): “Architectural Patronage in Ajmer and the Limits of the Mughal Empire”
As a historian in the institutionally defined field of South Asia studying the Mughal Empire, I repeatedly face the question, what does “South Asia” mean in the early modern period? The Mughal Empire is most frequently studied comparatively in one of two frameworks: as Perso-Islamic empire compared to Safavid Persia and the Ottoman Empire, and as a South Asian empire compared to contemporaneous competing South Asian polities. At its greatest extent, the Mughal Empire included most of the region identified as modern day South Asia. Although maps of the Mughal Empire may imply a widely spread, uniform empire, I suggest that by paying attention to the spatial practices of the Mughal Empire, the internal limits of the empire are exposed.
In this paper, I explore what the spatial, cultural, and political relations of the Mughal Empire suggest about the early modern limits of “South Asia.” The Mughal Empire was embodied through particular practices of space that defined limits in terms of nodes and peripheries. Focusing on Mughal patronage in the city of Ajmer between 1550 and 1650 CE, I argue that key power centers were symbolically manipulated by the Mughal rulers. By transforming the shape of Ajmer through architectural patronage, as well as laying claim to the spiritual authority over land held by the shrine of Mu’in ud-Din Chishti, the Mughals attempted to use this city to project their power over the region of Rajasthan. Thus, I conclude that the Mughal Empire was constructed spatially through networks and that the physical nodes on these networks, such as Ajmer, provide a shared frontier in which competing frames of comparative scholarship, such as “Islamic” or “South Asian” modes of interpreting empire, might be brought together.
Gowri Vijayakumar (University of California – Berkeley): “Mapping the Global Digital Economy: Young Women and the Rural BPO”
When, in the summer of 2009, India’s first rural business-process outsourcing (BPO) center opened in a village outside Mysore, government officials waxed lyrical about bringing the benefits of globalization and the digital economy to rural India. Much academic scholarship on outsourcing in urban India has also framed it within the cultural politics of globalization. Yet, this paper suggests, to analyze BPO work purely as a “global” labor regime or cultural form in relation to “local” ones ignores the complex spatial terrain in which neoliberal governing practices take shape. For workers and entrepreneurs at “rural BPOs,” it is not the “global” that provides the symbolic anchor for cultural struggle; rather, the village and nearby Bangalore become poles of belonging onto which distinctions between Indian and global, femininity and feminine impropriety, home and the outside world, illiteracy and knowledge, the past and the future, become inscribed. Drawing on media articles and corporate reports related to the “rural BPO” program subsidized by the state of Karnataka, I first explore the ways in which the entrepreneurs involved in “rural BPOs” construct an imagined, morally pure, essentially rural knowledge worker in opposition to an urban one. Next, drawing on in-depth interviews with primarily female small-town BPO workers, I show how they flatten symbolic space, creatively disrupting the determinism of these constructions of the rural worker by using both the village woman and the city woman as symbolic others. Through these acts of boundary-making, they both expand and circumscribe their physical and symbolic mobility, rejecting both the isolation of the village housewife and the dangerous wandering of the Bangalore call-center girl. For these young women at the margins of the global knowledge economy, the limits of the “global” and the “Indian” are imagined within the spatial vocabulary of the “city” and the “village.”