Thursday, April 17, 2014
Kick-Off Event, Foster 103
Panel Discussion on the Conference Theme, “The Self in South Asia”
Featuring Professors Steven Collins, Wendy Doniger, and Gary Tubb, and the Indian Ministry of Culture Vivekananda Visiting Professor Sir Christopher Bayly
4:30 – 6:30 p.m.
Friday, April 18, 2014
9:00 am – 9:15 am: Opening Remarks
9:20 am – 10:40 am: Panel 1: Ethical Selves
“Ethics and the Buddhist Self: a defense of non-self against deconstruction”
Pierre-Julien Harter (UChicago)
In recent years, Buddhist scholars from the West, especially those working with Mādhyamika and other emptiness-related materials, have argued that Buddhist ethics was essentially meant to help the practitioner deconstruct his or her preconceived notions so as not to cling anymore to things and people, and certainly not to one’s own self either. This attitude has been even described as a kind of a deconstructive practice: Buddhist ethics would thus consists of only undoing and releasing false ideas and practices, and to shy away from any sort of constructive attempt, especially with regard to oneself. Taking an opposite direction, this paper is intended to argue that such a conception only sees one half of the work Buddhist practitioners are supposed to undertake. If abandonment (prahaṇa) is essential, it is only one side of the coin, the other being more positive and described as realization (sākṣatkaraṇa), understanding (prajñā), or development (bhāvanā). Taking our examples in the literature of the path and especially in the literature of the Ornament of Realizations, I will demonstrate that this literature is actually the place to look for a possible Buddhist ethics and that the path that is indicated by the majority of the commentators of such a tradition is one of construction of a new persona, the one of a Buddha or Bodhisattva. To resolve the appearing contradiction between this constructive dimension and the prevalent doctrine of non-self that is at the center of this literature as well as of Buddhist thought in general, I will propose distinctions between different kinds of subjectivities that would allow us to say at the same time that Bodhisattvas striving for Buddhahood train in de-subjectivation, and apply themselves to accomplish a new personhood, that of a Buddha or a Bodhisattva.
“A Moral Self without a Self? Vasubandhu’s Theory of Identity and the Grounding of Moral Agency”
Oren Hanner (Hamburg)
Philosophies which deny the existence of a permanent self, as Indian Buddhism does, often come up against a number of difficulties when dealing with the sphere of ethics. They need to address questions, such as: who is the person who is committed to ethics and in what ways keeping commitments is practically possible? How can we make sense of moral responsibility? And what is the rational basis for our moral concern, if the one who acts in the future is someone “else” than the person we are now? These questions and others are all related to the general issue of moral agency and the nature of the moral self. Despite much work on the principle of no-self (anātman, anattā) in Indian Buddhism and a growing number of studies on Buddhist Ethics, relatively little attention has been paid so far to the notion of the moral agent, which is central to ethical theory.
In this paper, my aim is to shed light on the Buddhist understanding of the moral agent by examining this idea in the writings of the Indian Buddhist philosopher Vasubandhu (4th Century AD), particularly his Treasury of Metaphysics with Self-Commentary (Abhidharma-kośa-bhāṣya). I will start with a brief survey of the ways in which Western philosophers dealt with the issue of identity and moral agency. I will then turn to Vasubandhu and present what I understand to be Vasubandhu’s theory of personal identity and his way to account for moral agency without a self. As a conclusion, I will show how Vasubandhu’s unique account of moral agency opens new directions for dealing with the difficulties that the rejection of a permanent self raises in ethics.
“Self and Agency in Praśastapāda’s Differential Naturalism”
Shalini Sinha (Sussex)
In the Padārthadharmasaṃgraha, the classical Vaiśeṣika philosopher Praśastapāda (circa 530 C.E.) proposes, I will argue, a naturalistic yet minimally dualist conception of self. Self, in this account, is the source of the normative possibilities of consciousness (caitanya) and agency (kartṛtva), and of moral (dharma) and natural law (adṛṣṭa), at the heart of natural order and causation. I show how the metaphysical paradigm that underwrites this conception of self, which I dub ‘differential naturalism’, locates the self as the locus of the first-personal structures of consciousness and agency and the impersonal meta-ethical powers of virtue (dharma) and non-virtue (adharma), or causal laws (adṛṣṭa), in the natural world.
This metaphysics of self is elucidated in Praśastapāda’s four core arguments for self’s existence and nature, which derive from: the structures of agency and action in human cognition; in intentional mental and bodily acts; in the homeostatic regulation of the human body; and in the biological life of the human organism. These arguments adumbrate a conception of self that is the source of agential activity, and its rational and normative structures, at all levels of organization of human mental and bodily life. Such a conception of self enables an integrative, yet differential, naturalism that ostensibly incorporates mental, moral and physical phenomena in the natural world. But this notion of self and the metaphysical structures that underpin it also raise some worries. I discuss the plausibility of some of the key ontological suppositions that ground Praśastapāda’s arguments, but also the ways in which this ‘differential metaphysics’ of self and physicality may offer an innovative alternative to Western, as well as classical Indian, physicalist and dualist metaphysics of self.
11:00 am – 12:20 pm: Panel 2: Historical Selves
“Property or proprietor?: Eunuchs, inheritance and sovereignty in nineteenth-century Awadh”
Nick Abbott (UW Madison)
Unlike their counterparts in Mughal imperial households of the seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries—who were frequently procured from the frontiers of military expansion in eastern Bengal and subsequently isolated from their natal kin—court eunuchs (khwaja saras) in the successor regime of Awadh (1722-1856) were typically purchased within the regime’s territorial boundaries and often retained close ties with their birth families. More importantly, through various forms of adoption and patronage, high- ranking eunuchs established and maintained their own semi-autonomous households and families. Yet, despite their wealth, power, and expansive familial networks, such eunuchs remained legally enslaved and theoretically devoid of independent rights to own or alienate property.
These inherent contradictions between eunuchs’ de facto social and de jure legal standing came to a head in the early nineteenth century, as successive rulers of Awadh (Nawab-Vazirs) vociferously opposed attempts by their wealthiest eunuchs to bequeath assets to their natal and adoptive families. Eventually embroiling East India Company officials in Calcutta, their Residents in Lucknow, and various members of the royal family, these debates exposed the contested character of eunuchs’ juridical status and raised difficult questions about the limits of the Nawab-Vazirs’ familio-political sovereignty. Through an examination of vernacular chronicles, correspondence and Company archival documents, this paper explores these controversies and their implications regarding the changing nature of self-hood for nominally “self-less” subjects and the evolving relationship between state, family, and servitude in late-Mughal/early-colonial North India.
“Lahore is Proud of the Dust of Mian Mir: Prince Dara Shukoh’s Literary and Architectural Patronage of the Qadiri Sufi Saint”
Ali Hassan (UC Berkeley)
Dara Shukoh’s Sakinat al-Auliya is an exercise of self-fashioning that allowed the Mughal Prince to exalt his own spiritual prowess while making claims to secular power. The Mughal dynasty’s open-ended succession system compelled princes to create networks of alliances and build support for the inevitable fratricidal war that would take place at the end of each reign. Dara Shukoh used his association with the Qadiri Sufi Mian Mir to project the inevitability of his succession to the Mughal throne.
Authoring the Sakinat al-Auliya, a hagiography of the Qadiri saint, Dara Shukoh uses anecdotes from the life of Mian Mir to highlight the prince’s own exalted spiritual status. The hagiography is grounded in the neighborhoods and gardens of Lahore, creating the mythos of Mian Mir necessary to consecrate the Saint’s shrine in popular perception. This hagiography stamped Lahore not only with the charisma of Mian Mir, but also the intended sovereign mark of Dara Shukoh. The special pir (princely)murid relationship that Dara Shukoh lauds in the Sakinat al-Auliya is formalized architecturally in the shrine of the Mian Mir. There the prince’s unique theory of Sufi-discipleship inspired a funerary complex that was a break from both earlier and latter patterns of Imperial Mughal internment.
“Kinship, Kingship and the ‘Conundrum’ of the Brahmin Self in North Bihar”
Anshuman Pandey (UMich)
The Br̥hadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad articulates an ancient paradox: is the Kshatriya preeminent or the Brahmin when both ‘rest upon the same womb’? It captures the tension between the ‘temporal power’ of kṣatra and the ‘spiritual authority’ of brāhmaṇa, which is founded upon a mutual subjectivity that is reinforced through dāna ‘exchange’. For Ananda Coomaraswamy this paradox “subsumes the whole of Indian political theory”, while for Thomas Trautmann it is “the central conundrum of Indian social ideology”. But, what becomes of the ‘conundrum’ when kṣatra and brāhmaṇa are embodied within a single self?
In 1324, the Kshatriya king of Mithila, Harisimhadeva brought the marriage practices of the Brahmins in his kingdom under the command of the state and mandated that all Brahmin marriages be authorized by the king. Soon after, Ghiyas-ud-din Tughluq overran Mithila, ousted Harisimhadeva, and enthroned a new regent. These events unsettled the Brahmins. First, they had to adjust to the king’s interference in their domestic and caste affairs. Now, they had to adjust to a new king: Kameshwar Thakur, who asserted the authority of the king to regulate the marriages of Brahmins, but being a Brahmin himself, became subject to his own authority.
In this paper I demonstrate how the Brahmin-king transformed notions of Brahmin ‘self’ and ‘subjectivity’ in north Bihar by binding Brahmin kinship to kingship. The emergence of a Brahmin-king revolutionized the nature of dāna by introducing marriage into the exchange relationship between king and Brahmin. The potentiality of kinship shifted the mutual subjectivity of kṣatra and brahmana from the inter-caste to the intra-caste level and internalized the ‘conundrum’ within the Brahmin community. When Brahmin kinship structures kingship the king’s control of marriage affects not only the personhood of every Maithil Brahmin, but also that of the Brahmin-king, whose superiority and subjectivity ‘rest upon the same womb’.
12:30 pm – 2:00 pm: Lunch
2:00 pm – 3:20 pm: Panel 3: Traditions of Self-Fashioning
“Anxieties of Islamic Influence: Anquetil-Duperron, Darah Shikoh, and Orientalist Self-fashioning”
Blake Smith (Northwestern)
Although little-read today, French Indologist Anquetil-Duperron’s 1802-1805 Latin translation of the Upanishads introduced the text to a generation of European readers, and articulated an influential reading of it as a precocious expression of the ‘Indo-European’ mind. Unable to read the original Sanskrit, Anquetil depended on the seventeenth-century Persian translation and commentary produced at the behest of Mughal prince Dara Shikoh. The Orientalist was deeply indebted to Dara’s preface to this translation, which outlined a hermeneutic approach by which the mystic monism of the Upanishads could be reconciled to Islam, as well as other Abrahamic faiths. Even as he adopted this interpretative strategy, and extended it to Platonism, the Kabbalah, and Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Anquetil insisted that the Upanishads were in no way compatible with Islam. In a series of notes, he presented Islam as a violent, exclusionary religion that had no place in his syncretic vision of Indo-European spirituality–while carefully editing Dara’s preface in order to downplay the prince’s own pretensions to orthodoxy. This paper argues that, as for British Orientalists of the same period, Anquetil’s self- fashioning as an Indologist rested on his simultaneous appropriation and condemnation of a Islamic, Persianate culture engaged with Sanskrit texts. In spite of its openly anti-Islamic purport, however, Anquetil’s translation, like the self-image it was meant to sustain, were tethered to Dara’s own textual self-creation.
“The Revolution of the Self in South Asian Islam”
Daniel Morgan (UChicago)
This paper explores the ways in which the work of Shāh Walī Allāh, an 18th century sufi and Islamic scholar, was interpreted and understood by two important figures in the Indo-Muslim tradition. Shāh Ismā’il Shahīd (d.1831), famous for his role in the frontier jihad led by Sayyid Aḥmad of Rae Bareli, and ‘Ubayd Allāh Sindhī (d.1944), a scholar of Deoband, who attempted to instigate an anti-British insurrection in India from his base in Kabul in the years 1914-1919, before travelling to Moscow to learn the lessons of the Bolshevik revolution.
Although born more than a century later, Sindhī, a Sikh convert and alumnus of Deoband, claimed an intellectual genealogy that stretched back through Shāh Ismā’il to Shāh Walī Allāh and claimed that like Shāh Ismā’il he was putting Shāh Walī Allāh’s revolutionary thought into practical action. However, despite Sindhī’s assertion that he was heir to Shāh Ismā’il, he approaches and understands Shāh Walī Allāh’s work in radically different ways to his putative forbear.
This paper argues that the divergent assumptions that these two men make about the nature of knowledge, selfhood and, consequently, the individual’s relationship to the Islamic tradition, complicates Sindhī’s claims to intellectual inheritance. Shāh Ismā’il’s epistemological assumptions regarding the centrality of intuition and the individual’s direct access to divine guidance, stand at variance with Sindhī’s presentation of the Qur’ān as a revolutionary political and ethical treatise.
In examining the receptions of a major thinker in the South Asian Islamic tradition over a two hundred year period, this work is suggestive of the way in which intellectual concerns with the Indian Islamic tradition shifted from a concern with personal piety to a conception of Islam as a holistic ‘system’, encompassing the political and social spheres.
“From Siksa (Education) to Vidya (Wisdom): Tagore’s Construction of Knowledge and Selfhood, 1901-1941”
Ahona Panda (UChicago)
In 1904, Lord Curzon introduced the Indian Universities Act which led to several nationalist responses. The Bengali Intelligentsia of the time responded through the Education Movement or the Śikśā Āndolana, which included several other prominent nationalist voices such as Bipinchandra Pal, Satish Mukherjee, Gurudas Banerjee and others. The focus of this movement was śikśā, an alternative nationalist education which would lead to new definitions of Indian selfhood. Their major concern was that English education led to a warped sense of selfhood. It was only through vernacular education and through a thorough knowledge of Indian history that the colonial self could be reconstituted. The nature of this reconstitution also had a commercial aspect to it: Satish Mukherjee pointed out that many students graduating from the colonial universities survived on “a bare pittance.” The National Education Council was formed in 1906 with the aim of providing “a national education on national lines.”
In this paper, I explore how Tagore moves from this nationalist premise of śikśā or education to a wider understanding of knowledge (vidyā). Having established an āśrama school at Bolpur (about 180 kilometers away from Calcutta) in 1901 which gradually metamorphosed into the Visva Bharati University in 1918, Tagore was initially at the forefront of the national education movement. I argue that he moves away from the limited construction of selfhood that nationalist śikśā offered because the latter was fundamentally concerned with ends and means (precisely like colonial education itself) rather than with the question of the value of knowledge in itself. Therefore, I try to trace the birth of Tagore’s non- instrumental characterization of knowledge, vidyā, which he characterizes as universal and pluralistic. For this, I consult his writings on education, letters, and the manifestoes of the Visva Bharati University from the period. Finally, I argue that this shift to vidyā (of which śikśā is merely a part) and the establishment of Visva Bharati University happen simultaneously with Tagore’s rejection of nationalism.
3:20 pm – 3:40 pm: Coffee break
3:40 pm – 4:40 pm: Panel 4: Ethnographies of the Self
“The Work of Mourning, Self, and Affective Law: Women searching for the Disappeared in Kashmir”
Ather Zia (UC Irvine)
Since 1989 in the Indian controlled Kashmir approximately 8,000 to 10,000 men have disappeared in the Indian counter-insurgency actions. Kashmiri women have organized to search for those who have been subjected to enforced disappearance after being arrested by the Indian army. These women mainly Muslim mothers and wives (called half-widows), of the disappeared men have become tireless human rights activists, a form of gendered civic engagement unprecedented in a conservative, majority Muslim society. The activist women of mobilize demonstrations, pursue court cases, and collect documentation. They seek audiences with army or government officials, and scour prisons and morgues.
In this paper I trace how a specific subjectivity of the Kashmiri women activists emerges through practices of memory in resistance to the Indian state’s repressive measures that are bent on erasure of the disappeared men. I ethnographically illustrate the process of a hauntological interiorization that I term as an “affective law” becomes the crux of their self and identity. I show how affective law proliferates in the psychic and material aspects of the lives of these women that enable mourning, resistance, agency and memorialization through various modes and symbols. I put the paradigm of affective law in conversation with Kafka’s parable “Before the Law” (1915) in order to explore the paradoxical and deferred relation to law (Derrida 1994) which the women are trying to access as an ideal of justice, and which shapes their identity in the process. The analytic of affective law draws attention to a specific layer of subalterity where even though gendered and marginalized, these women tailor effective modes of agency that often remain unrecognized in the broader conceptualization of female agency, where scholars might be looking for brazen acts of politics. The subjectivities emerging out of this process can be seen “becoming” as a resistance against the institutionalized narratives and not necessarily to dismantle them but provide “memory-alternatives” or counter-memory.
“Qurbana, Muhabbat and the Negation of the Self: An ethnography of slaughter and consumption by Muslims in Mumbai during Bakri Id”
Shaheed Tayob (Max Planck Institute)
This paper is an analysis of the consumption practices constitutive of Bakri Eid in Mumbai. Every year millions of Muslims around the world gather for Eid ul Adha, the annual animal sacrifice (qurbani) that commemorates the Prophet Abraham’s sacrifice. In South Asia the actual day of qurbani is prefaced by a period of extensive preparation. Muslims purchase goats months or days in advance and nurture and care for them in their housing compounds. In Mumbai, the streets of Dongri and Muhammad Ali Road, the old Muslim quarter of the city, are replete with scenes of intimacy and affection between goats, men and children in the build-up to the event. On the day of Bakri Eid, the scenes transform into carcasses in all stages of process, blood stained clothes and bodies, the exchange of meat and sharing of meals.
Typically literature on consumption argues for the marking and making of identities. Studies on Islamic self-making discuss certain Islamic practices as techniques for the cultivation of Muslim ethical selves. Though not mutually exclusive, this paper will focus instead on the negation of identity and self as a powerful and often overlooked aspect of Muslim ethical life that offers a rich ground for understanding Islamic consumption. Sensory engagement of the worshipper with the animal during various stages of the event as a whole urge reflection on the transience of life and the need to recognize and overcome false notions regarding the importance of the self (nafs). The capacity for these practices to elicit these self- negating reflections is provided by the discursive concepts of love (muhabbat), sacrifice (qurbani) and the desire to follow God’s orders (hukm) as they pertain to Bakri Id. Through an ethnography of Bakri Eid in Mumbai this paper contributes to debates on the anthropology of consumption and the self.
Distinguished Guest Lecture
Professor Leela Prasad
Associate Professor (Ethics & South Asian Studies), Departments of Religious Studies & Asian & Middle Eastern Studies
“Kinship between Genre and Self: The Enchantment of History in Colonial India”
5:00 P.M., Classics 110 (reception to follow)
Saturday, April 19, 2014
9:30 am – 10:00 am: Breakfast
10:00 – 11:20 am: Panel 5: Genres of the Self
“Non-narrative constitution of self: Imitations of self-fashioning in Allama’s Vacanas”
Shreesha Udupa (English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad)
“Šabdada lajjeya nōdā…” (Look at the shyness of the word…) – Allama Prabhu
Vaçanas are rhythmic reflective utterances that were composed in 12th century Karnataka. They emerged through a radical act of embodiment in the figure of šarana, of inward flow negating possible surrogates which they identified in three figures, they found around in the intellectual traditions, as guru, linga and jangama. The studies often locate this genre within the larger matrix of either Šaivait or the Bhakti movement undermining its radicality.
The paper proposes that vaçanas are fundamentally non-narrative in their compositional form. Given the mutuality of jan and genre (to invoke the ‘family of g’ after Derrida), it tries to explore the relation between modes of composition and conception/formation of self. Exploring the potentials of the non-narrativity of the genre, the paper proceeds to enquire how it constitutes the notion of self. It examines the figure of šarana as emerging contra the figure of the poet as a literary artist which Kavirājamārga (9th century AD) had articulated three centuries ago. The šarana figure was later assimilated into the figure of bhakta in the consequent centuries, Šúnyasampādane being one such attempt, that were simultaneously assimilating the non- narrative genre of vaçana into a narrative tradition. Examining the notion/nature of self- fashioning constituted in a non-narrative genre like vaçana surrounded parenthetically by narrative traditions makes an interesting case.
“Pearls and Rubies: Genres and Mappila Self-Fashioning in South India”
Muneer Kuzhiyan (English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad)
Notwithstanding a recent resurgence of scholarly interest in what one may call “Mappila Studies,” the body of scholarship on the Muslims of Malabar in the Malayalam-speaking South Indian state of Kerala, research on this community still leaves too much to be desired. While most studies, past and present, err on the side of “Malabar’s history”, as it were (though one should admit that this history has been informed by divergent standpoints, cf. Miller 1976; Dale 1980; Kunhi 1982; Koya 1983; Panikkar 1989; Randathani 2007; Lakshmi 2012), by and large scholars have given short shrift to the great literary legacy of the Mapplia Muslims of Malabar despite its enormous “historic/al” and socio- cultural value. In many ways, this literary tradition has also served as the “historical” discourses of a people whose “History” William Logan (1887) felt compelled to author in the heyday of colonial Malabar (Ansari 2005). That said, even the tiny array of scholarly works, mostly by the Keralite scholars, that seeks to treat of Mappila literature has largely approached the subject, I argue, from a mere “literary” vantage point, thereby reducing the whole of Mappila narratives to aesthetic artifacts having no bearing upon the lives of the Mappilas. Mahathaya Mappila Sahitya Parambaryam (The Great Mappila Literary Tradition), the path-breaking work of the late 1970s by Mawlwi et al that has preserved for posterity the many riches of Mappila literature, is no exception. The book’s pronouncements are invariably colored by the authors own “reformist” predilections that betray their difficulty in coming to terms with the performative aspects of a great many genres of Mappila literature with predominantly religious content, particularly the mawlids (Arabic laudatory poetry interspersed with prose narratives celebrating the birth and life of the Prophet Muhammad, and of other important Islamic figures) and malas (panegyrics in Arabic-Malayalam extolling the virtues of Sufi masters and historic Muslim events). Many subsequent works featuring Mappila literature in Malayalam have more or less honored this norm.
However, the fact remains that the mawlids and malas are best understood as performative practices that produce, rather than merely express, a community’s selfhood and identity. It is worthy of mention that they have also set in motion a counter-poetics that challenged colonial modernity and the elite discourses of their times. In this paper, mainly focusing on the mala genre, I attempt to look at Mappila narratives from a refreshingly different perspective so as to throw light on their constitutive role in Mappila self- formation as well as understand how they present an aesthetics of resistance to the powers that be. Towards this end, I will draw on contemporary scholarship on embodiment and subject-formation (Asad 1993; Mahmood 2005; Hirschkind 2006), among others.
“The taming of the mind: Discussions of Vaiṣṇava jana in bhakti poems of early-modern Gujarat”
Iva Patel (Iowa)
Vrutti Vivāh, an early nineteenth century poem from Gujarat in western India, describes in 20 padas a wedding where vṛtti, inclinations of the mind, join in a permanent union with god. The unique choice for a bride in this composition allows me to discuss ideas present in contemporary Gujarati bhakti poems about a spiritual praxis requiring a particular kind of self-fashioning. Here devotees restructure their thoughts in order to elicit specific mental and physical responses and behaviors that facilitate ceaseless engagement with their objects of devotion. The four poets studied here, Muktanand Swami, Dayaram, Pritamdas, and Brahmanand Swami, specifically emphasize the need for a Vaiṣṇava devotee to gain control over the actions of their mind. They imagine the process of doing so as extremely arduous and therefore requiring approaches of a warrior or a pearl-diver. A Vaiṣṇava devotee, according to them, thus needs to exhibit strength, vigilance and courage to withstand machinations of mind; they must also simultaneously practice moral correctness in their social and devotional interactions. These practical requirements of devotionalism complicate popular understanding of a Vaiṣṇava’s relationship with god as that marked extensively by physical acts of devotion, and of religiosity as measured by emotive expressions. By studying a sample of poems composed by devotees of Pushti Marga, Swaminarayana and Ramanandi sampradayas, this paper hopes to shed light on vernacular discussions of Vaiṣṇava devotionalism in pre-modern Gujarat and thereby contribute to our understanding of the ways in which social beings comprehend their devotional subjectivity.
11:40 am – 12:40 pm: Panel 6: Political Selves
“From Ceylonese to Sinhalese: Post-Independence Sri Lankan Identity”
Maria Ritzema (UIC)
Combining parliamentary arguments on the debate over Sinhala as the official state language and oral interviews with Sri Lankans who left the island in the 1950s and 1960s, I will illustrate how new identities were constructed by or imposed on Sri Lankans and how this project was accepted or contested. I have interviewed Sinhalese, Tamil, and Burgher Sri Lankans that left the island during the 1950s and 60s as to their reasons for emigrating. Sinhalese ethnonationalism played a prominent role.
My research of the parliamentary debates shows that in 1954, many Sri Lankan members of parliament of Sinhalese ethnicity started crafting a new argument for Sinhala, their language, to be the official language of the nation. Prior to this, the language debate was centered on how to change bureaucratic and educational administration from English, the language of the former British colonizers, into Sinhala and Tamil, the latter spoken by the Tamils. From 1948-1954, the debates on language was inclusive. What changed in 1954? These parliamentarians asserted that the British denigrated the Sinhalese people by disparaging their religion, Buddhism, and their language. These grievances needed to be addressed.
Sinhalese ethnonationalism grew post-independence and Sinhalese politicians rode this wave in order to maintain power. Tamil concerns about where they fit into the new nation were brushed aside. Thirty years of their fears and concerns being unaddressed led to migration and civil war. Sinhalese concerned with growing communalism or if they fit the new identity also left.
The Sinhalese in post-independence Sri Lanka began constructing a new identity for themselves, and others, and through institutionalizing their language as the official language, legitimized this identity by the state. The new Sinhalese identity projected current events and actions on the ancient past. To be Sri Lankan, one should be Sinhalese, speak Sinhala, and practice Buddhism.
“Bhutan and the ‘Desire for a Better Way of Being’: Premodern Utopias and the Discourse of Gross National Happiness ”
Jetsun Deleplanque (UChicago)
12:45 pm – 2:00 pm: Lunch
2:00 pm – 3:00 pm: Panel 7A: Literary Selves, Part I
“Self and Story in the Mahābhārata”
Nell Hawley (UChicago)
Beneath its playful exterior, the fourth book of the Sanskrit epic Mahābhārata offers a profound exploration of selfhood in some of South Asia’s most well-known figures: the five Pāṇḍava brothers and their wife, Draupadī. During the Pāṇḍavas’ sojourn at the court of King Virāṭa, each of these main actors adopts an overtly self-reflective disguise. Yudhiṣṭhira, the epic’s notoriously bad (and hopelessly addicted) gambler, introduces himself as a royal dicing master; Bhīma, his appetite ever voracious, becomes the palace cook and feeds others; Arjuna, the most accomplished archer in the three worlds, masks himself as a transvestite dancing teacher; and Draupadī, her sense of honor deeply threatened by Duḥśāsana’s grabbing her by the hair twelve years prior, declares that she will serve as a hairdresser. These disguises allow the Pāṇḍavas and Draupadī to swing dynamically between what David Shulman has termed “self-alienation” and “self-coincidence.” This paper will contrast two such trajectories, Yudhiṣṭhira’s and Arjuna’s, through analyzing the functions of performance and storytelling in each of their masquerades.
Arjuna’s and Yudhiṣṭhira’s experiences of self-reflection in the Virāṭaparvan are markedly distinct from one another. In his costume, Arjuna is ātmavān (MBh 4.10.13) – possessed of himself – a description that applies both to Arjuna as warrior and Arjuna as Bṛhannaḍā the dancing teacher. Arjuna’s transition to his new disguise, his experiences in costume, and, most important of all, his reversal to a “normal” state are marked by his participation in performances of various sorts. The Mahābhārata contrasts these active performances of selfhood with episodes of storytelling that illuminate Yudhiṣṭhira’s more complex relationship with his disguise (and, by extension, with himself). As the king’s dicing master, Yudhiṣṭhira is far from ātmavān – perhaps because, as other figures tend to suggest to him through stories, he is anātman, or without his true self, to begin with. The paper will conclude with a discussion of how the juxtapositive depictions of Arjuna and Yudhiṣṭhira in the Virāṭaparvan suggest the greater functions of art, narrative, and performance in experiences of self-knowledge.
“Reading a Non-present Self: The Literary Appearances of the Sikh Policeman in Shanghai”
Adhira Mangalagiri (UChicago)
On May 30, 1925, bloody violence erupted on the streets of Shanghai. Sikh policemen, comprising a significant portion of the British police service, opened fire on Chinese students protesting against imperialism. The Sikh policeman has since made cameo appearances in literary portrayals of the May Thirtieth Movement, cast as a figure of brute violence and a symbol of imperial servility.
The figure of the literary Sikh policeman is a non-present self: on one hand, he occupies a central role in depictions of the May Thirtieth Movement, and more generally, in the landscape of early twentieth century Shanghai. Yet, on the other hand, he is deliberately written as lacking self-hood. His role in this movement and its subsequent remembrances is solely symbolic, and importantly, always silent. A voiceless pawn of empire, the literary Sikh policeman is always simultaneously present and denied presence.
In this paper, I read the contested self-hood of the literary Sikh policeman as a figure through which various actors negotiate their respective relationships with the larger political entities of India, China, and the British Empire. Drawing from a variety of Indian, Chinese, literary, and journalistic sources, I find that contrary to popular readings of the literary Sikh policeman as a silenced background figure, he is in fact a crucial political being who gives voice to the complex workings of the Indian-Chinese relationship during the colonial period.
Considering the Sikh policeman from a literary rather than historical perspective (in which he is often found) highlights his position in the immediate and popular imagination, both Indian and Chinese, of the time. Furthermore, as a global and diasporic Indian self, the Sikh policeman in Shanghai provides an important, hitherto under- explored, opportunity for scholarship on South Asia to transcend its national and regional borders.
3:15 pm – 4:15 pm: Panel 7B: Literary Selves, Part II
“Colonial Rationality, Islamic Reform, and Crisis of the Self”
Mohammed Afzal (University of Delhi)
The paper seeks to examine the nature of the colonial Muslim self in North Western provinces in the second half of the nineteenth century. This paper attempts to analyze how within the settings of a colonial institution the impact of new learning was felt on the psyche of a Muslim student. What changes did the dramatic conflict between tradition and modernity generate when enacted within the religious polemic of the mid-nineteenth century? The paper investigates questions of colonial modernity, the crisis of the self and Islamic reform through an examination of Nazir Ahmad’s Urdu novel Ruya-e Sadiqa (1894), which struggles to unify (through dream) the self of the author. This paper attempts to investigate how the dialogic genre of the novel allows for the investigation by the author of his plural selves. The author’s supposed resolution of the conflict between the skepticism and new certitudes of the split selves is subjected to critical examination. The paper is an attempt at showing how this fluidity of the self actuated by colonial rationality is sought to be frozen by the author through recourse to the “logic” of a classical Arabic philosopher. In the process, this paper points out certain strands of Syed Ahmad Khan’s Aligarh movement which are connected with the long legacy of classical Arabic philosophy.
“Mimeticism, History and the Hindu Self: A Script for Subject Formation in Colonial Bengal”
Ritwik Bhattacharyya (Princeton)
If the Modern West produced Man through various discursive means including transcendental philosophies, the Colonial-modern India did not merely adopt the metropolitan portrayal of the abstract subject. The colonial thought in India developed indigenous theories of subjectivity. Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay’s (1838-1894) late works provide an account of one such effort. Bankim’s theory of subject was remarkable on two counts. Firstly, Bankim sought to write a history of the subject (in Kṛṣṇacaritra) that he otherwise portrayed in abstract terms (in Dharmatatva). Socondly, by writing a historical biography of Krishna as the ideal subject of Hinduism who must be imitated, Bankim related history of the ideal subject and the reader of that history through a mimeticist principle. In Kṛṣṇacaritra, Bankim’s historiographic operation is interrupted by what can be called a cleansing operation for sanitizing the accounts of Krishna’s life. The paper wishes to demonstrate that although Bankim avowedly adopted the protocols of realism for sifting what is historical from what is antithetical to history, in his actual discourse this realism falls short of securing the ideal. Through the introduction of new rules of sifting the archive, rules that fail to remain contained by a strict realist-historicist imperative, this shortfall then is compensated for. The complicity of the historiographic operation and the cleansing operation thus remains partial and sometimes these two aspects contradict each other conveying a sense of instability harbored within Bankim’s discourse. The paper would end with a discussion of the significance Bankim’s mode of subject formation for the colonial modern subject formation in general.
Professor Donald S. Lopez, Jr.
Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies, University of Michigan
“Building a South Asian Self: The Case of Gendun Chopel”
4:30 P.M., Classics 110 (reception to follow)