Past TAPSA Talks

Self-Determination and the Minority Question in Colonial India

TAPSA: Tejas Parasher, doctoral candidate in Political Science

Between the late 1800s and the early 1950s, South Asian politics were dominated by demands for elected representative government. These demands were made by nationalists challenging British colonial rule as well as by minority groups contesting nationalist claims. From early histories of colonial India by David Washbrook and D.A. Low to more recent accounts by Rajeev Bhargava and others, principles of representative government in Indian political thought have been understood as either directly inherited from British liberalism, or as departing from liberal antecedents only in their emphasis on the political rights of cultural groups rather than of individual citizens. Current interpretations overlook an important dimension of political representation in colonial India: for many Indian thinkers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, representative government was incompatible with the economic aspects of British liberalism, especially with free markets and private property ownership. This paper traces how economic liberalism became a target of critique in the theory of political representation formulated by Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891-1956). Reconstructing Ambedkar’s proposals for separate representation of caste and religious minorities over a thirty-year period, from his first engagements with colonial constitutional reform after WWI to his activism with the Republican Party of India in the 1950s, I draw out a theory of democratic government which used minority representation to transform markets and create participatory forms of economic life. Against what he took to be overly political views on representation in Anglo-American constitutionalism, Ambedkar considered group-based representation a tool for moving beyond liberal economic frameworks. I argue that this vision of democracy pushes us to rethink the place of markets within current theories of political representation for historically marginalized groups.

Dates: 
Thursday, October 25, 2018 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

Kazi Nazrul Islam and the Partition of Bengal: A Language of Unity, a Language of Loss

TAPSA: Ahona Panda, doctoral candidate in South Asian Languages and Civilizations

Arguably the most successful poet and music composer appealing to both Hindus and Muslims equally in undivided and divided Bengal, Kazi Nazrul Islam was the singular voice of an anti-separatist and unified Bengal. This paper explores how Nazrul, the national poet of Bangladesh, began to craft a political language from the 1920s that was anti-separatist, socialist and referring to a philological landscape including centuries of Islamic and Hindu literary traditions.
The paper examines the many lives of Kazi Nazrul Islam during the tumultuous decades of anticolonial nationalism, separatism and Partition, and East Pakistan.

Dates: 
Thursday, November 1, 2018 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

An Archaeology of the Virtues: Conversion and the History of the Khanzada of Mewat

TAPSA: Mudit Trivedi, doctoral candidate in Anthropology

A short distance south of Delhi, nestled in the Mewat hills are the remains of the fort-city of Indor. This city was founded in the fourteenth century CE by a lineage who came to call themselves the Khanzada of Mewat after their conversion to Islam . This talk presents some selected results of an extended multi-year project of architectural documentation, archaeological survey and excavations at this site. Through engagement with these material and spatial data, as well as recent debates over the history of the region of Mewat this talk outlines what an archaeology of conversion may have to contribute to the study of medieval India and Islam. Such an approach, arguably, affords the possibility of not explaining conversion nor inquiring into its motives; but rather of providing an account of the world a convert community enters into and the way of life it fosters and aims to secure. In doing so, the talk shall ground a series of archaeological analyses within an appraisal of the salience of the virtues in Islam to the Khanzada. Towards this end, the talk presents two sets of analysis, of glass ornaments and that of mortuary assemblages. Through these examples, the talk provides two accounts of the world the Khanzada crafted at Indor and how these were both articulated and evaluated in light of continuing arguments about virtue, rank and descent in south Asian Islam.

Dates: 
Thursday, November 8, 2018 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

The Founding of Bhutan in the Context of Tibet’s Seventeenth Century

TAPSA: Jetsun Deleplanque, Divinity School

This paper focuses on the theoretical foundations of the Bhutanese state founded by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (1594-1651) in the seventeenth century by paying attention to larger political developments taking place on the Tibetan plateau. Taking as its primary source the works of Tsang Khenchen Palden Gyatso (1610-84), the political refugee and famed biographer of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, my paper argues that the theocracy of Ngawang Namgyel was established and further consolidated within the confines of a specific environment which represents the culmination of a number of social and political developments taking place in Tibet during the period. Crucial among these were the momentous events that the led to the toppling of the little-studied Tsangpa hegemony of western Tibet and the establishment of the Ganden Phodrang government of the Dalai Lamas.

Dates: 
Thursday, November 29, 2018 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

Imperial Infection: An Ecological History of the Third Plague Pandemic in Bombay, India, 1880-1920

TAPSA: Emily Webster, Department of History, University of Chicago

The third plague pandemic looms large in the historiography of colonial India. This attention is warranted, given the disproportionate effects of the pandemic: out of a total of 14 million deaths from plague worldwide during this time, a suspected 12 million occurred in India - more than its region of origin - beginning with the first epidemic in Bombay in 1896. While historians have analyzed the social, political, and intellectual implications of the plague epidemic in Bombay city and in India more broadly, the complexity of plague and its vectors as an epidemiological and ecological force have yet to be explored. This talk will introduce preliminary thoughts on the historical ecology of plague in Bombay, India, from its arrival in 1896 through its eventual decline in the late 1920s. It will examine the unique features of Bombay that may have allowed for the propagation of the disease – namely, mass migration into the city to support the burgeoning cotton industry; overcrowding and unsanitary conditions; social geography; and the many urban improvement projects that may have influenced vector migration and behavior. Drawing on traditional historical data and emerging practices in science and technology studies, this talk will examine the interaction of human and nonhuman actors that allowed Yersinia pestis to take hold in Bombay.

Dates: 
Thursday, January 17, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103 (1130 East 59th Street)

Manifest Anxiety: Managing Religious Conversion in Early 20th Century British Malaya

TAPSA Talk: Hanisah Binte Abdullah Saini, Department of Sociology, University of Chicago

In the early decades of the 20th century, the expanding colonial administration in British Malaya provided attentive reports on cases of conversion into Islam. This was despite a longstanding policy against intruding into matters of religion and customs, which were left entirely to indigenous elites. This paper asks: Why was the colonial administration concerned about conversions into Islam, and how did this reflect the state's evolving policy on religion and customs more generally? Examining administrative memos, newspaper reports, and personal correspondences, this paper situates the colonial state’s anxiety with religious conversion against compounding stresses faced by a rapidly expanding administration.

Dates: 
Thursday, February 7, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103 (1130 East 59th Street)

Embodied Empiricism and the Respectability of Labour at the Madrasa Tibbiya Delhi

TAPSA: Sabrina Datoo, Department of History, University of Chicago

This paper elucidates how the mores of the north Indian service-gentry were implicated in the reformation of Avicennian medicine in colonial India. The paper focuses on a single site, the Madrasa Tibbiya of Delhi, a medical school founded in 1889 by a renowned lineage of Avicennian practitioners (hakims). This essay explores how medical education at the Madrasa proceeded by managing respectability (sharafat) as an aesthetic and ethical sensibility in order to dignify the manual labors required by scientific empiricism.

Dates: 
Thursday, March 14, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103 (1130 East 59th Street)

Adivasi Christians and Contextual Theology

TAPSA: Elsa Marty, University of Chicago Divinity School

Christians in the tribal state of Jharkhand are predominantly Adivasi (indigenous). In recent years, Christians have been returning to their Adivasi cultural roots and are increasingly reflecting on what it means to be simultaneously Christian and Adivasi. Drawing upon ethnographic work with two Lutheran denominations in Jharkhand, this paper explores the churches’ different approaches to articulating and promoting an Adivasi Christian identity and discusses the implications of their divergent approaches for contextual theology more broadly.

Dates: 
Thursday, April 11, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

Between the Many and the One: Anticolonial Federalism and Popular Sovereignty

TAPSA: Nazmul Sultan, University of Chicago Department of Political Science

This paper explores Indian anticolonial federalist attempts to theorize popular sovereignty against the grain of its traditional attachment to a concept of one-and-undivided peoplehood. Early twentieth-century federalist thinkers (Seal, Mukerjee, Das) claimed the very ideal of representative self-government is tethered to a philosophy of history that weds the image of one-and-undivided peoplehood with a project of European colonialism. What form of government was to be fit for Indians—and which one would truly enable self-rule—increasingly became a matter of creative speculation. The federalist turn in anticolonial Indian political thought emerged out of a sustained engagement with—and a critique of – British pluralism and American Progressive thought, and was marked by a keen engagement with the problem of collective will. Questioning the hitherto taken-for-granted assumption that the people is a one-and-undivided category, federalist thinkers such as B.N. Seal, C.R. Das, and Radhakamal Mukerjee fashioned an account of self-rule rooted in an image of “many peoples.” The paper concludes by arguing the federalist commitment to a vision of dispersed peoplehood contradicted its quest for popular authorization and ultimately brought it to an abrupt end in the 1920s (as the age of national self-determination began).

Dates: 
Thursday, April 25, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

The Mahābhārata in Double Vision

TAPSA: Nell Hawley, University of Chicago Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations

The weight of the Sanskrit epic Mahābhārata exerts a kind of gravitational pull on South Asian literature. Retellings of the Mahābhārata fill South Asia’s languages and literary genres, and each retelling answers the dark and violent world of the epic in its own way. In this presentation, I discuss one particularly unexpected response: the Sanskrit drama Pañcarātra (“The Five Nights”), attributed to the early poet Bhāsa (ca. 200 CE), which imagines a Mahābhārata in which the central characters of the Sanskrit epic actually avert the very war that is the Mahābhārata’s defining feature and live more or less happily ever after. In my reading, the play presents the epic in double vision—a feeling of construction, or integration, layered over something much more unstable.

Dates: 
Thursday, May 9, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

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