Welcome to the Committee on Southern Asian Studies

Upcoming Events

South Asia Seminar: "The Refugee Narrative in Contemporary Sri Lankan Tamil Writing"

Vasugi Kailasam, Assistant Professor, Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of California Berkeley

This talk traces the mobile genre of the “refugee narrative” in contemporary Sri Lankan Tamil writing. By looking at the Sri Lankan Tamil novel Mmm written by the author Shoba Shakthi, translated into English as Traitor, this talk examines if the Tamil refugee narrative can embody ideas of displacement and belonging in terms of both thematic and formal elements which might, in turn contribute to the creation of a uniquely Sri Lankan subjecthood that can frame discourses of statehood and reconciliation.The 2002 Tamil novel Mmm (translated as Traitor in English) by Shobasakthi traverses spaces that are not often covered in contemporary Sri Lankan fiction. Set against the background of Tamil separatist movements of the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, the novel blends tales of caste and class oppression, while alternating between first- and third-person narrations. Traitor centres on a Sri Lankan Tamil militant, Nesakumaran, who flees to France as a refugee, and is eventually murdered, after being charged with the rape of his own child, Nirami. The novel showcases the breakdown of Nesakumaran’s self, as well as his familial and communal relationships, and reflects these dissolutions in the fragmentation of the narrative. This talk argues that the novel depicts Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism as a more complicated concept than is conventionally assumed, a heterogeneous discourse marked by distinctions of class, caste, and gender. By wrestling with conflicts that are internal to the Tamil community, Traitor illustrates how Sri Lankan Tamil literature envisions the national space of Sri Lanka as merely a site on which to mourn the lack of an ethnic, Tamil solidarity.

Register here:  https://uchicago.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJEpce6upjMqEtVxdzM5_6yB3zMC2WYZjG_j

Thursday, January 21, 2021 - 11:00am
Registration link in event description

Doing Research during the Pandemic, II: More Resources for South Asian Studies

with Laura Ring, Librarian for Southern Asia & Anthropology

This workshop will provide an overview of the Library tools and resources available for online or remote research in South Asian studies. The workshop is open to University of Chicago faculty, staff, and students. Space is limited, but additional dates/sessions will be added as needed. In order to ensure that your desired topics will be covered, please send an email describing your research interests or dissertation/thesis topic to Laura Ring at rin6@uchicago.edu


Monday, January 25, 2021 - 3:00pm
Zoom information will be sent to COSAS listserv. Please email Rashmi Joshi (rashmij@uchicago.edu) to subscribe.

TAPSA: Zoya Sameen

TAPSA: Zoya Sameen, PhD Candidate in History, The University of Chicago

Event details TBA

Register here: https://uchicago.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJUoc-mopjwoHtIl-op8GT_AipN1gztB9E2J

Thursday, January 28, 2021 - 11:00am
Registration link in event description

South Asia Seminar: “The never-ending test: a Jain tradition of narrative adaptation”

Heleen De Jonckheere, Postdoctoral Fellow, South Asian Languages and Civilizations, The University of Chicago

Repetition, reconfiguration and recreation form important characteristics of Indian literary traditions. In this talk, based on my recent Ph.D. dissertation, I will present creative engagements with a narrative called the Dharmaparīkṣā ('Examination of Religion') over a thousand-year period. This Jain story criticizes Brahmanical beliefs and authority by means of parody. Looking at six versions of this narrative, from different times and in different languages, I discuss changing practices of adaptation and translation by Jain authors, their underlying motivations, and how these were influenced by the authors' time and context.

Register here:https://uchicago.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJYpc-uhrzsqGNBvUP5bhGW_Ju7fI6U4j9sU

Thursday, February 4, 2021 - 5:00pm
Registration link in event description

In Concert and Conversation with Arivu

Arivu is a rapper, singer, lyricist, thinker, and social justice activist from Tamil Nadu. His career was sparked by his involvement with Casteless Collective, a band which combines a range of musical genres like Gaana, Oppari, rap, jazz, and rock to deliver a range of social justice messages challenging the dominance of caste, sexism, religious and political zealotry, among others. In addition to his work with Casteless Collective, he released a rap album in 2019, “Therukural,” with producer ofRo. Arivu’s rap and song lyrics are unabashedly political. He incorporates compelling narrated insights from autobiographical experiences with his observations of sociopolitical injustice. His poetry and lyrics also bear the imprints of his extensive reading of radical writers like Ambedkar, Iyothee Thass, and Alex Haley. 

During the 2019-20 anti-CAA/NRC protests in India, Arivu released “Sanda Seivom,” a song which became an anthem for the protests. Another viral protest song, “Anti -Indian,” challenges the ever-narrowing definitions of who counts as “Indian” and derides the bigotry of hypocritical politicians. His protest music also extends to film songs, and his work for popular Tamil movies like Kaala and Soorarai Pottru carry similar themes of social justice. His art is a testament to his firm belief that artists must be politically aware, and that their work must reflect the realities of rampant social inequality and injustice.  

Introduction by Constantine V. Nakassis, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Chicago and moderated by Pranathi Diwakar, doctoral student in Sociology, University of Chicago

Register in advance for this meeting:

Sunday, February 7, 2021 - 10:00am
Zoom registration link in event description

TAPSA: Naxalbari, Nemu Singha and the Indo-Nepal borderlands: a cross-border life-history

Abhishek Bhattacharyya, PhD Candidate in Anthropology and South Asian Languages and Civilizations, The University of Chicago

This essay focuses on the memories of former company children who have now become adults. I argue that taking my interlocutors’ memories as a point of departure for the study of childhood in India helps circumvent some moral, methodological and epistemological issues with this category. Childhood memories illuminate an individual’s assessment of their own experience, regardless of whether it conforms to widespread normative expectations about childhood. I argue that in this case, they also suggest certain biographical periodizations more relevant to a person’s life than prevalent age categories.A 1967 peasant uprising in the plains areas (Terai) of Darjeeling district, West Bengal, India, gave the place name “Naxalbari” to a whole trajectory of radical left politics in India – the “Naxalite” movement - which includes the longest running armed insurgency in the world. And in the adjoining Terai district of Jhapa in Nepal, a 1969 peasant uprising gave the name “Jhapali” to a strand of politics whose early participants included the current Prime Minister of Nepal. How did these two revolutionary mobilisations relate to each other, across an open international border?

Weaving in information and stories shared by different participants, this presentation is structured around the life of Nemu Singha – whose aliases include Ajit Singha in the Indian Terai, and Rajen Rajbongshi in Nepal. He is local legend for having broken out of high security prisons in both India (1971) and Nepal (1978), though few have heard of him elsewhere.

While numerous monographs bear the word “Naxalbari” in their titles, the place is at best posited as a prop for a story that moves elsewhere, carrying the name. Based upon extended fieldwork in the Indian Terai between 2017 to 2020, I reorient the narratives of Naxalbari to engage with the place and its people: belonging to various minoritized communities, often with settlements across borders, in a way that allowed for particular kinds of gendered cross-border guerrilla mobility over 1967-1977. In the process, the revolt created the groundwork for what I call a subaltern local internationalism.

Register here:  https://uchicago.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJYsdOusrDMjH93CEQG3zWTdjgGzhU7TzyQo

Thursday, February 11, 2021 - 5:00pm
Registration link in event description

Lecture by photographer/visual artist Amarnath Praful on filmmaker G. Aravindan

Introduction by Constantine V. Nakassis, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Chicago and moderated by Eléonore Rimbault, doctoral student in Anthropology, University of Chicago

Friday, February 19, 2021 - 10:00am
Zoom registration link forthcoming

Lecture by Snigdha Poonam

Introduction by Anjali Adukia, Assistant Professor, Harris School of Public Policy and moderated by Jesse Orr, masters student at the Harris School of Public Policy

Monday, February 22, 2021 - 10:00am
Zoom registration link forthcoming

The Normless City: Moral Anxiety and the Question of Norms in Early Nineteenth Century Kolkata

Thomas Newbold, PhD Candidate in South Asian Languages and Civilizations and History, The University of Chicago

In 1822 the Sanskrit satirical play Hāsyārṇava (Ocean of Laughter) was first printed at Calcutta, accompanied by a Bengali verse translation. In the play, set in the fictitious realm of a king where the transgression of all that is proper is the sole norm, the kingdom’s Brahmins methodically violate all expected moral and social prescriptions in order to comically pursue ever more base forms of gratification. Yet the upside-down world of the Hāsyārnava was no far-off fairytale realm for the residents of early nineteenth-century Kolkata. 

 The satirist Bhabānīcaraṅa Bandyopādhyāẏa, editor of the Hāsyārṇava, worried explicitly that the new arrangements of employment and sociability brought about by the colonial order could make life in Kolkata appear comically grotesque to outsiders, and that the normless city could and would be laughed at. He was not alone in being so preoccupied: Fort William College paṇḍits Mrityuñjaẏa Bidyālaṅkāra and Kāśinātha Tarkapañcānana joined him in worrying about the transgressions of the moderns and in making a reinvigorated case for the authoritative traditions that explained how matters ought to be. Others - most prominently Rammohun Roy - openly objected to their normative solutions, and in so doing complicated the straightforwardness of any appeal to textual prescriptions. The debate that followed transformed the simple quest for a realignment between norm and practice into a philosophical problem proper: if life in Kolkata was not to be immoral, where would good norms come from?

  Register here: https://uchicago.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJAocuutqDwuE9dykf6-_dAeHsHIHtCT6POc
Thursday, February 25, 2021 - 5:00pm
Registration link in event description

18th Annual South Asia Graduate Student Conference: “Between Comparison and Context: Global and Local Movements in South Asia”

Organizing Committee: Supurna Dasgupta, South Asian Languages and Civilizations Krithika Ashok, University of Chicago Law School, Sanjukta Poddar, South Asian Languages and Civilizations, Faculty Advisor: Prof. Muzaffar Alam, South Asian Languages and Civilizations and History

Social movements have historically been the trigger for mobilization, action, and transformation in all parts of the world, including South Asia. The aim of this conference is to expand the study of movements in South Asia, while simultaneously interrogating South Asia as a field of study.  Keeping in view recent instances of mobilization, along with examples from the long history of the sub-continent, we invite papers that study the emergence, forms of organization, methods, politics and impact of social movements in South Asia. In particular, we are interested in papers that engage with the methodological question of the context-specificity of these movements along with the ways in which they compare with other movements across the world. We welcome papers from diverse disciplinary and methodological approaches based on the broadest interpretation of the concept and practice of movements– contemporary as well as historical.

In their research, South Asianists often wonder whether knowledge about the region needs to be produced within a comparative schema, or if it can be generated within the specific context of the local alone. When analyzing movements across temporal and spatial planes, this methodological debate is tremendously productive whether across, or within, disciplines. For instance, should scholars of modern human rights movements work with the universalist assumptions of the concept or embrace a South Asia-specific understanding?  Or, how does a scholar of the Bhakti movement use Western liberal terms of ‘reform’ to understand the religious movement in that context? Does movement mean the same thing across modern and early modern South Asia? How does studying Dalit movements in India, alongside racial justice movements in the US (and their transnational dialogue), improve our understanding of both?

Further details can be found here: https://lucian.uchicago.edu/blogs/sagsc/

Thursday, March 4, 2021 - 8:30am to Saturday, March 6, 2021 - 1:30pm
Zoom registration link forthcoming

The Study of Southern Asia at the University of Chicago

The University of Chicago is one of the leading centers for the study of Southern Asia. Countries in which we have scholarly expertise include in South Asia, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka; and in Southeast Asia, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Tibet (as an autonomous region), and Vietnam.


Subscribe to Committee on Southern Asian Studies RSS