Panel 1:
Critiquing the Nation-State I

Faculty Discussants

Nurfadzilah Yahaya National University of Singapore.png

Professor Nurfadzilah Yahaya
 

National University of Singapore
Neelofer Qadir (UNC-Greensboro).png

Professor
Neelofer Qadir

University of North Carolina, Greensboro

Vipin Krishna

University of California, Los Angeles
Languages of Land and Sea: Urdu Philology's 1930 Response to Colonial Ethnolinguistics

Abstract: In this paper, I primarily examine the work of Syed Suleiman Nadvi who wrote a text in Urdu philology in the 1930s, in order to respond to colonial ethnolinguistics. Nadvi was, in a large part using language, and vocabulary as an archive of shared ethnos of the Indian and Arabian peninsula, in order to respond to what had by the 1930s become a colonial constriction of ethnolinguistic-economic regions. I trace his text as one, in a set of practices of writing and lexical-formation, that sought to construct dictionaries of itinerant people in the Indian ocean - and further - to disprove autochthony as the basis of nationhood, and instead reinscribe autothallasic practices into ethno-nationalism. Despite the fact that Nadvi's work squarely looks at the Abbasid era, other writers (and travelers) such as Muhammad Kazim Barlas wrote phrasebooks for people traveling from the southern tip of India, and onwards. 

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Dr. Vindhya Buthpitiya

University of St. Andrews
Dreaming in Cinestyle: Studio Photography and Trans/National Imaginaries in Northern Sri Lanka

Abstract: This paper examines the work of photography studios in Northern Sri Lanka. It explores the role of studio photographers as intermediaries of authenticity and possibility, reconciling the desires of their patrons with the demands of the state against a backdrop of conflict-induced dispersal. While the continued necessity and relevance of studios are bound to the production of state-mandated identity photography required for the registration of citizens, studio photography also helps mediate and manifest personal and collective aspirations and imaginings of and for mobility. Decades of armed conflict centred on an ethnonationalist struggle have determined the aesthetic forms and types of photographic practices that emerged from these studios. From portraits embellishing matrimonial brokering to ‘lucky’ visa photographs enabling successful migration, and elaborate wedding albums authenticating marriages that will pass the scrutiny of hostile immigration regimes, postwar studio practices endure. These vex, ultimately, the extant language and frequently binary theorizations pertaining to photography as a tool of surveillance or emancipation. This paper considers how everyday photographies that speak to war and transnational displacement intersect with the demands of state actors and mediate individual efforts to secure new kinds of citizenship that strengthen collective political claims.

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Dr. Uttara Shahani

University of Oxford
Caste, Partition, and the Prevention of Exit

Abstract: In October 1949, a steamer from Karachi was about to set sail for India when Pakistani police stopped it from leaving and detained approximately two hundred people. Those on board had included several passengers from oppressed castes: sweepers, cobblers, and other labourers. The government of Pakistan detained them on the grounds that they provided essential services. The 1947 partition of India is usually conceived of as fuelling the mass movement of people across borders. But what of those who were forcibly immobilised? Scholars have devoted significant attention to the permit systems the governments of India and Pakistan put in place after partition to stem refugee entry and prevent the return of ‘evacuees.’ However, the prevention of exit became, alongside non-entrée, part of an official strategy of immobility in South Asia, the burden of which was borne largely by oppressed castes. At partition, the labour of non-Muslim oppressed castes came to be seen as a form of national wealth in Pakistan. The new government thus believed that the oppressed castes had to be retained at all costs. On the other side of the border, the paper discusses the Indian government’s indifference to the struggles of the oppressed caste groups trying to migrate to India. Finally, I highlight the ongoing significance of ‘egress and movement control’ regimes in other regions of South Asia such as Kashmir. The paper builds on recent scholarship that sees ‘stuckness’ not only as the inability of those with few resources to migrate but as a feature of the process of migration itself. 

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Haider Shahbaz

University of California, Los Angeles
“Ignorant, Gloomy, Black”: Racism and the Colonial Beginnings of Modern Urdu Prose

Abstract: John Gilchrist - the first professor of Hindustani at Fort William College - gives the following entry for the word, ‘Dark,’ in his A Dictionary, English and Hindostanee: “undhera, tareek, teeru, mŏŏſhkil, mŏŏghluq, pooſheedu, chhipa, jahil, na-dan, ufsŏŏrdu, ſurd-dil, oodas” The last five entries literally translate to: uneducated, unwise, sad, cold-hearted, and unhappy. The association of darkness with derogatory human qualities does not come as a surprise - Gilchrist, in his various philological and lexical writings, repeatedly refers to black people as civilizational inferiors. Furthermore, Gilchrist was interested in comparing ‘black’ people in India with ‘black’ people elsewhere. Hence his orientalist project of studying India and its languages was an inextricably comparative project, linking Indology with histories and narratives of enslavement and anti-blackness in the Atlantic. How did these two discourses of European racialism - orientalism and anti-blackness - intersect at the constitutive moment of the colonial beginnings of modern Urdu and Hindi prose? How did colonial institutions such as Fort William College train the imaginations of colonial administrators as well as colonized peoples to think about race? By focusing on John Gilchrist’s philological writings, I suggest that we need to study the often-overlooked mutual constitution of the discourses of orientalism and anti-blackness at the very foundations of modern South Asian literature. I hope this analysis will lead to a better understanding of the comparative racialist thinking that underpin British orientalism and continues to shape contemporary postcolonial histories and literatures.

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Panelists