Panel 5:
Critiquing the Nation-State II

Faculty Discussants

Mandana Limbert.jpeg

Professor Mandana Limbert

CUNY Queens College
Anneeth Kaur Hundle UCI.png

Professor Anneeth Kaur Hundle

University of California, Irvine


Kelvin Ng

Yale University
The Labor of Self-Respect: Political Equality and Labor Migration, 1929–1940

Abstract: In the interwar period, a world of Tamil vernacular print emerged as the foremost vehicle for the articulation and dissemination of various political aspirations. This coincided temporally with the movement of several million Tamil migrants between the 1880s and the 1930s to British Malaya, where they labored as dockworkers and plantation laborers. In the Madras Presidency, the weekly Kuṭi Aracu [People’s Government] and the daily Viṭutalai [Freedom] became closely associated with the social and political program of the Self-Respect Movement under the leadership of E.V. Ramasamy Periyar; in British Malaya, such newspapers as Muṉṉēṟṟam [Progress] and Tamiḻ Muracu [Tamil Drum] were successively established by such reformers as G. Sarangapany to challenge the Brahmin dominance of the Tamil public sphere. This paper locates the conditions of possibility for these claims for political equality within an imperial political-economic space of labor interdependencies, by historicizing the depth and durability of the category of “labor” within the political and ethical claims of the Self-Respect Movement. In insisting on the centrality of labor and capitalism—and specifically, the experiential terrain of Tamil labor migration—to the epistemological and sociohistorical conditions of these political imaginaries, it argues that labor emerged as a social mediation that constituted the grounds for a principle of reciprocal equity in social relation. Through a close-reading of news reports, speeches, and opinion editorials by several historically- and historiographically-marginal actors in Tamil vernacular newspapers across Madras and Malaya, it argues that the production of shared political subjectivities across these two spaces was impelled by a vernacular politics that upheld equality as the central problematic of the political. This multi-layered space of intellectual production, it further argues, brings into view a wider set of relationships: those between state, caste and community; between nation, diaspora and minority; and ultimately, between the religious and the political.

Please click below to see the pre-circulated panelist presentations on DropBox.

Darakhsha Qamar

Jamia Millia Islamia University
Aryan Theory and South Asia: The Role of Race in the Development of Cultural and Ethnic Nationalism in India and Sri Lanka in the 19th Century

Abstract: The Aryan theory having its origins in the works of a group of European orientalist scholars like William Jones, H.T Colebrook, and later expanded on and developed by Max Mueller is the theory asserting the common racial origin of the speakers of ‘Aryan’ languages- called so because they were believed to have been derived from the primitive languages, spoken by The Aryans. The European Orientalists were first intrigued by the similarities between Farsi, Sanskrit and certain European languages. They took this to mean that the people who spoke them must have had common racial origins and imagined into existence an ancient race of people called the Aryans. The theory claimed that the descendants of the Aryans had over time become geographically dispersed, but were united by a glorious past full of outstanding intellectual achievements, superior cultural practices and moral habits; basically representing the absolute zenith of the development of a civilization. It is a theory that has since been discredited several times by several historians who have debunked the idea of linguistic similarities being suggestive of racial affinity. Yet, at the time of its inception, it was hugely influential, especially in the European colonies. The paper will introduce the Aryan theory as part of the Orientalist project of producing knowledge about the Orient or the East- sweepingly general terms used by the European scholars to refer to the countries that were their colonies. The Aryan theory therefore was to aid the scholars in the colonies in rediscovering their past and it proved to be hugely influential to the indigenous intelligentsia. The scope of the paper will limit itself to only looking into the specific cases of India and Sri Lanka. Indian reformers of 19th century India like Raja Ram Mohun Roy, Dayanand Saraswati, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyaya, Govind Ranade were deeply influenced by the Aryan theory and went about developing a new Hindu identity that was befitting the descendants of the great Aryan race. This identity however soon got conflated into a nationalist identity. This was a kind of cultural nationalism and took its cues from the Aryan Race Theory. It was inherently exclusivist in nature as well as gendered and casteist. According to this parochial nationalism- founded on the principle of hindu majoritarianism- muslims and lower castes did not qualify to be Indians at all, since they weren’t descendants of the ancient Aryan race. In line with Aryan values, these cultural nationalists sought to define what real manhood and womanhood looked like. This made way for the creation of a masculine, nationalist identity that glorified conquest, courage, valour and spirituality as opposed to weak, lazy, effeteness. A similar process was underway across the Palk Strait, in a country then known as Ceylon. In the 19th century, in an attempt to counter the imposition of the imperial culture, the majority ethnic community of the Sinhalese started a cultural revival of sorts- a project that drew credence from the Aryan theory as well. Similar to their Indian counterparts, the major proponents of this project, like the educationist Anagarika Dharmapala, sought to create the vision of a golden Sinhala past. This involved the propagation of the myth that the Sinhala were actually descendants of Aryans from North- India- a chosen people who were tasked with the responsibility of protecting Buddhism. This not only proved their uniqueness as a special, chosen group of people, it also distanced them racially from the Dravidian Tamils who served as the ‘other’ in the creation of the hallowed Sinhala-Buddhist ethnic nationalist identity.The central aim of the paper is therefore to explore at length the different ways that the Aryan racial ideology influenced the development of the exclusionary Hindu cultural nationalism in India and the Sinhala-Buddhist ethno-nationalism in Sri Lanka respectively and rendered invisible the lives of the minorities in the story of the creation of the nation. In doing so, it hopes to establish a link between the racist foundations of such parochial forms of nationalism and the political violence, unrest among the religious and ethnic minorities as a result of their social, economic and political marginalization by the state and extreme polarization that characterizes both these countries today.

Please click below to see the pre-circulated panelist presentations on DropBox.

Arshad Said Khan

University of Alberta
Of Turkman Gate and Lutyen’s Delhi: Hijra Commons and Mobility in Three Texts

Abstract: I would like to propose a paper on the mobility of the literary Indian hijra subject against the backdrop of Old and New Delhi. Hijras are a South Asia specific marginalized transfeminine community that has long been defined through stereotypes, and disenfranchised since the British Raj. In contemporary India, hijra identity is being ideologically claimed by Hindu nationalism. Narratives like Arundhati Roy’s novel, ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ (2017), Mona Ahmed and Dayanita Singh’s life narrative, ‘Myself Mona Ahmed’ (2001), and Khushwant Singh’s novel, ‘Delhi’ (1990) offer diverse perspectives on how the hijra subject speaks back to hegemonic captures and constructs alternative political frameworks. I will examine hijra practices of community building and symbolic investments as subversive forms of national and civic belonging as represented in these works. In the anthropological view, the outcast hijra subject finds refuge in the traditional hijra gharana (household), a hierarchical kinship structure. Fiction and life narratives offer a more radical potential through their constructions of dynamic hijra commons as emergent urban locations for hijras and other marginalized people to fortify against persecutions. These narratives discuss uneven affinities and unexpected forms of solidarity that not only exceed the confines of the gharana but project varied intersections of class, caste, and religion against the ethno-fascist singularity of Hindu Nationalism. I will examine how these stories enact localized cosmopolitanism, and articulate dissent contra ideologically charged violence. I will also analyze how these narratives revisit the failures of the declining statist ideology of Indian secularism, and offer potentialities for integration from the margins.

Please click below to see the pre-circulated panelist presentations on DropBox.

Sonia Qadir

University of New South Wales, Sydney
Thinking (Im)Mobilities on the Margins of Pakistan's Legal Security State

Abstract: This paper unpacks the operation of Pakistan’s contemporary legal security regime by focusing on the surveillance and regulation of mobility faced by two racially and politically marked communities in Pakistan: Pashtuns and the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. It does so by (i) highlighting the use of specific laws to control the movement of both activists and ordinary people rendered suspect, for example Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance 1960, Anti-Terrorism Act 1997, the Rented Premises Act 2009; and, (ii) by paying attention to the postcolonial State’s unease at the cross-border connections of these communities and “other” imaginative geographies that they make claims to, as well as their connections and solidarities within the State’s borders. In doing this, the paper suggests that control of mobility may be understood as one of the key vectors of the postcolonial state’s legal security-scapes. 

Please click below to see the pre-circulated panelist presentations on DropBox.