Past Events of Fall 2009

Monday, September 14, 2009 – Distinguished Lecturer Series
"South Asia? West Asia? The location and identities of Pakistan"
A talk by S. Akbar Zaidi (Karachi University)

Co-Sponsored by the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures

While Pakistan's geographical location has not shifted in the last 38 years, there has been a marked shift in terms of its identity and associations. In the past, what is now Pakistan was closer to, and more part of, the larger South Asian or "Indian subcontinental" identity, but it has now "corrected its direction" (apna qibla durust kar liya hai). In some ways, the Pakistani identities of the Muslim and the South Asian/Indian are competing identities, often mutually exclusive. A secular India with a Muslim minority would not wish for a stronger Muslim South Asian identity while a Muslim Pakistan may not want to belong to an idea or union, in which it would be marginalised and subservient to a power which it sees as its nemesis. With far greater Islamisation and with petro-dollars playing a critical role in Pakistan's political economy, in some ways, it would be fair to say that Pakistan has been excavated out of South Asia and replanted into a wider Islamic Middle East.

Dr. S Akbar Zaidi is one of Pakistan's best known and most prolific political economists. Apart from his interest in political economy, he also has great interest in development, the social sciences, and increasingly, in history. His forthcoming Political Economy and Development in Pakistan will be his twelfth book. His other books include The New Development Paradigm: Papers on Institutions, NGOs, Gender and Local Government (1999), and Issues in Pakistan's Economy (2005). He taught at Karachi University for thirteen years, and was a visiting Professor at Johns Hopkins University (2004-05). He holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge and lives and works in Karachi.

Time: 4:00pm – 5:30pm
Location: Knox Hall, Room 208, 606 West 122nd Street, between Broadway and Claremont Avenue

Monday, September 21, 2009 – South Asia Graduate Students Forum
A talk by Patton Burchett (Department of Religion)

"Violence Against Dalit Women in India: Recent Cases of Rape and Police Corruption in Rajasthan"

This presentation will examine several specific Dalit rape cases in contemporary Rajasthan in order to address the plight of Dalit women and the obstacles to justice that Dalit victims of violent crime face at the level of the police, the courts, and the village community. It will make special reference to the recent Human Rights Watch Report (August 2009) on police corruption in India and to issues related to implementation and enforcement of the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act (1989). This talk is meant to highlight the especially vulnerable position of Dalit women and the disconnect between the redress supposedly offered them by the letter of the law and that actually given in practice by Indian society and institutions.

Time: 4:00pm – 5:30pm
Location: Knox Hall, Room 208, 606 West 122nd Street, between Broadway and Claremont Avenue
Monday, October 5, 2009 – Lecture
A talk by Ramaiah Avatthi (Fulbright Fellow, Department of Anthropology; Chairperson, Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Tata Institute of Social Sciences)

"Dalit Conversion"

One of the most significant developments in the Dalit struggle for status and power has been the renunciation of Hinduism and conversion to other religions. Dissatisfied with the treatment meted out to them within the Hindu fold, Dalits have embraced religions such as Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, and Buddhism as these religions per se did not recognize caste, and espoused egalitarian ideals. The focus of the lecture will be on whether such conversion has resulted in ensuring Dalits the desired equal status and opportunity in their socio-political life and whether it has improved their economic status or placed them in more disadvantageous positions.

Professor Ramaiah Avatthi , a Fulbright Senior Scholar in the Department of Anthropology for Fall 2009, has taught at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) since July 1991, and is Chairperson of the Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy (CSSEIP), which he helped to establish. He obtained his Masters in Social Work in 1984 from the University of Madras, and M. Phil. (Population Studies) in 1987 and Ph.D. (Sociology) in 1999 from the Jawaharlal Nehru University. His publications include "Laws for Dalit Rights and Dignity" (2006) and over 20 articles in journals and edited volumes. Professor Avatthi has lectured on issues pertaining to Caste and Dalits at universities in India and other countries in Asia, Europe, and Africa.

Time: 4:00pm – 5:30pm
Location: Knox Hall, Room 208, 606 West 122nd Street, between Broadway and Claremont Avenue

Friday, October 9 – Club Bangla Film Screening
"Brick Lane"
(2007, 102 minutes)

Directed by Sarah Gavron
Based on a novel by Monica Ali.

Co-sponsored by the South Asia Institute

After her mother's suicide, Nazneen (Tannishta Chatterjee) is given by her father in an arranged marriage to a man she has never met. Barely seventeen, Nazneen is sent away from her beloved sister and their rural home in Bangladesh, to live with an older husband in London’s "Brick Lane." Her new husband Chanu (Satish Kaushik) loses his job and falls prey to a loan shark. He takes a low-paying job working as a minicab driver, and Nazneem tries to make ends meet by doing what the other women in the council houses do: she buys a sewing machine and takes in piecework. Karim (Christopher Simpson), the young, handsome, delivery man for the piecework, falls in love with her. In the meantime, the oblivious Chanu makes plans to move back to Bangladesh.

Time: 4:00pm – 5:30pm
Location: Knox Hall, Room 208; 606 West 122nd Street, between Broadway and Claremont

Monday, October 12, 2009 – University Seminar
A talk by Jonathan Spencer (Anthropology, University of Edinburgh) "Reflections on an illiberal peace: stories from Eastern Sri Lanka, November 2008

Time: 4:00pm – 5:30pm
Location: Room 1, Faculty House, 64 Morningside Drive (between 116th – 118th Streets)

Friday and Saturday, October 16 and 17, 2009 - "Caste and Contemporary India"
The South Asia Institute presents a conference in honor of Columbia alumnus Dr. B .R. Ambedkar

Co-sponsored by:
  • Center for Human Rights and Documentation
  • Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race
  • Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Culture
  • Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life
  • Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy
Additional funding provided by the Dr. Ambedkar International Mission (AIM) Inc., U.S.A; Office of the Provost, Columbia University; Taraknath Das Foundation; and the U.S. Department of Education

Featuring Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger in a conversation on "Affirmative Action, Law and Inequality in India and the U.S., with Pratap Mehta and Marc Galanter, moderated by Nicholas B. Dirks.

Participants will include
  • Gnana Alyosius (Independent Scholar, New Delhi)
  • Lee C. Bollinger (Law School; President, Columbia University)
  • Nicholas B. Dirks (Anthropology and History; Vice-President and Dean, Arts & Science, Columbia)
  • Masood Alam Falahi (Islamic Studies, Maulana Azad National Urdu University)
  • Marc Galanter (Law and South Asia Studies, University of Wisconsin)
  • Gopal Guru (Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University)
  • Raj Kumar Hans (History, University of Baroda)
  • Christophe Jaffrelot (Sciences-Po, CERI)
  • Pratap Mehta (Centre for Policy Research, Delhi)
  • Smita Narula (Law, New York University)
  • Balmurli Natrajan (Anthropology, William Patterson University)
  • Gyanendra Pandey (History, Emory University)
  • E. Sudha Rani (History, Dean of Social Sciences, Ambedkar Open University)
  • Anupama Rao (History, Barnard)
  • Nathaniel Roberts (South Asia Studies, University of Pennsylvania)
  • Sivakami Palanimuthu (activist and writer)
  • Jebaroja Singh (Women and Gender Studies, Saint Fisher College)
  • Anand Teltumbde (activist and writer)
  • Gauri Viswanathan (English & Comparative Literature, Columbia)
Date: Friday, October 16, 9:00am to 6:00pm; and Saturday, October 17, 9:00am to 1:00pm
Location: Room 1501, International Affairs Building. Columbia University, 420 West 118th Street at Amsterdam Avenue (15th floor)

For a detailed schedule of panels and times, click here.

View "Caste and Contemporary India" Conference on YouTube

Monday, October 19, 2009 – South Asia Graduate Students Forum
A talk by Anand Taneja (Anthropology)

"Sacred Histories, Uncanny Politics: Jinns and Justice in the Ruins of Delhi"

This paper is centrally concerned with the practice of petitioning Islamic spirits known as jinns in the ruins of a fourteenth century palace, Firoz Shah Kotla, near the centre of modern New Delhi. While the practices at the site partake of an old vocabulary of sub-continental Sufism, they also partake of modern governmental techniques such as multiple photocopies and passport photographs; and their origin can be dated to a period shortly after the Emergency of 1975-77. In this paper Taneja will elaborate on the hypothesis that central to understanding these practices at Firoz Shah Kotla is the question of justice – a conception of justice different from and larger than the (common) law now followed by the post-colonial state; a conception of justice with historical links to the norms of ethical governance elaborated in “medieval” Islamic India, and linked to Sufi theology, philosophy and practice. This is a history which (often literally) lies buried in modern Delhi, and emerges, like Benjamin's “true picture of the past”, at a moment of crisis in the life of the city.

The crisis is a continual one, especially for the Muslims of Delhi. This paper situates the origin and continuance of the practices at Firoz Shah Kotla within a broader field of Muslim dispossession, and the resistance to it; such as the Masjid Bachao (Save the Mosques) Movement of the early 1980's, which sought to make mosques under the jurisdiction of the Archaeological Survey of India accessible for prayers. Through newspaper reports and contemporary Urdu writings on the Islamic monuments of Delhi, this paper will trace the history of these dispossessions, their affective weight, and the picture of an all-but-vanished but still remembered cityscape that they provide.

Finally, this paper will ask, what kind of politics does the uncanny make possible? Taneja will use the uncanny here not just in the usual sense of the familiar-become-strange; but in the sense that Freud uses (and then rejects) early in his essay on the Uncanny, that of life and agency being vested in the not-quite-human. In this case, in jinns. The veneration of jinn lays claim to contested urban space, creates an alternative (and apparently efficacious) court of justice, and also an unprecedented archive of everyday injustices in the city (in the form of the petitions deposited). How is this veneration of jinns in contemporary Delhi linked both to the agency attributed to the invisible (ghaib) realm in the Islamic tradition, and to the mass mobilization of publics in the city around the mysterious figure of the “Monkey-man” in 2001? What do the uncanny politics of Delhi have in common with say, petition cults in Brasilia and alien abduction subcultures in the US? And how might a study of such uncanny politics transform our ideas of the possibilities inherent in the “politics of the governed”?
Time: 4:00pm – 5:30pm
Location: Knox Hall, Room 208, 606 West 122nd Street, between Broadway and Claremont Avenue

Monday, October 26, 2009 – Distinguished Lecturer Series
A talk by Abhijit Banerjee (MIT)

"The Great Indian Health-Care Mess: Problems and Ways Forward"

Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee is the Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 2003 he founded the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, along with Esther Duflo and Sendhil Mullainathan and remains one of the directors of the lab. Banerjee was educated at the University of Calcutta, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Harvard University, where he received his Ph.D in 1988. His areas of research include development economics, theory of income distribution, information theory, and macroeconomics of developing countries. Banerjee is the author of Making Aid Work and Volatility and Growth (with Philippe Aghion), as well as a large number of articles and is the co-editor of a third book, Understanding Poverty. He finished his first documentary film, The name of the disease, in 2006. Banerjee is a past president of the Bureau for the Research in the Economic Analysis of Development, and has been an International Research Fellow of the Kiel Institute, a Guggenheim Fellow and an Alfred P. Sloan Fellow. He is currently a Research Associate of the NBER, fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and member of the Council ofthe Econometric Society.

Co-sponsored by the Program for Economic Research and the Department of Economics

Time: 4:00pm – 5:30pm
Location: Knox Hall, Room 208, 606 West 122nd Street, between Broadway and Claremont Avenue

Wednesday, November 4, 2009 -- Lecture
The School of International and Public Affairs presents

A talk by Saeed Shafqat
"Pakistan's Transition to Democracy: Militancy and Future Relations with the United States"

Co-Sponsored by the Middle East Institute and the South Asia Institute.

Saeed Shafqat is Professor and Director of the Centre for Public Policy and Governance at the Forman Christian University in Lahore, Pakistan; and Adjunct Professor of International and Public Affairs at SIPA.

Time: 12:00pm - 1:30pm
Location: 1501 International Affairs Building, 420 West 118th Street at Amsterdam Avenue

Thursday, November 5, 2009 - SAA Roundtable
The South Asia Association presents
"Repeal of Section 377 : Decriminalization and the political, legal and public health implications for the LGBT community in India"

Co-sponsored by the Gay and Lesbian International and Public Affairs Association; and the South Asia Institute.

A panel disussion with Myna Mukherjee, Vivek Divan, Dr. Viraj Patel and Prashant Iyengar on the recent ruling on Indian Penal Code 377 that decriminalized sodomy. Moderated by Aseem Chhabra. Supported by a grant from the Kraft Family Foundation.

Time: 6:00pm – 8:00pm
Location: Knox Hall, Room 207, 606 West 122nd Street, between Broadway and Claremont Avenue

Friday, November 6 - Brown Bag Talk
The Middle East Institute presents

"Afghanistan and the West After Eight Years: Which War are We Fighting?"
a talk by Reinhard Erös

Co-sponsored by the South Asia Institute

Reinhard Erös was Colonel in the Medical Corps of the German Army and lectured on Intercultural Competence at national and international military academies. On behalf of NATO, the UN and international aid agencies he has worked in crisis areas in Rwanda, East Timor, Iran, Albania, Bosnia, Bangladesh and India. For the last twenty years he has been operating on a personal basis onbehalf of Afghanistan. In 1998 he and his wife founded "German Aid for Afghan Children". Since then they have built sixteen schools in the remote mountain areas of Tora Bora. His latest book is "Under Taliban,Warlords and Drug Barons," which will be available in English language within the year.

Time: 12:30pm - 2:00pm
Location: Knox Hall 207, 606 West 122nd Street between Broadway and Claremont Avenues

Monday, November 9, 2009 – South Asia Graduate Students Forum
A talk by Joel Lee (PhD candidate, Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures)

"Ravidas Razed: Temple Destruction and Dalit Religion in North India"

This paper presents an account of caste conflict in Santoshgarh, a town near the Himachal Pradesh-Punjab border, culminating in 2005 in violent clashes and the destruction of a temple dedicated to the Dalit (Chamar) poet-saint Ravidas by privileged-caste property owners. Based on interviews with Chamars of Santoshgarh, the paper traces two distinct models of politicized Dalit religiosity that emerge from the conflict - conversion to Sikhism and assertion of autonomous Dalit religion - and explores implications of both in terms of the state and signification.

Time: 4:00pm – 5:30pm
Location: Knox Hall, Room 208, 606 West 122nd Street, between Broadway and Claremont Avenue

Monday, November 16 – Roundtable
The Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life presents

"Secularism in Contemporary India"

A discussion with Christophe Jaffrelot (Alliance Visiting Professor; Sciences Po); Thomas Blom Hansen (Anthropology, University of Amsterdam), and Rajeev Bhargava (Political Science, University of Delhi and Director, Center for the Study of Developing Societies).

Co-sponsored by the Alliance Program; the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures; and the Center for the Study of Democracy, Toleration and Religion.

Time: 10:30am – 12:30pm
Location: Room 1512, International Affairs Building, 420 West 118th Street

Monday, November 16, 2009 – Distinguished Lecturer Series
"Forests and the Environmental History of India"
A talk by Kalyanakrishnan (Shivi) Sivaramakrishnan (Yale)

This talk will explore how the definition and management of boundaries between wildness and civility in Indian society and the relation of ideas of nature to different aspects of social life -- labor, aesthetics, politics, commerce, or agriculture – are interconnected historical processes that inform environmental history. Using the vantage point of forest history, the domain of environmental history in which the most robust body of scholarly debate exists in India, the talk will examine this rich literature to ask questions that newer and emerging environmental histories of India, especially as they deal with questions of water, air, industry, and climate change, may find generative for their own development.

Kalyanakrishnan (Shivi) Sivaramakrishnan is Professor of Anthropology, Yale University; Professor of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale; Co-Director, Program in Agrarian Studies; and Chair, South Asian Studies Council, McMillan Center for International and Area Studies. He completed an MA in History at Jamia Millia Islamia University; an MES in Environmental Studies at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale; and a PhD in Anthropology at Yale. He is the author of Modern Forests: Statemaking and Environmental Change in Colonial Eastern India. Next year will see the publication of two edited volumes, The State in India after Liberalization: Interdisciplinary Perspectives; and the two-volume Environmental History of India: A Reader.

Time: 4:00pm – 5:30pm
Location: Knox Hall, Room 208, 606 West 122nd Street, between Broadway and Claremont Avenue

Tuesday, November 17, 2009 – Lecture
A talk by Farzana Shaikh (Royal Institute of International Affairs)

"Identity, Ethnicity and Democracy: The case of Pakistan"

Co-Sponsored by the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures

More than sixty years after its creation in 1947, Pakistan remains plagued by fierce ethnic divisions and the absence of stable democratic institutions. Explanations for their persistence vary widely with attention focused overwhelmingly on the conditions of unequal access to state power that favor some ethnic groups over others and on repeated interventions by the military, which have eroded the foundations of popular democracy. The speaker will argue that the uncertain terms of Pakistan’s national identity and the state’s vexed relationship with ‘Islam’ have been at least as important in deepening ethnic discord and negating plural definitions of ‘the Pakistani’. This uncertainty and the chronic lack of consensus over ‘Islam’, the speaker will suggest, have been no less responsible for fuelling exclusionary political discourses. They, in turn, have affected constitutional development by encouraging the country’s governing elites to seek a monopoly over the expression of Islam in an attempt to generate power that lies for the most part beyond the reach of mass democratic politics.

Farzana Shaikh is an Associate Fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) in London. She was a Scholar in Residence at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton in 2006-07, and has lectured on Pakistan and Islam in South Asia at universities throughout the United Kingdom, Europe, and the United States. She is the author of Making Sense of Pakistan (2009) and Community and Consensus in Islam: Muslim Representation in Colonial India, 1860-1947 (1989).

Time: 6:00pm – 7:30pm
Location: Knox Hall, Room 208, 606 West 122nd Street, between Broadway and Claremont Avenue

Monday, November 23 - University Seminar
A talk by Ramnarayan Rawat (South Asian Studies, University of Pennsylvania)

"A new history of untouchability: the making of a Dalit movement in North India"

Every Dalit caste in India is defined solely in reference to a supposedly impure occupation that provides the basis for their untouchability -- this dominant assumption has shaped the study of Dalit society and history in South Asian academia. The persistence of the stereotype that Chamars are leather workers, spanning both colonial and postcolonial contexts, demonstrates the constitutive relationship between imagined occupation and the representation of Dalit identities. In the case of Chamars, who constitute fourteen percent of the total population of the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, it is leather-work. A key objective of my book is to demonstrate the intellectual genealogy of the association between untouchability and occupation which has been crucial to framing existing understandings of the origins and practice of untouchability in India. Second, this assumption has also played an influential role in conditioning the research questions that have been asked in the study of Dalit society and history. Dr. Rawat's book, "A New History of Untouchability: Colonialism, Nationalism, History, and the Making of Dalit identity in North India," questions this dominant assumption by arguing that the shared framework of colonialism versus nationalism in South Asian historiography has prevented us from taking seriously Dalits as historical actors with their own agendas.

Time: 4:00pm - 5:30pm
Location: Room 1, Faculty House, 64 Morningside Drive (between 116th – 118th Streets)
Directions to the meeting at Faculty House:

The talk will be followed by a no-host dinner (about $22) at Faculty House. If you wish to attend the Seminar Dinner following Dr. Rawat's talk, please RSVP as soon as possible by notifying the Seminar rapporteur, James Hare (email:

Monday, December 7, 2009 – Lecture
''To persuade them into speech and action': Political Tamil and the Tamil Political, Madras 1905-1919'
A talk by Bernard Bate (Yale)

All the elements of 20th century politics in Tamilnadu cohere in 1918-1919: human and natural rights, women's rights, the labor movement, linguistic nationalism, and even the politics of caste reservation. Much has been written of how this politics was mediated by newspapers, handbills, and chapbooks, as the dominant narrative of such events privileges the circulation of print and print culture of vernacular language. This talk explores the relatively less well known story of the role and impact of vernacular oratory on the development of the mass political in Tamilnadu from the Swadeshi movement (1905-1908) to the formation of labour unions (1917-1919) and the explicit attempt to persuade non-elites into speech, action, and ultimately politics. I will argue that Tamil oratory was an infrastructural element in the production of the political, at least the political as we understand it in 20th century Tamilnadu where oratory became the defining activity of political practice. When elites made the conscious move to begin addressing the common man, when Everyman was called to join into the political, a new agency was formed along with a new definition of what politics would look like. Ultimately, the talk will consider what such new agency and definitions entail for an understanding of what constitutes the political generally and the Tamil political in particular.

Bernard Bate is an Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology at Yale University. He received his MA and PhD in Anthropology at Chicago. His most recent book, Tamil Oratory and the Dravidian Aesthetic: Democratic Practice in South India was published in 2009 by Columbia University Press.

Time: 4:00pm – 6:00pm
Location: Knox Hall, Room 208, 606 West 122nd Street, between Broadway and Claremont Avenue

Thursday, December 10 – Discussion
A discussion with Reza Aslan and Mahyad Tousi
"Are You BoomGen?: why the media & storytelling matter to a new generation"

Co-sponsored by the Middle East Institute; Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life; International Media & Communications Concentration at SIPA; Columbia School of Journalism; South Asia Journalists Association.

75% of the population of the greater Middle East (Central and South Asia, Middle East, North Africa) is under the age of 35. The "BoomGen" generation – hundreds of millions of people -- have already impacted the world. Many have emigrated or have relatives outside of the region. Their diaspora reaches into all the major metropolitan cities in the world.

Join BoomGen Studios' founders Reza Aslan and Mahyad Tousi in a discussion about the "BoomGen" generation and why the media & storytelling matter to them. BoomGen Studios is a one-of-a-kind media & entertainment company entirely focused on content about the greater Middle East across multiple platforms, including theatrical motion pictures, television, as well as online. Find out more about BoomGen Studios at

About the speakers:
Dr. Reza Aslan, founder and Chief Creative Officer of BoomGen, is the author of the New York Times Bestseller, "No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam" and "How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror" His edited anthology, "Words without Borders: Writings from the Middle East," will be published by Norton in 2010. Dr. Aslan is a contributing editor on-line for the Daily Beast and Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside.

Mahyad Tousi, is CEO & founder of BoomGen Studios and Executive Director of BGTV. He has worked in over 24 countries as a producer, director, and cinematographer, in both fiction and documentary; in traditional narrative storytelling, as well as for fine art projects. His handy work has won numerous awards and has been distributed theatrically, on television, as well as in museums internationally.

Time: 7:00-8:30PM
Location: Altschul Auditorium, 4th floor, 420 West 118th Street at Amsterdam Avenue
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