South Asia Conference of the Pacific Northwest 



The Walker Ames Room, Kane Hall 225, University of Washington, Seattle, WA (Map)


9:00 - 10:30 AM - Panel One Discussion
10:30 - 10:40 AM - Break 
10:40 - 12:00 PM - Panel Two Discussion
12:00 - 1:30 PM - Lunch and Presentation
1:30 - 2:30 PM - Panel Three Discussion
2:30 - 2:45 PM - Break
2:45 - 3:45 PM - Panel Four Discussion
3:45 - 4:00 PM - Break
4:00 - 5:00 PM - Final Presentation


Panel One - Texts, Words, and Interpretations
9:00 - 10:30 AM

On Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke
Nalini Iyer, Professor of English
Seattle University

The first two novels in Ghosh's Ibis trilogy are more about journeys and continuous transnational mobility than they are about settlement and assimilation. In focusing on journeys and different forms of affiliation, Ghosh unsettles essentialist gender identities and destabilizes the heteropatriarchal family narrative. This work in progress is an examination of the journeys of several key characters in the Ibis trilogy to explore how “unhoming” both geographically and familially shapes Ghosh’s vision of the diaspora.


A Mantra for Hegel?
JM Fritzman, Associate Professor of Philosophy
Lewis & Clark University


Modernization from Within: The ‘Beloved’ of the Urdu Ghazal in the Early 20th Century
Jameel Ahmad, Lecturer of Asian Languages and Literatures
University of Washington

Advaita Vedanta and Caste: A Comparison of Śankara (8th c.) and Niścaldās (19th c.)

Prem Pahlajrai, Lecturer of Asian Languages and Literatures
University of Washington

Swāmī Niścaldās, a relatively recent Advaita Vedānta proponent and Dādūpanthī, deliberately chose to compose his independent treatises on Vedānta in Hindi despite being well-versed in Sanskrit. This talk examines Niścaldās’s stance on caste (jāti) which he supports by citing passages from the Mahābhārata, as well as the commentary to the Brahma-sūtra by Śaṅkara, the leading exponent of Advaita in the eight century. Śaṅkara’s position on caste is explored, as well as that of the Mahābhārata, in order to determine whether Niścaldās is following Advaita tradition or breaking with it and presenting his own innovative interpretations.


Panel Two - Contemporary South Asia
10:40 - 12:00 PM

New Media and the Public Sphere for Religious Debates in Pakistan
Rafeel Wasif, MA Candidate in International Studies - South Asia
University of Washington

This paper looks at whether the religious debates taking place on the New Media constitute an alternative public sphere in Pakistan. It analyzes threads that explicitly discuss religious topics on two different Pakistani blog sites, Pak Tea House and Pakistan Ki Avaaz, using Lincoln Dahlberg’s theoretical framework.

Venerating Microfinance Pioneers: Exploring Hagiographies of Muhammad Yunus, Ela Bhatt, and Vikram Akula
Kevin Johnson, MA Candidate in International Studies - South Asia and Public Affairs
University of Washington

The aim of this presentation is to stimulate interest in critiques of microfinance through the lens of hagiography. Drawing on a variety of research from city and regional planning, cultural anthropology, feminist theory, to South Asian studies, I explore how representations of key figures such as Muhammad Yunus have helped to solidify and propagate the microfinance model as a means of economic development. Yunus and Grameen Bank’s joint receipt of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize can be viewed as the event of sainthood; and the joint receipt can be understood to signify both a lifetime achievement award for Yunus, and an affirmation of the Grameen model. I then explore parallel processes of various neoliberal development agendas.

Quranic Legibility: Inscribing Devotion in Contemporary Pakistan
Nadia Loan, Instructor and Courtesy Research Associate of Women's and Gender Studies
University of Oregon

This paper ethnographically explores the inscriptional practices within sites of women’s religious learning in contemporary Pakistan. In particular, it examines the innovations in material forms of the Quran that are inspired by and brace the emphasis on translation and interpretation of the Quran.


Lunch and Presentation
12:00 - 1:30 PM

Why Ashoka (and therefore the Buddha and Mahavira) should be older than we take him/them to be
Ashok Aklujkar, Professor of Asian Studies
University of British Columbia


Panel Three - Gender in Modern South Asia
1:30 - 2:30 PM


Can the Victim Speak? Legal Procedure, Truth-telling and Gender Justice in India
Vibhuti Ramachandran, PhD Candidate in Sociocultural Anthropology

New York University

Dominant global legal frameworks concerned with sex trafficking in the global South emphasize a prosecutorial approach to the problem. In response, some donor-driven NGOs in India are using legal expertise to work with the criminal justice system, training women rescued from brothels to testify effectively against alleged traffickers. Pondering the limitations of this solution, this paper offers ethnographic insights into how marginalized women engage with the discursive frameworks and political economy of truth-telling in the legal system. I draw on insights from postcolonial feminism and law and society scholarship, and reflect on my findings vis-à-vis the current climate of emotionally charged calls for gender justice over the past year.

Panel Four - Urban South Asia
2:45 - 3:45 PM

Commerce, Urban Planning and Transnational Migration in Postcolonial Bombay and Karachi
Arafaat Valiani, Assistant Professor of History
University of Oregon

This presentation will explore the relationship between urban entrepreneurship and infrastructure development in Bombay and Karachi (1949 to 1971). Specifically, this essay comparatively traces the effects of the introduction of American styled “master plans” on entrepreneurs and consumers in Bombay and Karachi in this period.

Through Transience and Uncertainty: Understanding Reconstructions of Identity and Citizenship in Kathputli Colony, Delhi
Patrick Flajole, MA Candidate in International Studies and Public Affairs
Susmita Rishi, PhD Candidate in Urban Design and Planning
University of Washington

Since the new millennium, Delhi has embraced a ‘culture of legality’ in the planning and management of pre-existing informal settlements or slums. The subsequent and ongoing demolition drive has incited legal violence and prompted the urban poor to seek alternative sources of security and legality in order to maintain their urban existence. Through its focus on Kathputli Colony - one of Delhi’s numerous informal settlements - this paper attempts to understand the new forms of identities and modes of negotiations that residents of informal settlements actively employ in order to achieve legitimacy and full citizenship status. Based on an ethnographic study, we attempt to capture a temporal moment in the transient, uncertain, ‘everyday’ existence of the residents of this squatter settlement in west Delhi, which is soon to be demolished as part of Delhi’s first in-situ rehabilitation project.


Final Presentation
4:00 - 5:00 PM

Excavations at Bamiyan, Afghanistan, 2002-2012
Zemaryalai Tarzi, Professor of Eastern Archaeology 
Marc Bloch University of Strasbourg

The archaeological chronology of Bamiyan has been the object of many researches, beginning in 1922. During the last decades, thanks to the analysis with Carbon-14, we were able to date the Bamiyan Buddhasto to VI-VII century A.D. However, in the light of recent excavations spearheaded by Prof. Tarzi (2002-2012) on ancient Buddhist monasteries of Bamiyan, until now unknown, new and exciting discoveries have been made. Thanks to archaeological observations and analysis with Carbon-14 we are able to date the beginning of monastic life to be as early as the III century A.D. Prof. Tarzi will present the result of his research at Bamiyan.



Questions should be directed to Keith Snodgrass, Associate Director of the South Asia Center, University of Washington, Seattle:


South Asia Center
University of Washington
303 Thomson Hall
Box 353650
Seattle, WA 98195
(206) 543-4800 phone
(206) 685-0668 fax

Anand Yang, Director

Keith Snodgrass, Associate Director

Molly Wilskie-Kala, Program Coordinator

Nick Gottschall, Graduate Student Assistant

Robyn Davis, FLAS Coordinator

Sunila Kale, Graduate Program Coordinator