Washington South Asia Report

Vol. XXVI, Number 2
Spring / Summer 2010


Current Events:
44th Annual South Asian Conference of the Pacific Northwest

by Cara Nicholl

The Center for India and South Asia Research (CISAR) at the University of British Columbia hosted the 44th Annual South Asian Conference of the Pacific Northwest (SACPAN) on March 4 - 6, 2010. SACPAN’s location alternates between the University of Washington and the University of British Columbia and brings together scholars and graduate students in South Asian studies from North America. In addition to the two sponsoring institutions, scholars from Emory University, the University of California Berkeley and the University of Toronto were in attendance. Presenters focused on various aspects of South Asian studies, drawing on disciplinary frameworks from anthropology, economics, film studies, history, language and literature, law, and political science.

Laurie Patton, Professor of Indian Religions at Emory University, presented the keynote speech, entitled, “Is Every Sanskritist a Nationalist? Notes from the Field” on Thursday, March 4th. Dr. Patton discussed her recent ethnographic research in Sanskrit language schools in India and the U.S., and highlighted the ways in which the current generation views the ancient language. Notably, she pointed out Sanskrit’s current surge in popularity and the increasing number of women entering the field.

Coffee and pastries helped to energize participants before the first session on Saturday morning, May 6th. Anirban Mukherjee, a PhD student in Economics at UBC began the session with, “Evolution of Credit Institutions in Colonial India: The Case of Nattukottai Chettiars.” Mukherjee discussed the emergence of credit-based institutions in colonial India as ideas of class pushed ahead of popular notions of caste. Tapoja Chaudhuri, a recent PhD in Environmental Anthropology at UW, presented “Embedded Neoliberalism and the Creation of Environmental Subjecthood in Periyar Tiger Reserve: An Ethnography.” Using recent field research, Dr. Chaudhuri considered the views of people involved in wildlife tourism as they come into contact with colonial legacies and evolving notions of gendered social mobility. University of Toronto Anthropologist Naisargi Dave concluded the session with, “The Intimacy of Human and Animal Through the Witnessing and Suffering of Violence,” in which she discussed Indian animal rights activists and their connections with animals in pain. Dr. Dave emphasized that activists who witness the suffering of an animal feel an intimate bond with the animal, resulting in a challenge to the ordinary sense of self.

The second session revolved around political economies and histories of South Asia. Catherine Warner, a PhD Candidate in History at UW presented, “Whose National Bodies?: Nepali Slaves and the Porous Frontier in Late-Colonial South Asia.” Warner focused on slavery rhetoric in the November 1924 speech of Nepali president, Chandra Shamsher Jang Bahadur Rana, arguing that the idea of Nepali citizenship was an important subtext of the speech that is often overlooked today. Next, Professor of International Studies at UW, Sunila Kale, drew from political science and economic frameworks to demonstrate how the Orissan economy has become dependent on natural resources. This was followed by UBC law student Pooja Parmar’s paper, “A Right to Water--Histories, Claims, Meanings,” a case study of the anti-Coca-Cola Company struggle in Kerala. Parmar highlighted how historians have lumped together the different protest movements, effectively de-historicizing and reducing the process into a small group versus a big corporation issue.

After lunch, six presenters comprised the final two sessions. Sudhir Mahadevan, Professor of Comparative Literature and Cinema Studies at UW, began the third session with his paper, “From the Photo-Illustrated Book to the Amateur Film: Topicality and New Media in Early 20th-Century South Asia.” Dr. Mahadevan discussed developments in the Indian film industry such as sound, camera technology and imagery within the context of influential socio-political processes. Professor of History at UC Berkeley, Prachi Deshpande, addressed the colonial period Modi documents in “Modi in the Colonial Archive: Towards a Cultural History of Scripts?” Dr. Deshpande argued that the Modi documents may be viewed as a site of debate for language, writing, printing, education, and literacy under colonialism. Finally, Christine Marrewa Karwoski, PhD student in Asian Languages and Literature at UW, closed the session with her talk, “Paradoxical Authorship: Tracing Authority in the Gorakhbani.” Here she examined the work of philosopher Yogi Gorakh Ban and considered issues of authorship and textual interpretation.

In the fourth and final session, Laurie Patton added to her earlier discussion on the ethnography of Sanskrit studies. In “Women and Vedic Recitation in Contemporary Comparative Thoughts,” she elaborated on the changing role of women and its impacts on the field of Sanskrit today. Next, Stefan Baums from Asian Languages and Literature at UW read, “One Thousand Buddhas from Gandhara: the Bhadrakalpikasutra and its place in Gandhari literature,” in which he presented new early dates for the Buddhist Gandhara texts. Adheesh Sathaye, Professor of Asian Studies at UBC, concluded the session with, “Construction of the Riddle-Tale in Sanskrit Literature.” Dr. Sathaye creatively used stories from Sanskrit literature to highlight some of the contemporary issues in Sanskrit studies.

UBC students and faculty were incredibly generous and provided hospitality and networking opportunities for all conference attendees. UBC Professor of Economics Ashok Kotwal graciously hosted a catered dinner at his home on Friday, March 5th, enabling a relaxing evening for mingling and discussion. Special thanks to Priti Ramamurthy, Director of UW’s South Asia Center, Keith Snodgrass, Associate Director of the Center, and Jeff Massey, Geography PhD student at UW, who helped to coordinate transport for attendees. The UW looks forward to hosting next year’s conference and hopes to continue the high standard of scholarship and generosity that UBC exhibited this year.

Cara Nicholl is a Master’s Candidate in South Asian Studies at the Jackson School. Her research focuses on thangka painters within Tibetan refugee communities. She can be reached at cjnicho@yahoo.com.

Return to the South Asia Report Spring 2010

South Asia Center
University of Washington
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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