Anand V. Taneja, Assistant Professor, Department of Religious Studies, Department of Anthropology, Asian Studies Program, Graduate Department of Religion, Vanderbilt University
Chair: Ali Asani, Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures; Director, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program, Harvard University
Relations between religions in South Asia have been seen as marked by either competition or syncretism. Is there another way of understanding the inter-religious interaction? Turning to the interactions between Muslims and Hindus at the popular Muslim saint-shrine of Firoz Shah Kotla in Delhi, Taneja offers another model in this talk—one of religions opening up new potentialities of ethical life and self-fashioning for the others they interact with, without either “conversion” or the dilution of doctrinal specificity. At Firoz Shah Kotla, the ethics of social interaction are anti-identitarian. People actively avoid asking each other’s names, which easily identify one’s religious community and caste. Instead, people follow an ethic of nameless intimacy, where they become friends and share intimate secrets while, on one level, remaining strangers. Women, for example, freely express their disaffection with the often oppressive structures of their natal and marital families. The ability to form communities of hamdardi (shared pain/empathy) while stepping out of one’s socially determined identity, Taneja argues, is a major factor in the healing power of Muslim saint shrines such as Firoz Shah Kotla. This healing efficacy can be linked to anti-patriarchal strands within Islam and to the Islamic ethic of gharib-navazi (hospitality to strangers/others), associated in particular with the Chishtiya Sufi order in South Asia. By offering us a model of Islam as an ethical inheritance as opposed to a religious identity, Firoz Shah Kotla forces us to rethink normative ideas of religion, and the role of Islam in the ethical and religious life of North India.
Cosponsored with the Prince Alwaleed Islamic Studies Program
Mircea Raianu, PhD Candidate, History Department, FAS; SAI Graduate Student Associate
Chair Sunil Amrith, Mehra Family Professor of South Asian Studies, Professor of History, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences
From one of many merchant families in the port city of Bombay in the mid-nineteenth century, Tata became India’s largest and most influential business firm by the time of independence in 1947, with interests ranging from steel to hydroelectricity, chemicals, and aviation. In parallel, Tata philanthropy took on the burden of development beyond the economic domain, from scientific research to modernist art. This talk will examine the transformation of Tata philanthropy from community-based charity to “constructive” projects on a national scale, and account for the expansive transnational set of actors brought together by Tata patronage, including scientists, technocrats, intellectuals, and artists. The talk will show how the pattern of Tata philanthropic donations was neither the expression of an underlying nationalist vision, nor a purely strategic calculus. Institutions such as the Indian Institute of Science (1909), the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (1936), and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (1947) fulfilled the imagined developmental needs of the nation-state-in-waiting, while at the same time remaining inseparably connected to the firm’s need for technology and expertise in the mills of Bombay and the new steel township of Jamshedpur.
Charles Shao, Founder and Executive Chairman of Huaxia Dairy Farm Ltd
Discussant: Ateya Khorakiwala, PhD Candidate, Harvard Graduate School of Design
Chair: Tarun Khanna, Director of Harvard South Asia Institute; Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor, Harvard Business School
Charles Shao is the Founder and Executive Chairman of Huaxia Dairy Farm Ltd. Huaxia operates three dairy farms in Hebei, Beijing and Jiangsu. It is the subject of an upcoming Harvard Business School Case Study.
In this talk, Shao will be speaking about issues related to food safety in China, and the role of business and entrepreneurship in addressing safety issues. Ateya Khorakiwala, whose PhD focuses on food-supply systems in India, will compare these issues to the India context.
Cosponsored by the Fairbanks Center for Chinese Studies
Samia Khatun, McKenzie Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Melbourne
Discussant: Vivek Bald, Associate Professor, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, MIT
Australian deserts today are dotted with the remains of 19th century mosques. Built by South Asian merchants and workers in the era of the Australian camel trade, 1860 – 1930, these mosques are rich repositories of the things once most precious to Muslim travellers. Beginning with the discovery of a 19th century book of Bengali sufi poetry in a mosque in Broken Hill, Khatun explores the epistemological traditions that travelled with colonized peoples moving across the terrain of empire.
Khatun asks: What role can the poetry of colonised peoples play in crafting new histories of South Asian travellers? What historiographical practises did Aboriginal people deploy to memorialise South Asians travelling through Australian deserts? On what alternative grounds can we place histories of South Asian travellers?
From 2014-2015 author, translator and storyteller Musharraf Ali Farooqi led the highly successful ‘Leading Through Teaching’ storytelling workshop for Pakistan parliamentarians, in association with the education advocacy group Alif Ailaan. These storytelling workshops were aimed at preparing the parliamentarians to engage with young learners, and acquaint themselves firsthand with the education delivery issues in the schools in their constituencies. A record of these workshops, the storytelling sessions conducted by the parliamentarians, and their comments, can be viewed here: Leading Through Teaching
These workshops grew from Farooqi’s highly successful storytelling sessions in Pakistan schools to introduce the children’s publications of his publishing house Kitab. Farooqi’s own understanding of the storytelling processes are grounded in his study and translations of Urdu language classics. His acclaimed translations, The Adventures of Amir Hamza (2007), and Hoshruba (2009) were the first major translations of Urdu language classics.
Farooqi will offer his view of storytelling as a core function of human communication, discuss the special place of stories in the Indian subcontinent, and talk about his own work as a storyteller, writer and translator.
Cosponsored with the Prince Alwaleed Islamic Studies Program
Rosanna Picascia, SAI Graduate Student Associate, PhD candidate in the Study of Religion
Chair: Parimal G. Patil, Professor of Religion and Indian Philosophy, Committee on the Study of Religion, FAS, Chair of the Department of South Asian Studies
This talk will look at the debate among Sanskrit philosophers of religion over whether, and the conditions under which, testimony is a source of knowledge. In particular, it will focus on the epistemic status of scripture, the example par excellence of testimony. What makes scripture an interesting case to look at is that it often speaks about nonempirical objects, such as heaven, which are incapable of being directly verified. Moreover, the fact that scriptural testimony varies among different religious traditions poses a challenge to testimonially-based religious belief. This talk will explore the ways in which South Asian philosophers of religion in first millennium India approached these issues, while additionally drawing upon contemporary discussions in the epistemology of testimony.
Chair: Anila Daulatzai, Visiting Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies and Islamic Studies, Harvard Divinity School
Omar Shahid Hamid has served with the Karachi police for twelve years, most recently as head of counterterrorism. During his service, he has been actively targeted by various terrorist groups and organizations. He was wounded in the line of duty and his office was bombed by the Taliban in 2010. He left Karachi for a sabbatical when there were too many contracts on his life. He has a master’s in criminal justice policy from the London School of Economics and a master’s in law from University College London.
Much like the protagonist in his police procedural, The Prisoner, Hamid was forced to navigate the byzantine politics, shifting alliances, and backroom dealings of Karachi police and intelligence agencies. In his novel, Hamid exposes that dark side of Karachi, as only a police officer could. His writing has garnered praise for rejecting a romanticized take on slum life—as is characteristic in Pakistani English literature—in favor of gritty realism.
A thinly veiled fictional interpretation of real-life events, the novel follows Constantine D’Souza, a Christian police officer charged with rescuing kidnapped American journalist Jon Friedland (a.k.a., 2002 captured Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl). With no leads, D’Souza recruits Akbar Khan, a rogue cop imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit (modeled on Pakistan’s famed take-no-prisoners officer Chaudhry Aslam Khan). Caught between Pakistan’s militant ruling party and the Pakistani intelligence agencies, D’Souza finds himself in a race against time to save a man’s life—and the honor of his nation.
Sharmila Murthy, Assistant Professor of Law, Suffolk University; Visiting Scholar, Sustainability Science Program, Harvard Kennedy School
Ramnath Subbaraman, Associate Physician, Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Research Advisor, Partners for Urban Knowledge, Action, and Research (PUKAR), Mumbai, India
Subhadra Banda, Research Associate, Centre for Policy Research; MPP Candidate, Harvard Kennedy School of Government
As India looks to position itself as a global leader, it also bears the ignominious status as being the open defecation capital of the world. Of the 2.5 billion people in the world who still lack access to adequate sanitation, nearly one-third live in India. Tragic events last summer in rural India further raised awareness of access to toilets as a women’s issue. Drawing on their experiences in urban and rural India, Professor Murthy, Dr. Subbaraman and Ms. Banda will explore the challenges of improving access to sanitation on the sub-continent, addressing the public health, gender, policy and legal dimensions of this complicated issue.
Jeffrey Witsoe, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Union College
Discussant: Rohit Chandra, PhD candidate, Harvard Kennedy School
Hidden behind the much-touted success story of India’s emergence as an economic superpower is another, far more complex narrative of the nation’s recent history, one in which economic development is frequently countered by profoundly unsettling, and often violent, political movements. In Democracy against Development, Jeffrey Witsoe investigates this counter-narrative, uncovering an antagonistic relationship between recent democratic mobilization and development-oriented governance in India.
Jeffrey Witsoe is an anthropologist whose work has focused on a rethinking of democracy and the postcolonial state through an examination of lower-caste politics in Bihar. He is the author of Democracy Against Development (University of Chicago Press) and articles and book chapters on lower-caste politics in India. His current research explores the political economy of rural development, with a focus on India’s massive rural employment guarantee scheme. Another project examines the ways in which neoliberal economic growth is reshaping regional politics, with a focus on criminal networks related to natural resource extraction. He holds a B.A. from the University of California, Santa Cruz, an M.A. from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge.