Abstracts for Day 1

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Please note that there are parallel panels running for Panel 4. 

Keynote: Reflections on the Idea of the Self: Taking "Asia as Method" seriously

  • Keynote Speaker: Nivedita Menon, Jawaharlal Nehru University

The key notion central to Western modernity was the putting in place of the notion of the individual - that ‘I’ am this body and that ‘my self’ stops at the boundaries of my skin. Although this seems an entirely natural identification to the modern mind, it is only about five hundred years old and has specific cultural moorings in the experience of the West. In non-western societies this notion of the individual, separate from all other individuals, as the unit of society, is still not an uncontested one. At every level in our societies, there remains a sense of self that is produced at the intersection of individuated bodies and collectivities of different sorts. Individuation, therefore, is the process of recognizing oneself as primarily an individual, is always a process in the present continuous in our parts of the world. There is also the continuing presence of the "non-rational" in the living worlds of people in the global South. The lecture will attempt to track some of thinking around the self in contemporary forms of knowledge, in India and some other parts of Asia, especially in the field of psychoanalysis.

Twilight ‘Zomia’ of the Nation State: Itinerant Groups contra Borders, Ethnies and Politics                                                              

Avishek Ray, National Institute of Technology Silchar (India)

In administering territorial borders, the postcolonial nation-building apparatus, notably in India’s Northeast, has blocked the flow of people, goods and ideas across the region, thus transforming it from a vibrant corridor and centre of cultural-economic exchange to a ‘hinterland’. However, certain non-normative mobilities in this ‘hinterland’ remain impervious to ‘border thinking’, illustrating deep rooted and symbiotic relationships – invoked most recently by the Look-East and Act-East policies – that define territorially fractured yet culturally overlapping regions in and around the Northeast. The Northeast – considered ‘fringe’ vis-a-vis mainland India and ‘frontier’ vis-a-vis Southeast Asia – continues to remain a very ethnically diverse and contested region in India, where many pastoralist-itinerant communities were historically left out of nationalist integration. This implores us to think ‘through’ and ‘against’ borders, not simply ‘in’ or ‘of’ borders. This project therefore proposes to study practices of intra-region and trans-border mobilities – those not yet domesticated by the ‘modern’ nation-state – in India’s Northeast as a paradigm and point of critical reflection to show how boundaries can create contact zones and ‘borderlands’, porous spaces facilitating different kinds of interactions vis-a-vis the state. In light of this ‘apartheid’, this paper discusses a diverse range of non-normative mobilities forged by ‘nomad natives’: itinerants, vagrants, tramps, hitchhikers, etc., who do not conform to sedentary groupings upon which the nation-state is constituted, both within the Northeast and across national borders. In sumt, this paper seeks to study how non-normative mobilities straddle statist borders and, increasingly against the challenges of nationalist resurgence, post-colonial dilemmas, transnational ambiguity and globalization, problematize citizenship or sovereignty while transcending them and illustrating ‘Asian Commons’.

Decolonial Frames and Coalitional Resistance: The Kalbeliyas in North India

  • Ruchika Ranwa, School of Liberal Arts, IMS Unison University (India)
  • Suruchi Thapar-Björkert, Department of Government, University of Uppsala (Sweden)

This paper draws on ethnographic research on the nomadic Kalbeliya community of Rajasthan (a state adjacent to Indo-Pakistan border in India), who have historically inhabited various borderlands. Kalbeliya dance and songs have been recognized as an ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ by UNESCO and Kalbeliya performers move continuously in search of employment. While the cross border migration of Kalbeliya performers evokes a spatial categorization of borderlands, their continuing marginalization and discrimination by the State stretches the conceptualization of borderlands as sites that engender exclusion, inequality and exploitation (Newman 2003; Alper & Brunet-Jailly 2008 Banerjee & Choudhury 2012, Anzaldua 1987). This cultural and political terrain frames the ethnographic research conducted by the first author on Kalbeliya performers, in relation to their heritagisation (Ranwa 2021).

Our paper interrogates the paradox of the Indian State which, on the one hand, for its own international Western visibility and recognition encourages transnational movement of a few popular performers but simultaneously marginalizes those with low economic and social capital through (non) recognition. In doing so, the entanglement of these social processes at various structural levels, in the present, mirrors the imperialist histories of political domination, expropriation and repression. Challenging the co-constitution of systems of power at national, state and local levels requires multiple frames and multiple decolonialities to undo the entrenched systems of exploitation, social stigmatisation and unsustainable livelihoods. Our intention in this paper is to focus on processes that foreground a dialectical interaction that dismantles hierarchies and prepares the ground for an alternative and non-colonial mode of modernity. It requires an attempt to re-orient and decentralize practices of cultural (and knowledge) production and appropriation - not by having the West as the vantage point. As our empirical work demonstrates, the Euro-American consumption of Kalbeliya culture does not contribute to any viable improvement of this community. This systemic Eurocentrism needs to be dismantled through intra-community coalitional resistance.

Navigating Borders and Vulnerabilities: Rohingyas in Asia

  • Shaheena Ahluwalia, Chanakya National Law University (Patna, India)

In recent times, critical issues regarding regional cooperation and fair burden sharing on refugee protection in Asia have come to the forefront as Asia is generating and hosting most of the refugees. Rising concerns of host countries amidst rising vulnerabilities of refugees demands a more consolidated effort to manage the crisis. The urgent requirement to advocate for Asian framework of Refugee laws is two-fold. Firstly, diversity in laws of different countries and lack of laws in some cases makes it difficult to protect refugees. Secondly, the current migratory crisis in Asia goes beyond the framework of nation-States or borders. Rohingyas is one such group whose displacement across Asia signifies the alternate geographies which refugees create that goes beyond the framework of nation-States, creating their own definition of ‘commons’. Rohingyas fled Myanmar due to fear of religious persecution. Many Rohingyas sought refuge in Bangladesh however overcrowding, lack of basic services such as sanitation, education and access to health have made the community very vulnerable. Rohingyas in Malaysia and Indonesia are unprotected as the countries have not given them any legal status. Citing security threat they have been categorized as illegal immigrants in India. By analyzing the case of Rohingyas in Asian countries this paper argues that lack of regional cooperation is leading to increasing vulnerabilities of Rohingyas. It argues the need for a more consolidated effort to protect the refugees of Asia through the Asian framework of Refugee laws. This framework advances the need and efficacy of regional cooperation and fair burden sharing to manage Asia’s refugee crisis.

Towards a Himalayan History of Sikkim

  • Swati Chawla, Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities, O.P. Jindal Global University (India)

 This paper is focused on the erstwhile Buddhist Himalayan kingdom of Sikkim from the moment of India’s Independence from colonial rule in 1947 to the its incorporation into the Indian Union in 1975. This history is informed by the nationalist anxieties of “fearful states” on the Himalayan borderlands, and the unfinished cartographic project of competitive nation-building in the region (Willem van Schendel, 2005; Berenice Guyot-Rechard, 2017).

The paper gestures towards a conception of the Himalayan region independent of contemporary borders, and contributes to the work on the “re-regionalisation” of Asia by placing Sikkim outside both South- and East Asian histories.I foreground conceptions of sovereignty, territoriality, and legitimacy that are positioned equally against two very different and distinctly postcolonial organizations of national life: emancipatory Communism (PRC) and participatory democracy (India). Instead, in stressing that the Chogyals of Sikkim derive their legitimacy from the Dalai Lama of Tibet, I read both the colonial and postcolonial archives against the grain that privileges the modern state as the telos of nationalist becoming. I engage with Indrani Chatterjee’s work on “monastic governmentality” (2013) to recuperate other models of sovereignty vested in hereditary kingship, inter-marriage, religious patronage, and monastic lineage.

The paper also shows how the nationalist arguments made by the Sikkimese monarchy were articulated in distinctly postcolonial terms: they placed themselves within the history of anti-colonial struggles of the mid-20th century, and variously likened their situation to Barbados under British rule, and the monarchies of Kashmir and Bhutan vis-a-vis India.

Thinking Asia Conceptually Using the Works of Karl Gaspar, Syed Farid Alatas, and Sujata Patel
  • Hadje Cresencio Sadje, University of Hamburg (Germany)   

Southeast Asia is a region of diverse indigenous groups (Asia Indigenous Peoples’ Pact, 2010). However, the Southeast Asian IP groups, are often left behind, chiefly in their vital role in the national consultation process (Amnesty International, 2020; Minority Rights Group International, 2020). Scholars, researchers, civil society advocates, and policymakers argue that their presence in our society is enriching for all, and that we must learn from and with IP groups in a spirit of mutual encounter and engagement, principally for theory construction. Despite this, IP communities remained marginalized, discriminated, and victimized. (IWGIA, 2020). Moreover, what is the value of (premodern/precolonial) indigenous spirituality and traditional knowledge – now usually referred to as indigenous knowledge, skills, practices and spiritualities (IKSPS) - in formulating Southeast Asian theories, particularly for purposes of critical knowledge production? To address this question, I will explore the works of the underrated theologian-anthropologists Carlito “Karl” Gaspar who has lived and worked with indigenous communities or indigenous peoples (IPs) in Southern Mindanao in the last half-century (1972-2020), the prominent Malaysian sociologist Syed Farid Alatas who challenges the Western sociological theories, and lastly, the feminist and Indian sociologist Sujata Patel who calls to provincialize the Western knowledge. That said, this paper is divided into three parts. The first part will introduce the works of Gaspar, Alatas, and Patel as a latent decolonial approach or a possible epistemic reconstitution of doing theory in Southeast Asia, specifically in the Philippines (Al-Attas, 2006; Smith, 2012; De Sousa Santos, 2014; Ndlovu-Gatsheni, 2018; Mignolo, 2018; Dey, 2019; Chen, 2010). Recognizing Gaspar, Alatas, and Patel works as a decolonial option, the second part will attempt to address the main question: what is the value of (premodern/precolonial) indigenous spirituality and traditional knowledge in formulating Southeast Asian theories, particularly for purposes of critical knowledge production in the Philippines? The third part will provide a short conclusion.

Prospects for Decolonial Feminism in the Making of an Asian Common: Islamic Feminists and Islamist Women Activists in Malaysia

  • Saleena Saleem, Sociology, University of Liverpool

One contributing factor to socio-political polarisation in Malaysia is the repeated emotive trope of a secular-versus-religious dichotomy that is reinforced through (un)civil society activism, political discourse, and media frames, especially when contentious issues involving Islamic law, often related to women and gender, capture public attention. Not only do the secular- religious frame heighten inter-ethnic tensions in multi-racial Malaysia, but it is also implicated in the larger patterns of differential power relations that shape Malay Muslim women activists’ experiences. This paper adopts a decolonial feminist lens to study Malay Muslim women activists from self-proclaimed ideologically different advocacy groups along the secular- religious spectrum in Malaysia. Based on interviews with Malay Muslim women activists, the paper argues that the analytic bifurcation of women activists into “liberal/progressive/moderate” feminists and “conservative” Islamists is problematic without an interrogation of the coloniality of power and knowledge that continues to pervade not only the Malaysian context but also the global context. The paper critically examines the relationship between Malay Muslim women activists’ calls for reform, the parameters of reform forged by coloniality’s demand for conformity (i.e., in accordance with Western modes of thought and knowledge), and the Malaysian state’s imperatives to forge a homogenous Malay Muslim majority populace to maintain power. The paper locates discreet infrapolitical acts of resistance by some women activists, who are motivated by an ethical commitment to problem-solving in the present. The paper argues that such acts, unbeknownst to the Malay Muslim women themselves, reveal emerging points of intersections between them, which unsettle the notion that political struggles between ideologically different activist groups are a zero-sum endeavour. The prospects for a decolonial feminism in Malaysia aimed at de- marginalising oppressed groups toward the construction of more equal and pluriverse societies lie in women activists recognising and building upon these points of intersections. 

Green Village as a Unique Model of Self-Sustained Development Program in Kerala: A Study


  • Sreejith Kadiyakkol, English and Cultural Studies, Christ University (India)

Decolonization of India has gone through vicissitudes from a Nationalistic discourse of 19th century in search of an illusory Golden past to the 20th century Gandhian discourse of  Hind Swaraj exhorting to reach out to the remote villages in India that had been unpolluted by colonialism. The latter idea inspired the independent India to conceive herself as a Federal Republic. But the idea of Federalism has also faced lot of challenges due to various internal conflicts and thus manifested as a quasi-federal at times. Having gone through various tumultuous historical moments, India now realizes that this country needs various alternative decentralized programs to build up a robust postcolonial consciousness. Formation of an organization called Kerala Sastra Sahithya Parishad (Kerala Science Literature Movement; KSSP); a progressive outfit in the state of Kerala, India and the decentralization program called People’s Planning in Kerala are two brilliant initiatives in this direction. These two have given immense contribution to strengthen the scientific temper, federalism and secularism within this state.  This paper will study about a unique local initiative taken over by KSSP to convert the tenth ward of Mulanthuruthy Panchayath named Thuruthikkara in Ernakulam district of Kerala into a Green village by implementing a series of green initiatives like waste management, energy efficiency, scientific farming methods and  environment conservation. KSSP implemented these programs in association with various organizations and institutes like ANERT, Green Kerala Mission, Clean Kerala Mission, CUSAT, Model Engineering College, IRTC, KSEB Ltd. Within three months, tenth ward was declared as the first Green village in the state. To further strengthen these programs, KSSP established first Rural Science and Technology Centre in Kerala to train the local people. As a result of this, the ward was declared as the first village to be totally free of incandescent bulbs, plastic waste and e-waste. By these unique programs, the village sets an example in sustainable living. Seeing the success of these programs, neighboring villages have started emulating this by establishing science centers there as well. This paper will also look into the impact of this collective in strengthening the secular fabric of the community.

The Many Facets of Decolonization: Refueeization and the Calcutta Metropolis, Post-1947

  • Subhasree Ghosh, History, Asutosh College, University of Calcutta (India)

Taking decolonization of Asia as the wider canvas, this paper seeks to explore, with the city of Calcutta as the site of study against the backdrop of the 1947 Partition, the psyche of the inhabitants that translated into fractured social space, reflected in the re-contouring of the living pattern leading to pockets/enclaves/ghettos. While physical demarcation of the borders on maps and texts are more visible markers of divisiveness, psychological borders are more embedded and entrenched—more ‘felt’ than ‘seen.’ Refugeeization, as a legacy of decolonization, is a commonality that ties the Asian nations in one thread. From Burma where the Indians were purged out under a systematic government policy of repression from 1949 onwards, to the steady stream of Palestinian refugees to Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Asian nations have had to endure large-scale displacement, as an offshoot of decolonization. Against this broader picture of decolonization and refugee experience that transcends the national boundaries of the Asian nations, this paper by telescoping down to the quotidian life of the inhabitants of Calcutta, charts out the spaces (both physical and mental) of confrontations and collisions and how the metropolis grappled with several layers of invisible borders, post-1947—of mind, of identity. A shared history of anti-imperialist struggle resulting in decolonization, thus, did not result in a homogeneous collective but instead brought about fissures. As we strive to craft a global future, one can question the efficacy of such a study which highlights divisiveness. However, the recovery of these other histories of decolonization would hopefully open up channels of communication and dialogue that would perhaps facilitate to iron out differences at the micro-level which would eventually lead to greater coordination and trans-national cooperation among Asian nations.

Decolonising Toilets: Thinking Through the Commons

  • Anitha Suseelan, Priya Joseph, Albert Joseph Hefferan, Bhoomika U, Anuditha
  • School of Architecture, CHRIST (Deemed to be University).

The postcolonial India is envisaged as a non-hegemonic society that values equity, inclusivity and collective being. While civic amenities such as public toilets are presumed to be accessible to all, in India they are still highly ‘colonised’, with access being determined by a person’s economic and social status. The paper tries to understand the unequal, colonised civic amenity of public toilets and examines the many factors of economics, natural resources and social dimensions that make it so, in a city such as Bengaluru, India. Perceived from the lens of the commons the paper argues the new perspectives that the public toilets unravel in their production, working and use, in an urban realm of South Asia. Toilets looked at as cultural productions and analysed as a making of the commons is explored through cases in urban Bangalore. The cases illustrate unique modalities of management of public toilets, through commons and also understand commons as networks of spaces and societies. The cases elaborated in the paper examine the typological, spatial factors of urban Bangalore and its linkages to cultural dynamics such as caste and class which have kept the toilets from being equitable and inclusive. The paper concludes through analysing these cases and explores a new method of defining the commons in urban South Asia.

Towards Asian Commons in Tourism Studies

  • Christiane Kuhling, Western Sydney University (Australia) 

As an academic discipline, Tourism Studies is deeply rooted in colonial imaginaries of ‘the other’ with its hyper- racialized, ethnicized, and -gendered spaces. In postmodernity, opposite categories and binaries like West and the rest, real and virtual, home and away, collapse into de-differentiation processes of tourist and non-tourist experience fuelled by digital media. This paper explores the role of digital photography in the constant flux of renegotiation between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Instead of basing my analysis on static, given differences, it lies on the vernacular methods of differentiation and de-differentiation as touristic practices.

Photography is a global medium that has recently been revolutionized by processes of digitalization. Tourism is one domain in which photography has been employed on a massive scale, nowhere more so than in Asia where millions of the newly affluent were traveling to domestic and foreign tourism destinations. This paper introduces the term ‘tourism paradox’ to describe the resulting tension between constructing and collapsing ‘us’ and ‘them’. As an example, I will draw from ethnographic fieldwork in Goa, India. This ambiguity of the practice comes together in the images that young Indian travelers in Goa produce that simultaneously collapse difference by inviting social alignment and affirm difference by making foreigners a desirable object of photography. Asian commons are a promising method to further de-centralize colonial heritage in notions of tourist photography.

The Bengali and Their Thali- Colonial Identity: Disasters and Stories from a Bengali Platter and the Capitalisation of Nostalgia

  • Souraja Chakraborty, Presidency University, Kolkata, India 

Bengal has been the site of multiple famines since the colonial and late into the post-colonial times. While history bears a witness to untold human sufferings- stories of mother’ss selling away their children for a morsel of food grains to dead bodies rotting in streets of Calcutta, and the political upheavals where nationalist historians believe that the famine was ‘man-made’ and created by Churchill’s imperialist policies- another natural side-effect of such disaster remains undiscussed. Many Bengali household continue to cherish their grandmother’s recipes of delicious food which had a rather unusual birth. Some of these recipes were created by simple folks to make a hearty yet nutritious meal with cheap and easily available vegetables and grains during times of shortage.

However, the last decade saw a sudden rise in capitalisation of Bengali culture with high-end expensive restaurants using such recipes in their menus and bringing back, what they argue, remained lost in the diaries of our grandparents. The simple, poor man’s recipes (much like the rise in ‘poor man’s recipe books’; in America during the Great Depression) are now finding a place in the grandeur of star hotels, in shiny menu cards. This paper wishes to chronicle and investigate how the recipe of the poor, for the poor, have now being used as an apparatus of capitalism and the story each ingredient has to offer- from the colonial times to this age of late capitalism enmeshed in nostalgia.

Along with tracing the history of Bengali cuisine, the paper will also chronicle the experiences of women through their recipe books. The era associated with colonial history also produced some groundbreaking recipe books, often by women authors, which to this day work as a manual for cooking anything- from a hearty meal during occasions to simple, everyday food. An important example of this is the book ‘Thakur Barir Ranna (Recipes from the Tagore household) by Pragyasundari Devi, who was the niece of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. Other such cookbooks and even recipe diaries of women in the 19th - 20th century will also serve as an important element of study and how such recipes are treated by modern chefs.

Oceanic Immanence: Reinscribing the ‘Asian Commons’ through the Fluid Ontology of the Oceans

  • Nabanita Samanta, University of Hyderabad (India)

In the face of exacerbating climate extremities, there is a growing concern about our ‘planetary’ future; however the long-standing ‘terrestrial bias’ continues to obscure the fact that this planetarity is essentially predicated upon the oceanic. The conceptual schemes of understanding Asia have not been immune from this all-pervasive intellectual bias which while privileging land-based perspectives have mostly rendered oceans as mere dividers or connectors. Driven by the Cartesian land-water divide, the understanding of Asia has until recently been imbued with a land-centric perspective which is at odds with the significant role of the oceans in shaping the past, present and future of the region. Now, while on the one hand, climate perplexities have been alluding to the threats of looming ‘aquacalypse’ exhibited in the form of rising sea level and consequent disasters (ongoing as well as impending); on other hand, the neocolonial ocean grabs and the Capitalocene quest for exploiting the ecological services offered by the oceans has prompted framing of the ‘Blue Economy’. Given this context, it becomes pertinent to interrogate how the watery world of the oceans can unsettle the conventional ways of understanding Asia. This paper will seek to analyze the possibilities that the ‘oceanic turn’ can offer in reinvigorating and reshaping the debates around Asian identity – debates which have all too often remained restricted by the terrestrial limits. Employing the gaze that transcends the land-water divide is also crucial for foregrounding the intertwined history and fluid socio-cultural relationalities of the region which will in turn facilitate in devising the coordinates of the ‘Asian Commons’. As the materiality of the ocean intersects with the global political economies, the dominant conceptions --- such as the notions of space and time, of matter and meaning, of politics and governance --- stand in dire need of recalibration.  Reinscribing the ‘Asian Commons’ through the oceanic politics of our watery planet will also aid in heralding of decolonial conviviality in this region which continues to withstand the repercussions of the colonial legacies.

“Laboring for Intimate Geographies”: Artist Moving Images and the Reconstitution of Liquid Cartographies

  •  Toby Wu, Art History, University of Chicago

This paper studies the affinities of South and Southeast Asian moving image artists compelled to produce works that circulate through the Global Contemporary Art commons, by observing the devastation of globalisation and sea extractivism. Anand Patwardhan’s Fishing: In the Sea of Greed (1998), Martha Atienza’s Gilubong Ang Akong Pusod Sa Dagat (My Navel is Buried in the Sea) (2011) and Thao Nguyen Phan’s Becoming Alluvium (2019–) all depict the exploitation of water bodies through industrial overfishing and its direct impact on the communities that have tended to these ecologies for centuries. These moving images construe narratives around the voices of local fishermen, and consult numerous contrary vantage points (Rabindranath Tagore’s The Gardener, activist groups, even the industrial fishing ships) to chart the complexity of these contested territories. 

This paper relies on Giuliana Bruno’s method of investigating the moving image form as “intersubjectives site[s] of transfer for stories of the flesh” (333) in Atlas of Emotion (2002). These artists produce inhabited spaces in which the documentary moving image not only charts historical fact but the affective movement of the documenter. Furthermore, particular attention needs to be paid to these artist’s modes of representing water-media as interfaces for mediating unrepresented histories. The paper will consult Melody Jue’s Wild Blue Media (2020), considering how water media displaces one’s normative mode of interpretation, while affording resonances between these artists’ consideration of localised conflicts.

This paper also builds upon recent art historical texts that propose global readings of localised material and visual culture, such as Sugata Ray and Venugopal Maddipati’s Histories of South Asia: The Materiality of Liquescence (2020). It acknowledges the universality of water as material, and questions how South and Southeast Asian renderings of water as allegory and mediation might be “region-specific”.

The Excavation of Cantonese Mountain Songs and Fishermen's Songs in Disappearance: Remapping Hong Kong Studies in the Inter-Asian Oceans

  • Ka Lee Wong, East Asian Languages & Cultures, University of Southern California

“Localism” has been a key word in the discourse of Hong Kong that indicates the efforts to configure a unique sense of the local identity and history. While unspecified in English, “localism” in Chinese, 本土, which is a combination of 本 (origin) and 土 (earth), highlights a land-oriented mentality. Certainly, the problem with land is central to the everyday struggles in Hong Kong, which has the most expensive housing in the world. Yet, this focus on land obscures the understanding of Hong Kong’s history and culture in relation to the ocean. After all, Hong Kong is oceanic in a sense that it is a peninsula with a constellation of islands facing an open sea. This paper attempts to inquire the possibility of mapping the discourse of Hong Kong in the existing oceanic and island studies by focusing on two documentaries about the rediscovery of Cantonese singing traditions in two local outlying islands. In Ballad of the Shore (2017) and Rhymes of Shui Hau (2017), Ma Chi-hang and Fredie Chan tell two stories about folk songs sung by farmers and fishermen in two coastal villages in Lautau Island and Tap Mun Island. Coincidentally, these documentaries both feature the filmmakers’ painstaking process of understanding and transcribing the mountain songs and fishermen’s songs, sung in Weitau Wa and Shui Wa, which are two diminishing varieties of Hong Kong Cantonese. Inspired by Huang Yu-ting’s discussion of the positionally of Taiwan literature in terms of archipelagos as well as Brian Bernards’ interrogation of the South Sea and the convergence of diasporic and native cultures in China and Southeast Asia, I will situate my examination of the media about Hong Kong Cantonese island singing traditions in the inter-Asian oceanic network, illuminating the intricate problem concerning who is the local/native/indigenous Cantonese in Hong Kong.

The LGBTQ community in Asia

  • Lichchavi Harishekar, Indira Gandhi National Open University, India

It is true in Asia that the full humanity of the LGBTQ community is not its culture. But we can and must make it our culture to achieve a better alternative Asian Commons. Tradition and the colonial past in Asia are inextricably linked, complementary in the act of discrimination against the LGBTQ community. Leaders in Singapore have refused to outlaw the criminalization of 'unnatural' sexual activities on the pretext of the idea going against the majority's sentiments. Brunei has its own national Sharia law criminalizing homosexuality. Even in countries where same-sex activities are legal, like in China, where 'sissy' men are persecuted, societal beliefs are discriminatory. In India, transgender people are viewed as physically defective and are superficially associated with omens. Thus, this paper contends against the post-colonial idea of the inevitable re-imagination of the polity and society of the colonized and the cultural relativist viewpoint on gender equality and sexual orientation. It questions the traditional notions of gender relations and the idea of the well-being of the LGBTQ community as touted by activists, expressed by political representatives, social norms, and the community's perception itself, which have misguided the cause of equality for the community. Finally, as a way forward to address these pitfalls, the paper presents an alternative Asian framework based on Nussbaum and Sen's 'capability approach' toward the value of gender equality. How non-state actors, civil societies, non-governmental organizations, international cooperatives can build a cross‐cultural initiative is explored. A plausible foundation for evaluating and upholding the well‐being of the LGBTQ community without being insensitive to cultural traditions but avoiding rigid rules riding on the legality provided by the colonial past is discussed. A collaboration across Asia is needed to address equality and civil rights issues concerning the LGBTQ community and provide for their socio-economic development and capacity building.

Forging Afro-Asian Solidarity in Neoliberal Age

  • Muskan Garg and Suryashekhar Biswas, Christ (Deemed to be University), Bengaluru, India

In 1949, the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet wrote a tribute to the African-American revolutionary-singer Paul Robson, echoing elements of anti-imperialism and the Afro-Asian solidarity involved therein. Hikmet’s poem was translated into Bengali, and turned into a mass movement song, along with the various translations of Robson’s own classic Ol’ Man River into multiple Indian languages. The Dalit Panthers movement in India was in its name a direct reference to the Black Panthers in the United States. In 1960, postcolonial theorist Frantz Fanon addressed the Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity Conference. Alternatively, the Bandung Conference took place and the Non-Aligned Movement was formed among postcolonial nations with the objective to retain autonomy, among other things. These are considered important developments of anti-imperialist solidarity in a variety of postcolonial research, despite the contentions and controversy about their elite-nature and the debates about whether they represented the peoples’ interest or that of the national-bourgeoisie of each postcolonial nation. A large portion of the present research approaches the question of Afro-Asian solidarity from the location of Afro-Asian diaspora in the United States. In today’s times of police repression, neoliberalism and forms of racial-supremacy in the politico-economic sphere, as well as dominant cultural-relativism and re-orientalism in the academic sphere, this paper attempts to rethink Afro-Asian solidarity in the current context. This paper considers the circumstances of Afro-Asian solidarity or the lack thereof, the factors behind it, and the tendencies to forge such a solidarity in the present hour. It does so from the location of India and different struggles for emancipation in India. 

The Role of South Asian Vernacular Languages in Redefining Gender and Gender Relations

  • Pragati Abhay Sambrani and Samarth Narayanan, Christ (Deemed to be University), Bengaluru, India

Recent decades have seen a rise in attention paid to vernacular languages in the global south.  With nations and cultures tapping into their ancestral knowledge to re-evaluate their ‘colonial identity’, vernacular linguistic practices have played an important part-taking in this self-identification. For example, Hijra was historically a broad term representing gender binary non-conforming individuals although, with time and colonial legislation, it has loosely come to be associated to the transgender community alone. However, when we take a closer look across the Indian subcontinent, there are a multitude of terms such as Aravani,  Jogappa, Kothi, Hinjida, Napunska, etc. which were used to refer to a spectrum of gender  binary non-conforming individuals, distinguished by their cultural and regional contexts  alongside their lived experiences. Hence, western supremacy in the form of colonialization and westernised globalisation, shaped by the limitations of the English culture and language has been unable to represent the said diversity of these communities. This has been established through several studies on the criminal and tribal acts passed by the colonisers through the South Asian region.  

Cornwall and Lindisfame articulated, “Category creation itself is an act of power”, notably explaining the effort by the colonised to digress from the categorical conditioning and systemisation of Euro-centrism and Western Universalism in order to decolonialise and build an authentic self-identity. Reconnecting with Asian vernacular languages plays a key role in enabling this decolonialisation, especially in context gender and gender relations.  Findings on such misconceptualisations and mistranslations have led to remodelling the perception of gender binaries and heteronormativity.  

In this paper, we attempt to understand the inadequacy of English to embody the diverse gender and sexual identities in South Asian diaspora, resulting in the convolution of queer history in the region. Additionally, we discuss how vernacular languages more effectively embody non-conforming identities respecting South Asia’s regional diversification simultaneously persuading capacity-building and inclusivity in the English language.