Abstracts

(in order of the program) 

Genealogy as History: Constructing Self, Family, and Community in Amroha and Bilgram
M. Raisur Rahman
A study of the tradition of compiling, preserving, and handing down of genealogies is one of the most effective ways to understand the concepts of individual, family, and community in a society. Among the Muslims of South Asian qasbahs (unique small towns), continuous and meticulous production of shajrahs (genealogies) was a marked feature through which the compilers and those discussed attempted to situate themselves in their social spheres for greater claims to status and respectability. What is interesting is that this practice was popular not only among the Shia and Sunni Muslim gentry but also among Hindus such as those of the Kayastha caste who amassed their own vamshavalis (family trees).
These genealogical compilations were not only about preserving ancestral information, embellishing ornate family trees, and claims to an elevated status, howsoever contestable their veracity, but also about making sure that their hasb-o-nasb (lineage) did not get unsettled which was executed through the practice of endogamy. Genealogies were also a major tool to enumerate the past achievements of a family or community to which an individual was invoked to live up to. Compilations such as the one by Syed Faizan Ali Naqvi that begins with the Prophet and ends with all sharif (“respectable”) Muslims living in the lanes and by lanes of Amroha up until 2000 CE is not uncommon. This paper looks into several genealogical trees and related literature to investigate how they were closely tied up to the history of specific individuals, families, and localities. 

 

Tazkiras and Community of Shared Memories in Rampur
Razak Khan
This paper examines Urdu literary production by Muslims of Rampur to understand the shifting contours of locality and local identity. Rampur was the last Muslim-ruled princely state after the decline of the Mughal and Awadh kingdoms and, therefore, became an important site of princely patronage and cultural production in the colonial United Provinces. The paper concerns itself particularly with the issue of space and subjectivity by exploring place-identity of inhabitants of Rampur (Rampuri) and sense of belonging to Rampur (Rampuriyat) that also conveys emotional attachment of self and space. Inspired by the material yet evoking the metaphoric, these ideas also flourish in and are transformed by the alternative “space of imagination” – literature – whose discursive formulations hold the key to an appreciation of the conceptualisation of Rampur as a distinct locality. Additionally, it also provides us opportunity to explore the multiple identities of Muslims in Rampur where various markers of identity like class, clan, sect, caste, gender and individual qualities emerge as crucial determinants of local historical experience and identity in its shifting contours. The paper draws upon the literary tradition of the biographical compendium (tazkira) to map the changing historical, social and cultural aspect of locality and Muslim identity in Rampur. The specific meanings accorded to the genre within the context of the nineteenth-century princely milieu of Rampur become all the more apparent when studied in relation to an extended survey of its usage in contemporary, post-colonial writings.

 

Exhibitions, Fairs, and Poetry Recitation in Muzaffarnagar, UP
Nathan Tabor
In this paper, I look at a series of poetry recitals at country fairs held over the 20th century in Muzaffarnagar and surrounding towns. I argue the local institutionalization of poetry recitation in country fairs reconfigures class attachments to Persianate literary production. As a whole, fairs in modern India provide an important historical and ethnographic paradigm through which to evaluate social relationships in semi-rural India. Across the mufassal or agro-industrial hinterlands of North India, fairs and exhibitions continue to form important economic and cultural networks for a de-centered form of Islamicate cosmopolitanism. The qasbah town of Muzaffarnagar reconfigures countryside fair-based networks through its long history of poetry recitation, patronized through the efforts of Intellectual and political elites since the early 20th century. Persianate conceptions of justice, sociability, and wit fueled the poetry gathering in Muzaffarnagar’s fairs while tapping into older pre-modern forms of Islamicate public belonging. The fair-based poetry gathering also served to entertain a Muslim and Hindu populace intent on contesting class-based attachments to literary production. In short, the patronage and circulation of Persianate literature in  Muzaffarnagar’s country fair both reinstates and overturns hierarchies assumed to structure vernacular culture and society in Islamicate India.

 

Locales of Discipline: Abd al-Majid Daryabadi’s Hakim-ul-ummat and The Sufi Lodge in Thana Bhawan
Ali Altaf Mian
In the history of Indo-Muslim culture, the sufi lodge (khanaqah) has played a central role in generating alternative political visions of community, uniformity of thought and practice within sufi fellowships, and revival and social reform projects. In the colonial period, various sufi masters appropriated past models of khanaqah life, drawing on the power of collective memory and creative mimesis to imagine political orders as viable alternatives to colonial modernity. I take the khanaqah of Thana Bhawan as a case study to examine the political implications of sufi lodges in colonial India. Ashraf ‘Alī Thānvī’s khanaqah was an active centre for meditative rituals (murāqaba/ashghāl), religious instruction (ta‘līm), moral discipline (tarbiyyat), sermons (khubāt), and literary production (tanīf). From the 1920s until Thānvī’s death in 1943, this khanaqah also served as a shelter or asylum for “recovering modernists,” such as ‘Abd al-Majid Daryabadi and Sayyid Sulayman Nadwi. These men approached Thānvī’s khanaqah as a pharmacy, a sanctuary where the sufi master diagnosed spiritual and social ills and remedied them by the power of charismatic character and teachings. This vision of the khanaqah in colonial India was connected to a broader politics that is understudied in the existing scholarship. I present a close reading of Daryabadi’s autobiographical memoir, Hakim-ul-ummat, which features ample descriptions of this political function of the khanaqah.

 

The Anjuman in the Shade of the Maqbera: Local History, Translation, and Urdu Promotion in Aurangabad, 1928-1938
Andrew Amstutz
My paper first examines a mushaira (Urdu poetry gathering) that was held in 1928 to mark the opening of Aurangabad’s first museum at Bibi ka Maqbera, the famous Mughal monument in Aurangabad that was modelled on Agra’s Taj Mahel. In the museum and poetry gathering, Abdul Haq commemorated a long history of literary and artisanal connections between North Indian elites who moved to Aurangabad and local Marathi- and Dakhini Urdu-speakers. Although Aurangabad was a prominent political and cultural hub in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it had long been in decline by the time the Anjuman made the city its new home in 1913. Second, the paper explores how Sheikh Chand, a student of Abdul Haq, bridged local Marathi and Urdu histories in his biographical writings on Eknath, an influential Hindu scholar and Marathi poet. Sheikh Chand used his 1934 biography, Shri Eknath, to document shared terminology between Urdu and Marathi. Broadly, the Urdu promotional association, the Anjuman, utilized the provincial space of Aurangabad to make claims for Urdu’s pan-Indian reach and connective social potential.

 

Classified Information: Organizing Knowledge at Patna’s Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library
David Boyk
This paper examines the early years of the Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library, in the city of Patna in Bihar. Founded at a moment in the late nineteenth century when Patna and Bihar were widely seen as places in decline, the library quickly became renowned for its extensive collection of Arabic and Persian manuscripts. Meanwhile, the philanthropic efforts of the library’s founder, the lawyer and bibliophile Khuda Bakhsh Khan, made him an icon of middle-class merit and local pride. He and his successors made canny alliances with colonial officials and both Indian and European scholars, thrusting the library into public debates over learning and reform. Drawing as it did on Patna’s long-established traditions of Islamicate learning, the library was recognized as one of India’s preeminent repositories and an unparalleled resource for Islamic scholarship; at the same time, however, some observers suggested that a provincial city like Patna was undeserving of such a remarkable institution.

The paper focuses in particular on an often disregarded textual genre, the annotated library catalogue. Anxious to make the Khuda Bakhsh library and its holdings more widely known, the library’s staff and supporters embarked on the immense project of cataloguing the collection, an undertaking that ultimately produced more than forty published volumes of dense detail. The effort to produce a catalogue raisonné of this monumental collection entailed extensive collaboration between Indian and European scholars, but Indian intellectual attainments were measured in terms of their conformity to European expectations. Even when Indian scholars’ mastery was acknowledged, the credit for their achievements was frequently assigned to their European tutors.

 

Visual Culture and Localized Meaning-Making
Sandria B. Freitag
The virtually ubiquitous distribution and consumption of visual print capitalism in modern India has created and encouraged aspirational visions of self and society, often linked to the range of state formations obtaining in the 20th c. subcontinent.  These are complemented by new meanings infused into long traditions of urban enactments of foundational stories that now are also expressions of being modern.  That intersection – of visual print capitalism and embodied enactments – create a materiality of expression that has not been substantively explored for the history of South Asian Muslims. The processes by which such meaning-making has connected local understandings of what it means to be both a citizen of a local Place and a member of a larger community will be explored here by comparing Lucknow and Delhi through their visual evidence.

 

Shared rituals, shared ecology: Hindu and Muslim honey collectors and fishermen of the Sundarbans
Sufia Uddin
The categories of “Islam” and “Hinduism” are now too limiting for the changing global landscape. While these are useful categories for conveying general ideas and universal scope, too much reliance upon them hides the contours of everyday realities and specificities of lived religion. In fact, to simply employ the larger understandings of these global traditions would render local practices unrecognizable. What is the relation of local to global? In this essay, I examine one local case of religious life. This study centers on a local religious text framed in an Islamic context and the people for whom this is a relevant narrative. For Hindu and Muslim honey collectors and fishermen in the Sundarbans the legendary Bonbibi is a significant local reality. This study will consider the lives of the venerators of Bonbibi and meanings of the Jaharnama (narrative about Bonbibi). While the Jaharnama may be a hagiographical text, it reveals much about the followers for whom it is attractive. In this study, I argue that local natural environment and dependence on it call for this particular local religious life as suggested in the Jaharnama. I employ Pramod Parajuli’s notion of ecological ethnicities to lay bare the relation between global and local religious reality. This study highlights the profound importance of class, caste, and landlessness in communal and individual identity and the honey collectors’ and fisherfolks’ reliance on local natural resources to survive. The natural environment is treated with respect in a way that suggests a sacred relationship while never neglecting the broader religious identities as Hindu and Muslim.

 

Heroes, Rebels and the Valor of Punjab: Qissahs, Ballads and Collective Representation in Pakistan 
Iqbal Singh Sevea
In this paper, I will explore the content and function of popular ‘histories’ that are the subject of Mirasi ballads and popular chapbooks in Punjab, Pakistan. Particular attention will be paid to the portrayal of Punjabi ‘heroes’ and ‘rebels’ such as Dullah Bhatti, Ranjha (of Heer-Ranjha) and Mirza (of Mirza-Sahibaan). Apart from the ballads and qissahs themselves, the paper will discuss the process of cultural mediation involved in such channels of transmission and in the narrating and hearing of history/folk traditions. In line with this, the paper will address the following issues: the continued relevance and popularity (or the lack of) of the Mirasis, ballads and qissahs in modern and contemporary Pakistan; the importance of ballads and qissahs as sources of collective representation and alternative histories; and challenges posed to the state and official ideologies by such sources. Specifically, the paper will examine the formation of notions of ‘Punjabi’ (regional and caste) identities – as opposed to a Pakistani or Muslim identity – and representations of state and sovereignty in these ‘lost voices’ and sources of collective identity. Here the paper will be attentive to the representation of Punjab as a region of rebels and to the codes of Punjabi masculinity that are embedded in the ballads and qissahs.

 

Retrieving the Missing Story of Hyderabad: The Making of an Urban Muslim and Telangana Short Fiction
Afsar Mohammad
This paper focuses on the emergence of short story in contemporary Telangana literature of South India with an emphasis on retrieving the memories of the old qasba life of Hyderabad. With an evidence from three short stories written by Nelluri Keshava Swamy, I will discuss how contemporary Muslim discourse turned to the idea of the rise of an urban Muslim in the city of Hyderabad. Closely connected to the narrative of Hyderabad as an “old city,” these stories portray the metamorphosis of the lives of Muslims with an emphasis on pluralism, progressivism and urbanity. In the process of the narrativization, the old city of Hyderabad transforms into a metaphor for shared ethics, community life and religious identities. While Keshava Swamy’s stories portray multiple aspects of the locality of Hyderabad, I will turn to his specific idea of urbanity as related to the emergence of a new Muslim who challenges many stereotypes of qasba.  By elaborating the details of the place history, these short stories depict its multiplicity and a pluralistic life mode. In the process, Keshava Swamy also borrows many symbols and cultural aspects of the Old city along with its celebration of the literary culture of Urdu.

 

Circles of Safety, Landscapes of Fear in Aligarh: Partition and Oral Histories in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh
Amber Abbas
The 1947 partition created the formal borders between India and Pakistan and forced a profound re-spatialization of daily life that persists in the memories of partition survivors. Far from those borders, the challenge of remembering partition is also about boundaries, space, place and belonging. The Aligarh Muslim University persists as a high profile site of Muslim organization, but not as a critical site of partition, because there was no violence at Aligarh University in 1947. Aligarh does not appear in official archives or histories defined by violence. Former Aligarh students have settled in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, creating an Aligarh diaspora. From 2005-2010, I collected approximately 70 oral histories from former students in these three countries. This paper considers how they map and remap their sense of belonging through their memories of the partition and its aftermath. In 1946-47 partition’s shock waves rumbled through Aligarh forcing students to confront fear in the place that they had felt the most safe: the campus of their university home. The campus had been the center of a series of concentric circles of safety that linked campus to community and outward to the region and the capital, but the disruptions of partition heralded a “fear of not belonging” as the national narrative increasingly linked Indian-ness to Hindu-ness. By 1947 familiar places around the campus marked out a landscape of fear. The university remained rooted in Indian space, as did many of the informants whose stories I collected, but the meaning of its place changed irrevocably. While the trauma of Partition was expressed in violence, the deeper and lasting disturbance was in the utter disruption of the social and spatial order that defined belonging.

 

The Law, the Local, and the Individual:  Election Cases in Punjab during the Late Colonial Era
David Gilmartin
This paper will examine the shifting meanings attached to the “local” at a critical moment in South Asia’s political evolution—the moment when elections first came to be a central element in the structuring of politics and community imagining.  The chronological focus will be on the period between 1919 and 1947, and the genre of documents that will be examined are election petition cases, which were heard in this era by specially appointed election tribunals.  The argument of the paper is that the introduction of elections gave new meaning to the “local” in conceptions of political ordering in India at this time, both in turning the “province” (in this case, the Punjab) into the central arena for political reform and devolution, and by turning the local electoral constituency into a central unit for representation—and for linking “society” and “state.”  At the same time, elections in the Punjab also defined a new level of moral tension between the “local” and the “universal” as a fundamental, underlying feature of the evolving political order, largely through counterposing “local” structures of representation against a new “universalizing” legal vision of the individual voter as a vessel of autonomous will, choice and conscience.  The tensions which this defined can be read through the distinctive structuring of these election cases, but such cases point also to fundamental tensions that were to resonate in the subsequent constitutional histories of India and Pakistan.

 

The Anti-Muslim Assault in Aluthgama: A Microcosm of the Islamophobia Zeitgeist
Neil DeVotta
Aluthgama, a town about 40 miles south of Colombo, Sri Lanka, was the locale that experienced the most anti-Muslim violence when Sinhalese Buddhist extremists attacked the area in June 2014.  The Islamophobic agitprop that led to this violence was orchestrated by Buddhist monks associated with the Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force, or BBS).  While the Mahinda Rajapaksa government tacitly supported the BBS and its clergy—because it believed that manipulating Islamophobia was politically advantageous—the enabling anti-Muslim milieu in the island is tethered to Islamophobic sentiments many Sri Lankans have long harbored—sentiments that easily congeal with the extant Sinhalese Buddhist majoritarian mindset.  The BBS and other anti-Muslim groups now mesh Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism with the Islamophobia trending globally, and in doing so they especially appear to emulate the tactics the 969 Movement in Burma-Myanmar and Hindutva forces in India embrace.

This paper evaluates Sri Lanka’s anti-Muslim milieu and the pogrom in Aluthgama by focusing mainly on the print and digital media—in terms of how Islamophobia is represented and the way events in Aluthgama were cataloged and interpreted.  In doing so, the paper first locates Sri Lanka’s Muslims as an ethno-religious group in the island and thereafter locates Islamophobia vis-à-vis Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism. It then discusses the Aluthgama pogrom and the agitprop associated with it in the print and digital media.  The paper argues that the anti-Muslim rhetoric that led to and justified the Aluthgama attacks represent a microcosm of the Islamophobia that is now evidenced globally. It also posits that such Islamophobia combined with extant Sinhalese Buddhist majoritarianism will likely lead to more violence against Muslims in the years ahead.