Program

Tuesday, May 10

6:00-7:30 p.m.
KEYNOTE ADDRESS: 
CHINA AND THE MAKING OF MODERN INDIA

Amitav Ghosh, author of The Glass Palace, The Hungry Tide, and Sea of Poppies, among others 

Moderator: Arjun Appadurai, Goddard Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication, New York University; Senior Fellow, Institute for Public Knowledge; President, PUKAR

Wednesday, May 11

10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
Session I: SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND EDUCATION

INDIA'S IT INDUSTRY: THE END OF THE BEGINNING
Ajit Balakrishnan, chairman, managing director, and CEO, Rediff.com

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Summary

 

India’s IT industry sudden rise from a minuscule level in the 1990s to the present dominance in the emerging world knowledge economy, with annual exports exceeding US $45bn surprised many. This article examines the series of historical events and government policy action that led to its emergence, the social implications of this growth, and the challenges that India’s education system faces in providing the manpower the IT industry needs to address the immense opportunities that lie ahead.

DISCUSSANTS:
Anindya Ghose, Robert L. & Dale Atkins Rosen Faculty Fellow, Associate Professor of Information, Operations and Management Sciences, Leonard N. Stern School of Business, New York University
Bruce Nussbaum, Professor of Innovation and Design, School of Design Strategies, Parsons The New School for Design 

MODERATOR: Sanjay Reddy, associate professor of economics, New School for Social Research

1:30 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Session II: LITERATURE, CULTURE, AND MEDIA

CRISIS IN THE CLASSICS
Sheldon Pollock, William B. Ransford Professor of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Department of Middle East, South Asian, and African Studies, Columbia University

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Summary

 

With the loss of knowledge of its historical languages, India stands to lose access to 3,000 years of some of the most accomplished thought ever produced. In this essay, I reflect on how this cultural ecocide came about, why it should be deemed a threat worthy of our most serious attention, and what might be done to reverse it.

ACCUSATIONS OF ILLITERACY AND THE MEDICINE OF THE ORGAN
Lawrence Cohen, professor of social cultural anthropology, University of California, Berkeley

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Summary

 

The bodily organ features prominently in the public representation of medical clinics in India. Interviews with clinic directors offer a rationale: the clinic’s public is assumed to be illiterate. Pedagogies of the body as an order of parts appear frequently across a range of media; these often bear a formal similarity to pedagogies of language in a post-colonial context. This similarity is here framed as a shared metonymic order, a framing used to offer some context for the notable accusation by clinicians, at points over India’s modern history, that “illiterates confuse their organs.” In offering a different and “metaphoric” reading of this confusion of parts, the essay suggests why popular debate on markets in human kidneys for transplant draws extensively on the experience of persons with the sterilization camps of the Indian Emergency and then turns to the recent trend of reporting on the deaths of political leaders as being due to “multi-organ failure.”

TERRORISM, CONSPIRACY, AND SURVEILLANCE IN BOMBAY'S URBAN CINEMA
Ranjani Mazumdar, independent filmmaker; associate professor of cinema studies, School of Art and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University

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Summary

 

This essay looks at three films from Bombay that take the issue of terrorism to mediate the landscape of conspiracy, surveillance, and the city. The films are Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday (2005), Raj Kumar Gupta’s Aamir (2008), and Neeraj Pandey’s A Wednesday (2009). All three films belong to a body of cinema that has emerged in relation to what is now commonly referred to as the Multiplex era. The filmmakers belong to a community of cinephiles and are therefore extremely conscious of and dedicated to their craft. These 21st-century films refer to various terrorist attacks of the last two decades and work with an investigative cartography, staging the city through narratives cluttered with evidentiary details, an aggressive marking and arranging of information, and a constant presence of the visual media as the ultimate arbiter of knowledge. Unlike popular melodramas, the films discussed here open out cataclysmic events through reenactments and precision-style unraveling; in this process a “mobile script” is carved out to mediate the relationship between paranoia and citizenship. If the social practice of paranoia is rooted in the belief that the truth is not fully available, then, in these films, conspiracy is the form through which the spectator is provided the illusion of comfort and control over contemporary events, the city of Bombay, and history. Conspiracy selectively opens out an archive of memory to frame a city’s present, ironing out rival visions of truth for a unified and singular projection.

KAMA TO KARMA: THE RESURGENCE OF PURITANISM IN CONTEMPORARY INDIA
Wendy Doniger, Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions, University of Chicago Divinity School

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Summary

 

Erotic religious imagery is as old as Hinduism. The earliest Hindu sacred text, the Rig Veda (c. 1500 BCE), revels in the language of both pleasure and fertility. In addition to this and other religious texts that incorporated eroticism, there were more worldly texts that treated the erotic tout court, of which the Kamasutra, composed in north India, probably in the third century CE, is the most famous. The two words in its title mean “desire/love/pleasure/sex” (kama) and “a treatise” (sutra). Virtually nothing is known about the author, Vatsyayana, other than his name and what we learn from this text. There is nothing remotely like it even now, and for its time it was astonishingly sophisticated; it was already well known in India at a time when the Europeans were still swinging in trees, culturally (and sexually) speaking. The Kamasutra’s ideas about gender are surprisingly modern, and its stereotypes of feminine and masculine natures are unexpectedly subtle. It also reveals attitudes to women’s education and sexual freedom and views of homosexual acts that are strikingly more liberal than those of other texts in ancient India—or, in many cases, in contemporary India.

MODERATOR: Vyjayanthi Rao, assistant professor of anthropology, New School for Social Research

4:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m.
Session III: LAW, SOVEREIGNTY, AND JUSTICE

ELECTIONS AS COMMUNITAS
Mukulika Banerjee, professor of anthropology, London School of Economics

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Summary

 

This paper explains why elections are popular in India and why voter turnouts have remained stable. The evidence presented here shows that voters consider the electoral process itself as important, as this allows for the performative expression of the core ideals of democracy—citizenship, duty and rights, equality, cooperation, imagination of a common good—values that are otherwise wholly missing from polity the rest of the time. It is precisely because of its absence in daily life that people feel the urge to embrace and celebrate these values when they are available during elections. Elections therefore emerge as aesthetic and ritual moments that allow for the inversion of the rules of normal social life. The resulting communitas creates a heightened awareness of what is missing in everyday hierarchical life, while simultaneously providing a glimpse of democracy's ideals of egalitarianism and cooperation.

LIBERAL DEMOCRACY IN INDIA AND ITS DALIT CRITIQUE
Gopal Guru, professor of social and political theory, Center for Political Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University

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Summary

 

Dalits view liberal democracy as a means of enabling and realizing their common ideal of a more egalitarian order. However, because the response to the Dalit question of both liberal democracy and the Indian nation has been uncertain and at times callous, Dalits simultaneously see liberal democracy as limited in its possibilities. As a result, they find themselves simultaneously on the inside and the outside of both liberal democracy and the Indian nation. They are inside liberal democracy inasmuch as they possession the language of liberal democracy, but they are outside to the extent that even articulation with this language does not result in normative self-esteem and self-respect. Similarly, they are inside the nation to the extent that they are supposed to enjoy citizenship rights, but they are pushed out as they lose these rights due to their continuous displacement. Thus, liberal democracy as a universal principle does not have hold over its institutions, and nationalism in turn does not have hold over liberal democracy. It is the context of this dual failure of both liberal democracy and nationalism that makes the Dalit critique relevant. Unfortunately, the objective conditions created by liberal democracy tend to subjectively destroy the sharp edge of the Dalit critique, causing it to falter.

“AN' YOU WILL FIGHT, TILL THE DEATH OF IT....”: PAST AND PRESENT IN THE PROBLEM OF KASHMIR
Suvir Kaul, A.M. Rosenthal Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania

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Summary

 

In the first section of this paper, I analyze the colonial origins of Jammu and Kashmir in order to suggest that tehreeki politics, and such collective suffering, derive from a longer history of imperial expansion and feudal rule. Then, in the third section, I discuss the enormous violence that accompanied partition, whose afterlife continues to haunt the political imagination in India and Pakistan, and thus to limit discussions of Kashmiri self-determination within the narrow confines of self-righteous nationalisms. In the concluding section, I return to the present moment in Kashmir and leave the final word with another young Kashmiri poet.

MODERATOR: Sanjay Ruparelia, assistant professor of politics, New School for Social Research

 
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