The geopolitical significance of South Asia has been a well-known fact in policy and security studies for the last several decades. In academic circles too, the logic of South Asia has become a naturalized reality: its appearance in the area studies departments of many US/western institutions signals acquiescence if not participation in an agenda informed by pursuit of global hegemony. The naturalization of South Asia as a discourse recalls European precedents of producing knowledge about the ‘other’ in order to foster a morally and epistemologically superior European identity – as witnessed in the historical invention of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

How can the politically charged and contested category of South Asia stay intact amid geological shifts and political restructuring underway globally? In the light of Brexit and the rise of populist right-wing movements across the world, signaling an end to a post-world-war-II global world order, it becomes urgent to rethink some of the inherited epistemological and disciplinary categories with which, without reflecting on the ideological baggage they carry, we continue to operate. These crises are global and thus require answers that speak to conditions currently faced by millions of people not geographically or culturally bound together in the categories of knowledge we deploy to study them.

In these times of radical shifts in historical conditions, it becomes important to reconsider frameworks of knowledge determined by the ideologies of nation-states. This conference presents contributions from scholars willing to think beyond the construct of South Asia as a territorially bound space with discrete nations. Conference papers seek to identify the historical modalities of the emergence of South Asia as an analytical construct, and shed light on how it continues to operate as a geographical, cultural, and economic category. Questioning South Asia as a discourse that at present burdens the scholarly imagination, and overdetermines conference agendas and research funding, might reconfigure the strategies we employ to understand the region. Some of the questions we investigate are: What are the obstacles to developing comparative research perspectives for scholars constrained by ‘South Asia’? How can we shift away from the dominant framework of South Asia as an already-determined category, and devise new research agendas? And what demands for change, transformation, or recalibration might this place on us as subjects undertaking research?

Program Schedule

Day 1
Thursday, February 1st
Day 2
Friday, February 2nd
1:30 - 2:00 Arrival and Registration 9:00 - 10:00 Arrival and Registration
2:00 - 2:05 Opening Remarks by Conference Chair, Dr. Fahd Ali 10:00 - 11:30

SESSION III: Performance, Language, and Politics

  • Dr. A. Sean Pue (Michigan State University)
Dr. Shirin Zubair (Kinnaird College)
2:00 - 3:30

SESSION I: Revisiting Urdu Literary traditions in South Asia

  • Ms. Amina Wasif (Lahore College for Women University)

Ms. Sarah Abdullah (Lahore College for Women University)

Jack Clift (School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London)
11:30 - 1:30

SESSION IV: Retheorizing South Asia

  • Dr. Aasim Sajjad (Quaid-e-Azam University)
Dr. Edward Simpson (School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London)
3:30 - 5:00

SESSION II: The Politics of Othering in South Asia: Secularization, identity and Environment

  • Dr. Tehmina Pirzada (Purdue University)
  • Dr. Saba Pirzadeh (Lahore University of Management Sciences)
Dr. Shoaib Pervez (University of Management and Technology)


1:30 - 3:00 Lunch break
5:00 - 5:30 Tea break 3:00 - 5:00

SESSION V: Religious Movements, State and National Identity

  • Dr. Amina Jamal (Ryerson University)
  • Dr. Karen Ruffle (University of Toronto)
5:30 - 5:40 Remarks by Dean of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences,
Dr. Craig Phelan
5:00 - 5:30 Tea break

Moderated Discussion: Future of South Asian Studies and Research

  • Dr. Hafeez Jamali (Habib University)
  • Dr. Markus Daechsel (Royal Holloway, University of London)
  • Dr. Amina Jamal (Ryerson University)
  • Dr. Karen Ruffle (University of Toronto)
Dr. Edward Simpson (School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London)
5:30-5:40 Closing Remarks by President Wasif Rizvi

Keynote Address by Dr. Markus Daechsel (Royal Holloway, University of London)

Invited Speakers

Dr. Markus Daechsel

Reader, Department of History, Royal Holloway, University of London

ABSTRACT: South Asia and the Uses of History

History was once upon a time seen as the single most powerful foundation of ideological positioning in South Asia, including of national identity itself. No one was clearer about this than Qa’id-e Azam M.A. Jinnah, who famously remarked that the most reliable measurement of what it meant to be Pakistani was not simple religious or cultural difference, but a collective view of the past – a sense of what ‘episodes’ and ‘epics’ mattered to its people, and who was their ‘hero’ or their ‘enemy’. How one interpreted events like the 1857 uprising against the British, or whether Aurangzeb or Akbar was one’s most favoured Mughal Emperor defined one’s political subjectivity. This widely recognised entanglement has not led to a corresponding interest in public history, however. Instead of arguing with and about history, South Asian politics has increasingly been guided by a desire to by-pass or even undo history. This tendency has been perhaps most visible in the field of heritage destruction and architecture, but can also be observed elsewhere, in debates about school curricula, for instance, or simply in the relatively low prestige enjoyed by history as compared to the social or natural sciences. The death or even ‘murder’ of History - as one well-known publication once alleged – long seemed to be more characteristic of Pakistan than of India. But recent developments have relativized such differences, for instance, ongoing attempts to institute Hindu worship in the Taj Mahal, or a conscious policy of downgrading internationally recognised centres of historical scholarship like JNU.

What is at stake here is not so much the question of ‘what history?’ or ‘whose history?’ which has long been on the radar of South Asia scholarship, but rather the nature and value of history itself, the ‘politics of time’, to borrow Peter Osborne’s phrase. The keynote address will offer reflections on a number of interconnected themes that are all related to this larger question: What does South Asian ‘politics of time’ mean for our ability to write a history of post-colonial South Asia? Why have debates about ‘decolonising’ history like ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ in South Africa and the UK found so little echo in Pakistan and beyond? Why has a fetishization of heritage become such a dominant feature in the self-identity of a beleaguered ‘liberal’ minority? Why have social scientific approaches to history – or even the replacement of history by social science – been so widespread in South Asian academic culture? Do we need an alternative way of ‘doing history’ in South Asia, and what could it look like? Such explorations have barely begun, but will acquire increasing importance in an arguably less ‘historical’ future when many of the old certainties of 19th and 20th century modernity will be replaced or superseded.

Dr. Amina Jamal

Associate Professor of Sociology, Ryerson University

ABSTRACT: Secularism as Feminist Willfulness

In many Muslim majority societies, including Pakistan, liberal progressive subjects who espouse feminism and gender equality, do so through the language of universal human rights and political secularism. This brings them into conflict not only with anti-secular right-wing conservatives within their own societies but also from postcolonial scholarly critics of secularism in other contexts. In this paper I draw upon my research with pro-secular feminist-activists in Pakistan to highlight a feminist subjectivity that is shaped by distinct experiences of gender, nation, secularism and Islam that are unaccounted for in the framework of modern secularizing state versus moral community that upholds postcolonial critiques of secular feminism. To clear the space for a nuanced understanding of feminist secularism in Pakistan, I invoke Sarah Ahmed’s useful insights about ‘feminist willfulness’ to examine what is at stake when secularism is supported or denounced in this context.


Dr. Jamal’s research highlights the new types of citizen-subjects that are emerging from the complex interplay of gender, race, religion and sexuality with changing global economic, political and cultural relations. She is presently engaged in a three-year research study “In and against the Islam/secular dichotomy: South Asian Muslim women's struggles and transnational feminist practices.” This project is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) through a Standard Research Grant (2010-2013). Professor Jamal’s courses situate the emergence of modern Western social and political subjectivities within postcolonial, feminist and poststructuralist interrogations of self and society. She has previously taught courses in Sociology and Women’s Studies at Smith College, USA and the State University of New York at Potsdam, USA.

Dr. A. Sean Pue

Associate Professor of Hindi Language and South Asian Literature and Culture, Michigan State University

ABSTRACT: Acoustic Traces of Poetry in South Asia

Outside of the region, “South Asia” has become a naturalized academic framework for humanistic inquiry, driving studies of visual art and religious practice, for instance. Nevertheless, the vast majority of literary research remains confined to the printed texts of single languages, few of which have secure representative status in any one nation in the region, much less across the region itself. This monolingual, and therefore always partial nature of literary research has hampered the building of robust scholarship on the vernacular literatures in South Asia, particularly in the modern period. This paper addresses this situation by asking how literary studies of poetic performance can extend beyond single literary and language communities, using the mutual aural intelligibility of Hindi and Urdu as its initial case. It asks: What acoustic features shape poetic performance, and how can they be isolated and compared? How do patterns of sound function, and what do those patterns point to in the rituals of poetic performance? This paper discusses the pilot stages in a project investigating how computational techniques can illuminate sonic aspects of poetic meaning with the aim of working across linguistic and national boundaries. These techniques, drawn from digital humanities, computational linguistics, and data science, allow for the examination of sound alongside text, and the interpretation of the acoustic traces of poetic recitation. Particular attention will be paid to the benefits of visualization and analysis of sonic features of poetry.


Dr. A. Sean Pue is associate professor Hindi and South Asian Languages and Culture. His research interests include South Asian literary history, especially of modernism, and digital humanities. He is a core faculty member of Global Studies in Arts and Humanities. His main research area is South Asian literature–especially in Urdu, Hindi, and Persian (Farsi)–but his new research involves other languages, including Punjabi, Bengali (Bangla), and Braj Bhasha. His book I Too Have Some Dreams: N. M. Rashed and Modernism in Urdu Poetry, was published by University of California Press in August 2014. He is also completing a separate volume of translations of N. M. Rashed's poems that are organized thematically. This volume supplements the translations included in I Too Have Some Dreams, which are limited to those related to its argument. This book makes additional dimensions of Rashed's poetry accessible to English speakers and includes notes on themes and individual poems. Cutting across this research agenda is his exploration of methods and issues associated with digital humanities. He has been involved in computational humanities research related to South Asian literature and language for over a decade. He uses computational methodologies to supplement my research in literary history, working with texts on both macro and micro levels.

Dr. Karen Ruffle

Associate Professor, Department of Religion, University of Toronto

ABSTRACT: Reimagining Shiʿism as an Indian Religion and the Qutb Shahs as Deccan Dynasts

My research on the central place that material objects had in the formation of Shiʿism in Hyderabad se eks to complicate the history of the Qutb Shahi dynasty and its relationship to Safavid Iran (1502 – 1736 CE), and the hegemonic historical narrative of Shiʿi origins in the Deccan. The assumption long has been that the Shiʿism practiced in the Deccan was imported from Iran, and was localized. I counter that the domestication of Shiʿism in its Deccani form was far more complex than the received historical narrative presents, and the Iranian role in this process was more peripheral and historically uneven, considering the slow rate at which Ithna ʿAshari doctrine and ritual was formalized under the Safavids in the 16th century. Furthermore, Shiʿism was already established in the Deccan by the mid-16th century. Close analysis of architecture, material practice and ritual in 16th-17th century Hyderabad reveals the emergence of an expression of Shiʿism that was explicitly Indian. The Qutb Shahi sultans must also be considered an Indian, specifically Deccani Shiʿa, dynasty, which was reinforced through their invocation of two models of idealized kingship, one rooted in the doctrine of the Shiʿi Imamate, and the other which seeks to situate the Qutb Shahs in in the lineage of idealized, dharmic Deccani Hindu kings, including the Saiva Kakatiyas of Warangal (1083-1323 CE).


Dr. Karen Ruffle specializes in Indo-Persian Shiʿism. Her research and teaching interests focus on devotional texts, ritual practice, and Shiʿi material practices in South Asia. She has conducted field research in India, Pakistan, Iran, and Syria. Ruffle obtained her BA in Religion from Middlebury College and her MA and PhD in Religious Studies with a specialization in Islamic studies from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Her first book, Gender, Sainthood, and Everyday Practice in South Asian Shi’ism, was published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2011. Recent publications focus on Fatimah al-Zahra’s exceptional embodiment in Shiʿi hagiographical narratives; devotional literature and ritual practices in South Asia that centre on Fatimah; and Urdu didactic hagiographical narratives focusing on the special father-daughter relationship between the Prophet Muhammad and Fatimah. Ruffle’s most current publications focus on issues of Shiʿi material practices and the ritual performance of self-flagellation (matam). She is currently working on her second book, tentatively titled Somatic Shiʿism: The Body in Deccani Shiʿi Material Religion and Ritual Practice.

Dr. Edward Simpson

Director, South Asia Institute, Professor of Social Anthropology, School of Oriental and African Studies

ABSTRACT: De(Re)constructing the Boundaries of South Asia: Geopolitics, Infrastructure and Influence

Empirical patterns of language, religion and flows of money, people and ideas draw rapid attention to the limits to defining ‘South Asia’ in hermetic terms. Veena Das and Deborah Poole famously suggested that the symbolic, imaginary and territorial margins are to the state as the exception is to the rule. They suggest that state-led patterns of inclusion and exclusion are revealed at the margins; therefore, margins are a good place to start asking questions if you want to understand what is happening at the core. In this paper, I explore how the margins of South Asia are being restructured and reoriented with infrastructure. The Great Game was the nineteenth century political and diplomatic confrontation between Britain and Russia over Central Asia. Today, the region has become the site for new battles of influence as the world order changes in which infrastructure (roads, corridors and ports) is deployed as a potent geopolitical resource. Elsewhere, India ‘Looks’ and ‘Acts’ eastward in an attempt to erase the South Asia-South East Asia border. In Nepal and Sri Lanka both India and China compete to determine the directions roads travel and ports face. Many of these developments are strategic investments in trade and access, but they are also investments in influence and culture; they are changing the ways people and places in the region relate to one another and think about their places in the world. How are infrastructural politics changing the shape of the region? What do these infrastructures say about identity politics at the core?


Dr. Edward Simpson holds a PhD in Anthropology from the London School of Economics (2001). Before joining School of Oriental and African Studies in 2007, he held a lectureship at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He has conducted extensive fieldwork in Gujarat, western India. Over the years, his research interests expanded to include first India and then South Asia. He co-founded the Centre for Ethnographic Theory (CET) in 2016 and became Director of the SOAS South Asia Institute (SSAI) in 2017. His research currently focuses on the relationship between infrastructure, automobility and the global-sustainability agenda. One of the questions to emerge from the project is: Whatever happened to climate change? This research explores how ideologies become worth acting on or fighting for, and why some forms of knowledge are more convincing than others. How are individual and collective opinions formed? How do people 'know' about carbon, mobility and changing climate? I am also interested in methodology, writing and forms of representation, notably film and visual media, and have an enduring collaborative relationship with the Mumbai-based artists CAMP.

Dr. Shirin Zubair

Professor, Department of English, Kinnaird College

ABSTRACT: Media Representations of Women in South Asia: Global Connectivity and Local Realities

In the wake of postfeminism, globalization and international development discourses of women empowerment, the images and representations of women in South Asian popular culture (magazines/ cable channels/ Bollywood movies) raise significant issues in regard to the changing social roles and identities of South Asian women. How do women relate to these new images? What does empowerment mean in the indigenous contexts which are potentially very different from the (various) Western societies? While highlighting the competing discourses of femininities, the inherent ambivalences and complexities, the research findings suggests that Western discourses of women empowerment cannot be coerced into such Global South contexts unproblemmatically.

I illustrate my point by analyzing data from popular media texts as well as through focus group and survey data highlighting the reception practices among sample populations. How these images are received and interpreted is captured through focus group data of women discussing media representations. Furthermore, these data provide useful insights into the ongoing constructions of women’s selfhood and identity in relation to these media representations.


Dr. Shirin Zubair is currently Professor of English at Kinnaird College, Lahore. Her research interests include Feminisms and Gender, Postcolonial Studies, representations in popular culture. She has presented her research on Pakistani women's uses of multiple literacies at several international conferences and published her work with leading international publishers including Sage, Routledge, Johns Hopkins among others. One of her papers on Pakistani women, English Literature and identity construction is featured as Sage’s most read online papers since its publication in 2006. Recent publications are in Feminist Formations (2016) South Asian Popular Culture (2016), Women’s Studies International Forum (2017). A book manuscript titled: Feminism, Gender and Education: Women’s Literacies and Representations in Pakistan, is in progress, to be published by Berghahn Books, NYC.

Dr. Tehmina Pirzada

Assistant Professor, Lahore School of Economics

ABSTRACT: Excentric and Eccentric: The South Asian Urban Girl in Burka Avenger and Kari

In Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, urbanization has engendered new forms of artistic expressions and individual freedoms, but on the other, it has enhanced economic disparity, crime, violence, and unemployment, thereby directly impacting the most vulnerable populations in these countries—namely young girls and boys. Though the discussion of violence against girls in the South Asian cityscape is of vital interest to policymakers within and outside the region, the focus on the urban South Asian girl herself remains largely invisible. This paper aims to foreground the urban South Asian girl caught between the cultural crossroads of modernity, urbanity, individual freedom, and the pressures of social conformity and dogma. In order to analyze the urban South Asian girl figure, I will be looking at the portrayals of young girls in the Pakistani cartoon series "Burka Avenger," and the graphic novel "Kari," set in contemporary Bombay. Drawing upon Iain Sinclair's definition of urbanity, this paper demonstrates that the girls in these graphic narratives participate in what Iain Sinclair calls an "occult mapping of their city." The mapping allows the girls to portray the urban landscape not only as a site of violence and trauma but to also focus on its subsequent reimagining in collective and historical memory as touristy, sanitized, habitable, and even homely. Moreover, the girls' engagement with the urban spaces allows them to challenge the patriarchal "center" that regards their position as ephemeral, eccentric, and excentric. Initially inhabiting the edges of sidewalks, roadsides, nighttime transient parks, dark alleys, and shadows, the urban girls in these graphic narratives subsequently succeed in attaining the visibility and recognition that they desire in their cityscapes. Moreover, I argue that the relocation of the South Asian urban girl from the margin to the center approximates and expresses the cultural anxiety, the specter of colonial violence, the looming threat of sectarian and religious fundamentalism that haunts so much of urban life in South Asia and the struggle of its youth to resist these traumas on a daily basis.


Dr. Tehmina Pirzada is currently an Assistant Professor at the Lahore School of Economics. She completed her Ph.D. in English from Purdue University on a Fulbright scholarship in 2017. Her research focuses on depictions of Muslim girlhood in South Asian fictional, cinematic, and popular narratives. Her work has been published in the Journal of Girlhood Studies, South Asia Review, and Journal of Language, Literature, and Culture (Taylor and Francis).

Dr. Aasim Sajjad AKhter

Quaid-i-Azam University

ABSTRACT: South Asia or Sino-Asia: The growing Chinese imprint on the Indian subcontinent

Despite its existence as an internationally recognised bloc of countries for the best part of 70 years, replete with entities like SAARC, South Asia is one of the least cohesive regions in today’s world. This state of affairs is explained in large part by the long-standing conflict between the region’s two biggest countries – India and Pakistan. Since 1962, China has waded directly into this conflict, generally presenting itself as a friend of (weaker) Pakistan and an uncomfortable competitor of (stronger) India. With the announcement of the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative which will see China spend close to US1$ trillion across much of Asia, the growing Chinese imprint on the Indian subcontinent is set to intensify. The Pakistan component of OBOR – the so-called China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – features upwards of US$50 billion investments in road and communication infrastructure, power plants and agricultural modernisation. Since its initiation in 2015, CPEC has completely transformed the policy and academic environment in Pakistan – the project is now easily the most studied subject in the country dominating the research agenda of numerous institutions, both public and private. Perhaps unsurprisingly, very little research is dedicated towards potential fallouts of CPEC. While the history of Sino-Indian relations means that policy and academic debates about China’s growing role in the region are far more discerning, the interests and concerns of ‘South Asia’ are nevertheless being relegated to an even more peripheral place than in the recent past. In this paper, I argue that, notwithstanding the conference theme, reviving the construct of South Asia is essential lest ‘Sino-Asia’ come to monopolise the research – let alone political – agenda and the already stuttering relations between countries of the region and alternative research concerns will become but peripheral to CPEC-OBOR hegemony.


Dr. Aasim Sajjad Akhtar is Associate Professor of Political Economy at the National Institute of Pakistan Studies (NIPS), Quaid-i-Azam University. He is the author of numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals such as the Journal of Peasant Studies, Critical Asian Studies and the Journal of Contemporary Asia, and a syndicated columnist in Pakistan's newspaper-of-record, DAWN. He is also contributing editor with the journal Socialism & Democracy. Aside from his academic commitments, ASA has been closely involved with working people's movements in Pakistan for a period of almost two decades. He is affiliated with the left-wing Awami Workers Party.

Dr. Saba Pirzadeh

Lahore University of Management Sciences

ABSTRACT: Environmental Appropriation and Transnational Conflict in South Asian Fiction

Given the growing intensity of war in South Asia it is important to focus on how military conflict impacts the land. In this regard, contemporary South Asian literature serves as a viable discourse for exploring the ecological repercussions of war. This paper examines the linkages between environment and war within South Asia by using Mirza Waheed’s The Collaborator (2011) and Nadeem Aslam’s The Blind Man’s Garden (2013). The Collaborator is set in a Kashmiri village, and the novel delineates the effects of militancy, target killings and open burials on the terrain. The Blind Man’s Garden uses the setting of post 9/11 Afghanistan to showcase the consequences of incessant warfare and sociopolitical conflict on the topography. This paper posits that the novels depict the ways that war engenders the exploitation, appropriation, and violation of landscapes, thereby Othering them for the sole purpose of militaristic goals. The paper uses The Collaborator and The Blind Man’s Garden to analyze the ecocritical dimensions of warfare by examining the processes by which environments are Othered as hostile or utilitarian spaces, the slow and spectacular violence caused by these processes, and the importance of acknowledging the issue of grievability of environments. Drawing upon the works of Achille Mbembe, Eyal Weizman, Rob Nixon and Judith Butler, this paper argues for the need to understand militaristic domination as being enabled in and through the process of environmental appropriation, and thus highlights the importance of generating critical thinking about the ecocritical aspects of war.


Dr. Saba Pirzadeh is Assistant Professor of English and Environmental Literature at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). She obtained her PhD in English from Purdue University on a Fulbright fellowship. Her dissertation examined the intersections between violence, militarism and the environment in contemporary South Asian fiction. Her work has been published in Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, South Asian Review, and Parergon.

Ms. Amina Wasif

Lahore College for Women University

ABSTRACT: Refiguring the Ayyar-figure in Tilism e Hoshruba as the archetypal detective of classic crime action.

Ayyari in Urdu is taken as an epithet for profound intelligence that errs on the side of mischief and trickery. However, native speakers of Urdu and followers of the dastan (the oral storytelling tradition) genre, especially Tilism e Hoshruba, would immediately identify an ayyar as a popular trope in the Urdu dastan tradition, noted for turning the tide in favor of his/her own army through a combination of trickery and detective/spying abilities. It is the latter aspect that is, an ayyar’s role as a detective in the dastan of Hoshruba, and the striking similarity of the ayyar-figure to the detective archetype developed by Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allen Poe and later Agatha Christie etc., that I would attempt to explore in my proposed study. My study therefore aims to look at the evolution of the ayyar-figure from a trickster to a detective in the vein of detectives from classics of crime fiction, like Holmes and Poirot.


Amina Wasif is a Lecturer in English Literature at Lahore College for Women University. Her research interests include nineteenth century Indian literary traditions, Hindu and Indo Islamic mythology and the dastangoi tradition.

Ms. Sarah Abdullah

Lahore College for Women University

ABSTRACT: Gender, Dastan and Early Urdu Fiction

Looking back at the early Urdu fiction produced during the nineteenth century one finds a clear cut categorization of gender naturalized through a moral axis whereby gender roles are reified both in theory and practice. However it is interesting to note that the oral narratives popular among the masses at that time disrupted those gender roles, subverting gender hierarchies and in some cases undoing gender altogether. One such text that emerged from the tradition of dastangoi is Tilism e Hoshruba. This text is replete with female figures that actively exercise their power, agency and autonomous subjectivity along with the character of Amar Ayyar, who through his multiple performances of gender, problematizes the normative relation between sex, gender and sexuality. Analyzing the gender variability, transformative powers and subversive potential of these characters I discuss how they become the author of their gender constructing/deconstructing it at their own will allowing the dastan to be read as a counter-narrative to the heteronormative discourse endorsed by early Urdu novels like Deputy Nazir Ahmed’s The Bride’s Mirror.


Sarah Abdullah has been a lecturer of English at LCWU for a decade. She teaches Shakespearean studies, post-colonial and South Asian literature at graduate and post-graduate level. She is the research coordinator for the MPhil program and the assistant editor of the Research Journal of Language and Literature. Her interested areas of research are gender and the female subject, literature as alternative history and Indo-Pak oral tradition.

Dr. Mohammad Shoaib Pervez

University of Management and Technology

ABSTRACT: The elusive South Asian identity and the politics of ‘Othering’: an analysis of popular culture, educational curriculum and literary works of India-Pakistan

To the dismay of many South-Asians, the decolonization of South Asia in the mid twentieth century has so far inhibited the arrival of a common identity based on we-feelings or other-regarding behaviour towards fellow South Asian states. There have been many causes behind it, like the unfinished agenda of the subcontinent’s partition, the need for more de-colonization in a post-colonial elitist state, rampant poverty and illiteracy and so on. In this paper, by exclusively focusing on comparative study of Indian and Pakistani identities, I will argue that there is a state constructed narrative deliberately invoked by the elites of both states in order to securitize their respective identities by creating a sense of ontological insecurity among the masses. By looking at the educational curriculum of Pakistan studies, which is a compulsory subject for school-going children in both states, I will argue that it is ignoble for a state to create one’s positive identity at the expense of the negative identity of the “Other”. The same is the case with India’s popular film industry, where every patriotic film is labelled as such if it successfully constructs the image of the “Other”. The Pakistani film industry is almost non-existent, otherwise the project of othering would have been in full swing under state patronage. Interestingly, the notion of we-feelings or clues to evolving contours of a common identity is found in the literary classics of both states, but such narratives are not allowed to become the identity-forming discourses by state elites.


Dr. Pervez did his PhD (International Relations) from Leiden University, Holland in the year 2010. He has won the prestigious Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan Overseas Scholarship for PhD studies abroad (2007-2010). His monograph, 'Security community in South-Asia: India-Pakistan' has been published by Routledge (2012, New York). This book has also been awarded the 'National Outstanding Book Research Award’ by the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan in March 2015. He has also written articles in foreign peer reviewed journals like International Politics, Palgrave Macmillan, Contemporary South Asia, Religion Politics & Ideology and International Affairs (Chatham House UK). Pervez is also an HEC approved PhD supervisor of International Relations. He was also the post-doctoral Fulbright fellow/ Visiting Scholar for the year 2014-15 at Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, SIPA, Columbia University, New York where he worked with Prof Robert Jervis on strategic culture. His most recent work titled Strategic Culture reconceptualized: the case of India and the BJP has recently been published in International Politics (Palgrave Macmillan, January 2018) an impact factor peer reviewed journal of London School of Economics and Political Science. His research interests lie in issues of security, strategic culture, identity politics and theories of International Relations particularly social constructivism.

Dr. Hafeez Jamali

Assistant Professor & Director (IDRAC), Habib University

Dr. Hafeez Jamali is Assistant Professor at the Social Development Policy Program, Habib Univeristy. He has a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Univeristy of Texas, Austin. His research focuses broadly on a critique of the contemporary narratives of progress and development advocated through the building of large-scale infrastructure projects in postcolonial societies like Pakistan. His published research examines how Pakistani government’s policy of building large-scale development projects such as transnational gas pipelines and commercial ports have affected the lives and transformed the political attitudes of ethnic Baloch people. Ethnographically, his focus is on Gwadar, a small coastal town located near the entrance of the Persian Gulf that has played an important role in the longue duree of Western Indian Ocean. In studying these historical and contemporary cultural dynamics, his research questions the prevalent view of globalization as the circulation of people, money, commodities, and ideas in an increasingly frictionless transnational sphere. Instead, he proposes an alternative understanding of globalization as the contested and embodied articulation of capital, nation, and community rooted in historical structures of lived experience.

Jack Clift

PhD student, School of Oriental and African Studies

Abstract: Re-reading South Asia: Krishna Sobti, Qurratulain Hyder and the act of ‘reading together’

In the case of Hindi and Urdu in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, language has been imbued with particular religious, cultural and national identitarian markers. Literary analysis of works in these languages often does little to problematize such associations, persistently privileging readings of literary works that conflate the linguistic and the national. By adopting an approach of ‘reading together’ Hindi and Urdu fiction (Laachir 2016, Orsini 2017), I will in this paper suggest a methodology for disrupting what Francesca Orsini (2012) has called the ‘unproblematic continuum of script-language-religious identity and community’ that links language and, at its furthest extent, nation. Taking Krishna Sobti’s Hindi novel Dar se bichuri(‘Separated from the Flock,’ 1958) and Qurratulain Hyder’s Urdu novel Sita haran (‘The Abduction of Sita,’ 1960) as examples, I will show how ‘reading together’ reveals instances of linguistic, religious and cultural fluidity that destabilize assumptions about the coevalness of language use and national identity. Furthermore, by focusing on the manner in which the authors characterize their female protagonists, I will illustrate how gender can offer a productive prism through which to undertake a comparative analysis of Hindi and Urdu literature, one which avoids over-emphasizing either the difference or similarity between these textual traditions. In doing so, I hope to elaborate a comparative literary methodology that can contribute to a re-reading, and a re-thinking, of some of the parameters of South Asian literary studies.


Jack Clift is a doctoral student at SOAS, University of London. He is a researcher on the ERC-funded project Multilingual Locals, Significant Geographies (MULOSIGE), led by Professor Francesca Orsini, which seeks to establish a new, ground-up approach to world literature. Jack’s research focusses on historical fiction in twentieth-century India and brings together literatures written in both Hindi and Urdu. His previous work has looked comparatively at iterations of nationalism in twentieth-century Spanish and Egyptian literatures, and at constructions of religious identity in the Arabic-language work of a North Indian Muslim reformist group. Jack tweets with the handle @jackfclift and is a regular contributor to the MULOSIGE website (mulosige.soas.ac.uk).

Online Registrations are now closed.
Walk-in Registrations are allowed.


Conference Committee:
Dr. Sarah Humayun | Co-Director, Co-Director for the Arzu Program for Languages and Literature, Habib University
Dr. Noman Baig | Assistant Professor, Social Development and Policy
Conference Chair:
Dr. Fahd Ali | Program Director, Social Development & Policy, Habib University
Anushka Hosain, Senior Manager, Office for Global Engagement