The proposed seminar opens up an avenue to explore the possibility of understanding or construing India through perspectives from elsewhere. The emphasis on the notion of ‘elsewhere’ emphasizes the fact that, every elsewhere is a nevertheless a somewhere that is just unpresented in the now and the here. Thus the seminar seeks to explore other possible perspectives on India precisely to provide the contours to the landscape of these elsewheres, thereby providing them with a now and a here.
The term ‘framing’ centralizes the notion of understanding, which distinguishes itself from the epistemological category of knowing, in so far as it presents itself as perspectival. In contrast to a claim of knowledge, it explicitly forecloses the possibility of a representation as presenting an object of its inquiry in its entirety. Unlike knowing, it therefore foregoes the privileged position of an unbiased knower supposedly motivated by the singular and pure act of knowing. Thus our emphasis on the notion of ‘understanding’ highlights the fact that the epistemic category of perspective, in its very emergence, imply the possibility of other perspectives. A perspective thereby operates with an internal logic that declares every perspectival assertion as being a re-presentation, precluding the possibility of being cast as a presentation that demands a straightforward relation of correspondence with that which is being presented. As a representation, a perspective grounds itself in a “that-which-goes-unnoticed” mode that is nuanced, enigmatically intricate, and often latent hence denying us a cozy framework of a linear correspondence and thereby, an also denies us the easy ascription of “truth” in the strict sense of the term. In contrast to knowledge claims whose fundamental engagement is with “truth”, perspectival claims are fundamentally engaged with exploratory “disclosures”.
It is in this spirit that the seminar seeks to explore other articulations of the idea of India in terms of its cultural, historical, political, social or economical aspects through perspectives that are not the established, dominant, or the mainstream modality of such representations.
Clearly, ‘understanding’ as a category, fundamentally launches itself into a space of contestation rather than a space of explicit refutation or absolute denial, and the seminar consciously places itself within the former space. Thus within this broad perspectival canvas, the seminar can also be read as seeking to launch itself against the background of the question, “How has discourse within the academia represented India as an object of Understanding, and what are the dominant perspectives through which India gets represented?” In doing so, the Seminar might then look to explore the possibility of representing India through perspectives from elsewhere.
Towards this end, the seminar is essentially dual in nature. It grounds itself in the explicitly declared background of a specific perspectival representation of India against which the perspective from elsewhere is presented. Therefore, on the one hand, in terms of its background, it is an engagement with a perspective that has managed to establish itself within the main stream academic representation of India or of her aspects, while on the other hand, it explores specificities of a yet un-established perspectives as an-other.
Of course, the need for the search for an elsewhere is what led to the rise in the efforts to provincialize Europe (Chakrabarty, 2000) and to move the project of theory making to an ex-centric site (Bhabha 1994), consequently leading to the steady questioning of the taken for granted correlation between Western Enlightenment and Modernity, and therefore, also postulates about scientificity, empiricism, transcendent truths and certitude. The rise of theorists emphasizing the Global South was a clearly marked attempt to make a clearing space for perspectives from an elsewhere, where the elsewhere had a specific geo-political location, namely, the Global South (erstwhile underdeveloped or developing economies/Third world). Over the last few decades, especially the work which emerged from this perspective from the 1980s has now managed to firmly establish itself as a somewhere, and is often labeled as “Postcolonial Theory” and now finds itself in the company of other disciplines such as Women Studies, Cultural Studies and Gay/Lesbian Studies (currently LGBTQ studies). These new fields of knowledge often classified as the “New Humanities” too, in their initial phases, have attempted, first to foreground the exclusions and elisions which confirm the privileges and authority of canonical knowledge systems, and second, to recover those marginalized knowledges which have been occluded and silenced by entrenched humanist curriculum (Leela Gandhi, 1998). On a similar note, within the discipline of History, one can see the emergence of the Subaltern School which sought to correct the class and gender blindness of elite bourgeois national independence in India by rewriting history from below. Ranajit Guha’s emphasis upon the role of the new historiography to aid explorations, in both the conditions of the exploitation of the masses, as well as the workings of the people’s autonomous political agency, can be read as an attempt to locate an elsewhere for history writing. These are instances of an elsewhere now well codified as a somewhere within the space of academic discourse. The seminar is thus an attempt to provide an exploration into the possibility of a space for other such elsewheres.
Of course, given that this seminar in a sense relates the elsewhere with an “other” that is an “another”, the “elsewhere” is to be understood to mean an-other. In this sense, the other we seek to explore is not in terms of the otherness of the ‘subaltern’ or the ‘marginal’. The marginalized and the subaltern (say for instance the Dalit, North-Eastern, Gender perspectives) are now fairly well entrenched in the “main-stream” structures of academic consciousness in India and can, in that sense, be seen as an established somewhere rather than an elsewhere.
Thus, though here, the term “other” that qualifies the term “perspective” is not being used to posit a relation of structural opposition, nevertheless, it does not foreclose the possibility of an elsewhere that could ground a new perspective of representing such subalternity or marginalization in India. In this sense, the seminar also opens up the possibility of revisiting the once ‘elsewheres’ of subalternity and marginality, apart from its central engagement with perspectives that are yet grounded in an elsewhere.
Though within the field of Urban Studies, the influence of postcolonial theorization can be visibly felt after Jennifer Robinson’s pioneering work, Ordinary Cities: Between Modernity and Development, its influence was rather late and can be still seen as being on the margins of the elsewhere. The seminar also opens up this avenue for reflection.
Furthermore, through a political reading of contemporary India, multiple sites, experiences and voices of the other have been made manifest. India today, may in fact be more a gamut of different others coming together to collaborate in a project of nation building and judicial enforcement. Politics in this way may be understood in terms of a double bind: on the one hand it strives to render dominant and central a particular identity or experience in the understanding of law, thereby marginalizing many others; while on the other, it continuously marks out the other that seeks inclusion on the grounds of justice. However, this riddled process of marginalization and inclusion in India would certainly have been blind or silent on few, rendering them not so much politically invisible but more irrelevant to the process of state formation and nation building. Struggles for inclusion and recognition are often addressed by guarantees of rights, particularly redistributive rights, which aim at correcting historically entrenched systems of social, cultural and economic injustices. And yet, those struggles which are not represented easily through the language of rights are often unapologetically and systemically ‘left out’ of the possibility of politics.
This seminar also concerns itself with understanding and exploring the politics of such struggles and voices which may not speak the dominant language of politics, and which remain at the periphery of both the language and the practice of politics in India today as an elsewhere.
The seminar is driven by the excitement of exploring such perspectives on India from elsewhere, in terms of its social, economic, political, cultural and historical frames. In fact, it is open to the possibility some “another” perspective on the very construal of “India” itself given that its formulation is/was itself grounded on certain somewheres. The underlying drive is to show how one’s very idea of India - its social, or economic, or political, or cultural or historical contours - changes when one pauses to think it through some other ground, one that was or is hitherto an elsewhere.
But one must be cautious as well in this exploratory opening up, as one cannot fail to acknowledge the fact that a perspective too must operate within a structure of a conceptual framework, internally consistent, and coherent. After all, an “elsewhere” must not be confused and conflated with a “nowhere”. Further, we must not forget that numbers and data do not by themselves present a perspective, unless, we provide them a conceptual voice.
Contributors willing to join us are therefore, requested to take these four questions as the primary conceptual drivers in formulating their contributions.
IIAS, Shimla, will be glad to extend you its hospitality during the Seminar period and is willing to provide you, if required, your rail or air travel expense from your place of current residence in India, or your port of arrival in India, and back.
A three days’ National Seminar on the theme of “Framing India through perspectives from Elsewhere” was successfully organized at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. The Seminar was inaugurated by Professor Chetan Singh, Director of the Institute. The seminar, which was convened by Dr. P. G. Jung, had participants who presented the various alternative possibilities of understating the idea of India. These presentations, in response to the seminar’s ‘Concept Note’ put up in the Institute’s webpage, explored those avenues of understanding the various possible imaginations of India through modes that are not yet the central and dominant within the main-stream imagination of India. Thus, the deliberations opened up a space to explore the possibility of understanding or representing India through perspectives from elsewhere. The underlying drive was to show how the very idea of India - its social, or economic, or political, or cultural or historical contours - changes when one pauses to think it through some other ground- one that was, or is, hitherto an elsewhere.
Apart from the Inaugural session, there were ten technical sessions, spread over a period of three days, with a total of seventeen presentations made by various scholars from India and abroad. The paper presenters, who were, by and large, selected through a double blind peer review process of the abstracts submitted by them in response to the ‘call for papers’, were from various disciplines which included Anthropology, Cultural Studies, History, Literature, Philosophy, Sociology, and Political Science. The wide range of disciplinary approach towards the theme further helped in bringing out the varieties of alternative perspectives on the idea of India.
In his ‘Welcome Address’, Professor Chetan Singh, the Director of the Institute, stressed upon the necessity to revisit the idea of ‘India’, given its continuous changing contours and its shifting aspectual emphasis over time. Professor Singh, in his Address highlighted this by bringing to light the distinct conception of ‘India’ prevalent in the Himalayan regions of India even during earlier times. His Address was then complimented by the Dr. Jung’s ‘Introductory Remarks’, which emphasized the steady rise of the perspectival framework of understanding in the twentieth century, and the slow decline of any totalizing approach towards an object of understanding. Justifying the need to deliberate upon the selected theme of the seminar, his remarks highlighted the steady rise in the respectability of the very notion of ‘possibilities’ and the centrality imparted to ‘perspectives’ rather than holistic overarching ‘truth’ in contemporary ‘post’ era, where the ‘actual’ is though to be understood in the light of its various possibilities, each possibility demanding a delineated, though connected, perspective of its own. Hence the urgency to revisit the idea of India through the space of possibilities that lies outside the dominant perspective, and is so to speak, an elsewhere.
The first technical session, took to the early framings of the idea of India. Professor Valerian Rodrigues, in his “Two Readings of India: Thoughts on Pakistan (Ambedkar, 1940) and Discovery of India (Nehru, 1946)”, highlighted not merely the two distinct ideas of India as presented in the works of Nehru and Ambedkar, but also the subtle changes that the idea underwent in their hands over time. His paper was complimented by Dr. Sanghamitra Sadhu’s presentation titled “Framing the Nation at the Margin: The idea of India from the perspective of the Outsider-Insiders”. Her paper presented the alternative idea of India that was formulated by the likes of C F Andrews and Verrier Elwin, who as ‘imperial/colonial marginal’ and ‘implicit postcolonialist’ have occupied an ‘in-between’ space as outsider-insiders in the politico-geographical imaginary.
The second technical session had two presentations. The first of these was by Anant Maringanti, who in his paper (co-authored with Jindiavar Jonnalagadda) titled “Citizenship as Embodied and Situated Performance: Notes from Hyderabad”, highlighted the framing of the idea of India that came about distinctly in different locales from the city of Hyderabad once it was made a part of India, and the role this imagination played in the shaping of the very contours of the city. The second presentation by Dr. Ahoona Roy, titled “Enduring the Carnage: The Theory and Rhetoric of the benign Palimpsest of the Minority Identity” was an ethnographic effort to highlight the perspectives of the ‘hijras’ of Mumbai, and the ways in which they frame the urban landscape of the city. In doing so her paper highlighted the context in which the politics of hegemony installs decisive patterns of segregation and prohibition to establish the technologies of exclusion within the conceptual space called ‘India’.
In the third technical session, Dr. M.V. Lakshmi argued that the mode in which Japan framed India was distinct from the dominant framing of the idea of India by the West at large. In her presentation titled “India through Yukio Mishima’s Hōjō no Umi and Endo Shusaku’s Fukai Kawa: A perspective from Japan”, she highlighted the peculiarities of the Japanese perspective on India through an analysis of the works of two Japanese authors, Yukio Mishima and Endo Shusaku.
In the fourth technical session, both Dr. C. Savitha and Dr. Farddina Hussain highlighted the peculiarities of the idea of India that emerges, and the modality in which the idea of India comes to be framed, in Travelogues. Dr. Savitha’s paper “A Journey, A Travelogue, A Perspective from ‘Elsewhere’: Travelogue as a Modality in Contemporary Travelogues on India” critically analyzed the works of John Keay, Paul William Roberts and William Dalrymple while, Dr. Hussain, focused upon the works of William Dalrymple and Samanth Subramanian to bring forth the idea of India that emerges through their travelogues.
The fifth technical session had two presentations, “Viewing India from s Liminal Perspective: Refugee Narratives From Bengal” and “Locating India in the Narratives of Afghan Sikh Refugees: Understanding Religious Affinity, Cultural Distance and sense of Otherness”, both highlighting the framing of the idea of India through the narratives of the refugees in India. In the former, Dr. Rangana Banerji, through the critical analysis of the available memoirs by the displaced people on both sides of the border, highlighted the distinctive idea of India that emerges through the perspective of the refugees of Bengal who came to be labelled as Bangaal. In the latter, Dr. Shelly Pandey highlighted the Afghan Sikh refugees’ enframement of the idea of India through an ethnographic study of the community in the city of Delhi.
In the sixth session, Dr. Maya Vinai presented her paper (co-authored with Vinai Sankunni) “Negotiating Faith and Culture: Lives and world-view of boatmen in Banaras” which argued against the stereotyped image of Banaras as portrayed in the available literary works that engage with the city, and the distinct understanding of the city that emerges through the site of the narratives of the Boatmen of the city. The session also included Dr. R. Umamaheshwari’s “Can ‘Nation’ Flow, too? One idea from ‘Somewhere’ on Godavari River”, which foregrounded the riverine fisher communities settled along the Godavari river and their district perspective of the Godavari vis-à-vis that of the state. It sought to highlight how perspectives, such as those of these riverine fisher communities, somehow manage to become an ‘elsewhere’ that is unnoticed and completely obliterated by the powerful voices of the state.
The seventh session had Dr. Amar Jesani’s presentation “Between a rock and a hard place: Ethics and Politics of NGOs striving for Social Justice using Constitutional means”. In his presentation Dr. Jesani highlighted the modes in which India comes to be framed by “International Funding Agencies” like Ford and Gates foundations. It also highlighted the impact of such formulations of India in the emergence of certain type of NGOs in different periods and the role of the nation in presenting or preserving a certain representation of itself.
The eighth and the ninth technical sessions saw four presentations all dealing with the understanding of the urban space through distinct loci. Professor Kushal Deb’s “North-South debate in Urban Theory: Implications for understanding India from a position of elsewhere” set the stage through its critical analysis of the theories from the dominant global north that are often invoked to understand the urban spaces of the global south, and the emerging alternative trend of understating these spaces through a distinct variety of theorization that emerges precisely from these very spaces in the global south. It highlighted the possibilities and difficulties, the challenges and the perks of theorizing the global south through theories that emerge precisely within the context of the global south, an elsewhere. Professor Bhide in her “Urbanization Unbound: Indian Urbanization through the Lens of Real Estate and Housing”, as the title clearly articulates, presented the urban space as it emerges when framed through the structures of the real-estate market. In his “The Improvisational City: Mumbai in the Transnational Urbanist Imaginary”, Dr. Jonathan Shapiro Anjaria, argued the necessity to look beyond the available modes of understating the Indian urban space such as notions like ‘Juggad’ to capture the city in its authentic representation. He argued that in order to accomplish this one would have to adopt, what he calls, the “improvisational city perspective” that focuses on the everyday spatial practices of the poor with a particular emphasis on their ingenuity and resourcefulness while understanding the urban landscapes in the Global South. Dr. Karen Coelho in her paper explored what it meant to be urban for people living on squatted territories along the banks of a failed canal in Chennai. It offered perspectives from marginal spaces within the metropolis, from intra-urban hinterlands that also become frontage at certain moments that offer another kind of geography for theorizing the way that the urban is constituted.
The last session saw Dr. Pramod K. Nayar’s “Manufacturing Ruin: Derelict Factories, Wasted Modernity and the Postindustrial Gothic”, which sought to frame the ‘Industrial ruin’ as an artefact of Indian public culture. It sought to highlight the representational relation that the nation has with its industrial ruins.
The seminar ended with a vote for thanks and with the unanimous decision to rework the papers in light of the three days’ deliberations over the theme and to submit the reworked papers by the mid of September 2015 for review for a possible volume.
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