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South Asia Working Group at Stanford University

The South Asia Working Group at Stanford is a space for dialogue, community, and reflection for students and scholars engaging with South Asia. Co-sponsored by the Stanford Center for South Asia, this forum features a variety of events such as paper presentations, lectures, and film screenings.

All South Asianist students are welcome to attend, participate in this forum, and contribute to building it as a student-led forum for intellectual deliberation for South Asian Studies.

Learn more about the 2024-25 Fellows:

Marlon Ariyasinghe  Aatika Singh

The South Asia Working Group is active. Please join the South Asia Working Group Mailing List and follow the group on Instagram to stay updated about the events directly and to receive current announcements!


SAWG 2024-2025 Events

SAWG Event Calendar Spring 2024-2025  

Stanford University’s South Asia Working Group invites you to celebrate the 134th anniversary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar with Gautam Vegda, anti-caste poet, illustrator, and PhD scholar. 



Sponsored by the Center for South Asia. 

When: April 14 at  7:30 PM
Where: Zoom Webinar

About the event
This online gathering will delve into the intersections of caste, environmental justice, and human-animal relationships through the lens of poetic verse.

About the poet
Gautam Vegda is an anti-caste poet, illustrator, and research scholar. He was born in Surendranagar, Gujarat, and is the only Dalit poet from Gujarat who writes in English. He is pursuing a PhD from the Central University of Gujarat, India. He is working on Environmental Justice, Caste and Human-animal relationships incorporated into Marginal Literature. Gautam has authored Vultures and Other Poems (2018) and A Strange Case of Flesh and Bones (2019), and also contributed to multiple anthologies globally. He has taught literature, creative writing, environmental humanities, and other interdisciplinary subjects at various institutions including IIT Gandhinagar, NID Bangalore, NID Ahmedabad, and Gujarat Vidyapith.









Stanford South Asia Working Group (SAWG) presents a special screening of Academy Award nominee Ava DuVernay’s Origin (2023). 

When: April 19, 2024 at 5:30 PM Pacific Time
Where: Encina Commons 123

Sponsored by the Center for South Asia. 

About the movie
Origin (2023), starring Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, delves into discrimination within the United States and internationally, dramatizing the book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson. The film portrays Wilkerson's process of writing the book, which is integral to the narrative.

About the filmmaker
Ava Marie DuVernay is an award-winning American filmmaker. She began her directorial career with I Will Follow (2010) and received critical acclaim for her second film Middle of Nowhere (2012), which earned her the Directing Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, making her the first black woman to receive this honor. DuVernay made history again with Selma (2014) by becoming the first African American woman to be nominated for both a Golden Globe Award for Best Director and the Academy Award for Best Picture. Her portfolio also includes the Oscar-nominated Netflix documentary 13th (2016) and the Disney fantasy A Wrinkle in Time (2018), which positioned her as the first African American woman to direct a film with a $100 million budget. Additionally, her Netflix series When They See Us (2019) garnered 16 Emmy nominations, marking her and Beyoncé as the first African American women to achieve multiple career nominations for directing at the Primetime Emmys. Her latest achievement with the film Origin (2023) distinguished her as the first African American woman to have a film compete at the Venice Film Festival.


Stanford South Asia Working Group (SAWG), the Center for South Asia, and  the Stanford Sri Lankan Association (SSLA) present a special screening of the documentary: In Plain Sight. 

Sponsored by the Center for South Asia. 

When: May 8, 2024 06:30 PM Pacific Time
Where: Oshman Hall, McMurtry Building, 355 Roth Way and via Zoom Webinar 

About the event:

In Plain Sight is a documentary that explores the connection between disappearances and mass graves in Sri Lanka by focusing on different narratives and perspectives, including those of affected families and loved ones. The screening will follow a discussion with the filmmaker. 

‘In Plain Sight’ is a glimpse into Sri Lanka’s complicated socio-political history that led to strategic disappearances and the existence of mass graves in the country. The documentary features seven mass grave locations and focuses on the different oral histories and narratives that have been affected by these sites: from families and loved ones, to activists, researchers, actual histories, and unanswered questions that continue to haunt Sri Lanka’s past, present, and future.Director: Ruvin, is a multidisciplinary artist based in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He's known for his lead roles in plays, appearances in international and local films and TV, and his work as a photographer, visual artist, sound designer, and filmmaker, with a special emphasis on creating documentaries that address social justice.Content warning: loss, graphic footage, violence, abuse.



Stanford South Asia Working Group (SAWG) together with the Center for South Asia present a screening of the documentary Rohith Vemula (2017) , directed by Srikanth Chintala. 

Sponsored by the Center for South Asia. 

When: May 29, 2024 at 7 PM Pacific Time
Where: Oshman Hall, 355 Roth Way



SAWG Past Fellows

Paras Arora

Paras is the former co-founder and co-coordinator of the South Asia Working Group at Stanford. He is a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Anthropology, Stanford University. As an anthropologist, Paras is particularly committed to understanding how care performed at the level of familial and kin relations might escape, resist, and reformulate broader political and economic shifts across societies. As a visual artist, Paras is drawn to care precisely because of its ethical uncertainty that is often failed by language. Their doctoral research attends to how families grapple with the ageing and continued dependency of autistic adults in the absence of state-mandated, social support in India. In this project, they seek to theorize autism as a shared condition, care as an experiment in ethics, and family as a contested mode of collective being in India. 

Learn more about Paras’s research interests and current work here.

Shubhangni Gupta

Shubhangni is the former co-founder and co-coordinator of the South Asia Working Group at Stanford (2021-2023). She completed her B.A. and M.A. in Modern Indian History from Delhi University in 2014 and 2016 respectively. She completed her MPhil from Jawaharlal Nehru University in 2018, where her dissertation focused on the first colonial legislation on the preservation of monuments in India and how it impacted preservation practices in the country. 

Shubhangni's project studies the practice of heritage with respect to the Shekhavati haveli in Rajasthan, India. She is interested in analyzing the relationship between ideas of expertise and forms of ownership in the space of heritage practice and preservation, and how different 'experts' insert themselves as stakeholders in local community practice. 

Learn more about Shubhangni’s research interests and current work here.

Shantanu Nevrekar

Shantanu is the former co-founder and co-ordinator of the South Asia Working Group at Stanford (2021-2022). He is broadly interested in the study of community, self, and political economy in postcolonial India. He is currently conducting ethnographic fieldwork amongst cooperative credit institutions – banks and credit societies – in the state of Maharashtra in Western India. His theoretical interests include histories of capitalism and economic thought, colonialism and postcolonialism, anthropology of state and bureaucracy, and caste studies. Before coming to Stanford, he completed an M.A. in Development Studies from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai and an M. Phil. in Sociology from Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi.

Learn more about Shantanu's research interests and current work here.

2022-2023 Events


Stanford South Asia Working Group presents, in association with the Stanford Center for South Asia:

South Asia as Home & Field Part II


When: Apr 21st, 2023 at 10am PST   

Where: Zoom

About the Event:

Being in the field is an ongoing negotiation between understanding the demands of our research— finding relevant data, building professional networks and academic sense-making— and doing justice to our sense of self— personal wellbeing, ethical conduct, and building a supportive community. These processes get even more complex when our 'field' is also what we identify as 'home'. Home can mean many things, it can be landscape, culture, or continued presence of family, friends and loved ones. Building on our first South Asia as Home & Field event, we now bring a part II in form of a community check-in. Join us for an open session to share your experiences and insights on this theme. This open-discussion format invites the audience as participants to discuss the everyday complexities of field research on home territory in South Asia, particularly from those who are in the advanced stages of fieldwork research. 




Stanford South Asia Working Group and the Stanford Center for South Asia present

Reading Between the Lines: ‘Doing’ Textual Research in/on South Asia

Kartik Maini, PhD Student, Department of South Asian Languages & Civilizations, The University of Chicago

When: Mar 8th, 2023 at 10am PST   

Where: Zoom

About the Event:

Much scholarly labour that finds its conceptual home in South Asia is undertaken in amorphous archival holdings, cloistered libraries, and private collections in varying states of decrepitude. Dealing with texts, particularly those produced in a relatively remote past, involves dealing with interlocutors who exist in disjointed textual traces. My presentation will be an introduction to the joys and agonies of ‘doing’ textual research in and on South Asia – and the epistemic stakes of making the past speak to the present. These will be illustrated by way of insights culled from the disciplines of hermeneutics and critical philology, and through my own work with Sanskrit, Hindi, and Marathi manuscripts. In foregrounding premodern textual cultures, I hope to unsettle some of our tacit assumptions about the ‘book’ as a printed, mass-produced object: untouched by human error and meant to be read privately, silently, solitarily. Finally, I intend to jettison prevailing impressions of the archive as a sterile repository of historical data, as though waiting to be mined. Emphasising doing within textual research prepares us for a fuller appreciation of the archive as a site of intrigue & trauma, serendipity & loss, and constant social and hermeneutic navigation.

About the Speaker:

Kartik Maini is a PhD student & researcher in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations at The University of Chicago. Maini’s doctoral project is situated at the intersections of religious studies, intellectual history, & critical philology, and in a multilingual archive comprising Sanskrit, Hindi, Marathi, & Tamil sources. They are interested in histories and discourses of asceticism in South Asia, with an eye towards tracing their emergent worldliness in early and colonial modernity. Maini grew up in Delhi, India, and took their B.A. and M.A. degrees in history from the University of Delhi. Outside of research, they fill their days with Hindustani classical music, gazing at pictures of cats, and innumerable cups of coffee.




Stanford South Asia Working Group and the Stanford Center for South Asia present

"The Influence of Haram Never Goes Away”: Dignity, Genealogy, and Virtue for Anti-Blasphemy Activists in Pakistan

Saad Lakhani, PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology, Stanford University

When: Feb 17th, 2023 at 10am PST   

Where: Zoom

About the Event:

Why do blasphemy accusations in Pakistan often begin as allegations of mixing Haram with Halal, states of ritual impurity and ritual purity respectively? Muslims must avoid Haram, or the forbidden, to remain within the limits of Halal. However, Halal is the bare minimum a Muslim must do before setting themselves upon the path of moral virtue. In South Asia, the Muslim elite have historically claimed social status through distinguished virtues and genealogies. However, scholars have paid less attention to how ordinary Muslims often refer to Halal eating, earning, and reproducing to attest their worth. This talk will focus on how members of the TLP, an anti-blasphemy movement of largely young working-class men, valorize the ethical and genealogical concept of Halal-ness to assert dignity based on minimal virtue and legitimate birth. TLP targets vulnerable groups for not being Halal, but also question and insult the esteemed pedigrees and distinctions of upper classes and "big men" by demanding them to prove loyalty to Prophet Muhammad.

About the Speaker:

Saad Lakhani is a Ph.D. candidate in Cultural and Social Anthropology at Stanford University. He is interested in the anthropology of sovereignty, dignity, masculinity, social class, populism, and religion. His research examines the relationship between social class, gender, and religion through the lens of the everyday politics and public culture of religious offense taking and giving in Pakistan. In his recently completed ethnographic fieldwork, he focused on how several Islamic groups articulated and contested how Muslims should respond to what they saw as a general crisis of blasphemy in the contemporary world. Before joining Stanford, he received an M.A. (with distinction) in Social and Political Thought from the University of Warwick in the UK and a B.S. in Social Sciences from Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology in Pakistan.






Stanford South Asia Working Group and the Stanford Center for South Asia present:

Systemic Vulnerability: Suffering Within and Along with Nature in Bangladesh 

Abdullah All Shakil, PhD Student, Department of Anthropology, University of Connecticut


When: Jan 27th, 2023 at 10am PST   

Where: Zoom


About the Event:


I accompanied my sister in her journey into conception for four years. Eventually, in my MA thesis, I explored how women in Bangladesh create a meaning of infertility treatment. My research shows stigma, ostracism, and social structure make the physical body of a woman with infertility visible in Bangladesh and South Asia at large. Women use infertility treatment as a means to make their physical bodies relevant against ostracism. Whether it is biomedicine or occult practices, any sort of treatment carries the same meaning for women, a quest for emancipation. Soon after completing my MA, I lost my mother. She suffered from chronic pain for 25 years, and the reason for her pain remained undiagnosed. The loss and grief made me question why only woman and their families carry the burden of chronicity, and the state remains silent. In my Ph.D. project, I am focusing on the growing prevalence of hysterectomies on the Southern Coast of Bangladesh, where women are carrying the burden of environmental degradation and climate change in their bodies. I am looking at the systemic process of vulnerability formulation through the exploitation of nature and people that have created a long-lasting trail of suffering. Join me in this conversation while I will reflect upon the transformation of my research interest from individual treatment behavior to systemic inequality. I will further reflect on how I struggle to position myself as a heterosexual man to understand the pain and suffering women carry in their corporeal and social bodies.  

About the Speaker:


Shakil is a Medical Anthropologist from Bangladesh with almost ten years of experience in environmental activism, public health research, and international development. Currently, he is a Ph.D. at the University of Connecticut. He has been a Hans Wilsdorf Scholar during his MA at the Gradaute Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID), Geneva, Switzerland. His research intersects with activism and academia. He is curious to explore the intersectionality between the systemic exploitation of people and nature and the burden of chronic health conditions. Shakil is a father and an avid cook. He enjoys his time in nature and listening to music. 






Stanford South Asia Working Group presents, in association with the Stanford Center for South Asia:

Crafting Creative Worlds Within & Beyond Academia: A Graduate Student Perspective

Kaustubh Naik, PhD Student, Department of South Asia Studies, University of Pennsylvania

When: November 15th, 2022 at 10:30 am PST

Where: Zoom 

About the Event:

Join Kaustubh Naik as he reflects on his experiences of working at the intersection of academia and creative practices. Kaustubh’s theatre work is largely inspired by themes in South Asian history and broadly grapples with two concerns. In a society where the distinction between history writing and myth-making is blurred and often overridden, what possibilities can performance practices offer to assert this distinction more effectively? Additionally, with the commodification of media and its primetime debates, how can we retain our ability to discern truth from what has come to be identified as post-truth?

About the Speaker:

Kaustubh Naik is a writer, playwright and researcher, currently pursuing his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in the South Asia Studies department. He works on the history of the Portuguese empire in South Asia. Complimentary to his academic pursuits, Kaustubh has been actively involved in theatre since a young age. His maiden play ‘Avyahat’ (2018), based on Amita Kanekar’s novel ‘A Spoke In The Wheel’, opened to critical acclaim in Goa and Maharashtra and was performed at the prestigious International Theatre Festival of Kerala, Thrissur. He was awarded the Tendulkar Dubey fellowship in the year 2020, awarded annually to promising talents in Indian theatre. He recently worked with novelist Amitav Ghosh and singer Ali Sethi on a musical adaptation of Ghosh’s graphic novel ‘Jungle Nama’ which premiered at the Penn Live Arts Theatre in Philadelphia, USA. His writings on Goan culture, history and politics have been featured in various news portals and magazines including Firstpost, Frontline, and the Caravan Magazine.






SAWG Forum poster, details in the website text
Stanford South Working Group presents, in association with the Stanford Center for South Asia:
South Asia as Home & Field: A Graduate Student Panel Discussion
When: Oct 14th 2022, 10-11am PST
Where: Zoom
About the Event:
From living and caring for one's family members during fieldwork, to doing fieldwork on questions that might unsettle the peace of one's home, the home and field are never entirely distinct entities. But by virtue of having a shared history (and future) with their field sites, researchers in their home countries have to be particularly attentive to questions of rigor, objective distance, representation, and ethics in fieldwork. How do researchers in their home countries grapple with being encumbered by the demands, possibilities, and limitations of "home" (construed broadly) while conducting fieldwork? Join our South Asian graduate students at Stanford as they reflect on the overlapping of their respective homes and field sites.
Shikha Nehra (PhD Field Researcher, Stanford CS Anthropology)
'The (im)possibility of being an Indian': Muslim Political Belonging in Assam
Syed Ali Mehdi Zaidi (PhD Candidate, Stanford CS Anthropology)
'Living in Hellfire': Anthropocene, Global Warming, and the Everyday in Karachi
Shubhangni Gupta (Field Researcher, Stanford Archaeological Anthropology)
'Owning Expertise': The Practice of Heritage in Shekhawati Havelis, Rajasthan
Paras Arora (PhD Student, Stanford CS Anthropology)
Fellow and Co-Coordinator, Stanford South Asia Working Group
2021-2022 Past Events


Stanford South Asia Working Group, sponsored by the Stanford Center for South Asia and the SPICE initiative at the Vice Provost for Graduate Education, presents:

 A talk by Rahul Advani, titled ‘Learning to (Digitally) Labour: Facebook, Young Men and the Politics of Publicity in India’ 

 When: Tuesday, April 12th 2022, 10-11 AM PT

 Where: Zoom

If you'd like to know more about Rahul's work and the theme of the session, please refer to the uploaded links on our portal

While India has been heralded for the globalization of its economy and technological progress, many young men in India’s cities remain invisible and excluded from the country’s IT-led growth. Based on twelve months of ethnographic research in the western Indian city of Pune, this talk explores the ways in which Facebook – of which India makes up the platform’s biggest market globally – is manipulated by marginalized educated young men via their smartphones. Examining the interplay between their online and offline lives, the talk focuses on how the techniques young men develop to enhance their visibility and masculinity on Facebook provide a lens into the experience of class in post-liberalization India.


Speaker bio:

Rahul Advani is a Research Associate at Quantum Consumer Solutions in Bangalore whose scholarly work focuses on the intersections between social media, smartphones, youth, friendship, and class in contemporary India. Providing an anthropological perspective to the role of social media in everyday life, his research examines how young men excluded from neoliberal narratives of social mobility and urban transformation contest their marginalization by curating themselves technologically. Rahul received a PhD in Anthropology from King’s College London in 2019 and has published his work most recently in HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory (2020) and Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (2022). His research can also be viewed at





Stanford South Asia Working Group presents:


'Waste, De/disvalue and the Citizen Subject in South Asia'
​a talk by Suraj Gogoi, PhD Candidate, NUS Sociology, who will be in conversation with Shikha Nehra, PhD Candidate, Stanford Anthropology
When: March 8th, 2022 from 10-11am PST
Where: Zoom
OPEN TO ALL graduate students, postdocs and early career researchers

If you'd like to know more about Suraj's work and the theme of the session, please refer to the uploaded links on our portal




Environmental degradation and racism share a lot of affinities. Minorities in South Asia are seen as ‘waste’ and in this radical degradation of humans to waste we find the modern pulse of racism. Animalistic metaphors and texts used to designate the migrants in Assam tell us a common story of how refugees are treated as social wastes worldwide. Migrants in Assam are often portrayed as rats, ants, crows, spiders, snakes etc., in official reports, graffiti, cartoons, popular songs, and academic texts which profile them as unwanted, toxic and scavenging entities. The new citizenship regime in India with NRC, and CAA turns the ‘migrant’ and the ‘Muslim’ into toxic waste, turning them socially dangerous and undesirable. Like the ecological waste, they too are seen as ungovernable, thus to be discarded. The figure of the minority is increasingly seen as a “weed” that requires removal from the “garden” of India. We live in a time when only the majority is a citizen in India, and the rest, the minorities, are citizen-subjects. Their de-valued beings are a testimony to their permanent minoritarian experience. 


Speaker bios:

Suraj Gogoi is a PhD Candidate in Sociology at National University of Singapore. He is interested in 20th century social and political thought in India’s Northeast and his doctoral dissertation The Assamese Ideology traces the social and political consciousness of the majority in contemporary Assam. His public writings address issues of citizenship, state, nationalism, identity, language, minority and political in South Asia. 

Shikha Nehra is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Stanford University. She also holds an M.A. in Anthropology from Brandeis University. Her research focuses on concerns of political belonging, citizenship, state and sovereignty, identity-formation, and ethno-nationalism. Her doctoral dissertation work examines the interplay of linguistic and religious nationalism in Assam, India.


Stanford South Asia Working Group, sponsored by the Stanford Center for South Asia and Vice Provost for Graduate Education presents:

A talk by Divya Sharma, titled “The Politics of Slow Violence: Toxic Legacies of extractive farming in Northern India” followed by a discussion with Alexa Russo.

When: Tuesday, Feb 1 2022, 10-11 AM PT

Where: Zoom


In this talk, I examine the politics of slow violence (Rob Nixon, 2011) in the Indian Punjab, a regional ecology shaped by the Green Revolution since the 1960s. After decades of quiescence, agrochemical pollution, germane to extractive monocultural farming, has surfaced prominently on the regional and national political agenda in recent years. Based on fieldwork in south-west Punjab, specifically life history narratives of older cultivators and farm workers, this talk will trace the gradual and invisible normalisation of the agrochemical treadmill. I also explore how an emergent agroecological movement that foregrounds health makes it possible to name the enactment of slow violence and provides an opening for an intersectional politics.


About the speaker and discussant:

Divya Sharma is a Lecturer in Sustainable Development at University of Sussex. She received her PhD in Development Sociology from Cornell University. Her research and teaching focus on postcolonial rural transformations, mapping changing landscapes of work, and the political ecology of food systems.

Alexa Russo is a PhD Candidate in the Anthropology department at Stanford University. Her research interests include alternative economic imaginaries and movements, feminist theory and praxis, cooperatives and collectives, and the politics of sustainability.

Format of the Session: After the talk by the speaker, Divya Sharma, there will be a short discussion with Alexa Russo, followed by Q&A with the audience.

This event is open to all students and early career scholars at Stanford and outside.





The Center for South Asia, the Sohaib and Sara Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies, and the South Asia Working Group present

Religion as the Site of Non-State Politics: Islam, Caste, and the Limits of Secularism in India

Tuesday, January 11, 2022, 10:00 - 11:00 AM Pacific Time

View the recording

Description: What determines the limits of the political in secular approaches towards minorities and their forms of life? In this talk, Shaunna will examine how secularism relies on political borders and adopts an inert approach towards various concepts that shape ideas of worldmaking. Given this limit of secularism, this talk turns to Islamic and Anti-Caste worldmaking in South Asia to demonstrate how they develop overlaps in their critique of the abstract rationality of secular political conceptions that uphold borders. Arguing that both Islamic and Anti-caste thought emphasize ethical conduct as the foundation for politics emerging from non-secular moralities, this talk demonstrates how their reconstruction of religion as a universal site of non-state politics opens imaginative possibilities for social democracy.


Shaunna Rodrigues is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies at Columbia University. She also holds an M.A. and M.Phil. in Political Science from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She specializes in political theory with research interests in theories of empire and imperialism, religion and worldmaking, Islam and caste, and anticolonial constitutionalism. Shaunna is also a Core Preceptor with the Columbia Core Curriculum in Contemporary Civilization.


Stanford South Asia Working Group, in collaboration with Stanford Center for South Asia and Vice Provost for Graduate Education presents:


Title: On Touching: Caste and Queerness in India

Speaker: Shraddha Chatterjee, Doctoral Candidate and Vanier Scholar, York University

When: Friday, Nov 12, 2021, 3-4 PM PT
Where: Zoom

This event is open to all students and early career scholars at Stanford and outside


In recent times, anti-caste critiques of queer activism have demonstrated the limits of queer politics in India. Within a larger atmosphere of increasing authoritarianism on the one hand, and increasing mainstreaming of queer lives on the other, what can anti-caste articulations teach us about queerness? This talk contextualizes and explores the tensions and possibilities that structure the intersection between caste and queerness — specifically by focusing on how anti-caste perspectives reorient queer politics to the question of progress and crisis.

About the Speaker:

Shraddha Chatterjee is a doctoral candidate and Vanier scholar at York University. Her research focuses on how discourses of nationalism and queerness support and resist each other in contemporary India. Her previous academic work has drawn on interdisciplinary dialogue between psychoanalysis, cultural studies, and queer and feminist theory. She is the author of ‘Queer Politics in India: Towards Sexual Subaltern Subjects’ (2018).

Format of the Session: The speaker will present for about 20-25 minutes which will be followed by a short Q&A discussion session with the audience.



South Asia Working Group at Stanford – Fall 2021 Series

Speaker: Johann Chacko, Department of Politics & International Studies, SOAS
When: Oct 29th, 2021; 3-4pm PT
Where: Zoom

Power and Faith in the Divine Republic: Religious Parties and Pakistan’s Political System

My project attempts to explain the apparent mismatch between the poor electoral performance of ‘Islamic’ parties in Pakistan with the power they exercise in national political life. Elections, however, are only one of a highly entangled set of the power-generating mechanisms employed, which include protest mobilisation, norm-setting, and religious legitimation. The fifth, largely hidden, mechanism balancing the books is near-continuous negotiations between all political players, including the different elements of the so-called ‘deep state.’ Can we separate what is particular and path-dependent from what is potentially more generalisable? Arguably, Pakistan’s Islamic parties work in conditions seen elsewhere in South Asia- staggeringly high levels of denominational diversity and competition in an atmosphere of heightened religious populism and nationalism, but offset by extremely transactional patronage-based politics. Yet two structural elements differentiate Pakistan: The Islamic Republic’s deeply encoded and deeply entwined simultaneous need for popular and religious legitimacy; and a dominant security state that has proved too weak to rule directly, but too strong to be subdued by politicians. Lastly, I argue that the methodological paradigm of critical realism offers some new possibilities in overcoming the epistemological challenge of studying parapolitics and conceptualising the security state’s role, whether in liberal democracies or hybrid regimes. 

About the speaker:


Johann Chacko is a Ph.D. student with the Department of Politics and International Studies at SOAS, University of London. Johann received a B.A. in Geography and Middle East Studies and an M.A. in Middle East Studies from the University of Arizona. He is the South Asia columnist for the United Arab Emirate’s The National and previously taught political science at Christ University’s School of Law in Bangalore. Elements of this talk are drawn from his doctoral thesis, which he is currently writing up; from a paper delivered at the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) 2021 annual conference; and from his chapter “Religious Parties” in the edited anthology Pakistan’s Political Parties: Surviving Between Dictatorship and Democracy published by Georgetown University Press (2020). He can be followed on Twitter @johann_c_c


Format of the Session: The speaker will present for about 30-40 minutes which will be followed by a short Q&A discussion session with the audience.


Open to all South Asianist graduate students within Stanford and other universities.


South Asia Working Group at Stanford – Fall 2021 Series

Topic: Movie Screening and Discussion - 'Cast in India'

Flyer for SAWG event on Oct. 5, 2021

When: Oct 8th 2021, 3-4pm PT
Where: EVGR Building B Meeting Room 144

Please join us for our first event for this quarter and our first ever in-person event on campus! We will be screening and discussing the short documentary film 'Cast in India', directed by filmmaker Natasha Raheja. The observational documentary takes to Howrah, India, to tell us about the little-known story of how some 300,000 manhole covers dotting the roads of New York City are welded and forged by workers thousands of miles away. It is a story that gives life to the transnational journey of everyday objects and the working lives of people who are behind these objects. You can read more about the movie here.

Every student who can make it in-person is invited! Light refreshments are included. Looking forward to meeting all of you!

The screening will be followed by a general discussion on the various themes that the movie brings to light and how we can connect its implications with wider contexts and processes.

2020-2021 Past Events

SAWG Summer Writing Sessions

Event 2: Designing Your Own Academic Conference Panel

With: Dr. Hayden Kantor, Stanford University Program in Writing & Rhetoric 

When: 17th August 2021 (Tuesday), 9am - 11:00am Pacific Time (5–10-minute break midway)
Where: Zoom
Number of participants: 10 maximum

Event Description:

Please join us for our second summer event on reading & writing effectively in the classroom and beyond!
Attending and presenting research at conferences is an important step for graduate students. It can be a stressful and mysterious process. This workshop will help you prepare for an upcoming conference by helping you to understand the expectations for the different genres of writing and speaking associated with academic conferences, particularly how to plan for, design and execute your own conference panel. This workshop will help you identify your goals for a conference and strategize how to achieve them.
  • emailing established scholars for meetings, 
  • honing your elevator pitch, 
  • drafting a conference abstract and paper, 
  • presenting the paper to a live audience, and 
  • asking and answering questions in the Q&A. 
  • An exercise focused on drafting a conference panel abstract will help you to discover the possibilities for sparking a conversation with other scholars on questions close to your own work.

This one-stop workshop with Dr. Hayden Kantor from the Program in Writing & Rhetoric at Stanford University will help address these concerns across most humanities and social science conferences in the US and Europe. Participation is capped at 10 to enable a close engagement and attention to individual concerns. So register quick! Open to all disciplines in the humanities and social sciences within Stanford and other universities. 

Regarding format and structure: For the first part we'll do an introduction to conferences and take questions. This will focus on developing strategies for making the most of them. And how to actualize those goals with attention to the different genres of writing associated with conferences that graduate students need to produce (emailing established scholars for meetings, elevator pitch, drafting a conference abstract, presenting the paper, Q&A). Then we will take a short 5–10-minute break, post which the second part will focus on the conference panel abstract, first brainstorming ideas, then small group work, and a large group discussion.

Event 1: Thinking About Academic Learning - Close Reading and Writing

With: Professor Mudit Trivedi, Stanford Anthropology Department 

When: 22nd July 2021 (Thursday),
9am - 12:30pm Pacific Time (half hour break midway)
Where: Zoom
Registration is closed.
Please note that the registration is capped at 10 participants.

Event Description:

Join us for our first event this summer quarter focusing on writing and reading techniques in the classroom and beyond. Facilitated by Dr. Mudit Trivedi from the Stanford Anthropology Department, this one-stop training session will focus on how to read, understand and break-down difficult academic texts in ways that students can use during and after their courses, and carry to the field as well.
Open to all disciplines in the humanities and social sciences within Stanford and other universities. We will use the first half of the session to read and closely discuss a specific text as a case-study followed by a half-hour meal break. The text will be circulated to registered participants a week before the session. The second half of the session will build upon previous discussions by students through questions, inputs, and a larger discussion on the theory of learning and knowledge building.


'Lipstick Under My Burkha' & Feminist Cinema in the Hindi Film Industry: A Discussion with Dr. Z. Rubi Sanchez Lozoya

For our last event this quarter, we will have a discussion on feminist cinema in the Hindi film industry. We will be engaging with broad themes in, and beyond, the famous film Lipstick Under My Burkha. As it became a part of prominent popular discussions in the months immediately after its release in 2017, it was able to generate conversations on female sexuality, gender-based discrimination, elitism and ageism. At the same time, the film’s promotion and marketing have been criticized for being excessively reliant on a particular urban elite audience and for simplifying some complex themes and portrayals.

For this event, we will be joined by Dr. Z. Rubi Sanchez Lozoya, whose famous article addressing these themes around the film can be found here. She is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Hindi & Urdu at the Department of Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Colorado at Boulder. Her work focuses on the interplay between Indian feminist films and their production and depiction on OTT platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime. Through the discussion, she will help us think through how images can be read as text, and the ways in which they can incorporated in our own respective research, along with broader themes associated with the film.


4:00-4:15pm - Contextualizing the film

4:15-4:45pm - Discussion on how images can be read as text 

4:45-5:00pm - Questions and how these can be applied to contextual research


Even if you have not watched the film, or are unable to watch the film, prior to the session, there will still be loads about the discussion that you will enjoy. You can watch the trailer here.

When: May 21st 2021, 4-5pm PT

Open to: South Asianist Students in Stanford University and UC Berkeley

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'Non-Contact Research and Designing Personal Research Goals'

For our second session, on Friday, April 30, 2021, at 4-5 PM PT, fellow South Asianist researchers and students are invited for an open conversation on ‘Non-Contact Research and Designing Personal Research Goals’. A number of students are grappling with multiple problems, difficulties and fears regarding a whole lot, including those regarding our research projects. As a space focused on discussion and community-building, the South Asia Working Group is an ideal forum for discussing thoughts and concerns such as these. Thus, the group invites people to join the conversation on Zoom next Friday to share, listen and discuss. Considering the regional specificities which come with research more broadly, which are especially intensified with varied pandemic trajectories, a discussion with fellow South Asianist researchers will go a long way in making sense of and planning research projects. Hope to see you and look forward to an enriching conversation.

'Adheen' Screening and Discussion

For our first session, on Friday, February 9, 2021, at 4-5 PM PT, the group is excited to host a screening and discussion of the Hindi short film- 'Adheen'. Describing its premise as 'selfish or selfless- what is the definition of love in a family', the short explores issues of care, love, belonging and acceptance in family through the intermingled stories of four family members who have to make a bone-chilling decision about a loved one. The film is 21:42 minutes. After the screening, there is a discussion among attendees on thoughts about the film and the issues that it provokes us with. This event is also intended as a detailed discussion about future events and activities under the South Asia Working Group.