South Asia Working Group at Stanford University

The South Asia Working Group at Stanford is a space for community, dialogue, and reflection for South Asianist students working on and engaging with South Asia in meaningful ways. Imagined as a student forum co-sponsored by the Center for South Asia, this forum features a variety of events such as paper presentations, performances, lectures, and film screenings.

Envisioned as a fundamentally collaborative space, students are encouraged to participate, engage, and utilize this space by suggesting ideas for possible activities, moderating and facilitating events, and participating in ideation about future directions of this forum.

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.

Please join the South Asia Working Group Mailing List and follow us on Instagram to stay updated about the events directly!

Upcoming Events

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

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.



Hi all,

The South Asia Working Group (SAWG), working in collaboration with the Stanford Center for South Asia, invites revolving moderators, speakers, and ideas for short films, for its event calendar of 2021-22. We tentatively propose three kinds of events under the SAWG for 2021-22, towards which we are seeking your participation and collaboration.

  1. Presentation of research by South Asianist graduate students  We invite South Asianist graduate students to present their research for discussion and constructive feedback. We will give preference to students who are in the stage of dissertation writing in their PhDs, but all are welcome to present their research and ideas. In this call, we propose two kinds of events. For the first, we invite Stanford-based Graduate Students to present an their research in-person to fellow students, postdocs, and other affiliates. For the second, we invite non-Stanford Students to present their research via Zoom. We envision to create a pan-South Asianist student-driven platform, for which we encourage participation from students, both within and outside Stanford University.
  2. Short film screening – In the Spring of 2021-21, we screened a Hindi short film titled ‘Adheen’, available on YouTube, and followed that with a discussion on that film. Similar to that, we want to screen short films and hold film discussions post-screening in the coming year as well. The film screenings will be conducted in-person to facilitate screening and discussion within one event. We invite you all to suggest short films that we can screen in these events. We will give preference to non-Indian short films, and short films not in the Hindi language.
  3. Talks by early career South Asianist scholars – We invite students to suggest early career South Asianist scholars whom they wish to invite as potential speakers, and for whose sessions they wish to moderate. In this call, we propose two kinds of events. For the first, we invite students to propose in-Person Talks by scholars based in the San Francisco Bay Area, both independent and affiliated to an institution in the Bay Area. If you have in mind someone whose session you want to moderate, the SAWG can facilitate their travel and the event in a venue at Stanford. For the second kind of session, we invite scholars who may be based outside the San Francisco Bay Area. We will give preference to early-career South-Asianist scholars who are based outside the US, Canada, UK, and Western Europe. If you have in mind any early-career South Asianist scholar based outside the San Francisco Bay Area whom you want to invite and whose session you wish to moderate, the SAWG can facilitate the online event.

Students can submit their proposals for prospective sessions through this google form. Under the system of revolving moderators, student moderators will be responsible for reaching out their proposed speaker, finalizing their availability, coordinating event logistics and management with the SAWG coordinators, and moderating the event with the speaker on the day of the event. We will provide you with logistical support, communication, publicity and financial support for the event! In the academic year 2021-22, we intend to combine in-person and online modes to conduct a total of nine sessions  three sessions per quarter during the academic year. We look forward to hearing from you with suggestions for events, and in response to our call for collaboration!


Shubhangni & Shantanu

Stanford South Asia Working Group


2021 Past Events

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! To attend the event, please register here.

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.

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

Please join the South Asia Working Group listserv to stay updated about our events directly! Fill in your details at this Link.

'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.