Lars Eklund attended 45th Annual University of Wisconsin–Madison Conference


The 45th Annual Madison Conference on South Asia was held 20–23 October 2016. This year's theme was DECAY. The conference, sponsored by the Center for South Asia at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, this year attracted over 750 scholars and specialists on South Asia, coming from countries all over the world and much of the United States.

This year the Joseph W. Elder keynote lecture at the conference was given by Professor Radhika Coomaraswamy (photo to the left), former UN under secretary from Sri Lanka. Her presentation was entitled ”Perpetually on the Cusp of Crisis: Women, Peace, and Security in the South Asian Region”.
On second day, an extraordinary good plenary seminar was given by Indian documentary film maker Pankaj Butalia (photo to the right). He provided a sharp intelligent analysis of the state sponsored violence in Kashmir and Manipur, and the ethnic strife in Assam. He showed clips from films he has made about these issues.
The Annual Conference on South Asia invites scholars, students, professionals, and anyone interested in research on the region to Madison, Wisconsin, for a four-day event featuring research panels and roundtables, lectures and addresses, and film screenings. The venue is The Madison Concourse Hotel, where many of the participants also are accommodated, which gives ample possibilities for socializing with researcher colleagues. See the schedule for the 45th Annual Conference on South Asia.

This year, SASNET deputy director Lars Eklund participated in the Madison conference, also representing the European Association for South Asian Studies, EASAS, an organisation for which he serves as the Treasurer.
The Madison conference is about double the size of the corresponding European South Asian studies conferences (this year held in Warsaw, Poland in July), and this makes it even more difficult to choose which panels to attend. And another unwanted phenomenon becomes apparent when you in many cases visit more or less interesting panels with only few external people attending besides the paper presenters.
It is of course totally impossible to give a complete and true picture of the outcome of a conference with 21 parallel sessions over three days, plus an initial day devoted to so-called pre-conferences.
Lars chose to attend a number of panel sessions of his interest, besides the plenary sessions, details below. He also attended a highly engaging lunch seminar of high relevance for academics within the field of South Asian studies. The seminar was entitled ”Cultures of Protest: HCU, JNU and Beyond”, and dealt with the worrying events during the past year in India, beginning with the suicide by Dalit student Rohit Vemula in Hyderabad; and the police action against students at Jawaharlal Nehru University during a solidarity meeting for Kashmir. Among the speakers were Anja Loomba from University of Pennsylvania, and Ather Zia from University of Northern Colorado – Greeley.

Alf Gunvald Nilsen, University of Bergen, and Kenneth Bo Nielsen, University of Oslo, were the only Scandinavian panelists at the conference, in a panel entitled ”Revisiting Dis/possession Politics: The Macroview of India”, chaired by Anand Vaidya – also based at Bergen, Norway. Kenneth’s paper dealt with Mining and the Iron Ore Bust in Goa: Forms of Extraction and Resistance, whereas Alf Gunvald presented a paper on Disposession and Democracy, discussing the future of India’s land wars after The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013 (LARRA), which was among the last major laws passed by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which lasted from 2004- 2014.
Lars also attended a panel on Decay in Colonial India, where Rajit Mazumder from DePaul University in Chicago presented a paper on ”Preventing strategic decay?: military compulsions and the establishment of a veterinary department in Colonial India, 1790-1900; and in the same panel Nabaparna Ghosh from University of Virginia presented a paper on ”Paras of Calcutta: Resistance and self-government in the backdrop of decay and displacement (1911-1930)”.
Another interesting panel entitled ”Between Brutal and Benign: Political Violence and Democratic Resilience in India” was convened by Professor Ron Herring, Cornell University (with a SASNET connection, he participated in the important 2001 workshop when the guidelines for the build-up of the then new network were discussed). Presentations in Herring’s panel included one by Ajay Verghese, University of California Riverside on ”The Mingling of the Two Oceans: A History of Hindu-Muslim Conflict in India”; one by Navine Murshid, Colgate University on ”Elections as Instruments of Suppression: Bengali Muslims in Assam”; and by Rumela Sen, Cornell University, on ”Democratic Deepening via Violent Rebellion: The Case of Leftwing Insurgency in India”, presenting data on the rehabilitation of former insurgents, and how differently this is carried out in north India (Jharkhand) and south India (Andhra Pradesh).

In yet another panel, on ”Care for the Body in South Asia. Conceptualizing Threats”, Lars listened to a presentation by Jennifer Rothchild, University of Wisconsin Madison on ”Women’s Sexuality and Reproductive Health in Post-Disaster Nepal”; and on final conference day, in the final hours when most conference participants already left Madison, a panel entitled ”Labor Militancy in South Asia and in Diaspora” was held.
With two presentations that should have deserved a larger audience than the five people present (including the SASNET representative). Loomarsh Roopnarine (photo to the left) from Jackson State University but originally hailing from Guyana, presented a paper on ”Decay in Indian Indebtured Labor System”, with a focus on the sugar plantations in Guyana and the Caribbean in the 19th century.
He was followed by Yoshina Hurgobin, Syracuse university, who presented a paper on the indentured casual workers and strikes in Mauritius, another destination for the Indian workers.

A number of cultural events were also part of the programme. One evening an amazing Kathakali dance show was performed by Kalamandalam Manoj, a highly talented Kathakali actor, trained at the prestigious public institution in Kerala for Kathakali - Kerala Kalamandalam in the 1980's. Manoj is noted for his roles of heroes and antiheroes like Ravana in Kathakali, and the Madison performance was exactly focusing on this theme.
The cultural events also included film sessions, and one of the films being shown was Mohenjo Daro, an Indian epic adventure-romance film written and directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, featuring Hrithik Roshan and Pooja Hegde in the lead roles. It is a cinematic presentation referencing the ancient Indus Valley civilization and its city, Mohenjo-daro, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was a costly brand new Bollywood production released worldwide in August 2016. Two and a half hours to enjoy while relaxing in darkness.

Nice companions at the conference dinner: