The past in the present at international meeting on ancient and medieval Telangana

Dr Rebecca Darley, a lecturer in medieval history from the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology reviews an international conference on the history of Telangana in Hyderabad, India.

In January 2018, researchers from across the world met in Hyderabad, India for the second international congress uncovering the history of ancient and medieval Telangana. The first, held in 2017, had been inaugurated only three years after Telangana became India’s newest federal state and the first new state to be created since India’s independence in 1947.

Though Telangana is administratively a very new state, its claims to an independent identity are rooted in the antiquity and uniqueness of its culture. These conferences, hosted by the Telangana State Department for Archaeology and Museums, now re-named Heritage Telangana, were therefore aimed at bringing together researchers and the public to celebrate and uncover this past. In particular, the focus on the ancient and medieval periods was intended to provide a sense of the depth of this identity beyond the recent rhetoric of an independence campaign which was, for obvious reasons, rooted in modern grievances and modern decisions about how to establish the states of India.

I was very fortunate to have been at the 2017 gathering as well and it was great to meet new people, see old faces and to be back in one of my favourite cities in the world. My own research focuses on discoveries of Byzantine and Roman coins, minted in the Mediterranean region, but exported to south India in the first seven centuries AD. The State Archaeology Museum in Hyderabad has one of the largest collections of these coin finds in India and many were discovered within what is now Telangana. This was the challenge I had set myself; to interpret these ancient finds through the lens of the modern boundaries of Telangana State.

Mine was the first paper after the elaborate and extremely enjoyable opening ceremonies, and it received a very good response. It was a particular honour to be on a panel with P. V. Radhakrishnan and T. Satyamurthy, both senior scholars whose work I have used and admired for many years.

Being the first paper also meant that I was then free to enjoy the rest of the conference – two days of papers and cultural performances. Director of Heritage Telangana, Smt. N. R. Visalatchy has made it her mission in this post not just to raise the profile of cultural heritage in Telangana, but also to expand its definition, and so academic papers were combined with demonstrations of classical dance and folk musical performance. The range and standard of papers was wonderful, as was the public interest shown in the conference. It would be fair to say that academic conferences in the UK rarely attract a substantial public audience, even when they are open and advertised. By contrast, in both 2017 and 2018, the international meetings on Telangana heritage filled an auditorium with a crowd including journalists, members of learned societies, local history enthusiasts, writers and teachers, as well as archaeologists, academics and heritage workers.

Heritage institutions in India, as in the UK, often have to struggle with budgetary constraints, maintenance of buildings which are themselves heritage structures and recording and cataloguing ever-growing collections. The support given by Telangana State to these conferences is, therefore, most welcome and was an opportunity also to see some of the success stories as excavators reported on ongoing archaeological excavations and developing projects.

Hopefully, there will be a chance to meet again in Hyderabad for the third international conference on Telangana Heritage. My own research, in part as a result of this paper, has raised a wealth of new questions about how Roman and Byzantine coin evidence can reveal social practices and state structures in inland India. There remains much more to say and to discover.

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Homonationalisms and Criminalized Queers: A panel discussion about global sexual politics

This post was contributed by Dr Tara Atluri, visiting research fellow in the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities (BIH) and the Department of Geography, Environment, and Development Studies. Here, Dr Atluri gives an insight into her forthcoming public lecture on 16 March 2016

 

Supreme Court of India - Retouched

The Supreme Court of India

Slavoj Žižek suggests that the task of philosophy is not to solve problems but to reframe what we conceive of as problems. Rather than providing succinct answers, critical thinking involves asking questions. An assemblage of critical thinkers will gather to dialogue, debate, and question global sexualities and sexual politics today.

 

This panel discussion will question the politics of sexualities, focusing on key moments such as the decision made by the Supreme Court of India to uphold Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a colonial sodomy law that criminalizes queer sex and people. We will also address contentious issues such as European “gay conditionality” policies, which propose that financial aid to countries in the Global South should be dependant on the institution of LGBTQ rights. Finally, panellists will discuss `race,’ racism, sexualities, and citizenship. (The Better India article: ‘Renewed hope for LGBT community. Supreme Court will hear curative plea on Section 377‘).

In a time when “sexual freedom” is often inseparable within mainstream discourse from market based capitalist freedom, we will ask who put the “progress” in “progressive” sexual politics? In a time in which European governments act as benevolent saviors of queers in the Global South through aid conditionality proposals that threaten to further impoverish formerly colonized countries (where queerness was often originally made criminal through European colonial law) we will question who speaks on behalf of whom and why?

In our contemporary political milieu, where there is often little time and space for patient reflection and thoughtful discussion, this panel will offer the chance to enter into thoughtful dialogue and debate.

Panelists:

Mayur Suresh

Mayur Suresh is a lecturer at the School of Law, SOAS. His research focuses on ethnographic approaches to legal cultures. Previously, he was part of the legal team that successfully challenged section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (a colonial law that criminalizes diverse sexualities in India) in the Delhi High Court, and defended that judgment in the Supreme Court. Find out more

Dr. Alyosxa Tudor

Dr. Alyosxa Tudor is LSE Fellow in Transnational Gender Studies and Fellow at the Centre for Gender Studies, SOAS, University of London with focus on ‘Gendering Migration and Diasporas’ and ‘Queer Politics’. Their work connects trans and queer feminist approaches with transnational feminism and postcolonial studies. Alyosxa’s main research interest lies in analysing (knowledge productions on) migrations, diasporas and borders in relation to critiques of Eurocentrism and to processes of gendering and racialisation. In the past they have worked as an Assistant Researcher at the Centre for Transdisciplinary Gender Studies, Humboldt University, in Berlin (2008-2011), and were a Visiting Scholar at the Centre of Gender Excellence, Linköping University, in Sweden (2013-2014).

 

Alyosxa is the author of the 2014 monograph ‘from [al’manja] with love’, which revisits critical migration studies with the insights of postcolonial and decolonial approaches and carves out a perspective on power relations that brings together transnational feminism and trans (gender) politics. In their current research project on transnationalism, Alyosxa analyses links between conceptualisations of trans-gender and trans-national and aims for a critical redefinition of political agency. Through an analysis of theories on transing, passing and performativity in queer-, trans-, and transnational feminist knowledge production and illustrated by discursive examples from transgender communities and Romanian migrant communities they call for a conceptualisation of entangled power relations that does not rely on fixed pre-established categories but defines subjectivity through risk in political struggle. Find out more

Calogero Giametta

Calogero Giametta is a sociologist with a research focus on migration, gender and sexuality. More precisely, his work has concentrated on two forms of legal protection addressing non-EU migrants: anti-trafficking initiatives and the right of asylum (i.e. in France and the UK). He is interested in examining how these protection mechanisms, by being deployed as filtering instruments, follow the logic of sexual humanitarianism.

 

In so doing he questions the specific ways in which migration control operates through humanitarian interventions under neoliberal democracies. Between 2010 and 2014 his PhD research looked at the lived experiences of gender and sexual minority refugees, and on the discourses linking the politics of sexuality and the British refugee granting process. This included ethnography with gender and sexual minority asylum seekers living in the UK. Currently through his post-doctoral fellowship he is analysing broader humanitarian discourses and practices when gender and sexuality become rights-claiming objects within racialised migration regimes. Find out more

Tara Atluri

Tara Atluri has a PHD in Sociology. She is a lecturer at the Ontario College of Art and Design University. Drawing on research about the protests that followed the 2012 Delhi gang rape case and 2013 decision to criminalize queer sexualities in India, she recently published the book Āzādī: Sexual Politics and Postcolonial Worlds.

 

Tara Atluri is at Birkbeck College this term as a Visiting Research fellow in the Department of Geography, Environment, and Development Studies (GEDS). Find out more

Tara Atluri will deliver a BIH Public Lecture (titled “Homonationalisms and Criminalized Queers: A Panel Discussion about Global Sexual Politics”) on 16 March 2016 (6-8pm) Room 415, Malet Street Main Building. Book your place here

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Between the Sheets/In the Streets

This post was contributed by Dr Tara Atluri, visiting research fellow in the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities (BIH) and the Department of Geography, Environment, and Development Studies. Here, Dr Atluri gives an insight into her forthcoming Birkbeck Institute for Social Research (BISR) Methods Lunch on 9 March 2016.

Between the sheets/In the streets event

¿Qué queremos? ¡Justicia! ¿Cuándo? ¡Ahora!

¿Como lograrémos? Luchando! ¿Como lucharemos? Duro, duro / duro, duro, duro!

نظرية المساواة بين الجنسين

In “The Politics of Translation” Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak states “The task of the feminist translator is to consider language as a clue to the workings of gendered agency…”(179) How might this quote be applicable to conducting research pertaining to sexualities in the Global South? How is the language that one uses to ask questions about sex, sexuality, and gender central to the kinds of dialogues that one will have and to their research findings?

One can consider Hijras, female to male transgender persons who have a religious and cultural lineage in the Indian subcontinent that pre-dates British colonialism. Within Western secular language Hijras are referred to as transgender persons. And yet, what is perhaps interesting to consider is how ideas of agency and legal rights structure Western grammars of feminism and sexuality. Being transgender is often conceived of as a secular identity that is tied to Western secular legal and medical categories. However, Hijras have historically been considered to be religious figures who sacrifice their genitals in a religious ceremony and upon doing so become those who are considered by the religious to have sacred powers, often to bless children.

In posing questions about sexuality, desire, gender, and feminism how might one conceive of ways to ask questions and frame research that moves away from the assumption that English language secular Western rights based categories of LGBTQ are universal and beneficial to all? (See Big Think video: “Your behaviour creates your gender”)

About the event

This BISR Methods Lunch will pose questions regarding the theoretical and ideological frameworks that often guide research pertaining to gender and sexuality in formerly colonized countries. We will question the Orientalist underpinnings of approaches to uniform ideas of “Eastern” sexualities and also question the colonial nature of doing research about “others.” The workshop will also offer ideas and possible frameworks for conducting ethical, politically informed, engaged, and philosophically thoughtful research.

Aimed at postgraduate students from across the college, this event convened by BiGS will examine methodologies and approaches to sexuality studies, and their intersection with ideas of development and sexualities in the Global South. This Masterclass will generate training opportunities for postgraduate students in several areas of expertise. This event offers students the chance to learn divergent research methods.

Areas of research expertise that students will explore include: Approaches to sexualities in the Global South, Feminist/Queer ethnography, Qualitative and Quantitative approaches to gender and sexuality, and theoretical perspectives pertaining to sexualities and development, globally.

In leading this seminar, Tara Atluri will draw on research done in the Indian subcontinent following the 2012 Delhi gang rape case and 2013 decision by the Supreme Court of India to criminalize same sex desire. This research culminated in the forthcoming manuscript- Āzādī: Sexual Politics and Postcolonial Worlds. (Toronto: Demeter Press, 2016)

Tara Atluri will deliver the “BISR Methods Lunch: Between the Sheets/In the Streets: Interdisciplinary Sexuality and Gender Studies Research” on 9 March 2016 (12pm-1.30pm) Room 402, Malet Street Main Building. Book your place here

Works Cited

  • Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. Outside in the Teaching Machine. New York: Routledge, 1993.

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Service and Sacrifice: Colonial Troops and the First World War

A seminar given by Professor Sonya O. Rose on 14 March 2012

This post was contributed by John Siblon, a part-time MPhil/PhD history student at Birkbeck College.

Professor Rose is Emeritus Professor of History, Sociology and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan and Honorary Professor of History at the University of Warwick (UK) and a Visiting Fellow of Birkbeck College.

What did it mean to serve in the Colonial armies of the British Empire in the Great War? Were those who volunteered conscious of a ‘national project’ for which they were prepared to pay the ultimate price? Is sacrifice an appropriate concept to explore the colonial participation in the war effort? Did colonial subjects actually volunteer for war service? These were some of the questions that Professor Sonya Rose raised in her paper. For the purpose of the seminar, a comparison was made between the service of Indian and Irish troops. Historical scholarship has recently afforded more effort to the study of the colonial war service in the Great War. These studies have outlined the importance of the colonial contributions to the eventual outcome of the conflict. The rhetoric of sacrifice and service therefore applies as much to the colonies as to British and dominion forces.

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