Blog Past Events

Home/Land Exhibition and Panel Discussion

From the 3rd to the 28th March, in the Creative Exchange space of the ESI building in the University of Exeter’s Penryn (Cornwall) campus displaying an exhibition titled Home/Land which showed the artworks of six artists from Jaffna, Sri Lanka, depicting their experiences in the aftermath of the civil war in their country. The exhibition was part of a collaboration between researchers at the University of Exeter, particularly Dr Gillian Juleff and Dr Deborah McFarlane, the University of Leicester, Museum of London Archaeology and the Arts Faculty at the University of Jaffna, Sri Lanka, led by the Professor of Fine Arts, Sanathanan Thamotharampillai. The team has been working together on a project entitled ‘Identity, place and community: archaeologies of the recent past in post-war Jaffna, Sri Lanka’. 

This blog will introduce the artworks in the exhibition and then give an account of the panel discussion organised on the 7th of March with Professor Sanathanan, Dr Struan Gray from the Falmouth School of Film and TV, Dr Laura Hodsdon, Senior Research Fellow, Falmouth University, and Shibani Das an AHRC Doctoral student and a representative of the South Asia Centre.

The exhibition, Home/Land, consisting of artworks created independently by the artists, contends with the intersection of place, identity, and memory. It showcases the emotional impact that the war had on local communities, especially those who were denied the chance to remember by the state. The various artworks were themselves an exploration of memory, both ‘individual and collective’, which is “embedded in the experience of loss of a land and the longing for” (T. Shanaathanan, 2023).

As you enter the exhibition, Mano Prashath’s rendition of facades greets you. By using these architectural forms of the entryway to homes, from across time periods, Prashath comments on the in-betweenness that they can represent, “a space between inner (agam) and outer (puram), us and them, sacred and profane, social and psychological”.

The artwork of of Jasmine Nilani Joseph works with fences, built around refugee camps and militarized zones, and invoked their haunting effect as symbols of boundaries. As Shibani Das pointed out in the panel discussion, the fences showcased the double marginalisation of women during the war, who were not only suffering outside the fence but also inside it, within their homes.

Next, Vijitharan Maryathevathas’ mixed medium work on paper, a collation of many forms and memories, each overlapping and flowing into each other, is together a strong comment on “the complex and fragmented identity of Sri Lankan Tamils” forced to migrate from the country.

An important theme brought out both with the exhibition and then in the discussion was that of land, and landscapes. Tamil literature from the Sangam period speaks about five landscapes, termed thinai. Professor Sanathanan reminded us of the work of Cheran (2007[JG1] ) who extends these thinai to the experience of the “the displaced and diaspora”. Thus, these thinai become not only physical planes but “are infused with imagination, located in time, and associated with specific patterns of behaviour”. Suntharam Anojan’s acrylic work powerfully invokes these landscapes, which he believes “are buried in the remnants of our culture”, and which he exposed in his work aptly titled “Layer Upon Layer”. His work reminds us that war impacts not only people but also the landscape, alongside the culture and daily lives of the people. It is a poignant statement on the lasting effects of the war in Sri Lanka on the social fabric of a place, in Anojan’s case, the Vanni, the vast tract of scrub jungle in the north that separates the Jaffna peninsula from the south of the island.

Dis/placement by Professor Sanathanan used jigsaw pieces to show the rupture that war leads to. Each piece “represents an identifiable or memorable fragment that is part of a larger vision or experience”. Exploring the connections between physical space, memory and history, the broken puzzle pieces he has used are able to show the “impossibility of linear histories” in a war zone.

T. Krishnapriya’s line drawings, although just lines, were powerful means of grieving. As she writes, “drawing with each stroke re-enacts desire and loss”. As Shibani pointed out in the discussion, works like this can speak about pain and suffering, humanizing violence, but without the use of the body or the human form. Abstract lines or representations of structures are employed in a way by the artists that they are still able to capture the emotional impact of the war, and a war-like situation which continues in Jaffna.

Her other installation was a haunting video that spoke to the suffering of women during the war. Based on the experience of a woman who was forced to give birth on the temple steps after being denied the right to visit the hospital and subsequently succumbed to death, the video evoked inner anatomies as it imagined the experience inside the woman’s womb and showed the flow of blood that connected the baby with the mother.

Prof Sanathanan’s Incomplete Thombu was the last installation to farewell the visitors before leaving the exhibition, almost like a visitor’s comment book. It used the media of the artbook which recorded the houses and buildings that were lost in the war and are drawn from memories in the book. It spoke to the loss of everyday life as it showcased the drawings of objects like vases, mugs and other household items that are now gone. As Dr Guleff wrote, “it is a quiet but very powerful inspiration for our [their] project as it uses the concepts and methods of archaeology to open up memory” and comment on the destruction of heritage, both monumental and small, with the war.

The panel discussion held on the 7th of March, at the Environment and Sustainability Institute accompanied the exhibition but also went much beyond it, discussing themes of heritage, repression, and community in Jaffna, as well as Cornwall and in England broadly. Dr Gill Juleff brought this out in her introduction to the panel, where she reflected on the ‘unexpected synergies’ between Sri Lanka and Cornwall, both peninsulas with a distinct sense of identity and place.

The discussion began with reflections on how ‘absence’ shaped the exhibition, with Prof Sanathanan pointing out its role in giving agency to people to remember, an opportunity denied to the people of Jaffna with the government ban on commemoration and memorials. The drawings, in contrast, tell stories of displacement, in a situation where you are not permitted to publicly grieve. 

The discussion progressed to themes of state oppression, as Dr Gray provided a comparison with repression in Chile which also led to the disappearance of ways of life, while Dr Hodsdon inversely commented on festivals in Cornwall which helped in community building, representing these ways of life. As the panelists explored the impact violence has on everyday lives, spaces, practices and cultures, the way war and the many forms it takes even after it has ended, leads to the loss of social fabric was also brought out. 

As Professor Sanathanan pointed out, it is ironic how the struggle for a homeland had made many in Jaffna homeless. The discussion then reflected on the impact of the war on the landscape, or in Jaffna, the many landscapes or thinai. The art in the exhibition was able to thus provide ‘alternate forms of landscape art’ as Dr Gray showed, and represented new forms of graphic art that could be used for protest, as Shibani pointed out. This art, as Prof Sanathanan argued, is not saying “you have done this to us” but rather that “this has happened to us”.

Prompted by Dr McFarlane’s question, the panel then tried to answer how creative knowledge can come into conflict with state/official/elite accounts of war and violence. As Prof Sanathanan pointed out, there are victory memorials and museums sponsored by the state in Jaffna which portray a particular narrative of the war. This exhibition, in comparison to those visible reminders, might not have the same reach, but it does give space for individual reflection to minority groups who are not allowed to memorialise the war through other means. Dr Gray provided a comparison with Chile, which exemplifies “a different cartography of violence”, and where the role of the state in transnational justice is different. As Shibani argued, moving on from the past can thus mean different things, and we need to reflect on what shapes and form it can take, who undertakes it and where it happens

The floor was then open to questions from the audience. Dr Shubranshu Mishra’s question prompted an exploration of the use of the term ‘heritage’ and the connotations it carries. Dr Gray questioned the translatability of the term, especially in the context of Chile and Sri Lanka. Alternatives were thus proposed, such as that of culture, and as Dr Hodsdon chimed in, intangible heritage and living cultures needed to be considered in this scoping and defining of heritage too. 

Dr Xinan Jin made a relevant intervention. She was curious about the division of labour and its gendered aspects in the work of memorialisation. Professor Sanathanan spoke about how young women artists were emerging in Sri Lanka and their active role in land reclamation movements. As mentioned above, work like that of fences in the exhibition, was able to particularly represent women’s plight.

The discussion ended with an apt note, as Professor Sanathanan answered a question about the impact of this exhibition on local communities. He reflected on whether creative ways of memorialisation had made the community stronger. He answered in both the affirmative and the negative. He illustrated that these spaces could give the local community the chance to remember and grieve, and thus were an important stage in the process of remembering. However, minorities in the countries still faced the consequences of the lack of power and political representation.

The exhibition and the panel were both important means of prompting discussion on the war in Sri Lanka in Exeter and Cornwall. As Shibani pointed out, the artworks in the exhibition represented anyone’s struggle and could have broad resonances. Together, the outcomes of this collaboration on the past in Jaffna prompted the audience to think about the impact of war on people’s homes and ways of life and fostered discussion on the importance of memorialisation. 

Works cited:

Cheran, R, (2007). “The Politics of Identity; Bakhtin’s Chronotope and the Tamil Concept of Thinai”, in R. Cheran, Darshan Ambalavanar and Chelva Kanaganayagam,(eds.), New Demarcations; Essays in Tamil Studies. Toronto: Canadian Scholar’s Press Inc.

Past Events

‘Writing from a Position of Anger’, a Lecture by Farah Bashir, author of Rumours of Spring: A Girlhood in Kashmir

On a cold December morning in the Old Chapel lecture theatre on the Penryn Campus, the words of Farah Bashir warmed the hearts of the students and staff in the hall and those who listened in via Microsoft Teams. The audience was spellbound by the honesty, vulnerability and starkness with which she recollected her experiences growing up in Kashmir and the irrevocable traces they left on her life ever since.

She began her lecture by tweaking the title in a slight but ever so insightful manner: not writing ‘from anger’, a position which would poison the narrative or politicise it, but writing from a position of having attempted to negotiate with the anger that formed a vacuum around her younger self, sucking away the joy and carelessness of childhood, the freedom of movement, of self-expression, and the love of loved ones. 

Her lecture, a glimpse into her book “Rumours of Spring: A Girlhood in Kashmir” centralised a young girl’s perspective on the personal tragedies that go under noticed in an international war site.  How it impacts one’s understanding of self, of home, of romance. How it interrupts education, impacts menstrual cycles and dietary habits without accounting for the indelible social, psychological and emotional debris it leaves in its ‘aftermath’. 

Farah referenced how her body dealt with the trauma. How the pain resurfaced years after being suppressed by a need to survive, in psychosomatic ways, in survivor’s guilt, self-harm and self-sabotage. It adhered, Farah explained, to the strategy by which women, dually oppressed by patriarchy and statehood process anger, oppression and loss: by internalising it. 

As an answer to a question from the audience, Farah explained how writing the book, returning to the memories, sounds, fears not only of her own mind but those of her family members was not cathartic, for the simple reason, that the war is far from over. The never-ending war with the state, with the armed men, with the self, was put to paper as humanizing evidence, of what it takes to survive a childhood in Kashmir,  of the unseen resistance performed by women every day in such war zones. Even a glimpse of which moved many of us in the room to tears.

We congratulate her on her book and thank her for having shared her narrative of resistance with us, and for beautifully setting the tone for the events hosted by the South Asia Centre for the year 2022-23

Blog Past Events

‘Facts, Fiction and the Factory’, a presentation by Rameesha Azeem

On the 7th of December, 20222, the Exeter South Asia Centre hosted an event titled ‘Facts, Fiction and the Factory’, a presentation by Rameesha Azeem. Rameesha is a Visual Artist and Curator working in Lahore, Pakistan and the founder and director of “The Factory Project 01”. Rameesha combined the multiple goals of bringing creative people together, providing a healthy environment to create new kinds of works and being able to use the resources to their advantage. She brought a team of 18 artists, 9 writers and filmmakers to visit a revenue-generating Shoe Factory in Lahore, which covers an area of 30,000 meters or 9 acres, with 900 workers and more than 1000 machines. The factory produces more than 50 types of shoes. The Factory project brought the art world into this industrial space and was the first project of its kind in Lahore which brought these two distinct worlds together

The Factory Project consisted of 3 segments. It started with an art exhibition consisting of 18 artists, who worked at the factory for a year engaging with people, resources and technology. The Project continued with the launch of the official publication where, the editors, Emaan Maqbool and Rameesha, worked with 8 literary writers to engage with the exhibiting artists, from the beginning of their process. In the last segment, everything came together in a documentary film directed by Muhammad Usman, in collaboration with the Vasl Artists Association, Karachi, part of which was screened at the event. 

Rameesha screening the documentary

At the event, Rameesha gave a talk which focused on Pakistani contemporary art and how The Factory Project aims to allow the creatives to experiment, research, collaborate and evoke the boldness of interdisciplinary concepts, ideas and their execution. She took us through her curatorial vision and spoke on the installations of the exhibition, showcasing how artists developed ideas by taking inspiration from the work done at the factory. They also creatively used the Factory’s space and converted the equipment at the factory into the focus of their installations. The entire staff, from the CEO to the management and heads of departments to the skilled labourers, had witnessed the making, process, and installation of the artworks. Their patience and support helped this project succeed. Its success was that the 900 workers not only contributed to the making of the art but also emerged as a new audience. The talk was followed by a group discussion where we discussed the experience of the workers in the project, the visual vocabulary used in the exhibitions as well as explored the current state of contemporary art in Pakistan and South Asia in general.  

Group discussion after the documentary

The Project aims to move on to the next segment called ‘The Factory Project International’ where curators from Portugal and Wales collaborate in a cross-disciplinary project that will be presented in Lisbon, Swansea and Lahore.

We are grateful to Rameesha for having shared her experience of curating this project with the members of the South Asia Centre. Our gratitude also to Qaiser Abbas, for having arranged this event. 


Listening, smelling and sensing Kolkata

By Rishika Mukhopadhyay and the team

“… দুপুর হতেই গলির মোড়ে শব্দ হল ঠংঠং বাসন চাই, বাসন?’ শব্দ চলে গেল দূরে। তারপরে এল চুড়ি চাই, খেলনা চাই?… সন্ধ্যাবেলার শব্দ হচ্ছে ওই বেলফুল। ‘বেলফুল চাই বেলফুল’ হাঁকতে হাঁকতে শব্দ গলির এদিক থেকে ওদিক চলে যায়।“

জোড়াসাঁকোর ধারে – অবনীন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর]

With the fall of the afternoon, a sound drifts forward from the corner of the lane, ‘anyone for utensils? Utensils anyone?’ – a characteristic metallic sound emanates from it and then it melts away in the far horizon! Then comes the bangle and the toy sellers…evenings are replete with swell-smelling Mogra sellers’ call- ‘Anyone wants Mogra?’ Their call travels from one end of the lane to another and slowly fades away.

Jorasankor dhare, Abanindranath Tagore     

Figure 1: A hawker walks by in a North Kolkata lane (Image courtesy Team Sensory Heritage)

On the last Sunday of July 2022, as monsoon rain poured over North Kolkata streets, the team of Urban Sensory Heritage waded through the waterlogged street of Ramkanto Bose Street and managed to enter the imposing structure of Mullick family house. The yellow Corinthian columns had turned pale as they withstood the constant lashes of rain. The bamboo installation, the electric wires, switchboards, standing fans and hanging lights were steeped in water as the tarpaulin cover over the courtyard failed to keep off the rain from making its presence felt inside. Can we still continue with the exhibition on Kolkata’s sensory heritage? Will people still come on a rainy Sunday afternoon to hear the city’s everyday sounds and smell its familiar odours? Proving all our concerns wrong, around 300 visitors came from all corners of the city over two days 30-31 July. Our project Tracing Sensory Heritage of Kolkata Streets/ শহরের সংবেদন essentially wanted to bring art and heritage-related conversations in the city outside the gallery space and beyond the domain of experts. 

Figure 2: Welcome banner with the exhibition logo designed by Ramaprasad Dutt. (Image courtesy Team Sensory Heritage)

This research and public engagement initiative proposes to look at Kolkata’s heritage as a constellation of overlapping and contesting modes of senses felt through sound and odours. The exhibition presented the city’s sensory world in three layers. First, we traced how sounds and smells of the city have been narrated in the writings of Hutom to Rabindranath Tagore to Nabanita Deb Sen. The writers and poets have captured how from the nineteenth century to contemporary times Kolkata’s urban sensorium has been an integral part of knowing, feeling and remembering the city. 

Six themes have been identified from these texts. 1.  Lost identity and emerging soundscape of the city / হারিয়ে যাওয়া ডাক এবং ডাকের বিবর্তন 2. Home and the world: Women hawkers for women at home/ অন্দরমহলের ফেরিওয়ালা 3. Temporality of sound and smell/ শব্দের সময় / শব্দেরসাময়িকতা 4. Inaudibility of more than human sound/ অশ্রুত জীবনের স্বর: প্রকৃতি এবং জীবজন্তু 5. Multisensory city- smells of good and bad মন্দ ভালোর বহু সংবেদনের মিশেল    6. Sounds in poem/poetic sounds কবিতায় মেলা শব্দেরা. Visitors were drawn towards these evocations and tried to find synergies between the century old texts and contemporary sounds. 

Figure 3: Anandabazar Patrika, a reputed Bengali Newspaper covered the event spontaneously and did a photo essay

Secondly, there was an invitation to listen to some familiar yet unnoticed sounds of the city which renders the city its identity and way of life. A call for participatory sound archive building was first circulated on social media to realise this vision. A joint effort of our team and members of the public captured around 50 sounds of the city spanning from the call of street hawkers to street making, from vehicles to announcements, from processions and sound of nature. The collection, which we would like to think of as sound commons of the city is available on Soundcloud. A soundmap of one neighbourhood of the city was made by Dr Sayantan Das. The display was interactive and visitors were curious to understand how the sounds can be integrated into Google Map.  

Figure 4: Smell installation: questioning the perception of good and bad smells (Image courtesy : Sounita Mukherjee) 

Finally, an installation showcased the materialities of smell and perception of smelling good and bad. Bamboo craftsman Binod Pakrey from Dompara neighbourhood – a hub of bamboo craft, whose family has been engaged in this profession for generations worked with artist Nilanjan Das to give shape to the idea. The installation brought together two iconographies from Bengal’s architecture. The কুলুঙ্গি/ kulungi (a small nook carved within a wall to use as a shelve) can be seen in figure 4, nested inside an একচালা/ ekchala (a single arch which acts as an aureole during Durga Puja); they seamlessly blended with the existing architectural motif of the venue.

Spices, itar, flower, betel leaf as well as rotten fish, water from curdled milk and alcohol were kept hidden in eight brass jars of itar sprinkler. The audience was asked to identify the sounds and smells and reflect upon what kinds of memories are evoked by these materials. Further, they were remembering how the city is associated with these smells and sounds. Artist Nilanjan Das who curated the exhibition felt that the most difficult aspect of the exhibition was to capture the smell and make it accessible to people, precisely because of smells’ ephemeral nature. We received some valuable suggestions on smell capture from Dr Ishita Dey based at South Asian University in Delhi. Their month-long exhibition  ‘Smells of the City: Scents, Stench and Stink’ commissioned by Kiran Nadar Exhibition of Art inspired us to work with containers that are available in our field site. Nilanjan chose brass itardaani(scent and rose water sprinkler) from Chitpur Road’s Zakaria street area for this purpose.      


Figure 5: Both vernacular and English press were enthusiastic to cover our event. Snippets from the Times of India and The Telegraph

The overarching intention for this project is threefold. First, we are initiating an understanding of heritage in the city beyond the divide of tangible and intangible heritage and the lament of loss/destruction. Through the process of curating the exhibition and creating a participatory sound archive we also initiate public discussions around it. Second, through public engagement we democratise the heritage ‘making’ process that emerges from people’s attachment to their everyday atmosphere. Third, in the age of dominant visuality we are aiming to recognise the sonic and olfactory ecosystem of the city from the perspective of people with different needs and abilities. The public engagement and overwhelming response inspired us to take the project forward and we will wait for the city to call us back again. 

Team members: Dr Raktim Ray (UCL, Development Planning Unit), Dr Rishika Mukhopadhyay (Durham, now Southampton Geography), Dr Sayantan Das (Dum Dum Motijheel College), Nilanjan Das (Rabindra Bharati University/Hamdasti), Suromita Kanjilal(Indus Valley world School)

Rishika has completed her PhD titled Heritagising Urban Craft Economy: Thinking with Chitpur Road Kolkata from Department of Geography, University of Exeter in 2021. During her time in Exeter, she was an active member of Exeter South Asia centre. She was part of the organising team for BASAS 2018 and PGR student workshop in July 2020. She continues to be involved with the centre and participates in the Decolonising South Asia reading workshop.

Funders: UCL Centre for Critical Heritage Studies and Durham University Geography Research Development Initiative

Blog Past Events

Decolonising South Asia: a reading workshop in 8 parts  

Convenors: Shubranshu Mishra and Nandini Chatterjee  

Date/time: Select Wednesdays (see under sessions), 5-6 pm 

We are running a 8-part reading and discussion group exploring the implications and suitability of the concept of decoloniality for South Asia. If you would like to participate, please write to for a Zoom link.

Session 1: Decoloniality or Postcoloniality?  

5 October 2022 

Chair: Shubranshu Mishra  

What is decolonisation/decoloniality? What is the genealogy of this term/model/praxis, and how and when did it diverge from postcolonial studies or theory? What is the disciplinary difference between the two? How do they approach the questions of power and epistemic violence? What are the limits of decolonising? What are the dangers of co-option and the critiques in the South Asian context?  

Key reading:  

Mignolo, Walter D., and Catherine E. Walsh. On decoloniality: Concepts, analytics, praxis. Duke University Press, 2018. (selections)  


  • Quijano, Aníbal. “Coloniality and modernity/rationality.” Cultural studies 21, no. 2-3 (2007): 168-178.  
  • Santos, Boaventura de Sousa (ed). Another knowledge is possible: Beyond northern epistemologies, London: Verso, 2007.  
  • Bhambra, Gurminder K. “Postcolonial and decolonial dialogues.” Postcolonial studies 17, no. 2 (2014): 115-121.  
  • Gopal, Priyamvada. “On decolonisation and the university.” Textual Practice 35, no. 6 (2021): 873-899.  
  • Khanna, Neetu. The visceral logics of decolonization. Duke University Press, 2020.  



Session 2 Cast(e)ing South Asia  

9 November 

One possible way of decentring the moments of political liberation of South Asian nation-states is by paying attention to the oppressive hierarchies, often entrenched, if not created by processes of colonial rule, continue to structure lives and prospects. For example, how has the Nationalist and the Subaltern Historiography in South Asia invisibilised the category of caste? Can race and caste be discussed together, as Wilkerson puts it, ‘Caste is the bones, race the skin’? How can we address the proximity between whiteness and Brahminism / White and Savarna Feminism? How do hierarchical categories such as qaum/zaat/ biraderi ensure the perpetuity of casteism beyond Hinduism and across South Asia?   

Chair: tbc 

Key Readings:  

Wilkerson, Isabel. Caste: The origins of our discontents. Random House, 2020.  

Jangam, Chinnaiah. “A Dalit Paradigm: A new narrative in South Asian historiography.” Modern Asian Studies 50, no. 1 (2016): 399-414.  

Also, Shankar, Shobana. An Uneasy Embrace: Africa, India and the Spectre of Race. Oxford University Press, 2021.  


  • Gazdar, Haris. “Class, caste or race: veils over social oppression in Pakistan.” Economic and Political Weekly (2007): 86-88.  
  • Asif, Ghazal. “Jogendranath Mandal and the politics of Dalit recognition in Pakistan.” South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 43, no. 1 (2020): 119-135.  
  • Pan, Anandita. “Embracing difference: Towards a standpoint praxis in Dalit feminism.” South Asian Review 40, no. 1-2 (2019): 34-50.  
  • Rege, Sharmila. “Dalit women talk differently: A critique of ‘difference’and towards a Dalit feminist standpoint position.” Economic and Political Weekly (1998): WS39-WS46.  
  • Omvedt, Gail. Dalit visions: The anti-caste movement and the construction of an Indian identity. Orient Blackswan, 2006.  
  • Jayawardene, Sureshi M. “Racialized casteism: Exposing the relationship between race, caste, and colorism through the experiences of Africana people in India and Sri Lanka.” Journal of African American Studies 20, no. 3 (2016): 323-345.  
  • Paik, Shailaja. “Forging a new Dalit womanhood in colonial Western India: Discourse on modernity, rights, education, and emancipation.” Journal of Women’s History 28, no. 4 (2016): 14-40.  
  • Guru, Gopal, “The Politics of Naming,” Seminar 471, ‘Dalit’, November 1998, pp. 14-  

Session 3 Queering South Asia  

30 November 

How can queer theory help us understand South Asia beyond a ‘diversity’ angle? How do Hindutva groups appropriate queerness to advance their ‘Islamophobic, casteist, and homohindunationalist agendas’? How does the Indian trans movement’s ‘desire for backward class status’ complicate our understanding of social justice and caste/social hierarchy?  

Chair: tbc 

Key Readings:  

Upadhyay, Nishant. “Hindu nation and its queers: caste, Islamophobia, and de/coloniality in India.” Interventions 22, no. 4 (2020): 464-480.  

Rao, Rahul. Out of time: The queer politics of postcoloniality. Oxford University Press, 2020. (Selection: The Nation and Its Queers)  


Puar, Jasbir. “Rethinking homonationalism.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 45, no. 2 (2013): 336-339.  

Session 4 Developing South Asia  

11 January 

Understanding the damages and sustained violence inflicted by post-colonial nation-states on their populace through projects of developmentalism and biopolitics – whether invading people’s bodies through invasive biometric/regulatory programmes or destroying their habitat through development corridors – is key to decolonising South Asia. With the grossly unequal effects of climate change in different parts and social sections of South Asia, environmental humanism has a role to play. This discussion will foreground issues of poverty, land alienation, agrarian crisis & endangered livelihoods in the face of industrialisation/land grabs and climate change. Further, through a critique of ‘master plans’, we will explore how the expansion of cities to the adjoining rural areas and the (forced) migration from rural to urban impact the distinction between urban studies and rural studies. Further, how could development/inclusive growth be imagined in terms of social justice within a caste society? Can development be theorised differently – how have the southern states of India, especially Tamil Nadu, managed to link economic development with social inclusivity?  

Chair: tbc 

Key Readings:   

Kalaiyarasan, A., A. Kalaiyarasan, and M. Vijayabaskar. The Dravidian model: Interpreting the political economy of Tamil Nadu. Cambridge University Press, 2021.  

Pati, Sushmita. Properties of Rent: Community, Capital and Politics in Globalising Delhi. Cambridge University Press, 2021.  


Sainath, Palagummi. Everybody loves a good drought: stories from India’s poorest districts. Vol. 10. Penguin Books India, 1996.  

Session 5 Securing South Asia  

8 February 

This would be a space to discuss how enormous zones of nationality struggles, cessation, and occupations within South Asia have been excluded from and by liberal narratives in the name of security. How does one conceive of Kashmir beyond the nation-state paradigm? Where do the borders lie between Assam and Bangladesh; Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Afghanistan? How are the ideas of self-determination, azaadi, etc shaped through the everyday experiences of living under military occupation?  

Chair: Amina Yaqin 

Key Reading:  

Rumours of Spring: A Girlhood in Kashmir by Farah Bashir  

Home fire by Kamila Shamsie  


Akhtar, Aasim Sajjad. “Balochistan versus Pakistan.” Economic and Political weekly (2007): 73-79.  

Sherin, B. S., and Susie Tharu. Gendering minorities: Muslim women and the politics of modernity. Orient BlackSwan, 2021.  

Session 6 Citizenship 

8 March 

This session would be an exploration of the possibilities and impossibilities of political belonging and participation in postcolonial South Asian nations. It would also be a time to think about the ways in which people create and disrupt the nation as a political unit – whether actively through their movements, or inherently, through their religious or other subjectivities. This can perhaps offer a space to imagine other kinds of political communities. 


Key readings: Review essay but really interesting 

Sur, Malini. Jungle passports: Fences, mobility, and citizenship at the Northeast India-Bangladesh border. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021. 

Kapoor, Ria. Making refugees in India. Oxford University Press, 2021. 

Iqtidar, Humeira. “State management of religion in Pakistan and dilemmas of citizenship.” Citizenship Studies 16, no. 8 (2012): 1013-1028.  


Qasmi, Ali Usman. The Ahmadis and the politics of religious exclusion in Pakistan. Anthem Press, 2015.  

Mookherjee, Nayanika. “The “Dead and Their Double Duties” Mourning, Melancholia, and the Martyred Intellectual Memorials in Bangladesh.” Space and Culture 10, no. 2 (2007): 271-291.  


Tejani, Shabnum. “Cow Protection, Hindu Identity and the Politics of Hurt in India, c. 1890–2019.” Emotions: History, Culture, Society 3, no. 1 (2019): 136-157.  

Fazal, Tanweer. “Minorities and their nationalism (s): the terms of a discourse in South Asia.” South Asian History and Culture 3, no. 2 (2012): 163-176.  

Tejani, Shabnum. “The necessary conditions for democracy: BR Ambedkar on nationalism, minorities and Pakistan.” Economic and Political Weekly (2013): 111-119.  

Session 7 Decolonising Partition narratives 

Date: tbc 

Chair: tbc 

Who is the ‘other’ in the popular history of Partition? How have the neoliberal technologies impacted the ways in which Partition narratives and trauma are told, and ‘made accessible’?  

Key Readings:   

Pippa Virdee (2022) Histories and Memories in the Digital Age of Partition Studies, The Oral History Review, 49:2, 328-345 

Anchal Malhotra’s two books: Remnants of a Separation : A History of the Partition through Material Memory and Remnants of Partition: 21 Objects from a Continent Divided   

Kaur, Ravinder. “Curating the wound: The public memory of partition remains woefully caste-blind.” The Caravan (2017). Also Butalia’s chapter on Maya in The Other Side of Silence.  

Jesús F. Cháirez-Garza (2019) B.R. Ambedkar, Partition and the Internationalisation of Untouchability, 1939–47, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 42:1, 80-96 



Session 8 Decolonising Cinema in South Asia  

Date: tbc 

Chair: tbc 

How does cinema act as an important register to understand the region – its history and contemporary experience – as well as the representation of the most marginalised? How has new cinema constrained and redefined this experience? The discussion intends to go beyond the dominant Bollywood cinema while unpacking its Hindi Hindu Hindustan undertones.  

Key Readings:   

Edachira, Manju. “Anti-caste Aesthetics and Dalit Interventions in Indian Cinema.” Economic and Political Weekly 55, no. 38 (2020): 47-53. 

Qureshi, Bilal. “The Veiled Avengers of Pakistan’s Streaming New Wave.” Film Quarterly 74, no. 3 (2021): 66-70.  

Yengde, Suraj. ‘Dalit Cinema’, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 41, no. 3 (2018): 503-518  


Hoek, Lotte. “Mirrors of movement: Aina, Afzal Chowdhury’s cinematography and the interlinked histories of cinema in Pakistan and Bangladesh.” Screen 57, no. 4 (2016): 488-495.  

Velayutham, Selvaraj. Tamil cinema: The cultural politics of India’s other film industry. Routledge, 2008.  

Ahmad, Ali Nobil. “Film and cinephilia in Pakistan: Beyond life and death.” BioScope: South Asian Screen Studies 5, no. 2 (2014): 81-98.  

Gopinath, Gayatri, ‘Queering Bollywood’, Journal of Homosexuality, 39:3-4, 2000, 283- 297.  

Kumar, Sanjeev, ‘Constructing the Nation’s Enemy: Hindutva, popular culture and the Muslim ‘other’ in Bollywood cinema’, Third World Quarterly, 34:3, (2013) 458-469  

Decolonizing Collections

Archival trip to Nashik: Reflections on where Knowledge is Located

After passing the first milestone of my PhD, the upgrade submission and viva in May, I headed to India, my home country, to spend the summer break recharging with my family. Another reason to spend the break in India was to explore the archives located in India. 

As historians who collect sources from archives, it is also useful to think about the geography of knowledge, where it lies, who gets access to it and who is unable to gain that privilege. Access to primary sources determines the ability to write histories from them, and as Rakesh Ankit writes, we need to “ask why sources are available and how their availability is organised. The sources for my research include material culture like coins, their accompanying documentation such as accession records as well as correspondence and personal papers of coin collectors and numismatologists. During the time of colonial rule in India, European collectors collected coins in South Asia but then handed them to museums in the UK. Hence, crucial information about their collection and dispersal also found its way to various museums in the UK. For instance, five boxes of papers belonging to the collector R B Whitehead are now housed in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Information about other South Asian coins and their collection and provenance are also located in other museums like the British Museum in London and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. This knowledge transfer, however, also created restrictions on access. While many archives and libraries have made efforts towards digitisation, access to important collections still remains limited to scholars based in or travelling to places like the UK. It means that scholars from India, like me, who wish to research these coins must travel to the UK to be able to see the coins in person. While studying in the UK gives me this access, this could be a process ladened with bureaucratic and financial difficulties for many. 

As I try to reconstruct the role of Indian collectors and scholars in collecting South Asian coins and producing scholarship on Indian history and numismatics, I found the traces of their lives and work were left in India. In the nineteenth and twentieth century, some Indian collectors donated their coins to the museums emerging in India such as the Prince of Wales Museum in Bombay (now the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya) the Lahore Museum in Punjab and the India Museum in Kolkata. Several research institutions were also established by Indians which became forums for discussions on Indian history and numismatics. The foremost among them for numismatics was the Numismatic Society of India, established in 1910 by five European and one Indian collector, Framji Thanawala. Following on its heels, many numismatic societies were established in other cities like Kolkata and Bombay. They became local centres for coin collectors, museum professionals and scholars to gather and discuss issues on Indian coins.

In post-independence India, an institution dedicated solely to academic scholarship on Indian numismatics was founded in 1980 in Nashik in western India. Named the Indian Institute of Research in Numismatic Studies, the IIRNS was founded to further research in Indian Numismatics by eminent numismatist Dr Parmeshwari Lal Gupta and industrialist K K Maheshwari. Many other collectors’ collections and scholars’ books also made their way to the IIRNS in Nashik. Dr P M Joshi’s (historian of the Deccan) library was received as a gift in 1993 and that of Dr Shobhana Gokhale (epigraphist, numismatist, and professor at Deccan College) in 2003. Dr P L Gupta himself played a crucial role in expanding the institute’s resources, personally writing to colleagues to send their papers, photos or coins.  

Renamed the Indian Numismatic, Historical and Cultural Research Foundation’ (INHCRF) in 2007, the institute houses everything anyone researching Indian numismatics might need under one roof. It has a vast library containing major books and issues of all journals related to Indian numismatics. It also houses a museum and delivers courses in Indian numismatics, epigraphy, and archaeology for students. Indeed, the INHCRF is a one-stop destination for scholars’ needs relating to secondary and even primary material on this subject.

In July, I consulted their archives which hold papers and correspondence of numismatists who worked on Indian coins. I rummaged through boxes and shelves of correspondence of the pioneers of Indian numismatics, photographs of whom also graced the library’s wall. The archives had papers of Dr P.M. Joshi (1904-1989), a historian of the Deccan who held the newly created post of Director of Archives and Historical Monuments of the Government of Bombay, Dr Amjad Ali of Warangal who worked on Deccan numismatics, Stan Goron, collector of Indian coins and Editor of the Journal of the Oriental Numismatic Society, Mohammad Abdul Wali Khan, Keeper of coins of the State Museum of Hyderabad who later also became Director of Archaeology and Museums of the region and others. Their papers gave me an insight into the world of coin collecting, how collectors exchanged duplicates, negotiated prices, made arrangements for the safe courier of precious coins and sought each other’s help when they couldn’t travel far. Laced with personal anecdotes, the letters reflected the excitement of finding a precious coin or the disappointment at having lost their carefully built collection, all showing people’s passion for the subject.

Thus, the vast material available in their archive provided some interesting sources for my research. I could trace close relationships that existed between various figures and see centres of numismatic research emerging in places like Hyderabad. They gave a good insight into coin collecting and research in post-Independence India. Collecting these materials helped me better understand the role of Indian scholars in advancing numismatic research in India, in their professional capacities as collectors, museum professionals, librarians, historians, as well as active members of various research institutes in India. 

The Institute’s staff were particularly helpful, including the Director, Dr Riza Abbas, the Curator Mr Abhijit Srivastava, and the Librarian Mrs Naghmi Abbas. I am certain that I would find my way back to Nashik to access their vast range of archival and library holdings again.

Decolonizing Collections

Research Trip to London

In late March of 2021, I spent my time library hopping searching and gathering data from archival records for my doctoral research in London. I spent a week in various archives, libraries and museums, interacted with a range of written sources and artefacts and discussed my research with staff at these institutions. 

My first stop was the British Library. Here I examined the library’s coin handlists, a list giving all their South Asian coin holdings with their respective details, to check if the coin collectors I am researching donated any coins to the India Office Library, which contained the records of the administration in London of the East India Company and the pre-1947 government of India. These collections were subsequently merged with what became the British Library in London. 

The British Library

Besides my doctoral research, I volunteer with the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) in Exeter. I work with World Cultures curator, Tony Eccles, researching the story of the donors who have donated objects to the museum. This research took me to the London Metropolitan Archives where I was following the company records of Peek Brothers and Company, dealers in tea, coffee, and spices. One of their members, an astronomer, Sir Cuthbert Edgar Peek, donated 157 ethnographic artefacts to RAMM in 1900. In the two days spent in the archives, I was looking for clues to understand how he acquired the objects he donated to RAMM. 

London Metropolitan Archives

To unwind on the second day, I went to the Wellcome collection, a free museum and library exploring health and human experience. I viewed their exhibition Rooted Beings which is a powerful commentary on our relationships with plants. The exhibition also addressed the impacts of colonial expeditions on the exploitation of natural resources and indigenous knowledges as well as showcased how their cultivation helped in the expansion of Empire. Another exhibition, Medicine Man narrated the history of Sir Henry Wellcome, the collector whose collections found the bulk of the objects in the museum. The objects were interspersed with short textual commentaries from artists, scholars and creative practitioners where they tried to address the collection’s colonial legacies in thought-provoking ways. I was very inspired by this creative technique to address difficult histories. The Wellcome collection’s reading room, which is a quirky and interesting hybrid of a library and museum, was a great spot to end the day and catch up on some emails and work. 

The primary purpose of this research trip to London was to examine the coin collections and records in the British Museum. This material would then help me write a chapter on R B Whitehead, one of the collectors I am researching. I had an appointment in the Coins and Medals Department Reading Room, where I examined the coin catalogues of the museum to understand the acquisition histories of their South Asian collections. The accession registers and museum minutes gave me further insights into how the acquisition of the coins was negotiated between the collector and the museum. 

The British Museum

In the British Museum, I met with the staff in the South Asia as well as the Coins and Medals department. Dr Helen Wang, Curator of East Asian Money helped me navigate the department’s archives and collections and understand how acquisition records were kept and stored. Dr Sushma Jansari, Tabor Foundation Curator of South Asia, was kind enough to give me some insights into her curatorial practice and where she has highlighted Indian voices through various objects in the museum’s South Asia gallery. 

My supervisors, Professor Nandini Chatterjee and Dr Shailendra Bhandare joined me in the Museum. We looked at some of the Mughal coins in the collection together. It was very exciting to discuss the iconography and provenance of these coins, especially that of Mughal Emperor Jahangir’s (r. 1605- 27) famous zodiacal coins. I had written my Masters’ dissertation on Jahangir’s contentious relationship with his father, the emperor Akbar (r. 1555- 1605). Jahangir often used portraits, architecture, and paintings to express his idiom of rule. I had examined the imagery on some of Jahangir’s coins in the dissertation through photographs online. However, holding the coins in my hand and experiencing their texture, size and materiality were thrilling. 

In the five days, I had a wonderful time traversing various museums and libraries in the city. Their collections, display practices and innovative exhibitions gave me plenty of food for thought. I left the city very excited to incorporate the archival material I researched into the writing of my thesis. 

Decolonizing Collections

Research Trip to Oxford

My PhD project has been designed in collaboration with the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford. The museum has an extensive collection of South Asian coins, which are the core objects for my research. At the end of November 2021, I travelled to Oxford to examine the collections and visit the Ashmolean for the first time. In a fortunate coincidence, snow greeted me on my first day in Oxford. I tried to make the most of the chilly Sunday by exploring the city and keeping cosy with hot chocolate.

Snow in Oxford

Food indulgences aside, I also took the time to visit the Oxford Museum of Natural History Museum  as well as the Pitt Rivers Museum. Both were a treat, and I came across some interesting stories such as the history of the Museum of Natural History which was narrated in the museum’s panels. The Pitt Rivers was remarkable in the abundance of objects in their overflowing display cases. Contentious histories of their collections were however directly addressed such as in the chart showing the global spread of the human remains cared for by the museum. I also appreciated that the museum took active steps by making critical changes to its displays as part of its decolonisation process. Placed right at the outset, new text panels talked about how the museum is not a neutral space and addressed its complicated past.

In the Pitt Rivers Museum, an exhibition titled Beyond the Binary addressed ideas about the binaries we often classify people in. Designed in collaboration with over 40 communities, the exhibition displayed conventional museum collections in a new light, using the objects to narrate stories about LGBTQIA+ communities. For me, the highlight was the story of the Sikh princess, Catherine Hilda Duleep Singh. An active suffragette in London, she was the second daughter of the Sikh ruler Maharaja Duleep Singh. It was inspiring to hear about an Indian woman who campaigned for women’s rights in England. As a quote written by Shakira Morar said, “Throughout history queer women of colour are erased, omitted or forgotten”. The display, however, recounted Catherine’s relationship with her German governess, Lina Schafer, through objects and literary devices like poems. 

In the next few days, I explored the coin collections at Ashmolean and met many of the wonderful staff that works at the museum. My supervisor, Dr Shailendra Bhandare walked me through the museum’s coin collections where I learnt about the coin cataloguing and classification practices of museums. Holding the coins in my hand was an exhilarating feeling. Coin collections, as he discussed with me, are stored in small cabinets which are made especially for this purpose. The coins are usually organised regnally, which means that the coins are arranged by the emperor who issued them, and then followed by the emperor who ruled after the former, so that Mughal emperor Akbar’s coins will be followed by the coins of his son Jahangir and so on. Within each emepror’s issues, the coins are placed according to the mint place in an alphabetical fashion so that within Akbar’s coins, mint towns with the letter A will be followed by the letter B and so on.

The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

It was most exciting to be in the Heberden Coin Room at the museum which holds the coin collections of the Ashmolean. One can also use the room’s reference books to research and learn more about the objects. Dr Bhandare informed me of ticketing practices where coins are placed in their slots with tiny tickets. Each ticket lists the coins’ accession details and on occasion, might also include notes made by the original collector and scholar. Looking for similar tickets across various museums’ will be a useful way to trace the trajectories of the coins and thus find their collecting histories. 

On the next day, I also had the chance to meet some fellow students working on CDP PhD projects with various museums in Oxford at a lunch organised by the Gardens, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) team. It was wonderful to hear about their exciting research projects over lunch. 

At the Ashmolean itself, I met Julian Baker, Curator of Medieval and Modern Coins, and Matthew Winterbottom, Curator of Sculpture and Decorative Arts, both of whom were kind enough to discuss my project with me. I had an interesting chat with Matthew about his Anglo-Indian heritage and Julian helped me navigate the coin room’s records system. My supervisor also introduced me to the director of the Ashmolean Museum, Dr Alexander Sturgis. I was honoured to meet him in person, and he was very supportive of my project.

The next day, my supervisor organised a coin handling workshop where he spoke about various types of ancient coins, their history and interesting iconographies. Discussing these stories with the students made for an enriching afternoon where I learnt about the value of coins as a source for constructing the history of India.

Gold ‘Zodiacal’ Mohur of Jahangir (r.1605-1627), Sagittarius or the 9th month of the Persian Solar Calendar, struck at Agra in Islamic year AH1029 and regnal year 14. The inscription on the reverse alludes to Jahangir and the name of the mint in verse form. Ashmolean Museum

In the evening we visited the Sackler library, where Dr Bhandare walked me through some useful references for the field of numismatics held in the library. We examined the Proceedings for the Numismatic Society of India as well as the Numismatic Supplement to the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal. My supervisor gave me useful tips on how to use these texts for tracing the Indian collectors for my research.

During the trip, I also got the chance to visit the History Faculty Library at the Radcliffe Camera and the Bodleian Libraries. Truly majestic buildings, both hold a wealth of useful texts on many subjects including archaeology and history which are valuable for research. 

Radcliffe Camera, Oxford

Overall, the visit to the Ashmolean and Oxford was an educative one. I familiarised myself with the coin collections and got the exciting chance to hold these objects in my hand. I met some very helpful people and was able to discuss their projects as well as mine. I learned about cataloguing and classifying practices from my supervisor, all of which will form a crucial part of my research methodology. The wealth of resources that Oxford, especially its museums and libraries, offers will certainly keep calling me back to the city. 

Blog Past Events


Talk by Dr. Shernaz Cama

Tuesday 31st May, 5pm

TS2 in the Alexander Building, Thornlea.

Also online through Zoom.

Advance booking is essential. Book here.

Parsi Embroidery is an amalgamation of Persian, Chinese, Indian, and European techniques and symbols. Research on this intercultural art form, descended from ancient Central Asia, has been an exploration of its roots and routes. This presentation will study motifs, colours, and symbolism across geographical locations, diverse religious traditions, and periods of time. It draws upon the archival collection and research of Parzor, founded by UNESCO in 1999; Parzor’s research from Iran, the Far East, the Western Diaspora, Pakistan, and India has been showcased in textile anthologies and encyclopedias of embroidery. It is hoped that a seminal book on this embroidery tradition will showcase a multicultural, global world from the days of the Silk Route till the 21st Century.

Dr. Shernaz Cama is Associate Professor at Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University, and director of the Parzor Foundation.

This talk is hosted by the Exeter South Asia Centre, and Department of Drama. All are welcome to attend in-person or online.

If you want to view the talk online, you will be sent a Zoom link after booking.

Blog Past Events

How to Present South Asia (to Those Who Know it and Those Who Want to)

PGR Workshop, Exeter South Asia Centre, 20 January 2022 1500-1615 pm (UK), on Zoom

Organisers: Prof. Nandini Chatterjee, Prof. Sajjad Rizvi

South Asia is often seen as a bewildering place by those who are new to the region. Not only does the region boast a super abundance of languages, ecologies, religions, cuisines and arts, but also an excess of seemingly endless entanglements and conflicts. It is a learned skill to present specialist knowledge on this region to a non-specialist audience in a comprehensible and interesting way. It is also a skill that postgraduate researchers and early career scholars must acquire in order to present their research to a wider audience, interview for jobs and convince publishers to commission their books. In this session, two professors of South Asian studies with complementary expertise, will facilitate dialogue between PGR students and ECR scholars working on South Asia, and offer insights based on their own experiences.