2016: Participants and Abstracts

Conference Program

Friday and Saturday April 29-30, 2016
219 Aaron Burr Hall

Faculty Sponsor: Professor Jonathan Gold, Acting Director, Program in South Asian
Studies

Organizers:
Sarah Carson, History
Deborah Schlein, Near Eastern Studies

Sponsored by: Program in South Asian Studies at the Princeton Institute for International
and Regional Studies; Princeton Environmental Institute; Center for Human Values;
Council of the Humanities; Program in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy at
the Woodrow Wilson School; Program in Law and Public Affairs; Department and Program
in Near Eastern Studies; Department of Art and Archaeology; and Department of Anthropology.

 

Schedule

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Friday, April 29, 2016
219 Aaron Burr Hall

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8:30 – 9:00                            Breakfast

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9:00 – 9:15                             Opening Remarks

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9:15 – 10:45

Naming as Knowing

Luisa Cortesi, Yale University
The Epistemology of an Intimacy: Cognitive Entanglements of Water(s) and Land(s) in Flooded North Bihar, India

Sria Chatterjee, Princeton University
Between Ecology and Ethnology: the clay figure in Bengal

Pavithra Tantrigoda, Carnegie Mellon University
“Dangerous Geographies”: Rights and Ecology in Times of War and States of Exception in Sri Lanka

Discussant: Joppan George, Princeton University

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 10:45 – 11:00                         Coffee

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11:00 – 1:00

Rationalizing Nature

Meir Alkon, Princeton University
Trust in Government and Subsidy Reform: Evidence from a Survey of Indian Farmers

Jack Loveridge, University of Texas, Austin
The Road to New India: Food, Philanthropy, and Development in Post-Partition Punjab

Elizabeth Chatterjee, University of Chicago
A Bright New World: Utopianism in Indian energy planning, c. 1950-2030

Anthony Acciavatti, Princeton University
Sensory Infrastructures: Braiding India’s Human and Natural Resources from Outer Space

Discussant: Nikhil Menon, Princeton University

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1:00 – 2:00                                Lunch

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2:00 – 3:30

Rival Natural Knowledges and Local Environmental Change

Camille Frazier, University of California, Los Angeles
The Processes and Products of Agro-Environments: Tracing the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Supply Chain in Bangalore, India

Anshu Ogra, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Making Weather Work: Problems of local experience, high science and coffee growing in South India

Alessandra Radicati, London School of Economics
Colombo Fishermen in Hungry Times

Discussant: Christina Welsch, Princeton University

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3:30 – 3:45                                     Coffee

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3:45 – 5:15

The Animal, Human, and Divine Worlds

Mabel Gergan, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Geological Anxieties in the Anthropocene at the Unruly Borderlands of the Indian State

Suchismita Das, University of Chicago
Of Peacocks and People on the Himalayan Frontier: Politics over Endemic Nature and Indigenous Culture in the Kitam Bird Sanctuary, Sikkim, India

Aviroop Sengupta, Columbia University
Diving Spiders and Warring Ants: The Insect Worlds of Gopal Chandra Bhattacharya

Discussant: Ritwik Bhattacharyya, Princeton University

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5:30

Keynote

Sugata Ray, Assistant Professor, University of California, Berkeley
From Viceregal New Spain to Mughal India: Doing Early Modern Animal Studies with a Turkey Cock, ca. 1612

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Saturday, April 30, 2016
219 Aaron Burr Hall

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8:45 – 9:15                                    Breakfast

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9:15 – 10:45

Representations and Realities

Mohit Manohar, Yale University
Landscape, History, Power: an analysis of The House of Bijapur

Divya Kumar-Dumas, University of Pennsylvania
Doing Landscape Reception in South Asia by Illuminating the Archaeological Palimpsest with Colonial Records

Fatima Burney, University of California, Los Angeles
Islamic Romanticism: Discourses of Nature in Late 19th Century Urdu

Discussant: Wasim Shiliwala, Princeton University

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10:45 – 11:00                                 Coffee

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11:00 – 12:30

Law, Property, and Rights

Kalyan Shankar Vudayagiri, The New School, India China Institute
Waste Pickers and the ‘Right to Waste’ in an Indian City

Christopher Fleming, University of Oxford
Making Nature One’s Own: Ownership and Ecology in Medieval Dharmaśāstra

Debjani Bhattacharya, Drexel University
Manufactured Landscapes: Law and Hydraulics in the Bengal Delta

Discussant: Divya Cherian, Rutgers University

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12:30                                                   Concluding Remarks and Lunch

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Participants and Abstracts

Luisa Cortesi, Yale University
The Epistemology of an Intimacy: Cognitive Entanglements of Water(s) and Land(s) in Flooded North Bihar, India
The floodplain of the Himalayas is a land incessantly formed and destroyed by its rivers’ water. Aimed at severing productive land from water through levees of soil, flood control has instead worsened the quantity, duration and predictability of the inundations, has disrupted the flow of soil in the water and its positive effects on flooded land, and has obstructed water drainage, engendering enormous water-jammed areas. The failure of flood control in Bihar, India, is not only due to misunderstanding the river as a matter of water only, but also to the conceptual naturalization of the ontological distinction between water and land. Instead, local knowledge(s) of water reveal that neither water nor land can even be named, let alone understood, without the other. Even with abundant water for irrigation, land is valued on the basis of its transitional water topography. Similarly, the quality of drinking water, as well as its technologies of extraction and filtration, is discerned through their “soily” characteristics, including narrations of texture and stratification. Informed by a multidisciplinary ethnographic experience of five years and two major floods across seven rivers, this paper will illustrate the land/water nexus as a series of cognitive correspondences, necessarily embedded in contingent sociopolitical perspectives and environmental configurations. As such, Bihar’s amphibious geography of multiple lands and waters (river, rain, waterlogging, pond, lake, borewell, handpump, dugwell, for example) is held to defy watertight views of water/land habitats that may be grounded in its material hybridity but do not take in consideration its epistemological dynamism.

Sria Chatterjee, Princeton University
Between Ecology and Ethnology: the clay figure in Bengal
My paper takes as its central focus, a set of clay figures from Krishnanagar in West Bengal, India to examine the entangled relationships between humans and the natural world in processes of art making. The practice of clay modelling in Krishnanagar is a community-based occupation, with families passing on the baton of production through generations. I expand the context of the clay figure by considering discussions around the Krishnanagar clay figure as a form of colonial knowledge on display in the world’s fairs and international exhibitions and in the writings of Trailokya Nath. Mukherjee (in the 1880s) and George Birdwood among others who examined both secular and religious models made in the area. Locating different registers of knowledge – that of colonial surveys, early Indian art history and artisanal or craft knowledges – I ask how thinking eco-critically through the historiography and practices of representation can afford an account of the production of knowledge and its relationship to processes of art and object making. Drawing from interviews with Nemai Pal and other clay modelers of Krishnanagar, I argue that the natural environment (in particular the medium of clay) does not function as a mute substrate in this process of making but is implicated in the very language of making. I examine the role of the Ganges or Ganga (as it is known in Bengali) in the making of clay to ask what happens when a product of human craft is defined and understood beyond a human-centric notion of representation.

Pavithra Tantrigoda, Carnegie Mellon University
“Dangerous Geographies”: Rights and Ecology in Times of War and States of Exception in Sri Lanka
Colonial zones were constituted as ‘dangerous geographies’ par excellence by the colonizer (Mbembe 1995). An inhospitable terrain of death and disease situated in a liminal configuration to the European judicial order and civilization, the geographies of danger functioned in colonial discourse as a way of negation and subjugation of the ‘other’. This literal and figurative trope of negation of colonies enters into the imagination of postcolonial space when representing nations besieged by war, disorder, rights violations and ecological destruction. Dangerous geographies in a postcolonial context can be made to signify multivalent and layered significations- for instance, a form of critique and resistant narrative of the minorities that rejects the assimilation within an authoritarian nation state or contrarily, it can also function as a discourse of discrimination and difference, reinforcing the need for the nation to destroy or coercively assimilate its ‘others’ and appropriate the untapped natural resources of the ‘dangerous wildness’ they inhabit into the national space in an act of sublimation. This article examines the deployment of geographies of danger by Sri Lankan authors, Ambalavaner Sivanandan and Romesh Gunesekera, in their attempts to portray a postcolonial Sri Lankan state that has regressed to power dynamics and violence of the colonial period in its treatment of minority groups. For these writers, colonialist imagining of the space in a context of militarization and ethnic strife becomes a vehicle for the articulation of interlinked nature of human rights violations and ecological destruction. These writers deploy the trope of ‘dangerous geographies’ further as a means of bridging the gap between human and the natural world, exposing how social and environmental practices that constitute rights abuses are intertwined with wider experiences of crisis. Further, they reveal the ambivalence of rights, justice and reconciliation that can be attained in a context where law, militarization and/or neoliberal institutions constantly violate the rights of minorities and nature, undermining the freedom and desire for a just and ethical society.

Meir Alkon, Princeton University
Trust in Government and Subsidy Reform: Evidence from a Survey of Indian Farmers
India’s agricultural energy subsidies, especially unreliable, low-cost rural electricity and reduced-price diesel fuel, are key contributors to the unsustainable extraction of rapidly diminishing groundwater. These policies are also regressive, ensuring the persistence of poor-quality agricultural electricity, which further immiserates Indian farmers. This water-energy nexus in rural India represents both a crisis in environmental governance and a poverty-perpetuating policy equilibrium. What accounts for the persistence of these inefficient subsidies, and what are the obstacles to reform of rural electricity provision? We develop a theory of the crucial role of political trust in determining farmers’ policy preferences and patterns of political support. We provide evidence for our theory with an original survey of 2,010 farmers in Bihar, Gujarat, and Rajasthan, conducted in the summer of 2015. We analyze and discuss this survey data, including information on farmers’ assets and crop growing choices, groundwater levels, access to electricity and irrigation, social capital, and political preferences, to demonstrate the crucial roles of political trust, especially trust in the national government, in predicting farmers’ voting behavior and energy subsidy preferences. Our results have implications for Indian environmental governance, rural development, and the political economy of social policy reform.

Jack Loveridge, University of Texas, Austin
The Road to New India: Food, Philanthropy, and Development in Post-Partition Punjab
This paper examines the powerful roles assumed by the Ford and Rockefeller foundations, the World Bank, and UN agencies in reshaping north India’s agricultural economy and natural environment following partition and the end of British rule in 1947. In the face of rapid population growth and fears of impending famine, these global institutions advocated for new agricultural technologies, capital investment, and intensive farming, establishing an international development paradigm that persists today. Central focus will be given to the case of Nilokheri, a Ford Foundation-sponsored community development project launched by the Indian government in Punjab state in 1950. In the aftermath of partition, Nilokheri township served as a refugee camp for displaced West Punjabi farmers and artisans. Through 1950s, development experts and agricultural scientists descended on the camp with the goal of transforming the marshland of Karnal District into a replicable model for community development. Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, cast Nilokheri as the first step on the “road to new India” that would bring the nation to self-sufficiency in food production. Over a decade, schools, workshops, experimental grain farms, and technical colleges rose around the village. Officials even considered designating the bustling town as the capital of Punjab. Yet for all its promise, floodwaters disrupted the project in 1957 and government interest in the project waned by the early 1960s. The site’s legacy, however, set the course for the interventions of the later Green Revolution and generated an influential model for decolonizing and reorganizing rural Indian life.

Elizabeth Chatterjee, University of Chicago
A Bright New World: Utopianism in Indian energy planning, c. 1950-2030
As the world’s third-largest carbon emitter today, India’s projections and promises for its future energy portfolio have come under increasing scrutiny. Questions have been raised about the feasibility of the targets it put forward for the Paris climate change negotiations, for example, which aim to develop a precociously solar- and wind-heavy power system by 2030. This paper provides a longer-term, critical perspective on the Government of India’s fuel source strategy and, especially, its assessments of the country’s natural resource endowments. The history of Indian energy planning is scattered with overly optimistic targets for natural resource exploitation and technological development, targets which institutionalized visions of self-sufficiency, energy abundance, and economic and environmental sustainability. In the first decades after 1947, the domestic nuclear establishment repeatedly forecasted that India’s prodigious reserves of thorium would deliver a future based on self-sustaining nuclear power. More recently the energy supply has suffered thanks to long wrangles over miscalculated coal and natural gas reserves, and overly optimistic expectations about the private sector’s willingness to take on financial risk. Building upon an extensive study of the national energy bureaucracy and a survey of government documents, this paper suggests that energy and natural resource planning in India has typically proved an essentially rhetorical exercise. Official imaginings of India’s natural resources have frequently tipped from ambition into utopia, producing targets that are repeatedly missed with few repercussions. In turning away from the messy realities of ‘politics’ and ‘implementation’, this paper will argue that in practice such targets often became merely ritualistic, weakening the credibility of central policymaking–and thereby retarding structural policy change.

Anthony Acciavatti, Princeton University
Sensory Infrastructures: Braiding India’s Human and Natural Resources from Outer Space
This essay begins to tell the overlooked story of managing India’s human and natural resources from approximately 1969-85. This multi-disciplinary undertaking attempted to use geosynchronous satellites in conjunction with handheld video recorders to model everything from meteorological activity and agricultural production to peasant and communal rationality. The goal was to collect and interpret massive amounts of real-time data to make informed national and regional planning policies. This essay explores how the establishment of a vast sensory infrastructure was to synthesize subjective experiences and perceptions with remote sensing and spatial modeling. To scrutinize the subjective and spatial data gathering practices is to show why the most celestial and terrestrial activities could play a decisive role in India’s political and economic development. In this way, collecting and interpreting sensory data at multiple scales marks a shift in visualizing and managing the risks and possibilities of India’s human and natural resources.

Camille Frazier, University of California, Los Angeles
The Processes and Products of Agro-Environments: Tracing the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Supply Chain in Bangalore, India
With an onslaught of environmental changes resulting from rapid urbanization, Bangalore’s fresh fruit and vegetable supply chain faces multifold new challenges. For example, farmers and urban consumers alike are worried about water; groundwater levels are falling every lower in peri-urban fields as farmers rush to meet urban demand for water-hungry agricultural commodities. At the same time, urban consumers are fearful about contamination from highly polluted water bodies used in growing fresh produce. In this context, both the processes and products of Bangalore’s fresh fruit and vegetable supply chain are intimately embedded in and productive of larger environmental shifts. In this paper, I present findings from one year of ethnographic research tracing Bangalore’s horticultural supply chain to consider how urbanization and its accompanying changes in resource use, agricultural practice, and market demands have both impacted and reflected the ecology of fresh fruit and vegetable production and consumption. In so doing, I examine “the environment” as a site of cultivation of agro-ecological networks and commodities. I focus on two commercial crops that have become sites of concern, fresh spinach and bananas, to suggest that the cultivation of fresh food products links producer and consumer experiences of environmental change and insecurity. I conclude by arguing that fears about shifting environments are conceived, expressed, and encountered through the process and product of the horticultural supply chain.

Anshu Ogra, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Making Weather Work: Problems of local experience, high science and coffee growing in South India
In this paper I discuss three different perspectives that attempt to explain a single weather event that occurs over a particular ecological-geographical patch. The weather event we are specifically looking at is the South-West monsoons and the defined ecological-geographical patch in focus is the coffee plantation belt that runs across a portion of the Western Ghats region in Southern India. This exercise is not only to document the differences within narrative designs about a single weather event but is also aimed at examining how such experiences are expressed in often times contending and contradictory ways amongst different groups situated in the same ecological-geographical patch. The three different groups whose perspectives about monsoonal impacts in the tropical evergreen forests of the Western Ghats that is being looked at are: a) coffee planters, b) climatologists and meteorologists and c) weather insurance assessors. The paper argues that in case of climate change adaptation strategies there is a need to integrate the natural sciences and the social sciences; meteorology and sociology ; the predictive capacity of abstract numbers and the non-linear speculation of economic and political markets and finally why adaptation strategies must help us get the theory laden social world to negotiate with hypothetico-deductive reasoning for policy purposes. The field work for this study has been carried out over a period of 7 months from 2011-2015. Over 80 coffee growers in two South Indian states (Karnataka and Tamil Nadu) have been interviewed.

Alessandra Radicati, London School of Economics and Political Science
Colombo Fishermen in Hungry Times
In Sri Lanka, fishermen occupy precarious positions. Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in a northern coastal neighborhood of Colombo in 2015, this paper presents precarity as an enduring feature of the lives of (mainly Catholic) fishermen and their families. It considers the way that environmental concerns and changes in the natural environment – depleting catches, an eroding coastline – coincide with political realities that aim to displace fishermen and women, in favor of development projects which do not recognize the symbolic or material importance of fishing. One such project is the Colombo Port City, a yet-to-be-realized, Chinese-funded island being constructed on land reclaimed from the ocean. The fishermen I came to know opposed the project as it is to be located in one of the best fishing spots on the western coast of Sri Lanka, and thus will disrupt the natural breeding and migration cycles of marine life. In this paper, I look into these discussions around the Colombo Port City in greater depth, while trying to situate them in a larger context of fisher marginality. For example, many people do not associate Colombo with fishing at all, and do not know of the existence of the fishing community I studied – in this way, the fishermen I worked with occupy an especially marginal position as seemingly “primitive” subjects in an urban environment. In this paper, I foreground fishermen’s accounts of the world, weaving together the relationships they describe with their natural surroundings with their professed political subjectivities.

Mabel Gergan, Univerity of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Geological Anxieties in the Anthropocene at the Unruly Borderlands of the Indian State
The increased frequency of earthquakes and landslides near dam construction sites, along with incidents of shamanic possession by angered mountain deities, has raised serious doubts about the economic and spiritual viability of hydropower development in the Eastern Himalayan borderland state of Sikkim, India. The Nesol, a sacred Buddhist ritual text, warns devotees that desecrating the sacred landscape of Beyul Demajong, the Tibetan name for Sikkim, can result in natural disasters and socio-political unrest. In official reports, Sikkim’s ‘adverse geological conditions’ have been described as ‘unpredictable’ and ‘volatile'(in Kohli 2011:21). As hydropower project developers soon discover, these projects don’t flow uninterrupted into inert, empty spaces (Tsing 2005) instead, they encounter ‘geological surprises’ (Indian Power Ministry 2008: 27), which delay projects or worse, result in the loss of human life, laying bare the ecological and cosmological limits of capitalism. In this paper, I put recent materialist and post-humanist scholarship on the Anthropocene in conversation with indigenous and decolonial theorizing to understand how geo-physical indeterminacy is deployed by both regional technocrats and indigenous groups, to critique the hegemony of ‘national interest’. I explore indigenous and technocratic narratives, to interrogate how heightened indeterminacy is mediating and productive of a borderland subjectivity grounded in the geo-physical and spiritual particularity of the region. In this my attempt is to demonstrate the importance of indeterminacy and a ‘critical geographic mobilization of place’ (Jazeel 2011:pg) for environmental politics and marginalized subjectivities in the Anthropocene.

Suchismita Das, University of Chicago
Of Peacocks and People on the Himalayan Frontier: Politics over Endemic Nature and Indigenous Culture in the Kitam Bird Sanctuary, Sikkim, India
The concept of biodiversity, referring encompassingly to a diversity of species, genes, ecosystems and landscapes is pivotal to any contemporary conservation discourse. Its central yardstick is the endemism/nativism of the object of conservation to a geographic region. Since the 1992 Earth Summit, biodiversity has been sought to be positively associated with cultural diversity. Thus a broader concept of bio-cultural diversity emerged, wherein alongside nativism of nature, indigeneity of cultures that complement it are valorized. The villagers of Kitam, in the Indian state of Sikkim, lobbied for demarcating their surrounding forests as a Bird Sanctuary in 2005. A majority of Kitam’s population is of Nepali ethnicity. Sikkim shares borders with Nepal and the Nepali community has inhabited this terrain for centuries. Yet their belongingness to the Sikkimese and Indian cultural-political landscape remains a contentious issue. On the natural plane, Kitam was purportedly the only place in Sikkim housing the peacock. It thus became the flagship species around whose conservation the sanctuary demand came to revolve. However, India’s national bird is non-native to Sikkim. It was introduced here around the 1970s. In tracing the position of the peacock in Kitam Bird Sanctuary’s history and contemporary conservation discourses, this paper interrogates the ambivalence of endemism, both as a key tenet of bio-cultural diversity and a politically-charged term in the landscape. The focus is on the rub between quests to trace roots and set geographical limits to legitimately valuable nature and culture, and their non-bounded, rhizomatic (Deleuze and Guattari 1987) trajectories in this region.

Aviroop Sengupta, Columbia University
Diving Spiders and Warring Ants: The Insect Worlds of Gopal Chandra Bhattacharya
Between the 1930s and the 1960s, the amateur entomologist Gopalchandra Bhattacharya (1895-1981) introduced Bengali readers to the social lives of insects in a series of popular essays published in Prabasi magazine. A laboratory technician by profession, Bhattacharya worked at the Bose Institute in Calcutta, spending much of his time conducting observations and experiments on the dynamics of ant and bee colonies to investigate how their strict labor and gender hierarchies were activated. I seek to historicize Bhattacharya’s work, placing it in conversation with the larger trajectories of vernacular natural history in colonial Bengal. In particular, I am interested in Bhattacharya’s construction of a model for comparing human and non-human societies: at several points throughout his oeuvre, Bhattacharya argued that the ‘human’, instead of being evolutionarily or metaphysically superior to the ‘non-human’, was simply an animal condition that had failed to reach its full potential. As an example, he repeatedly invoked the natural perfection of ‘castes’ (his term) in insects, where each individual was locked in its role, structuring a functionally perfect society. This paper will present a material account of Bhattacharya’s work, outline his creative blending of ‘lab’ and ‘field’, and focus closely on his constructions of artificial nests through which he claimed unlimited access over hidden insect lives. How, it hopes to speculate, did Bhattacharya’s ideas about the ‘natural perfection’ of insect societies interact with his mentor J.C. Bose’s famous notion of a life-force, prana, that permeated and united human and non-human, living and non-living?

Mohit Manohar, Yale University
Landscape, History, Power: an analysis of The House of Bijapur
Scholars of Indian art have analyzed the lushly colored landscapes of Deccani painting with standard art historical questions in mind—those of aesthetics and influence, say—but have not yet asked what these landscapes in fact are: are they depictions of the natural world? Or are they simply fantasies (as a recent show on Deccani art at the Metropolitan Museum suggested)? Is the natural world being re-imagined as pink hills and silvered oceans, or are these depictions mostly independent of the world as it is and better explained as the influence of Persian art? My paper grounds these questions by considering The House of Bijapur, a late-seventeenth-century painting (http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/453183). This painting contains not just a vibrantly colored landscape in the background, but also a second landscape—one depicted in the motif of the globe under the foot of the central figure. Recent work by Koch, Ramaswamy, and others have shown how the globe operated as a political or religious symbol in Indian painting. But what do we make of a globe that is neither cartographic (political meaning), nor blurry (religions meaning)? What do we do with globes with landscapes on them? I try to understand the relationship between the natural world and its depiction in art, and argue that far from being mere background to imperial gatherings, landscapes in Deccani painting—Bijapuri painting in particular—held profound political significance. The paper thus tries to uncover the political value associated with the natural world in at least one region of early modern South Asia.

Divya Kumar-Dumas, University of Pennsylvania
Doing Landscape Reception in South Asia by Illuminating the Archaeological Palimpsest with Colonial Records
The polyvalence of landscape and therefore of its interpretations makes it a complex subject for traditional uni-disciplinary modes of study. In fact, landscapes waver between their readability as texts of historical cultural practice and their containment of myriad human experiences shaping and informing meanings, which may still be discernible in landscape features. By combining digital approaches from architectural conservation with the traditional study of medieval texts relating to a place, constructed archaeological landscapes evincing overall site planning, such as Sigiriya in Sri Lanka or Mamallapuram in South India, were admittedly landscape architectures visited in the distant past. Building from the anthropological scholarship, John Dixon Hunt in Afterlife of Gardens (2004) claims we should write cultural histories for conceptual landscape architecture by looking to the long historical record of visitor response to a place over its ‘afterlife.’ But what of constructed archaeological landscapes in South Asia whose afterlife includes both a moment of ‘forgetting’ and subsequent archaeological ‘rediscovery’? By combining digital spatial approaches to landscape with the visual and textual record, a new power emerges which can accommodate into scholarly discussion all layers of discourse surrounding an archaeological site, even when some material may have fallen out of critical favor within its disciplinary home. The shadow of orientalism hinders many post-colonial readings of place from integrating all available information produced during the colonial period. In this paper I will attempt to demonstrate how even biased primary sources can help us excavate spatial experience in the archaeological landscapes of South Asia.

Fatima Burney, University of California, Los Angeles
Islamic Romanticism: Discourses of Nature in Late 19th Century Urdu
In his 1881 book The Truth about the Necheri Sect and an Explanation of the Necheris, Islamic modernist Jamal al Din al Afghani warns Muslim readers against the insidious and destructive capacity of ‘necheri’ ideology. This book, which was first published in Hyderabad, took direct aim at another prominent Indian Muslim figure: Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, founder of the Aligarh Muslim University in Delhi (1857) and advocate of the naichral shairi (Natural Poetry) movement. As the phonological resemblance between both these terms – naichral and necheri – betrays, late 19th century Indian scholarship was captivated by the idea of ‘nature’ and sometimes even employed the English term in favor of words like fitrat or qudrat, from the Arabic and Urdu. My paper examines how Urdu writers from the late 19th and early 20th century engaged with British, German and American Romantic thought in their programs for literary and religious reform. While the influence of Christian theology and exegesis in European Romantic writing is hitherto well established, the dialogue between Islamic modernism and global romantic thought has received relatively less attention. By tracing the discussion of nature in the work of Urdu scholars like Muhammad Hussain Azad, Altaf Hussain Hali and Muhammad Allama Iqbal, I will highlight the role that Romantic ideals of nature have had on modern Islam, and vice versa.

Kalyan Shankar Vudayagiri, The New School, India China Institute
Waste Pickers and the ‘Right to Waste’ in an Indian City
This paper deals with the transfers of ‘right to waste’ across the multiple stake-holders involved in the management of urban solid waste in India. Waste belongs to households (producers) and then to the Municipal body once it enters their system of collection/disposal. What does this mean for large (predominantly female) populations of informal waste-pickers carving their livelihoods by retrieving and sorting recyclables (paper, plastic, metals)? The lack of clarity on their ‘right to waste’ forms the basis of a continued vulnerability for them. In 1995, informal waste-pickers in Pune (India) mobilized themselves into a trade-union, the Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP). The organization was instrumental in establishing their ‘right to work’ as waste pickers, helping them negotiate with municipal officials against harassment and graft. Coming to 2008, KKPKP floated SWaCH, India’s first wholly owned co-operative of self-employed, waste pickers, which entered into a contract with Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) for door-to-door waste collection. This arrangement further legitimized their ‘right to waste’ by allowed them to access waste directly from households instead of public bins/ landfills. In this journey from KKPKP to SWaCH, how have the contours of a ‘right to waste’ evolved and what underlying challenges had to be overcome at different junctures? How has the SWaCH initiative altered the market dynamics of waste management, given the recent entry of larger private firms in waste-handling? These are some of the questions addressed in this case-study through a methodology based on archival readings, fieldwork and personal interviews of key informants.

Christopher Fleming, University of Oxford
Making Nature One’s Own: Ownership and Ecology in Medieval Dharmaśāstra
My paper sheds new light on the relationship between law and the environment in South Asia by attending to discussions of the ownership of natural resources in Indian jurisprudential texts (Dharmaśāstra). The paper explores the theoretical understanding of ecological phenomena (flora, fauna and topography) within Dharmaśāstric theories of ownership and proprietary rights. More specifically, it examines ways in which Dharmaśāstra authors attempted to regulate such phenomena through the analytic category of ownership (svatva).
I will focus my analysis on Medhātithi’s (800-1000 C.E.) commentary on the Manusmṛti, a locus classicus of ancient Indian law. Medhātithi, I argue, attempts to understand and regulate, human interaction with the natural environment by framing such interactions within a discourse of proprietary rights. For example, some ecological phenomena, such as rivers, mountains, and fords are understood as ownerless (asvāmika) whereas others, such as individual trees, lakes and ponds, are explicitly conceived of as communally owed (sādhāraṇa) or as the property of deities and educational institutions afforded legal personhood. Alternatively, minerals and certain exotic plants are conceived as royal property. In other instances, natural phenomena demarcate the boundary of one’s proprietary rights. In each case, ownership and its attendant rights and responsibilities is integral to human interaction with nature.
My paper aims to address two current dialogues in the study of South Asia: ongoing attempts to reconstruct the ontological conceptions of nature within classical Indian philosophy and socio-legal inquiries into the relationship between legal theories of ownership and ecological justice in modern South Asia.

Debjani Bhattacharya, Drexel University
Manufactured Landscapes: Law and Hydraulics in the Bengal Delta
How does one think of an engineered and manufactured landscape from its natural and fast disappearing margins? Is there a methodology to write about a fluvial, constantly shifting landscape and not fix it in writing? This paper will explore these two broad questions by studying the hydrological confrontation between law and infrastructure in the Bengal delta. I argue that we must study colonial property law as an infrastructure of disaster in the riverine landscape of the Bengal Delta. The delta is home to a hybrid formation known as char lands, which is a land-water admixture teeming with biota, which the colonial officials transformed into a revenue-generating propertied geography through technologies of drying as well as by creating a whole gradation of legal categories around the water-soaked land. Documenting the everyday legal maneuvers engineering projects through which discrete natural elements like swamps, bogs, mud and shoals became urban property in the Factory town of Calcutta and the hinterland harbors that dot the mangrove forest I show how law worked as an important technology that operationalized the perceived geographical indeterminacy of this landscape to manufacture it as a “resource frontier.” The far-reaching consequences of this particular legal regime manifest themselves in the contemporary moment as manufactured landscapes of production and profit on the one hand and receding coastlines and fast disappearing wetlands on the other hand.