XQs XI – A Conversation with Mitra Sharafi

[The XQs (Ten Questions) series is a conversation with the authors of new and exciting works in South Asian Studies, whose aim is not to “review” but to contextualize, historicize and promote new scholarship. We thank Tapsi Mathur for conducting this interview. Previously: IIIIIIIVVVIVII, VIII, IX, X.]

Mitra Sharafi is a legal historian of South Asia at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, USA. Her first book, Law and Identity in Colonial South Asia: Parsi Legal Culture, 1772-1947 was awarded the Law and Society Association’s Hurst Prize in 2015. She is currently working on her second book project, “Fear of the False: Forensic Science in Colonial India,” along with articles on abortion during the Raj and the expulsion of Asian and African law students from the Inns of Court. Her research has been recognized by the American Council of Learned Societies, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the Social Science Research Council. She hosts the South Asian Legal History Resources website and is a regular contributor to the Legal History Blog.

Mitra Sharafi, Law and Identity in Colonial South Asia: Parsi Legal Culture, 1772-1947 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014; Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2017)

 What is the larger question that frames your work and can you tell us a little about what drew you to this project?

I was interested in how minority communities engage with law. There are plenty of examples historically and today of minority communities trying to avoid interaction with the state—particularly where there is a history of conflict and exploitation by the state. Equally, there are many examples of communities handling their intra-group disputes internally. But one day as I was leafing through the Bombay law reports, I noticed Parsi names everywhere and on both sides of many cases. Why would members of the same small, tight-knit community take each other to court, especially in a South Asian context where there were so many non-state options for dispute resolution? And why would they do so particularly in sensitive intra-group disputes over religion (temple disputes) and family (matrimonial and inheritance cases)? I was intrigued. Here was a minority community that took its inside disputes to court readily and often, in contrast to the more common patterns of avoidance (of the state) and containment (within the community). Continue reading “XQs XI – A Conversation with Mitra Sharafi”

Indigenous Peoples’ Day at the University of Michigan – II

 

The Indigenous Peoples’ Day teach-in, held on October 12, 2017, was organized and moderated by Richard Reinhardt and Christine Chalifoux at the Rackham Interdisciplinary Workshop (RIW) on Religion in the Pre-Modern Atlantic at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in coordination with the organizers of the Indigenous Peoples’ Day March of Indignation. Professors Gregory Dowd and Michael Witgen gave us a history of indigenous people and colonization in Michigan and the Midwest. Mallory Whiteduck talked About Indigenous forms of resistance, and Salman Hussain talked about solidarity. These presentations were followed by an open conversation, particularly addressing the March of Indignation that took place on campus, organized by student and community groups. Following is a report on the teach-in that occurred three days after the march.

Previously: Indigenous Peoples’ Day at the University of Michigan – I 

Continue reading “Indigenous Peoples’ Day at the University of Michigan – II”

XQs X – A Conversation with Anand Vivek Taneja

 

[The XQs (Ten Questions) series is a conversation with the authors of new and exciting works in South Asian Studies, whose aim is not to “review” but to contextualize, historicize and promote new scholarship. We thank Dr. Riddhi Bhandari for conducting this interview. Previously: IIIIIIIVVVIVII, VIII, IX.]

 

Anand Vivek Taneja is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Vanderbilt University. He studied at Delhi University, Jamia Millia Islamia, and at Columbia University, where he received his PhD in Anthropology in 2013. His research and teaching interests include urban ecologies, enchantment and ethics, animality, historical and contemporary Islam and inter-faith relations in South Asia, post-colonial urbanism, Urdu literature, and Bombay cinema. He was awarded the Joseph W. Elder Prize in the Indian Social Sciences for Jinnealogy. 

Taneja, Anand Vivek. Jinnealogy: Time, Islam, and Ecological Thought in the Medieval Ruins of Delhi. Stanford University Press, 2017.

 

 

1. Can you talk about how Jinnealogycame into being. Why did you pick this name?

Firoz Shah Kotla, the place that is central to the book, is known by those who come here as a dargah, or Muslim saint shrine. Except that the saints here are not human, by most accounts, but spirits known as jinn. Now Delhi is a place known as bais khwaja ki chaukhat, the threshold of twenty two saints, it has long been a center not just of Muslim political power in India, but also a major Sufi center. So one of my major questions going into this project was why the jinn became popular saints in Delhi in the late nineteen seventies, as they did at Firoz Shah Kotla, in a city with so many human saints? What was the relation of this theological newness to transformations in the life of the city? One of the recurring stories that I encountered at Firoz Shah Kotla, which I recount at length in the book, is the ability of the jinns—who in Islamic cosmology are much longer lived than human beings—to serve as links connecting human beings centuries and millennia apart. For example, conveying the greetings of Jesus to Prophet Muhammad, and in story directly linked to Firoz Shah Kotla, authenticating the knowledge of Shah Waliullah of Delhi through an old jinn who was an eyewitness to the life of the Prophet. This ability of the jinn to supersede human genealogies of memory and transmission is what I have called jinnealogy. And jinnealogy, as I found, was a recurring motif in post-Partition Delhi, not just in the stories told at Firoz Shah Kotla, but also in the popular theological literature being produced in the city. This was happening at the same time as there was a huge erasure and suppression taking place of Muslim landscapes of memory and sacrality in Delhi, partly through the enormous violence of Partition, and partly through the subsequent policies of the post-colonial Indian state. As one of my interlocutors told me at Firoz Shah Kotla, 1947 men valiyon ka Dilli se nata tut gaya. 1947—the year of Partition and Independence—severed the relation of the saints to Delhi. But jinnealogy allows for the potential of memory and continuity—and a reclaiming of space—in a city marked by enormous violence, disruption, and official amnesia. The mode of knowledge and its transmission that jinnealogy implies is not just a counter to most “official” modes of knowledge production and remembrance in post-colonial India, but is also counter to many ideas of what “authoritative” religious knowledge and its transmission looks like in the field of Islamic Studies. Jinnealogy, as a concept and as a title, allows me to pithily suggest these differences from our usual understandings, as puns often do, so it kind of had to be the title. Also, I do actually trace a genealogy of jinn-veneration in Delhi from the pre-colonial to the post-colonial in the book, so it is a jinnealogy in that sense too!

Continue reading “XQs X – A Conversation with Anand Vivek Taneja”

Indigenous Peoples’ Day at the University of Michigan – I

[To mark the Indigenous Peoples’ Day at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, student and community activists organized a march. The march was followed up by a teach-in to connect Michigan’s Indigenous history with said march. Following is a report on the march. Next up will be a report on the teach-in.]

Art by Shebani Rao: https://www.instagram.com/shebanimal/

 

This has been a particularly tense Fall at the  University of Michigan (UM). From racist incidents, graffitis, and flyers, to the agitation against recent visit of Charles-bell-curve-Murray and the organizing and protests afoot right now for the likely visit by Richard Spencer–the campus is abuzz with discontent and activism. UM honors its greats with buildings named after them: James Angell, the architect of the anti-Chinese immigration Angell Treaty of 1880; the president of American Eugenics Society, C.C. Little; the anticommunist Harlan Hatcher, while ignoring that this campus, and the city, has had a long history of activism and resistance and a tradition of creative protest that’s alive and well


 

The Indigenous Peoples’ Day–the University, unlike the City of Ann Arbor, still recognizes it as Columbus Day– went unmarked last year at UM. But, this year, a coalition of students and community activist groups and individuals organized a rally, supported widely by others who helped with the crowd-sourced printing of flyers and the zine (drafted to pass around at the march), flyering, and blocking traffic on the day of the march.

The Indigenous Peoples’ Day: March of Indignation was designed as a historic “marching” tour, to sound-out an Indigenous Peoples’ history of UM, to remember and remind, to re-signify the landscape and familiar landmarks of the campus. UM is built on land gifted by the Odawa, Potawatomi and Ojibway people for the education of Indians. A plaque at a central location on campus commemorates the “Land Gift“. However, Proposal 2 limits affirmative action, in effect prohibiting the provision of equal educational opportunities to students of color. And yet, as the zine (see below) says, “this state law does not supersede the nation-to-nation promise made in the Treaty of Fort Meigs.”

Continue reading “Indigenous Peoples’ Day at the University of Michigan – I”