Teach-in on Disappeared Activists in Pakistan

Disappeared: The word does not directly refer back to the person who’s vanished, or at least, doesn’t entirely capture her experience. The disappeared knows where she is during her disappearance, even as she knows that they are displaced. In the case of state-enforced disappearances, the state denies any knowledge of their whereabouts. Poof! Vanished! She’s disappeared to others: loved ones, family, friends, and comrades. Her absence leaves behind a cavity, a question mark, and a world made incomplete in one blow.
I do not disappear to myself. I disappear to others. They notice that I am gone–or so I hope. I hope that they will respond to the cavity I left behind as I was violently extracted from amidst them, that they will raise hell, that I will be missed, remembered, that my memory will live on (if only for a while), that I will leave behind a trace, that I might die but it won’t be a social death.

One of the words for ‘disappeared’ is ghayab: absent. Remembering and witnessing is an act of making present those who are made to be absent.

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Given below are the remarks by three of the panelists at the teach-in on Pakistan’s disappeared activists/bloggers (who have since been returned) that took place at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor on January 16, 2017. The teach-in was organized by South Asia Solidarity in Michigan (SASMi), and sponsored and hosted by the Center for South Asian Studies. At the teach-in, the panelists provided an overview of the specific cases of the five disappeared activists/bloggers. They addressed the broader trend of enforced disappearances of people in Pakistan and the victimization of political activists, placing the trend in a global context of repression of dissent. They discussed the history of state-civil society relations in Pakistan, and focused on what the disappearances and securitization of cyber-spaces meant for intellectual and political freedom in Pakistan and elsewhere. The teach-in ended with an open discussion of practical ways of furthering our solidarity politics in these troubled times across the globe.

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XQs VIII: A Conversation with Sanjeevini Badigar Lokhande

 

[The XQs (Ten Questions) series is a conversation with the author 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 Yogesh Chandrani for conducting this interview. Previously: IIIIIIIVVVI, VII.]

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Sanjeevini Badigar Lokhande teaches comparative politics at Temple University’s Department of Political Science and was previously assistant professor of politics at the University of Mumbai. Her book, Communal Violence, Forced Migration and the State: Gujarat since 2002, examines the forced displacement of Muslim communities of Gujarat due to the pogrom of 2002. In the aftermath of the violence, the Hindu nationalist government of Gujarat represented the state as a model of good governance. In the book, Lokhande draws on extensive field research and government documents to examine the politics of forced migration and relief and rehabilitation in order to interrogate the neoliberal state in India.

(Interview conducted by Yogesh Chandrani, September 2016 – January 2017).

1. Can you describe how you came to this project and the central questions that inform your inquiry?

The research for this book grew out of my doctoral studies at the Center for Political Studies, JNU where I was initially interested in the category of internally displaced persons in India and I was advised to focus on Gujarat. The central question that I began with and that is at the heart of the book is: how does displacement affect the experience of citizenship rights in a democratic setup where there is no evident large scale or regime changing conflict but where the democratic processes continue and such events are seen as aberrations. In Gujarat for instance the debate went from violence to good governance and that is what the book engages with. Continue reading “XQs VIII: A Conversation with Sanjeevini Badigar Lokhande”

Coming from Abroad II: Refugee Nations

I opened this conversation with the question of hospitality and a fragment of the history that the legal regimes of United States has rendered into the soil of New York. The liberal response to the banning of travel from the seven countries has been largely a variation of “Muslims are Welcome Here” with many a strands of thought dedicated to the “right” refugees have to come to America. The right is based on the wars US has waged in Somalia, Yemen, Syria or Iran. For example, NPR has focused almost exclusively on “Refugees are Welcome Here” while highlighting “justice” and “American values” as the moral grounds on which such dispossessed can claim to come.

Forgotten, perhaps dismissed, is the long and bloody of history of America making refugees of the Native people here on this soil. Let us recall the over 500 legal treaties made between the various Native nation-states and the US Congress and we know that each was broken. Let us recall that these treaties excavated legal rights to land, and created massive internal forced migrations and re-locations. Let us recall that these “refugees” did not disappear into the cultural “melting pot” but continue to live in horrendous “reservations” across United States in abject poverty and their status is legally and politically frozen in time.
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Coming from Abroad

My friends and many thousand strangers to me, are gathered at various airports across United States trying to let strangers in. The strangers, in this particular case in early 2017 America, are Muslims born or affiliated with the un-desirable nations of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan. Some 134 million are theoretically barred from this country for 90 days. They are barred pending some ‘extreme vetting’ that will determine they are … non-Muslims.

I do not, as a rule, write about my present or past here and this will be no exception suffice to say that perhaps my longest theoretical engagement has been with the question of hospitality in America. As a young immigrant, Emma Lazarus’s words “give us your poor” were often, repeatedly, insistently recited to me as indicative of America’s putative promise of hospitality. A few years ago when I moved to NYC and started walking bridges, I learned about Lazarus’ inspiration for this creed of hospitality, when I visited the National Park on Wards Island. Here is what I read:

The island lay largely abandoned until 1840, when overcrowded Manhattan sought convenient locations for almshouses, mental health facilities, and potter’s fields (graveyards for the poor). Hundreds of thousands of bodies were relocated to Wards Island from the Madison Square Park and Bryant Park potter’s fields. The State Emigrant Refuge, a hospital for sick and destitute immigrants, opened in 1847 and it was the biggest hospital complex in the world during the 1850s. The predominance of public works led the City to purchase Wards Island outright in 1851. Twelve years later, the New York City Asylum for the Insane opened on the island. From 1860 until the 1892 opening of Ellis Island, Wards Island along with Castle Clinton on Manhattan’s southern tip welcomed America’s newcomers at its immigration station. The New York State Department of Mental Hygiene took over the immigration and asylum buildings in 1899, opening Manhattan State Hospital. With 4,400 patients, it was the largest psychiatric institution in the world. It later became the Manhattan Psychiatric Center.

Lazarus worked in the immigration center at Wards, where she encountered sick and destitute applicants for entry– detained before their cases could be heard. The foreigners stood directly on the re-interred bones of the slaves and poor of New York. Where they stood, would then stand, those termed insane and deviant.
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