Centre for South Asian Studies Graduate Symposium

Crisis and Catastrophe: How Did We Get Here? 20-21 April 2023, 3rd Annual Graduate Student Symposium

The Centre for South Asian Studies Graduate Symposium was conceived by students at the CSAS in the Asian Institute at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy as a platform for graduate students engaging in critical research connected to South Asia. Presenters in the conference draw our attention to a range of lenses to observe and imagine possibilities within history, religion, politics, and technology. We invite students, faculty, professionals, and practitioners of South Asian Studies from across geographies to engage with and learn about emerging research in the field.

The 2022-23 Symposium will be held on April 20-21, 2023. Scroll down to read the description of the theme, keynote presentation, and panel abstracts. 

2023 Symposium

April 20-21, 2023

Theme: Crisis and Catastrophe: How Did We Get Here?

The present historical moment finds us embroiled in various kinds of crises, with the ongoing pandemic, political polarization, international conflicts, economic precarity, and the climate emergency being some of the many that have recently taken centre stage. There is a way, therefore, in which we might think of the contemporary as shaped by and preoccupied with a sense of such looming crisis; perhaps even to the point of no return and acute despair. Regardless of the specificity of the many forms and scales these crises can take, we are confronted with urgent calls for action. We want to recognize this moment as one of stock-taking. While realizing that there is an urgency to the framing of the present as one of "crisis and catastrophe," we are aware of the dangers of viewing this as an originary moment, divorced from longer histories. Additionally, what we understand as "crisis" also has to do with temporal and historical junctures. The idea of "crisis" itself and what it encapsulates has changed over time.

We, therefore, ask: How do we understand questions around disaster, catastrophe, and crisis as being located as part of larger structural arrangements of gender, race, nation, caste, and class? What is the specificity of this moment of "crisis"? How did we get here? Where do we go from here, and how? Further, who frames the conditions for what comes to be understood as "crisis" and how? How is it historically contingent and contextually specific? If, and how, did the conceptions about the "crisis" change over time? We want to invite graduate students, independent researchers, activists, and scholars to think in and with this moment as a way to recognize, understand, and respond to various kinds of crisis: political, social, ecological, economic. We think here of "crisis" as a capacious political and affective category to think with questions of catastrophe, disaster, and rupture but also recuperation, hope, and possibility.

Keynote Address

Crooked Cats: Beastly Tales from the Anthropocene

Professor Nayanika Mathur (University of Oxford)

Friday, April 21, 2:00-4:00 PM

This talk weaves together beastly tales of big cats that make prey of humans in India to ask what they may be telling us about a planet in crisis. There are many theories on why and how a big cat comes to prey on humans, with the ecological collapse emerging as a central explanatory factor. Yet, uncertainty over the precise cause of crookedness persists. This talk explores the many lived complexities that arise from this absence of certain knowledge to offer new insights into both the governance of nonhuman animals and their intimate entanglements with humans. It deploys ethnographic storytelling to explain the Anthropocene in three critical ways: as method, as a way of reframing human-nonhuman relations on the planet, and as a political tool indicating the urgency of academic engagement with the climate crisis.

Nayanika Mathur photo
Speaker: Professor Nayanika Mathur
An image of a tiger_by Nayan Khanolkar
Image credit: Nayan Khanolkar


DAY 1: THURSDAY, APRIL 20 | Location: Virtual (Zoom)

9:00 – 9:20 am | Welcome Remarks                         

9:20 – 10:20 am | Panel 1: Historicizing the “Here and Now”

  • Safeer Ahmad (University of Kashmir, Srinagar): Identity, Crisis and the Future: The Making and Unmaking of Quit Kashmir Movement
  • Rajni Chandiwal (University of Delhi, New Delhi): The Unclean Evil Woman and the Crises of Colonial Indian Household
  • Ningombam Athoibi Devi (Manipur University): The Big Bang: Disasters as a Moment of Creation of Knowledge and State-ness in India’s North-East, 1897-1950
  • Archit Guha (Duke University): The Concert for Bangladesh: Capitalizing on Global Friendship in a Time of National Disaster

10:20 – 10:25 am | Break

10:25 – 11:25 am | Panel 2: Forming, Deforming, and Transforming Identities

  • Noor Bakhsh (Ad hoc and visiting lecturer in Balochistan, Pakistan) and Bramsh Khan (Syracuse University): Rural Consciousness and Nationalism in Pakistan
  • Rahat Shah (Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany): Patriarchy, Pandemic, and the Gendered Research: Negotiating Online and Offline Fieldwork in Pakistan 
  • A. Gautam Singh (Manipur University): Identity Consciousness and Social Change among the Chakpa Community of Manipur 
  • Themal Ellawala (University of Illinois at Chicago): Buying Strap-ons as the World Burns: The Sri Lankan Crisis

11:25 – 11:30 am | Break

11:30 am – 12:30 pm | Panel 3: State, Development, and Governance

  • Lennart-Vincent Schmidt (Freie University and Humboldt Universität Berlin): India’s New Temples: The Development Discourse in the Public Sphere of Post-Colonial India from 1950-1964 
  • Khushbu Sharma (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi): “Crisis” of Public University as a Space for Inclusive Learning in Times of Neoliberal Majoritarianism: A Study of Select Universities in India 
  • Suruchi Kumari (Jawaharlal Nehru University) and Ram Kumar Thakur (Hindu College, University of Delhi): The Crisis of Legitimacy in Urban India: Analysis of Non-State Actors in Decentralised Governance

12:30 – 1:00 pm | Lunch Break

1:00 – 2:00 pm | Panel 4: Urbanisms and the Politics of Place-Making

  • Asma Marwat (Independent Research Scholar): Coming to Terms with Patriarchy, Poverty, and the State: The Case of Slum Dwelling Working Women of Islamabad
  • Vidya Mary George (Goa University): Refiguring Spaces to Confront Crisis in Space-Making
  • Anindya Basak (IIT Guwahati): Reshaping Urban through Everyday Practices: A Case Study of Patharghata, Rajarhat
  • Alif Shahed (University of Toronto): The Birth of Bazaar Politics: Shankhari Bazaar, Heritage, and the Crisis of Secularism in Bangladesh

2:00 – 2:05 pm | Break

2:05 – 3:05 pm | Panel 5: Ethics and Aesthetics: Literature, Art, and Philosophy

  • Sonakshi Srivastava (Ashoka University, New Delhi): Res(crip)ting the Gaze: An Enquiry into the Disability Aesthethics of “Animal’s People”
  • Arya Adityan (Florida State University): Disruptions and Transformations of Ritual Artefacts: Museumification of Bhūta Objects
  • Varun S (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi): Comparing and Contrasting the Themes of Conflict, Warfare, and Psychological Strategy in Two Indian Epics
  • Snehashish Das (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi): Is the Hindu Secular?: Fraternity vis-à-vis the Crisis in Truth and Enslaved Subjecthood
  • Ehsan Reisi (University of Isfahan) and Elham Jafari (Kharazmi University): The Discourse on Last Days (ākhir al-zamān) in Islamic Mysticism

3:05 – 3:10 pm | Break

3:10 – 4:10 pm | Panel 6: Caste in Time: Contentions, Disruptions, and Reincarnations

  • Neha Meena (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi): Caste, Citizenship, and Bureaucracy: Identity Crisis for Pakistani Hindus in Jodhpur, Rajasthan 
  • Amisha Gautam (BR Ambedkar University, New Delhi): Crisis of Social Justice: Paradox of Caste Associations in Politics of “Plight”’ and “Pride” in India 
  • Dolon Sarkar (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi): Caste, Aesthetics, and Politics of Gambhira Performance 
  • Vrishali (Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai): “Where are the Modern Jajmans?”: A Study in Caste (,) Census, Crises, and Common Spheres

4:10 – 4:15 pm | Closing Remarks


Room 208N, 1 Devonshire Place, Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy

11:00 – 11:05 am | Welcome Remarks                         

11:05 am – 12:05 pm | Panel 7: Shifting Forms of Labour and Political Organization

  • Ashique Ali Thuppilikkat (University of Toronto): Combating Crisis: Lessons from the cooperative movement in North Malabar, Kerala 
  • Nisha Toomey (University of Toronto): Evasion of Land as Crisis within Western Humanitarian Organizations: The Case of the Thailand-Myanmar Border
  • Aditi Bhatia-Kalluri (University of Toronto): Crisis in E-commerce: Cash-on-Delivery Payment Method Impeding Growth of E-tailers

12:05 – 12:50 pm | Lunch

12:50 – 1:50 pm | Panel 8: Crisis in Culture: Region, Language and Nationalism

  • Rory Tasker (University of Toronto): Language as Inheritance: Sera Jey Monastery’s Development of a Virtual Tibetan Language Academy
  • Shashank Singh (Yale University / Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi): Political Mobilization, Communalism, and the Crisis of Princely Authority: Gwalior, 1920s-1948
  • Aaisha Salman (University of Toronto): Narrating History, Culture, and Crisis in Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV)'s Aangan Terha (1984)

1:50 – 2:00 pm  | Break

2:00 – 4:00 pm | Keynote Presentation: Crooked Cats: Beastly Tales from the Anthropocene

  • Professor Nayanika Mathur (University of Oxford)
  • Chair: Professor Naisargi Dave (University of Toronto)

4:00 – 4:05 pm | Closing Remarks


The Organizing Committee: 


Heer is an MA student in the Department for the Study of Religion. She comes from a background of Sociocultural Anthropology and Religious Studies. Her primary interest lies in aesthetics of performances of the South Asian epics. For her MA thesis she is studying the nature of a contemporary Canadian performance of the Mahabharata and how it brings together Eastern and Western theatrical elements to make the story universally appealing while aiming to retain the "traditional" flavor of the epic.


Jatin is a doctoral student at the Department of History, University of Toronto, Canada. He is also a 2023 Urban Research Fellow at the Centre for Urban Environments and a Social Justice Fellow at the Department of Historical Studies, University of Toronto. He has previously served as a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Jatin is interested in investigating the intersections of urbanization, caste, law, and environment.


Mayadevi is finishing her Masters degree at the Department for the Study of Religion, University of Toronto. She is interested in post-Independence Indian mythological cinema, particularly in Tamil and Telugu. 


Ridhima is a PhD student at the Department for the Study of Religion, University of Toronto. She works at the intersection of Hindu nationalism, labour, caste and the non-human.

Archived: Call for Papers