AAS Annual Meeting

South Asia Session 696

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Session 696: Rethinking Space in Contemporary South Asia: An Interdisciplinary Approach

Organizer: Maria Angelillo, Independent Scholar, Italy

Chair: Alessandra Consolaro, University of Turin, Italy

Discussant: Luca Villa, University of Turin, Italy

Space presupposes meetings, or is the result of them. Any meeting — where political, intellectual, symbolic, religious, economic interests are implied — creates spaces or imagines spaces, and these cultural products, functioning as material as well as symbolic resources, allow further meetings; but they can also deny spaces, precluding further meetings. Space is constructed and maintained by/through/thanks to a dialectic of inclusion and exclusion, it can be sacred space, profane space, tourist space, political space. Space can be the mapping of hierarchy or the cancellation of hierarchy. It can be the inclusion of exotic spaces through linguistic, literary, visual means (for example: the representation of “foreign”). Spaces can be re-created or disputed (ex: Tibetans in India). We invite papers that focus on different issues regarding space in contemporary South Asia, with an interdisciplinary approach aiming to find hermeneutically valid tools for understanding contemporary life. This lends itself well, but is not restricted to, the study of cultural products dealing with the dialectical interaction of different kinds of space, with their recognition, their contraposition, with a definite focus on the contemporary world: if forests and ascetics, cosmogonies and cosmographies are dealt with, they must be studied with reference to the present time. Methodological analysis should be an important element of the presentation. The papers should be original as publication is an option.

Maria Angelillo, Independent Scholar, Italy

This paper is meant to show how the norms which, implicitly or explicitly, rule the enjoyment of a small rajasthani town’s public spaces convey the cultural and social prerogatives of the site. The enjoyment of physical spaces is disciplined through a meticulous policy of admissions and bans and through the identification of behaviour patterns appropriate for the different areas of the town. This kind of discipline is suitable first for the acknowledgement of the lack of homogeneity of space, then for the training to the perception of the opposition between sacred and profane areas, and lastly for the identification of the different elements of the social structure. The topography of Pushkar, one of the most important tirtha of the sacred hindu geography, not only translates and reproduces the elements of the myth establishing the holiness of the site, but it expresses the ideology shaping Pushkar’s socialscape. The different social, cultural and gender identities are reinforced and renegotiated through a rhetoric of space inclusion and exclusion. The locally perceived correlation between social and physical space and between the holiness of the site and the brahmanical component of the population shapes the material and cognitive strategies and resources local people look to in order to manage the large tourist presence and to explain the deterioration of landscape and the corruption of morals.

Genealogical space, genetic clustres and status elites: anthropologists and biologiststs on DNA inclusive hierarchy
Pier Giorgio Giorgio Solinas, University of Siena, Italy

Any inquiry on the possible historic dimension of the multi-stratified amalgam of demographic texture in India have to face the classic partition autochthonous or “aboriginal” settlement vs. allochthonous invasions (Arya, or Indo-european coquest). The asymmetry in social status, in the traditional society has been associated to this ethnic and some times racial paradigm: a bipolar cline where the Arya (white, Caucasian, civilized) define the top, while the mleccha, the dasyu (now the so-called adivasi), black, pagans, ignorant lay on the bottom. The ascribed property of excellence guaranteed by the exclusive “purity”, in a double sense: 1. Purity as the highest degreeof spiritual and ethical integrity ; 2., purity as a rigorous continuity ininherited status. These meanings of “purity” can be paraphrased as mystic aristocracy and intransigent inbreeding and endogamy. Endogamy, exclusion of risks of biological contamination in reproduction, continued up our times to nourish the elitarian sense of sameness (swa- swagotra…), of un-mixing identities, although translated in a polite language of attention and legalist conformity to the modern codes of politically correct. Such a persistent paradigm tends to exploit a bio-molecular language, in terms of DNA sequencing and classifying the genotypic diversity. Working on allele frequencies, the geneticians are able to isolate a genetic profile, an haplotype, shared by a specific line of genealogical heritage. A selected collection of markers, typically carried by a stable community as an endogamous circle of long term inbreeding and selected heritage, displays a sort of genetic chart of uniqueness validated in terms of “genetic distance” and admixture coefficients. The paper will discuss some cultural, social and symbolic implications of these advancing tendencies

One community, separate spaces: spatial caste separation among the Catholics of Tamil Nadu during the Malabar Rites controversy and today
Paolo Aranha, Warburg Institute, United Kingdom

Caste divisions play a significant role among the Catholics of Tamil Nadu.In the Old Madurai Mission (century 17th- 18th) the Jesuit missionaries were able to convert “pagans” of different castes inasmuch untouchability was recognized and the access to sacraments and the use of sacred spaces took place according to caste. These forms of radical adaptation of Christianity to the South Indian society, known as “Malabar Rites”, were condemned by the Holy See in 1744. Caste divisions however did not disappear. Today this phaenomenon is phrased as an opposition within the Catholic community between Śūdras, claiming upper caste status, and Dalits, particularly in relation to the symbolic and ritual use of the village space. Dalits tend to be confined within their own “colony” (cheri) and are not allowed to participate on an equal foot to the religious life of the village. Today this spatial separation is challenged by the Dalits. A famous example is the village of Eraiyur (Archdiocese of Pondicherry). In 1999 and 2008 the Vanniar (Śūdra) Catholics attacked the Dalit correligionists once the latter claimed their right to use the main Church road for marriage and funeral processions, use the parish funeral car, participate to the expenses for the feast of the patron saint and have the patron's charriot passing also in the cheri streets. The aim of this paper is to compare the caste spatial separation at the time of the Malabar Rites controversy and today from the point of view of Church history, paying special attention to the dialectic between lay faithfuls and the clergy.

Spaces between heredity and tourism : the case of musician communities of western Rajasthan.
Zoran Lapov, University of Florence, Italy

This part of the Panel is focusing upon minority issues in South Asia, and particularly upon some specific communities (case studies) of Western Rajasthan. The issue of minorities and their current position is increasingly placed in a field bordering to various socio-cultural, economic and political spheres. Such a picture implies, for instance, the issue of diversity (be it cultural, linguistic, social, religious or other), the concept of traditional lifestyle versus modernity, even more the implications resultant from economy and tourism, and so on. In this very sense, it is interesting to analyse how and to what degree certain communities are required (or not) to maintain their traditional lifestyle, or some of its elements, in order to be functional to the current demands of economy and tourism. Another level of analysis calls for rethinking their intercultural position and their socio-cultural interrelations. The whole picture involves both internal and external factors that altogether bring about producing new outcomes in the fields of this laboratory. The case study proposed deals with service-providing communities/castes in Marvar, Western Rajasthan, with particular view at the musician communities of Manganiyars, Langas, Dholis, and alike. The paper would like to depict new trajectories of their infra-community life and interaction with surrounding socio-cultural environs, including their performances abroad that some of them have experienced so far. New socio-cultural spaces, relations and interactions are entailed by bringing together members coming from the community itself, other local communities, and new contexts that have opened their doors to this socio-cultural framework.

Spaces of justice: multiple forums and multiple strategies for dispute resolution and seeking justice in rural Rajasthan.
Tommaso Sbriccoli, University of Siena, Italy

The everyday life of an Indian village offers to the attention of the legal anthropologist a large gamut of dispute cases arising within and between families and communities, ranging from petty neighborhood quarrels to murder, from disputes about lands to inheritance cases, from family matters to village issues. Drawing on cases collected in the Godwar Region (Rajasthan) in the last seven years, this paper aims at showing how the spaces of justice (the different places, institutions and forums chosen by people for settling their disputes) structure themselves along multiple logics, differing according to the context of the disputes and the actors involved. From the jati panchayat to the office of the Sarpanch, from the chattis-koum (literally the “36 castes”, as the village panchayat is called in the Godwar Region) to the personal residence of politicians, from State Courts to the temples during possessions of the medium (bhopa) – whose spatial and lexical symbolism brings them near, in the indigenous thought, to “divine” courts – we will discuss how the individual or collective legal strategies of the social actors are related to, and displayed within, these different spaces; how authority is conceived in the various contexts and it is articulated with spatial organization and symbolism; how hierarchical oppositions are reflected in these same spaces and in turn influence choices in the actors’ legal strategies. Positioning the analysis within the theoretical framework of legal pluralism, we will point out how the different conceptions of authority highlighted encourage analyzing the same concept of “justice” through a plural perspective.