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.

It is not great historical insight to claim that the Native subject of the political philosophy of Locke– the author of the Fundamental Constitution of the Carolinas— or Hobbes, and the refugee created by Andrew Jackson are linked. I wrote, a while ago, about the issue of drones and invoked the history of Monroe and Jackson in creating the exceptional native body upon which state violence could be enacted with the full force of law. As I consume this rhetoric of American values that is the basis for thinking about the plight of the refugee, I am reminded of the legal, social, cultural and moral exclusion of the Native peoples who were made refugee in the first instance. There is little need to sugar-coat that a white supremacist agenda is propelling these new policies– if you would like to spend a minute reading the posts and comments at the Breitbart Network and confirm this claim, please do so.

If we are to raise a voice of resistance, a voice of conscientious resistance, then let us not be historically naive. Let us remember that the Executive power that Trump is wielding to destroy families here and abroad, has a long and checkered history that stretches back to the very foundation of this nation.

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.

What is Wards Island to the memory of American hospitality? When Lazarus’s poem about “Mother of Exiles” was inscribed on the “Statue of Liberty” it erased the memory of this island of exiles.

Derrida in his lectures on hospitality (1996) gave a working definition that has always stayed with me: “No hospitality, in the classic sense, without sovereignty of oneself over one’s home, but since there is also no hospitality without finitude, sovereignty can only be exercised by filtering, choosing, and thus by excluding and doing violence. Injustice, a certain injustice, and even a certain perjury, begins right away, from the very threshold of the right to hospitality.” This is fundamentally correct. American hospitality– that which is motivating the thousands of protesters against Trump’s Executive Order– is defined precisely by its exclusions. One need only ask Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Malcolm X, James Baldwin to re-narrate the filtering of the black life out of America.

The foreigner now asking for hospitality’s promise has little purchase. The law is not an ally. The law has banned them– as Chinese, as Japanese, as Indian, as Jew– many times in the past and will do so again, legally, when they are Muslims. The law is the same law that legally bombed the foreigner’s homes and legally rendered them to Black Sites and legally droned their habitat and legally sanctioned their economies and deported them.

A few weeks ago I re-entered JFK from my trip to Lahore. As a permanent resident, Pakistani male, Muslim, I am always taken to secondary screening and this time was no exception. Along with me were a number of other brown men and women– including a very young student whose F1 was being questioned. I was let ago before I saw what happened to him but all signs were bad. I believe he was Iraqi.

XQs VII: A Conversation with Sarah Besky

[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. Interview conducted by Patwari via e-mail. Previously: IIIIIIIVV, VI.]

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Sarah Besky received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is currently Assistant Professor of Anthropology and International and Public Affairs at Brown University. She is the author of The Darjeeling Distinction: Labor and Justice on Fair-Trade Tea Plantations in India (University of California Press, 2014). Her current research works across ethnographic and archival evidence as well as rural tea plantations and urban auction houses and blending factories to explore “cheapness” as a social and economic value. A second book based on this research is tentatively titled The Cost of Cheap Tea: An Ethnography of Value in India.

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1. Let’s start with the title of the book, The Darjeeling Distinction. What is the significance of this title?

Darjeeling is often represented as distinct—a place apart from the rest of India, and tea unlike (and better tasting than) other teas. Darjeeling tea is known for its smoky, muscatel taste. It is not drunk with milk or sugar. It is one of the few teas on the market whose name is also the name of a place. The Nepalis, or Gorkhas, who constitute Darjeeling’s majority population, are often portrayed as internal others within India. They have built a longstanding movement for subnational autonomy. Their claims for a separate state of Gorkhaland are largely based on their shared sense of ancestral attachment to the place. (Meanwhile, the plantations on which many Gorkhas live serve as the pastoral backdrops for Bollywood musical asides–when the budget does not allow for a trip to Switzerland). With the book, I wanted to critically examine Darjeeling, as place and product, in national and international imaginaries. The book examines the linkages between geographical and consumptive distinction, but it also looks at the ways in which the plantation, as a productive form, remains exceptional.   In it, I critically engage Darjeeling’s multivalent distinctiveness, where it comes from, how it is perpetuated, and what it means for Gorkha belonging. Continue reading “XQs VII: A Conversation with Sarah Besky”