Syllabus of Modern South Asia

Course Description:

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, 11 August 1947

“All of us, to whatever religion we may belong, are equally the children of India with equal rights, privileges and obligations. We cannot encourage communalism or narrow-mindedness, for no nation can be great whose people are narrow in thought or in action.”

Jawaharlal Nehru, 14 August 1947

The above speeches- given on the eve of the independence of Pakistan and India by their first postcolonial leaders- belie the brutal religious conflict which accompanied the birth-pangs of these two nations. From the Partition onwards, South Asian countries have wrestled with their identity and destiny as post-colonial nation-states, in the face of various nationalisms, whether ethnic, religious or linguistic. Moreover, this experience raises important questions regarding how we live with difference in the modern world.  How does a democratic state justify violence against its own citizens? How does a “secular” state negotiate a religious citizenry? What constitutes the difference between a freedom fighter and a terrorist insurgent? This course will explore these questions through an exploration of the post-colonial history of South Asia, focusing specifically on India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Readings will include ethnographic and historical accounts, theoretical texts, film and literature and primary materials, including speeches and legal judgments. 


Primary source analysis: Students must identify two primary sources that he/she will use as evidence for the final paper. These may be drawn from the primary sources provided in the syllabus or found elsewhere. In a 2 page paper, students must explain clearly the context of these sources, provide a brief summary of their contents and indicate how these sources are of relevance to the topic chosen for the final essay. The analyses may build upon the blog posts the student has posted on Blackboard.


Annotated bibliography: Students will be expected to turn in a 3 page annotated bibliography of their research readings in preparation of their final essay. The bibliography must include a minimum of five academic monographs and/or journal articles outside of required class readings. (This list may include selections from the optional readings provided in this syllabus.) Annotations must make clear the central thesis of the work and should include a critical assessment of this thesis and the evidence provided in its support.


Final essay : Students will be required to write a 10-12 page research paper (not including the bibliography) on one of the topics discussed in this class, to be decided in consultation with the instructor. It is strongly encouraged that students start researching their topics early in the course. All papers must be original and present a clear argument with supporting evidence. The paper must draw upon the annotated bibliography developed for the assignment listed above and must draw upon at least two primary sources.




All written work for the course must be double-spaced, paginated, in 12-point Times New Roman type, with one-inch margins on all four sides, and with your name, name of the class and the date, single-spaced and in the upper left-hand corner of the first page. The title of the paper or assignment must be presented in bold 12-point font on the first page. Footnotes must be in 10-point font and single-spaced; do not use endnotes or in-line, parenthetical citations.

Please use the Chicago style for all citations:



Required textbooks:

Ramachandra Guha, India after Gandhi (Harper Collins, 2007).

Barbara D. Metcalf and Thomas R. Metcalf, A Concise History of Modern India (Cambridge University Press, 2012).


E-reserve (Blackboard):

Unless otherwise specified, all readings will be made available online.




9/3: Introduction: The Nation in South Asia

Ramachandra Guha, India after Gandhi, 1-15

Barbara D. Metcalf and Thomas R. Metcalf, A Concise History of Modern India, 1-28


9/8: Hindus and Muslims in pre-colonial India

Cynthia Talbot, “Inscribing the Other, Inscribing the Self: Hindu-Muslim Identities in Pre-Colonial India,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 37, No. 4 (1995), 692-722

Richard M. Eaton, “Sufi folk literature and expansion of Indian Islam,” History of Religions, Vol. 14, No. 2 (1974), 117-127.


Primary sources:

BJP Election Manifesto 1998, Chapter 2: “Our Nation.” Available online: (Required)

Carl Ernst, “India as a sacred Islamic land,” in Religions of India in Practice, ed. Donald Lopez, (Princeton University, ): 556-563 (Required)


9/10; 9/15: Company rule and the foundations of colonialism

Barbara D. Metcalf and Thomas R. Metcalf, A Concise History of Modern India, 56-91

Bernard Cohn, Colonialism and its Forms of Knowledge, 16-56


Primary sources:

Thomas Babington Macaulay’s Minute on Education (1835) (required)


9/17; 9/22: The creation of colonized subjects

Barbara D. Metcalf and Thomas R. Metcalf, A Concise History of Modern India, 92-122

Bernard Cohn, “The Census, Social Structure and Objectification in South Asia,” in An Anthropologist Among Historians and Other Essays (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987, 224-250


Primary sources:

Criminal Tribes Act, 1871 (Required)
Film: Shashwati Talukdar and P. Karim Friedman, Please don’t beat me, sir! (2011)


9/24; 9/29: Mimic men and the call for self-rule

Barbara D. Metcalf and Thomas R. Metcalf, A Concise History of Modern India, 123-166


Primary sources:

Surendranath Banerjee, A Nation in Making (1925), 1-51 (Required)

Parashuram, “The Scripture Read Backwards” in Alane Salierno Mason, Dedi Felman and Samantha Schnee, Words without borders: the world through the eyes of writers, (Anchor Books, 2007)


Optional but highly recommended:

Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture, Routledge,1994, 121-131.


10/1; 10/6: The crisis of the colonial order and Gandhi’s Swaraj

Barbara D. Metcalf and Thomas R. Metcalf, A Concise History of Modern India, 167-202


Primary sources:

Mohandas K. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj and Other Writings, ed. Anthony J. Parel (Cambridge University Press, 2006): lxiii-lxviii, 5-8, 26-45, 50-57, 66-71, 112-119.  (Required)


Optional but highly recommended:
Shahid Amin, “Gandhi as Mahatma: Gorakhpur District, Eastern UP, 1921-2,’  in Gayatri Spivak and Ranajit Guha, eds, Selected Subaltern Studies, (Oxford University Press, 1988): 288-348.


10/8; 10/13: Competing visions of the nation

Required primary sources:

  1. D. Savarkar, Essentials of Hindutva (1921): sections 2-3, 5, 12, 19, 21-22, 24-26, 29

Sir Mohammad Iqbal’s 1930 Presidential Address to All-India Muslim League , 3-26. Available online:

  1. R. Ambedkar’s The Annihilation of Caste (1936) (Sections 1, 2, 20-21, 23, 26; Gandhi’s response and Ambedkar’s rebuttal). Available online:

Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India (John Day, 1946), 37-57; 526-548


Optional primary sources:

Sir Mohammad Iqbal: two versions of the poem, “Sāre jahān se acchā”

Mohandas K. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj and Other Writings, ed. Anthony J. Parel (Cambridge University Press, 2006): 149-156; 170-181; 191-193.




10/15; 10/20: Muslims and the constitution of South Asian nations

Ramachandra Guha, India after Gandhi, 74-96; 115-143, 365-377

Farzana Shaikh “Muslims and Political Representation in Colonial India: The Making of Pakistan,” Modern Asian Studies, 20:3 (1986), 539-557

France Bhattacharya, “East Bengal: Between Islam and Regional Identity,” in Christopher Jaffrelot, ed., A History of Pakistan and its Origins (Anthem Press, 2002): 39-60.


Primary sources:

Meghna Guhathakurta, Willem an Schendel, eds., The Bangladesh Reader: History, Culture, Politics  (Duke University Press, 2013): 334-345

Film: Tareque Masud, Matir Moyna (2002). Available online:

Film: M.S. Sathyu, Garam Hawa (1974) Available online:

Film: Vishal Bharadwaj, Haider (2014)


10/22; 10/27: Making nations on the bodies of women

Urvashi Butalia, “Community, State and Gender: On Women’s Agency during Partition,” Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 28, No. 17 (1993), 12-21

Yasmin Saikia, Women, War and the Making of Bangladesh (Duke University Press, 2011) 122-157, 186-212

Zoya Hasan,  “Minority identity, state policy and the political process,” in Zoya Hasan, ed., Forging Identities: Gender, Community and the State, (Westview Press, 1994)


Primary sources:

Report on the Roop Kanwar case

Meghna Guhathakurta, Willem an Schendel, eds., The Bangladesh Reader: History, Culture, Politics  (Duke University Press, 2013): 345-351

Saadat Hasan Manto, Khol do (The Return)

Amrita Pritam, Aaj akhan Waris Shah nu

Film: Ritwik Ghatak, Subarnarekha (1965)

Film: Rubaiyyat Hossain, Meherjaan (2011)


10/29; 11/3:  How to speak in the postcolony

Ramachandra Guha, India After Gandhi, 189-208

Lisa Mitchell, Language, Emotion and Politics in South India: The Making of a Mother Tongue (Indiana University Press, 2009): 2-34

Tariq Rahman, “Language, power and ideology,” Economic and Political Weekly,  Vol. 37, No. 44/45 (2002), 4556-4560

Alyssa Ayres, Speaking like a State: Language and Nationalism in Pakistan (Cambridge University Press, 2009): 16-47

Aatish Taseer, “How English Ruined Indian Literature,” New York Times, March 19, 2015. Available online:


Primary Sources

Selected translations of Bengali poems

Meghna Guhathakurta, Willem an Schendel, eds., The Bangladesh Reader: History, Culture, Politics  (Duke University Press, 2013): 516-519

Film: Gauri Shinde, English Vinglish (2012)


11/5; 11/10: Being tribal in modern South Asia

Ramachandra Guha, India after Gandhi, 115-134, 267-283

Yasmin Saikia, Fragmented Memories: Struggling to be Tai-Ahom in India (Duke University Press, 2004): 37-76

Alpa Shah, ‘Keeping the state away’: democracy, politics and the state in India’s Jharkhand,’ Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 2007

Mukulika Banerjee, “Partition and the North West Frontier: Memories of Some Khudai Khidmatgars,” in Suvir Kaul, ed., The Partitions of Memory: The Afterlife of the Division of India (Permanent Black, 2001), 30-73.


Primary sources:

Meghna Guhathakurta, Willem an Schendel, eds., The Bangladesh Reader: History, Culture, Politics  (Duke University Press, 2013): 323-332

Film: Gopal Menon, Naga Story: The Other Side of Silence (2003) Available online:–The-Other-Side-of-Silence

Film: Mani Ratnam, Dil Se (1998) Available online:




11/12; 11/17: Freedom fighter or terrorist? The case of Sikh nationalism

Cynthia Mahmood, Fighting for Faith and Nation: Dialogues with Sikh Militants (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996): 26-49.

Cynthia Mahmood, “Khalistan as political critique,” in The Oxford Handbook of Sikh Studies (Oxford University Press, 2014): 571-583

Amarjit Singh Narang, “Shiromani Akali Dal” in The Oxford Handbook of Sikh Studies (Oxford University Press, 2014): 339-350


Primary sources:

Jarnail Singh, I accuse: The Anti-Sikh Violence of 1984, (Penguin Books, 2009)

Film: Sturla Gunnarsson, Air India 182 (2008)

Film: Gulzar, Maachis (1996)


11/19; 11/24: How to riot in modern South Asia

Ramachandra Guha, India After Independence, 624-650

David Ludden, “Ayodhya: A Window on the World,” in Contesting the Nation: Religion, Community and the Politics of Democracy in India, ed. David Ludden, (University of Pennsylvania, 1996): 1-23

Stanley Tambiah, “Reflections on Communal Violence in South Asia,” Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 49, No. 4 (1990): 741-760


Primary sources:

Film: Anand Patwardhan, Ram ke Naam (1992). Available online:

Sarvepalli Gopal, Romila Thapar et al, “The Political Abuse of History: Babri Masjid-Rama Janmabhumi Dispute,” Social Scientist, Vol. 18, No. 1/2 (1990): 76-81 (Required)


12/1; 12/3: Pahle kasai, phir isai: Gujarat and the making of New India

Ghanshyam Shah, “Conversion, Reconversion and the State: Recent Events in the Dangs,” Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 34, No. 6 (199), 312-318

Parvis Ghassem-Fachandi, “On the Political Uses of Disgust in Gujarat,” South Asian History and Culture, Vol. 1, No. 4, 2010

Basharat Peer, “In India’s Largest Muslim Ghetto,” The Hindu, June 20, 2015. Available online:


Primary sources:

Human Rights Watch, “We have no orders to save you: state participation and communal violence in Gujarat,” Vol. 14, No. 3, April 2002

Film: Shubhradeep Chakravorty, Encountered on  the Saffron Agenda




12/8: Living with difference

Talal Asad, “Religion, Nation-State, Secularism,” in Nation and Religion: Perspectives on Europe and Asia, ed. Peter Van der Veer and Hartmut Lehmann, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999): 178-196.

Ramachandra Guha, India after Independence, 733-759.



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