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Rustgi Undergraduate Conference on South Asia (Feb 26 & 27, 2021)

Isolation and Its Discontents

February 26 and 27, 2021, via Zoom

University at Buffalo, SUNY


Saturday, Feb 27 at 3 PM EST

Dr. Aniruddha Dutta, Keynote Speaker 

“Isolation to Responsibilization: Contradictions of Trans Activism in India during COVID-19”

Dutta Pic.jpg
Dr. Aniruddha Dutta

The COVID-19 pandemic and the Indian state’s high-handed response in the form of severe lockdowns without adequate notice or welfare measures had profoundly debilitating effects on socially vulnerable groups, including trans and gender-diverse people. As many have documented, these impacts, including livelihood loss and psychosocial isolation, prompted a flurry of mobilization and fundraising by trans and kothi-hijra (transfeminine spectrum) activists and organizations for not just their own communities but also other marginalized social groups. This burgeoning sphere of COVID-related activism helped mitigate the intensified social and structural isolation of trans and other vulnerable groups during the pandemic, but evidences several contradictions. Since the immediate need for relief took precedence over challenging state policies, trans activism helped fill in for token welfare measures meted out to these communities, which intensified the process of neoliberal responsibilization wherein individuals and the “civil society” take up responsibility to make up for declining state infrastructure and social security. Further, this activism was characterized by profound inequalities in recognition and funding among activists based on class, caste and geographic location, and the state’s utilization of the pandemic period to institute undemocratic bodies for trans welfare, in which elite trans activists were complicit. Based on ethnography and collaborative activism in eastern India, this lecture will explore the conundrums and potentials of Indian trans activism during an unprecedented crisis.

Pandemic food distribution

Dr. Dutta is Associate Professor in the departments of Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies and Asian and Slavic Languages and Literature at the University of Iowa. Their work has appeared in journals such as Transgender Studies QuarterlyQED: A Journal in GLBTQ WorldmakingInternational Feminist Journal of PoliticsGender, and History, and South Asian History and Culture.


Friday, Feb 26 at 9 PM EST

Paul Livingstone & SANGAM, Guest Performers

Sangam - Livingston.jpg
Peter Jacobson (l) and Paul Livingstone (r) of SANGAM

Sangam is the chamber music duo of sitarist Paul Livingstone and cellist Peter Jacobson. They have been featured on three Grammy Award-winning records artists with Ozomatli, Quetzal & Rickey Kej.

Conference Programhttps://bit.ly/rustgiprogram2021 (subject to change)

Program Schedule

Friday, February 26th

Panel 1: Contextualizing Gender Violence                               7:00 pm – 8:30 pm

Syeda M. Bokhari (American University): “Object or Subjects: Women and Violence During the 1947 Partition”

Hannarose Manning (SUNY Geneseo): “Prostitution in Times of Rebellion: Examining the Roles Prostitutes Played in the 1857 Rebellion and the Legacy They Left Behind”

Olivia Frison De Angelis (The College of Wooster): “Criminals and Comic Relief: Hijra Misrepresentation in South Asian Films”

Mridula Sharma (University of Delhi ): “Escaping Isolation(s): (Re)Constructing the Kashmiri Woman in Popular Imagination”

               Performance: Paul Livingstone & SANGAM 9:00 pm

Saturday, February 27th

Panel 2: Mediated Spaces 9:00 am – 10:30 am

Amna Ejaz (Lahore University of Management Sciences): “Netflix in Pakistan: Navigating Evolving Screen Modalities among Young Adults”

Nimra Tariq (Lahore University of Management Sciences): “Blood, Guns, and Words: Response to violence in Palestinian and Kashmiri rap music”

Uswah e Fatima (Lahore University of Management Sciences): “A Shared Past & An Ambivalent Future: The Dynamics Between the Pakistani and Indian Film Industries”

               Panel 3: Reclamation of Identity 11:00 am – 12:30 pm

Sukanya Maity (Jadavpur University): “Fleeing from the Nations of Pandemics and Epidemics: Walls, Isolation”

Wajeeha Amir (Lahore University of Management Sciences): “Ajab Khan Afridi in Pashto Cinema: Changing Representations and Shifting Identities”

               Panel 4: Isolation, Religion, and Othering 1:00 pm – 2:30 pm

Upasana Rajagopalan (Ashoka University): “Caught in the web of inequalities: The Devadasis’ Isolation”

Nicholas Hom (Elon University): “A Model of Religious Othering for Medieval Tamil Literature”

Lucas J Brenner (SUNY Geneseo): “Wahhabism and the Isolation of Indian Muslims After the 1857 Rebellion”

Keynote Speaker 3:00 pm

Dr. Aniruddha Dutta, “Isolation to Responsibilization: Contradictions of Trans Activism in India during COVID-19”

This online event is free but registration is required. To register, please visit https://bit.ly/rustgiregistration2021 Further details will be provided before the event to those who register.

Please contact rustgiconference@buffalo.edu for more information. 

To view past conference programs, please visit http://bit.ly/rustgi2018 or http://bit.ly/rustgiprogram2019

The third annual Rustgi Undergraduate Conference on South Asia is made possible by a generous gift from Dr. Vinod Rustgi and his family.

CfP: 2021 Rustgi Undergraduate Conference on South Asia

Isolation and its Discontents
February 26th and 27th, 2021
University at Buffalo, SUNY

Lodhi Gardens at Night (photo credit: Walter Hakala)

We present the third annual Rustgi Undergraduate Conference on South Asia by reflecting upon the rich history of South Asia and its connection to present-day conditions. We invite papers on the theme of “Isolation,” where isolation may be interpreted broadly, whether in its social, political, or environmental sense. To a lot of us today, isolation on a global scale would seem like a novel phenomenon. But both in its metaphorical and literal manifestations, isolation has throughout history been a marker of something tempestuous and has provoked resistance. The conference will feature a keynote lecture from Aniruddha Dutta, Associate Professor in the departments of Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies and Asian and Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Iowa.

Undergraduate participants from all disciplines, working on any topic relating to the region, are welcome to submit proposals. Possible topics of discussion include:

  • Socio-political forms of isolation, including separation and seclusion
  • Physical isolation
  • Surveillance
  • Efforts to isolate certain “master categories” (caste, race, gender, nationality) out of the messy reality of humanity
  • Myths of environmental isolation
  • Atavistic claims, be they nationalist, religious, linguistic, or otherwise
  • Isolation and diaspora

While this list of suggestions is by no means exhaustive, we encourage papers that address less commonly researched sociopolitical issues, communities, or theories. We hope to organize panels around presentations addressing similar issues that draw from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, including the social sciences, natural sciences, engineering, management, humanities, fine arts, and others. 

Please click http://bit.ly/rustgisubmissions2021 to submit proposals.


The conference will be held online on Friday, February 26th, and Saturday, February 27th, 2021. Students presenters should plan for 15-minute presentations. Each panel will include 30 minutes for discussion.


Proposals, including 250-word abstracts and the contact information of a faculty supervisor, must be submitted via the online submissions portal (http://bit.ly/rustgisubmissions2021) by January 1st, 2021.

When submitting abstracts, applicants must affirm that they will be enrolled as undergraduate students at the time of the conference. Those in graduate programs or not currently enrolled in an undergraduate program will not be permitted to present. The organizers reserve the right to confirm student status with their advisor and home institution.


Please contact rustgiconference@buffalo.edu for more information about the conference. 

To view past conference programs, please visit http://bit.ly/rustgi2018 or http://bit.ly/rustgiprogram2019

The third annual Rustgi Undergraduate Conference on South Asia is made possible by a generous gift from Dr. Vinod Rustgi and his family.

2020 Rustgi Summer South Asian Language Award

Current UB undergraduate and graduate students are invited to apply for funding to attend intensive summer language programs offered by the American Institute of Indian Studies. Applications for funding will be evaluated by UB Asian Studies Program faculty and staff. The Rustgi South Asian Language Award supports the full cost of tuition and roundtrip airfare to India. Additional funds for living expenses incurred during the summer program may also be available.

The 2019-2020 application period is OPEN. The deadline for receipt of all materials is Friday, January 3, 2020. 

About the Language Program

AIIS Language Program map

Participants are expected to devote their energies to activities that will increase their proficiency in all skills—speaking, listening, reading, and writing. For eight weeks at each AIIS language center, there will be at least four hours a day of classroom instruction and individual tutorials with regular out-of-class assignments requiring interaction with community members. Attendance is mandatory in class as well as at other activities such as cultural visits, films, and plays. There is special emphasis on connecting with the local speech community and self-management of learning. Participants are encouraged to identify and prioritize their language learning needs and keep track of their language development. Students are encouraged to stay with host families. Note that this is not a research program. Participants are expected to devote all their energies to learning the target language. For more information, please visit the AIIS Language Programs website.

Courses regularly include:

  • Bangla (Bengali)
  • Gujarati
  • Hindi
  • Kannada
  • Malayalam
  • Marathi
  • Mughal Persian
  • Pali/Prakrit
  • Punjabi
  • Sanskrit
  • Tamil
  • Telugu
  • Urdu

In addition, instruction may be arranged in other languages such as:

  • Kashmiri
  • Oriya
  • Sindhi
  • Tibetan


  • Full-time enrollment as an undergraduate or graduate student at the University of Buffalo in good academic standing at the time of application.
  • Students applying for summer Hindi should have the equivalent of one year of prior Hindi study. The equivalent of one year of either Hindi or Urdu is required for summer Urdu students. Applicants for
    summer Mughal Persian should have had the equivalent of one year of Urdu or Persian. Applicants forother languages may apply at all levels, including the beginning.
  • At the time of application for this award, applicants must have already applied to an AIIS summer language program. 

Criteria for Selection

  • Awards will be based on academic merit and seriousness of purpose
  • The applicant agrees to be an ambassador for Asian Studies at UB by sending occasional posts and photos of their experiences while in-country for use on the Asian Studies Program’s social media and website. The applicant must also be willing to talk with other students about their study abroad experience upon returning to UB.
  • The applicant’s prior South Asian coursework or plans to enroll in additional South Asia-related courses in the fall semester following their return from India.
  • Preference will be given to students seeking to learn “critical need” languages (Bangla, Hindi, Punjabi, and Urdu).
  • Preference will be given to students who can demonstrate that they have also applied for the Critical Language Scholarship and/or Boren Awards.

Required Application Materials

1)     Completed AIIS Language Application in a single PDF file including:

  • Application form (available as both a word and pdf document on the AIIS web site);
  • one-page (less than 500-word) statement of purpose describing your academic reasons for selecting a particular program, detailing how the study abroad program will fit into your overall academic program and goals, and how the program benefits your personal, academic, and professional development. This may be the same statement prepared for the AIIS application.
  • Evaluator Worksheet (available on the AIIS web site)
  • Transcripts: Applicants should scan their undergraduate and graduate transcripts (from U.S. or Canadian universities only) and include them in the single pdf file.
  • Confirmation (email or scanned document) from AIIS indicating receipt of complete AIIS summer language program application

2)     Recommended: documentation confirming submission of completed applications for the Critical Language Scholarship and/or Boren Scholarship

3)     Applicants should also submit two (2) letters of recommendation emailed as an attachment directly from their professor or instructor. Instructors may also mail their recommendations in a sealed envelope signed by the professor to Asian Studies Program, 412 Clemens Hall, Buffalo NY 14260.

Unless otherwise indicated, all materials must be emailed to Asian-Studies@buffalo.edu no later than Friday, January 3, 2020. 

Please contact the Asian Studies Program at Asian-Studies@buffalo.edu if you have any questions.