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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.

2019 Rustgi Conference Program

Rustgi Undergraduate Conference on South Asia featuring keynote speaker Suraj Yengde (Nov. 2, 2019; University at Buffalo, SUNY)

Exploring Culture, Climate, and Connections

November 2nd, 8:30AM – 6PM
Capen 107, University at Buffalo, North Campus
Free and open to the public. Registration is required.
Register at: bit.ly/2019rustgi

Join fellow scholars and distinguished faculty from around the world for the 2nd annual Rustgi Conference on South Asia. Featuring keynote speaker Suraj Yengde, renowned scholar and activist from Harvard University.

This conference is made possible by a generous gift from Anil and Vinod Rustgi and their family, the University at Buffalo Asian Studies Program, Department of English, Department of History, Department of Comparative Literature, Department of Linguistics, Department of Anthropology, Department of Sociology, and Community for Global Health Equity. 

Click here for the Online Conference Program
Opening Remarks                                                                          8.30A

Panel 1: Migration and Climate Change                                     8.45-10.00A
Chair: Dr. Sharmistha Bagchi-Sen (University at Buffalo)

  • Mahwesh Buland (KIIT University), “Analyzing the Possible Impact of Climate Change Based Migration in South Asia and the Role of International Organisations.”
  • Phariha Rahman (Binghamton University), “The Effects of Climate Change on Bangladesh.”
  • Anuush Vejalla (Cornell University), “The Effects of Migration and Earthquake on Indigenous-Dalit Interactions within the Hill Region of Nepal.”

Coffee Break                                                                                10.00-10.15A
Panel 2: Conservation and Sustainability                               10.15-11.55A
Chair: Dr. Samina Raja (University at Buffalo)

  • Aditi Natarajan (Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts), “Exploring the ‘Gemeinschaft’: An Ethnographic Study on the Role of Community in Conservation in Uttarakhand.”
  • Francine Barchett (Cornell University), “Waste and Women: A Gendered Study on Solid Waste Management in Telangana, India.”
  • Jon Bessette (University at Buffalo), “Water Quality Pilot Study for Traditional Water Structure Revitalization in the Deccan Plateau of India.”
  • Shermeen Imam (University of Virginia), “The Integration of Both Class and Workshop Based Approaches to Development and Empowerment Creates Longer, More Sustainable Development Towards Equity.”

Lunch                                                                                          11.55-1.00P
Panel 3: Systematic Discrimination                                          1.00-2.40P

Chair: Dr. Shaanta Murshid (University at Buffalo)

  • Oishika Neogi (Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts), “Global to Grassroots Transformations:  The effect of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) on Muslim Women in Bangladesh and India.”
  • Jordan Pilant (Yale University), “Sex Work in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan: De Jure and De Facto.”
  • Rachel Alexander (University of Virginia), “Mental Healthcare Delivery in Bangladesh: A System Which Forgets its Women.”
  • Sarah Ahmad (Northwestern University), “Libraries, Partition, and the “Ahmadi Issue”: the intellectual development of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.”

Coffee Break                                                                                  2.40-2.55P
Panel 4: Colonialism and Identity                                              2.55-4.10P

Chair: Dr. Peter Samuels (SUNY Geneseo)

  • Peter Diamond (Brandeis University), “Queer Citizenship, Caste, and the Literary Public Sphere in Contemporary India.”
  • Araxie Mehrotra (Ithaca College), “Love, Life, Marriage, Troubles, Alone: The Struggle for Indian Identity in Guyana.”
  • Rory Green (Newcastle University), “The Colonial Ghost Haunting Myanmar: The Rohingya Crisis in Historical Context.”

Keynote                                                                                         4.10P
Suraj Yengde (Harvard University), “Global Impacts on Caste and Racism”