British Association for South Asian Studies

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14 November 2020

Call for Papers: "Vernacular Victoria: The Queen in South Asian Languages"

Online Symposium, Ashoka University, Delhi, 26th-27th April 2021

Submission Deadline: 30th December 2020

How was Queen Victoria represented in South Asian languages? A quick survey finds the Queen and her family in a wide range of languages, from Sanskrit and Persian, to Hindi and Urdu; from Odia and Bangla, to Assamese and Burmese; from Marathi and Sindhi to Tamil and Kannada. Pioneering vernacular authors like Iccharama Desai, Madhusudan Rao, Bharatendu Harischandra, Muttu S. Aiyar, and Kandukuri Viresalingnam, as well as composers and poets such as Sourindro Mohun Tagore, Shad Azimabadi and Muhammad Zakaullah, wrote about the Queen in a wide variety of genres, both traditional and modern: biography, memorial, address, eulogy, and more. To investigate how these languages and genres represented the Queen is to enquire into the confluence of South Asia’s political and literary cultures at the height of imperialism.

This symposium seeks to identify how monarchism, or rajabhakti, informed the political and literary life of the provincial citizen-subjects of the British Empire. Taking the Queen as its point of departure, the workshop proposes to explore what can be called the world of vernacular politics. Most broadly, vernacular politics refers to a particular phase in the history of colonialism in South Asia—between the 1870s and 1910s, after what is often described as the ‘age of liberalism’ but before the fully-fledged arrival of anti- colonial nationalism. This concept draws from the recent literary scholarship of colonial India, notably work by Farina Mir, Francesca Orsini, and A. R. Vekatachalapathy, as well as the late Christopher Bayly’s reflections on the languages of colonial nationalism. Vernacular politics refers to the world of the educated townspeople—those who wrote for an emerging print market in the vernacular languages. It refers to those imaginaries that are intensely local in their orientations and emphases. The Queen’s jubilees of 1887 and 1897, celebrated across the subcontinent’s towns and rural estates, helped to construct a local geography. Vernacular politics was deeply informed by religious rivalries and solidarities, reforms and orthodoxies, rationales and sentiments and as such sustained a theological vision of the world. It did not consider a secular understanding or interpretation of human conduct as superior or satisfying. In particular, the Queen’s mourning widowhood was incorporated into categories of sati-shiromani and maha-sati. Vernacular politics relied on a project of building networks, one that allows us to trace the imperial in the local.

The Symposium invites proposals from early career scholars as well as advanced graduate students. Possible topics include: Victoria in South Asian Visual Culture, South Asian Gender Politics and Victoria, South Asian Aristocracy and the British Royals, Monarchism, as well as on specific vernacular authors, magazines and genres. The last date for submission of paper abstracts is 30th December 2020. The submissions should be c. 250 words, be accompanied with a short CV, and sent to: vernacularvictoria@gmail.com Following the symposium, selected papers will be considered for publication in a proposed edited volume tentatively titled Vernacular Victoria: Queen Victorian in South Asian Languages. Participants in the workshop will be granted access to an archive of digitised vernacular materials relating to Queen Victoria that accompanies this project.

The online workshop will be organised by Sharif Youssef and Mandakini Dubey, Ashoka University, Delhi. Miles Taylor (University of York UK) and Siddharth Satpathy (University of Hyderabad) are invited co-hosts of the event.