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SAP Seminar Series: "Politics, Political Economy and the “Permanent Minority”: Race and the Indian Poor in Malaysia" by Rupa Viswanath

Monday, March 19, 2018 at 12:15pm to 1:30pm

Uris Hall, G08

Racial differences in Malaysia were incorporated into the political structures of the 19th century—in forms of communal representation that will be very familiar to South Asianists—as the putatively natural counterpart to the racialized labour market that was put in place: Indians were imported to plant rubber, the Chinese put to work in tin mines or railways, and Malays, construed as indigenes, inhabited small family farms and fishing villages. This paper will examine the changing nature of racial formation in contemporary Malaysia, where, in the squatter resettlement flats I call Taman Merdaka (“Freedom Park”), ex-indentured Indians practice forms of inter- and intraracial sociality that embody new theories of how the Indian poor should most effectively be represented. How are these theories made to speak to the wide variety of persons who come forth to represent the Indian poor: policy makers, activists, politicians across the spectrum, and religious authorities? And how might conflicting ideals of what constitutes representation contribute to a general theory of the “permanent minority” in modern representative government?

Rupa Viswanath is Professor of Indian Religions and Co-director of the Research Cluster on Inequality and Diversity at the Center for Modern Indian Studies, University of Göttingen, Germany. Her research interests include minorities and minoritization, histories of unfree labour, caste and comparative racialization, political representation and concepts of the people, and comparative secularisms. She is currently at work on two book projects. The first examines the relationship between anti-dalit violence, anti-caste activism, and populism in postcolonial Tamil Nadu, while the second considers the everyday practices through which ex-indentured Indians in Malaysia negotiate racial and religious affiliation through strategic claims to the right to be represented. She is the author of The Pariah Problem: Caste, Religion and the Social in Modern India (Columbia University Press, 2014).   

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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Asian Studies, South Asia Program, Southeast Asia Program, Anthropology


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