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The University Seminar on South Asia seeks to broaden and deepen understanding about the region of South Asia by providing a forum to discuss ongoing research as well as special topics related to the complex and multiple societies of South Asia both past and present. Drawing together scholars from many different disciplines, the seminar fosters cross-disciplinary discussion and perspectives on a broad range of questions and concerns. In recent years, the seminar has deliberated on such issues as: religion and politics, the political function of violence in South Asia, national integration, language and community, South Asian identities in pre-colonial times, religious iconography, and many other topics. The University Seminar on South Asia is a merger of the University Seminar on Tradition and Change in South and Southeast Asia (founded in 1964) and the University Seminar on Indology (founded in 1993).

Professor Carla Bellamy

Daniel McAbee

All seminars will continue to meet virtually through Fall 2021. Meeting links provided upon RSVP. Meeting dates and times are subject to change.

Meeting Schedule

09/13/2021 Online Meeting
6:00 PM
Performing Precarity: caste domination, normative sexuality, and the politics of tamasha in modern India
Shailaja Paik, University of Cincinatti


Prof. Paik’s talk focuses on her second book, Performing Precarity: Caste domination, normative sexuality, and the politics of Tamasha in Modern India, which is the first social and intellectual history of tamasha (popular secular theatre) -- the traditional art form of Dalits. Performing Precarity is an account of how certain Dalits negotiated the violence, brutality, and exploitation in tamasha as they struggled to transform themselves from ashlil (vulgar) to asli (authentic) human beings in twentieth century Maharashtra. She argues that ashlil and sexuality, enacted through tamasha, remained central to the social upheaval of the modern period and entrenched differentiations of caste and distinctions of high over low that were fundamental in shaping regional/national identity. Drawing on hitherto unexamined and under-examined vernacular Marathi archival materials, ethnographies, popular writings, and films, she illuminates how India’s social and sexual arrangements of the ashlil and the claims and counterclaims of Marathi elites and subaltern Dalits, reveal both the possibilities and limits of attempts to contest the boundaries of caste, gender, and sexuality. Most significantly, she departs from the Ambedkar-centered historiography and movement-focused approaches to analyze the ordinary and everyday in Dalit lives and to illustrate how sexuality and ashlil emerged as a crucial modern conjuncture to frame the political recognition of the new asli Dalit political, humanity, and community in moments of historical flux. In so doing, she recreates the fugitive world of young urban Dalits who transformed the social and political landscape of twentieth century Maharashtra.