Image: Courtesy of Dev N. Pathak, Sociology, SAU.
About The Department - Vision and Beyond

Over the last half century or so, a vast body of knowledge(s) on the region has evolved within South Asia that mostly remain within the countries of their origin due to a number of reasons. In this specific context, there is a crucial need to share some of this knowledge in contemporary times when, despite assertions of localisations and mini-narratives, the universal does retain its emphasis through a constant dialectics of the two. The debate between the local and universal or mini-narratives and meta-narratives continue to rage, and is more clearly visible in the context of South Asian context. Even so, we are acutely aware of the non-existence of regular and serious forums for South Asian scholarship in social sciences to showcase our own research and thinking. We are also quite conscious of the fact that the process of establishing sociology in the region has created its own peculiarities which has established close inter-relationships between sociology and social anthropology, history, cultural studies, archeology and other related disciplines. We consider the porousness of South Asian sociology one of its most enduring strengths. On the other hand, we are not unaware of the unfortunate regressions sociology has experienced in different South Asian contexts over the last 30 years or so marked by numerous institutional failures.

It is within the context(s) outlined above that the Department of Sociology at South Asian university, initiated in 2011 witihn the Faculty of Social Sciences contributes to teaching, training and knowledge production. It is not intended to be a mere forum for the production of cutting-edge intellectual knowledge and exchange of that knowledge traversing across national borders in South Asia and beyond. Our expectation is that this knowledge would dislocate the persistence of an imposed framework emanating from the colonisation process and postcolonial politics of knowledge. Despite the passage of over fifty years since the process of official decolonization began in the region, much of the analyses of our problems, situations, histories and dynamics emanate from Euro American academia; this is certainly the case when it comes to conceptual formulations and theoretical approaches that are being employed in exploring the region’s social and cultural complexities often without much self-reflection.

The Department of Sociology strongly believes in the need to reformulate this situation by effectively centering South Asia without naively shunning thought from these established centers of knowledge be they in Europe or North America. We believe in an active and robust engagement with these issues within South Asia. In this context, through the work of its faculty and the research of graduate students, the Department would bring forward the newer forms of knowledge that comprehends and represents the South Asian context with a more authoritative and nuanced voice. We strongly believe in the need to actively intervene in the process of knowledge formation through a constant sharing of knowledge that the region produces as well as through interaction with the world beyond the region.

The courses taught in the Department as well as the research carried out by its faculty members reflect this overall vision and our collective commitment towards innovation, move beyond untenable stereotypes, and explore a new world of knowledge within the discipline of Sociology.

Class of 2011, Department of Sociology, South Asian University; Image: Courtesy of Dev N. Pathak, Sociology, SAU.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Press Release

Celebrating Life and Work of Faiz Ahmed Faiz:
Towards Building a South Asian Consciousness

The Department of Sociology, South Asian University and its journal, Society and Culture in South Asia organized Jashn-e-Faiz, an event to celebrate the life and works of Faiz Ahmed Faiz. South Asian University is a SAARC initiative. The event was organized to project the possibilities of an alternative idea of South Asian consciousness, which transcends the limitations of state-centric imaginings for the region.

Dr. Kavita Sharma, President, South Asian University in her initial remarks talked about the life of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and stressed how his works has mass appeal across borders. A poet like Faiz, went beyond ‘art for art sake’ to address the issues of exploitation, injustice and discrimination. As a poet, he is the figure whose works serve as a source of a common popular consciousness to emerge.

Dr. Ravi Kumar, Chairperson, Department of Sociology, said in his explanation on why this program was initiated that literary works and other arts forms provide a way to bring people of South Asia closer. A conversation among people needs to be developed takes place is beyond the instrumentalist limitations provided by restrictive bilateral agreements, visa regimes and other structural impediments and clearances that usually foregrounds relations among states. When bloggers are being killed in Bangladesh, when journalists are killed in Pakistan, voices of dissent suppressed in Sri Lanka, and rationalists are murdered in India, there is a need to devise ways to get over such intolerance and violence. This can be done using the ways, which have developed outside of state structures – what poets, artists and intellectuals have done historically. Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Nazrul Islam and Sahir Ludhiyanwi are only a few among a considerable list of such people who provide us ways to create a more tangible South Asian consciousness.

Prof. Sasanka Perera, Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences pointed out why the Department of Sociology has been instrumental in taking initiatives that are aimed at looking at the possibilities of how a South Asian consciousness needs to be developed using art forms as their emotional appeal to people had a better chance of making sense as opposed to diplomatic and other poltical initiatives which are often distant from ordinary people.

Prof. Salima Hashmi, artist and daughter of Faiz Ahmed Faiz who attended the event as the guest of honor spoke on the trajectory of Faiz’s poetry writing. In different phases, he wrote on issues, which he had to confront in his life. They ranged from themes emerging out of wars, economic impoverishment of masses, suppression of freedom of expression and so on. She spoke of how poetry provided the language of political protest, and suggested that Faiz’s work reflected it. He went beyond the dogmatic understanding of Marxism when he married romanticism with Marxism and argued that Marxism needs to be used as a humanist message. She went on to show how his works entered the popular domain and visual art production in Pakistan. Cultural development must alter the existing social values and new values will be created along with alterations in the social and political structure. Only one fundamental value exists, that is the value of humanity. 

Faiz always represented the spirit of unity of people across borders, and this became clear when he did not become part of patriotic poetry writing during Indo-Pakistan war in 1965. Instead, taking thus event as a point of departure, he wrote a poem titled ‘Black Out’. He worked ceaselessly for Pakistan-India friendship. He rejected the narrow unilinear notion of Pakistan. He was concerned with the partition and the violence it had unleashed. He was constantly struggling in his life which informed much of his poetry. And he proves through his work that out of great suffering, a great sense of hope can be born.

In his presentation, Paresh Chandra from the Department of English, Delhi University argued that Faiz was not looking at the nation that the partition had created. He had expected it to be a different nation. He was concerned at the exploitation, alienation and oppression that was happening around him. His poetry on love also, while talking in an idiom of romance, was talking of this concern. He was trying to imagine an idea of community, love and hope. The idea of struggle and reflection on society seemed to take Faiz beyond narrow national boundaries.

Dr. Irfanullah Farooqi from the Department of Sociology, Aligarh Muslim University showed how there were words and images which emerged in the poetry of Faiz represented ideals and experiences which could go beyond the boundaries of the nation to imagine the experonecs of a larger collective. 

The panel discussion expressed how works of art and literature has provided us sufficient inputs in terms of looking at struggles of people, their love and anxieties as an intrinsic part of human existence and hope for a better world. If crafted out of this hope cautiously, it may still be possible to formulate a South Asian consciousness which moves beyond the parochial ideas of the nation and nationalities.

Dr. Ravi Kumar 
Department of Sociology

(Images courtesy of Ratan Kumar Roy, PhD Program in Sociology, SAU)

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