Dear Friends and Colleagues,

As I begin to write this letter, my phone notifications remind me of tragic milestones—over 180,000 dead in the United States and India now holding the distinction of the fastest-growing COVID-19 caseload of any country in the world. In these past few months our daily routines and everyday language have been radically transformed with zoom meetings and social distancing, our communities dramatically and tragically impacted by a virus that has both disproportionately impacted marginalized communities and made starkly visible the systemic and structural discriminations that shape our social worlds in Ann Arbor, South Asia and beyond.

As we start this unprecedented and challenging 2020-2021 academic year, I want to welcome everyone—students, community members, staff, and faculty—and hope that you are staying safe and healthy. I also want to take this opportunity to thank Leela Fernandes for her leadership in nurturing the Center over the past year. During my time on the CSAS Executive Committee, I had the privilege of working with Leela and have a deep appreciation for her vision and many intellectual and programmatic contributions, including her role in developing and strengthening our partnerships with institutions in South Asia. Leela is headed west to the University of Washington where she will be the director of the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, the first female director in the Institute’s over 100-year history. Michigan’s loss will certainly be the Jackson School’s gain and we wish her all the very best in her new role.

Under Leela’s leadership this past year, CSAS continued its role as a generative and vital resource and intellectual home for South Asia at the University of Michigan through organizing a wide array of events and fellowship opportunities. Our programing, like many activities throughout the university and beyond, was drastically impacted this past spring by the COVID-19 lockdowns. Lectures and visits were canceled, and research and exchange trips put on hold. I want to recognize the countless hours and hard work that Center staff, student and faculty organizers had put into various events and look forward to welcoming you to many of these lectures and conferences that have been rescheduled for this coming year in a modified online format.

The Thomas Trautmann Honorary Lecture of Pre Modern India will be given by Professor Sumit Guha from the University of Texas, Austin this October. Our second endowed lecture, the Kavita Datla Memorial Lecture on South Asian History will be given by Professor Muzaffar Alam from the University of Chicago in April 2021. The Center will also be hosting two virtual conferences that had to be rescheduled from last year and re-envisioned for an online format —our annual U-M Pakistan conference in April, 2021 and more immediately a conference and workshop on the “Circulation of Anti-Caste Writing in Translation” in November. Both events will entail significant participation of scholars based in South Asia. In addition, we look forward to a robust and intellectually thought-provoking virtual speaker series, beginning on September 18th with a lecture from our very own colleague Swapnil Rai in the Department of Film, Television and Media. A detailed calendar for these and other events is provided at the end of the newsletter.

As we face a number of unprecedented challenges locally and globally, the necessity to think collectively about our shared futures acquires greater urgency. The importance of fostering community and building engagements with institutions and intellectual networks is foremost on our minds as we plan events and initiatives for this coming year. One of the possibilities engendered by virtual programing is the ability to expand participation and audiences, especially with our partner institutions in South Asia. The Center will (co-)organize a number of events and webinars, including workshops that emphasize South Asia’s relationships and entanglements with other world regions.

The Center will provide extra support for our undergraduate and graduate students in this moment of uncertainty and physical distancing through virtual graduate student brownbags, faculty-student reading groups and other student-led initiatives. In addition, we will also be reinvigorating our academic sharing program that provides faculty members from other higher education institutions library resources and mentorship for developing South Asia-related curricula and research.

I look forward to seeing you virtually, and hopefully in person at some point, at upcoming events.

Jatin Dua
Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology