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Archive for the 'South Asian Studies' Category

Thursday, November 17th, 2016

The SAAD Series and Collaborative Publishing: A #UPWeek 2016 Blog Tour Post


It’s the penultimate day of University Press Week 2016! All week long university presses have been participating in the UP Week Blog Tour. As always, we are thrilled to participate, and excited about our take on today’s blog post theme, “Throw Back to the Future.” In looking back over the history of the innovative South Asia Across the Disciplines series, a Mellon-funded collaborative project of Columbia University Press, the University of Chicago Press, and the University of California Press, we hope to potentially spark some thought about the future of collaborative projects between university presses in the future.

Make sure you check out the blogs of other presses posting today: Yale University Press, Indiana University Press, Seminary Co-op Bookstores, University of Michigan Press, IPR License, MIT Press, University of Toronto Press Journals, and the University of Georgia Press!

The SAAD Series and Collaborative Publishing

In 2008, Columbia University Press, the University of Chicago Press, and the University of California Press were awarded a grant by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to create a new series of books showcasing exciting scholarship about South Asia across a wide range of fields. The South Asia Across the Disciplines series has published groundbreaking first monographs that aim to raise new questions for the field of South Asian studies for eight years.

While the series’ mission of publishing in an underserved scholarly field is a point of pride for all three of the contributing presses, so too is the unorthodox and innovative way that the series approaches the publication process. Scholars interested in submitting manuscripts for possible inclusion in the series submit their manuscript to the series rather than to any one of the three presses. Projects are considered by an editorial board of scholars from all three member institutions and are then published by the press whose expertise, backlist, and presence in the field will best serve the author and the book. Editors at all three presses help make this determination and then guide the projects through the publication process.

The SAAD series is, unfortunately, at something of a crossroads, as its funding is running short. We thought it would be particularly appropriate, then, to take this opportunity to take a look back at the series from a variety of points of view, including series editorial board members, authors, and editors who worked with books in the series, in order to showcase the way that this innovative project helped foster communities of scholars in the field of South Asian Studies, but also how it helped foster a unique publishing community. In a time when university presses are looking for new and exciting ways to collaborate with each other and with their institutions, the unique experience of publishing books in the SAAD series may provide a direction for presses to explore in their desire to continue to foster scholarly communities.

Sheldon Pollock is a member of the SAAD editorial board, the Arvind Raghunathan Professor of South Asian Studies at Columbia University, and author of many books, including A Rasa Reader: Classical Indian Aesthetics:

South Asia across the Disciplines was designed to address a series of opportunities and challenges specific to the organization, character, and production of knowledge about the subcontinent in American universities.

Organizationally, scholarship on South Asia (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, the Maldives, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) has been cultivated in depth at relatively few universities and has been published by relatively few presses. Combining the faculty resources of three of the strongest programs and presses for identifying outstanding new work, reviewing and editing manuscripts, and bringing them to the public has been one of SAAD’s most prominent innovations.

Conceptually, South Asia as an object of study has been divided up—not always beneficially—between disciplines and area programs for the past fifty years. SAAD has offered a way to transcend this diffurcation, and not only by its very existence as a series. The editors have actively encouraged scholarship that seeks to combine disciplinary and areal approaches, or to move beyond old dichotomies. This conceptual reorientation has been the hallmark of some of our most successful volumes.

Given the nature of academic publishing today, a substantial number of the first books that have appeared in SAAD—especially those in the hardest to publish domain, the non-modern humanistic–might never have received a hearing at these leading publishers in the absence of an endowed series. That several of these books have won major prizes from learned societies shows how justified that hearing has been.

Gauri Viswanathan is also member of the SAAD editorial board, Class of 1933 Professor in the Humanities, and author of several books, including Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India

SAAD represents a unique collaboration between the three major university presses of Columbia, Chicago, and California, and between the South Asian faculty affiliated with them. The series arose out of a concern that the best South Asian scholarship, particularly by first-time authors, was either being marginalized or not getting published at all by a market driven US publishing industry. A generous grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation, along with book subventions from the South Asia centers at Columbia, Chicago, and California, helped ensure the ongoing publication of the most outstanding scholarship on South Asia, spanning a wide array of academic fields. “Across the Disciplines” in our series title is not a mere characterization of disciplinary range but prioritizes the ability to speak to disciplines other than one’s own and perhaps even challenge their accepted categories.

A collaboration like SAAD has not been done before, to the best of my knowledge, and it has set the standard for the sharing of scholarly resources among universities. While we three series editors read all the manuscripts and discuss them among ourselves, which includes writing detailed comments for the benefit of the authors, we also solicit readings from our faculty in cases where their expertise bears directly on an author’s specialisation. The intention is to have the strongest possible manuscript in order to ensure press approval, which of course is dependent on outside readers reports. Admittedly, this is a long process, and we’ve struggled to cut down on the time without compromising on quality or rejecting manuscripts out of hand.

Personally, I must say that reading the books for this series has been one of my most rewarding academic experiences. I have learned a lot and been continually impressed with the cutting-edge work of young scholars, who boldly push boundaries to throw unexpected new light on well traversed areas of study. Other young scholars have unlocked new areas of research by turning their gaze on insufficiently studied figures, whose texts enable the writing of an expansive cultural historiography of South Asia. The impressive list of top prizes won by SAAD authors has been one of the crowning achievements of this series.


Thursday, July 14th, 2016

When the Empire Struck Back

Nation at Play

“Mid way through the discussion, the moderator asked how many in the audience had heard about the historic victory in 1911 of an Indian team over a British regimental team in the final of what was then India’s premier soccer tournament, the IFA Shield. To my surprise only a few hands went up.”—Ronojoy Sen

The following is a post by Ronojoy Sen, author of Nation at Play: A History of Sport in India:

When the Empire Struck Back
By Ronojoy Sen

It was a crisp winter afternoon and the setting was Asia’s, if not the world’s, largest literary festival. I was one of the speakers for the panel titled, India at Play, at the 2016 edition of Jaipur Literary Festival. The panel’s title was borrowed from my new book, Nation at Play: A History of Sport in India. My co-panelists included two former captains of the Indian soccer and cricket teams. Not surprisingly, it was standing room only at the open-air venue where the event was being held. Mid way through the discussion, the moderator asked how many in the audience had heard about the historic victory in 1911 of an Indian team over a British regimental team in the final of what was then India’s premier soccer tournament, the IFA Shield. To my surprise only a few hands went up.

The 1911 event is one event that I highlight in my book. The two teams that battled it out in the final were Calcutta’s Mohun Bagan and the East Yorkshire Regiment. Under the stewardship of Sailen Bose and the captain, Shibdas Bhaduri, a remarkable student of the game, Mohun Bagan formed a team that could challenge the best of the British teams in India. Curiously, the team played precisely eleven players in the IFA Shield; that is, it had no bench strength in case of injuries. This was a real gamble, since ten players of the Mohun Bagan XI played barefoot, with, oddly enough, the only non-Hindu in the team, left back Rev. Sudhir Chatterjee, wearing boots. It is tempting to link Chatterjee’s religion and his boots, but it was more likely that he picked up the habit when studying abroad. Besides, if popular accounts are to be believed, every effort was made to deter the Bagan players, working in British-run organizations, from training for their team. (more…)

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Making Sense of Afghanistan’s Electoral Crisis — A Post by Noah Coburn and Anna Larson

“While Kerry again has brokered a deal between feuding candidates, there is no reason to believe that this deal will ultimately hold and it is the candidates who will ultimately determine whether there is a peaceful transition of power or not.”—Noah Coburn and Anna Larson on the recent elections in Afghanistan

Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan, Noah Coburn and Anna LarsonThe following post is by Noah Coburn and Anna Larson, coauthors of Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan: Elections in an Unstable Political Landscape:

Following the last minute intervention of John Kerry, the elections in Afghanistan to replace Hamid Karzai as president, have entered a chaotic period of counting, re-counting and accusations of fraud and corruption. How do we make sense of the power plays that are going on on both sides? Often forgotten in the mainstream press, these elections are actually the fifth in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion in 2001, and turning to look back at some of the lessons from these elections can help us think about the current process. We’ve spent much of the past six years tracking candidates, officials and voters in Afghanistan and our book, Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan: Elections in an Unstable Political Landscape, provides some important lessons.

First, elections are shaped by the cultures and history that they are held in. Too often local forms of democracy are ignored and we recount the long history of democratization (and sometimes de-democratization) that Afghanistan has experienced since its first elections in the 1950s. Clearly there is no evidence to suggest that elections or democracy are somehow incompatible with Afghan culture. Despite this, a group of former commanders and the political elite, have manipulated elections over the past decade to consolidate their own power. This has created more skepticism about elections on the part of many Afghan voters. The high turnout in the 2014 elections suggests that most Afghans want to see a new direction in the government away from some of the nepotism of the Karzai regime. However, the current wheeling and dealing between Ashraf Ghani, Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai, and Kerry points to the fact that it is the political elite alone that control the resources in the country and this vote is unlikely to change that.


Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

Akeel Bilgrami and Sumit Ganguly on the Indian Elections

Akeel Bilgram and Sumit Ganguly on Narendra Modi

What does the election of Narendra Modi mean for India? Recently, in separate articles, two Columbia University Press authors Akeel Bilgrami and Sumit Ganguly weighed in on the results and what it means for India’s future.

Writing for The Hindu, Akeel Bilgrami, co-editor of the forthcoming Who’s Afraid of Academic Freedom?, offers a very skeptical view of Modi as either representing any real change for India or hope for its future:

[Narendra Modi] … has the added glamour of the nation’s most exalted office which, suppressing his natural swagger, he has approached with an affectation of humility and express concern for the poor and working people of the country, the very people that the policies and politics he stands for will sink into ever-increasing poverty and insecurity.

These unstintingly negative remarks I have made are intended to recoil from the charitable and hopeful responses that even some of those made anxious by Mr. Modi’s election have resigned themselves to. A belief in democracy requires two things: an acceptance of the upshot of an election and a refusal to blame the electorate if the upshot fills one with dread. Beyond this no graciousness is required, least of all a slackening of the critical powers one brings to assessing the upshot. In particular, there is no reason to surrender to some hope that a deeply tainted victor is going to revise his convictions or his character, simply because of the reality of having to live with his victory. Such realism, like much realism, is better described as complacence. It pacifies the effort and struggle that is called for to oppose what he represents. This pacification was already being advised prior to his election by political commentators who chastised Mr. Modi’s critics as unintelligent for applying the term “fascist,” with its European connotations, to what Mr. Modi represents in the Indian context.

Sumit Ganguly, most recently the co-author of India, Pakistan, and the Bomb: Debating Nuclear Stability in South Asia weighed in with an article in Foreign Affairs. In the piece, “India’s Missing Right: What the BJP’s Victory Says about Indian Politics,” Ganguly examines the history of the Right in India and why the Congress Party has dominated Indian politics since Independence.


Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

Noah Coburn and Anna Larson on the Afghan Elections

Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan, Noah CoburnIn the lead up to the April 5th elections in Afghanistan, Noah Coburn and Anna Larson, authors of Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan: Elections in an Unstable Political Landscape have created Afghan Elections dedicated to observation and analysis of the 2014 vote.

The site includes posts about coverage of the election as well as on-the-ground reports about how Afghans are preparing for and thinking about the elections. A recent post on the site drew on interviews with Afghans about why they’re voting and what it means for the country. Other recent topics have included the threat of violence and the role of youth activism in the campaigns.

Meanwhile, in a recent op-ed in The Washington Post, Noah Coburn and Ronald Neumann argue that the United States must be realistic in expectations about the Afghan elections and react accordingly. The Afghan elections, Coburn suggests, will not be perfect—there will be corruption and disputed results. However, the need for stability is crucial and the United States must allow for the Afghan people to have the space and time to address the growing pains of a fledgling democracy.

Coburn and Neumann explain:

At this point, the United States needs to understand that what is most important in these upcoming elections is Afghanistan’s long-term stability. This is best achieved through a peaceful transfer of power to a new president with authority recognized broadly by Afghans. Democracy is, of course, important, and beyond a point its neglect would undermine stability, but the priority should not be on holding perfect elections. Afghans are likely to tolerate many types of procedural irregularities and small-scale fraud. Widespread violence and a breakdown of the tenuous political balance are likely only if these manipulations are seen as overtly propelling into office a candidate with little national support. Instead, Afghans are primarily preparing for both a national and, through provincial elections, local long-term renegotiation of political power. This is the challenge that the international community needs to focus on.


Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

India’s Etiquette Police — A Post by Peter Heehs

“Should a historian or biographer writing about a religion or religious figure follow the protocol of the temple or of the university?”—Peter Heehs

The following post is by Peter Heehs, author of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo:

Peter HeehsIn the beginning of February, Penguin India reached an out of court settlement with a man who had filed a criminal complaint against the company for publishing Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History. Penguin agreed to withdraw the title and pulp all unsold copies. For the remainder of the month, the affair was widely discussed in the Indian and foreign press. Public intellectuals bemoaned yet another strike against freedom of speech in India; religious conservatives, who hope for gains in the coming national elections, crowed that this was just the beginning. (On March 1, news sources reported that the same complainant has threatened legal action against another of Doniger’s books.)

The Doniger affair caught my attention for personal as well as intellectual reasons. The release of the Indian edition of my book The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, published in May 2008, was blocked by a temporary injunction that November, and still has not appeared. Since then I have had to contest two criminal cases (both stayed) and one civil suit demanding my deportation (dismissed). When I looked at a copy of the complaint against Doniger’s book, it all seemed terribly familiar: the ad hominem attacks; the misreading of inoffensive statements; the cloaking of personal vendetta in legal language.

The complainant in the Doniger case averred that her book was “riddled with heresies and factual inaccuracies,” but by my count only two of the thirty-three points he itemized dealt with matters of fact, and in both the problem was imprecision rather than inaccuracy. Of the other thirty-one points, fifteen were theological: statements about sacred texts or readings of passages that many orthodox Hindus would not accept. Six were political: negative remarks about socio-political organizations that the complainant held in high esteem. The remaining ten had to do with approach, tone, and taste. The complainant claimed that Doniger’s treatment was selective (she acknowledged this in the book); betrayed a Christian, anti-Hindu bias (she is a non-observant Jew); and demonstrated that she is obsessed with sex (she admits her professional interest in the subject).

I’d like to take this a little further and suggest that all of Doniger’s “inaccuracies and heresies” are actually perceived lapses of taste. She and other writers who books have been challenged have fallen afoul of India’s Etiquette Police. In using the term “etiquette,” I do not mean to trivialize the matter. Anthropologists and sociologists take questions of social protocol very seriously because people in the societies they study take them seriously. Protocol governs the social life of Manhattan offices as much as that of Amazonian villages. In India, I have found, the rules of etiquette are more elaborate than those I learned in the United States. The fixed laws of caste are gone (at least in urban public spaces), but not the unwritten laws governing the relations of juniors and seniors, females and males, outsiders and insiders. Doniger, I and other victims of the Etiquette Police (Indian as well as Western) are viewed by our critics as uncouth boors trying to gatecrash a ceremonial space.


Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Interview with Gaurav Desai, author of Commerce with the Universe: Africa, India, and the Afrasian Imagination

Commerce with the UniverseThe following is an interview with Gaurav Desai, author of Commerce with the Universe: Africa, India, and the Afrasian Imagination:

Question: The subtitle of your book refers to the “Afrasian” Imagination. Can you explain the term “Afrasian”?

Gaurav Desai: My book is concerned with the ways in which a number of individuals and communities that have historically traversed the Indian Ocean have imagined their lives and their interactions with communities that have been ethnically and culturally different from their own. The book, for the most part, looks at narratives of South Asians in East Africa writing in the twentieth century, but I frame their lives in the longer history of commerce across the Indian Ocean ever since antiquity.

I dedicate a chapter on Amitav Ghosh’s In an Antique Land which itself provides a theoretical and methodological model for reading such lives contrapuntally. Here the life and travel of a twelfth century Tunisian Jewish merchant and his Indian slave Bomma gets read against more contemporary travels across the Indian Ocean. In invoking the term “Afrasian,” which, incidentally I borrow from Michael Pearson, I hope, like him, to signal an inclusive space of exchange that is not ethnocentrically delineated. My usage of the term “Afrasian” is meant not to delineate a particular ethnic community – such as South Asians in East Africa – but rather the entire nexus of individuals who have historically crossed (and continue to cross) what we have conventionally called the “Indian” Ocean. Thus, the Tunisian Jew Ben Yiju is as much of an Afrasian as the twentieth century merchant Kalidas Nanji Mehta who is also the subject of one of my chapters.

Q: In some senses, your own biography interests with the concerns of the book. Reading through your book, one gets the distinct sense of an author who is working with lived knowledge, presenting a first-hand account of the lives and texts of South Asians in Africa. Yet, you only address this in the last few paragraphs of the book.

GD: I chose not to situate my personal history upfront, since I didn’t want the book to be read as being about me. But in a way, it is true that my readings of both the fictional and autobiographical narratives by South Asians in East Africa draw on my experience as an Indian teenager moving from Bombay (now Mumbai) to East Africa (first Nairobi and then Dar es Salaam) in the early eighties. I am sure that even the texts that I chose to focus on address questions and concerns that I have privately pursued for a long time.

To give just one concrete example – one of the prevalent stereotypes that I challenge in the book is that of the Indian businessman or corporate manager as being someone completely lacking interest in literature and the arts. This stereotype has always wrung false to me since my own interest in literature and theater was most enthusiastically nurtured by my father who happened to be one of those corporate types. When I turned in the book to what some might call CEO narratives – those of Mehta, Madhvani and Manji – I was more interested in looking at the role of literature, art and the imagination in shaping their lives than in any practical wisdom that they might have to offer to aspirant CEOs. In a broader framework, I was keen on exploring the connections between the world of commerce and the imaginative world of literature in order to suggest that what many consider to be antithetical pursuits may not necessarily be so.


Thursday, October 24th, 2013

South Asian Studies Titles on Sale!

South Asian Studies Titles on SaleFrom Bollywood and Buddhism to Bonded Labor and the Bomb, we are offering a wide range of titles in South Asian religion, politics, and culture during our special sale.

Use the coupon code SASIA and save 30% on dozens of titles in South Asian Studies. Here are some highlights:

Bollywood: Gods, Glamour, and Gossip
Kush Varia

Bonded Labor: Tackling the System of Slavery in South Asia
Siddharth Kara

Commerce with the Universe: Africa, India, and the Afrasian Imagination
Gaurav Desai

India, Pakistan, and the Bomb: Debating Nuclear Stability in South Asia
Šumit Ganguly and S. Paul Kapur

Satyajit Ray on Cinema
Satyajit Ray

Theos Bernard, the White Lama: Tibet, Yoga, and American Religious Life
Paul G. Hackett

Yoga, Karma, and Rebirth: A Brief History and Philosophy
Stephen Phillips

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Book Giveaway: Win a Free Copy of Satyajit Ray on Cinema

Satyajit Ray on Cinema

Our featured book this week is Satyajit Ray on Cinema by Satyajit Ray and Edited by Sandip Ray. (For more on the book here’s Ray on Godard and Antonioni.

Throughout this week we will highlight aspects of the book and Ray’s thoughts on films, directors, and his own work, as well as on our Twitter feed, and on our Facebook page. We are also offering a FREE copy of the book to the winner of our Book Giveaway.

To enter our Book Giveaway, simply e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select one winner on Friday at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

Kush Varia Recommends Five Bollywood Movies for the Novice

Hollywood, Smollywood, we say Bollywood! While many film fans will be turning their attention to the Oscars, we asked Kush Varia author of Bollywood: Gods, Glamour, and Gossip to recommend five Bollywood films ideal for someone new to the genre (along with some clips):

Veer Zaara




Mother India

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Divine Decadence: Nightclubs in Bollywood Film — Kush Varia

The following essay on the role of the nightclub in Bollywood film is by Kush Varia, author of Bollywood: Gods, Glamour, and Gossip, our featured book of the week. For more on the book, you can also read an interview with Kush Varia or win a FREE copy of the book.

Nightclub scenes offer a variety of pleasures in Bollywood film, including visual spectacle in stages and settings, differing dance styles, and numerous costume changes. These scenes also position songs in a realistic setting as opposed to those that appear in the infamous Bollywood romantic dream sequences.

From the Fifties to the present we can trace recurring patterns in the presentation of the nightclub ranging from celebrations of different dance styles to explorations of moral issues. Protagonists role in the club also changes from being seated audience members or star attractions on stage to finally becoming revelers themselves.

In Aasha (1957) we get a sneak peak into a ladies-only cabaret (spot the male lead disguised in Islamic dress). Although the show is live, there is still a segue into fantasy as Vyjayanthimala’s character changes costume from a Dietrich-esque top hat and tails to pedal pushers and finally, appearing out of nowhere, a sky blue sequined dress topped off with a fez-style hat suggesting the exotic Arabian nights, a reoccurring theme in Bollywood film.


The queen of the cabaret stage was the extremely versatile dancer Helen, whose exotic Burmese background increased the fantasy element of her scenes. In Howrah Bridge (1958) she takes the name of Chin Chin Choo and sings of her adventures with Aladdin and Sinbad.


Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Interview with Kush Varia, Author of Bollywood: Gods, Glamour, and Gossip

Interview with Kush Varia, author of BollywoodThe following is an interview with Kush Varia, author of Bollywood: Gods, Glamour, and Gossip

Question: Why write a book on Bollywood?

Kush Varia: This year, Bollywood turns 100 years old and I have presented highlights which demonstrate a variety of genres, historical periods and stars. Sadly there was not enough room to include some other favorites but I hope that the book acts as an introductory guide to a new viewer and that they can experience the full spectrum of what the cinema has achieved, the guises it can take, and the emotions it inspires.

Q: Many in the West or non-Indian audiences seem to have a notion of Bollywood cinema as kitschy and somewhat absurd, is that a fair assessment?

KV: Much of popular experience of Bollywood in the West is composed of quick clips seen on cable channels, semi-erotic stills or colorful ephemera. Bollywood does have elements of the fantastic from songs sung in romantic dream sequences to melodramatic acting styles and emotionally charged music. However much like the often derided “women’s films” from the heyday of Hollywood, Bollywood films deal with extremely important social and moral issues providing a space for the negotiation between tradition and modernity.

Q: What is distinctly Indian about Bollywood film?

KV: Religion, family and morality are key issues in Bollywood films and it is through these issues that the films become a forum to discuss and challenge issues pertinent to Indian society and the wider Indian Diaspora. Throughout its hundred-year history Bollywood film has played a key socio-cultural role. In the films of the colonial period there were coded swipes at the British whilst post-independence movies aimed to construct a new identity for India. In the Seventies – a time of deep social unrest – films reflected issues faced by rapidly growing urban communities through the figure of the ‘angry young man’. More recently, Bollywood films have provided a forum for investigating the role of the internationally based Indian and their access to new experiences which may contradict traditional Indian values or ways of thinking.

Q: To what extent does Bollywood borrow from Indian literary or cultural traditions?

KV: Some argue that Bollywood is influenced by ancient Indian theories of drama however Bollywood is much more closely linked with popular traditions such as religious theater as well as Western influences such as pop videos. The role of song, dance, and music hearkens back to classic Hollywood with a great deal of importance placed on creating outstanding spectacle. Bollywood is a unique cultural product but despite the industry having a large output, very few films go on to become huge successes. But those that do often become keystones of modern India and they can provide fascinating insights into the emergence of India as a global superpower.


Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

Book Giveaway! Win a Free Copy of Bollywood: Gods, Glamour, and Gossip

Bollywood: Gods, Glamour, and Gossip, Kush Varia

This week Columbia University Press goes Bollywood! Our featured book is Bollywood: Gods, Glamour, and Gossip by Kush Varia.

Throughout the week we will highlight aspects of Bollywood: Gods, Glamour, and Gossip and Bollywood cinema here on our blog, on our Twitter feed, and on our Facebook page. We are also offering a FREE copy of the book to the winner of our Book Giveaway.

To enter our Book Giveaway, simply e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select one winner on Friday at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

Siddharth Kara Interviewed in The Economist

Siddharth Kara

The Economist blog Feast and Famine: Demography and Development recently interviewed Siddharth Kara about his new book Bonded Labor: Tackling the System of Slavery in South Asia .

In the interview Kara explains how people become trapped and exploited in the system of bonded labor in a desperate attempt to get credit:

Bonded labour, or what’s often called debt-bondage, is a form of feudal servitude, where credit is exchanged for pledged labour. The class in power will often coercively extract and extort far more labour out of the debtor than the fair value of the credit they received. Sometimes an entire family can endlessly work off a meagre loan taken years before. More than half of the world’s slaves are bonded labourers and the products made by them permeate the global economy.

Bonded labor is a particular problem in South Asia where there are high rates of poverty and a caste system which allows the unfair system to persist. In addition to the caste system and poverty, bonded labor also continues to exist and grow because of corruption, social apathy, and the fact that it has become part of the global economy. In the following excerpt from the interview, Kara explains how bonded labor has become part of the global economy, though it is often hidden within its complex processes:

Q: Are there any sectors that seem particularly prone to use the products of bonded labour?

A: Well, yeah. Often times the supply chains for these products can be very complex, so sometimes a company that’s importing goods may not realise exactly what’s going on on the far side of their supply chain. The industries that have the highest prevalence included products like rice, tea, coffee, but also things like frozen shrimp and fish, granite for your counter tops, cubic zirconia, hand woven carpets, sporting goods, apparel, the list goes on and on. Construction is another one, including office buildings for international companies, or major road construction and infrastructure projects.

Q: To what extent does bonded labour a problem of globalisation?

A: The global economy is a powerful force [that creates] demand. A company can scour the globe for under-regulated labour markets in order to benefit from cheap wages. Labour is almost always the highest cost component in a business, so if you can minimise or virtually eliminate labour costs you are saving a lot of money. The global economy does look for and demand and feed on these systems, which stimulates their persistence.

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

VIDEO: Siddharth Kara on Bonded Labor

This week CNN’s Freedom Project: Ending Modern-Day Slavery has been featuring posts and videos by Siddharth Kara, author of Bonded Labor: Tackling the System of Slavery in South Asia.

On Monday, he looked at bonded labor in Nepal and the ways in which the system has an impact around the world:


Friday, October 12th, 2012

Siddharth Kara on How to End Bonded Labor

Siddharth Kara, Bonded Labor: Tackling the System of Slavery in South Asia

In addition to exploring the system of bonded labor and the lives of those who suffer under it, Siddharth Kara offers ways in which it can be ended. (For a description of the system of bonded, read an excerpt from the introduction.) In Bonded Labor: Tackling the System of Slavery in South Asia, Kara offers ten initiatives to address the forces that promote bonded labor.

These include: legal reform (increase in minimum wages, redesign of land rights, etc.); transnational slavery intervention forces that frees bonded laborers and detains offenders; fast-track courts; elevated scaling and effectiveness of select government antipoverty programs; expanded and free rural education; rural integration and dissemination efforts, including distribution of mobile devices; rapid-response environmental disaster teams focused on alleviating immediate economic and healthcare needs in disaster areas; educational campaigns focused on alleviating social and systemic biases against subordinated castes and ethnic groups.

Kara also describes ways in which individuals can join the fight against bonded labor:

1. Learn about the issue: Read this book and share it with others who are interested in learning more about bonded labor or child labor in South Asia.

2. Financial support: Each of the NGOs discussed in this book is working mightily to tackle various aspects of bonded labor in South Asia. More important, they are reputable and responsible. Any financial or volunteer support you can offer is of tremendous benefit to their efforts.

3. Contact lawmakers: For those of you not living in South Asia, do not forget that you purchase products every day that are potentially touched by bonded and child labor in South Asia. Demand that your lawmakers do more to ensure that corporations do their part to certify that their supply chains are not tainted by these exploitations. For those of you living in South Asia, do all of this and add to it direct campaigns to your lawmakers to ensure that they combat bonded labor more effectively, employing the kind of initiatives described in this book.

4. Contact corporations: any company that sources raw materials or low-end labor in South Asia must be pressured to investigate and certify that their supply chains are free of slave labor of any kind; consumers must also demand that companies whose products they purchase ensure that this kind of investigation and certification becomes a regular aspect of their operating model.


Thursday, October 11th, 2012

Siddharth Kara on the Facts Behind Bonded Labor in South Asia

Siddharth Kara, Bonded Labor

Critics have praised Siddharth Kara, author of Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery and Bonded Labor: Tackling the System of Slavery in South Asia, for his integration of investigative narrative journalism and clear-sighted economic analysis. In this post, we highlight some of his estimates of the extent of bonded labor in South Asia, based on his research and careful analysis as well as some statistics he cites. Kara argues that knowing and understanding the numbers and economics of slavery is crucial in devising measures to end it:

* Total number of slaves in the world: 28.4-32.6 million
* Bonded laborers in South Asia (2011): 15-18 million
* Annual Revenues from Global Slave Labor: $164.7 Billion
* % of the Pakistan population who are bonded laborers: 1.3%
* Weighted avg. annual revenues per slave (sex work): $48,010
* Annual Return on Investment for forced labor: 398%
* People living on less than $1.25 per day in India: 437 million
* Total number of bonded laborers in India: 10.7-12.7 million

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

Siddharth Kara on the Sex Trade in Nepal

For his most recent book, Bonded Labor: Tackling the System of Slavery in South Asia, Siddharth Kara is based on his extensive travels to the region. In a running series on CNN’s Freedom Project: Ending Modern-Day Slavery, Kara discussed what he discovered.

In the following video, he discusses the sex trade in Nepal. (For more posts from Siddharth Kara):

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

VIDEO: The Editors of “Poetry of the Taliban” Discuss the Book & The Controversy Over Its Publication

Earlier this summer, Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn discussed their edited book Poetry of the Taliban on CNN.

In the interview the editor of Poetry of the Taliban discussed their experience in Afghanistan and interacting with members of the Taliban. They also read from the book and respond to critics who argue that the book glorifies the Taliban. (For more: browse the book in Google Preview, links to reviews and features, read quatrains by Nasrat, read the poem How long?, or win a FREE copy of the book).

Here’s the video of the CNN interview with Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn:

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Poetry of the Taliban — “How long?”

Poetry of the Taliban

The works in Poetry of the Taliban give voice to the Afghans’ view of their country in the wake of the U.S. occupation and the U.S.-backed Karzai government. In this 2007 poem M.A. expresses frustration with Afghanistan’s current state and the growing disparity between the haves and the have-nots. (For more: browse the book in Google Preview, links to reviews and features, read quatrains by Nasrat, and win a FREE copy of the book):

How long?

How long will people wander in disappointment?
How long will they wander thirsty, hungry, and insecure in
    the deserts?
Most people are jobless wandering around.
How long? You wander hungrily in deserts.
The wrecked economy deprives you of education.
How long? You pass the time waiting patiently.
Pretending to carry out reconstruction; they established
   personal businesses,
They enjoy life, and you? How long will you wander in the
   rubbish heap?
They voice hollow slogans of equality;
The salaries of a hundred men are given to one; how long will
    the poor wander?
They observe well what is going on with oppressed people;
How long will you wander unauthorised?
Every day, our nation suffers from the fire of the enemy,
How long will the shameless puppets walk without being taken
   to account?
M.A. is astounded by such a life;
How long will they stay drunk and happy?