The rickshaw, invented in Japan in 1869, helped to produce a revolution in mobility for millions of people in Asia and Africa. By the 1930s, the everyday mobility offered by the hand-pulled rickshaw gave way to several of its off spring: the cycle-rickshaw, trishaw, pedicab, cyclo, becak, and the auto-rickshaw. The three articles in this special section describe how these “primitive” non-motorized vehicles continue in the twenty-first century to play a valuable and irreplaceable role in urban and rural transport in South Asian cities. The authors are traffic experts, geographers, and urban planners who live and work in contemporary rickshaw cultures. Despite the reality of urban hazards, the articles describe cultural, economic, and environmental reasons to keep rickshaws on the road, now and in the future.
Introduction to the Special Section
M. William Steele
State of the Art
from scholarship on South Asia. The region that was formerly British India was crucial in adopting European concepts, but also in shaping them. It has a long-standing history of multilingualism, ranging from Sanskrit and Arabic cosmopolis 3 and
Focusing on the wide-ranging scholarship on how railway technology, travel, and infrastructure has affected South Asia‚ this article highlights recent interventions and shifts. It discusses how questions about land‚ labor‚ capital‚ and markets are being increasingly integrated with questions about how railways affected society‚ culture‚ and politics. It also stresses the increasing interest in comparative work‚ both in terms of locating railways within wider structures of transport and mobility as well as analyzing how South Asia’s engagement relates to the global impact of this technology.
Politics of Memory and National Identity
The aftermath of World War II saw the emergence of many new nation-states on the Asian geopolitical map and a simultaneous attempt by these states to claim the agency of nationhood and to create an aura of a homogenous national identity. Textbooks have been the most potent tools used by nations to inject an idea of a national memory - in many instances with utter disregard for fundamental contradictions within the socio-political milieu. In South Asia, political sensitivity towards transmission of the past is reflected in the attempts of these states to revise or rewrite versions which are most consonant with the ideology of dominant players (political parties, religious organizations, ministries of education, publishing houses, NGOs, etc.) concerning the nature of the state and the identity of its citizens. This paper highlights the fundamental fault lines in the project of nation-building in states in South Asia by locating instances of the revision or rewriting of dominant interpretations of the past. By providing an overview of various revisionist exercises in South Asia, an attempt will be made to highlight important issues that are fundamental to the construction of identities in this diverse continent.
In this review article, Sur reads across disciplines to join studies of partitions, borders, and mobility. Sur shows how two important partitions of the twentieth century that historically shaped South Asia's modern cartography continue to exert a shadow on everyday life and state violence at its longest boundary, the India-Bangladesh border.
In this article, I examine how second generation South Asian Canadian girls negotiate their racialized position in peer culture, through various strategies of accommodation, denial and resistance. I use feminist post-structuralist theories of discourse and positioning with feminist and narrative methods to analyze my interviews with ten subjects about their racialized adolescence. I argue that girls use certain strategies of accommodation—'passing', wannabe-ism, and strategic Otherness—to fit in without abandoning their ethnicized identities. Strategies of denial surface through girls' internalizing of dominant discourses of racism; this leads them to rationalize racism or invoke assimilationist narratives that hold minorities responsible for their own experiences of exclusion. Girls also use strategies of resistance in which they identify hegemonic discourses of belonging, speak openly about racism or criticize aspects of white culture in the context of South Asian community and family norms.
Discussions of the historiography of mobility, circulation, and transport in South Asia, a region that covers the modern nation-states of Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, the Maldives, Bhutan, and Tibet, must begin with an acknowledgment of what has shaped broader historical approaches to this area. I begin by offering a brief overview of the rich, but also dominant area of focus in South Asian transport history, namely, a focus on the history of railways and on the colonial period as a watershed in South Asian transport innovation. This overview provides context to recent shifts in the transport historiography of South Asia. While focus on the history of railways was concerned with technological and economic ramifications of transportation networks and with debates over colonial governance, recent work reviewed here highlights social, cultural, and political implications of transportation within precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial settings. These newer works in cultural, economic, and labor history, literary studies, ethnohistory, global history, and anthropology acknowledge the significance of railways and existing work in transport history.
Ethnographies of affirmative action
Alpa Shah and Sara Shneiderman
This is the introduction to a special section of Focaal that includes seven articles on the anthropology of affirmative action in South Asia. The section promotes the sustained, critical ethnographic analysis of affirmative action measures adopted to combat historical inequalities around the world. Turning our attention to the social field of affirmative action opens up new fronts in the anthropological effort to understand the state by carefully engaging the relationship between the formation and effects of policies for differentiated citizenship. We explore this relationship in the historical and contemporary context of South Asia, notably India and Nepal. We argue that affirmative action policies always transform society, but not always as expected. The relationship between political and socioeconomic inequality can be contradictory. Socioeconomic inequalities may persist or be refigured in new terms, as policies of affirmative action and their experiential effects are intimately linked to broader processes of economic liberalization and political transformation.
Mark Twain's Following the Equator and Pandita Ramabai's The Peoples of the United States
Mark Twain's Following the Equator (1897), a narrative of a journey to the South Pacific, Australia, South Asia, and South Africa, has occupied a small but significant space in the consideration of Twain's wider career as both a travel writer and social critic. Twain's work has not, however, been considered in conjunction with the works of later nineteenth-century South Asian travelers in North America. The present article puts Twain's discussion of India and Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) in dialogue with Indian scholar and women's rights activist Pandita Ramabai's 1889 travelogue The Peoples of the United States.
Immigration and Class in Contemporary South Asian/American Fiction
This article explores the representation of non-elite immigrants from South Asia to the United States in the fiction of Kiran Desai and Ameena Hussein. The works of these two writers shift the conventional representation of South Asian immigration to the United States as a middle and upper class phenomenon to a representation of the ways that non-elite South Asian immigrant experiences connect with the experiences of immigrants from around the world whose mobility is limited and whose imagined version of their prospective host country is shaped by incomplete and even illusory information.