CISA is delighted to announce Ahona Panda as the winner of the 2020 Sardar Patel Dissertation Award for a dissertation entitled ‘Philology and the Politics of Language: The Case of Bengali, 1893-1955', completed at the University of Chicago in August 2019.
CISA is delighted to announce Ahona Panda as the winner of the 2020 Sardar Patel Dissertation Award for a dissertation entitled ‘Philology and the Politics of Language: The Case of Bengali, 1893-1955’, completed at the University of Chicago in August 2019. This prestigious prize is awarded in an in-person celebratory event with the Friends of the Sardar Patel Association who are the benefactors of this dissertation prize.
Ahona Panda is Assistant Professor of History at Claremont McKenna College. She received her PhD in South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago in 2019, and a BA and MA in English literature from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. Her research and teaching interests span modern South Asia and decolonization; the British empire; religious and linguistic nationalism; caste and race; print and book history; the history of political movements and the organised left; gender and sexuality studies; and critical theory.
She is currently working on a book manuscript Bengal Undivided: Language and the Limits of Nationalism in Modern South Asia, in which she aims to provide a new account of the Hindu-Muslim relationship in South Asia through a renewed attention to the politics of language. Traditional accounts of this relationship frame it in terms of enmity and competing religious nationalisms culminating in the Partition of 1947. By focusing on Bengali as a shared language on which a shared sense of community could be forged, she uncovers a hidden history of friendship and collaboration that helped to generate new possibilities across three nation-states (India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh) over the course of the twentieth century.
Philology and the Politics of Language: The Case of Bengali, 1893-1955 begins and ends with two academies of language; the first is the Bengal Academy of Literature or the Bangiya Sahitya Parishad established in colonial Calcutta in 1893 and the second, the Bangla Academy established in Dhaka in 1955. Between these two academies, this dissertation explores the role of philology—the structures of linguistic and literary understanding of the world—in the unfolding of the political relationship between Hindus and Muslims in Bengal in this period of political history that witnessed a number of major events and ruptures. It examines how Hindu Bengali scholars and patrons dominated the modernization of the Bengali language and the canonization and archiving of Bengali literature at the turn of the century. Thereafter, in the first few decades of the 20th century, the agenda of the Bangiya Sahitya Parishad came to be gradually resisted by a number of literary societies and publishing houses established by Bengali Muslims who felt excluded from the cultural sphere of Calcutta. The 1920s and 30s thus witnessed both the restoration of the pre-modern archives of Bengali Muslims and the birth of increasingly more politicized literary periodicals addressed to new Bengali Muslim reading publics. The language question was reinvented in the 1940s with the Pakistan movement, and ultimately found fruition in the language movement of 1948 and 1952 in East Pakistan. By studying a diverse range of literary and linguistic archives belonging to publishing houses, literary societies, legislative assemblies, small press periodicals, private papers, organized political parties, and music and radio archives, the dissertation argues that language politics operated parallel to the normative politics of nation-state making in twentieth-century South Asia. This project thus aims to displace the centrality of Partition in the modern history of Bengal/South Asia. First, by foregrounding a community of language, it establishes a history of friendship and intimacy between Hindus and Muslims that extends beyond 1947. Second, it argues for a form of linguistic identity that transcends the political limits of the modern nation-state.