25th Anniversary Collection Contemporary South Asia

Contemporary South Asia

Editors’ Choice: Celebrating the publication of the 25th Volume of Contemporary South Asia

We are currently in the 25th Volume of Contemporary South Asia. The journal was first published in 1992, with the aim of encouraging research on South Asia from both a cross-regional and a cross-disciplinary perspective. To celebrate the achievement of publishing 25 volumes, we have asked the Editors of the journal past and present to make a small selection of three papers each from their period of tenure. These papers will be free-to-access until the end of 2017. Although a only a small proportion of the hundreds of papers that have been published in the journal since its inception, we hope that they will provide examples of the breadth of coverage and depth of quality which we have always aspired to in the production of this journal.

John Zavos 2008 – present

I am very happy to be able present this selection of papers to mark the 25th anniversary volume of Contemporary South Asia. I have been Editor of the journal since 2008 (with the first of these years, covering Volume 16, being a joint editorship with Apurba Kundu).  It has been a privilege to be in a position to engage with such a wide range of research and scholarship on the South Asian region during this period, produced by scholars from around the world.  The journal continues to thrive, publishing four issues in each annual Volume, with each issue now publishing between 5 and 8 research articles, alongside a range of other features, notably our new Book Forum feature, the first example of which you will find in Volume 24: Issue 4 (pp. 444 – 461). I would like to take the opportunity to thank all our contributors for considering publishing in CSA. We would be nothing without you!

My first pick is Deborah Johnson’s ‘Sri Lanka – a divided Church in a divided polity: the brokerage of a struggling institution’ (20: 1, 2012, pp. 77 – 90).  I choose this partly because it is a fascinating article on a lesser-known aspect of the war in Sri Lanka, reflecting the wealth of significant scholarship on the island in recent years. I choose it also partly because it deals carefully and critically with the relationship between religion and politics in South Asia, an issue close to my heart. In addition, however, I choose it as it showcases our sustained association with the British Association of South Asian Studies. We consistently publish work first presented at the BASAS Annual Conference, very often including a version of the BASAS prize essay. The prize is awarded each year for what is considered to be the best paper presented by a research student at the conference. Deborah’s paper won this prize at BASAS 2011 in Southampton. We are delighted at CSA to be able to promote the work of scholars at the beginning of their research journey in this way. Deborah’s paper shows how our collaboration with BASAS bears rich fruit.

My second pick is by Lotte Hoek: ‘Blood Spattered Bengal: The Spectacular Spurting Blood of Bangladeshi Cinema’ (21: 3, 2013, pp. 214 – 229). The paper explores the use of fake blood in popular Bangladeshi cinema, and argues for its subversive quality, presenting ‘dystopic images of Bangladeshi society’ against the symbolic use of blood by the country’s political regimes. It is drawn from a special issue on ‘South Asian Tissue Economies’, guest edited by Jacob Copeman, who later became CSA Book Reviews Editor. The paper provides us with a good example not just of the eclectic range of work that is covered in CSA, but also the value of our special issues, which frequently fulfill the original aim of CSA to present innovative thematic research on the whole region. This particular issue examines social and political associations of human tissue in India, Pakistan and the Indian communities in the US, as well as Lotte’s contribution on Bangladesh. It also includes an agenda-setting introduction by Jacob, and a stimulating afterword by Lawrence Cohen.

My third pick is ‘The Modi-centric BJP 2014 election campaign: new techniques and old tactics’ by Christophe Jaffrelot (23:2, 2015, pp. 151 – 166). This article analyses a key moment in contemporary South Asian history, the election of the Bharatiya Janata Party government in India in a landslide victory in 2014, headed by Narendra Modi, the erstwhile Chief Minister of Gujarat. Christophe’s article explores the role played by Modi in the victory, and the multiple strategies he deployed at the head of the campaign. The article was part of a special issue on the theme of the 2014 elections, guest edited by Louise Tillin and Gilles Vernieres. The editors and authors worked hard to get this issue out just a year after the election (lightening quick in the world of peer reviewed journals!), ensuring that it had a currency and freshness which our readers have appreciated. Christophe’s paper (alongside Louise’s introduction to the issue, ‘Indian elections 2014: explaining the landslide’, 23:2, 2015, pp. 117 – 122) has been amongst the top ten downloaded articles from the journal’s website in both 2015 and 2016. 

Apurba Kundu, 1997 - 2008

I was Managing Editor of CSA 1997 - 1998, Joint Editor with Gowher Rizvi in 1999, sole Editor 2000 – 2007, and then Joint Editor once more with John Zavos in 2008. Before I proceed with the difficult task of selecting just three articles to represent over a decade of editing Contemporary South Asia, allow me some recollections from my watch.

The first overshadows everything else, for it is the tragic assassination of Dr Neelan Tiruchelvam, ‘lawyer, politician, human rights activist, colleague’ (8:2, 1999, dedication page) and member of the journal’s editorial board since its inception. Although I only knew his intellect and kindness from our correspondence, it was an honour to subsequently represent Contemporary South Asia at his remembrance conference in Colombo. How much suffering might have been avoided if Neelan had lived to continue his work!

I am proud of having begun our cooperation with the British Association for South Asian Studies (BASAS), the pre-eminent UK organisation for the study of the region and its diaspora. The resultant BASAS special issue has become an annual highlight of the promising work of numerous young(er) scholars. As Editor, I also introduced a number of innovations still with the journal, including special themed issues, an expansion from three to four issues per volume, occasional ‘Viewpoints’ of non-academic opinion, and ‘Research Notes’ of work in progress. I hope readers will forgive me the vanity of quoting Founding Editor Gowher Rizvi, who very generously describes how I ‘carried the editorial responsibilities for a decade with great distinction and dedication… He rapidly attracted many new contributors, instituted a more rigorous system of peer review and raised the scholarly qualities of the journal to new heights’ (Rizvi, ‘A Note of thanks to Apurba Kundu’, 16:4, 2008, pp 387-388).

The first of my three articles is James Mills’ ‘A historiography of South Asian sport’ (10:2, 2001, pp 207-222), chosen to represent the serendipity of scholarship. I met Mills and Paul Dimeo at a conference, registered their passion for a previously neglected subject, helped them put together a special, guest-edited issue on ‘Sport in South Asia’, and saw it spur further academic research and publications (see, for example, James Mills (ed), Subaltern Sports: politics and sport in South Asia, London: Anthem South Asian Studies, 2005). Perfect.

My second article highlights the breadth of Contemporary South Asia which offers readers the pleasure of discovering new research on unexpected interests. Not previously knowing anything about the Bengali rite of gajan, it was eye-opening to read Fabrizio M. Ferrari’s ‘Playing with corpses and worshipping skulls: bodily modifications and gender transformations in rural West Bengal’ (14:4, 2005, pp 447-463).

My final article represents those masterful articles by established scholars writing in a mainstream field. I have selected Subrata K. Mitra’s ‘The reluctant hegemon: India’s self-perception and the South Asian strategic environment’ (12:3, September 2003, pp 399-417) for its lucid exposition of Indian power—and direct relevance to my research interests. My own hardcopy issue is crammed with highlighted text and handwritten notes!

Gowher Rizvi 1992 – 1999