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Centre for South Asian Studies: Events


Paradoxes of the Popular: Despair and Democracy in Bangladesh

Paradoxes of the Popular: Despair and Democracy in Bangladesh
Speaker: Nusrat Chowdhury # Amherst College, Massachusetts
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Date and Time
9th Mar 2017 16:00 - 9th Mar 2017 17:30
6th Floor staff room, Chrystal Macmillan Building


This essay is located in the aftermath of protests against the War Crimes Tribunal in Bangladesh in 2013. Armed with the seemingly unstoppable energy of youth, the Shahbag Movement inaugurated a new culture of protest that eschewed violence, an otherwise regular feature of political performances in South Asia. Although its affective landscape has been commonly understood in terms of nationalist passion, I focus instead on what I call political despair. One major source of this despair has been the opposition between the atheist-blogger on the one side and the Islamist/extremist on the other. The apprehension around the possible effects of this cleavage rested on the body, the first provocation of which comes from the death of a blogger. The dead-body politics that followed assumed and occasioned the atheist/religious divide and made way for more violence, including the murders of a number of religious activists and secular bloggers in the months and years to come. The other area where the body was a privileged site of politics was the presumed corporeal nature of non-secular politics. The physicality and irrationality of so-called religious affect became a marker of distinction between the protesters and their ideological opponents.  The particularities of this context allows me to argue that a sense of despair is not an anomalous but a constitutive element of modern mass democracies. 

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