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DDHR Webinar Series

DDHR Webinars draw critical attention to contemporary social crises as they impinge upon the physical, social, and economic well-being of human populations across the world. Spanning a range of foci the series aims to invite conversation and dialogue, by inviting scholars to discussing specific themes that link the study of disasters, displacement and human rights to critical research into the inequalities, structural violence as well as tenacious forms of popular critique and resistance that shapes our contemporary social landscape.

Dr. Nayanika Mookherjee: Birangonas (War heroines) of the Bangladesh War and Graphic Ethnography: Towards Ethical Testimonies of Sexual Violence during Conflict

In December 1971, in an internationally unprecedented move till date, the Bangladeshi government publicly referred to the women raped by the Pakistani army and their Bengali and non-Bengali collaborators during the Bangladesh war of 1971, as birangonas (war heroines). There exists a public memory of wartime rape since 1971 till today through the innumerable literary and visual representations of the birangona as well as testimonies. This lecture examines the processes through which birangonas have been historicised, the testimonial processes through which narratives of sexual violence is recorded and the limited lens of silence, voice, shame, honour and stigma, through which sexual violence is commonly understood. By calling into question the figuration of the Birangona, the lecture will reflect on the role of graphic ethnography in renarrativising the Bangladesh War of 1971.

Dr. Nayanika Mookherjee is a Professor of Political Anthropology in Durham University and Co-Director of the Institute of Advanced Studies. Based on her book The Spectral Wound: Sexual Violence, Public Memories and the Bangladesh War of 1971 (2015 Duke University Press), in 2019 she co-authored a graphic novel and animation film Birangona and ethical testimonies of sexual violence during conflict and received the 2019 Praxis Award from the Washington Association of Professional Anthropologists. In 2014 she was awarded the Mahatma Gandhi Pravasi Samman (for overseas Indians) at the House of Lords (October 2014) for her social anthropological contribution on gendered violence during wars. She has published extensively on anthropology of violence, ethics and aesthetics including editing and contributing to journal special issues on ‘The Aesthetics of Nation’ (2011), ‘The Self in South Asia,’ (2013); Aesthetics, Politics and Conflict (2015) and Recent publication is the JRAI 2022 Special Issue: On Irreconciliation (2022, JRAI). Link in India: A Conversation with filmaker Leena Manimekalai about her film Maadathy – An Unfairy Tale

The Disasters, Displacement and Human Rights (DDHR) Program in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, presented a free screening of the award-winning Tamil language film (with English subtitles) Maadathy: An Unfairy Tale, followed by a virtual conversation with its director Leena Manimekalai, hosted by Dr. Prashanth Kuganathan and Dr. Raja Swamy. The event was sponsored by the Chancellors’ Council on Diversity and Inclusion and the UTK Department of Religious Studies.

Manimekalai is an acclaimed independent filmmaker and activist from Chennai, India. Her film Maadathy: An Unfairy Tale depicts the violence in rural Tamil Nadu against a caste group that is considered not only “untouchable” but also “unseeable.” This violence continues to plague much of India today. Caste and gender are two of India’s primary victim demographics of violence, particularly of a sexual nature. While gender-based violence is global, caste-based discrimination is restricted to South Asia and its diasporas. The category of caste is unlike any other in the United States. While similar to the concept of class, it is hereditary, sanctioned by religious text, and enforced by violence. This film and discussion with its director will provide attendees with a unique perspective into a system of contemporary apartheid that is not based on skin color or physical attributes but instead on more intangible categories of human classification.

2021 Webinars

The Carceral State and Human Rights

In our inaugural offering, sociologists Dr. Michelle Brown and Dr. Zhandarka Kurti join Dr. Tamar Shirinian to discuss the implications of the carceral state and the punishment industry for the human rights of millions of people in the United States. The conversation challenges us to think of addressing social problems through models where harm rather than crime is the framework for understanding social problems.

Hacking away at democracy – India’s war on dissent

Since 2018, a growing number of popular and respected social workers, human rights activists, scholars, poets, lawyers, artistes, and dissenters have been incarcerated in India under the dubious claim that they are in cahoots with the Maoist movement, in what has come to be widely known as the ‘Bhima Koregaon’ case. Key to this claim were data purported to have been “discovered” by investigators and presented as “evidence.” In the last few months, as some of these targeted individuals marked two years or more under incarceration, a digital forensics company in the U.S. proved conclusively that the evidence in question on the hard drive of one of the accused was indeed implanted remotely using spyware by a malicious agent, unbeknownst to the computer user, human rights activist Rona Wilson, one of the accused.

Political scientist Dr. Aparna Sundar (University of Toronto), anthropologist Dr. Balmurli Natrajan (William Paterson University), and computer scientist Dr. Jedidiah Crandall (Arizona State University), offer their insights into what these developments may mean for the future of democracy and dissent in today’s India.

Grief: A Discussion on Theory and Practice 

May 4, 5:30 pm – 6:30 pm 

How does grief fit into our everyday worlds – especially in times when violence, disease, death, and dying are on the increase? What is grief? How do we deal with grief? What are the possibilities of“moving on” and how do those who work with grief-stricken persons and families provide help? Join us for this webinar with Dr. Patricia Bamwine and Dr. Laura Wheat, both from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, who will discuss their theory and practice.

The Life Politics of Death 

May 11, 6 pm – 7:30 pm


This webinar, featuring Dr. Asli Zengin (Rutgers University), Dr. Ather Zia (University of Colorado, Boulder), and Dr. Frances Hasso (Duke University) will examine the roles of death and death-making in everyday life as well as the implications this has on the political. In worlds where violence (always political) has such far reaching effects on everyday life, how do we imagine the life politics of death? Join us for a rigorous and engaging discussion!