International Conference on "State and Society in South Asia: Historical Perspective"

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  • 9:00 AM-5:00 PM
  • Department of History, University of Peshawar

26th International Pakistan History Conference
State and Society in South Asia: Historical Perspective

Organized by
The Pakistan Historical Society, Department of History, University of Peshawar and Hamdard Foundation Pakistan

Human race started its living on the surface of earth as nomads, when humans were hunters and gatherers. With the increase in his needs and consciousness, he developed different institutions and was able to live in an organized society. With the rise of agriculture when hunters started growing their food on land, sedentary life became an imperative. That necessitated the acquisition and possession of land which further necessitated the existence of some governing authority to regulate relations between people inhabiting the same land and also to provide protection to them against rival sedentary societies and nomadic tribes. Thus the organized society or State came into existence.

The present nature of State and Society in South Asia is the assimilation and outcome of an evolutionary process that spans centuries of interaction between these two institutions. Different kinds of States and Societies existed in the region at different time periods and localities. Historically South Asia consists of the present day states of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The region has more than 2,000 ethnic entities with populations ranging from hundreds of millions to a few thousand. The blend of these various groups has produced composite cultures with some common traditions and beliefs. Despite the tendency towards assimilation, the traditions of some ethnic groups in South Asia have persisted throughout history, sometimes giving rise to strong local traditions such as the distinctive South Indian and Bengali cultures.

Religion has always remained at centre of both the State and Society in South Asia. Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism originated in South Asia while Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam arrived into this region in different phases. All these religions have not only played a role in formation of Indian culture but also added their own flavour to the political philosophy and statecraft. A close study of history shows that religion of the ruler and the ruled had a vital role in forming and shaping State and Society through the recorded time.

In the later Vedic period, the chiefdoms of the Ganges Plain and the north-western regions had fused into more than a dozen major oligarchies--mahajanapadas. The urbanization gave rise to non-Vedic religious movements, two of which became independent religions, Jainism and Buddhism came into prominence during the life of Mahavira and Gautama Buddha respectively. Despite the philosophy of ahemsa—nonviolence, both religions not only came into clash with other religions but also suffered deeply due to sectarian divide within the cult.

It is important to investigate structure of State and Society in different ages and the policies the state adopted for integrating the society and economic uplift of the masses. It becomes important especially during the era of major empires like Maurya. With the conversion of Asoka to Buddhism, the entire outlook of the empire altogether changed. Instead of warfare, religious devotion, education and construction of monasteries were promoted throughout the empire. With the rise of Hinduism in North India, patriarchal control within the family resulted in subordination of women and the emergence of caste based social structure.

During the 4th and 5th centuries, with the emergence of the Gupta Empire in the Ganges Plain, a complex system of administration and taxation was created which later on became a model for Indian kingdoms. Under the Guptas, Hinduism took a new turn from devotion to institutionalized management of rituals and the Caste system divided the society in different classes. However, the same period, classical Sanskrit literature, Indian scienceastronomymedicine and mathematics were significantly developed.

The Muslims appeared as a political power in South Asia in 8th century when the Arabs conquered Sindh and Multan. Having set the stage for successive invasions from Central Asia through 10th to 16th centuries, the Central Asian Turks formed the Muslim empires in South Asia, i.e. the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire. They brought their own culture and institutions from Central Asia but were eventually Indianized in the local environment.

The study of the structure of the Society and Social hierarchy during the Sultanate period and the Mughal era and their comparison may help in understanding the evolution of a delicate social order in the subcontinent, the disruption of which led to problems in the era and impacts on the future relations between different segments of the society.

The Mughal era witnessed formation of a common Indian society, intermixing and adaptation of each other’s culture. Many of the customs borrowed from each other were less affected by religious considerations. Though the Muslim rulers tried to reform many of the practices and traditions of the Hindu society but the efforts were resisted.

Beginning in the mid-18th century and over the next century, large areas of India were annexed by the British East India Company. The new rulers tried to engage a few segments of the society by introducing social and political reforms but the society at large remained indifferent. However, the era was not totally devoid of progress and development. The British benefitted the Indians by introducing the Railways, Telegraph, English as official language, modern western education and by encouraging the growth of press and newspapers. These positive side-effects of the Colonial rule were by-product and not intentional measures for development of British administration needs and policies. During the first half of the 20th century, a nationwide struggle for independence was launched by the Indian National Congress, later joined by the All India Muslim League. India was partitioned in 1947, and divided into the dominions of India and Pakistan. East Bengal declared independence from Pakistan in 1971 for several factors including the popular dissatisfaction with the policies and performance of the State institutions.

The modern South Asian States are confronted with different types of issues. In most States of the region, the State and Society do not complement each other. Pakistan and India inherited strong Civil and Military establishment. In case of India, Politicians soon took full charge of the country and though could not succeed to satisfy all segments of Society, were able to frame a constitution and gave a direction to the State policies. Many of the segments of society especially Intelligentsia has serious reservation with the increasing gap between the poor and rich on the one hand and emergence of separatist movements and dislocation of poor due to mega development projects on the other hand. In Pakistan, the strong Bureaucracy and Military did not leave Politicians to run the country though the later cannot be exempted from the blunders they committed. The over militarization in Pakistan created multiple problems including negligence of health, education housing and other social sectors. Under Ayub Khan, private sector was encouraged to invest in the country. Although it resulted in rapid economic growth and rise in GDP but it also concentrated wealth in the hands of a few people. The issues between the two wings of the country were also not sorted out and the deprivation of the eastern wing coupled with manipulation and external interference resulted in the creation of Bangladesh. The new State too inherited strong military establishment with the problems being faced by the common people in United Pakistan. Furthermore, it failed to integrate the Bihari Muslims in the State. One observes that with the passage of time the South Asian States could not act wisely and apparently failed to execute policies for the national integration, social coherence and economic justice. At times it seems as if the State structure is indifferent to the issues faced by the society. Economic disparity, poverty, diseases and many of the social issues are neglected while two major states of the region are acquiring more sophisticated weaponry for domination in the region. The result is the widening gap between the State and Society and the rise of separatist movements in the three bigger South Asian States.  

It is against this backdrop, that the Department of History, University of Peshawar, and Pakistan Historical Society, Karachi intend to organize a conference, aimed to generate an academic debate on different aspects of State and Society in South Asian context from earlier times to the recent past. The debate would look into the various phases of the development and growth of Society and State in the past, their role in present, and impact on the future. The conference invites papers on, but not limited to, the following themes:

  • South Asian societies in historical perspective
  • The rise of Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism: Impact on Society and State
  • Economic activities, emergence of urban middle class and development of different Arts in Vedic and Post-Vedic period
  • Society in Pre-Muslim era
  • Nature of State and Society in Pre-Muslim era
  • The interplay of Religion and Politics in Sultanate Period
  • Muslim Political Theory and practice during the Medieval age
  • Emergence of Muslim nobility
  • Inter-Communal Relations
  • Intra-Communal Relations and the rise of Caste System among the Muslims
  • Ethnicity, religion and sectarianism in Mughal India: From Liberalism to Conservatism   
  • Aurangzeb’s policies: Social and Political Implications 
  • Religion in Politics: Mughal Court and Nobility
  • Ulama, Sufis and Scholars and their influence on society and politics
  • Sikhism: From Religion to Politics
  • Maratha uprising: Social factors and Political implications
  • The advent of the British Rule
  • Colonial India: Alien Institutions, Policies and People’s Response
  • The evolution of Political and Constitutional System
  • The Colonial Legacy and the Modern South Asian States
  • The positive side effects of the British Colonial Rule
  • Social and Religious Reform and Resistance Movements in Colonial India
  • Post-Colonial South Asian States: Problems and Politics upto 1985
  • Society in South Asia, 1947-1985

We request abstracts of not more than 300 words along with CV to be submitted to the conference organizing committee latest by 15 March, 2017. Abstracts should include a title, research questions, methodology and a summary of the main argument. After review by the academic committee, the selected paper presenters will be contacted by 17 April, 2017. The final date for the submission of papers, complete in every respect, is 20 September, 2017.


Note: The conference organizing committee will provide local hospitality during the conference. The organizing committee is not committing at this stage but limited travel grant may be provided subject to the availability of funds. Selected papers will be published in a reputable journal or edited volume from a reputable publisher, subject to fulfillment of procedural requirements including plagiarism check and blind peer review.


Altaf Qadir
Conference Secretary                                    
Department of History
University of Peshawar