Violence, militarism and the environment in contemporary South Asian literature

Saba Pirzadeh, Purdue University


Current literary scholarship on the rise in violence and militarism within South Asia is guided by an anthropocentric focus and lacks a sustained discussion of the environmental implications of the phenomenon. Tracing the buildup of this phenomenon, this dissertation uses literary explication to argue that colonial violence and postcolonial militarism subject the environment to teleological appraisal and material exploitation for purposes of utilitarianism. This analysis draws upon Anglophone South Asian novels from 1954-2013 written by Kamala Markandaya, Kiran Desai, Uzma Khan, Mirza Waheed and Nadeem Aslam. Despite their varying political and geographical contexts, these novels share an interest in the lived realities of human-environment interactions by highlighting how people rely on the land as dwelling, resource, borderland, and shelter. Focusing on the literary and cultural representations of the environment within these novels, this dissertation examines the following processes—the colonial systemization of environmental objectification, the propagation of eco-conquest by ethno-nationalist movements, the reductive conceptualization or Othering of nature during war, and the ecological precarity generated by militaristic legacies. By paying attention to the narrative, visual and linguistic elements of the chosen novels this study establishes how the onslaught of violence and militarism rupture the human-environment dynamic, recast the environment in utilitarian terms, produce natural degradation and endanger human existence. An explication of these processes underscores the productive and destructive ways in which violence determines conceptions and treatment of the environment. In doing so, this dissertation establishes environmental co-optation as an integral part of the politics and modus operandi of colonial exploitation, ethno-nationalist insurgencies and transnational militant conflicts in South Asia.




Sagar, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Asian literature|Middle Eastern literature

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