Report of the 12th Annual Meeting of the AK Südasien „in“ Bonn (Online Meeting)

In 2022, the twelfth annual meeting of the Arbeitskreis Südasien was hosted at the Institute of Geography of the University of Bonn. The hybrid planned event took place as a two-day zoom meeting keeping in line with the current pandemic conditions. After several last-minute cancellations due to corona, a total of 41 participants from Germany and South Asia followed 12 presentations spread over five sessions. A positive development is the growing participation of colleagues from South Asia in the Arbeitskreis. Digital or hybrid formats have led to a significant lowering of the barriers for South Asian counterparts to participate in the meetings in the last two years.

The meeting was opened by Juliane Dame and Carsten Butsch, both members of the organising team, together with Sneha Sharma and Annika Heck. In the first thematic session, three presentations addressed issues in the high mountains. In the first talk, Stanzin Passang presented his dissertation project using multiscale remote sensing methods to study spatial snowpack distribution in the Trans-Himalaya of Ladakh. He showed that the seasonal snowpack distribution varies greatly over the past two decades, resulting in limited water availability in this arid region as a consequence of winters with low snowfall. The next two presentations focused on infrastructures in the high mountain region. Sebastian Forneck presented his ethnographic research from the Zangskar Valley. A seemingly contradictory finding of his work is that roads cause certain connections to break down – by changing practices as a result of road construction (acquisition practices, modes of travel, etc.), the village population’s social capital gets reduced. Abhimanyu Pandey looked at the materiality of roads in the Spiti Valley. He also showed how roads change practices and pointed out that improvements triggered by road construction, including market access for farmers, do not have their full effect because of the often poor quality of roads and their temporary impassability.

In the second session, Arslan Waheed and Pablo Holwitt addressed the consequences of COVID-19 in South Asia. Both presented work that resulted from changes in their original research approach. Arslan Waheed presented how residents of informal settlements in Islamabad perceive the state’s social distancing requirements and the stigmatization they face as a result of COVID-19. In his presentation, Pablo Holwitt dealt with the handling of the pandemic by platform-based cab service providers such as Uber and Ola. The theoretical foundation of his reflections was the concept of „Atmospheric Citizenship“, which deals with concepts of air purity and the right to clean air.

During the lunch break, there was an opportunity for informal digital exchange at the „India Coffee House“ on the platform Wonder. Three presentations were then devoted to agricultural developments. First, Sarah Luft presented the results of her dissertation project dealing with the transformation of „waterscapes“ in the peri-urban area of Pune. She showed the results of a Delphi study in which experts and local actors were asked about possible transformations towards sustainability, from which concrete courses of action for short- and medium-term processes were derived. Subsequently, Mehwish Zuberi and Michael Spies addressed the question of whether smallholder agriculture has a future in Pakistan. On the basis of their research in South Punjab and Gilgit Baltistan, they showed that smallholders are being forced out of agriculture by numerous processes and that many are diversifying their sources of income in order to possibly develop permanent non-agricultural sources of income, especially for the next generation.

After a short break, the fourth session focused on (peri-)urban dynamics. Alexander Follmann used the example of Faridabad (India) to show that local governance processes are crucial for understanding peri-urbanization. Different spatial development patterns result from sometimes very locally embedded logics, which is why peri-urban spaces take very different development paths. In the second presentation of the session, Huda Javaid presented her work on urbanization processes in Pakistan, with a gendered perspective on the development of housing societies. She showed that there are high costs for both the local population and the residents of the new settlements. In particular, women address the emotional and social costs of uprooting in the course of urban development.

At the end of the first day, the general meeting of the working group took place, where past joint projects and administrative matters, such as the homepage of the working group and the organization of the annual conference 2023 were discussed. In addition, future activities of the group were discussed. These included, among other things, the planned joint edited book on the geographies of South Asia.

The second day kicked off with a workshop on conceptualizing the planned edited book, which will be published by Springer Publisher. The workshop enabled a profitable discussion of central political, economic, social and ecological dynamics and problems on the subcontinent, which will be dealt with in the planned publication by teams of authors including scholars from South Asia and members of the AK. Finally, a team of editors was formed that will continue to shape this process in the coming months.

In the final thematic session, the focus was on water. Deepal Doshi elaborated on people’s perspectives of adaptation strategies to flood events in Mumbai based on a Twitter analysis. The focus on Twitter as a social medium captured the perspectives of the increasingly influential, emerging urban middle class and demonstrated the potential of „social listening“ in urban risk research.

Using Coimbatore as an example, Saravanan Subramanian drew attention to the mostly invisible situation and everyday challenges of labour in wastewater management. He showed how national and international development actors show philanthropic commitment through their project allocation, but at the same time strengthen their own interests and insufficiently integrate local ideas. In the final contribution, Juliane Dame used the example of the city of Leh in the Indian Trans-Himalaya to present changes in the urban mountain waterscape in the context of rapid urbanization and climate change. In addition to the consequences of increasing water consumption (bottlenecks in water availability, impacts on groundwater levels), difficulties in wastewater management are affecting water quality, with potential health impacts.

Extended abstracts of the annual meeting will be published in the open-access series of the working group.