Ajapa Sharma

My first class in the Asian Studies department was Modern South Asian Fiction with Professor Indira Peterson during my first year at Mount Holyoke College. The class ignited my interest in questions about history, identity and representation in the region. As a sophomore, I took a course on Religion and Politics in Modern South Asia through which I started asking questions about what it means for different cultural groups to be known as minorities in a liberal democracy like India.

In the summer of 2011, these very questions about minority identity led to me to Darjeeling in Northeast India. With the Global Summer Studies Fellowship from the McCulloch Center, and support from the Calcutta Research Group, I visited Calcutta and Darjeeling where I studied the Nepali-speaking populations in the region and their claims for rights and recognition in India. This research has flourished into a senior thesis that I hope to develop further as a graduate student.

I am a Sociology major and an Asian Studies minor and my approach is therefore highly interdisciplinary. Not only do I enjoy working concepts and frameworks from different academic disciplines, I enjoy working with sources in Nepali, Hindi and English – languages that I am familiar and comfortable with.
            My thesis on the longer history of claims and assertions for rights and recognition among Nepali-speaking populations has focused on the influence of the formation and the development of the Indian nation-state on Nepali speakers that have historically moved across the borders of present day Nepal, India, Bhutan and Burma.

In my research I attempted to explain how a loosely connected collectivity of Nepali-speakers has gradually forged a more stable identity for itself in India and in Darjeeling in particular. The forging of stable and conceptually bounded identities, I have discovered is connected to shifts in the larger polity of discourses about what qualifies groups for rights and resources. While I mostly look at political discourse in the public sphere, I also look at fiction and poetry in the realm of language and literature to understand what kinds of subjectivities were imagined and conceptualized by those writing in the Nepali language.
            South Asia as a region has presented me with numerous opportunities to ask some very exciting theoretical questions. I found immense pleasure in learning about all aspects of the region from its economy to its art and architecture. In the future, I hope to further study the history and culture of the region as I go on to graduate school.