Pirzada Prize Awardees

Ahsan Kamal
Ahsan Kamal, Ph.D.

2020 Awardee

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2019

Dissertation TitleSaving Sindhu: Indus Enclosure and River Defense in Pakistan

Advisor: Prof. Charles Kurzman

Dissertation Abstract: This dissertation is an inquiry into the death and defense of rivers through three stories of enclosures and activism from the Sindhu darya. Scholars of water politics in Pakistan typically pay little attention to the fishers, traditional irrigators, and riverine peoples. I focused on the strategic and creative rationalities of riverine activists, and asked: Why (and how) do ideas of river defense take hold in some places along the Indus and not others?

Read the complete abstract HERE.

The award ceremony will take place on Monday, April 12, 2021 from 9-11 am. Please join us if you can. Registration details here
Prize Announcement

Maira Hayat Ph.D. 2019 Awardee
Maira Hayat, Ph.D.

2019 Awardee

University of Chicago, 2019

Dissertation TitleEcologies of Water Governance in Pakistan: The Colony, the Corporation and the Contemporary

Advisor: Prof. William T.S. Mazzarella

Dissertation Abstract: Pakistan has one of the world’s largest irrigation networks and an agriculture-dependent economy. Groundwater extraction has made the Indus Basin the world’s second most “overstressed aquifer.” Bottled water corporations, reliant on extracting groundwater, are currently demanding more tax concessions in court, claiming that instead of doing business they provide a “public service” given the state’s failure to provide clean water. In 2018, Pakistan declared a national water scarcity crisis. This was not Pakistan’s first water ‘crisis:’ from the 1950s’ “crisis of waterlogging and salinity,” to India-Pakistan hostility over shared rivers stoking U.S. Cold War era-fears and intervention, water has long provided the material from, against and with which the promise of modernity is crafted.

Ecologies of Water Governance in Pakistan: The Colony, the Corporation and the Contemporary examines the performativity of ‘state failure,’ arguing that the public-private distinction is produced in the ethical labor bureaucrats expend in not doing ‘corruption;’ in court intervention; and in regimes of corporate profitability. The dissertation has three temporal anchors: British colonial rule; the 1960s, Pakistan’s “Decade of Development;” and the present moment. It is based on two years of ethnographic fieldwork and archival research in Pakistan’s Punjab province. Read the complete abstract HERE.

The award ceremony took place on Monday, Nov 30, 2020 from 9-11 pm.
Prize Announcement

Salman Hussain
Salman Hussain, Ph.D.

2018 Awardee

City University of New York, 2018

Dissertation Title: Together Without Consensus: Class, Emotions and the Politics of the Rule of Law in the Lawyers’ Movement (2007-09) in Pakistan

Advisor: Prof. Avram Bornstein

Dissertation AbstractTogether Without Consensus is an ethnographic examination of how political emotions, historical memory and notion(s) of the rule of law are mobilized in postcolonial Pakistan. It suggests that liberal legality (the rule of law, judiciary and courts) and discourses of rights have become popular hegemonic languages for mobilizing political protests and legal claims in South Asia. Based on 20 months of fieldwork in Pakistan, the dissertation studies a protest movement, the Lawyers’ Movement for the Restoration of Judiciary and Democracy (2007-09), that was led by lawyers and their allies in the educated and professional middle-classes. It investigates how the lawyers successfully galvanized Pakistanis against military rule and led efforts to restore the higher judiciary. The dissertation addresses how the political agency of individuals and groups, advocating disparate religious, ‘secular’ and liberal ideals, is formed collectively, and how they engage in political action without necessarily generating a consensus before hand. This dissertation further points to how liberal legality and rights discourses have become hegemonic, in the process enabling new sites of popular protest and agitation in postcolonial South Asia.

The award ceremony will take place on Friday, April 26, 2019 from 4-6 pm.
Prize Announcement

William Sherman
William Sherman, Ph.D.

2017 Awardee

Stanford University, 2017

Dissertation Title: “Mountains and Messiahs: The Roshaniyya, Revelation, and Afghan Becoming”

Advisor: Prof. Shahzad Bashir

Dissertation Abstract: Mountains and Messiahs analyzes a sixteenth-century Sufi messianic movement known as the Roshaniyya (“the illuminated ones”) popular among the Afghan communities of the northwestern regions of the Mughal Empire in present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan. While the Roshaniyya under the leadership of Bayazid Ansari and his family clashed with Mughal armies, there was a more profound contest over the nature of language and divine revelation. How does a “vernacular” language become the language of God? By telling a history of the “practice of revelation” amid the highlands between Peshawar, Kaniguram, and Kabul, this project rejects the over-reliance upon tribe and ethnicity as explanatory categories that isolate the Roshaniyya movement. Rather, through an immanent reading of Roshani texts and the text of their critics, this project traces rival ideologies of language and temporality, demonstrating the significance of these contests in the emergence of new imaginings of Afghan identity and the role of Pashto. While the focus of this dissertation rests with communities inhabiting regions of present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan, the analysis of the Roshaniyya evokes larger patterns of the inherent diversity in pre-modern Muslim engagements with the Qur’an, revelation, sainthood, and conditions of belonging.

The award ceremony took place on Thursday, April 26, 2018. 
Prize Announcement

Simon Wolfgang Fuchs
Simon Wolfgang Fuchs, Ph.D.

2015 Awardee

Princeton University, 2015

Dissertation Title: “Relocating the Centers of Shīʿī Islam: Religious Authority, Sectarianism, and the Limits of the Transnational in Colonial India and Pakistan”

Adviser: Muhammad Qasim Zaman

Dissertation Abstract: This dissertation rethinks the common center-periphery perspective which frames the Middle East as the seat of authoritative religious reasoning vis-à-vis a marginal South Asian Islam. Drawing on 15 months of archival research and interviews conducted in Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, and the United Kingdom, I demonstrate how Shīʿī and Sunnī religious scholars (ʿulamāʾ) in colonial India and Pakistan negotiate a complex web of closeness and distance that connects them to eminent Muslim jurists residing in the Arab lands and Iran. The project attempts to move beyond scholarly paradigms that investigate the transnational travel of ideas in terms of either resistance and rejection or wholesale adoption. Rather, I show how local South Asian scholars occupy a creative and at times disruptive role as brokers, translators, and self-confident pioneers of modern and contemporary Islamic thought. Read the complete abstract HERE.

The award ceremony took place on Saturday, April 9, 2016.


2015 Honorable Mention

Layli Uddin's dissertation, "In The Land of Eternal Eid: Maulana Bhashani and the Political Mobilisation of Peasants and Lower-Class Urban Workers in East Pakistan, c. 1930s-1971" is the recipient of Honorable Mention for the Pirzada Dissertation Prize.

Amber Heather Abbas
Amber Heather Abbas, Ph.D.

2014 Awardee

The University of Texas at Austin, 2012

Dissertation Title: Narratives of Belonging: Aligarh Muslim University and the Partitioning of South Asia

Supervisor: Gail Minault

Dissertation Abstract: The partition of India that accompanied its independence from Great Britain in 1947 also created the additional state of Pakistan; by 1971, this Pakistan had fractured into the two independent states of Pakistan and Bangladesh. This dissertation seeks to expand our temporal and spatial understanding of the sub-continent’s partitioning by examining the experiences of a group of South Asian Muslims across time and space. As this dissertation will show, South Asia’s partitioning includes more than the official history of boundary creation and division of assets, and more than the people’s history of unbridled border violence. I have oriented my investigation around a single institution, the Aligarh Muslim University, and spoken to former students of the 1940s and 1950s, whose young lives were shaped by the independence and partition of India. The memories of these former students of Aligarh University offer a lens for examining the “multiple realities” of partition and the decolonized experiences of South Asian Muslims. 

The educational institution at Aligarh, founded in 1875, had long been concerned with cultivating a sporting, activist, masculine identity among its students; Muslim League leaders further empowered that identity as they recruited students for election work in support of Pakistan. The students embraced the values of the demand for Pakistan that appeared to be consistent with the values engendered at Aligarh. This dissertation uncovers the history of these students throughout the 1947 partitioning and beyond. It explores unexpected histories of trauma among communities who “chose to stay” but later experienced a powerful sense of discontinuity in independent India. It exposes contradictions evident in remembered histories from Pakistanis who express both triumph and grief at the prospect of Pakistani independence. Finally, this dissertation assesses the position of Muslims after partition and how the “disturbances” that began in the late 1940s continue to affect them today in both lived and remembered experience.

As a site for examining the disturbances of partition, Aligarh University proves to be a hub of a community that was and remains deeply transformed by the changes partition wrought.

The award ceremony took place on Saturday, April 25, 2015.


Pakistan Initiative

The Pirzada Program

Dissertation Prize