South Asia, another name for the Indian Subcontinent, is a recent concept (only about six decades old), forged outside the region in the wake of the establishment of area studies by American universities. While it may be preferred to Indian subcontinent for its political neutrality, it is nonetheless a contested concept, both externally and internally. Whether in South Asia itself or in international institutions or research centres outside the region, there is no general consensus about the countries the concept encompasses: it primarily refers to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, the Maldives, as per the definition of the SAARC, which has however included Afghanistan lately (2005) among its members. Some would also include Burma (Myanmar) as it was a province of British India till 1937. Internally, the concept is contested on the political level but in a fairly paradoxical way: on the one hand, as a concept closely associated with India, it is in some contexts rejected by its neighbours; on the other hand, neighbouring countries (especially Nepal and Sri Lanka) have been instrumental in making the concept exist through the creation of journals, associations, and websites that mobilise the term.
Beside these practices, some individuals and groups, in South Asia and in diaspora, actively contribute to building the idea of South Asia in the wake of tense relations between the countries of the region (mainly between India and Pakistan but also between India and other neighbouring countries). These “good-will” cross-border discourses and practices, which have been insufficiently studied, deserve more attention. Who are these actors? Beyond defusing political tensions, what are the other characteristics of their discourses? What type of cross-border practices do they engage into? What is their agenda? How do they rethink (the former) British India before the creation of contemporary borders? Is this a form of rethinking of the region along pre-Partition borders and beyond nationalism and nation-states? Is this an example of a contemporary use of the past? Is there any such thing as a South Asian identity? If so, how and when is it expressed? To further engage with this category in a comparative perspective, this conference will also include a discussion about the ways in which other areas have reflected upon the delimitation of their own space through the example of Iran.