Winners of inaugural YCAR undergraduate essay awards announced

Two York University undergraduate students, Fareeha Alavi and Srijoni Rahman, have been named the winners of an inaugural essay competition hosted by the York Centre for Asian Research (YCAR).

YCAR launched the Undergraduate Asia & Asian Diaspora Essay Awards for students enrolled in any undergraduate program at York University. The inaugural recipients, Alavi (anthropology and South Asian studies) and Rahman (public administration), were nominated by their professors, Nishant Upadhyay, Sailaja Krishnamurti and Shobna Nijhawan, for the exceptional essays submitted in their courses.

“Undergraduate students are producing some great work on pertinent topics in Asian studies and we think it’s important to recognize that,” said YCAR Director Abidin Kusno.

Fareeha Alavi

Alavi’s paper, “The Making of Bangladesh,” won the essay prize in the category of geographic Asia. Alavi’s essay was the product of an oral history assignment for the course Introduction to South Asian Studies (SOSC 2435). The paper brings together an interview and academic scholarship on the 1971 partition of East and West Pakistan and the independence of Bangladesh. Throughout the paper, Alavi unpacks how competing nationalist myths informed the events and aftermath of 1971.

A mature student who returned to university after a 25-year break, Alavi is pursuing majors in anthropology and South Asian studies. Now in her fourth year, she is particularly interested in the study of women’s issues and Islam.

Sirojini Rahman

In the winning paper in the category of Asian diaspora, “From Roots to Rhizomes: Hybrid, Diasporic Identities in Hema and Kaushik,” Rahman analyzes diasporic Indian characters from Jhumpa Lahiri’s book of short stories, Unaccustomed Earth. Focusing on two characters, Hema and Kaushik, Rahman draws out themes of displacement, genealogy and gender to demonstrate the conflicts that arise through hyphenated identities. The paper was produced for the course South Asian Literature and Culture (HND 2700).

Rahman recently completed her degree in public administration with a specialization in law, justice and policy. She is currently working as a policy analyst and will begin graduate studies at the University of Toronto in public policy. Rahman wants to focus on uncovering the gendered experiences of second-generation diasporic youth living in North America.

Both prize-winning papers are published in YCAR’s special annual publication New Voices in Asian Research and are available online at The publication is a platform to showcase undergraduate talent in research on Asia and Asian diasporas across a range of disciplines at York.

For more information about the awards, visit the YCAR website at