Ajeet Singh Matharu Memorial Prize

Ajeet SinghAt our inaugural Sikholars 2010 conference, young researchers from across North America came to present at the Stanford University.  Each with their own work; each with their own perspective.  One of the most memorable was Ajeet Singh Matharu.  Ajeet Singh presented his paper “Punjab and Sikh Studies in Historiographical Moments”.  That summer in 2010, he was taken from us far too soon.  On July 26, 2010, his life was cut short after a tragic car accident, as Ajeet Singh was traveling to his morning Punjabi class as part of AIIS Institute in Chandigarh.

Ajeet Singh Matharu was born on February 7, 1983 in Reedley, California.  After teaching as part of the Teach for America Corps in Brooklyn, he joined Columbia University to begin his graduate work in History.  Concentrating on historiography, Ajeet Singh wanted to first survey the field before he could find his own path within it.  He recognized that the most productive emerging scholarship in the field of Sikh studies requires multiple linguistic abilities, deep historiographical knowledge, beyond only that produced in Western universities, and access to private libraries, archives, and collections.  He was seeking nothing less than re-writing Sikh history in the modern period.  He was arguing for a shift of periodization from 1800 onwards, rather than 1850, which is usually the date taken up by those interested in the modern period.  His time in Punjab with AIIS was to gain requisite proficiency in Punjabi.  He was going to continue his study of Urdu and Hindi in the upcoming fall semester at Columbia.

Engaging with theory, but ultimately seeing himself as an empirical historian, Ajeet Singh wanted to revisit and revise the subaltern project.  He was fascinated with peasants and artisans, but not in the turns that the subsequent Subaltern Studies project turned.   Economic and social studies, rather than only following cultural and intellectual trajectories were to be part of his future work.  He was excited and eager.  In his own words, he wrote about new possibilities in the field and new research agendas: “I am both optimistic for the time ahead and proud to be taking part in creating it.”  On July 26, 2010 his opportunity was taken away far too soon, though we hope his thoughts, reflections, and challenge to those in the field may live long after.

In 2011, the family of Ajeet Singh created prizes in his honor.  Every year the top two papers presented at the Sikholars conference are awarded this prize, based on many of Ajeet Singh’s ideals – creativity, strong empirical foundation, and erudite scholarship.

Past Recipients include:

Sikholars Class of 2011

  • Sharanjeet Kaur Sandhra, University of the Fraser Valley – Nihangs and the Lahore Darbar
  • Tavleen Kaur, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor – Seva Sambhal da Dan: Ithihaasak Gurdwaras in Light of the Green Revolution

Sikholars Class of 2012

Sikholars Class of 2013

  • Nadhra Khan, LUMS (Lahore University of Management Sciences) – Power Symbols Used by a Mughal and Sikh Ruler
  • Navyug Singh Gill, Emory University –  Emergence and Exclusion: Peasant as Alibi in Colonial Panjab