About Mara Thacker

Mara Thacker is an assistant professor and the South Asian Studies Librarian at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Her research is focused on trends in area studies librarianship with a focus on niche collections, and public engagement and outreach. She has used this research to foreground her work to build and market the largest collection of South Asian comics in a North American research library. Mara is also currently serving as secretary on the executive board of the Committee on South Asian Libraries and Documentation (CONSALD).

Chai Wai Series: Gender-Based Violence in the Global South—South Asia and Beyond

by Katrina Spencer

November 12, 2014


The Chai Wai Series Tackles Gender-Based Violence

  • Had Jyoti Singh Pandey, victim of a fatal attack in 2012, been a poor woman, would the media have given the same attention to her case?

These were some of the questions addressed Wednesday of last week at the second meeting of the Chai Wai Series. Envisioned by South Asian Librarian Mara Thacker and doctoral candidate in history and instructor Julie Laut, this discussion was a direct offshoot of the History 365 course, “Gendering War, Migration and Memory: Fact and Fiction in Modern South Asia”. The research collected around the theme “Gender-based violence in the Global South: South Asia and Beyond” formed part of Laut’s students’ culminating project for class. Largely structured around South Asian literature, the course allowed students to create a lib guide, a rich compilation of relevant resources organized in one space that is informative, collaborative, public and enduring.


The diverse group of panelists was moderated by Laut who has specialized in gender, women’s and South Asian studies. Together, they expanded the discussion to wide regions of the world. Speakers included UIUC’s law professor Margareth Etienne, doctoral student of human resource development Anne Namatsi Lutomia and comparative literature professor Dr. Rini Mehta. Etienne’s voice was unique and valuable as she explored how laws are constructed to criminalize gender-based violence; Lutomia’s contributions educated attendees with regard to African attitudes surrounding gender-based violence; and Mehta revealed how sociocultural systems like castes can impact the degree of targeting and the protection victims of gender-based violence experience in India.

Mindfully nuancing the discussion, Etienne, author of “Addressing Gender Based Violence in an International Context,” commented that gender-based violence has a broad definition as it does not strictly identify women as victims; it also encompasses crimes carried out against people who do not exhibit gender in the ways their societies expect them to, as seen, for example, in the 1999 film “Boys Don’t Cry.” Many hate crimes are committed not around the idea that a man is a man or a woman is a woman, but rather that a man isn’t masculine enough or a woman isn’t feminine enough to satisfy his/her society’s and peers’ expectations.

Lutomia, recipient of the Maria Pia Gratton Award, a fellowship meant to honor the memory of a victim of gender-based violence, shared that the practice of polygamy in Africa can make wives especially susceptible to gender-based violence. “We don’t have a law that is categorically against domestic violence,” she said, speaking of her native Kenya. Corrective rape, too, she intoned, carried out frequently within severely homophobic societies, is a damaging practice meant to punish, intimidate and terrorize people exhibiting sexual identity that falls outside of societal norms. Much of this violence, she highlighted, must be viewed through a post-colonial lens.

Mehta, whose academic work includes the 2011 documentary Post 498: Shades of Domestic Violence, introduced a variety of aggressions lesser known to the Western world, including the concept of “Love Jihad,” allegedly a deceptive practice of emotional manipulation designed to win converts to Islam. She also stated that “rape is more than a crime in South Asia. It is more of a phenomenon.” Calling this tendency a “pogrom,” Mehta pointed out that it is commonplace for one ethnic or religious group to target another and systematically murder its men or rape its women in an effort to humiliate, intimidate and demoralize. She, too, iterated that the legacy of colonialism colors the gender-based violence discourse.

Amid the brave, terrifying and undeniably contemporary comments, it was perhaps an audience member’s question that was the most compelling of all: “What is the origin of the need to control women that seems to cross borders, cultures and even time?” While gender-based violence is, again, not restricted to women, there is obvious, cross-cultural investment in a certain degree of conformity when it comes to the performance of one’s sexual identity. When people across the globe step outside of these norms, they frequently enter violently charged and threatening spaces. What is it, indeed, that makes us hurt each other in such deeply violent ways and what can we do about it? Please join our discussion by leaving a reply to this post. Visit the Chai Wai event lib guide and look for the International and Area Studies Library’s next event in the Chai Wai Series on conflicts in the Ukraine in February 2015.


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Global Food, Locally: A-Ri-Rang

Global Food, Locally” is a series designed to introduce you to the International and Area Studies Library’s new graduate assistants as well local dining options for food from around the world. In our first installment, Quetzalli Barrientos ventures out to try Korean food at A-Ri-Rang.

As a new graduate student at U of I’s Library and Information science program, I am new to the school, the campus, but most importantly, I am unfamiliar with the local restaurants. Anyone who’s moved to another place knows that the local food is an important part of settling in a new place. It’s a way to socialize and enjoy new things. My inspiration to try Korean food came from being surrounded by the different area studies materials available at the International and Area Studies Library (IAS).

As I have never had Korean food, I was eager to go to a Korean restaurant. I checked out is A-Ri-Rang, which was recommended to me by another Graduate Assistant at the International and Area Studies Library. It is located on Wright Street, just a couple of minutes from the quad.  I walked in on a Wednesday afternoon and, of course, a couple of students, as well as a few families, were there enjoying their food.

As I walked to the counter, I already had a dish in mind “ChamPong” had been recommended to me by a friend. That said, I had no idea what it was and had no idea what to expect. Once I paid, I walked back to a big table, sat down, and looked around the cafeteria-style restaurant. Ten minutes passed as I sat awkwardly: when I ordered at the counter, the man had told me that it would take a “very long time.” Twenty minutes passed and I finally got my order.

Korean Food

Lunch is served! “ChamPong” at A-Ri-Rang.

Now remember, I ordered blindly on the recommendation of a friend. I had no idea what to expect and, to my surprise, I saw a soup. I took the tray back to my seat and stared at it for a couple of seconds. From what I could tell, it contained noodles, some vegetables, broth, shrimp, and several other ingredients. Knowing I would spend another twenty minutes just trying to figure out the chopsticks, I took my fork, wrapped some noodles around it, and tasted the dish. Not bad! I quickly figured out the ingredients to this dish: shrimp, mussels, noodles, carrots, squash, mushrooms, and a few other kinds of seafood.

Those who know me know that I am not a huge fan of seafood. I’ve always found the notion of eating things from the sea a bit odd. That said, I found the meal to be delicious and spicy (very spicy!). For those who are not used to such spicy food, be prepared to take a couple of breaks in between bites and have a tissue ready for that runny nose. A Ri-Rang is a place that I will definitely be going back to try more dishes. Though next time I think I’ll try a dish that is less spicy.

This experience piqued my curiosity about Korean food so I decided to use the library and do a little research to find out more about it. I was able to find a couple of Korean cookbooks in the catalog to familiarize myself with the cuisine. Some books that I found among the collection of the library were “The Kimchi Chronicles” by Marja Vongerichten. If you want to familiarize yourself with Korean food, this book is definitely helpful in getting you started. For those on a health kick, another helpful cookbook that I found is “Korean Cuisine: Healthy Food, Full of flavor” by Yongja Kim.

As I mentioned, I had never tried Korean food until that Wednesday. What else was I missing out on? I searched the IAS website to find out what additional resources are available to me as a graduate student. For someone, like me, who doesn’t know Korean, the IAS website includes a tab for dictionaries. I scrolled though the list and found a Korean multimedia online dictionary. The dictionary is organized into a variety of topics such as fruits, transportation, numbers, and many others. I explored the “food” category and clicked on each image to hear the Korean word for the dish is said aloud. Interested in learning Korean? Access the IAS dictionary page to see the electronic and print dictionaries available. Maybe when I return to A-Ri-Rang, I can ever order my meal in Korean. How cool would that be?


Lee, Hyosang, and Aenglan Kim. “Korean Multimedium Dictionary.” Korean Multimedia Dictionary. Indiana University, 2003. Web. 06 Sept. 2013.

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