Alf Nilsen, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Bergen
Chair: Ajantha Subramanian,Professor of Anthropology and South Asian Studies, Harvard University
This paper aims to contribute to discussions of subaltern politics in contemporary India through an investigation of the character and trajectory of democratic mobilisation among Bhil Adivasis in western Madhya Pradesh. Grounded in a critical dialogue with recent Foucauldian approaches to the study of popular politics in India, this paper explores how subalternity is simultaneously constituted and contested in and through state-society relations. The first part of the paper outlines the contours of contemporary Adivasi subalternity in the Bhil heartland of western India, focusing in particular on the “everyday tyranny” of the local state. I then show how the historical origins of Bhil political subalternity can be traced to the restructuring of sovereignty that occurred across the tribal heartland of western India under as a result of colonial state-making projects that unfolded from the end of the Anglo-Maratha wars onwards, and how the power relations that were constituted in this process were reproduced in western Madhya Pradesh after independence. The third and final part of the paper analyzes the ways in which Bhil social movements in the region mobilized to democratize local state-society relations in the 1980s and 1990s. I read this resistance as revolving around forms of legalism from below which produced the rudiments of a civil society and an insurgent form of citizenship centred on collective resource control and self-determination. In conclusion, I reflect on what conceptual lessons the trajectories of these movements hold for the study of subalterity, resistance, and state-society relations in India today.
Tarunabh Khaitan, Associate Professor and Hackney Fellow in Law, Wadham College, University of Oxford
Chair: Ajantha Subramanian, Professor of Anthropology and South Asian Studies, Harvard University
Borrowing and developing the concept from Ireland, framers of India’s Constitution inserted a chapter titled ‘directive principles of state policy’ in the founding document. They were a mix of principles aimed at securing what they called an ‘economic democracy’, some guarantees we now call ‘social rights’ and some other curiosities like an exhortation for prohibition and a ban on cow slaughter. These were directed at the political organs of the state and made expressly non-justiciable. Despite being derided by scholars and lawyers as ‘mere pious wishes’ and ‘design flaws’, and (largely) rejected by post-Apartheid South Africa after due consideration, they have been adopted by at least 24 constitutions in Asia and Africa, including very recently by the latest Nepalese Constitution of 2015. India’s cultural influence on these jurisdictions, mostly in the global South, does not seem to provide sufficient explanation for their continued popularity with constitution makers.
Most of the existing scholarship on directive principles has focused on how courts have used these principles, their non-justiciability notwithstanding. In this paper, Khaitanfocus on their political character. First, he uses India as a case-study to argue that directive principles are an important tool for successful constitution-making. He identifies the reasons why they became attractive to the framers of the Indian Constitution, and far from being mere pious wishes, they performed important and distinct political functions for the framers. Second, Khaitan shows that insofar as they impose political duties on the state, these duties have a conditional character: their substantive obligatory force becomes manifest only after certain preconditions inherent in reasons for their adoption as directive principles are satisfied. Extrapolating from these Indian findings, he speculates that non-justiciable conditional political duties have particular salience for postcolonial pluralistic societies in the global South seeking to establish a transformative constitutional culture.
Suraj Yengde, Associate, Dept of African and African American Studies, Harvard University
Chair: Ajantha Subramanian, Professor of Anthropology and South Asian Studies at Harvard University.
Rohith Chakravarti Vemula was an Indian PhD student at the Hyderabad Central University. His suicide on 17 January 2016 sparked protests and outrage from across India and gained widespread media attention as an alleged case of discrimination against Dalits and backward classes in India.
In September 2011, a forest village in Uttar Pradesh named Ramnagar was destroyed. The village had been settled four years earlier by landless members of lower castes who had faced not only economic deprivation, but also caste-based exclusion and violence as a result of their landlessness. They cut down a forest to claim land, citing the Forest Rights Act, a landmark 2006 law that recognizes the property rights of India’s millions of forest dwellers. The higher caste men from a neighboring village who attacked Ramnagar in 2011 were, however, able to cite the same Forest Rights Act as they destroyed the village’s huts and fields.
This paper looks at the two readings of the Forest Rights Act that went into the settlement and destruction of Ramnagar to examine how laws’ meanings more generally, and property relations specifically, are established in social practice. In looking at these contradictory interpretations of the Forest Rights Act, Vaidya makes two linked arguments: First, that collective action, whether by crowds or by the police, is necessary to establish the meaning of laws generally and property relations specifically. Secondly, Vaidya argues that these collective contests over people’s property relations with their environment are simultaneously contests over people’s relations with other people. The contests over Ramnagar’s land are contests over what the forest is—whether, for example, it is a place that should or should not include people. These are contests over who should and should not have access to the forest’s land and trees, and how the people who do and do not have access should relate to one another.
Discussant: Bridget Corbett Hanna, Post-Doc, Sociology and Anthropology, Northeastern University
Chair: Ajantha Subramanian, Professor, Social Anthropology Program, Harvard University
In December 1984, a gas leak at the Union Carbide Factory, now owned by Dow Chemicals, caused the death of thousands of inhabitants of Bhopal and incapacitated the living who have yet to be fully compensated. Photographer Pablo Bartholomew, then aged 29, who arrived at the scene recounts his experiences of what it was like covering the disaster and its aftermath.
Lunch will be provided.
Pablo’s photo exhibit, ‘Coded Elegance’ will be on display in the CGIS South Concourse, 1730 Cambridge Street, from Nov. 5 to Jan. 31, 2015.
With generous support from the Donald T. Regan Lecture Fund, the Arts Initiative at SAI brings experienced and emerging artists to Harvard whose work focus is on social issues related to South Asia.
Film Screening: 4:30PM – 6:30PM; Q&A with Director: 6:30PM – 7:00PM
Sanjay Kak, Indian Documentary Filmmaker
Chair: Ajantha Subramanian, Professor, Social Anthropology Program, Harvard University
‘Let us declare that the state of war does exist and shall exist’, the revolutionary patriot Bhagat Singh had said almost a hundred years ago, and that warning travels into India’s present, as the armed insurrection led by Maoist guerillas simmers in Bastar, in the troubled heart of central India. To the east too, beleaguered adivasis from the mineral-rich hills of Odisha come forth bearing their axes, and their songs. And in the north the swelling protests by Punjabi peasants sees hope coagulate—once more—around the iconic figure of Bhagat Singh, revolutionary martyr of the anti-colonial struggle. But are revolutions even possible anymore? Or have those dreams been ground down into our nightmares? This is a chronicle of those who live the revolutionary ideal in India, a rare encounter with the invisible domain of those whose everyday is a fight for another ideal of the world.
Cosponsored with the Political Anthropology Working Group
South Asia Without Borders Sara Shneiderman,Assistant Professor of Anthropology & South Asian Studies, Yale University
Chair: Ajantha Subramanian,Professor, Social Anthropology Program, Harvard University
Ranu Ghosh, Documentary Director and Screenplay Writer
Jaya Bhagat, Edward S. Mason Fellow 2013, Harvard Kennedy School
Ajantha Subramanian, Professor, Social Anthropology Program, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University
Quarter Number 4/11 is a ground zero perspective of urban real estate development, as witnessed by director/cinematographer Ranu Ghosh and narrated through the plight of an ex-factory worker Shambhu Prasad Singh, a victim of this development in Calcutta’s South City, a residential complex-cum-shopping mall-cum-school for the wealthy. It is about one man’s lone, long, losing fight to hold on to his ground where he was born, grew up and earned his living. It is the narrative of a man who is being forced to evacuate his ground to make space for ‘development’
Reception prior to Film Screening at 5:30 PM, Film begins at 6:00 PM