Conferences/Seminars

Revisiting Peace and Security in Contemporary World: Interventions from India

11th - 12th May 2018

UGC CAS-SAP National Seminar

Organised by the Peace and Security in International Politics Research Network, Department of Political Science, University of Delhi

Convenor:

Prof. Navnita Chadha Behera

Co-Convenor:

Dr. Rityusha Mani Tiwary

POSTER PSIP 2018

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Beyond Identities: Reflections from South Asian Imaginarie of Nation and Universe

13-14 March 2018

UGC CAS-SAP National Seminar

Organised by the Department of Political Science, University of Delhi

In collaboration with

Modern South Asian Thinkers Group &

Intellectual History Research Group

Convenor:

Sanjeev Kumar H.M., Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Delhi

Co-Convenors:

Nishant Kumar, Assistant Professor, Dayal Singh College, University of Delhi;

Talim Akhtar, Assistant Professor, Hindu College, University of Delhi

BI Poster

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Polity as Fiction, Fiction as Reality: Fifty Years of Raag Darbari

29-30 January 2018

Two-Day Conference

Convenor: Satyajit Singh, Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Delhi

Polity as Fiction, Fiction as Reality Final

Concept Note:

Raag Darbari, a work of Hindi fiction based in an imaginary village of Shivpalganj in Uttar Pradesh, is an important story of rural India, local politics and administration. The author Shrilal Shukla, who won the Sahitya Academy Award for this novel, insisted that this was a work of fiction. That his fiction mimics a village in rural India; its local institutions: the college, the panchayat and the cooperative; and the politics of the local elite that manages to not only subvert the developmental state and administration but make it a hub of clientalism, parochialism and corruption, is to say a truism.

Most discussions on Raag Darbari have been from a literary perspective. However, the novel has multiple insights for a student of public administration, development and politics. Penned in 1968, a mere two decades after independence, it was perhaps the first critique on the developmental state, its bureaucracy, and the democratic institutions of the country, served with black humour and irony. It questioned the values on which the new nation was built, and provided a mirror to the reality of everyday rangdari. A cast of dominant male characters, Vaidyaji, Ruppan babu and Badri pahelwan ensured that Langad (a representative of the common man) was always at the receiving end of the state. Only characters like Shanichar, who was willing to be a chamcha of Vaidyaji, could prosper and be elected as a sarpanch due to the machinations and blessings of his mentor. The idealist Ranganath, the nephew of Vaidyaji, was left bewildered about the state of the nascent nation and its institutions, already mired in corruption. Shivpalganj was not just a village in Uttar Pradesh, but a reality of the rest of India - Shivpalganj me jo hota hai, sare Bharat me hota hai!

At the time of independence, the Indian state mindful of its colonial predecessor, adopted a Weberian bureaucracy. This was meant to be a state based on rationality, centralization and rule-based authority; a model of government that institutionalised a separation of powers between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary; and a Wilsonian concept of public administration that underlined a separation of policy from administration. The polity was meant to be a replica of the centralized Westminster model with federal state legislatives; and the local institution of panchayats being introduced. Much of the political engagement was to be at the centre where laws were framed and policies drawn. A centralized and professional administration was to implement these through a deconcentrated state. The ideals and rights espoused in the written Constitution and the political economy of state power determined institutions and outcomes at the local level. State and political action was to be in the Rajdhani of the country or the state, and politics ultimately a play in the hands of the MLAs and the MPs.

The political and administrative narrative of Shivpalganj mocked these apparently sound theories. It showed that it was the local politics and its interplay with local institutions that was at the centre of the local state craft, disbursing vikas and nyaya to the people. It was not just the formal administrative and political structure devised by the state, but also informal institutions designed by Vaidyaji, which determined the nature of state directed development. Raag Darbari presciently pitted the idealism of the educated against the opportunism of the local elite. The varied narratives of local power struggle in Shivpalganj questioned the notion of an independent ideal type bureaucracy and administration. It tested the false dichotomy of the separation of politics and administration. It underlined with effective resonance that state institutions were little more than a source of rents for its local elite. In two short decades after independence, the unfolding politics of Shivpalganj underlined that even though governance was imagined as centralized, the specifics of the local shaped everyday administrative reality.

Where are we today in our understanding of administration and politics, five decades after Raag Darbari? Have we managed to get local institutions to deliver welfare? Do we have a handle on dealing with corruption? Is the institutional architecture of local administration better? Have we done away with the darbar and the pahelwan, or are there new darbars and pahelwans that continue to mock the might of the state? Which new characters now appear in the village? Are villages still under the control of upper castes or have the Langads (the common man and woman) found a voice and can exercise their choice? Have we made any progress on education, the cooperatives and the panchayats? Importantly, how does administration relate to the fluid nature of politics? How is the constitution and state institutions regarded and their promise upheld? Does idealism have any place in making political choices? What tools can we deploy to analyse the new forms of local politics? These and many such questions will be taken up. The present imagination of the variegated Indian village and its local politics, administration and welfare is the drama whose multiple performances – past, putative and in the future – will be under scrutiny and discussion at the proposed conference.

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Democratising Governance in India

14-15 September 2017

Two-Day National Conference

Organized By: Department of Political Science University of Delhi

democratising

Concept Note

Etymologically, democracy means the rule of people since it is derived from the Greek word, Demokratia which is a combination of Demos (people) and Kratos (rule). As per the history of democracy, the rule by people had begun in Athens in the middle of the fifth century BC. The system that the rule by people established was not absolute, but controlled by the rule of law or the constitution, as it is commonly known. In its ideal manifestation, democracy as a form of governance is structurally perfect and ideologically persuasive since it leaves no room for decisions, whimsically made; this is a system in which governance is meant to be non-discriminatory and people-driven in the strict sense of the term, Hence democracy is defined as a government by the people, of the people and for the people. It is a much clichéd definition. Nonetheless, it draws our attention to the core of governance which is democratic in spirit and substance.

An analytical scan of the functioning of democracy in the real world, however, reveals that democracy manifests in three different forms: (a) there are political systems which are democratic in character in the sense that elections are held and the vox populi is respected; but governance defies the very principles in which democracy is articulated. A majority of the countries, ruled by the ‘Man on the Horseback’ follow this pattern. (b) Some of the so-called democratic countries, despite being appreciative of the structural distinctiveness, tend to deviate from the core values, norms and principles while governing the demos on their behalf. Driven by the leaders, the political system becomes their hostage. It was BR Ambedkar who conceptually articulated this when he forewarned his Constituent Assembly colleagues of the devastating politico-ideological consequences of what he defined as ‘the Bhakti’ syndrome in Indian politics. Fascist states, both their classical and contemporary forms, belong to this category. (c) There is a third pattern which is visible in those political systems which are democratic in both spirit and substance and yet are subject to tendencies to the contrary; as a result, there are occasions when democracy loses its grip in the political system and seemingly endorses the duly-elected political authority’s politico-ideological preferences.

Prominent examples are Brazil and India. In case of the former, the 1945 Constitution which was promulgated after the ouster of the dictatorial regime, led by Getulio Varga, upheld democracy as fundamental to the political system that had emerged. The journey was halted in 1967 when the military dictatorship adopted Institutional Acts, a set of supra-constitutional laws to supersede the 1945 Constitution. The year 1988, however, marked a new dawn in Brazil’s political history; a new constitution was adopted which was not only democratic but was also receptive to those ideas that have gained salience in the context of the global drive towards creating inclusive societies. This is an endeavour for democratizing governance to the extent which was inconceivable in the recent past.

India’s democratic trajectory does not seem to be radically different from that of Brazil and other sister countries where democracy despite being casualties on occasions, thrived presumably because it was not, at all, a window dressing, as was apprehended at the dawn of constitutional democracy in India, but has become integral to her existence as an independent and also vibrant polity. Like their Brazilian counterpart, the demos in India confronted an authoritarian regime during the 1975-77 Emergency which, instead of diluting their faith in democracy, reconfirmed that it was perhaps the best mode of governance in a diverse country like India; it further confirms that the ‘Bhakti’ syndrome was at the root of devastation of the system and degeneration of the beliefs that formed the core of democratic agility for which the Indians stood out. Barring these two years in the 1970s, India’s constitutional democracy did not seem to have faced threats to her existence to the extent that Brazil had faced intermittently in the last two decades.

In view of the fact the constitutional democracy has evolved deeper roots in India than those decolonized countries that also had adopted a democratic form of government, it can safely be argued that it is primarily due to the consolidation of a supportive mindset which is strong enough to scuttle the tendencies to the contrary. This has two serious implications which need to be taken into account for conceptualizing constitutional democracy and also theorizing its grip in India: first, the strengthening of constitutional democracy in India redefines its conceptual parameters and theoretical contours in contrast with what the classical liberal theorists, like James Mill, JS Mill, SM Lipset, among others, argued in defence of their contention that a socio-economically diverse society like India was neither fit to be democratic nor a liberal polity. Secondly, India’s democratic experiences confirm that the role of the democratic structure of governance cannot be undermined in initiating and also consolidating the supportive inputs at the grassroots. This means that the privileging of the context does not seem to be theoretically as persuasive as is made to be. The democratic political system also contributes by creating a template supportive of the processes of democratization which complements the drive in its favour.

There is no doubt that India has matured as a democracy with the slow but steady consolidation of representative institutions, the separation of powers, and increased participation of the people in elections. Even the prevalence of staggering inequality which BR Ambedkar had highlighted during the drafting of the 1950 Constitution did not seem to have deterred the processes of democratization.

This is certainly a great achievement especially in the context of India’s South Asian neighbours that, despite having the same the same colonial legacy, are still struggling to establish democracy on a solid politico-ideological foundation. What it entails is the argument that the mere prevalence of an institutional structure purportedly supportive of democracy does not always create circumstances in which democracy thrives not just as a structure of governance but also as a process contributing to the consolidation of a mindset in its defence. By being democratic since the inauguration of the 1950 Constitution, the text that has emerged out of India’s experience helps us discern a new mode of conceptualization which is theoretically innovative and politically persuasive.

Besides seeking to understand how constitutional democracy evolved in India in the wake of colonial rule and its aftermath, the aim of this conference is also to comprehend and conceptualize its changing texture. The outcome of the 2014 national election and the recent UP assembly election confirms that the voters remain supreme and the political leaders hardly possess an authority in case they are alienated. In others words, voters are, neither predictable nor indecisive, as is generally believed, but are clear-headed while making their preferences in the polling booth.

Despite the continuity of constitutional democracy in India for more than seven decades, questions are being raised about the depth of our democratic consciousness. For instance, have we been reduced merely to being ‘voters’ who remain contended with the casting of votes in elections, or do we need to become ‘democratic citizens’ acting as a shield against the tendencies, both the state-driven and otherwise, towards undermining the very ethos, values and principles of democracy? Is it merely adequate for us, as citizens of democratic India to elect and leave the representatives to always decide for us? Is there a need to devise mechanisms other than the available-ones to make Indian democracy more accountable, participatory and deliberative?

India’s democratic trajectory is full of turns and twists which make the effort towards understanding its nature theoretically innovative and conceptually enlightening. By directing attention to the changing texture of democracy since the inauguration of the 1950 Constitution of India, the proposed conference seeks to grasp the processes contributing to the way in which it is being reconceptualized.

Since the aim is to comprehend the unfolding of the processes of democratization holistically, the following thematic demarcations are proposed merely to organize the discussion during the conference:

A) understanding the 1950 Constitution and constitutionalism since the beginning of the efforts during the British rule towards constitutionalizing governance in India in liberal–democratic terms

B) comprehending the unfolding of democratic governance in independent India in the state-led development era

C) grasping of democratization of governance since the 1990s in an era of globalization and the evolution of new modes of politico-ideological mobilization around concerns for identities with the promulgation of the Mandal reservation in 1990 and the nationalist upsurges over the controversial structure in Ayodhya, known as Babri Masjid.

Objectives of the conference

The concern for democratizing governance is nothing new in intellectual discourse; it was a source of concern in the past and continues to remain so even now. The objective of the conference is thus two-fold: (a) to get acquainted with the discourse that has been developed by host of scholars who endeavoured to understand the theme in their distinctive perspectives, and (b) by laying-out the available discourses, the conference seeks to provide an opportunity to the young scholars who have or are being drawn to this area of concern. It is an endeavour in mentoring the young minds in the field.

More details here

 

Problematizing Sexuality and Violence: Deconstructing Institutions, Norms and Narratives in India

23-24 August 2017

FELS National Seminar

Organized by UGC-SAP, Department of Political Science and Research Network on Feminist Engagements with Law and the State (FELS), University of Delhi, Delhi

Poster 4

Concept Note:

The state and its institutions, despite claiming to be democratic, constructs gendered power through its different legislations and policies, and in this process, they are selective and manipulative to serve patriarchal prejudices and privileges. Feminists seek redressal from these kinds of prejudices embedded within norms and institutions of the democratic state.

Feminist engagements with one of the prominent institutions such as the legal system, largely seek to explore what constitutes justice for women in a patriarchal society governed by law. It is well-nigh impossible to arrive at a consensual notion of what is justice; hence there always remains a danger that the understanding of the dominant section will be imposed on the marginalized ones. For the very sustenance of patriarchy, relegation of women and some men to the margin is essential, hence it is imperative to see how law can be used both as a tool of exploitation and empowerment. Feminists, notably, are not a monolithic bloc but more like rainbows. They are of different vantage points, persuasions and perspectives with respect to their engagements with laws and the state. Depending on their vantage point, they debate on the power of law as to whether the latter can perform its role only in a changed society or it can change the society itself, for better or worse. State institutionalizes public/private distinction. Even where the state has intervened by making laws and formulating policies for women, the heteronormative prejudices remain intact. For instance, different laws and government policies have an intrinsic understanding of binary opposites-‘good’ and ‘bad’ women (Prostitutes/housewives, virgin/non-virgin, married/unmarried, sane/insane). Next level of debate amongst feminists who advocate state intervention pertains to the extent of interference by the state in both public and private spheres. Therefore any analyses of feminist engagements with law and the state will be multi-layered with either questioning or engaging with established heterosexual norms, institutions and practices.

Predominantly, feminists in India have seen democratic institutions like the legal system and the state as a welcome tool to bring gender justice in society. Post-independence, the basic concern of feminists has been to address various forms of violence faced by girls/women from the time in womb to tomb (sex determination and abortion of female fetus, sati, dowry deaths, sexual assault and harassment). As a result of consistent struggles by feminists in this regard many progressive laws have been passed. These include the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961, Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act (PCPNDT Act) 1994, The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012, The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013 and The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013. Together with the issue of addressing atrocities against women, feminists also fought for empowering girls/women through ensuring access to constitutional rights, especially, educational and economic rights, enshrined in our constitution. Therefore the state sometimes takes a step ahead favouring feminist concerns (Vishakha guidelines) and then takes two steps backwards (Madhu Kishwar v. State of Bihar) so that heterosexual norms and institutions remain unthreatened. This struggle for gender justice has witnessed many vicissitudes.

By early 1990s feminists in India realized and recognised three major drawbacks in their approach. Firstly, they highlighted the fact that there is a lack of willingness on the part of political institutions and society at large to recognise women having their own agency. Women’s lived experiences are not only marked by violence they face but also by their own demands of the body and desires of the mind. Feminists needed to highlight these aspects. They had to expand the discourse to include voices of demands and desires. Secondly, women in India are not a homogeneous group. Their individual identity is marked by collective identities based on caste, class, region and religion. Feminists cannot limit their fight to the issues of upper caste, middle class, educated women. Voices of persons pushed to periphery of the society like Dalits, Adivasis, and sexual minorities must also be incorporated in feminist discourses to make their processes more democratic. Thirdly, a conscious attempt to engage with and reaching out to men is a strategy feminists should adopt, because conventional understandings of masculinity and patriarchy do impact men as much as women. This deeply intrinsic notion can have serious repercussions for both men and women. Raising consciousness across gender can strengthen feminist discourse in challenging and deconstructing patriarchal norms and institutions reinforcing superiority and hegemony of masculine interpretations and practices over other sexualities. As a result of these realisations, we could see how in the last twenty five years demands for reforms in political representation of women (particularly beyond local institutions of governance), questioning the model of development prioritizing economic growth over social justice, rights of sexual minorities and changing attitudes of men have gained momentum.

In this context of continuities and changes in the feminist engagements with law, it is imperative that we explore and expand our understanding of the same. In our innovative enterprise of launching a Research Network, we seek to involve versatile inter-disciplinary approaches involving various vantage points from the fields of theory and practice. We intend to include interactive sessions between academicians, activists and actual survivors of atrocities. As part of this longer exercise, we propose to host a two-day brainstorming seminar with the theme ‘Problematizing Sexuality and Violence: Deconstructing Institutions, Norms and Narratives in India’, which is the second in line, first one being a workshop on ‘Feminist Engagements with Law and the State’ held on 29th March, 2017. The workshop was the first concrete step in undertaking this stupendous agenda in terms of which themes to focus, what methodologies to adopt and pursue and how to bring academicians, activists and survivors in the country and abroad together in a common platform of deliberation and discussions.

More details here

 

Democracy and Rights Discourse in India on Norms, Institutions and Practices

28-29 July 2017

CAS - SAP National Seminar

Norms, Institutions and Practices, 28-29 July 2017

Concept note:

The trajectory of democratic politics in India constitutes interconnections and interfaces between ideas of social equality that integrates principles of demand for equal opportunities with demand for respect and dignity and social movements in which egalitarianism is a key value and thorough which a new social justice imagination emerges through interventions of Dalits, women and working class ( Omvedt,1993).

The working of a democratic system operates at four different levels: a) ideology, b) institutions, c) civil society, and d) culture. While ideology provides a framework of normative values and beliefs about democracy and correlated market structures, the structure of institutions includes the framework of laws and constitution, party system and market structures.

One of the integral components of democratic system is the commitment to upholding rights in a democratic framework. Having said that, while rights and democracy are upheld in the same breath, there are disagreements on the visions, approaches, directions and even goals.

India, the world’s largest democracy can still boast of an active civil society, a cherished judiciary and a functional state but a sudden rise in the infringement of rights of citizens have posed some new questions to the discourse of democracy and the protection of rights today.

The democratic world today exhibits a theatre of competing claims of rights. The idea of rights is a very seductive one and continues to have its hold over human imagination. But taking the ‘rights path’ in an institutional, structured democracy is strewn with obstacles and challenges. This seminar therefore explores the various facets of rights in terms of its universal and relativist contexts within the democratic framework. The discomfort with engaging with rights has emerged from a deep seated confrontation between the ideologies which exist within democracy today. There is very little agreement about what rights are, why rights are used within constitutional provisions and provide framework for moral theorizing, or about how to reconcile various conflicts that arise due to struggle between contending rights? What should be the parameters for creating a hierarchy of rights or determining the priority of one right over another within democratic politics?

Amidst the explosion of rights ranging from human rights to rights of mountains and rivers, there is also a visible backlash to suppress rights at each and every level within the institutional democratic order. This backlash is the result of mostly two different schools of thought. The first is the idea that the claim of individual rights to deliver human development and freedom as argued in the liberal discourse is a myth. This school counters it with the duties and obligations talk. The impetus to reject rights altogether is based on a philosophical claim about the cultural embeddedness of moral values and a political claim about the authority to interpret such values on behalf of a collective. The second view considers the idea of rights as a step forward but not sufficient enough for the full realization of human dignity. It mainly denounces the state as a viable institution to establish rights and instead look for alternatives in social movements.

The Central Objective:

The seminar aims to critically engage with the idea of rights as they exist within political theory and will delve into the debates and dilemmas within the democratic system in India. By probing into questions of caste, class, gender, region, religion and ethnicity it will explore the need to take a middle path that would bridge the concerns of the relativists and the universalists in order to achieve a modicum of justice, freedom and egalitarianism in society. The feminist lens on rights that engages critically with gender discrimination will be used as a viable tool to theorise rights for the marginalised and the unequal in society. It will strive to engage with the struggle for rights by marginalized and autonomous groups and examine how this process is linked to the role of the state, world economy and civil society. We also hope to engage with the notion of rights in a democracy and the significance of rescuing and retrieving it by relying on a shared commitment to difference, debates and disagreements in order to understand democracy.

The seminar will be divided into three sessions each of which will relate to the theme under study and map the complex and contentious issues around it, first to serve as a guide and then to indicate some of the shifts in the contemporary debates. The first session Theorizing Rights, Democracy and Social Inclusion would explore the theoretical dimensions of the rights discourse that exist within a democratic state. The engagement with the idea of human rights and its critique from cultural relativists, the emphasis on duties and obligations and the need to rescue the rights discourse by maintaining a balance between universalism and differences will be the focus here. The importance of ensuring individual and group rights in order to protect the basic spirit of democracy will also form a thread. The concept of intersectionality and its significance in a world marked by diversity will provide a framework for the same. The debates and dilemmas in the theoretical terrain, especially in the context of the rolling back of the frontiers of the state and the emergence of a world market economy, will be brought to the forefront. The second session Democracy, Gender and other Identities: Issues and Contestations will examine the idea of gender, the fluidity of the concept with its myriad dimensions of caste, class, disability and sexuality and the issues and questions that emerge in terms of challenges to democratic system. The third session Competing Rights in a Democracy: Questions and Challenges will examine the idea of competing rights especially in terms of the vulnerable sections of society whose rights exist fringes like rights of children, caregivers of the persons with disability, transgender communities and their trajectories of debates in right discourse in the Indian democracy. What are the concerns surrounding the issues of rights here? How does one reconcile the idea of right to freedom to the notion of strategic national interest and national pride within democracy? The issues of the marginalized and the concerns of the development will also be taken into consideration.

Overall the seminar will aim to provide the interconnections between the themes in order to draw attention to the significance of the dilemmas and debates around rights in a democratic society. The concluding session will strive to tie up the main concerns around the significance of why political, social, economic, cultural, and religious institutions and practices have to be informed and continuously interrogated and transformed by the rights discourse within a democratic framework with all its contradictions and challenges.

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Faculty Seminar

2016

Politics: Theory and Practices

Department of Political Science, Delhi University

Participants:

Alisha Dhingra, Avantika Singh, Smita Agarwal, Ngoru Nixon, Silky Tyagi, Praem Hidam, Anju Singh, Pramod Khobda, Abhay Kumar, Abhishek Nath, Muzaffar Hussain


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