National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bengaluru had organized a two-day conference on the 9th and 10th of January, 2017, on the theme “Nation, Community, and Citizenship in Contemporary India”. The conference was to mark the birth centenary of M N Srinivas who is regarded as one of the founders of Sociology and Social Anthropology in India. M N Srinivas’ concepts such as Sanskritisation, dominant caste, and vote bank gave a better understanding of Indian society, moving away from the “book-view” to the “field-view” social anthropological tradition in India.
The theme of the conference was on the current issues and debates in Indian society. Various conflicting and contesting caste, tribe, linguistic, religious and regional identities have crystallized in contemporary times into various social movements and protests. Some of these have been to assert their rights and address the question of inequality, inclusion, and exclusion. The conference had eminent and leading sociologists from across India discussing these issues in the context of nationalism, community, and citizenship in India. The conference also had paper presentations from young scholars on the same broad theme. The paper presentations were further divided into sub-themes namely: 1) Community, Citizenship and State; 2) Community Identities and Mobilisations; 3) The Nation and its Fragments; 4) Communities at the Margins of the Nation; 5) Education, Social Mobility, and Exclusion.
The conference started with the keynote address by Prof. Sujata Patel (University of Hyderabad and President of Indian Sociological Society. The note was followed by three paper presentations on the theme “Community, Citizenship, State” which was chaired by Prof. Surinder Jodhka (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi). The first paper was titled, “Tracing Judgments that Pronounce on Community Membership under Religious Personal Law” by Gitanjali Joshua, a Ph.D. scholar. The paper tried to explore the role of the judiciary in establishing an individual’s community membership and the implications it could have on the rights of the individual as a citizen.
The second paper is on “State, Community, and Law: A study of the ‘Mahal’ in Kerala” by Sifwa M A, an M.Phil scholar. Through the study of Mahal, a local religious interactive space of Muslims, the researcher tries to argue that Muslim community is Kerala is heterogeneous on the basis of culture and space. Also, on how Mahal as an institution represents a conflicting relation between citizenship rights and community with reference to the Muslim community in Kerala.
The third paper titled, "Everday Communalism and Shifting Food Practices in Jammu and Kashmir" by Chakraverti Mahajan. The paper dealt with communalism and identity politics in Doda district of Jammu and Kashmir and how these have shaped inter-religious food practices.
The second session on day one was on M N Srinivas and the Idea of Indian Society which was chaired by Prof. A R Vasavi. Prof. Satish Deshpande commented on the career of the concept of “Vote Bank”, which was originally formulated by M N Srinivas. He argued on how the concept of Vote Bank has been hijacked by Political Scientists and the Media and consequently its meaning has changed over the years. Prof. Gellner (Oxford University) shared his experiences with M N Srinivas and Srinivas’ years at the Oxford University. M N Panini ended the second session of the day discussing Srinivas’ theory and his contributions to Indian Sociology.
The third session of the day was set of four paper presentations on the theme Community Identities and Mobilisations which was chaired by Prof. N Jayaram. The paper by Sangay Tamang, a Ph.D. scholar from IIT Guwahati dealt was on the Gorkhaland Movement in the North-Eastern part of India. The paper dealt with the diverse ethnic and caste identities shaping up the Gorkhaland movement in the context of post-Mandal reforms. Divya Komala, an M.Phil scholar from JNU, Delhi presented a paper titled, “The Lingayat Mathas and the Return to Sanskrit”. The paper was on the Lingayat Mathas opting for Sanskrit in the early 1900s to gain higher social mobility after the Lingayats were categorized as “Shudras” in the 1891 census. Research scholar from JNU, Ujithra Ponniah’s paper was on practices of the Aggarwal community in Delhi post independence to consolidate their caste identity. The last paper in the session was by Ramesh Bairy, assistant professor at IIT Bombay, in this paper he analyses Ambedkar’s “Annihilation of Caste” and questions the feasibility of the project proposed by Ambedkar to end Caste.
Session IV: The Nation and its Fragments.
Prof. David Gellner chaired this session of paper presentations with Prof. Sujata Patel as the discussant. The four papers presented were inter-disciplinary and it looked at nationalism as a dominant ideology in contemporary social life. Doctoral candidate Rakhi Sharma, explored the complex relations between Sikh community and its real and imagined homeland. The paper attempted to trace the Punjabi Suba Movement. Krupa Rajangam, a research scholar from NIAS, Bangalore, explored the concept of how cultural heritage is increasingly becoming central to national identity. Taking the World Heritage Site of Hampi, the paper traces nation building exercises. With ethnographic and archival work, it aims to understand the relevance of heritage idea in a particular geographical and cultural context. Muthukumar M, examines the marginalised representation of the North – East India in the history text books of NCERT. The key question was to see how much of history has been “manipulated” as Foucault says, the manipulation of the statement is governed by the possibility which it entertains. Assistant Professor, B.B. Dash, looked into the role social media plays in the movements in contemporary India. Looking into the – Pink Panty Campaign, Occupy UGC and the series of attacks on universities like JNU, HCU, IITM etc to check their critical thinking and freedom of speech. Using critical theory, the paper narrates dialectics of nationalism through textual analysis of Twitter and Facebook.
Session V: Communities at the Margins of the Nation
Prof. M.N. Panini chaired the session and the discussant was Samnaiah Gundimeda. Raj Kumar Thakur presented on the “tea tribes” of Assam in its discourse on naming and claiming identities for themselves. Assistant Professor S.K. Jena, questioned the ethnographic representation of tribals as politically manipulated by the colonizers. Primary research examined tribal identity as represented in the selected ethnographic narratives by tribal and non-tribal authors. Ph.D scholar, Rajni Chandiwal, studies the discourse of discrimination, by looking into the intersection of filth with lower castes. It questions the idea of purity and pollution basing the arguments from primary sources taken from the National Archives of India.
Session VI: Education, Social Mobility, and Exclusion
Professor Shasheej Hedge chaired this session of the conference which had four participants, and N. Jayaram was the discussant. The first speaker, Yagyaseni Bareth, a PhD student, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, presented on the topic- “An EWS Student in a Private School- Inclusion or Exclusion”. Her thesis focused on the consequences of the RTE 21(C), according to which schools are required to reserve 25% of their seats for students from the Economically Weaker Sections of the society. Through her participant observation and other evidences, she showed how forced inclusion in turn is resulting into exclusion in private schools. The second participant, Postdoctoral Associate, Leya Mathew, National Institute of Advanced Studies discussed about the backdrops of the progressive pedagogy and discussed the gaps between what is laid out by the NCF 2005 and what actually happens in classroom, with respect to her field work in a school in Kerala. Third participant, Savitha Suresh Babu, a PhD scholar at NIAS, discussed about the humiliations faced by students in colleges and hostels, as a result of their caste identity. Fourth participant, Jeebanlata Salam, Assistant Professor, NIAS, presented on “Social Exclusion and Special Interventions among Muslims of Bihar”. It was a case study on 12 backward habitations in Bihar and several interventions both in educational and non educational sectors were proposed in the study.This two day Seminar ended with a Panel Discussion on the future of Sociology in general and on the future of the discipline in India in particular. Under discussion were issues relating to funding and the support that the discipline enjoys globally as well as the fact that the discipline operates as a crucial critical space for engagement with society and larger social issues.