by Liza Tom, Bhargavi S, and Akshyah Krishnakumar
The second Department Conference of the Humanities and Social Sciences Department was held on 21st September, 2012, on the overarching theme of ‘Negotiating Conflict’. The conference drew from the three streams – Development Studies, Economics and English. The first conference was held in April 2010 on the theme ‘Redefining Boundaries’. The aim of these conferences, which are planned to be held every two years, is to give students an idea of what can be expected from their fields.
Professor Sudhir Chella Rajan, the Head of the Department, delivered the introductory address. He talked about the PhD. program in the Humanities and Social Sciences and the Integrated MA program, which was started in 2006. Speaking about the achievements of the students of the very first batch, who passed out last year, he gave a brief sketch of the department and the program, whose aim is to encourage students to take up academic research.
The inaugural lecture was then delivered by Shri. Gopalkrishna Gandhi, author and former Governor of West Bengal. Mr. Gandhi confessed that he was “daunted by this topic”, but went on to enthrall the audience with his views on negotiating conflict in the society, economy and in literature. What is conflict for one may be normal for another, he stated. You may be on one side of the fence and believe that the grass is green, but there is another side of the fence too – where GDP rates fall, but even more drastically, poverty alleviation rates stand at 1%.
Asserting that “India is the amalgam of the best and worst of human beings,” he said that conflict in India, or indeed anywhere, is not black and white. Speaking about the “enemies of human decency” and how to control them, he stated that nevertheless torture and state vigilantism are “not done”. In some places negotiating is simply not allowed.
He described how during the freedom struggle all sectional goals were subsumed to one overarching goal, but now the Indian goal is the sum of all sectional goal. “It is like a mural that has been disintegrated.”, he said.
Then, moving to conflict in literature, he opined that literature is born out of conflict. “Dalit literature is a force to reckon with, even globally,” he said, quoting examples of Mahashweta Devi and Bama’s Varnam. Then, “Thank God for Arundhati Roy!” he exclaimed. “In a land of fence-sitters, she at least knows which side of the fence she’s on!”
The best way to negotiate conflict, he maintained, is by the judiciary first, the Election Commission next and then the Central and State Information Camps. Then, declining to be a speaker ‘who doesn’t know when to stop’ he concluded his address to great applause.
A highlight of the conference was the inter-school debate. Eight schools participated in Round 1 and some of different topics were ‘This house will not build a mosque on Ground zero’ and ‘This house will not have a Facebook profile’. Four schools got through this round. APL Global and and Devi Academy were pitted against each other to debate whether Israel should engage in prisoner swaps with Palestine, while Lady Andal and Kendriya Vidyalaya debated if the African Union should be allowed to handle conflict in African nations.In the final round, Lady Andal and Devi Academy debated if censorship of the press is justified, with the former bagging the first place.
The first session of the Departmental Conference, the subject of which was Development Studies, was based on the theme ‘Negotiating Ethnicity and Nationalism’. It was held on the 21st of September at CLT. The keynote lecture was delivered by Dr. Shail Mayaram, a senior fellow at Centre for the Study of Development Societies. It was an illuminating talk, broadly touching on some aspects of the theme. One of the first questions Dr. Mayaram brought up was, ‘Is our understanding of conflict that of conflict due to the deep diversity within a society, or the management of such a diversity?’ Such questions were a recurring feature of the lecture. One of sub-themes of the lecture was the fascinating comparison between India and China with respect to the ethnicities and consequent conflict in their respective societies through history. Dr. Mayaram talked about how India has had a more ‘politically- fragmented history compared to China’ because of the country’s astonishing religious diversity, and how both countries have an essentially different concept of religion when compared to Europe.
Modernity, she said has created a new dichotomy between religion and secularism. In China, the period between 1949 and 1966 was marked by a decline in prominence of Buddhism, a situation which was provided impetus by the infamous Cultural Revolution. Oddly however, China, unlike India, has no historical instance of communal riots. One of the reasons was the promotion of the principles of Confucianism in society, not just by the State, but also actively by the community itself.
The lecture was followed by an interactive session. Several interesting questions, like whether Hinduism can be considered a religion at all, came up. Next, two selected students, Sahil Mathur from IIT-M and Suraj Gogoi from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) presented their papers on ‘Ethnicity in the larger rubric of Nationalism’ and ‘Governmental rationality in India’s North-East perspectives of the ‘known’ respectively.
After their presentations, a panel discussed the papers and provided new perspectives and methods of critique to the audience.