Nandini Sundar spoke on Insurgency, Counterinsurgency and Democracy in India


The Infosys Science Foundation Lecture was delivered by Prof. Nandini Sundar at the University of Hyderabad on 25 March 2013. Speaking to the students, faculty and invitees at the DST Auditorium, Prof. Nandini Sundar talked about her work on insurgency, counterinsurgency and democracy, looking at the way in which insurgency is framed in official and non-official discourse in contemporary India, the continuities as well as discontinuities with colonial discourse; and the circulating repertoire of counterinsurgency measures across different time periods and different political regimes.


She focused on regrouping and the use of special police officers in particular. In India, while counterinsurgency has been practiced in many parts of the country, regrouping has only been applied to adivasi populations, whether in Nagaland or Mizoram, Telenga, Srikakulam or Chhattisgarh. Thus ideas of regrouping for security reasons are fed by a long history of contempt for adivasi lifestyles. Attempting to do an ethnography of democracy at different levels, she showed how democracy made little difference to the practice of counterinsurgency since the same measures were employed across the world by different regimes, and there were much greater continuities between the colonial and post-colonial periods than discontinuities when it came to adivasis. The situation was exacerbated by the failure of statutory institutions, electoral politics and the media, all of which should normally limit human rights abuses in a democracy. At the same time, she pointed out the expansion of information at different levels particularly the role of the internet, the importance of federalism and above all, the fact that democracy enabled dissenting groups and others to invoke constitutional principles and the rule of law, even if those charged with upholding them did not always believe in or practice them.

As the citation notes, Prof. Nandini Sundar was awarded the Infosys Science Foundation Award in recognition of her contributions as an outstanding analyst of social identities, who has made major and original contributions to our understanding of environmental struggles, of the impact of central and state policies on tribal politics, and of the moral ambiguities associated with subaltern political movements in contemporary India. These contributions are anchored in her deep grasp of the legacies of colonial rule for cultural politics in contemporary India, and in theoretically innovative understanding of the relationship of major historical events to persistent structural tensions in Indian society. Professor Sundar has placed her detailed studies of tribal politics in Central India in the broader frame of studies of the law, bureaucracy and morality in modern India. In so doing, she has combined innovative empirical and ethnographic methods and cutting-edge approaches to those sociological debates which link the study of social change in modern India to central debates in comparative social theory.


Prof. Ramakrishna Ramaswamy, Vice-Chancellor presided over the lecture while Prof. Aloka Parasher Sen, Dean, School of Social Sciences introduced the speaker.