The Azim Premji University regularly organizes seminars, webinars and colloquium lectures involving members of the faculty as well as academicians, activists, artists and other distinguished personalities from a wide array of fields. This section consists of video recordings of  major events conducted at the Azim Premji University.

Poverty and the Quest for Life: Spiritual and Material Striving in Rural India

Bhrigupati Singh


About the Lecture

In this talk the author discusses his recent book Poverty and the Quest for Life (Oxford University Press, 2015). Set in Shahabad, an area of extreme poverty in rural Rajasthan, and focusing on the Sahariyas, a community of former bonded laborers, this book asks what the terms “aspiration” and “quality of life” might mean within such a milieu. The book answers this question by taking the reader through a range of themes including ways of conceptualizing state power and everyday encounters with the state (beyond a fixation on corruption and sovereign authority), the decline of forests and the water table, the contestations but alsothe intimacies of inter-caste sociality, the rise and fall of gods, and the place of religious practice in everyday life. This book offers new ways of thinking beyond the religion-secularism and nature-culture dichotomies, juxtaposing questions about quality of life with political theologies of sovereignty, neighborliness, and ethics, in the process painting a rich portrait of perseverance and fragility in contemporary rural India.

About Speaker

Bhrigupati Singh studied at Delhi University, SOAS (UK) and completed his PhD in anthropology at Johns Hopkins University in 2010. He is currently an Assistant Professor of cultural anthropology at Brown University. His recent book titled Poverty and the Quest for Life: Spiritual and Material Striving in Rural India (Oxford University Press, South Asia; University of Chicago Press, US & UK, 2015) was awarded theJoseph W. Elder Prize in the Indian Social Sciences. He is the co-editor of TheGround Between: Anthropological Engagements with Philosophy (Duke University Press, 2014) and serves as an Associate Editor of HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, widely regarded as one of the most successful instances of copyleft academic publishing. Previously, he worked at Sarai-CSDS (Delhi). He is currently conducting research on religious and secular forms of healing for “common mental health disorders” including depression and anxiety, as a window into contemporary India. 

Colonial Bilingualism, Translation and the Indian Social  Sciences

 Veena Naregal


About the Lecture

The bilingual relationship between English and the ’vernaculars’ has been crucial to the construction of a modern public domain in India.  Equally, this structural bilingualism has placed important limits on howthe principles of publicity, general access and a laicized literate order were/are articulated in our context. Drawing on historical materials pertaining to western India, the first part of the talk explores how nineteenth century colonial intellectuals explored their ‘middling’ position via English and Marathi print to advance their interests and hegemonic aspirations.  The latter part of the talk will discuss implications  ofthese processes for the social  science  enterprise  in India, and seek to delineate some of the ways in which the relationship between the 'academic' and 'vernacular', and the role of translation have been changing since the last decades of the nineteenth century.

About Speaker

Veena Naregal is Professor of Sociology at the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi.  She has taught atthe UT, Austin, and has held visiting fellowships at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, University of Edinburgh, among other places. Her current research interests include language and Indiandemocracy; regional theatre histories; cultural and institutional histories 1920-1960.  Her book,   Language Politics, Elites and the Public Sphere in Colonial Western India (Permanent Black/Anthem Press, 2001) has been well-received. She is co-editing with Madhav Prasad a volume of essays, tentatively entitled, Language Movements, Federalism and the Democratic Imagination in India.  She is also editing a series of volumes of translated primary materials pertaining to regional theatre histories in Kannada, Marathi and Tamil.

The Theory and Practice of Nonviolence in Building Social Movements

P V Rajagopal


About the Lecture

The talk will discuss various components of nonviolence and illustrate through examples how they relate to social movements. It will look at the impact of globalization as it affects marginalized communities and the need for their organized efforts to deal with the emerging situations.

About Speaker

P V Rajagopal (known as Rajaji) has been intimately associated with non-violent activism for land reform in North India for several years.  He began his work on non-violence when he spent many years rehabilitating the dacoits in the Chambal region of Madhya Pradesh. In 1976 more than 500 dacoits gave up arms and moved into settled life and much of this was the result of hard work of Rajaji and others. From here he spent the next fifteen years building the capacity of rural youth through training programs and other initiatives. In 1993 he became the Secretary of Gandhi Peace Foundation, and subsequently its Vice-Chairman. In the mid-1990s the work of Rajaji galvanized into a mass movement. In 1999-2000 he began to carry out long-marches across the country in different states. In 2007 and in 2012 he carried out 25,000 and 45,000 strong non-violent marches, known as Janadesh and Jan Satyagraha, respectively, from Gwalior to Delhi to demand control over land and livelihood resources for the landless and small farmers.

The Functioning of the Indian Parliament

M R Madhavan


About the Lecture

The Parliament is the key representative institution of Indian democracy that makes all central laws, holdsthe government accountable for its actions, and allocates financial resources to achieve various national objectives.  In this talk, I will explore the ways in which Indian Parliament performs these roles, and how effective it is in doing so.  I will also explore ideas on whether the current procedures and systems can be reformed to enable it to function more effectively.

About Speaker

M R Madhavan is the co-founder and President of PRS Legislative Research, New Delhi.  His interests are in improving the processes of legislative bodies in three broad dimensions:  strengthen the mechanisms for legislators to take decisions in a better informed manner; increase the transparency of the system to enable citizens to know more about the work of legislators and legislatures; and work towards law-making in a more participatory manner by catalyzing engagement of citizens with their elected representatives. Madhavan has previously worked in investment banking with ICICI Securities and Bank of America.  He holds a B. Tech from IIT Madras and an MBA and PhD from IIM Calcutta.

Budhan Theatre – A Creative expression of societal and state oppression on De-Notified “Ex-Criminal Tribes” of India”

Dakxin Kumar Bajrange


About the Lecture

The Budhan Theatre is a theater group developed in resistance to more than 100 years of oppression perpetrated on De-notified and Nomadic Tribes ("DNT from now on") and to demand constitutional rights from the state that were denied by political leaders while framing the constitution of India. The group was begun to tell the truth of killing of Budhan Sabar in West Bengal Jail and to appeal to the spectators that we are not ‘Born Criminal’ (defined during colonial legacy in India), we are ‘Born Actors’.My presentation will be on a small tribe called the Chhara, which was classified as a ‘Criminal Tribe’ in 1871 during colonial rule in India and then declared a De-notified Tribe by the newly independent Government in 1952. It takes into account a cultural movement towards freedom, adopted by them in their struggle against a dehumanizing and oppressive status in society, the legal and political arena. This is first-hand account that draws on my living history as a Chhara, on-going work as an artistic director of the BudhanTheatre and my engagement with the artists of Kathputali Colony of Delhi and the process to develop performances on their ongoing eviction issue, internal social dynamics and its cultural activism for their ancestral land. My talk will examine the community’s use of theatre as a means of disrupting the discrimination rooted in oppressive colonial histories and in contemporary Indian society and system. It is an account of the theatre practice of a so - called Criminal Tribe and other oppressed groups, to transform and empower spectators and community actors towards change. Change means the earning of dignity, a respectful life and the self-expression of day-to-day experiences of dehumanization in ‘Free Indian States”. I will also discuss how Budhan Theatre has threaded many DNT communities together for making common demands from the government for their constitutional rights and development and created a national group for social and political advocacy for the rights of DNTs.

About Speaker

Dakxin Kumar Bajrange graduated from the University of Leeds, UK in ‘Theatre and Global Development’in 2010-11 and is an award winning filmmaker, playwright, director and activist from the Chhara De-notified Tribes of Ahmedabad in the western part of India. He is a recipient of The Ford Foundation International Fellowship (2010-11), he is also a recipient of The Rajiv Gandhi Arts Fellowship (2004-05) and Bhasha Fellowship (2002-03) to study art forms of nomadic and de-notified communities in Gujarat. Recently his book ‘Budhan Bolta Hai’ (Budhan Speaks) received a National Award titled Mahatma Gandhi Best Creative Writing on Human rights by National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC) for 2010-11. Currently, he works at Budhan Theatre as a creative head. In 2007, Mr. Bajrange was invited by United Nations General Assembly to speak about the Nomadic and De-notified Tribes of India.As a Filmmaker, he has directed 78 fiction and non-fiction films on various development and political issues of India. His films are widely screened in Film Festivals and universities in India and abroad including United Nations in 2007.  He is the winner of South Asia documentary film award Jeevika-2005 for his film ‘Fight for Survival’. His most recent film is on De-notified Tribes of India titled ‘Birth 1871’ which recently screened in universities and other venues in India, USA and UK.He has written and Directed 11 plays and Supervised 41 Theatre Productions of Budhan Theatre and performed more than 700 shows in different part of India. He has conducted number of theatre Workshops for community development in marginalized communities, schools, colleges and institutions, trained more than 300 community Actors and founded number of Theatre Groups in India. He has co-ordinated and organized Gujarat’s biggest community theatre festival ‘Ahmedabad Theatre Festival’ (ATF) in 2012. He co-facilitates an annual theatre workshop at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.Mr. Bajrange has authored the book ‘Budhan Bolta Hai’ (2010)’ in Hindi. The book is also published in Marathi language by Padmagandha Publication, Pune. His play ‘Budhan’, in Hindi and English has been published by Bhasha Research and Publication Centre and Penguin India. His academic publications have appeared in Antipode: A Journal of Radical Geography, Liffey Press Ireland (Street Theatre as Democratic Politics in Ahmedabad), Seminar India, Bhasha Research and Publication Centre,Penguin India, Malayalam Manorama, Budhan News Letter, Padmagandha Publication. He has also presented papers in many reputed national and international conferences in India, USA, UK, Canada and gave talks on Theatre and community development.

The Functioning of the Indian Parliament

 M.R. Madhavan


About the Lecture

The Parliament is the central institution of our democracy that makes national laws, holds the central government accountable for implementing various policies and allocates financial resources through thebudgetary process.  In this talk, I will explore the following questions:  What are the various ways in whichParliament performs these roles?  How effective is it in doing so?  Are there ways in which the processes can be modified to improve its effectiveness?  What are the major reforms needed to improve thefunctioning of Parliament?

About Speaker

M R Madhavan is the President of PRS Legislative Research, New Delhi.  His interests are in improving theprocesses of legislative bodies in three broad dimensions:  strengthen the mechanisms for legislators to take decisions in a better informed manner; increase the transparency of the system to enable citizens to know more about the work of legislators and legislatures; and work towards law-making in a more participatory manner by catalyzing engagement of citizens with their elected representatives.  Madhavan has previously worked in investment banking with ICICI Securities and Bank of America.  He holds a B. Tech from IIT Madras and an MBA and PhD from IIM Calcutta.

The National Green Tribunal of India: Emerging Socio-Legal Perspectives

Rita Brara


About the Lecture

In this lecture, I focus on three socio-legal perspectives that emerge from a perusal of environmental case law at the National Green Tribunal, India. First, I draw attention to modes of redressing violations outlined in environmental laws that lead to the forging of social relationships and bodies based on collective experiences of vulnerability vis-à-vis the environment. Framed as locally affected publics and NGOs, these bodies articulate and litigate their standpoints before the National Green Tribunal in their public interest. From a second angle, I note that emergent case law at the Tribunal shows increasing use of technoscienctific data by local publics and advocates in the assertion of environmental claims and counter-claims. Science and knowledge for the local context are often triggered by considerations of vulnerability. This interface between science, society and the law is strengthened since the Tribunal has scientist members on board who play the dual role of scientists and judges.  My third focus lights up the rising exercise of global environmental principles in the making of environmentally sound judgments and their occasional reorienting to accord with the national public interest.

About Speaker

Dr. Rita Brara is an Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics. She has published, Shifting Landscapes: The Making and Remaking of Village Commons in India (2006: Oxford University Press). She researches in the areas of ecology, rural development, kinship and popular culture.

The Political Ecology of Palk Bay Fisheries: Geographies of Capital, Fisher Conflict, Ethnicity and Nation-State

Ajit Menon


About the Lecture

Abstract: Increasing tension between Indian trawl fishers from the state of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lankan artisanal fishers from the Northern Province in the Palk Bay has resulted in the Sri Lankan government patrolling the international maritime boundary line (IMBL) more stringently and increased arrests of Indian trawl fishers. Indian trawl fishers regularly engage in cross-border fishing to the detriment of Sri Lankan artisanal fishers whose nets are irreparably damaged. This paper argues that the present ‘fisheries crisis’ in the Palk Bay must be understood from a political ecology perspective that takes cognisance of the circuitous and contradictory nature of capital accumulation. It also emphasises the need to pay attention to how accumulation and the spatial practices of trawl fishers have been shaped by geographies of capital, fisher conflict, ethnicity and the nation-state.

About Speaker

Ajit Menon is Associate Professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies, where he works on the political economy of natural resource conflict and political ecology. His research is aimed primarily at understanding how and when the environment becomes important, as well as the contestations both material and ontological that underlie conflicts over the environment in general and the commons in particular. Forested landscapes in south India have provided the site for most of his research but he is increasingly interested in the political ecology of fisheries as well. He believes the practice of interdisciplinarity is central to the study of the environment, and is very interested in collaborative research across disciplines and the epistemological challenges of such research. Dr. Menon has published several journal articles and book chapters on forest management, conflicts over the commons, and environmental policy, and most recently, the co-edited volume: Sharad Lele and Ajit Menon (eds). 2014. Democratizing forest governance in India, Oxford University Press, New Delhi.

On Philosophy and Economics

Frank Thomson


About the Lecture

Abstract: Questions in and about economics that are of philosophical interest arise in at least three areas. First, there are questions about the scientific status of economics. For example, if economic models are literally false representations of reality, how can they aid understanding or action? Second, there are puzzles arising within economic theory, especially concerning the notion of rationality. For example, why model economic agents as homo oeconomicus if such a being would be a rational fool? And third, there are matters concerning the relation between economics and normative questions of economic policy. For example, what would be an optimal savings rate in the very long run? Such questions are conceptually challenging and there is no consensus on answers. This lecture will explore a selection of such questions.

About Speaker

Frank Thomson is Lecturer Emeritus at University of Michigan at Ann Arbour and is currently visiting Christ University as a Fulbright Senior Specialist. Frank has a Ph.D. degree in Philosophy from Harvard and a Ph.D. in Economics from University of Michigan. He has published extensively in the area of economics and philosophy.

Can India’s Welfare Programmes be Reversed? : Reflections on the Politics of Public Services in India

 Vivek Srinivasan


About the Lecture

Abstract: Under the new government, advocates of economic “reforms” have redoubled their efforts to dismantle what little India has of welfare programs. This talk will explore how far these efforts could succeed by looking at the politics of public services in India. It will argue that unlike in the past, there is increasing pressure from the common person on the government to deliver public services such as schools, healthcare, water and electricity which would make any reversal of a welfare state unsustainable. The talk will examine the roots of this public pressure starting with the experience of Tamil Nadu and related dynamics in other parts of India. The talk will be based on his recent book, Delivering Public Services Effectively: Tamil Nadu & Beyond (Oxford University Press, 2014).

About Speaker

Vivek Srinivasan is Academic Research & Program Manager, Liberation Technology at Stanford University. He developed an enduring interest in ensuring that everyone in India has access to basic public services during his activist days with India’s Right to Food Campaign. This led to his PhD in Social Sciences at the Maxwell School of Public Policy, Syracuse University, on understanding Tamil Nadu’s remarkable success in providing basic services to all, which was recently published as Delivering Public Services Effectively: Tamil Nadu & Beyond (Oxford University Press, 2014). He holds a Master's degree in Economics from Delhi School of Economics.Currently he leads a team of social scientists and engineers in a project to make basic public services transparent to the rural poor. Through this, his team hopes to combat corruption and promote greater accountability in programs used by the majority of the poor in India.For a detailed bio, please visit