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.

People, Princes and Purifiers: The Holi Festival in Nineteenth-and-Early-Twentieth-Century Punjab

Anil Sethi


About the Lecture

This paper will examine the ways in which the Holi festival was observed in nineteenth-and-early-twentieth-century Punjab.  For ordinary people, social licence, frenzy and pollution were important elements of Holiand the festival marked a symbolic reversal of familial, class and caste hierarchies.  These reversals served to affirm the control of the dominant groups.  Even so, there were limits to this topsy-turvy of social rolesand status.The ‘safety-valve’ upturning of hierarchies was not the only function that Holi served in the nineteenth century.  Ranjit Singh used it in quite another way: as a premier vehicle for the display of monarchical pompand power through an exhibition of the nobility’s corporate effervescence each year that day.In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, purifiers – Sanatani, Arya and Sikh – made concerted attempts at changing the festival, removing elements of revelry (which they thought to be intemperate andRabelaisian) and instituting a pavitra celebration.  The Sikhs also popularized the alternative Hola Mohalla.

About Speaker

Anil Sethi is Professor of History and History Education at the Azim Premji University, Bangalore and was earlier Professor of History at the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), New Delhi.  He has taught at various universities: Delhi University, Osaka University of Foreign Studies, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, University of North London and, as Visiting Professor, at the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi.  He has researched the history of communalism, especially its linkages with everyday life.  He has also helped develop a Tokyo-based oral archive on the Partition of India.  His interests include the social and religious history of modern South Asia, the history of the Indian National Movement, and History and Social Science Education.Anil was a Commonwealth Scholar at St. Catharine’s College, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK from where he got his Ph.D. for a dissertation that dealt with religious identities in nineteenth and early twentieth century Punjab.  He has also been a Centre of Excellence Fellow at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Tokyo, Japan.Anil has helped develop various History textbooks published by the NCERT.  He has written for the current History textbooks for Classes VIII, XI and XII of the NCERT.  He has lectured and imparted training on History Education and Social Science Education including Education for Peace, both within the country andabroad, notably at Seeds of Peace, Maine, USA. He has also led NCERT missions to Sweden and Afghanistan. His publications include School, Society, Nation: Popular Essays in Education (Delhi, Orient Longman, 2005) that he co-edited with Rajni Kumar and Shalini Sikka.

The Democratic Imagination of Lohia

Rajaram Tolpadi


About the Lecture

This talk will attempt to historicize Lohia’s distinctive thought on democratic politics. Focusing on the three distinct phases in his life i.e. his sojourn as a doctoral student in Berlin, his engagement with the freedom struggle in colonial India and his political career after the country’s independence, the talk will track theformation of his political theory of democracy with particular reference to the institutions of caste, language and gender.

About Speaker

Rajaram Tolpadi is Professor and Chairman of the Department of Political Science, Mangalore University. His research interests include political theory, Indian political philosophy, and democratic politics in India. He was Visiting Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi between 2003 and 2005. In addition to numerous research articles, he has published a book on the thought of Ram Manohar Lohiatitled, Matte Matte Lohia (Re-reading Lohia, 2011).

Sadvaidyasala: 100 Years of a Healthcare Organization

B.V. Sreekantan


About the Lecture

Sadvaidyasala is one of the oldest organizations manufacturing Ayurvedic medicines in Karnataka. Founded in 1913 by Ayurveda Vidwan B.V.Pundit, it aimed at serving the local community in the field of Ayurveda and health care. It later diversified into the manufacture of tooth powder, which grew in popularity and prominence across South India.  Starting with a small capital of Rs.300 and family support, BV Pundit built on a dedicated work force cutting across barriers of caste and religion. During the Second World War (1939-1944), Sadvaidyasala and its founder gained popularity for the therapeutic properties of their medicine formulated to counter diseases like cholera, malaria and plague.  In 1962, BV Pundit built Dhanvantari Arogyashram, an Ayurvedic Hospital and a charitable trust in Nanjangud, to treat patients with chronic ailments, and provide free treatment to the needy.  This talk will provide an account of the ideals guiding the work of Sadvaidyasala and its continuing efforts at providing affordable healthcare and abide by ethical labour practices amidst the competitive realities of the market.

About Speaker

Dr Sreekantan is currently Visiting Professor at National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru and also Chairman, Gandhi Centre of Science and Human Values of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bengaluru. He was Dr Radhakrishnan Visiting Professor in 1992. He was the Director of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) during 1975-87 and the Indian National Science Academy Srinivasa Ramanujan Professor during 1987-92. He obtained his PhD from TIFR, Mumbai. He has specialized in cosmic rays, high-energy physics and high-energy astronomies and has published over 200 research papers. He has received a number of professional awards including the RD Birla Award of the Indian Physics Association and the Padma Bhushan. He has held a number of visiting positions abroad. After moving to NIAS, Prof Sreekantan shifted his interests from pure science to studies on scientific and philosophical studies on consciousness and exploration of commonalities and similarities in holistic approaches in modern science and ancient philosophies.Rajesh Sreenivasan is Director, Sadvaidyasala. He has a Master’s degree in Botany from Bangalore University (1990) and a PhD in Biophysics from NIMHANS 1996. 

Himalaya Environment and Development: Experiences of the ‘Chipko’ Movement’

Chandi Prasad Bhat


About the Lecture

Himalayas are the repository of our cultural heritage and the mainstay of our environmental riches and development. Lately, however, they have become prone to disasters – the latest being in 2013. To ensure the continuance Himalayas as the beacon of our environment and development, conscientious policy making and a lot of public awareness is necessary. This talk is a part of such an effort.Alaknanda caused a human-made disaster first in 1970. Forest cover was denuding. Led by women, Chipko (or embrace the tree to prevent it from cutting) movement brought the focus on the need for environmental sustainability in the process of socio-economic transformation.As one of its pioneers, Shri Chandi Prasad Bhatt gave the Chipko movement of the 1970s a Gandhian thrust. They believe in the principle that ‘there is a time to confront and a time to construct’.

About Speaker

Shri Chandi Prasad Bhatt was born in 1934 at Gopeshwar (Uttarakhand) in a poor Brahmin family. On losing his father quite early in life, he had to start working, as a booking clerk in a transport company, at a very young age. His life changed on meeting Jai Prakash Narayan in 1958. He founded the Dasholi Gram Swarajya Sanghat Gopeshwar in 1964 and later led the Chipko movment.Bhattji has also authored half a dozen books. His latest book is on his experiences of walking on river beds and mountains all over the world. It’s entitled Parvat-parvat Basti-basti (Hindi) (National Book Trust, 2011).While Bhattji has won the Ramon Magsaysay Award (1982), Padma Shri (1986), Padma Bhushan (2005), Gandhi Peace Prize (2013) etc., he insists that every activity of his has been the product of collective efforts. At times, therefore, he has successfully insisted that the awards be given to a larger group, particularly theMahila Mangal Dals.

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.