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.

An Interface with the Anthropology of Secularism: A Little Scholarly Genealogy and Beyond

Sasheej Hegde


About the Lecture

My lecture is an attempt at forging the basis of a revitalized analytics of secularism, one that takes the very normative question of our secular moral/legal commitments seriously, while juxtaposing the latter against the claims of an anthropology (and history) of secularism.  In perspective, throughout the course of my lecture, is what I am terming a little scholarly genealogy that I hope to complicate through a seriesof traversals in the literature given over to the anthropology of secularism.  Built into the structure of this appraisal is a framework seeking to redeem normative secularity from the genealogical constrictions that define and/or frame it.  Thereflection also implicates a thought about ‘normativity’ as performative, one that could re-orient our reflections about contentious socio-political norms and ideals such as secularism.

About Speaker

Sasheej Hegde teaches sociology at the University of Hyderabad.  His research and teaching has concerned a subject area intermediate between ‘philosophy’, social and political theory, and culture critique: the question, specifically, of the enabling histories with which one works and the conceptual basis of human inquiry and socio-political activism.  More directly, his work has implicated three domains ofinquiry: the Structure and Dynamics of Disciplines; the Interpretation of Modernity;and Research on Normative Political Languages.  He has published fairly extensively in each of these spheres, while invariably retaining a reflective focus and incorporating many epistemological questions and socio-historical settings.  His current work actively negotiates the design of inquiry across disciplinary domains, while also opening up to new questions of law/ethics and constitutional jurisprudence.

Archaeological Places: Negotiations between Local Communities, Archaeologists and the State

Supriya Varma


About the Lecture

In South Asia, local communities most often live near or amidst archaeologicalplaces. Their lives are in many ways framed and structured by these places. At the same time, these places too are impacted by the communities that live nearby. This symbiotic relation is often a result of the high population density in the Indian subcontinent, particularly in the Gangetic plain of North India. This story gets further complicated by legislative practices of preservation related to ancient monuments and archaeological sites, as well as the custodianship of antiquities and art treasures.
In order to bring out the complexities of these issues, I will, in my presentation, be focusing on the archaeological site of Indor Khera in the Upper Ganga Plains of North India, which was surveyed and excavated between 2004 and 2010. In the 19th century, the village occupied about one-fourth of the area, which has now expanded over two-thirds of the mound. While Indor Khera merited archaeologicalattention in its own stead, what is usually neglected, particularly in South Asia, are issues related to the current social contexts of archaeological sites. It, thus, becomes imperative to address questions such as (1) local perceptions to the mound, and the daily negotiations of the local residents with the mound; (2) the challenges of undertaking archaeological research at mounds that are still inhabited by local communities and; (3) difficulties and hindrances in enforcing regulations and protection of archaeological places, such as Indor Khera.
There may be many reasons for the preservation of archaeological places in different parts of the world. The most obvious is where the archaeological remnants can be commercialized through tourism. In other cases, there may be an emotional connect between local communities and archaeological sites, where the latter are seen as ancestral places. However, when these factors are not present, localcommunities are often not vested in preserving archaeological sites, and for the state, it becomes a challenge to enforce their regulations. I argue that this is particularly relevant in the case of Indor Khera and many other archaeological sites in the subcontinent. The challenge, thus, lies in formulating ways of involving localcommunities in the preservation of archaeological sites in South Asia.

About Speaker

Supriya Varma teaches archaeology at the Centre for Historical Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She has been the Co-Director of several archaeological projects in India including the Indor KheraArchaeological Project (IKAP) and the Rohana Khurd Archaeological Project (ROKAP). She has also carried out an ethnoarchaeological study of ceramic production in the Upper Ganga plains. She has published articles on themes ranging from settlement archaeology, social archaeology, ethno archaeology, historical archaeology, and early historic urban centres to archaeological practices in India.Her most recent publication includes a forthcoming co-edited book The Archaeology of Early Medieval and Medieval South Asia: Contesting Narratives from the Eastern Ganga-Brahmaputra Basin.

The logic of design: Its role in understanding the antecedents of urban informality

Kiran Keswani


About the Lecture

This paper attempts to study urban spaces that are not part of the formal planning processes, that are generated spontaneously by people as a response to their social, cultural or economic needs. Using the Grounded theory approach, the research shows how urban space is negotiated through theeveryday practices of people. Specifically, it looks at how spatial informality works in the context of a market precinct in Bangalore, India. It primarily looks at the tactics of the vendors and the strategies of the government. It finds thatthe tactics or ‘actions’ of the vendors are preceded by a ‘logic’ and a ‘decision’.In order to develop a theoretical framework, it draws upon the work of Herbert Simon who argues that the interconnectedness of logic, decision and action can be referred to as the Logic of Design. The study suggests how this framework can help understand the antecedents of urban informality in order to address the everyday nature of urbanization and how this may be able to impact urban design and planning scholarship.

About Speaker

Kiran Keswani is an urban design practitioner & researcher based in Bangalore. She has completed her PhD in Urban design from the Faculty of Planning at CEPT University, Ahmedabad. She is currently involved with design, research & teaching that focuses on spatial informality and how it is influenced by theeveryday practices of people. She has taught Open courses on ‘The Everyday City’ at APU and at CEPT. Her recent publications include a co-authored chapter on ‘Territoriality in urban space’ in the book Informal Urban Street Markets (2015) & a paper on ‘The practice of tree worship & the territorial production of urban space in an Indian neighbourhood’ in the Journal of Urbandesign (2017).

The Epidemic of Fake News in India

Pratik Sinha


About the Lecture

"Fake News" - This phrase usually invokes associations with Donald Trump andthe US elections. Not many know that the issue India currently faces predates Donald Trump. The issue seen in India is unprecedented in many ways. In May last year, a rumour was circulated on WhatsApp in Hindi which said, “Suspected child lifters are carrying sedatives, injections, spray, cotton and small towels. They speak Hindi, Bangla and Malyali. If you happen to see any stranger near your house immediately inform local police as he could be a member of the child lifting gang." This message led to widespread fear and ended with the lynching of seven people. About twenty people have since been charged for these crimes. A WhatsApp rumour has killed 7 people and ruined the lives of another 20 people.

Alt News ( is an endeavour to understand this situation, raise awareness about it at various levels from the citizenry to media organisations to government and find means and ways to counter it. This talk attempts to understand why the fake news situation in India is unique from a global perspective, the efforts being made to counter it, and the challenges facingthem.

About Speaker

Pratik Sinha is founder of and member Jan Sangharsh Manch. After graduating from Bangalore Institute of Technology, he worked in various technological companies in India, US and Vietnam. Returning to India in 2013, he has been involved with Jan Sangharsh Manch, a civil liberties organisationin Ahmedabad which works on issues of human rights and civil liberties.

Sustainable Solutions to the Civic Issues of Burgeoning Cities

K P Singh


About the Lecture

Urbanization is a reality of our times. In last 20 years, it has been rather rapid. As a result, the infrastructure to deal with civic issues has seriously lagged, resulting in all kinds of issues - scarcity of potable water, overflowing sewage, mountains of garbage and seriously poor quality of air. All of us must have seen the ad where Sri Amitabh Bachchan says that 13 of the most pollutedcities of the world are in India! We must also have heard about the garbage mountains of Delhi competing with Qutub Minar. We must also have heard about world famous lakes of Bengaluru - the lakes that often catch fire - theBellandur and Varthur lakes. We must also have read that almost 2.5 million people in India died of pollution in 2015 and almost 27% of all the deaths in India are caused by pollution. That NGT, High courts and Supreme court have been pulling up state and central governments on various civic issues is also known to most of us. Our cities indeed are facing serious civic and environmental challenges. Do we have solutions? Doable ones? Fortunately,the answer is - YES. This talk will examine what can be done to deal withthese issues in a sustainable way with example from our very own city, Bengaluru.

About Speaker

K P Singh is a civic, environmental and political activist, living in the city ofBengaluru. He has been active on the issues of Lake protection and rejevenation, rain water management, waste water treatment, solid waste management, traffic and pedestrian mobility issues of Bengaluru, from over 10 years. He has been active participant of his RWA for over 10 years as memberof Managing Committee, General Secretary and President. During this period, he had executed several pioneering initiatives in his residential colony, Rainbow Drive to make it a model, sustainable community. Prior to that he spent over 20 years in telecom R&D and internet security related product development and services. These days, he spends his maximum time in supporting the ongoing movement to secure remunerative prices for farmers and to enable them to become debt and suicide free, through a consortium called All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Commitee ( AIKSCC), of which, Swaraj Abhiyan (led by Yogendra Yadav) is a very important constituent.

A Brief Introduction to the PPST Movement

Sunil Sahasrabudhey


About the Lecture

The talk offers an account of the origins and evolution of the Patriotic and People-Oriented Science and Technology (PPST) movement that was founded in Chennai in 1979. Questioning the presumed universalism of modern science, the PPST movement tried to recover scientific and other knowledge traditions within India It concludes with a discussion of the Lokavidya initiative that emerged out of the third Congress of the PPST held in Kanpur in the mid-1990s.

About Speaker

Scholar and Activist, Vidya Ashram, Varanasi.

Contextualizing Family Change in India

Sonalde Desai


About the Lecture

Economic transformation combined with rising education has wrought changes in family formation around the world. This presentation will compare the Indian experience with that experienced by East and Southeast Asian nations. Explanations focus on structural and ideological changes related to socioeconomic development, cultural factors including kinship system, religion and ethnicity, and public policies. While the impact of rapid modernization and related ideational changes are evident, there are also changes, or lack thereof, that cannot be explained by development and may be attributable to historical and cultural factors that have shaped family norms in the region. Description of the commonalities and divergences between Indian and East and Southeast Asian nations will be supplemented by some analyses of the lifestyles of families in the vanguard of Indian transformation that choose to limit their families to a single child

About Speaker

Sonalde Desai is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland with a joint appointment as Senior Fellow at the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER). She is a demographer whose work deals primarily with human development in developing countries with a particular focus on gender and class inequalities. She studies employment, education and maternal and child health outcomes by locating them within the political economy of the region. While much of her research focuses on India, she has also undertaken comparative studies across South Asia, Latin America, and Sub Saharan Africa. She has led the India Human Development Survey (IHDS) since 2003. The IHDS is the first nationwide panel survey in India and designed to trace changes in the Indian society in an era of rapid transformation. The IHDS is in the public domain and is being used by over 9000 researchers worldwide. Sonalde has published extensively in a variety of Indian and international journals and has also served on the editorial board of several journals. She received her PhD in Sociology from the University of Maryland and underwent post-doctoral training at the University of Chicago and The RAND Corporation. 

Human Rights and the Everyday Urban

Prem Chandavarkar


About the Lecture

While an idealist position tends to assume the notion of human rights is established and axiomatic, our history in the universalisation of rights is very recent, and there is much work to be done on further conceptualisation.  A major disconnect is that human rights are defined and protected at the scale of the nation state but must be negotiated on a daily basis at the scale of thecity. The consequence, particularly in the case of a country like India, is that we assume models of urban planning and governance whose inherent protocols exclude, by definition, substantive portions of our urban population. The fact that we barely perceive this reveals the distance between the ideal ofrights and our imagination of the city.

To build just cities, it is insufficient to literally rescale our models of humanrights from the nation to the city. At the national level, rights are predicated on a definition of citizenship that is held relatively stable by the protocols of immigration, whereas the city thrives on migration and mobility.  Rights at theurban level will need to be based on protocols of recognition and inhabitation rather than a juridical foundation of citizenship. Once one seeks to buildhuman rights on the basis of inhabitation and daily routine, one runs up against a paradoxical relationship between the impulse to form community andthe moral standard of rights.  Both are essential to a healthy society, but community evolves on the recognition of similarity whereas rights evolve onthe allowance granted to difference. The presentation will explore theimplications of seeking to apply citizenship, community and rights to theeveryday urban; and propose some directions to be explored to redefine theurban public realm as a space of human rights.

About Speaker

Prem Chandavarkar is the managing partner of CnT Architects: an award-winning and widely-published architectural practice based in Bangalore, India. He is a former Executive Director of Srishti School of Art Design & Technology in Bangalore and is an academic advisor and guest faculty at Indian and international colleges of architecture. Besides his design practice at CnT, he writes, lectures and blogs on architecture, urbanism, art, cultural studies, philosophy, politics, and education.

5th Dabholkar-Kalburgi Memorial Lecture “Shaping Identity: Nationalism, Secularism and Democracy”

Romila Thapar


About the Lecture

Nationalism is a historically specific concept that arises at a particular point in the modern history of many societies. It is not to be found in ancient times. It relates to the change in the identities of a society from those that existed in earlier times to a new identity born of historical change. The earlier identities were determined by links to a community determined by religious, caste-based or linguistic connections. These gradually give way to recognising the new identity of the citizen incorporating the rights and duties of the citizen viz-a-vis the state. This calls for a re-orientation of what is required from the state. This change is closely linked to secularism and to a democratic polity.

About the Dabholkar-Kalburgi Series

According to the Indian constitution, every citizen has the duty to promote scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of enquiry and reform. Dr.Narendra Dabholkar (1945-2013) and Prof MM Kalburgi (1938-2015),  true advocates of this spirit, fell prey to the bullets of assassins. To remember the brave efforts of these rationalists and to commemorate their work, Azim Premji University started the Dabholkar-Kalburgi lecture series in 2013.

About Speaker

Dr. Romila Thapar is Professor Emeritus at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Born in 1931 at Lucknow, after graduating from Punjab University, Dr. Thapar earned her Ph.D. from School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London in 1958. In her vast body of work are included books on Aśoka and the Decline of the MauryasAncient Indian Social History: Some InterpretationsThe Aryan: Recasting ConstructsThe Past before Us: Historical Traditions of Early North IndiaThe Past As Present: Forging Contemporary Identities Through History and a recent book based on a long interview with her Talking History. While she accepts awards and Fellowships from academic institutions/ peers, Dr. Thapar is known to have refused awards from the Government in 1992 and 2005.

The Lure of Fascism: Agonies and Delights

Rakesh Shukla


About the Lecture

The present exploration while assuming the universality of certain aspects of the psyche which enmesh with an ideology like fascist-fundamentalism looks at the phenomenon in India. It attempts to understand the support of a sizable section of people to the considerable growth of a fascist fundamentalism in the past twenty-five years in Indian society. It tries to articulate the factors, pre-dominantly unconscious, in the psyche of the Indian Hindu male which somewhere fit into or play a role in the mobilization for a fascist agenda. The nature of husband-wife relations in society, the close ‘mother-son’ bond are examined in the context of the development of the personality of a growing boy. The suppression of sexuality, valorisation of celibacy, idealization of mother, the model of the obedient son with no room for ambivalence and the feelings of inadequacy, frustrations and rage engendered form a central focus.  The processes of idealization, splitting, and projection which result in the demonization by the Hindu community of the “other” Muslim community leading to violence are examined in this context.

About Speaker

Rakesh Shukla has more than three decades of engagement with law, movements for social change, constitutional jurisprudence, human rights and justice melded with training and practice in psychodynamic therapy. He was worked on minimizing the impact of biases, prejudices, and stereotypes in the judicial decision-making process at the National Judicial Academy and State Judicial Academies. He also worked with Forest Service officers in the context of law and governance at Tata Institute of Social Sciences.  He has written in the areas of law, social phenomena, and psychology in newspapers, websites, and journals including the International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytical Studies. He has contributed chapters in well-known edited books