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.

Fighting in the Courts and on the Streets: The Situation of Precarious Workers

Sudha Bharadwaj


About the Lecture

The lecture will describe the 25 year old struggle of a contract workers union in a cement plant, ACC Jamul Cement Works (now, LafargeHolcim) in Chhattisgarh. How the workers organised against their harsh working conditions and precarious employment, the legal strategies they adopted and how they survived the lengthy litigation; and how they were finally supported by the solidarity of international unions and a UN mechanism to achieve an unprecedented settlement recently will be among the issues engaged in this talk. With the edifice of progressive labour law crumbling and the judiciary becoming increasingly unsympathetic to the working class in recent times, this has been no mean achievement. And no doubt a part of the success has been the democratic functioning of the union and its deep roots in the community.

About Speaker

Sudha Bharadwaj has been associated with the trade union movement in Chhattisgarh led by the legendary leader, Shankar Guha Niyogi, for the past 30 years. She is also a lawyer in the Chhattisgarh High Court working to provide group legal aid to people's movements through a voluntary group of lawyers called "Janhit". Over the past decade, Ms. Bharadwaj has been active in the Chhattisgarh branch of the People's Union for Civil Liberties, of which she is at present the General Secretary.

Businesses, not Projects: Large-Scale Promotion of Small Businesses for Poverty Reduction

Liby Johnson


About the Lecture

Poor families tend to have more than one source of livelihoods. It is the balance that they achieve between farm production, animal husbandry, wage labour and non-farm enterprises that will help the family step up to a dignified life, without distress. Intervention strategies that try to define livelihoods within sectoral limits thus miss the larger picture. Promoting non-farm enterprises in a project mode leads to sub-optimal business choices being made by the entrepreneurs. In case of the other livelihood sources, options are often made by default (crop raised, frequency of cropping, type of animal raised, type of wage labour obtained etc.). Non-farm enterprises is one area where a poor family can actually exercise choice, within the larger market constraints of course, in deciding what option to choose. This requires effective and user-friendly support mechanisms to be put in place. Efforts of governments such as the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) are making such efforts. A question often raised is about the need to promote enterprises. Wouldn't anyone with entrepreneurial ability naturally tend to a business? This, and a host of issues related to capabilities and market limitations, remain the key challenges in the course of work in the domain of promoting self-employment for poverty reduction. In this context, the role of 'livelihoods professionals' also become important. The skill sets that young professionals bring to the table, in terms of supporting creation of viable businesses is an area that is not suitably appreciated. The talk aims to present some of the pertinent issues in the sphere of micro-enterprises and their role in large-scale poverty reduction.

About Speaker

Liby Johnson is Chief Operating Officer of Kudumbashree-National Resource Organization (KS-NRO). Kudumbashree, the Poverty Eradication Mission of the Government of Kerala, is widely recognized as a pioneer in building community institutional network of poor women and supporting these institutions to take up interventions to address causes of poverty in a holistic manner. National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) has mandated the KS-NRO to support other States in India to learn from the experiences in Kerala and develop their own models. KS-NRO currently works with 10 States. Prior to this, Liby worked with the Kudumbashree Mission in Kerala in the areas of micro enterprises and urban poverty alleviation; with SIFFS, a cooperative institution of artisanal marine fisher people supporting post-tsunami rehabilitation in Tamilnadu and Kerala; with Gram Vikas in Odisha, working on land and forest livelihoods among adivasis and; in Santal Pargana region of the then Bihar on land and livelihoods of Santal women.

A Development Vision for India

R. Balasubramaniam


About the Lecture

The talk will revolve around the concept of how ‘Development’ needs to be viewed as a constant expansion of human capabilities. It will trace the history of the Nations’s growth over the last millenia and the paradigm of how expanding human and social capital is more critical to India today than ever before.  It will also demonstrate how this expansion can result in economic consequences for all. The talk will also include how the eco-system for implementing this paradigm needs to be created and why the development agenda set by the Govt. must reflect the ‘voice’ of the people/communities.  It will conclude with a call for collective action that includes the Governent, an engaged citizenry, a sociall responsible private sector and vibrant civil society groups.  The talk will be based on the experience of the speaker from founding and running one of India’s leading development organization for over three decades and from studying and teaching in some of the world’s leading schools including Harvard & Cornell.  It will also draw from the many experiential anecdotes written in his latest book, ‘i, the citizen’.

About Speaker

Dr. R Balasubramaniam (Balu) is a development activist who is a physician by qualification.  After his MBBS, he earned his MPhil in Hospital Administration & Health Systems Management from BITS, Pilani.  He has a Masters in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University.  His living habits were greatly influenced by the teachings of Swami Vivekananda and at the age of 19, he founded the Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement ( based on the principles of Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (Truth), Seva (Service) and Tyaga (Sacrifice).  He has spent the last 31 years of his life in the service of the rural and tribal poor in the forests of India.  He has built this non-profit organization into India’s leading development NGO and the Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement (SVYM) today runs more than 50 projects reaching out to more than a million people across the state of Karnataka and also has centers in the USA and UK.   He is also the Founder and Chairman of Grassroots Research and Advocacy Movement (  A recipient of numerous State and National Awards, Dr R Balasubramaniam has lectured and taught at many reputed universities around the world.

Nature in the City: Bengaluru in the Past, Present and Future

Harini Nagendra


About the Lecture

In emerging economies across the world, cities struggle to deal with the frenzied pace of urban growth, with crises of pollution, water crises and urban heat waves hitting the headlines daily. How can growing cities balance the march of development with the essential need for urban nature? Exploring these questions, in my recent book "Nature in the City" I examine the past, present, and future of nature in Bengaluru, a medieval city that has grown exponentially since the rise of its internationally famous software industry. Despite being one of India’s largest and fastest growing cities, nature in the city - though threatened - exhibits a remarkable tenacity. Through a historical account of environmental change from the 6th century onwards, the book provides a deep dive into the cultural context that shapes the deep, organic connect to nature in this city of over 10 million people where we all live and work, looking at the spaces where nature thrives and strives.

About Speaker

Harini Nagendra is a Professor of Sustainability at Azim Premji University. She has conducted research and taught at multiple institutions including the Indian Institute of Science and Indiana University. Before she moved to APU, she was a Hubert H Humphrey Distinguished Visiting Professor at Macalester College, Saint Paul Minnesota and a DST Ramanujan Fellow at ATREE. Her research awards include the 2013 Elinor Ostrom Senior Scholar award for her research and practice on issues of the urban commons. She teaches, lectures and writes on issues of ecology, development and sustainability in journals, newspapers and blogs, and other fora.

Building Systemic Leadership to Transform Education

Aditya Natraj


About the Lecture

Around a lakh government education administrators across 600+ districts manage the educational outcomes of 240 million children in over a million government schools.  These administrators include staff from DIETs, SSA, RMSA and Department of Education.  There are approximately 150 such administrators per district.  Is it possible to build their leadership, ability to collaborate, improve processes and deploy better technology in order to make them more effective?  What programmes will be required to enable this?  What institutional architecture will be required for this?  What research will be required for this?

About Speaker

Aditya Natraj is the founder and director of Kaivalya Education Foundation (KEF), an institution specialized in leadership development programmes for nation building. It’s programs include the The Principal Leadership Development Programme and The Gandhi Fellowship. The Principal Leadership Development Programme helps principals turn-around failing schools and improve student outcomes. The 3 year part-time programme currently works with 1300 principals of government schools in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra. Previously, Aditya was the director of Pratham in Gujarat for 5 years, Vice-President of Business Development at ProXchange for 2 years and a consultant at KPMG for 5 years. Aditya is an Ashoka Fellow and an Echoing Green Fellow. A qualified Chartered Accountant, he has a Masters in Economics and an MBA from INSEAD. He is a Fellow of the fifth class of the India Leadership Initiative and a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network. 

Between the Law and the Street: Political Publicity in Tamil News Media

Francis Cody


About the Lecture

This talk examines recent events in South India to begin the work of developing an understanding of thepolitical image and its limits in the contemporary age, which has been characterized as that of the “post-public sphere.”  My focus will be on the newspaper, that organ of public opinion that many have taken to be foundational to the rise of both nationalism and democratic politics, and which remains among the most potent flashpoints in struggles to define the image of political leaders today.  Under the larger conceptual umbrella of delineating the logic of political publicity in news media, I narrow the inquiry to concentrate on two important modes through which the contours of what can be published are worked out: the first beingthe law and cases of defamation in particular, and the second is the street, where violence routinely erupts in connection with political news reporting.  I hope to show that there are continuities in the logics of representation and publicity that cut across both domains having to do with the extra-parliamentary sovereignty of political bodies and are at the same time commodity images. 

About Speaker

Francis Cody is an Associate Professor in the the Department of Anthropology and the Asian Institute atthe University of Toronto.  His research focuses on language and politics in southern India.  He first broughtthese interests to bear on a study of literacy activism, citizenship, and social movement politics in rural Tamilnadu, published as a book called The Light of Knowledge (Cornell 2013).  Cody's more recent work traces the emergence of populism and transformations of political publicity through news media in Tamil cities and small towns.  Taken as a whole, his work contributes to the transdisciplinary project of elaborating critical social theories of mediation in the postcolonial world.

Em and the Big Hoom: A Reading and Discussion

Jerry Pinto


About the Lecture

After reading select parts of his critically acclaimed novel, Em and the Big Hoom, the author will engage in a discussion on the framing of mental health and illness; and the challenges of embracing a condition that normally evokes anxiety and despair.

About Speaker

Jerry Pinto is a Mumbai-based Indian writer of poetry, prose and children's fiction, as well as a journalist. His 2006 book about actress Helen Jairag Richardson titled The Life and Times of an H-Bomb,went on to win the National Film Award for Best Book on Cinema in 2007. His collection of poems, Asylum and Other Poems appeared in 2003. He has also co-edited Confronting Love (2005), a book of contemporary Indian love poetry in English. In 2009, he coauthored Leela: A Portrait, a semi-biographical book of anecdotes and photos from Leela Naidu's life. He is now a freelance journalist, writing articles for the Hindustan Times and Live Mint newspapers, as well as TheMan and MW. His first novel, "Em and the Big Hoom," was published in 2012.

A Story of a Social Intervention: The Promotion of Self-Reliant Organic Farming in Haryana

Rajinder Chaudhary


About the Lecture

Social change is multi-faceted and equally diverse are the strategies for bringing that about. This talk offersa story of trying to bring about change within civil society rather than change the state policy. It is a story ofhow an informal group, without external funding or a organizational structure, challenged the dominant development paradigm. It is story of a campaign that evolved from being owned by a single individual to being owned by at least a few dozen.  Neither unique nor amongst the most successful ones, it is a storyof challenging the Green Revolution in its heartland, in an area that does not have a history of socialmovements.

About Speaker

Rajinder Chaudhary is an alumnus of Panjab University, Chandigarh, Gokhale Institute of Politicsand Economics, Pune and Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He is former Professor ofEconomics, M D University, Rohtak, Haryana and is presently Advisor to Kudarti Kheti Abhiyan, Haryana. Guided by an urge to find ways of making society more democratic, more just and more equitable, I have tried to combine academics with intervention at grassroots level. His doctoral thesis was on the class character of the Soviet Union. His interest in the forms of economic organization has led him to document real (not just de jure) cooperatives across states. Besides, he has actively participated in the Total Literacy Campaign, the Teachers’ Movement, Self-Help Groupsand now self-reliant organic farming. He has published articles in Economic and Political Weekly,International Journal of Rural Management, Alternative Economic Survey, Samayik Varta, among others. 

 Globalization Lived Locally: A Labour Geography Perspective

Neethi P.


About the Lecture

This presentation is based on my recent book, titled ‘Globalization Lived Locally: A labour Geography Perspective’. And the abstract of my book/presentation is given below-The various meta-narratives of globalization project hyper-mobile capital as the leading factor for global economic integration, ignoring the role of labour. Questioning this paradigm, my research reasons that labour becomes actively involved in the very process of globalization and capital expansion. Based on the broad theme of globalization and labour, particularly female labour, I apply the ‘labour geography’ approach to examine contemporary forms of labour control, conflict, and response under a globalization regime in Kerala through four diverse and in-depth empirical case studies set in this state. The geographic perspective sheds light on local variability and uneven development in labour market, helping chart the complex landscapes within which contemporary workers live, work, and struggle. In view of dramatic changes in the labour scenario in Kerala over the second half of the twentieth century, this research constructs a collage of trends in Kerala’s labour scene, in an analysis that departs from economic orthodoxy and borrows from sociological, anthropological, and partly ethnographic approaches to highlight the role played by seemingly unlikely actors in the process of globalization.

About Speaker

Neethi's research interests engage in globalisation and labour, women's work, informal labour markets, everyday work politics, alternative labour movements, and other related themes.She has completed her MPhil and PhD at the Centre for Development Studies under JNU. She also spent a year as Fulbright Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Georgia in the United States, during her PhD at CDS. Her doctoral research employed the 'labour geography' framework to understand certain contemporary episodes around the new forms of labour control, conflict, and response, in Kerala. This has recently been brought out as a title Globalization Lived Locally: A Labour Geography Perspective by Oxford University Press.

Liberal Nationalism: An Oxymoron?

Narayan Ramachandran


About the Lecture

The talk will revisit ideas of liberalism and nationalism in their historical context, with a particular focus on India.  It will touch on the manifestation of these ideas in antiquity through the age of enlightenment in Europe and in contemporary times in a cross-section of countries. This discussion aims to better contextualize the current events in India. 

About Speaker

Narayan Ramachandran is Chairman of RBL Bank, a fast growing new age Bank.  He is socialentrepreneur, columnist and emerging market investor. He worked on Wall Street (mostly at Morgan Stanley) for over 20 years, most recently as head of global emerging market investing and then country head of Morgan Stanley in India. Ramachandran is chairman of the initiative to deworm millions of school kids in india, and serves on the board of the largest water foundation in India. He is co-founder and fellow of the Takshashila Institution, a public policy think tank.  He is also co-Chairman of Unitus Capital, an investment bank that intermediates capital for bottom of the pyramid businesses.  He writes a bi-weekly column called A Visible Hand for the Mint Newspaper.