Panel Statements


Panel 1: The Birth of the Autonomous Subject


While autonomy has now become a preferred goal of almost everyone’s social and political agenda, its deeper implications in terms of our historical and ethical existence are often ignored. We tend to lose sight of these implications in commonsense parlance. Even in more serious political writings, there is hardly any probing into the philosophical and social implications.


In this background, the panel seeks to (a) foreground our everyday political experiences of engaging with the issue of autonomy in India with special reference to collectivities and groups demanding it, and, (b) to investigate their deeper implications in terms of the historical evolution of the notion of autonomy with a view to understanding and appreciating the problems that are associated with them. The comparative experience of diverse groups and collectivities may serve as our point of departure in our inquiry.  


The panel is expected to focus on the following overlapping questions:


·          How is a subject born? More particularly, what are the processes – historical, institutional, and discursive - through which a collective subject comes into being?

·          What are the conditions predicating the emergence of the autonomous subject? Is autonomy a precondition of the birth of a subject? Or, can only a subject already born claim it?

·          Can autonomy be called a right per se or merely a condition of claiming and enjoying rights?

·          Given that autonomy is necessarily relational, how does one understand the fact that the autonomy of the subject may interfere with that of another? How is autonomy negotiated between diverse autonomous subjects? Is autonomy then negotiable? If so, what can be the standards of negotiation? What have been indeed historical standards?

·          Does negotiability of autonomy presuppose responsibility towards and recognition of other autonomous subjects? Can an ethic of responsibility be elaborated without decentring the subject? How can recognition be the basis of inter-subjectivity?

·          How can we relate experiences of autonomy with its principles? Is thinking of autonomy and demanding autonomy then a social activity? 


Panel 2: Autonomy as an Idea for Mass Politics


The dominant form of politics of autonomy in India has been the territorial and administrative arrangements for devolution of power that frequently occurs within the constitutional framework. However, it is also true that autonomy does not flow from constitutional edicts alone. Movements challenging the structure of power and control over resources have been the omnipresent alter-ego in the history of the postcolonial nation-state. These movements raise issues of identity, deprivation and oppression and attempt to transform political language and landscapes. “Autonomy” is one expression of the search for a political alternative. The language of autonomy is articulated as an integral element of the politics around issues of gender, ethnicity, class, race, and caste in India. Very often, these experiences have been coloured by violence, especially in the case of territorial autonomy. If the invocation of the autonomous subject is problematic due to the violence that is associated with its articulation, what then is one supposed to understand about political processes that use such a language? Are these processes merely about the legality of the manner in which power is to be devolved? Or could it be that the violence associated with autonomy are inchoate attempts to give voice to local injustice in a universal language where rights and obligations are part of a violent political process against power?


This panel seeks papers that deal with the complexity of political voices against power and the manner in which notions of autonomy recur in the mobilisation of such voices. The questions that may be addressed in this panel are:


·          Why is violence so associated with the movements for autonomy?

·          What are the "possible forms of autonomy?" in terms of the public imagination of those who demand autonomy? How do we relate the two principles of right - autonomy and justice in the demand for autonomy?

·          Why is the "reservation of seats" issue now at the centre of the women's autonomy question - what sense do we make of the politics of representation in this context?

·          What is the role that women occupy in indigenous people's movements for autonomy? How do these two autonomies intersect - women's autonomy and indigenous people's autonomy?

·          What are the principles of autonomy as a political demand and as an institutional form?

  • What are the issues involved in the demands for cultural autonomy and autonomy for religious minorities?



Panel 3: Laws of Autonomy


One of the major concerns in global politics today is the issue of national self-determination. Disobeying the established borders of states and the established states-system in the region, the issue of self-determination puts to disarray even the best-laid plans for democratic order in the world. The trouble to the states-system gets compounded when a “minority” refuses to see itself as a minority, reconciled to that status, and claims the status of a people and thus the right of self-determination. All these take us back to the historical question of power relations in global politics. If nations have a right to statehood, then the international community cannot deny some nations this right and privilege others. For honouring the aspirations of self-determination, there is a need to “un-bundle” the traditional concept of sovereignty.


To evaluate the opportunities of autonomy and self-determination of minorities and indigenous peoples in this context, this panel would have a critical engagement with the system of international law as well as with the respective national laws. The panel aims to explore and survey new avenues in the legal discourse to accommodate rights to self-determination of different peoples from the perspectives of justice and human rights. The presentations are expected to offer critiques of the dominant doctrine of “national interest” and positions of legal absolutism in order to explore the concept of autonomy as the substantive form of self-determination rights. Through this academic exercise the panel proposes to find out the constitutional and juridical thoughts shaping the universe of autonomy.


Indian experiences of autonomy as laid out in the Indian Constitution are worth discussing in this context. Evolving out of long colonial experiences of making certain areas excluded and semi-excluded, treating certain other areas as “frontier” areas, also flowing from ideas of self-dependence, decentralization and devolution of power as the core ideas of autonomy and freedom, the theme of autonomy has acquired a nuance that the language of laws simply cannot exhaust. Studies of legal and administrative practices, of the demands for legal reforms that political subjects make from time to time to make autonomy genuine or substantive, and of the history of law making on autonomy in India have become now essential. Also relevant are the issues in this context relating to women’s autonomy, or paradoxically Indian legal thinking on caste as an autonomous association except in the domain of public interaction.


In the context of these themes relevant to the domain of law, the panel may raise the following questions:


·          Can autonomy be legally defined as a form of self-determination?

·          Is autonomy only for the minority communities or people as a legal entity can claim autonomy as a universal standard?

·          Does the legal doctrine of “national interest” make any allowance for autonomy?

·          How do we situate two legal concepts – autonomy and sovereignty?

·          What are the components of the Indian legal thinking on autonomy

  • In the context of the popular movements for autonomy, what are the emerging themes that a new legal thinking on autonomy can address?  


Panel 5: Panel on Autonomy of the Autonomies


The notion of Autonomy of the autonomies, while aiming at a paradigm shift from domination to non-domination as the fundamental principle of a humane governance at all levels, treats diverse understandings of and claims to autonomy as integral to democratisation process. The ontological criticality here lies in a relentless questioning of categorically framed and territorially marked ethno-religious identities and their manipulation by the centres of power and privilege. Whereas the epistemological criticality implied in such a notion demands and deserves acknowledgement of the fact that there is not one but several knowledges of autonomy, produced at diverse sites, which remain in a perpetual state of competition with one another for greater salience, legitimacy and authority.


The methodological challenge posed by the visualization of ‘Autonomy of autonomies’, therefore, is not simply restricted to how we might go about accessing and assessing knowledge claims that are officially authorized for the purposes of delegating and distributing autonomy from above. Far more crucial is our willingness as well as ability to incorporate within the mainstream analytical thinking on Autonomy the perspectives from below on equitable power sharing that continue to be marginalized by the dominant ‘empowering’ discourses operating within a hierarchical social order on the one hand, and trivialized at the same time by the state-centric geopolitics of domination and denunciation.


Some of the key questions that the panel is expected to address are:


·          What is the so-called ‘genuine’ Autonomy made of? What are its constituents and how do they hang together?

·          Are these constituents historically and culturally invariable universals, or are they relative to context?

·          How do we ensure that none of the various competing knowledge claims to Autonomy, flagging ‘national’ or ‘regional’ or ‘local’ interests, monopolizes the right to speak authoritatively about particular places and peoples? How do we preempt a situation whereby a particular hegemonic knowledge claim gets generalized and naturalized, far beyond the immediate spatial as well as temporal context in which it was initially made?

·          How can the fundamental democratic right of having one’s moral worth recognized be ensured for one and all, especially for those who remain on the margins of both the dominant discourses on Autonomy and the practices that flow from them?

  • As an alternative to a monolithic ‘Autonomy’ associated with a particular demand for power-sharing, can we visualize ‘Autonomy of autonomies’ as an ongoing democratisation process from below, involving multi-spatial, multi-temporal, and multi-system interaction among institutions which blend the different forms of organizational reach; a process dictated and driven by a facilitative-enabling conception of power (as a medium) rather than a state-centric, instrumental conception of power (over others) which is delegated or distributed from a centralized point to authoritative locations across a given territory?


Panel 6: Access, Ownership and Resources – Private Property as a Problem for Autonomy


What is private property? Is property a form of work or material thing or both? Do questions of autonomy have any association with property – private or otherwise? Is private property facilitator or hindrance of personal autonomy or group autonomy? How far is it valid to claim that without some form of private property, personal autonomy cannot be guaranteed? Is it a fair claim that private property may have some positive associations with autonomy rights? For example, Lenin’s short-lived NEP anticipates this question. Conversely, it may be asked: is private property necessarily negatively linked with autonomy rights? The cry for nationalization (state-ownership) of private property by Luxemburg, ironically echoed by Stalin, bears out such a question. Does nationalization however confer economic independence to property-less people? Is there any via media between family/male-centric private property and nationalized state-centric property that may guarantee greater economic independence as for example anticipated by Mao’s commune system or Gramsci’s factory council movement or Kanoria Jute workers’ movement? Do we need to recognize a plural conception of property – private /commune /cooperative /common /factory /state ownership – for different economic situations obtained within a particular national context as anticipated by Lenin’s NEP? How do then these many forms of property guarantee economic independence of property-less people?       


I am afraid we cannot answer such questions without looking into the history of socio-political movements of property-less people especially in Indian context. It is from their vantage point our answers need to be formulated. We should look into such questions as follows:


·          Who are property-less and when does property-less-ness arise? Do property-less people struggle for property-based independence?

·          If property also means work a la John Locke, how many ways people suffer from loss of work and a consequent loss of forms of independence?

·          What are the forms of independence they lack due to the fact of being property-less?

·          Why Dalits who suffer from caste bondages are also by and large property-less in India? Why do women handicapped by patriarchy and lack of private property look for their freedom in economic independence in work?

·          In the land reform struggles in India, do we find notions of autonomy implicit and if so, how are they linked with what kind of property – private/cooperative/community, etc?

·          How does a nationalization/cooperative form help in realizing economic capacity of each?

  • Where actually private form of property may be hindrance or facilitator of financial autonomy of each?





Panel I: Birth of an Autonomous Subject


Convenor: Samir Kumar Das (University of Calcutta)

Chair: Pradip Kumar Bose (Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta)

Discussant: Samir Kumar Das (Convenor)



Artemy Magun (European University at Saint Petersburg): Subjectivity and/or Autonomy? Freedom

      and Justice as Orienting Principles for Contemporary Left

Jan Browuer (Centre for Advance Research on Indigenous Knowledge Systems, Mysore):

      Contrasting Views on Autonomy, Individual, and Mortality with Special Reference to India

Liza Das (Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati): The Birth of Self-Fashioning: Understanding Autonomy

through Foucault

Sandro Mezzadra (University of Bologna, Bologna): The concept of property of the self, individual

      autonomy and the modern European discourse of citizenship


Panel II: Autonomy as an Idea of Mass Politics


Convenor: Sanjoy Barbora (North Eastern Social Research Centre, Guwahati)

Chair: Mushirul Hasan (Jamia Millia Islamia University, Delhi)

Discussant: Sanjoy Barbora



Amit Prakash (Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi): The Idea of Jharkhand: The Politics of Identity and

      the Question of Autonomy

Dolly Kikon    (North East Peoples’ Initiative, Guwahati): Women’s Rights and Autonomy in Naga

      Politics and Society

Uma Chakraborty (Eminent Historian and Women’s Rights Activist): The Meaning of Autonomy for

      Women: Questions for Consideration

Virginia Xaxa (Delhi School of Economics, Delhi University): Reading Tribal Struggles in Jharkhand


Panel III: Feminism as a Resource for Autonomy


Convenor: Paula Banerjee (University of Calcutta)

Chair: Paula Banerjee

Discussant: Ritu Menon (Women Unlimited, Delhi)



Martine Spenski (Universite Blaise Pascal, Clermont-Ferrand): The Slow Emergence of British Women

      as Autonomous Subjects

Oishik Sircar (Lawyer and Human Rights Activist): Whose Body Is It Anyway? : Sexual Autonomy,

      Bodily Integrity & The Law

Sujata Datta Hazarika (Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati): Examining Autonomy and 73rd

      amendment in Assam


Panel IV: Laws of Autonomy


Convenor: Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury (Rabindra Bharati University)

Chair: Rajen Harshe (University of Hyderabad)

Discussant: Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury



Ashok Agrwaal (Lawyer and Human Rights Activist): De Jure to De Facto: A Case Study of Impunity

Hari Sharma (Social Science Baha, Kathmandu): Nepal’s Constitutional Experience: Rethinking

      Sovereignty and Autonomy

Raja Devashis Roy (Barrister, Dhaka): Legal and Political Challenges for Autonomy in Unitary States:

      Lessons from the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh


Panel V: Autonomy of Autonomies


Convenor: Sanjay Chaturvedi (Panjab University, Chandigarh)

Chair: Subhas Ranjan Chakraborty (Presidency College, Kolkata)

Discussant: Rajen Harshe 



Ashutosh Kumar (Punjab University, Chandigarh): Thinking of Autonomy in Comparative Perspective:

      Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir

Sanjay Chaturvedi (Punjab University, Chandigarh): Autonomy of the Autonomies: First Worlds’


Ranabir Samaddar (Calcutta Research Group): Autonomies of a New Society

Barry Sautman (University of Hong Kong): The Politics of the Dalai Lama’s New Initiative on



Panel VI: Access, Ownership and Resources – Private Property as a Problem for Autonomy


Convenor: Arun Patnaik (University of Hyderabad)

Chair: Ratan Khasnabis (University of Calcutta)

Discussant: Dwaipayan Bhattacharya (Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta)



Arun Patnaik:

Dipak Gyawali (Co-Editor, Water Nepal): Resources and Rights: Defining autonomy within a

      complexly interlinked world

G.K. Reddy   (Osmania University, Hyderabad):

Hemant Ojha (Forest Action Nepal, Kathmandu): Autonomy or Deliberative Governance?


 (Registration Charge Rs.100/- per person)



Paper Abstracts


Panel I


Artemy Magun: Subjectivity and/or Autonomy? Freedom and Justice as Orienting Principles for Contemporary Left


The time we live in is that of political and historical disorientation. After the fall of the Soviet Union, it became difficult for the Left to identify itself with the movement toward the proximate utopia, or with the march toward the future. Today, it is rather the liberal, capitalist orientation that claims to move forward and imposes a cosmopolitan utopia.


As a result of this historical disorientation, we also live through a serious political disorientation. All classical political ideologies (conservatism, liberalism, revolutionary democratism) constantly interweave and reflect in each other.


As many 20th century left-wing political thinkers, particularly Walter Benjamin and Alain Badiou, claim, the Left has to rely on the past event rather than on a future goal. It is “fidelity” to this revolutionary event that helps the political subject to preserve oneself as such. This fidelity is formative of the political subject. The left orientation is that of active and open subjectivity: not the static autonomy but a border of dynamic exchange between an autonomous zone and the rest of the world. We need to understand autonomy, following Adorno, as a challenge to the world, not as an escape from it. Subjectivity, which depends on the fidelity to a revolutionary event, is guided not by a program, but by principles of freedom and justice. These principles, unlike their usual liberal understanding, do not mean the indifference (of the will or of a judging instance), but (as the reading of important sources - Michelet, Arendt, and Schmitt - allows to establish) express the unity of openness with subjectivity: alertness to the Other (let it be friend or enemy) and the revolutionary act. This contradictory unity can only be constituted eventfully.


Freedom and justice may be interpreted in liberal, conservative, or revolutionary way. Each of them carries in itself the meanings of liberal openness, conservative fidelity, and revolutionary activity. But it is only the latter that unites the three into a dialectical totality. It is through the interpretation of freedom and justice in the sense of open, persistent and active subjectivity, that the Left can orient itself and successfully fight over ideological hegemony.


Jan Brouwer: Contrasting Views on Autonomy, Individual, and Mortality with Special Reference to India


To reach a historical and analytical understanding of the concept of autonomy, I consider the location of the concept against the distinction between the ideal and the real. A few words on the mitochondrial Eve, the journey of our ancestors over the globe, and their modes of thinking will touch upon the primordial situation of the human individual. After a brief historical outline I will then compare the European with the Indian condition in relation to the individual from the vantage point of the cultures’ view on mortality. I will discuss at some length the location of the concept in the Indian condition with reference to texts of the oral tradition that I recently collected in North-East and South India. The results of the analysis will then be fed back to the contemporary situation in India with special reference to the inner conflict of culture in the IT cubicles of the emerging Simulation State.


Sandro Mezzadra: The concept of property of the self, individual autonomy and the modern European discourse of citizenship


The paper will present the outlines of a research project on the relation between the birth of autonomous subject and the modern European discourse of citizenship. Starting from a brief review of current debates on the crisis and transformations of citizenship in Europe, the hypothesis will be presented that the contradictions at stake in these debates (particularly apparent in the condition of migrants) were already present in the original formulation of the modern European concept of citizenship.


The paper will focus afterwards on the founding moment of modern European political discourse, that is on the 17th century. A short review of the philosophical and political writings by John Locke will show the importance of the concept of “property of the self”. The thesis will be argued, that this concept was strategic in the Lockean attempt to cope with the challenge posed by the racial view of equality, which was at the core of the English civil war and that was reflected in its disruptive effect in the Hobbesian representation of the “natural condition of mankind” as a bellum omnium contra omnes. The concept of property of the self developed by Locke is first of all an anthropological concept that is a concept rooted in a determined view of “human nature”. “Property of the self” means basically the ability of the “rational” subject to dominate and control the disorder of his passions. Only this subject can be termed in Locke’s view an autonomous subject, and only an autonomous subject can acquire “material” property and thus become a citizen.


The thesis will be presented that this view of the autonomous subject as the citizen corresponds immediately to the drawing of precise borders of citizenship, and these borders produce, already in Locke’s writings, a series of subjective figures that are bound to become the “others” of the European citizen: the woman, the atheist, the foolish, the “lazy” poor, and the American Indian. The development of the three basic borders of the European modern discourse of citizenship – respectively marked by the concepts of class, gender, and race – will be briefly summarized in the paper, focusing especially on the concept of race and on the relation among the modern European discourse of citizenship and what Edward Said called the “modern European colonial project”.


At the same time, the ambivalence of the concept of citizenship at stake in the paper will be discussed, in an attempt to show that its borders have been contested by social and political movements since the very beginning of its history and that it is impossible to understand the conceptual and political history of modern citizenship without taking these movements into account. More than a stabilized institutional space, the European modern concept of citizenship will be interpreted as a battlefield, in which among other things the very definition of “autonomy” is at stake. The question whether the concept of citizenship still remains a useful concept for a critical theory of politics in our time will be briefly discussed at the end of the paper and will be left open for the discussion.


Panel II


Amit Prakash: The Idea of Jharkhand:The Politics of Identity and the Question of Autonomy


In contemporary India, much of political contestation seems to takes the shape and form of politics of identity. The premises, boundaries, self-definitions, mode of articulation, etc. of such politics of identity may vary from region to region and case to case but the basic argument that there seems to be almost no serious contestation of the political space (with the state as well as with other similarly politically-articulate groups) that is not rooted in (and often articulated through) the lens of politics of identity.[1]


The range of politics of identity in this country is wide: linguistic movements in the many parts of India during the late 1950s-1970s; the numerous ethnic identities in the North-eastern parts of the country; the Dalit assertion of North India; various ‘development-deficit’-oriented articulations across the country (such as Telangana, Ladakh, erstwhile UP hills or Uttaranchal, north West Bengal, tribal south Gujarat and erstwhile tribal MP or Chhattisgarh, etc.); the Coorg issue in Karnataka, communal mobilisation of 1980s and 1990s; and so on. With the exception of the communal identity politics and Dalit assertion, all other articulations of identity demand various degrees and forms of autonomy. This throws up the central question, which is also the theme of the conference: what is autonomy? The various articulations of their respective visions of autonomy are as varied as the groups and political actors demanding it. Many groups in Nagaland view autonomy as a sovereign state, while many of the other articulations would be happy with a State within the Indian Union. Still others wish to see the creation of a sub-state ‘development’ council while yet others have a vision of a regional, multi-State structure. [1] This would be one of the strands for reflection for the proposed paper.


Many studies have located this mode of contestation of the political space in the peculiar trajectory of evolution of the national movement and the constitution of a political community in India. The questions of identity and autonomy have never been far from any discussion and articulation of the political contours of an independent India. However, the very political discourse which created this particular variety of political mobilisation during the colonial period, finds it difficult to grapple with ‘sub-national’ demands of autonomy. The reasons for such a political and discursive fracture are many and complex and play out in a rather intricate manner in the various contexts across the country.


It is in this discussion that the case of Jharkhand attains centrality. The demand for autonomy for the Jharkhand region (premised on tribal heritage and culture) in the erstwhile Bihar is one of the oldest such demands in the country, first record of whose articulation is to be found in 1920s before the Simon Commission. Further, Jharkhand movement is perhaps the only such movement which began with the demographic handicap of only about a third of the population of the region answering to any socio-cultural description of being of tribal origin. This forced the elite in Jharkhand to grapple with the rules of exclusion rather early. By late 1940s, the Jharkhandi identity which was demanding autonomy was already balancing the tribal heritage and culture argument with a region-oriented self-description. This had an important impact on the articulation of the demand for autonomy.


Further, while Jharkhand was ‘scheduled’ by the colonial state (ostensibly to ‘protect’ the tribes from being exploited by ‘wily’ outsiders as also to ‘civilise’ them), it was a central part of the colonial enterprise owing to its mineral wealth. The subordinate integration of this region in to the colonial economic enterprise also carried within itself the corollary of wide-spread missionary activity and its affects on the constitution of a political community in the region. Alongside, many debates about the ‘tribal question’ (such as the Anglican versus Orientalist debate about tribes) were played out in this part of the country. Some of these issues will be taken up in the paper.


By the time India attained independence, there was already a sizeable political community in Jharkhand which supported the demand for autonomy for the region. However, three factors significantly altered the articulation of this demand as well as self-description of the identity: the refusal of the States Reorganisation Commission to take cognisance of the demand; the developmental promise of the still-to-be-tarnished post-colonial state; and, universal adult franchise. These factors set in motion a process which significantly altered the ethnic identity articulation in Jharkhand and demands for autonomy.


The paper will therefore locate the idea and meaning of autonomy in the discursive contours of the post-colonial Indian state before operationalising the argument for the Jharkhand movement. In the process, it will analyse the articulations on autonomy by the major political parties active in the region and the changes in the electoral support for them in order to understand the pattern of popular support for the idea of autonomy.


Dolly Kikon: Women’s Rights and Autonomy in Naga Politics and Society


Armed conflict situations not only re-enforce patriarchy but also legitimise structural violence. Ironically, while the rhetoric of justice, rights and peace have become guiding principles for Naga civil and political organisations, issues pertaining to women’s rights have not gone beyond adorning texts. In this paper, I explore how gender issues are generally perceived in Naga society and how existing indigenous institutions and modern political bodies are structured to construct a Naga political arena that obliterate gender equality and marginalize women’s rights. I argue that such patriarchal politics have led to a process whereby Naga women’s issues have become tokenised. The mere presence of Naga women’s voice in press conferences and meetings to speak about the Indo-Naga armed conflict should not be read as a process of empowerment. Contrary to such ‘public’ adornments, patriarchy and violence have defined the position of Naga women.


Virginius Xaxa: Reading Tribal Struggles in Jharkhand


Tribals of Jharkhand have a long history of struggles. It began with the coming of the colonial rule. The end of the colonial rule did not lead to the end of their exploitation and subjugation.  Hence struggles in various forms continued. Along these struggles, the articulation of the separate state of Jharkhand has been one of the running themes especially in the post-independence era. In fact, the separate state of Jharkhand was in a way thought to be panacea of the tribal problems in Jharkhand. The separate state of Jharkhand has been granted. There was euphoria and jubilation. which has now turned into disenchantment and cynicism. Tribals have already begun to agitate, demand and have even been engaged in movements. The paper will journey into the tribal struggles in Jharkhand and attempt to explore the idea of autonomy entailed therein. This, the paper will do with the help of some selected struggles from colonial and postcolonial period. The pre- Jharkhand and post Jharkhand will be an important landmark for the post-colonial period.


Panel III


Martine Spensky: The Slow Emergence of British Women as Autonomous Subjects 


“Autonomy” means “self-government”. An individual is autonomous when she can act under her own direction i.e. when she is – and feels she is - the author of her own actions.  Ideas about autonomy are linked with ideas of freedom and independence. Freedom, which is “the absence of interference or impediment” and independence, which is the state of being “free from subordination”, are often used to mean the same thing.


The embodiment of the “autonomous” individual, in modern western liberal political thought, is the citizen: from J. Locke to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the training of individual (men) must aim at forming autonomous citizens, not only capable of deciding for themselves, but also for their families and for the whole community. Women, in this tradition, have to be protected and guided on the path of life by their enlightened men folk on whom they “depend”. The system in which autonomous and supposedly equal individuals establish contracts with one another is supposed to have replaced that of protection in return for allegiance between unequal groups. This new development put women in a very awkward position as their status remained frozen in the old system, denying them the possibility of becoming autonomous individuals and entering modernity. Moreover, as “autonomy” and “freedom” are considered to be the the most positive values in liberal democracies, the primary “social goods” (Michael Walzer, 1992), women consequently were excluded from receiving rewarding symbolic “social goods”. No wonder then the first “feminist” claims were about autonomy, freedom and independence. Mary Wollstonecraft, in her dedicace to Talleyrand-Périgord writes “Independence I have long considered as the grand blessing of life, the basis of all virtue; and independence I will ever secure by contracting my wants, though I was to live on a barren heath” (Mary Wollstonecraft, 1792/1982). The whole women’s movement has been focused on expanding “women’s sphere of freedom” in all areas of life, the underlying assumption being that, as autonomous beings, they needed equal freedom with men.


In this paper, I will examine the slow emergence of women as autonomous subjects in Britain (and, to a lesser extent, in France) and the resistance they encountered, from the end of the 18th century to our time.  I’ll use T.H. Marshall’s categories of citizenship rights: civil, political and social, which were supposedly acquired by men, in that order, during three successive periods of time: 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. I will argue that, even though the (male) citizen appears to be much more autonomous than he actually is – as the model rests on the separation between the public and private spheres and the unwaged work accomplished by women in the latter – the quest for autonomy on the part of women should not be considered obsolete, despite the “attractive” and omnipresent ideology that the battle has been won. Just to take one example, their massive participation in the labour market due to their better education and the re-structuring of the said market in the 1980’s masks the fact that only a small proportion of them earn a living wage, which makes their “autonomy” problematic. I’ll also try to tackle the question of the meaning of “autonomy” in a globalized world.


Oishik Sircar: Whose Body Is It Anyway? : Sexual Autonomy and The Law


In this essay I primarily deal with the criminal law’s attempts to ‘protect’ (read: regulate) the ‘sexual’ (read: compulsorily heterosexual/monogamous/married), ‘female’ (read: victim) body. The essay will examine the legally sanctified spaces that can ‘accommodate’ the ‘sexual female body’, and where the law deems fit to intervene. The essay also encounters the ‘sexually deviant body’, and examines the spaces that it can occupy according to the law.


My engagement through this essay is also with questions of ‘rights’. My attempt is to look at the treatment that the ‘good sexual body’ receives when it comes to rights guarantees and how there is a constant attempt by the law to discipline the ‘sexually deviant body’, by holding a carrot stick and leading it on, into the sanctified space that law has created. Those ‘sexually deviant bodies’ whose appetite for ‘desire’ does not get satiated by a carrot are then subjected to the violence of law. The violence of law includes the denial of rights, citizenship and most importantly de-recognition of the ‘sexually deviant body’ as ‘natural’ and ‘normal’, other wise called the violence of discourse.


So where then does the law stand with regard to its emancipatory potential when it comes to claiming sexual rights? By critiquing the campaigns by the women’s movement in postcolonial India on issues of sexual violence, I’ll try and establish that lobbying for change through law reform is not going to work, and more importantly might be a totally misplaced strategy. If there is no necessary link between law and justice as the experiences of the women’s movement demonstrate, then what is the way forward?


In India, the postcolonial nation-building project has an agenda of claiming ownership of and guaranteeing rights to the ‘authentic’ sovereign subject. And the authentic, globally, gets constructed as the ‘other’, sometimes the ‘native’. The authentic subject has come to exist with a singular identity of the nation. The creation of this hegemony of authentic national identities has also led to the creation of authentic postcolonial victims and peripheral subjects: the good woman as the culture bearer of the nation’s identity and the sexual subaltern threatening the very foundations of that same identity. The image that is produced is that of a truncated third world woman who is sexually constrained, tradition-bound, incarcerated in the home, illiterate, and poor. The postcolonial nation-building discourse instead of contesting this image provides the ‘victim’ subject a shared location from which women repudiate claims of being part of a Western culture, yet furnishing the creation of a unitary subject that enable them to make claims based on a commonality of experience. The responsibility of the postcolonial nation then becomes to protect women for what they represent, rather than protecting their rights.


But in claims for the human right to sexual autonomy, with the absence of a more articulated radical theory of sex, most progressives have turned to feminism for guidance. To create an erotic disruption/abruption in the scheme of things, I will challenge the primacy given to feminism as a resource for claiming sexual autonomy. This is not to deny that the feminist movement will always be a source of interesting thought about sex. However, feminism needs to be interrogated on whether it should be the privileged site of a theory on sexuality.


Feminism’s primary engagement with sexual violence and sexual wrongs, world over, make women live with sexual fear like an extra skin. By underlying question of my essay will be: When has the right to say ‘yes’ to sex been articulated as strongly as the right to say ‘no’ to sex? That is where, I will argue, claims for sexual autonomy as a human right should begin.


Sujata Dutta Hazarika: Examining Autonomy and 73rd Amendment in Assam

The paper “Examining Autonomy and 73rd amendment in Assam “ will be primarily based on a recent study conducted from Feb 2004 to Dec 2004 in three Districts of Assam, namely Sonitpur, Cachar and Nalbari, covering 16 villages, and 12 panchayats (coming under some of the worst flood affected blocks of Assam). The study will throw light on the Participation of women in Local self governance in Assam. The paper, after analyzing the viability of a constitutional amendment to ensure autonomy at the individual level. It will also make recommendations for effective implementations of any democratic measures with a gender dimension.


Panel IV


Ashok Agrwaal: Like entropy, autonomy exists.  As such, the existence of autonomy does not need any Law or Laws, beyond itself and its nature.


Autonomy can, therefore, be said to be the original state of human kind; or at least of the individual.  It follows that the topic, ‘Laws of Autonomy’, is a misnomer.  Laws are devised to usurp autonomy, not confer it.  The paper looks at a specific example of how the nation-state, the most powerful usurper of autonomies created till date, arrogates autonomy to itself, in the name of ‘public interest’.  Needless to say, in the hands of the state autonomy translates into impunity.


The immunity of the sovereign was the exception to the maxim ‘Ubi Jus Ibi Remedium’.  With the evolving nature of the state the nature of sovereign immunity has evolved, since now it is not the sovereign but his minions who need this immunity.  Section 197 of the Indian Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 (CrPC) embodies a principle of sovereign immunity.  It origins in India are rooted in the ‘Judicial Officers Protection Act’ of 1850, which is still extant.  This Act contains the first systematic enunciation of the “good faith” rule, upon which many immunity laws are based. 


Section 197 CrPC protects government servants from prosecution without prior sanction of the government.  Before any proceedings are initiated against public servants it has been deemed fit that a well considered opinion of the superior authority is obtained.  The Supreme Court has held in the case of Gauri Shankar Prasad Vs State of Bihar & Anr   (2000 5 SCC 15) that the object of the section was to save officials from vexatious proceedings against judges, magistrates and public servants but it is no part of the policy to set an official above the common law.  Thus the protection provided under section 197 CrPC was to enable public servants to perform their duties fearlessly by protecting them from vexatious “mala-fide” or false prosecution for acts done in performance of their duties.  The paper begins by delineating the nature and the limits of the protection proffered by section 197 CrPC through decisions of the Supreme Court.  For the sake of the argument, one may call this: the limits of de jure impunity.


Section 6 of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958 has been held to be pari materia with section 197 of the CrPC.  The Supreme Court decided upon the constitutional validity of the Act, including section 6, in the case of the Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights V. The Union of India  (AIR 1998 SC 431).   An analysis of the Court’s judgement in this case is a study of the manner in which the State justifies the usurpation of autonomy.  This completes the movement from de jure to de facto: impunity.


Hari Sharma: Nepal’s Constitutional Experience: Rethinking Sovereignty and Autonomy


The paper will discuss the question of popular sovereignty and autonomy in the light of constitutional experience of Nepal. Recent political and constitutional crisis in Nepal poses interesting theoretical questions. Common sense or initial though is that autonomy is nothing other than (negative) liberty. On this view, a person is autonomous with regard to his decisions if his decision-making procedure is unencumbered by constraints. He is autonomous with regard to his actions if, having decided to act in a certain way, he is at liberty to so to act.  It is however, unlikely that anyone seriously has advocated this view. For it is almost certainly a mistake to identify autonomy with negative liberty, if negative liberty itself is thought of as freedom from all constraints. The problem for autonomy, rather, arises when constraints are imposed on an agent’s choices or actions by someone or something other than the agent. Dominant thinking is that no citizen of a state can be fully autonomous. That is only anarchism is fully compatible with real autonomy. However Kantian view is that autonomy and order go together as he says "what else then can freedom of will be but autonomy, that is, the property which will has of being law to itself"(Groundwork of the Metaphysics, tr.H.J. Paton, New York, Barnes & Nobel, 1950, p.14). For Kant, since the free will is identified with practical reason, autonomy is the means for the enforcement of order- at least, of rational order.  In a present situation when much of political discussion revolves about the negative merits of freedom and security as goals of national and international policy, a consideration of the more abstract relation of autonomy and order may have some value even in the case of Nepal.  Similarly, resolution to the crisis in Nepal requires proper understanding geopolitical constrains and its impact on both popular and the state autonomy. The paper will also try to understand the conflict between popular and state autonomy.


Raja Debashis Roy: Legal and Political Challenges for Autonomy in Unitary States: Lessons from the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh 


The post-conflict situation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), Bangladesh poses manifold challenges towards the consolidation of peace and the revival of autonomy consequent upon the “peace” accord of 1997. Among these, the question of devolution of authority to the partially self-governing regional institutions remains as one of the most difficult challenges, both on account of the rather anomalous situation of the CHT in an otherwise largely centralised and “unitary” political and administrative system, and the complex interaction of political forces, some of which support, whilst others oppose, devolution and autonomy.


Bangladesh – as its constitution proclaims – is a “unitary” republic with a unicameral legislature, a supreme court and a cabinet based in the capital city. Apart from the CHT, local government units within the country have very little power and authority. Such traditions and practices, along with the reluctance of large sections of the majority Bengali community to allow substantive devolution of authority to “tribal”-dominated self-government units, has resulted in a very slow pace of devolution that is threatening to scuttle the fragile peace process in the region. Situations of the nature of the CHT also raise a number of conceptual issues concerning the law and politics of autonomy within a unitary state (and thereby, by comparison, the comparable situation within a federal state), and the law and politics of ethnic group-centred autonomy and peace consolidation situations. At a parallel level, the international aspects of such situations also warrant close scrutiny, in particular, the evolving concept of self-determination under international law, and the practical challenges in effecting and sustaining self-determination in its internal and external dimensions, especially, by indigenous or other small ethnic groups.


In the circumstances, the following questions are worth exploring. Firstly, whether with regard to the implementation of the principle or right of self-determination, the boundary between law and politics is constantly being un-drawn or re-drawn. Secondly, whether the boundary between ‘unitary’ and ‘federal’ states, is more formal than real judging from functional considerations. Thirdly, whether the nature and extent of the presence of discrimination against minorities and indigenous peoples is a crucial factor determining the success or failure of evolution. And fourthly, whether and to what extent a human rights-oriented approach to political and developmental rights is a useful strategic tool for disadvantaged population groups that are constantly threatened with demographic and political minoritization. 


Some of these issues will be analytically discussed drawing upon examples from the Chittagong Hill Tracts system, with occasional comparisons with and reference to situations in India, Philippines, East Malaysia and elsewhere.

Panel V


Ashutosh Kumar: Thinking of Autonomy in Comparative Perspective: Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir


Politics and society of Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab reflect similarities in terms of geographical, historical and sociological elements. The two states are border regions and share boundaries with hostile neighboring countries who have been keen on extending help to the secessionist ethno-religious movements in these states. In historical terms both the regions were never a part of the mainstream polity of British India. Jammu and Kashmir was the last princely state that acceded to an independent India whereas Punjab was the last princely state to be annexed to British India. If the colonial regime had adopted the policy of ‘least interference’ towards the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir and had allowed its remote regions to be governed by the traditional institutions then in Punjab an overtly powerful and heavily centralized bureaucratic system was established. The establishment of canal colonies and the Land Alienation Act provided uniqueness to the nature of colonial governance in the buffer region.  In sociological terms the majority communities in both states are minorities in rest of India. Economically as well as in terms of politics these border regions even now remain marginal to mainstream India. There is another, and much more important, commonality between the two states and that is in their sense of disenchantment/alienation from the working of federal democracy in India. Such a feeling has emanated from what they perceive as breach of trust by a ‘majoritarian’ Indian State.


The state of Jammu and Kashmir was the only princely state to negotiate its annexation with India. In Punjab also there was a lot of uneasiness among the Sikh leadership regarding the status of Sikh community in an independent India. A significant number of people in both regions have always perceived their federal context primarily in terms of contractual relations based on the notions of ‘parity’ and ‘negotiability’. The terms of contract enshrined in the form of the constitutional provisions and subsequent accords have, therefore, always been sacrosanct for them. Hence, they have remained averse to the processes leading to ‘hierarchy’ and ‘assimilation’ that has been the bane of the working of federal democracy in post-colonial India. Ironically on the pretext of safeguarding ‘national interest/security’ and ‘territorial integrity/sovereignty’ the Indian State has never allowed the state of Jammu and Kashmir to function even like any other state. There has been a willful erosion of the autonomy as provided for under Article 370 and Delhi Accord, 1952.


As for Punjab, the traumatic experience of the 1940’s and the abolition of separate communal representation in the legislative bodies in independent India, impelled the Sikh leadership in Punjab to look for a political solution that could safeguard the community’s rights and interests. The language controversy reflected this deeper quest for recognition and power by a minority community in a multi-ethnic state. The assertion of the demand for a ‘self-determined political status’ for the Sikhs within the union was evident in the form of Punjabi Suba movement. Though launched ostensibly on the linguistic basis but the Akali led Sikh leadership never concealed their real intention i.e. concern for preserving an autonomous Sikh identity. Same urge was reflected in the Akali movement for the implementation of the Anandpur Sahib resolutions.


Religion and the regional considerations have played a role in determining the political choices of the people of both states. Thus partition despite bringing significant changes ‘in the geographic and social composition of the communal, rural-urban, and regional orientations’ hardly affected their interactive nature and political dynamics. The changed territorial boundaries as a result of the partition created a new kind of identity politics in both dual community states that has been reflected in the demand for autonomy. Akali leadership in Punjab raised the emotive question: ‘the Hindus got Hindustan, the Muslims got Pakistan; what did the Sikhs get?’ The Anandpur Sahib resolutions thus argued in favour of the ‘principles of rights and shared sovereignty’. In Jammu and Kashmir the different accords and the reports have voiced the aspiration of the people of the valley for greater autonomy. There is, however, a need of caution. While the religious aspect of the autonomy movement in Kashmir cannot be ignored, the Kashmiri Muslim resentment against Indian State cannot be reduced to an inherent antagonism between Islam and Hinduism or between Hindus and Muslims as such. It holds true also for Sikh Majority Punjab of 1980’s and 90’s.


Post-colonial experiences in Punjab in the 80’s and 90’s and in Jammu and Kashmir in the last one and half decades suggest that Indian State, in order to ‘deal’ with any regional demand for autonomy, has invariably taken recourse to the politics of coercion (deployment of armed forces and repression of the autonomist and the secessionist forces by taking recourse to the extraordinary laws), economic populism (in the form of economic packages), adhocism (in the form of having short term security-centric policy) and cooperation (with the locally discredited ‘nationalist’ leadership in the form of failed accords). Moreover, given the regional and religious differences of the two states, the discontents over the perceived domination of the majority community leadership has often been used as a pretext by New Delhi to deny the democratic space to the people demanding their democratic right to participation, representation and self- government. Instead of reckless pursuit of ‘hegemonised’ and ‘homogenised’ politics as in the past what a ‘transforming’ Indian State needs to do is to acknowledge and accommodate the competing national and quasi-national identities and their demands for greater/regional autonomy.


Ranabir Samaddar: Autonomies of A New Society


In this age when political thinking is caught between neo-liberal thinking concentrating on the limits of governmental power and functions on one hand and on the other the overwhelming reality of governmental power, functions, and actions on the people turning them into administrable population groups, if we want to trace the emerging patterns of the politics of resistance it is absolutely essential to give proper attention on the visible and the half visible autonomies of the new society. Autonomy of the self, of the group, of the women, and of the political agency - autonomy, this word, which Michel Foucault if asked about its mechanics would have probably read it as the sign word of governmentality, is the symbol of the emerging patterns of new spaces in politics, spaces that speak of rights and their plank, justice.


The analytics of government concern the question of how governmental practices, including practices of self-government form, increase, and intensify governmental relations between individuals, also between groups, and how issues of life and truth become issues deeply marked by governmental relations. Seen from this perspective, politics is governmental politics, a specific form of power existing in microform at each level of social life, helping each individual to regulate and control his/her body and the soul. Seen however from the angle of those who are being ruled, that is those who form the subject of governmental relations, those being “governed”, politics means the agenda of creating autonomous spaces, defying the iron laws of governmentality, and claiming autonomies in life, in particular political life. Politics of those who are governed to recall the catchy phrase of a political scientist is not politics modelled and bound by governmentality, but politics that in face of the overwhelming nature of governmental power, functions, and relations claims autonomy.


The politics of autonomy presents a general lesson for post-colonial politics, in fact for democratic theory, which all along had considered autonomy as an exceptional measure to keep the undemocratic constituencies in a democracy happy, and at best an exotic theme for the philosophically minded people. The lesson is that autonomy cannot be considered as an exceptional measure to be taken in doses to make democracy acceptable; it must be the historical-political ingredient with which democracy is to be built. Thus notions of federalism, devolution of power, minority protection, rights of the indigenous people, and legal pluralism must now be combined and put in a collective form known as the politics of autonomies. Like all other aspects of democracy the principle and the politics of autonomy is also contentious, and like all other principles and arrangements, this too is subject to governmental manipulation, negotiation, and contest. Indeed, one form of autonomy may come in conflict with another. Therefore we can speak of autonomies and not one supreme principle of autonomy, meaning thereby that in this vision one form or arrangement of autonomy cannot cancel another, autonomies must learn to co-exist in a sort of negotiation, conversation, and daily dialogue. Our political future is moving to that direction.


Barry Sautman: The Politics of the Dalai Lama’s New Initiative on Autonomy


In the past few years, the longstanding Tibet Question has finally begun to implicate the construction of ethnic autonomy.  The Dalai Lama, faced with a diminution of the separatist movement in Tibet and China’s rise internationally, has made concessions that supply some predicates for formal negotiations over the nature of autonomy in Tibet.  The avowed aim of the exile leaders is now to secure a “genuine autonomy” based on liberal democratic governance throughout China’s ethnic Tibetan areas.  This result is known to be wholly unacceptable to the Chinese government.  The possibility of autonomy in the religious, cultural and environmental, rather than political, economic and diplomatic, spheres has thus also been mooted by the émigrés.  Despite four sessions of “talks about talks” from 2002-2005, serious obstacles to negotiations remain, but can be ameliorated through additional, suggested concessions by the Dalai Lama and Chinese state.  Work by scholars on the parameters of a system of autonomous governance suitable for Tibet is also urgently needed.         

Panel VI


Dipak Gyawali: Resources and Rights: Defining autonomy within a complexly interlinked world


A physical fact – falling water or growing clumps of trees – becomes a resource once society has expended some effort at distilling out its desirable values. Those valuable properties would be used in various different ways to meet different ends by different social groupings. Value is not intrinsic to these natural artefacts; rather they are ascribed to them. They can be seen as public goods or private goods (the common social science dichotomy of free market or bureaucratic socialism), but more unconventionally also as club goods and common pool goods. A Cultural Theory framework asserts that “goods do not fall into categories, but are captured into them and are released from them”. Examining the case of Nepal’s resource use conflicts and successes in areas such as forestry and electricity, conflicts that range from local to very global players, this paper attempts to expand the classification of autonomy in resource use. Given that autarkic autonomy is an impracticality, it probes the possibilities of relative autonomy in different properties of the resource as well as in the different use procedures. This widening provides a basis for making a case for autonomy in resource production, diffusion and use in a terrain where technology and democracy are inextricably fused.


Hemant Ojha, Krishna Paudel and John Cameron: Autonomy or Deliberative Governance?


Neoliberal ideology has emphasized autonomy of individuals as the fundamental basis of social and political organization. Such an emphasis on individual has resulted in a failure or at least limited capacity of society to tackle with problems of collective action and social justice. The idea of individual autonomy has limited the epistemological as well as moral quality of collective decisions, as there is limited room for bringing in diverse perspectives into the decision related debates. This paper rejects the neoliberal notion of individual autonomy and absolute self-governance, and argues for the case of “deliberative governance” which emphasizes exploring collective foundations of individual autonomy in relation to social justice.


Building on John Dewey’s idea of “transactions” as the basic process through which human agents come into being, and using Jurgen Habermas’s conception of “communicative rationality” to arrive at a moral basis for addressing issues of interdependence among human agents, this paper outlines a conceptual framework for understanding interrelated issues of autonomy and interdependence. We enrich the framework with Pierre Bourdieu’s cultural theory of social practice, which helps to understand the contextual, practical and culturally embedded nature of autonomy.


We provide examples of natural resource management (with a focus on community forestry) policies and practices from Nepal, which shows that: a) there are objective conditions of intersubejctive relations (common property) resisting absolute self-governance, b) there is always a possibility of discursive autonomy getting distorted in practice, and a need for analysing practical logic of autonomy and interdependence, c) even when some degree of autonomy is established, there is a constant need for deliberation to protect, safeguard and transform autonomy, and d) public reason is crucial to define the scope and nature of autonomy beyond technocratic (overly scientific) approaches. We also demonstrate that much of the problem of effectiveness of the natural resource management policy that still remains is a result of deficit in deliberation rather than autonomy.


[1] While some of the extreme Left movements may not qualify for such a description, their being restricted to certain geographical pockets in the country would indicate that the question of identity is not totally irrelevant.

[1] The term ‘autonomy’ is used here in the limited sense to denote political and administrative autonomy and does not seek to discuss or comment upon the autonomy of individuals and social groups.