Dialogues and Conference


Dialogue in Varanasi    /    Dialogue in Darjeeling    /    Conference on What is Autonomy


Report of The CRG Dialogue on “Constitutional Provisions for Accommodating Pluralism: The Indian Framework of Autonomy”

The Varanasi dialogue on “Constitutional Provisions for Accommodating Pluralism: The Indian Framework of Autonomy”, held on 29-30 March 2004, was the fourth in the CRG dialogue series and the second one specifically on autonomy. In all, there were 20 participants. Apart from the inaugural and closing sessions, there were 4 business sessions in which as many as 10 researchers presented their concept notes on various themes of autonomy. Since the time when the first dialogue was held in October 2001, CRG has been experimenting with various modalities of dialogue. Dialogues, as CRG views them, are ends in themselves in the sense that they are considered as an integral part of discussing and communicating on contentious issues of our time and working out a critical mode of thinking.


It was observed at the outset of the dialogue that researches on democratic experiments in this country have largely ignored the given theory of (national) sovereignty. While democracy in practice brings in a notion of shared sovereignty and autonomy, the theory of (national) sovereignty per se has refused to adapt to the changing circumstances. The republican idea of citizenship has not always met the requirements of democracy. The history of the thinking on sovereignty has been highly uneven.       


Concept notes as well as comments on the notes were presented in written forms before the dialogue. These notes related to diverse themes such as philosophical basis of autonomy; autonomy and the current state of international law; gender and autonomy, some select case studies of experiences of autonomy, autonomy as the product of peace accords, fiscal autonomy, autonomy and decentralisation, Indian juridical-political thinking on autonomy, etc.


There was ample time for discussion and debates. Some of the highlights of such discussions and debates are: 

  1. Given that there have been irreversible shared experiences, can the Indian and Western societies be so neatly divided so as to obtain two qualitatively distinct notions of autonomy? Too much emphasis on the specificity of Indian experience might lead to the fallacy of ‘indigenism’. Do communities exist here as segregated circles as in the West or ‘oceanic circles’ in India? Autonomy in India is said to be of ‘relational’ nature. The objective of any theory of autonomy should be to ‘safeguard the national-popular elements’.

  2. Is ‘autonomy’ necessarily tinged with the idea of nation and national identity?

  3. Can the ethnic accords on grant of autonomy be regarded as ‘moment of recognition’ of diverse ethnic identities? Are they not rather the moments of denial, hiding the asymmetries of power between the signatories? From that point, can it be said that these accords are locked in some orginary and original moments and structures of contest and conflict?

  4. Is local governance necessarily to be understood from within the purview of state institutions? In Nepal for example, corrupt government officials are responsible for destroying people’s own assets and institutions of local governance.   

  5. It might be useful to make a cross-state (within India) comparison of experiences of fiscal autonomy. Yet, even after such comparison has been done, and found out as to who gain fiscal autonomy by what route and to what end, a significant question will be – autonomy for local self government or for governing the local?

  6. That the term ‘autonomy’ is not easily translatable in any of the vernacular languages (haaq and adhikar being the closest synonyms) points to the differences within the rights discourse in India. Indeed, what are the possible directions that the semantic problem points to? Also, it will be interesting to see how the notion of autonomy undergoes significant changes in meanings within the official discourse.

  7. Any demand for autonomy shows some degree of negotiability. It will be impossible to exhaust the meaning and definition of autonomy within the formal-legal senses.

  8. State’s responses to demands for autonomy are not the same. In some cases it has a relaxed attitude to such demands, in others it expresses ‘pathological anxieties’, for instance towards the demand of the religious communities.

  9. Citizenship in India is multi-layered and is a landscape of many ethnic and linguistic identities. It is only that constitutionally it is still guided by the republican idea. Therefore it may be suitable to inquire as to what extent these two guiding principles fit together, and how much they are at conflict with each other in the context of a discussion on the politics of autonomy..

  10. Autonomy-enhancing institutions may not be necessarily always democracy-enhancing institutions within. Autonomy of the group and democracy within the group – clearly they do not necessarily follow from each other. In this context it is instructive to see how grant of autonomy can become part of a governmental exercise in administering inter-ethnic and inter-regional relations.

  11. Autonomy in the borderlands is a critical theme that came up for discussion quite frequently. Identity is not a necessary corollary to frontier discourse. While Assam and Jharkhand share many similarities of being the frontiers of development, the question of identity is not as strong in the latter as in the former. More important, the geopolitical insights into the problematic of autonomy enable us to think of a possible map of autonomy – and thus the questions emerging from the discussion: a centralized disposition of autonomy or autonomy of autonomies? Interacting autonomies? Various kinds of autonomies – horizontal, vertical, interacting…

  12. How do rights conceptualized in terms of autonomy translate into a politics of homeland? Who become insiders and who the outsiders? How is one to judge state policies on forest rights, land rights, property rights, customary rights, and local government rights in this perspective? What about rights of the “outsiders”?

  13. The international law on autonomy shows its fragmented nature, but it also shows the deep impact of globalisation on autonomy seeking politics throughout the world. The minority question and the experiences of autonomy in many continents call for a rigorous comparative study relating to land laws, indigenous peoples’ rights, constitutional amendments, majoritarian state structures, and the issue of accommodation and pluralism.

  14. Above all, what is the final test of autonomy in a gender unjust polity and society? How should one judge in this respect the issue of women’s autonomy? What is at the heart of the question of women’s autonomy: representation / justice / rights – all these in relation to the existing patriarchal politics and the State, in relation to the movement? 

Needless to say, all these issues, questions, and discussions were held around concrete instances of Indian history, politics, and society. It is hoped that further research will be enriched by the discussion and will be able to draw insights and inspiration from the dialogue.


The proposal for Compendium of key documents and keywords on autonomy was also discussed in details. An Editorial Committee was formed. It was also decided that since all keywords would not be of equal importance, same word limit could not be fixed regard to all the words.


Statement of Understanding of

The Third Dialogue on Principles and Practices of Autonomy

Darjeeling (West Bengal)

5-7 November 2004


Darjeeling hosted the third dialogue in the series of dialogue on autonomy. The previous two were held in March 2003 and March 2004 respectively in Shillong and Varanasi.


Twenty-three participants representing popular movements, human rights organisations, research institutions, and functionaries of autonomous structures met in Darjeeling at the call of the Calcutta Research Group on 5-7 November 2004 to discuss at length various issues involved in principles and practices of autonomy, and at the end of lengthy deliberations adopted the following resolution unanimously:


  1. The rights of the peoples that mark the principle of autonomy have to be accorded constitutional and legal status. The existing constitutional and legal arrangements are inadequate and should be reviewed for this purpose.

  2. Violence, associated with movements for autonomy, originates with state repression and other systems of oppression, and denial of rights. Towards achieving democracy and autonomy, it is important to break the cycle of violence by way of exploring other alternatives, particularly dialogue.

  3. Resources belong to people. Local government institutions, for instance, the panchayats, Autonomous Councils and Autonomous District councils should be given substantive financial and political autonomy, and be allowed to have the right of access, and exercise control over the natural, social and cultural resources equitably, on a sustainable basis, and democratically.

  4. Women’s autonomy is as important a principle of autonomy as other principles of autonomy.

  5. Autonomy movements must ensure the widest recognition of democracy within them including the autonomy of women. Militarisation reduces this possibility.

  6. Autonomy should be tempered with principles of rights, justice, and responsibility.



What is Autonomy?

Venue: Academy of Fine Arts, Kolkata

Date: 29-30 July 2005

Panel Statement


Paper Abstracts


Conference Statement

In the first decade of the twentieth century where we live in, autonomy has become one of the major concerns of our social and political existence. Right to autonomous life is now a political, cultural, and social call of both individual and the groups - a rare conformity that points to the critical importance of the problematic of autonomy in the agenda of critical thinking.


As is currently understood, the notion of autonomy, both as something that belongs to human beings and human nature, and as something that is the source or basis of morality, that is, duty, is bound up inextricably with the philosophy of our time. The term began to be applied primarily or even exclusively in a political context, to “civic communities” possessing independent legislative and self-governing authority. Then the term was taken up again in the context of individual rational persons that is in the context of their individual rights and existences, for their individual modes of behaviour. In the background of the upsurge of anti-colonial movements the term gained new perspectives and meanings, which would now imply not only new rights, but also new responsibilities (autonomy of whom, for whom, in respect to what?). It became the emblem of group rights, in particular minority rights. In time the idea of autonomy became not only the standard of rights or responsibilities, but also an issue of governmentality - something that denotes transaction, government, negotiation, and relating to others on the basis of set rules.


So we have now the questions: If autonomy has been emblematic of rights, does it take into account the gendered nature of the term? Can we trace the birth of the autonomous subject? What are the relevant constitutional and juridical thoughts shaping the universe of autonomy? Why is autonomy, an idea that holds universal attraction for mass politics, related to so much violence? Is autonomy one more regulated term, or is the concept autonomous, so that we can speak of autonomy of the autonomies? And, is private property, to go the fundamentals, a problematic for autonomy? What is autonomy without access to resources? On the other hand, if forms of ownership of resources determine autonomy, what is left of autonomy as a norm?


If we relate the concept of autonomy to the more familiar notions of freedom or self-determination, we can locate in this case the questions of responsibility and the conditions of freedom. Autonomy generally is held as a valued condition for persons in liberal cultures. We uphold autonomous agents as the exemplar of persons who, by their judgment and action, authenticate the social and political principles and policies that advance their interests. But the sceptic may ask if we are not being “blinded” by the ideal of autonomy, and therefore the question, what happens if we value autonomy too much? In autonomous action the agent herself directs and governs the action. But what does it mean for the agent herself to direct and to govern? In the context of the emerging demands for group autonomy, the further question to be probed is if this is not now the occasion to investigate and re-envision the concept of democracy with the norm, principles, and various forms of autonomy and more importantly in a way, where the standards of minimal justice become the foundation for a new democratic outlook inscribed by practices of autonomy perched on understanding of each other. Accommodation becomes the form of responsibility for the agency that wills autonomy.


In the history of thought reason has co-opted our conception of autonomy. Given this history, it can be argued that the task is now to set autonomy free. But the question is how? Surely, the problem is in the way the self defines the claims for autonomy, the way in which it relegates the issue of justice and understanding from considerations of autonomy. Law becomes in such conditions the most assured site of autonomy, and the juridical arrangement handed down from the top becomes the only possible form of autonomy. The paradox is then: if we are governed by reason in what we choose and how we choose, that means that we subject ourselves to reason in this business of what and how we choose; we are not in that case autonomous. Yet, if we say that we are not governed by reason but by desires and passions, then in that case we are not governing ourselves in what we choose, and we are not therefore autonomous. The way out of the closure has to be sought in historical understanding of the way in which the two principles of autonomy and accommodation have worked in political life, and the way in which standards of justice have negotiated the relation between autonomy and accommodation.


We require both historical and analytical understanding of the issue for such a critical enterprise. We require moreover deeper and rigorous understanding of the geo-political and ethno-political grounds on which the call for autonomy is now articulated and which modulate the self’s understanding of the norm. Similarly the need is to inquire into the ethical grounds on which the call for autonomy is given and practices of autonomy continue. The purpose of the conference is to inquire into conditions and dimensions of autonomy, their historical nature, and their political significance in terms of enriching democracy.


The conference will deal with six themes. 

Organising Committee:

Members: Samir Kumar Das, Paula Banerjee, Sanjay Barbora, Sanjay Chaturvedi, Arun Kumar Patnaik, and Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury,

Convenor: Ranabir Samaddar

Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group
FE 390, Sector 3, Salt Lake City, Kolkata 700106, India
Ph: 91-33-23370408
Fax: 91-33-23371523
mcrg@mcrg.ac.in , Web: http://www.mcrg.ac.in 



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:



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:



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:



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:



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:






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.


For full text of Dialogue proceedings, click here