Research and Dialogue on Autonomy
A CRG Programme on Constitutional Provisions for Accommodating Pluralism held with the Support of the Ford Foundation
1. The Background
The idea of undertaking a research-cum-dialogue programme on Autonomy as the core of a study on constitutional provisions for accommodating pluralism was mooted in the Third Civil Society Dialogue on Conflict, Autonomy and Peace. The dialogue attended by about 30 participants, primarily comprising academics and social activists, was held in Shillong (Meghalaya) on 11-12 April 2003. The report was subsequently published under the title, Experiences of Autonomy in the East and the Northeast: A report on Third Civil Society Dialogue on Human Rights and Peace by Sanjay Barbora. The current research and dialogue programme was a direct result of that. The programme developed and was executed with support and cooperation of the Ford Foundation.
The programme addressed the following fourteen research questions, which were detailed out in the concept note submitted in the form of proposal to the Foundation. These involved both legal and historical investigations into practices and institutions of autonomy requiring interdisciplinary study, collaboration in research, and group work, and had enormous policy implications. The research programme accompanied by an equally significant dialogue segment had three tasks – interpreting existing relevant data and material, generating new data, and posing frontier issues of research around the problematic. The research issues and the dialogue and conference themes and topics to be considered under the project were:
Juridical-political thinking in South Asia, India in particular, on autonomy, group rights, particularly land rights
Experiences of autonomous district councils in the east and the northeast – Tripura, West Bengal (Darjeeling), Mizoram, and Bodoland
Identity and autonomy in India’s North East: the constitutional framework
State of autonomy in Kashmir
Review of accords that gave birth to the autonomous arrangements
Formation of the state of Nagaland and the quality of autonomy
Autonomy and resource control and resource management
Panchayat raj in West Bengal or Karnataka, or elsewhere, and the quality of autonomy
(a) The Compendium
The publication of Indian Autonomies - Keywords and Key Texts, edited by Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury, Samir Kumar Das and Ranabir Samaddar, already sent to the Foundation) draws on the two-year long research work undertaken by the Calcutta Research Group (CRG) on the theme of autonomy. The keywords in this compendium reflect new angles on the philosophical and political themes of autonomy, Indian events and laws relating to autonomy, international legal definitions of autonomy, and governmental techniques of stabilising rule in the country by grants of autonomy. In the category of texts the selection includes besides official notifications documents of popular politics, such as memoranda, excerpts from pamphlets, booklets, and some crucial writings or speeches. As in the past cases with CRG, this too has been a collective work, hence the rainbow nature of the selection and the findings. These keywords and key texts are significant for an understanding of the notion and the realities of autonomy.
Below we list out some of the main concerns guiding the book.
The requirement of a dialogic polity
Variety in Indian forms of autonomy and the limits of the Indian model
Autonomy or heteronomy?
The book will be published in October-November 2005, and copies will be sent to the Foundation as soon as it is published. Sage will publish the volume. The researchers working on the respective themes were:
Sanjay Borbora: ‘Experiences relating to autonomy in Bodoland and Karbi Anglong’
Pradip Kumar Bose: ‘Philosophical discussions on autonomy’
Samir Kumar Das: ‘Peace accords and the experiences on autonomy’
Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury: ‘Globalisation, international legal experiences and autonomy’
Paula Banerjee; ‘Political and cultural autonomy and experiences of gender justice’
Sanjay Chaturvedi: ‘Autonomy and experience on Jammu and Kashmir’
Subhas Ranjan Chakraborty; ‘Experiences of autonomy in the Darjeeling Hills’
Ashutosh Kumar,: ‘Historical and legal evolution of autonomous arrangements and the constitutional thinking on norms of citizenship’
Subir Bhaumik: ‘Experiences of autonomy in Tripura and Mizoram’
Ratan Khasnobis: ‘Resources, resource control and the management and the fiscal basis of autonomy – experience of the panchayats’
(c) Research papers
In addition, five research papers were published on the theme of autonomy under CRG paper series titled, Policies and Practices: These papers were distributed widely among research centers, university departments, scholars, and policy makers, and have created enormous response. The CRG website contain detailed information on this.
(a) The first of the three dialogues under the programme was held in Varanasi during 29-30 March 2004. It provided a forum for discussion on the concept papers presented by the researchers. The concept papers on the basis of which the individual researches were to proceed were deliberated there thoroughly. These concept papers were submitted beforehand to CRG and were circulated before the dialogue in Varanasi. The dialogue had besides the researchers other participants who evaluated and commented on these concept individual papers / notes.
The following participants attended the Conference held in Varanasi:
Professor Pradip Kumar Bose
Dr. Paula Banerjee
Dr. Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury
Dr. Samir Kumar Das
Mr. Subir Bhowmik
Professor Subjas Ranjan Chakraborty
Dr. Sanjay Chaturvedi
Mr. Sanjay Barbora
Professor Ratan Khasnobis
Dr. Ashutosh Kumar
Professor Udayon Misra
Professor Tilottama Misra
Dr. Arun Kumar Patnaik
Dr. Bishnu Mohapatra
Professor Rajen Harshe
Dr. Dwaipayan Bhattacharya
Dr. Ranabir Samaddar
Dr. Meenakshi Gopinath
Dr. Nandini Sunder
Mr. Hari Sharma
(b) The next dialogue – second in the series under the programme - was held in Darjeeling on 6-7 November 2004. The idea here was to draw as many political and social activists and local resource persons as possible from different areas and discuss their experiences on the questions that have a bearing on the theme of autonomy. Thus participants came from Bodoland, Guwahati, Karbi-Anglong, Kohima, Agartala, Imphal, Siliguri, Darjeeling, Jammu, Kolkata, and Delhi. The Darjeeling dialogue was designed as an intensely conversational one. The discussions revolved around selected sub-themes, panel presentations, group discussions, and a number of sharply posed questions so that the discussions could be frank and mutually learning. These questions were:
Why is violence so pervasive in the movements for autonomy?
Are the Autonomous District Councils non-starters?
What can we describe in terms of the "possible forms of 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?
What is autonomy without resources?
Issues in cultural autonomy and autonomy for religious minorities - what are the legal principles involved?
How do we relate the two principles of right - autonomy and justice?
The report of the dialogue was authored by Samir Kumar Das and Dolly Kikon and published as Fourth Civil Society Dialogue on Conflict, Autonomy and Peace: A Report
(c) The next deliberations took place in the form of the First Annual Conference on Critical Thinking in India focusing on the theme of ‘What is Autonomy?’ The two-day conference was held in the Academy of Fine Arts, Kolkata on 29-30 July 2005 and was a part of the dialogue programme on autonomy. About one hundred participants attended the Conference. The paper-writers and participants were drawn from India as well as from such other countries as China, France, Canada, Italy, Switzerland, Japan, Nepal, and Bangladesh. The purpose of the conference was to inquire into conditions and dimensions of autonomy, their historical nature, and their political significance in terms of enriching democracy. The conference was structured around panel discussions dealing with six themes, which formed the panel topics:
The Birth of the Autonomous Subject (Panel Convenor: Samir K. Das)
Autonomy as an Idea for Mass Politics (Panel Convenor: Sanjay Barbora)
Laws of Autonomy (Panel Convenor: Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury)
Feminism as a Resource for Autonomy (Panel Convenor: Paula Banerjee)
Autonomy of the Autonomies (Panel Convenor: Sanjay Chaturvedi)
Access, Ownership and Resources – Private Property as A Problem of Autonomy (Panel Convenor: Arun Kumar Patnaik)
(a) Substantial amount of primary documents has been collected in course of the research and these have been kept at the CRG office for use of researchers and students. A select list is available on the website.
(b) The website also contains research abstracts, dialogue reports, conference paper abstracts, and conference papers (the last item for a limited period).
(a) As a follow-up of the research programme, CRG organized another dialogue in Bhubaneswar on 10 September 2005 in which we invited social activists, jurists, lawyers, and human and civil rights activists. The findings of the research on autonomy were placed in the dialogue. It was agreed that the next step could be a comprehensive research programme on mechanisms of justice. The participants provided some important leads regarding how a study on autonomy could culminate in a study on justice. The consultation also advised on how dialogue and training segments could be incorporated in the new research programme. The following is the list of participants who attended the dialogue programme:
Dr. Ranabir Samaddar
Dr. V. Suresh
Ms. D. Nagasaila
Professor Asha Hans
Dr. Samir Kumar Das
Dr. Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury
Dr. Bishnu Mohapatra
Dr. Amrita M Patel
Dr. Bijaya Kumar Bohidar
Dr. Walter Fernandes
Mr. Bibhu Prasad Tripathi
Mr. Ramdas Achary
Professor Manish K Jha
Mr. Kumar Rana
(b) As a follow up measure it was decided that the international network on studies in autonomy would be strengthened; the publications will be widely disseminated, and an orientation course on activists and administrations of autonomous areas could be subsequently organized. The compendium could be further enriched and made on-line.
7. Organisation of work
(a) The work was of two years’ duration – from 19 September 2003 to 18 September 2005.
(b) The entire work was directed by Ranabir Samaddar with joint coordination by Samir K. Das and Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury. However, the entire CRG team collaborated enormously, similarly other researchers also helped. The conference, other dialogues, and collection of documents would not have been possible without support from the network of organizations and individuals that CRG has created in course of time. In particular CRG has to thank the following - Rabindra Kishore Deb Barma, Nandini Sundar, Aditi Bhaduri, Fulan Bhattacharji, Lachit Bordoloi, Linda Chhakchhuck, Khesheli Z. Chishi, Gautam Chakma, Bijoy Kr. Daimary, Gurudas Das, Meenakshi Gopinath, Rajen Harshe, Achumbemo Kikon, Dolly Kikon, Debabrata Koloy, Bani Prasanna Misra, Tilottoma Misra, Udayon Misra, Surajit C. Mukhopadhyay, Soumen Nag, Arun Kumar Patnaik, Pradip Phanjoubam, Abdur Rauf, Gina Shangkham, Bhupen Sarmah, Hari Sharma, Malini Sur, Kumar Suresh, David Syiemlieh, Haliram Terang, C. Joshua Thomas, and Siddiq Wahid.
(b) The researchers, whose names have been given earlier, blended into a team, and without their collective and individual goodwill, the tight work schedule could not have been maintained.
(c) Finally, we are grateful to the Ford Foundation, which generously helped us in carrying our research programme on autonomy, and our special thanks for Bishnu Mohapatra who took an active interest throughout the research, and contributed with ideas, and encouraged us to pursue new ideas. To the members of CRG, it is a pleasant occasion for passing another milestone in its short but intense career.