Research and Dialogue on Autonomy


A CRG Programme on Constitutional Provisions for Accommodating Pluralism held with the Support of the Ford Foundation


(A Report)



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.  


2. Aims and Objectives

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: 

  1. Juridical-political thinking in South Asia, India in particular, on autonomy, group rights, particularly land rights

  2. Experiences of autonomous district councils in the east and the northeast – Tripura, West Bengal (Darjeeling), Mizoram, and Bodoland

  3. Identity and autonomy in India’s North East: the constitutional framework

  4. State of autonomy in Kashmir

  5. Review of accords that gave birth to the autonomous arrangements

  6. Formation of the state of Nagaland and the quality of autonomy

  7. Autonomy and resource control and resource management

  8. Panchayat raj in West Bengal or Karnataka, or elsewhere, and the quality of autonomy

  9. The voice for autonomy in minority communities - Muslim publications in West Bengal

  10. Horizontal autonomy - quest for cultural autonomy

  11. Globalisation, diverse experiences on autonomy, and international legal thinking

  12. Forms of autonomy and links with justice – gender, citizenship laws, property rights, forms of political participation, indigenous/migrant relations, and legal pluralism

  13. The principle of autonomy and its reflection on the possibility of variegated forms of citizenship

  14. The human rights dimension in federalising society

3. Publications

(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.


(b) The Book  

Edited by Ranabir Samaddar and consisting of ten essays by frontier-cutting and innovative researchers on political conditions in India, Politics of Autonomy takes up the theme of autonomy from different angles to show how this very important principle and practice in politics, not given enough importance by Indian political leaders, policy makers, and academics, occupies a paradoxical place in the system of governance. Combining opposing principles of democracy and centralised regulation, ethnic imagination and geopolitical reasoning, principle of representation and that of autonomy, legal norm of self-determination and the political norm of accommodation, group autonomy and individual rights, and norms of collective existence and women’s dignity, the principle and practice of autonomy show in a congealed form all the paradoxes of Indian politics of accommodating pluralism. Excavating its genealogical roots in various thinking and institutional developments, ranging from philosophical, legal-constitutional, and contractual, to feminist thinking, the book proceeds to explore the strange story of Indian democracy as it actually happens in the so-called frontier areas, silent zones, hilly terrains, and the zones caught in cross-fires of various kinds.


Grouped in two sections – genealogical inquiry and practical inquiry, and published as a collection of writings on patterns of autonomy the essays are based on hard analytical studies (forming the research segment of the programme), and together will become hopefully a significant contribution to critical political thinking in India, combining constitutional-juridical interrogations with political, and deep moral and ethical inquiries that lie at the heart of the concept and the reality of autonomy. Repeatedly revised, discussed, and circulated amongst members of a large dialogue group, it will be hopefully received also as an innovation in research methodology.


Below we list out some of the main concerns guiding the book. 

  1. The context of democracy and citizenship, and the point of feminist justice in discussing autonomy

  2. The phenomenon of the demand for homeland

  3. The requirement of a dialogic polity

  4. Variety in Indian forms of autonomy and the limits of the Indian model

  5. 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:   

(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. 


4. Dialogue Segment

(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:  

  1. Professor Pradip Kumar Bose

  2. Dr. Paula Banerjee

  3. Dr. Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury

  4. Dr. Samir Kumar Das

  5. Mr. Subir Bhowmik

  6. Professor Subjas Ranjan Chakraborty

  7. Dr. Sanjay Chaturvedi

  8. Mr. Sanjay Barbora

  9. Professor Ratan Khasnobis

  10. Dr. Ashutosh Kumar

  11. Professor Udayon Misra

  12. Professor Tilottama Misra

  13. Dr. Arun Kumar Patnaik

  14. Dr. Bishnu Mohapatra

  15. Professor Rajen Harshe

  16. Dr. Dwaipayan Bhattacharya

  17. Dr. Ranabir Samaddar

  18. Dr. Meenakshi Gopinath

  19. Dr. Nandini Sunder

  20. 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:


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:



5. Documentation and website

(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).


6. Follow-up:

(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: 

  1. Dr. Ranabir Samaddar

  2. Dr. V. Suresh

  3. Ms. D. Nagasaila

  4. Professor Asha Hans

  5. Dr. Samir Kumar Das

  6. Dr. Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury

  7. Dr. Bishnu Mohapatra

  8. Dr. Amrita M Patel

  9. Dr. Bijaya Kumar Bohidar

  10. Dr. Walter Fernandes

  11. Mr. Bibhu Prasad Tripathi

  12. Mr. Ramdas Achary

  13. Professor Manish K Jha

  14. 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.