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Like the unravelling of a detective plot backwards, this year, for our fifth annual history conference, it seems only logical that the Idea of Nationalism, the Idea of India and the Idea of Culture should pave the way for a conference around the Indian Constitution.

We live in times when critical thinking and questioning have become crucial. Who really is a citizen; what can this citizen do within their rights; does criticizing the actions of a political individual or party qualify as being anti-national; what then does it mean to be a ‘national’; what does the ‘law of the land’ say; What do ‘Justice’, ‘Liberty’, ‘Equality’, ‘Fraternity’ mean?

We cordially invite your participation at the fifth annual History for Peace Conference—to discuss, debate and explore ideas with us on how to bring these and all other pertinent issues into history classrooms, yes, but also into political science classrooms, geography classrooms, environmental studies classrooms—in fact into our education system!


The Idea of the Indian Constitution

26, 27, 28 July 2019

Tollygunge Club, Calcutta



Keynote Address: Romila Thapar  [9 – 9.55 a.m.]

Romila Thapar is an Indian historian as well as an Emeritus professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. Her principal area of study is ancient India.


Valerian RodriguesConstitutionalism and India’s Nationalist Imagination [10 – 11.25 a.m.]

The idea of the Constitution as a ‘founding moment’ has served certain purposes: It helps serve as a formal-juridical frame for the interpretation of the constitutional text without looking at the complex debate that informs the Constituent Assembly Debates and precedes it. It also tends to sustain expressions such as post-nationalism and post-colonialism as denoting epochal moments of rupture from the past, with an additional caveat that post-colonial constitutionalism could not be a mimetic reproduction of transatlantic constitutionalism. Nationalism as a break from the past has also helped people to argue that the point of departure of India as a nation was also a Hobbesian moment of envisaging the state through a certain perspective. This presentation subjects these positions to a critique by taking recourse to certain key texts and reports, and draws out their implications.

It argues that Indian constitutionalism, as a mode of organizing and directing public power, is the outcome of a three-fold debate vis-à-vis, colonial constitutionalism; constitutional perspectives that shaped other societies; and diverse perspectives and positions active in India. It sees key texts such as India Act, 1935 as the product of such debates, rather than merely a colonial instrumentality to govern.

Sustaining a public culture of debate and discussion and enabling the same is the key insight that India’s nationalist imagination brings to constitutionalism in India. Politically, while it is important to rally behind the defense of the constitution of India today, and in the foreseeable future, it can be construed as such only if it results in fostering and defending such a culture.

Valerian Rodrigues has taught at Mangalore University, Karnataka, India (1982-2003), and Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India (2003-2015). He was Ambedkar Chair, Ambedkar University Delhi (2017-2018). His recent books include The Essential Writings of B. R. Ambedkar (2002), The Indian Parliament: A Democracy at Work (2011) (co-authored with B. L. Shankar), Speaking for Karnataka 2018) (co-authored with Rajendra Chenni, Nataraj Huliyar and S. Japhet) . He has edited Conversations with Ambedkar: 10 Ambedkar Memorial Lectures (2019). He was Visiting Professor at the Department of Humanities, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada (Spring, 2019), Senior Visiting Professor at Julius Maximilians University, Würzburg, Germany (2011–15) and Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) Chair in Contemporary Indian Studies at Erfurt University and Fellow of Max Weber Kolleg, Erfurt, Germany (2012). He was Agatha Harrison Fellow, St Antony’s College, Oxford University (1989-1991). He received the University Grants Commission National Swami Pranavananda Saraswati Award for Political Science in 2011, and was National Fellow of Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) (2015–17).


11.25 – 11.55 p.m. Coffee break


A.G.Noorani. Constitution and the Judiciary [12 – 1.25 p.m.]


Abdul Ghafoor Abdul Majeed Noorani, known popularly as A. G. Noorani, is an Indian lawyer, constitutional expert and political commentator. He has practised as an advocate in the Supreme Court of India and in the Bombay High Court. His columns have appeared in various publications, including Hindustan TimesThe HinduDawnThe StatesmanFrontlineEconomic and Political Weekly and Dainik Bhaskar. He is the author of a number of books including: The Kashmir Question, Ministers’ MisconductBrezhnev’s Plan for Asian SecurityThe Presidential SystemThe Trial of Bhagat SinghConstitutional Questions in India and The RSS and the BJP: A Division of Labour. He has also authored the biographies of Badruddin Tyabji and Dr Zakir Hussain.


1.30 – 2.25 p.m. Lunch


Rajeev Bhargava. Rehabilitating Secularism: An Intellectual, Ethical and Political Approach [2.30 – 3.55 p.m.]


My presentation offers an elaboration and defence of a particular normative variant of secularism, principled distance. I argue that in order to adequately address problems of diversity and domination, secularism should be reimagined as the principled distance of state from religion, rather than as strict separation between the two. The principled distance model can be found in the best interpretations of the Indian Constitution; it requires the state to respect religiosity but oppose institutionalized religious domination. I will offer an account of how this model has been a victim of misunderstandings by its proponents, abuse by its practitioners and deliberate distortion by its opponents. At the end, I offer a modest proposal of how we might be able, one day, to rehabilitate it.

Rajeev Bhargava is Professor at CSDS, Delhi and currently, Director of the Centre’s Institute of Indian Thought. He was also the Centre’s Director (2007-2014).  He has been a Professor at the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and between 2001 and 2005 was Head, Department of Political Science, University of Delhi.  He was a Professorial Fellow, ACU, Sydney and is an Honorary Fellow, Balliol College, Oxford.

Bhargava did his BA in economics from the University of Delhi, and MPhil and DPhil from Oxford University. He has been a Fellow at Harvard University, University of Bristol, Institute of Advanced Studies, Jerusalem, Wissenschaftskolleg, Berlin, and the Institute for Human Sciences, Vienna. He has also been Distinguished Resident Scholar, Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life, Columbia University, and Asia Chair at Sciences Po, Paris. He has been a Berggruen Fellow at CASBS, Stanford, 2015 and Tsinghua University, Beijing, 2016. Bhargava has held visiting professorships at several universities.

Bhargava’s publications include Individualism in Social Science (1992), What is Political Theory and Why Do We Need It? (2010), and The Promise of India’s Secular Democracy (2010). His edited works are Secularism and Its Critics (1998) and Politics and Ethics of the Indian Constitution (2008). His work on secularism and methodological individualism is internationally acclaimed. He is currently working on religious and philosophical pluralism in ancient Indian Thought.

Bhargava is on the advisory board of several national and international institutions, and was a consultant for the UNDP report on cultural liberty.


 4 – 4.20 p.m. Coffee break


R. Siva Kumar. From Swadeshi to the Constitution: Nandalal Bose and the Nationalist Project [4.30 – 5.30 p.m.]


Siva Kumar will deliver an illustrated talk on Nandalal Bose and his engagement with Gandhi and the Freedom struggle culminating in the illumination of the Constitution.

Siva Kumar is an Indian contemporary art historian, art critic and curator. R. Siva Kumar’s major research has been in the area of early Indian modernism with special focus on the Santiniketan School. He has written several important books, lectured widely on modern Indian art and contributed articles to prestigious international projects such as the Art JournalGrove Art Online or the Dictionary of Art, OUP.

He was awarded the Kesari Puraskaram for art writing by the Lalit Kala Akademi, Kerala in 2010. He has also curated major exhibitions like Santiniketan: The Making of a Contextual Modernism, and The Last Harvest: Paintings of Rabindranath Tagore and retrospectives of important Indian artists, such as Rabindranath Tagore, Benode Behari Mukherjee (co-curated with Ghulam Mohammed Sheikh), K. G. Subramanyan. He has also co-curated an exhibition titled Tryst with Destiny for the Singapore Art Museum to mark 50 years of Indian Independence and served as a curatorial adviser for Rhythms of India: The Art of Nandalal Bose curated by Sonia Rhie Quintanilla for the San Diego Museum of Art.




Gautam Bhatia. The Transformative Constitution [9 – 10.10 a.m.]


We think of Independence as a moment of political transformation from the erstwhile colonial regime to a democratic and republican government. The Indian Constitution is meant to embody this moment of transformation. However, the Constitution was meant to go much further than simply set out the blueprint for a political transition, or a mere transfer of power: it was intended to facilitate a thoroughgoing transformation of society itself, through the trinity of ‘liberty, equality, and fraternity’, and democratise hierarchical relations in the ‘private sphere’, such as those of caste, gender, and the economy. This talk will discuss how close attention to the radical social movements that led up the framing of the Constitution, along with the Constituent Assembly Debates, reflects the radical and transformative character of the Constitution, a character that has more often than not been obscured by subsequent scholarship as well as by judicial decisions.

Gautam Bhatia is the author of Offend, Shock, or Disturb: Freedom of Speech under the Indian Constitution (OUP 2015) and, more recently, The Transformative Constitution (HarperCollins 2019). He was a practicing lawyer for four years in Delhi, and was part of the legal teams involved in the right to privacy judgment, the Aadhaar constitutional challenge, the challenge to Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, and bail application for members of the Kabir Kala Manch, among others. His work has been cited by the Supreme Court on four occasions, and by the High Court of Kerala. He graduated from the National Law School of India University in 2011, and then read for the BCL and the MPhil at the University of Oxford (on a Rhodes Scholarship), and for an LLM at Yale Law School. Presently, he is reading for a D.Phil in Law at the University of Oxford.


10.15 – 10.40 a.m. Coffee break


Siddharth VaradarajanMedia and the Constitution [10.45 – 11.55 a.m.]


Media freedom and freedom of expression in general have come under increasing strain as governments at the Centre and the states find creative ways to undermine the constitutional protection to free speech. How should civil society deal with this onslaught on free speech on social media, the universities, the media and other forums?

Siddharth Varadarajan is a Founding Editor of The Wire. He was earlier the Editor of The Hindu.


Nandini Sundar. The Making of the 5th & 6th Schedules [12– 1.10 p.m.]


As part of a longer social history project on the way that the Indian Constitution was imagined at the time of its making and subsequently, this paper looks at the making of the 5th and 6th Schedule. Drawing on submissions made to the sub-committees of the Constituent Assembly, I look at the political agency of multiple adibasi communities in central and north east India, and the manner in which the schedules were eventually crafted.

Nandini Sundar is a professor of sociology at the Delhi School of Economics whose research interests include political sociology, law, and inequality. She is a recipient of the Infosys Prize for Social Sciences in 2010. She was also awarded the Ester Boserup Prize for Development Research in 2016 and the Malcolm Adiseshiah Award for Distinguished Contributions to Development Studies in 2017.

Sundar obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford University in 1989 and Master of Arts, Master of Philosophy and Ph.D. in Anthropology from Columbia University in 1989, 1991 and 1995 respectively. She has previously worked at Jawaharlal Nehru University, The Institute of Economic Growth and Edinburgh University. Sundar was editor of Contributions to Indian Sociology from 2007-2011 and serves on the boards of several journals. She has also been a member of the Technical Support Group to draft Rules for the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2007, as well as served on other working groups in the erstwhile Planning Commission, and NCERT.


1.15 – 2.25 p.m. Lunch


Krishna Kumar. Teaching the Constitution [2.30 – 3.55 p.m.]


As a topic in the syllabus, the Constitution faces the usual problems rooted in the exam-centric pedagogy of our schools and colleges. Are there other ways to teach the Constitution?

Krishna Kumar is an Indian intellectual and academician, noted for his writings in the sociology and history of education. His academic oeuvre has drawn on multiple sources, including the school curriculum as a means of social inquiry. His work is also notable for its critical engagement with modernity in a colonized society. His writings explore the patterns of conflict and interaction between forces of the vernacular and the state. As a teacher and bilingual writer, he has developed an aesthetic of pedagogy and knowledge that aspires to mitigate aggression and violence. In addition to his academic work, he writes essays and short stories in Hindi, and has also written for children. He has taught at the Central Institute of Education, University of Delhi, from 1981 to 2016. He was also the Dean and Head of the institution. From 2004 to 2010, he was Director of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), an apex organization for curricular reforms in India. He was awarded the Padma Shri by the President of India in 2011.


Workshop [4 – 6 p.m.]

[Parallel sessions and coffee to be served at the session]

Urvashi Butalia. Constitutional Guarantees and Life on the Ground


This workshop will take an actual case of the abduction of a young woman, Mukhtiar Kaur, during the Partition of the country and will look at the questions that come up for the State and for citizens when deciding on the rights of a citizen, in this case a female citizen, in light of what has been written in the Constitution and how that translates into real life. We will look at the case, and how it was argued and then have a participatory discussion/exercise on what could have been/what should have been and how questions of rights get decided and how citizenship gets defined.

Urvashi Butalia is a publisher and writer. Co-founder of Kali for Women, India’s first feminist publisher, and now director of Zubaan, she is also author of the award-winning oral history of Partition, The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India.


Sambhaji Bhagat. Teaching the Preamble


For some time now, Sambhaji has been taking the Preamble out of the definite ornate frames of the Indian Constitution, to the people of Maharashtra—door to door.  He has been facilitating youth to take on this community-model of constitutional education as part of his efforts towards engaging youth in a movement towards an everyday realization of democratic principles. He will conduct a workshop around this at the conference.

Dalit activist, poet and playwright, Lokshahir Sambhaji Bhagat, is among the most prominent voices against caste oppression in India today. His plays Shivaji Underground in Bhimnagar Mohalla and more recently, Bombay-17, based on the lives of people living in Dharavi have highlighted the seen and unseen legacy of Ambedkar politics in India. In addition to composing music for films such as the critically acclaimed Court, Sambhaji is working to digitize music, art and theatre from the margins. His lesser known roles include being a teacher of history in a Mumbai school.




Romila Thapar and Vrinda Grover.  On Public Interest Litigations, with special focus on the Bhima Koregaon PIL [9 – 10.25 a.m.]


Vrinda Grover is a lawyer, researcher, and human rights and women’s rights activist based in New Delhi, India. As a lawyer she has appeared in prominent human rights cases and represented women and child survivors of domestic and sexual violence; victims and survivors of communal massacre, extrajudicial killings and custodial torture; sexual minorities; trade unions; and political activists. Focused on the impunity of the state in relation to human rights violations, her research and writing inquires into the role of law in the subordination of women; the failure of the criminal justice system during communal and targeted violence; the effect of ‘security’ laws on human rights; rights of undocumented workers; challenges confronting internally displaced persons; and examines impunity for enforced disappearances and torture in conflict situations.

Romila Thapar is an Indian historian whose principal area of study is ancient India. She is the author of several books including the popular volume, A History of India, and is currently Professor Emerita at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi. She has twice been offered the Padma Bhushan award, but has declined both times. Thapar has been a visiting professor at Cornell University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the College de France in Paris. She was elected General President of the Indian History Congress in 1983 and a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy in 1999.


Coffee break 10.30 – 10.55 a.m. 


Babloo Loitongbam. 61 years of Suspension of Right to Life: Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in North East India [11 a.m. – 12.10 p.m.]


In the civilized world it is rare to find a legislation that explicitly allows extra-judicial execution of its own citizens on mere suspicion. But this has been the unfortunate experience of the indigenous peoples of the North Eastern region of India reeling under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA).

The Supreme Court of India has upheld the constitutionality of AFSPA in Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights v/s Union of India in 1997. But the same court effectively defanged the impunity enjoyed by the armed forces under this law when it pronounced – in its historic judgment on the Extra-judicial Execution Victim Families Association, Manipur (EEVFAM) v/s the Union of India in 2016 – that it is mandatory to initiate criminal investigation in all alleged extrajudicial killing, even under AFSPA.

But such things are easier said than done and major challenges still remain in breaking this entrenched cycle of impunity. The present paper will deal with some of these challenges faced by the families of victims of extrajudicial execution in their monumental struggle for justice in Manipur.

Babloo Loitongbam is the executive director of Human Rights Alert, based in the conflict-ridden state of Manipur. He has been empowering the victimized communities by organizing them and opening up access to human rights redress mechanisms at the local, national and international level. Currently he is leading a monumental struggle for justice of 1528 families of victims of extrajudicial executions in the Supreme Court of India. He holds twin degrees in Anthropology and Law from Delhi University and a master’s degree in Conflict Resolution and Peace-building from Eastern Mennonite University, Virginia. He is an Ashoka Fellow and Fulbright scholar.


12.15 – 1.10 p.m. Lunch


Mridu Rai. Article 370 in the Constituent Assembly: Shaping a Hindu Jammu and a Muslim Kashmir [1.15-1.45 p.m.]


Article 370 of the Indian Constitution brought into effect in 1950, gave the northern province of Jammu and Kashmir special status within the new union. Since then, that provision has stoked political contention between secularists and religious nationalists in India, despite the manifest whittling down of the article’s most significant aspects. This development is counterintuitive since, at least ostensibly, the original intent of the article’s introduction had no relation to questions of religion. This talk will explore how a provision aimed presumably only at easing the political integration of a princely state into the newly formed Indian nation-state acquired unanticipated religious associations. It will discuss how a perspective emerged, even at the time of shaping the Indian constitution, which viewed the people of Jammu and Kashmir according to religious affiliations.

In Conversation: Mridu Rai, Dr. Shah Faesal and Shehla Rashid Shora,  moderated by Revati Laul [1.45 p.m. – 2.55 p.m.]


Mridu Rai is a professor of history at Presidency University, Kolkata. She is the author of the prizewinning book Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects: Islam, Rights, and the History of Kashmir (2004). Between 1997 and 1999, Rai taught as an adjunct instructor at Columbia University and as a visiting lecturer at Tufts University. Between 1999-2007, she served as assistant professor, first at Bowdoin College and, from 2001, at Yale University. From 2007-10, she taught as an associate professor at Yale University. From 2011, she taught at Trinity College, Dublin, before moving to Presidency University in 2014. She has held various research fellowships in the United States, including a visiting research appointment at the Davis Centre for Historical Studies at Princeton University (2010-2011). In 2016, Rai was on a Cambridge-Hamied Visiting Lectureship at the Centre of South Asian Studies at the University of Cambridge and during 2017-2018, she was an Honorary Fellow of the Netaji Institute for Asian Studies, Kolkata. Rai’s teaching focuses on modern Indian and contemporary South Asian history. Her current research explores the history of Kashmir from the sixth century to the present.

Dr. Shah Faesal is an independent politician and former Indian bureaucrat from Jammu and Kashmir. In 2009, he became the first Kashmiri to place first in the Indian Civil Services Examination. He resigned from the Indian bureaucracy in protest on 9 January 2019, citing ‘unabated killings’ in Kashmir among other things. On 4 February 2019, Shah Faesal began his political life by giving a public speech in his hometown of Kupwara. Shortly after on 16 March 2019 he announced that he would be launching his own political party, the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement (JKPM).

He is a 2008 batch graduate of the Jhelum Valley Medical College. He holds an MBBS degree from Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), Srinagar as well as a master’s degree in Urdu. He finished MBBS at 26 and left IAS at 35. In 2018, he was a recipient of the Fulbright-Nehru Master’s Fellowship at Harvard Kennedy School.

Shehla Rashid Shora is a politician and Ph.D. student at Jawaharlal Nehru University. She joined J&K Peoples’ Movement, founded by Shah Faesal on 17 March 2019. She was vice-president of the students union (JNUSU) in 2015-16. She was a member of the All India Students Association (AISA). Shora came into the limelight whilst leading the student agitation calling for the release of Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and others who were arrested on charges of sedition in February 2016.

She is vocal about the human rights situation in Kashmir, particularly for ensuring justice to minor undertrials and has been active since 2010 when she was part of organising a youth leadership programme in Kashmir. She played a leading role in visualising the ‘Occupy UGC movement’ and pioneering the decision to ‘camp’ at UGC for fellowships. She led the protests to Ministry of Human Resource Development to ask for an increase in graduate student stipends.

Revati Laul is an independent journalist and filmmaker and the author of The Anatomy of Hate. The book takes readers through the lives of three members of the mob that killed over a thousand Muslims in Gujarat in the year 2002 in order to find ways to combat hate. In the last decade of her 24-year reporting career, she has focused on political and gender violence. This has taken her to Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Kashmir and Chhattisgarh. She started out as a television journalist, primarily with NDTV and more recently moved to print, working for Tehelka magazine and then writing for various publications including the Hindustan Times and The Quint.



Workshop [3 – 5.30 p.m.]

[Parallel sessions and coffee to be served at the session]


Sathish Jayarajan. Making Sense of a Contested Canon: Developing a Constitutional Sensibility in Grades 11 and 12 in Complicated Times


In this workshop, I explore whether an enquiry based approach to the study of the Constitution of India (as a text or primary source) leads to the development of a constitutional sensibility and makes for good teaching practice. The approach involves creating an argumentative classroom that is enabling of active intellectual exploration.

We will actually try and set up an argumentative classroom and run some activities in this workshop. We will then ask ourselves whether a constitutional sensibility is about appreciating the contested and complex nature of constitutional arrangements.

Sathish Jayarajan is Principal and Higher Education Advisor, Mallya Aditi International School, Bangalore



Pawan Dhall. Gender Rights and the Classroom: Queer Story of Section 377 in Our Lives


This session will provide a brief overview of the history of Indian queer movements since the late 1980s and early 1990s. It will delve more specifically into the socio-legal challenge against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code over nearly 25 years that resulted in the statute being read down irreversibly by the Supreme Court last year. With the help of three or four cases as well as the sexual health and mental health arguments against the law, the session will look at how Section 377 was against our Fundamental Rights enshrined in the Constitution. In conclusion, the session will focus on the highlights of the apex court’s historical Section 377 verdict, including how it upheld the basic tenet of constitutional morality, and the court’s expectations from the teaching fraternity. This will possibly be done through a short film screening. If time permits, the session will include an exercise on examining the issue of privilege or lack of it as experienced by queer people. Reading material will be shared with the participants at the end of the session.

Pawan Dhall has been engaged in activism and writing on queer rights in India since the early 1990s. A founding member of queer group Counsel Club (1993–2002), he worked with SAATHII, an NGO focused on healthcare and social justice access, from 2002 to 2014, and now runs Varta Trust, which undertakes publishing, research and advocacy on gender and sexuality.

Here’s a list of suggested accommodation options

Dedicated to the memory of PeaceWorks friend and patron Kozo Yamamura (1934 – 2017)

Supported by Takshila Education Society