Universiteit Leiden

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Gravensteen Lecture | Violence, Militarism and the Law: A Brief History of Dispossession

Friday 15 June 2018
Pieterskerkhof 6
2311 SR Leiden

This talk will examine the way in which histories of dispossession are closely imbricated with the history of militarism and state expansion in South Asia, and the role of the law in both founding violence and serving as a defense, albeit fragile, against state violence.

Professor Sundar will first examine three phases of displacement in South Asia (with a focus on India) from the late 19th to early 21st century. These may roughly be divided into periods of forest reservation, large dams and hydraulic projects and mining. The late 19th century phase of forest reservation was associated with a number of localized rebellions, which were then militarily suppressed by the colonial state, with protective laws serving to paper over the cracks created by force. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, there have been a number of police firings associated with land acquisition, as well as full fledged counterinsurgency and militarization around mining sites.

The violence of acquisition then has an active afterlife in mining sites. Mining sites are essentially violent sites—thick with fear and suspicion as people from these same communities are suborned or bribed into working in the mines, acting as scabs, or fighting as foot soldiers in military projects in the absence of other employment. This, in turn, feeds into violence against women, as traditional household economies change under the impact of loss of resources, migration, the influx of cash, alcohol, and commercial sex work.

Finally, Professor Sundar will explore how the shift from a nominally welfare state to one that serves primarily as an agent of extractive capital leads to a significant displacement of citizenship.

This Gravensteen lecture is also the keynote address of the conference Modalities of Displacement in South Asia. 

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