CIS 2012

The University of Oslo’s 4th Annual Contemporary India Seminar

The politics of environmental challenges in India

Photo: Tom Maisey / Wikimedia Commons.

Photo: Tom Maisey / Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday 6 September 2012.

The seminar wish to examine how environmental issues have entered the realm of political discussions as a result of intentional actions by individuals or groups, who have sought to mobilise people around environmental agendas.

Environmental challenges in both rural and urban India are many. And they are made the object of political contestation at local, regional and national levels. Examples range form the contamination of drinking water to the damming of rivers, to the toxification of agricultural land, urban air pollution, heavily polluting natural resources extraction, to global climate change. The actual environmental challenges people face on a daily basis are well documented.

For this seminar we have invited papers that analyse the politicisation of these issues: are some (environmental) challenges more prone to politicisation than others? Which actors, groups or coalitions engage in the act of making the environment an object of political contestation? And are certain social or economic contexts particularly conducive?

Moreover, we wish to explore some of the apparent paradoxes that accompany the politics of environmental challenges in contemporary India. For instance, why are geopolitical concerns routinely silences when the debate centres on, say, the construction of dams in Arunachal Pradesh? Any why are multinational companies like Coca Cola or Monsanto easier to mobilise against than their Indian counterparts? Do urban middle class activists go for the most ‘sexy’ opponents rather than the worst polluters? While we do not suggest that environmental challenges in the subcontinent are merely ‘constructs’ deployed by various groups in struggles over power and resources, the political interpretations of the diversity of challenges, and the foregrounding of some over others, can at times seem arbitrary.

The keynote speaker is Dr. Beppe Karlsson, Dept. of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University, who will give a lecture on ”Into the Grid: Hydropower and Subaltern Politics in Northeast India”.

The seminar is organised by the Nordic Forum for South Asia (NoFSA) and the Dept. of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages (IKOS), in collaboration with the Nordic Network for the Study of Environmental Challenges in South Asia (NECSA).


Time Title
9.30 – 9.45 Welcome address by the organisers
9.45 – 10.30 Keynote address:Into the Grid: Hydropower and Subaltern Politics in Northeast India. Beppe Karlsson, Stockholm University
10.45 – 11.15 The Political Ecology of Maoist War in India. Jason Miklian, Peace Research Institute Oslo
11.15 – 11.45 The Role of Law in Mediating the ‘Environment versus Development’ Discourse in the Context of Large Projects. Dhvani Mehta, University of Oxford
11.45 – 12.15 (De-)Politicising Technologies in Addressing Environmental Challenges in Rajasthan, India. Sam Wong, University of Liverpool
13.15 – 13.45 The Politics of Water in Telangana. Pamela Price, University of Oslo
13.45 – 14.15 The Politicisation of the Indus Waters and the Environmental Challenges.Per Refseth, University of Oslo
14.15 – 14.45 Work, Water and the State: NREGA in West Bengal. Arild Engelsen Ruud, University of Oslo
15.00 – 15.30 Environmental Challenges in the Context of India: The Role of Empowered Panchayats. Venkata Avinash Adavikolanu and Lalita Vempati, Norwegian Business School
15.30 – 16.00 Proximity and Distance: Representing Himalayan Farmers’ Ideas on Farming and Progress. Cecilie Nordfeldt, University of Oslo
16.00 – 16.30 Modernisation and Environmentalism in an Indian Temple Town. Samrat Schmiem Kumar, University of Oslo
16.30 – 17.00 General discussion and concluding remarks