Time: 19-20 February 2016
Place: Guwahati, Assam

Host organisation: Omeo Kumar Das Institute of Social Change and Development (OKDISCD)
Conference organisers: Åshild Kolås (PRIO) and Bhupen Sarmah (OKDISCD)

The northeastern political units of the Indian federation (conveniently referred to as the 'Northeast') have been a political enigma for the Indian nation state since its inception. Encompassing myriad socio-cultural identities, efforts towards political unification and homogenization through the 'nation-building' project of the Indian state – and corresponding processes of strengthening and extending its instrumentalities warranted by the objectives of 'development' and 'democracy' – have all been questioned by what is commonly and imprecisely known as 'ethno-nationalism'. In the initial phase of political assertion of a particular community, demands are usually made for official recognition of their separateness by differentiating themselves historically, socially, culturally, politically as well as territorially. Such political assertions often assume the form of autonomist, separatist or secessionist movements. The protracted sovereignty movement in Nagaland is a striking example of political assertion of a collective being of the Nagas. Although the Mizos through a peace accord became a part of the larger Indian state, Manipur is still a burning question. And while the protracted sovereignty movement of the Assamese has largely been marginalized, a secessionist movement is intensified by a section of the Bodos of Assam. A crucial feature common to all the political units of the region is the political assertion of identities, as caste or tribe or even as nationality, by the communities of culture as inhabitants of a defined territory. Such identity constructions and corresponding political assertions for official recognition of separateness are rooted in the nature of the democratic space provided by the nation state. Though the Indian state has been lenient to several autonomist demands and designed and redesigned itself to accommodate assertions within the federal structure without compromising its centralized bias, coercive forces are often applied mercilessly in tackling and resolving challenges to the Westphalian nation state as posed by secessionist movements. Inevitably, the outcome is a war-like environment, blazingly victimizing democracy.

In view of these challenges, the conference on Multitude and Democracy: Experiences from Northeast India is an attempt to comprehend the region's autonomist, separatist and secessionist movements within their own historical context, questioning how this can be related to the vision of democracy. Is the idea of democracy as conceptualized by these movements distinct from what is currently available under the Indian federal structure? How has the issue of women's representation and gender inequality been addressed by the nation state as well as its contesting movements? The conference will seek to analyze these movements and address the relevant questions by applying the concept of 'multitude' as 'political subject' (Hardt and Negri, Empire, 2000) and '… composed of innumerable internal differences that can never be reduced to a unity or single identity – different cultures, races, ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations; different forms of labor; different ways of living; different views of the world; and different desires' (Hardt and Negri*, Multitude* : War and Democracy in the Age of Empire , Penguin Books, 2004). We welcome abstracts from social scientists writing on these themes and addressing these questions. We will cover travel expenses for accepted participants upon receipt of a draft paper (ca. 8,000 words) of publication quality. Following the conference, papers will be published in venues to be decided by the organisers.

Email: ashild@prio.no and director.okd@gmail.com

Abstract deadline: 15 February 2015

Notification of acceptance: 1 April 2015

Deadline for draft papers for publication: 15 November 2015

Read the Call for Papers here (.pdf)