Anthropologist, BBC correspondent Alpa Shah to deliver Justice and Asia lecture on April 29

Author: Christine Cox

Alpa Shah Dc Mod Vertical
Alpa Shah, photo provided.

Alpa Shah, an anthropologist, BBC correspondent, and ethnographic researcher best known for her book Nightmarch: Among India’s Revolutionary Guerrillas, will deliver the fourth annual Justice and Asia Distinguished Lecture for the Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies at the University of Notre Dame. Liu Institute faculty fellow Aidan Seale-Feldman, assistant professor of anthropology, will moderate.

The free event will take place on Monday, April 29 at 4 p.m. in 1030 Jenkins Nanovic Halls. A reception will follow. Cosponsors are Notre Dame’s Department of Anthropology and the Liu Institute’s South Asia Group.

Shah’s lecture, “The Incarcerations: BK-16 and the Fight for Justice and Democracy in Modern India,” is based on her forthcoming book The Incarcerations: BK16 and the Search for Democracy in India (HarperCollins), which is scheduled to be released in March. The Incarcerations will be available for purchase at the Justice and Asia event, as will Nightmarch.

“Alpa Shah’s research as a participant observer is renowned, and it is a special honor to welcome her upon the release of her new book,” said Michel Hockx, director of the Liu Institute. “Her examination of justice in India is not only relevant to our Justice and Asia theme, but her specific focus on democracy is the perfect fit for the Notre Dame Forum’s examination of the Future of Democracy. We look forward to a riveting and important talk.”

For the Justice and Asia keynote, Shah will draw upon The Incarcerations, which examines the 2018 violence and arrests in the village of Bhima Koregaon in western India. During a New Year’s Day commemoration, 16 human rights defenders (the BK-16)—professors, lawyers, journalists, and poets—were charged with inciting violence, accused of waging a war against the Indian state and plotting to kill Indian prime minister Narendra Modi. They were imprisoned, without credible evidence and without trial, as Maoist terrorists. Shah’s book exposes the use of cyber warfare, including the implantation of electronic evidence, to incarcerate the BK-16—while the actual instigators of the New Year’s Day violence were exonerated.

Shah argues that these human rights defenders were working for a more equal, just, and democratic country for some of the world’s most marginalized communities—India’s Muslims, “untouchables,” and indigenous people. The Incarcerations reveals why this case may be a bellwether for the collapse of democracy.

Shah is a professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics (LSE) and Political Science, where she completed her PhD. She also leads a research theme at the school’s International Inequalities Institute on Global Economies of Care.

Her research focuses on India and Nepal, examining topics including political and economic anthropology, the state, citizenship and revolutionary struggle, inequality and poverty, caste and class, and indigeneity.

Much of her work is based on long-term ethnographic research living as a participant observer among the communities she writes about. Her research has been supported by awards from the EU European Research Council, the UK Economic and Social Research Council, the British Academy, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation.

Nightmarch (University of Chicago Press 2019), a finalist for the 2019 Orwell Prize for Political Writing, recounts Shah walking alongside an active platoon of Naxalites, one of the longest-running guerrilla insurgencies in the world and whose mission is to bring about a communist society in India. Nightmarch contemplates how disadvantaged people fight back against unjust systems and seeks to understand why some of India’s poor have shunned the world’s largest democracy.

In addition to her scholarship, Shah is committed to public engagement and has reported for BBC Radio 4 and the World Service, including the radio documentary “India’s Red Belt.” She has also written for newspapers and magazines such as the New Statesman, the New York Review of Books, the Times of India, and Hindustan Times.

The Liu Institute’s Justice and Asia Distinguished Lecture invites top scholars who examine the theme of justice in relation to Asia and with awareness of Asian cultures and traditions. The series is part of the Liu Institute’s organizing theme of Justice and Asia that examines and supports thematic work from a range of perspectives, projects, disciplines, and collaborations.

The Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies, part of the Keough School of Global Affairs, promotes awareness, understanding and knowledge of Asia through administering a supplementary major and minor in Asian studies, supporting student and faculty scholarship, organizing public events, and facilitating interaction and exchanges with partners in Asia. The Institute was established by a gift from the RM Liu Foundation that supports the philanthropic activities of Robert and Mimi Liu and their children, Emily and Justin, both Notre Dame graduates.