Dr. Aheli Chowdhury

Transforming Democracy: Sociological Study of Contemporary Student Movements in India and its Interaction with Media

1 January 2021 – 30 June 2021

Research Description:

As part of my term as a fellow at ICAS: MP, I seek to examine three contemporary student movements to understand how categories of the ‘other’ are constructed and reproduced by the Rights discourse and the role played by the media in shaping this construction. I will study these movements through oral narratives captured and restored by the public archive ‘Campus Uprising’ to produce a journal article. The archival oral history accounts will be buttressed by interviews of critical actors identified during the archival examination.

The student movements that will be studied are the students uprising of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in early 2016, the movement of  Hyderabad Central University students against caste atrocities and the death of Rohit Vemula, and, finally, the movement of  Banaras Hindu University students against gender-based discrimination, abuse and oppression in 2017. The movements will be examined using the central questions: ‘How are categories of the ‘other’ constructed and reproduced by the Rights discourse? What is the role played by the media in shaping this construction?

 I intend to examine these questions through three interrelated lines of enquiry, which will comprise three sections of my proposed paper. The first relates to the quotidian politics of student organizations. How does the everyday functioning of student unions contribute to political understanding of a student movement? Through oral histories of students, I will unpack the mechanisms of student mobilization, the process of their enrolment, everyday transaction, the issues they take up and the way association with the unions shape the identity of their members. I seek to understand, the materiality of the participation in these spaces, the voices and silences and how these spaces are negotiated. The second will focus on the experiences of students’ mobilizations. How do the experiences of association of students construct and negotiate categories of class, caste and gender within spaces of the campus and how do these experiences order mobilizations around them? Third will examine the role played by the media in this process. How do newer media strategies and technologies make and remake the field of contestation? How does it contribute to the construction of the ‘other’?



Aheli Choudhury has a PhD in sociology from Delhi School of Economics. She straddles between being a grassroots activist deeply involved in various grassroots work, rights-based and student movements and being a researcher. Her research interests lie in understanding functioning of the state, emergence of social movements and the interaction of media with these processes. She has been associated with different national and international institutes such as the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), UK; CeMIS, University of Gottingen, Germany; Centre of South Asian Studies (CNRS-EHESS), Paris and Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).

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