International Conference on Rural Development in South Asia at Utkal University

Bhubaneswar: The department of Sociology and Global Centre for Rural Studies, on the eve of 150th Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, have organized an International Conference on the theme, interrogating the trends of Rural Development and Social Transformation in South Asia from 2nd to 4th October 2019 in collaboration with Indian Sociological Society and Indian Anthropological Society.

The conference had a special inaugural session on Mahatma and his vision on rural development and social transformation. This marked one of the sixth events of the day launched by the Honourable Vice-Chancellor, Utkal University. The distinguished guests and speakers were welcomed and introduced by the Organizing Secretary of the conference, Dr. Rabindra Garada.

Dr. Garada articulated the reason behind the conference and why a South Asian focus provides better insights into the societies of the region. Their shared history, culture, language and linguistic diversity along with the experience of colonialism make them similar in many ways. Acknowledging the co-existence of similarity and diversity in the region, he highlighted how the countries in the region have struggled to choose from the western and indigenous development models. This experience in social change, economic development, technology adoption and the engagement with the marginalized communities in South Asia provides a unique kaleidoscope of lived experience that is relevant for sociologists, anthropologists, economists, policy analysts beyond the region as well.

Prof. Triloki Nath Pandey from The University of California delivered the inaugural address, highlighting the Gandhian ethos practiced in personal life. He highlighted how Gandhi excelled as an ordinary man and how with an emphasis on physical labor and self-reflection in day-to-day life he attained the extra-ordinary status of being Mahatma. He presented an elaborate narrative on Gandhi’s struggle of being a failure as a barrister to being a successful leader with worldly mundane everyday practices.

Prof. S.K. Chaudhury, from Lucknow University, stressed on re-living Gandhi in the present context. He emphasized that Gandhi’s India is village India. India’s development is not possible unless and until we follow the Gandhian model of development in village life. For him Gandhi was not just a political leader, he was a naturalist, an environmentalist, an economist, moralist at the same time. He elaborated on Gandhian practices, principles, and attitudes that can pave the way for rejuvenated rural India of today.

Prof. D.R. Sahu, from Lucknow University, and Secretary, Indian Sociological Society, spoke on the relevance of Gandhi in bringing a just democratic equal society. He presented Gandhi as a blend of ‘Culture of Silence’ as well ‘Culture of Voice’. Here Culture of Silence signifies the Gandhian method of Non-co-operation as well as fasting, while the culture of voice indicates giving voice to the voiceless. He narrated how Indian society was at crossroads in contemporary times today. He argued on the co-presence and co-existence and co-excellence of Rural India, National India, and Global India.

Prof. Annapurna Pandey, an anthropologist from the University of California, talked about re-defining development within the Gandhian paradigm. Here she emphasized the empowerment of rural women through skill India initiative. In her opinion, the skilling of women is a cornerstone for rural development and the core value of the Gandhian model. In contemporary India, she shared her concern regarding the digital divide that can perpetuate the existing social exclusion of rural masses.

Prof. Nelika Mehrotra, Chairperson, The Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), talked about Gandhi’s contribution as a political and economic agent. In this context, she focussed on women’s movement from the 1970s. She discussed certain path-breaking studies on women’s movements underscoring inheritance rights. She highlighted on contemporary women’s movement.

Prof R. Indira, President of Indian Sociological Society (ISA), in her Presidential address, emphasized the needs of longitudinal studies. Micro studies in the local contexts, she argued, will help us to understand the nature of social transformation in rural India. She shared the common concern of Social Scientists whether their work is relevant or is increasingly becoming redundant. She stressed on the need of inter-disciplinarity and concluded that transformation has to be understood in the context of enhancing the quality of life for different groups in society in general, and marginalized groups in particular.

Prof. Soumendra Mohan Patnaik, the Vice-Chancellor of Utkal University brought western and eastern anthropological and sociological theories to interrogate development and transformation in the Indian context. Interpreting Gandhi, he stressed that no learning is possible without employing the 3Hs – Head, Heart, and Hand. Reflecting on the increasing disjuncture between technology and human values, he argued that technological progress may mean having proportionally decreased humane touch.

He mentioned distancing of the self from the commune leads to the distancing from the moral fabric of the society and nature as well. He advised all participants to go through Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj and shared his vision of creating the Ahimsa Sthal at Utkal and discussed how the four pillars of Gandhian ideas- Swaraj, Swadeshi, Satyagraha, and Sarvodaya, are relevant in the present context. He concluded saying that Sarvodaya can be achieved through Antyodaya.

Dr. M.G. Bage, Head, Department of Sociology delivered the vote of thanks, in which he thanked the international and national experts and scholars, the Indian Sociological Society and Indian Anthropological Association for collaboration, the Vice-Chancellor for being the guiding force and the organizers and student volunteers for their dedication and hard work.

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