Standing up for Rights: Historicizing the Indigenous Women led activism in Contemporary India

Development Research Seminar by Dr Sujatha Devarapalli
Dr Sujatha Devarapalli
Profile Dr Sujatha Devarapalli
Thursday 23 Sep 2021, 13:30 - 14:30
Spoken Language
Online via Zoom
International Institute of Social Studies
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The seminar will be chaired by Dr Sreerekha Sathiamma.

Please contact Jessica Pernozzoli at if you would like to attend this seminar.

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Sujatha Devarapalli

What has the contribution of indigenous women been to the struggles for human and customary rights of natural resources in India? In this research seminar, Dr Sujatha Devarapalli investigates.

In this discussion, Dr Devarapalli will make an attempt to historicize indigenous activism in contemporary India with special reference to the significant contribution made by indigenous women in their struggles for the basic human and customary rights on the natural resources Jal Jangal Jameen (Land, Water and Forest).

Although Indigenous women have been engaged with rights movement for a long time in India, the present discussion will focus on their activism in the post-independence period. One of the special features of indigenous women’s activism is its spontaneity and autonomous nature. As indigenous women are not a homogenous category, so too their activism evolved for specific reasons and in specific regions in the different parts of the country.

From Kashmir to Kerala, there are number of incidents in which indigenous women formed small autonomous groups to oppose modern development projects including hydroelectric irrigation projects, thermal and nuclear power plants, open mining etc. They aimed to stop multinational companies from entering their villages, to challenge state repression, to protest against sexual exploitation and to save the environment.

Several women activists sacrificed their lives in the process and many women are left with painful experiences. The experiences of these wounded women are documented by indigenous activists and scholars to create a space for indigenous histories in academia. By retelling the forgotten histories of those who bravely stood up for their rights, the fixed dominant views on indigenous women as victims is challenged and a process of decolonization of academic spaces can begin.

Alongside issues of capitalist development, commercialization of forests, displacement, state oppression and sexual exploitation, the present discussion will also engage with the question of identity and agency. Today’s indigenous women are demanding respect for their indigenous identity, representation and knowledge production.  These new articulations are not only strengthening indigenous women’s activism but also contributing to social transformation.

About the speaker

Sujatha Devarapalli is currently teaching at the Advanced Centre for Women’s Studies, School of Development Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences Mumbai.

She was awarded a PhD from the Centre for Regional Studies University of Hyderabad. Her dissertation was on the Belief Systems of local Communities with special reference to the village goddess worship. In this study, the anthropomorphic images of the deities, the reversal of caste roles in the myths and rituals, and dalit women priesthood in the worship of local non- Sanskritic deities are interpreted and analyzed from Women’s Studies perspective.

She is engaged in several research studies on caste, gender and ethnicity in Coastal Andhra Pradesh . She has worked extensively on the sociopolitical issues of dalit and Adivasi women, violence and how dalit women are negotiating with institutionalized casteism in both private and public spheres. By closely observing gender roles in popular performances and the political empowerment of women from the grassroots, Dr Devarapalli attempts to understand the issues and challenges faced by dalit women in the public sphere.

In another study, the internal patriarchy of dalit families is exposed by  documenting  the experiences of dalit women in domestic violence. Currently, she is engaged in an ethnographic study on the ethnomedical practices of Khonds, a primitive tribal community in the Visakha tribal agency of Andhra Pradesh, India.

As an Ambedkarite feminist, Dr Devarapalli is actively involved in the  anti-caste movement and challenges the discriminatory practices in academic spaces through her alternative research on caste and gender.

Collaboration between the International Institute of Social Studies and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences

The renowned Tata Institute of Social Sciences (Mumbai) and ISS are looking for ways to further increase collaboration. The DRS team at ISS is very happy to announce that the two institutes will bundle their forces to offer both communities a joint lecture series this autumn and winter. The series will include four online seminars under the umbrella theme 'Imagining development from a feminist, intersectional perspective'.

The seminars will be chaired by experts from ISS and the Advanced Centre for Women's Studies (part of TISS’ School of Development Studies).

The seminar by Dr Sujatha Devarapalli (TISS) is the first in this series.

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