April 18-22, 2022 - Minneapolis

Kneller Lecture

Thursday, April 21, 2022 (11:15-12:30)

Democratic Dissent in Contemporary India

 Amidst all the news of democratic decline across the world, we should celebrate two protest movements in India which display the continued vitality of grassroots democracy. One was organized by Muslim women who opposed exclusionary citizenship laws (2019-2020) and the other by farmers against laws that would render them more vulnerable to corporate exploitation (2021-2022). I will trace the way my background, interests, and commitments have influenced my analysis of these  movements. As an Indian, whose mother was a devout Sikh, and, like my Hindu father, an opponent of  religious sectarianisms, I’m  inspired by the way the Muslims who led anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests and Punjabi Sikhs who spearheaded the farmers’ protest, refuted allegations that they were anti-national, and proudly affirmed both their faith and their secular commitments. As a feminist, I’m inspired that women played leadership roles in both movements.  By ensuring that men shared responsibilities for cooking and child care at the sit-ins, they sought freedom for themselves while creating more egalitarian, inclusive, communities. As a scholar who has studied both left and right wing social movements, I’m inspired by the power of peaceful protest to overcome seemingly insuperable odds.

Amrita Basu is the Domenic J. Paino Professor of Political Science and Sexuality, Women’s and Gender Studies at Amherst College. Her scholarship explores women’s activism, feminist movements, and religious nationalism in South Asia. Her most recent book, Violent Conjunctures in Democratic India (2015), shines a spotlight on when and why Hindu nationalists engage in violence against religious minorities. She is the author of Two Faces of Protest: Contrasting Modes of Women’s Activism in India (1992) and the editor or co editor of Women’s Movements in the Global Era: The Power of Local Feminisms (2010, 2016); Beyond Exceptionalism: Violence, Religion, and Democracy in India (2006); Localizing Knowledge In a Globalizing World (2002); Appropriating Gender: Women’s Activism and Politicized Religion in South Asia (1998); Community Conflicts and the State in India (1997); The Challenge of Local Feminisms: Women’s Movements in Global Perspective (1998); and Women, Gender and Religious Nationalism in India (forthcoming, 2022). Amrita’s research has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Social Science Research Council, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Ford Foundation, Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, and Peace and the American Institute of Indian Studies. She has served on the editorial boards of the American Political Science ReviewInternational Political Science ReviewInternational Feminist Journal of PoliticsMeridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism; and Critical Asian Studies and was the South Asia editor for The Journal of Asian Studies.


Rebecca Tarlau is an Associate Professor of Education and of Labor and Employment Relations at the Pennsylvania State University, affiliated with the Lifelong Learning and Adult Education Program, the Comparative and International Education program, and the Center for Global Workers’ Rights. She is the co-founder of the Penn State Consortium for Social Movements and Education Research and Practice. Her ethnographic research agenda has three broad areas of focus: (1) Theories of the state and state-society relations; (2) Social movements, critical pedagogy, and learning; (3) Latin American education and development. Her book Occupying Schools, Occupying Land: How the Landless Workers Movement Transformed Brazilian Education (Oxford University Press 2019) examines the educational initiatives of the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement (MST), a national social movement of rural workers struggling for agrarian reform. Her current research examines teacher activism in Brazil, Mexico, and the United States.

Zeena Zakharia is Assistant Professor of International Education Policy at the University of Maryland, College Park. Her research examines conflict and peacebuilding in education and advances a critical approach to refugee studies in the Middle East. These interests stem from over two decades of educational research, teaching, and school leadership in war-affected contexts. Her recent study (with F. Menashy and M. Shuayb) examined partnership arrangements in the global educational response to the Syria refugee crisis. She is currently investigating how organizations and actors advance anticolonial and antiracist agendas in education in emergencies. She was a Tueni Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and works with international, governmental, and civil society organizations and schools on issues related to education and conflict.

 George F. Kneller was a UCLA professor of philosophy of education. His most well-known work was “An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education” though he was a prolific writer and tremendous philanthropist to the academic community. One of his significant contributions was an endowment to the Comparative and International Education Society that established the annual George F. Kneller Lecture to be given by a distinguished scholar.