Archive for the ‘Analysis’ Category

[Essay published on the occasion of India’s 70th Republic Day in Economic & Political weekly]


Picture credit: EPW

On the occasion of India’s 70th Republic Day, it is worth considering how the very foundational idea of a republic, in which supreme power is held by the people, is at risk despite free and fair elections. To arrive at that argument, this article delineates the historical trajectory of India’s Right to Information movement as arising out of the need to address the unfinished agenda of democratisation since independence. It then discusses how the movement has strengthened oppositional politics by expanding the terrain for political participation and has also empowered individual citizens in their struggles to claim their entitlements from the state. By resisting scrutiny under the Right to Information Act and attempting to dilute the law’s empowering potential, political representatives and bureaucrats are subverting democracy itself. 

Read the full essay here:

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Nigel Farage’s ‘Independence Day statement’ post the Brexit vote rests on the assumption that there exists a unique ‘British’ culture that needs guarding from immigrant populations. To shatter that myth we only need look at what Britain eats…  


Vidya Venkat

nigel farage

Nigel Farage has consistently attacked immigrants as a threat to British culture


If people are what they eat, then there could be nothing uniquely ‘British’ about the Brits. When the news of the Brexit vote starting coming in on Friday, June 24, my mind instantly went back to an ethnographic study of the popular UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s, which I had done five years ago as a student of anthropology in London, in which I had set out to decode the Malinowskian “imponderabilia of everyday life” of the average British citizen. Bronislaw Malinowski, the father figure of British social anthropology, had famously used immersion in the everyday life activities of the Trobriand Islanders in Papua New Guinea to understand their culture. I too had followed on his foot steps, only I chose to study the Brits instead, and what better way to explore their culture than study their food habits?


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[Long version of essay first published in The Hindu’s blog THread]

Seventy years after it was founded, the United Nations continues to function on a budget lesser than that of New York City’s. Where is this global organisation headed?

Vidya Venkat


When I was a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl preparing for my All-India UN Information Test, knowing the United Nations well enough meant remembering all the expansions for all the abbreviations that the numerous UN agencies stood for – UNICEF stands for United Nations Children’s Fund, UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and so on. Fifteen years on, when I visited the United Nations’ headquarters in New York in September, I got to see first hand what happened behind the closed doors of the organisation with those abbreviated agencies with their long and complicated expansions. And it was surprising to learn just how many people, both within and outside of the organisation, had begun to feel that the UN had perhaps become redundant; and this when all the euphoria about the UN turning seventy, on October 24, was already beginning to build up.


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[A shorter version of this appeared in The Hindu’s op-ed pages on Jan 4, 2016]


The lesson from Paris 2015 is this: until world powers don’t stop digging black gold out of the bellies of Iraq, Africa and Saudi Arabia, the convoluted webs of violence, terror and climate change, will continue to keep us trapped in the times to come




Bullet holes in the wall at Bataclan, Paris terror attack site

New Year is the time for making resolutions, for turning back on the year that went by and reflecting on what lessons could be learnt from the past so we do not repeat our mistakes. Last year, Paris witnessed one of the worst terror attacks, besides those in Beirut and Baghdad. It also saw the climate change agreement being finalised. Could the latter be an answer to the former?

The thought had originally struck me while I was standing outside the Bataclan café in Boulevard Voltaire in Paris, staring at the bullet holes on the walls of the building at the site of the November 13 terror attack by Islamic State (IS) terrorists. It was the last week of November, and I was in the city to attend the UN climate summit – the 21st Conference of Parties (CoP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – where heads of states of over a hundred UN member countries were working out a deal to save the earth from the climate catastrophe.


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