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Sociologist Devika Jayakumari knows she is living in an historic time. And at the least, she tells us in her home Trivandrum (the capital of India’s southwesterly state, Kerala), she should be able to bear witness to it. She is a scholar-activist, and her work engages the gritty issues that brew and burn in Indian society: gender politics, sexuality, regional identities, caste and communalism.
The climate for social scientists in India, a land where the engineer is King, is not as supportive as in the US or Europe. But critical reflection on India’s dynamic social and political worlds, especially from native academicians, is of huge importance. From her base at the Centre for Development Studies, J. Devika probes deep into gender and social reform. She also brings the method and nuance of scholarly work out of the ivory tower and into to exigent grassroots struggles.
India is still struggling to navigate the aftermath of the horrific gang-rape in December that left a young physiotherapy student dead and a critical public outraged. J. Devika tells us that while many protesters have been baying for blood, capital punishment will not change attitudes or the incidence rate (in one state, Haryana, there were 455 reported rapes cases between January and August last year, with hundreds more unreported). Real and sustained change requires a serious shift in how society views women and girls, beginning at the household and primary school level.
J. Devika talks us through the glaring actualities of the Kudankulum nuclear power plant, which has been built on the southern tip of India in the state of Tamil Nadu (lest we forget, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami ravaged Tamil Nadu’s shores, and Japan’s Fukushima plant gives a recent indication of how a coastal power plant stands up to a sudden large wave). The opening of the plant faces longstanding opposition from local residents, fishermen, and numerous groups across India. Tamil Nadu has a power shortage of 4,000 megawatts at present, resulting in daily power cuts across the state. But J. Devika points out that Kudankulum is much closer to Kerala’s capital city than it is to Chennai, Tamil Nadu’s capital. And it’s extremely close to another country: water-locked Sri Lanka is only a 20 minute flight away. This is an issue that demands national as well as international concern. Contesting the plant, she says, has become a proxy for contesting the nation itself, and to whom it belongs.
J. Devika also co-edits the collaborative blog of radical political and media critique, Kafila, where issues such as labor, gender, ecology, technology, and contemporary culture are heartily debated.