Cambridge Festival of Ideas: India uncovered

India, one of the world's oldest civilisations, features strongly in many of the events at this year's Cambridge Festival of Ideas as it celebrates 70 years since independence and faces up to a host of critical issues for its future, from nationalism to development.

Several high-profile talks and debates during the Festival, which runs from 16-29 October, tackle and reflect on the social, historical, and political issues confronting India.

On 17 October, during a talk Mahatma versus Modi? Indian democracy at 70  an expert panel discusses how Gandhi lay the foundations of Indian democracy, and asks Has Modi transformed it beyond recognition? And what is the relationship between media and truth from the world’s largest democracy?  With historians Shruti Kapila and Faisal Devji, Oxford, writer Pankaj Mishra, and journalist Chandrahas Choudury, moderated by historian Maria Misra, Oxford.

On 18 October, there are several thought-provoking talks on India, including:

  • Empire and Brexit delves into the afterlife of the Empire and its role in Brexit, the changing world order, and especially the rise of China, India and Britain’s identity in the Asian Century. With Tristram Hunt, former MP and Director of the V&A, and Gideon Rachman, Foreign Affairs commentator Financial Times. Moderated by historian Shruti Kapila.
  • There were more than 34,000 reports of sexual assault in India in 2015, according to the most recent figures released by the National Crime Records Bureau in India. Madhumita Pandey, Anglia Ruskin University, discusses her findings following interviews with over 100 convicted rapists in a New Delhi prison over the course of three years during The inside story: sexual violence in India. After the talk, Madhumita facilitates workshop activities to raise awareness about sexual violence against women.
  • India and the paradoxes of global capitalism. Poised to become the most populous nation in the world, India confronts the largely unexpected but now dramatic features of 21st century modernity. With John Trumpbour, Research Director of the Labor & Worklife Program, Harvard Law School.

On 23 October, Jaideep Prabhu, Shailaja Fennell, Surabhi Ranganathan and Bhaskar Vira explore the role of technology in India’s recent economic development and how it links to equality issues and the rise of nationalism during the debate Technology and nationalism in IndiaChaired by Shinjini Das.

In addition to the talks, the Festival is also hosting many exhibitions, films, and performances, including:

  • Freedom and fragmentation: images of independence, decolonisation and partition 16 – 27 October. To recognise and commemorate the many meanings of freedom in South Asia in 1947, the Centre of South Asian Studies is holding the first-ever public exhibition of its collections. Some of their highlights – from photographs of the freedom movement to ephemera revealing various aspects of British rule of the subcontinent – are being shown publicly for the first time.
  • Pani, pahar: waters of the Himalayas 16 – 29 October. This photography exhibition explores the changing landscape and escalating water crisis of the Indian Himalayas. The installation combines academic research in geography and conservation with contemporary work by photojournalist Toby Smith and curated archival images from the collections of the University Library and Centre of South Asian Studies.
  • Tongue tied and twisted 17 October. Stories from India with a contemporary twist: a performance that blasts Indian storytelling into the 21st century, fusing a unique blend of urban hip hop and classical South Asian sounds. Together, Peter Chand and PKCtheFirst present a unique audience experience that bridges cultures and generations.
  • India unboxed at Cambridge film festival 19 – 26 October. A series of films from India, specially curated by the Cambridge Film Festival for India Unboxed and the Festival of Ideas. From classics by the old masters of Indian cinema through to the best contemporary documentaries, this series is a great introduction to the film of India – beyond Bollywood!
  • The new woman: 150 years of British and Indian women’s magazines 21 October. Since the mid-19th century, women’s magazines in India and Britain have portrayed changing ideals of femininity. This exhibition traces the shared history of these countries through woman in print. With Asiya Islam and Owen Brittan.
  • A festival of light. 25 October. The highlight event of the India Unboxed season at the Festival of Ideas – a celebration of Diwali, India’s Festival of light – will take place at the Botanic Garden. Diwali, or Deepavali, marks the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair.

Malavika Anderson, Coordinator of the India Unboxed exhibitions, said: “The idea behind India Unboxed is to mark the 70th anniversary of Indian independence and the UK/India Year of Culture by highlighting some of these collections – to literally and metaphorically ‘unbox’ them – to talk about the relevance of these collections today to India, to Cambridge, the UK and the world at large.  

“Very complex, difficult and yet fascinating histories surround some of these objects and we hope to showcase these stories and provide platforms to discuss them. Through a programme of exhibitions, events, films and installations, we explore themes of identity and connectivity for audiences in both the UK and India.  

“Bringing the historical into conversation with the contemporary is key to this process and by inviting artists, academics and communities to interpret and participate in these narratives, we hope to do just that!”

The Festival sponsors and partners are St John’s College, Anglia Ruskin University, RAND Europe, University of Cambridge Museums and Botanic Garden, Arts Council England, Cambridge Junction, The Nine Dots Prize, Cambridge Film Festival, Cambridge University Press and The Conversation. The Festival media partner is BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.

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