GEC Researcher's Corner: Sudhir Selvaraj
I am currently a PhD candidate at the King's India Institute, King's College London, where my research focuses on violence against religious minorities, particularly Christians in India. Previously, I obtained my MA in International Relations from the Department of War Studies at King's and my BA from Concordia College, Minnesota, with a double major in Political Science and Global Studies and a minor in Business.
For my research project, I adopt Norwegian political scientist Johan Galtung's framework. Developed over a series of articles, he advocates for a broad conception of violence which includes direct, structural and cultural violence (which are the justifications provided to legitimize the direct and structural violence). He also suggests a causal flow of violence from its cultural forms to its structural forms and finally to its direct forms.
In my thesis, I argue that both physical and structural violence violates an Indian Christian's practice of religion as enshrined in Article 25 of the constitution which provides for the 'Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion'. I also argue that both structural and physical violence are rooted in and justified using the Hindutva ideology which portrays Christians as "foreigners" intent on destroying the integrity of the Hindu nation through religious conversions. Mainly, conversions are portrayed as a threat to the "Hindu State" in two ways. The first is its role in targeting "vulnerable" Hindu populations, particularly Dalits and Tribals. Secondly, conversions are presented as a tool of "foreigners" to influence India's politics. This broader conception of violence facilitates a challenge to existing notions that violence against Christians in the country began its proliferation in the late 1990s.
To study direct violence, I have built a unique database of instances from 1975 to 2010 based on reportage in the Times of India. I use the 2008 anti-Christian violence in Orissa and Karnataka as case studies to explore the causes of violence against Christians. Recognizing the large intersection between Christian and caste identities, I consider the denial of reservations to Dalit Christians, and the institution of anti-conversion legislation in several states in the country as examples of structural violence. To study both, I further consider national, and state government reports, NGO reports and interviews with human rights activists, journalists, and church leaders.
The ongoing pandemic prevented me from presenting my work at many conferences which I was accepted. I have presented my work to policymakers at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the Home Office.
Exploring the intersection of academia and art, I have also written three plays exploring conflicts in South Asia. My first play, 'We All Live in Bhopal', based on the 1984 Bhopal Gas Disaster, was produced 20 times across the US, UK and India. Recently, I produced an audio production based on a play I wrote on the 2008 anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal Orissa titled, 'Homeland'. This 15-minute piece, based on original research, tells the story of the violence from the perspective of four victims.
Narrating violence: Is Hindutva responsible for violence against India's Christians?
Selvaraj M.S. 29 September 2020, 9DashLine
Citizenship Amendment Act: An Act of Violence?
Selvaraj, M.S., and Laliwala, S, April 9 2020, 9DashLine
Christian missionary’s killing on Andaman Island rekindles debate on conversion
Selvaraj, M.S., 29 November 2018, India Abroad
Violence Against Christians in India: A Decade After Kandhamal
Selvaraj, M.S., 22 August 2018, The Diplomat