February 17, 2014, by Katharine Adeney

Ethnic Autonomy in South Asia – a road to secession?

As the debate over the Scottish referendum hots up this week, in my inaugural lecture this Thursday 20th Feb I consider the arguments made against granting autonomy to territorially concentrated groups (often termed ‘ethnofederalism’) because of the perceived dangers of increasing pressures for secession.  These arguments are prevalent in political discourse and were deployed against Kurdish autonomy in the remaking of the Iraqi constitution, the opposition to a federal system in post-Taliban Afghanistan, and are currently hotly debated in Nepal’s constitution writing process.

Building on almost two decades of research on South Asia, I will set out the normative and practical arguments made for and against ethnofederalism and consider whether it is as dangerous a strategy as it is portrayed.  These debates are pertinent as ethnofederalism remains a demand of groups within democratising states in the region e.g. in Nepal and Burma/Myanmar, and demands for the reorganisation of units remain high in areas of Pakistan (e.g. the Seraiki part of the Punjab) and in parts of northeast India (e.g. Bodoland).

South Asia is a region that has seen both secessionist movements and the successful concession of autonomy to territorially concentrated groups.  My research indicates that where territorial autonomy has been conceded to territorially concentrated groups, peace rather than conflict has been the general outcome.  Where conflict has resulted, this has been the result of a) too little too late (in the case of the Sri Lankan Tamils) or b) exclusion from other institutions of the state.

Public Lecture

5.30pm Thursday 20th February

B63 Law and Social Sciences.


Posted in AsiaBurma/MyanmarFederalismIdentity politicsIndiaNepalPakistan