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Evidence on the Ground: Production of Archaeology for Courtrooms in India

Rachel Varghese, PhD

Fulbright-Nehru Postdoctoral Fellow

Department of Anthropology & South Asia CenterUniversity of Pennsylvania

Research Officer, Kerala Council for Historical Research, Kerala. India 



This talk addresses the recent tendency in India for archaeological knowledge to be produced ‘on demand’ as evidence in civil disputes. An order of the Allahabad High Court (1 August 2002), in the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, adjudicating the Ayodhya Case, for excavations by the central government agency Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) marks its beginning. The Case signals the emergence of a new role that archaeology is assuming in courtrooms in India. Through a close reading of select court documents, I will discuss the legal determinants of this archaeology-for-the-courtroom. The talk will reflect on how this destabilises the standing of the ASI as the authority of archaeological knowledge and the protector of the nation’s material past. This also produces a category of assertive public that successfully demands production of archaeological knowledge towards judicial ends.



Rachel A. Varghese is a Fulbright- Nehru Post-Doctoral Fellow affiliated with the Department of Anthropology and South Asia Center at the University of Pennsylvania (2022- 2024). She has been working with the Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR), Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India as Research Officer since 2018. Varghese completed her PhD in 2018 at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi on the thesis titled Archaeology, the Public, Nation and Region: Case Studies from South Asia. She has MA History and MPhil degrees from the Centre for Historical Studies, JNU and is the recipient of the Erasmus Mundus Scholarship from 2009-2011 for pursuing the Erasmus Mundus Masters in Quaternary and Prehistory.  She is trained in field archaeology through her participation in several field archaeology projects in India, Egypt and parts of Europe from 2006 onwards. Her research interests include Public Archaeology, Politics of Archaeology, Heritage Studies and the history and archaeology of Indian Ocean trade. She has published articles in in these areas in peer-reviewed journals, edited volumes and online academic forums. Her post- doctoral project is a theoretical exploration supplemented by case studies to understand how material absences become central to contemporary political discourse. It is informed by her location as an archaeologist and the recent scholarship in archaeology and heritage studies on absence and on the politics of the past. 

Wed November 29th 2023, 12:00 - 1:00pm

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Building 500, Archaeology Center
488 Escondido Mall, Stanford, CA 94305
Event Sponsor
Archaeology Center
Rachel Varghese