Researcher profile: Ashok Swain

‘I was going to stay in Uppsala for two and a half months but it’s turned into 25 years,’ says Ashok Swain with a laugh.

Water, peace and conflicts

Water, climate change, migration, integration—these are all part of the work done by Ashok Swain as a professor of Peace and Conflict Research.

Ashok Swain grew up in rural surroundings in the poorest part of India. He first went to the village school then moved to the nearest town to study for his degree. Finally, he went to New Delhi for his PhD. After gaining his doctorate in 1991, Ashok Swain joined the Department of Peace and Conflict Research in Uppsala.
‘I was going to stay here for two and a half months but it’s turned into 25 years,’ says Ashok Swain with a laugh.

Leaving his home country was a challenge, both practically and socially.
‘When I moved, everybody warned me about the cold and dark in Sweden but this has never been a problem. The problem was that I never saw any people. I came from Delhi to Uppsala in January and the contrast was striking. There were no people in Uppsala.’
He remembers that he even took the train to Stockholm and stood in the tunnel between the railway station and the underground just to look at people.
‘But you change, even though you don’t think you will. One summer a couple of years ago I stayed in Uppsala and cycled around in July. There are fewer people in Uppsala in July than in January. And I liked it. I had integrated.’

Ashok Swain has his own experience as an emigrant and includes migration and integration among his starting points when researching into peace and conflict. Access to fresh water is, of course, crucial to people’s survival but in large parts of the world there is a shortage of fresh water. The shortage often causes various kinds of conflicts. Ashok Swain’s latest book,

Transboundary Water Management and the Climate Change Debate, deals with cross-border water management as it relates to the climate change debate. Unlike in Sweden, many rivers run through a number of countries and national borders cut across lakes. In addition, rivers often first run through one country before running through others. On their way through these countries, the water in the river might be drained off or become useless for practical purposes due to pollution.

The water in rivers and lakes is therefore a shared, vital asset which often gives rise to conflicts. Ashok Swain’s book presents concrete advice for those who work on these kinds of issues.
‘I don’t write just because I want to do research. I also want to contribute to political discussions and to social change. At first, I was not intending to be a researcher. I was aiming for a career where I worked with people. My career made progress and the department helped me understand that research is something I can do.’

Ashok Swain has always been interested in social sciences.
‘Where I grew up, there were no literary books – there were school books and daily newspapers. I read all the daily newspapers I could get my hands on. Even today I don’t read literary works, only specialist and professional literature. And I follow the news all the time.’

Ashok Swain is presently carrying out research with three different themes. One deals with international collaboration on water resources in the light of climate change and peace-building processes. A second theme relates to migrants where Ashok Swain compares the integration of Iraqi migrants in the Middle East to those in Sweden. He is also doing research into the Indian diaspora.

‘Many Indian emigrants contribute towards the growth of extremism. They supply funds and give the movement legitimacy since Indian emigrants often enjoy high social status in India. Right-wing extremists around the world now try to justify the differences between people, differences which normally disappear over time. In many countries there are systems and organisations to counter-balance the extremists but not in every country. In those countries, the systems cannot resist the extremists and I’m most worried about what is going on in India.’

Anders Berndt

Facts – Ashok Swain

Title: Professor of Peace and Conflict Research at the Department of Peace and Conflict Research. Professor at the Sustainable Development Centre, Department of Earth Sciences, Director of the Research School for International Water Cooperation.
Last book read: Patrick Cockburn: The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution
Makes me happy: Cricket matches – this is my colonial background making itself felt. Cricket is the national sport in India.
Makes me sad: People’s lack empathy. Empathy is a very important part of being a human being.
Unknown talent: I am good at cooking. Well, my family thinks so at least.