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Novelization of Citizenship: Literature and Human Rights. Lectures by A.S.Dasan At the Academic Staff College – UOM – Mysore Friday, 16th Sept. 2011 At the Refresher Course Organised by the Dept. of Political Science- UOM. Poetics of Human Rights.

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novelization of citizenship literature and human rights

Novelization of Citizenship:Literature and Human Rights

Lectures by A.S.Dasan

At the Academic Staff College – UOM – Mysore

Friday, 16th Sept. 2011

At the Refresher Course Organised by the Dept. of Political Science- UOM

poetics of human rights
Poetics of Human Rights

No man is an island – John Donne

securing human rights
Securing Human Rights
  • Basic human rights have somehow been taken, or being taken away from a vast section of the population across the globe;
  • With a million scavengers, thousands of cases of domestic violence and dowry deaths, racism, casteism, oppression, exploitation, poverty, subjugation of women, appalling number of child labourers, ethnic cleansing, forced population transfers, torture and genocide continuing to occur,
  • We surely have a long way to go vis-à-vis securing basic human rights for all; is concerned.
can we act against violations continue to occur with impunity
Can we act against violations continue to occur with impunity
  • Politicians make promises there upon, that many at least pay lip-service to human rights;
  • Politicization of the Human Rights Council. It is what it is.
  • The United Nations is a political organization. The Security Council, the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council are all political.
  • It is for civil society to hold politicians accountable and to demand that they deliver on their commitments;
  • System and Society behave like an Ogre;
  • It is a citizens’ manifesto and chart for collective action;
so called divisions
So-called Divisions
  • “First generation rights“: civil and political: Preferred in Europe and the United States;
  • “Second generation rights“: economic, social and cultural;
  • “Third generation rights“: the right to truth, to development, right to defining, or renaming identity, right to a clean environment, right to human solidarity and peace.
literature aesthetizing human rights
Literature: Aesthetizing Human Rights
  • Literature has been and will continue to be the great promoter of a culture of human rights.
  • Friedrich Schiller’s Don Carlos, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Jose Mart?’s Versos Sencillos, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter House 5, Ken Saro-Wiwa’sSozaboy, Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, Gao Xingjian, Fugitives, Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago - these and countless other books and essays have given contour and content to the idea of human dignity, equality and the brotherhood of all members of the human species.
mind as the agency of protecting human rights
Mind as the Agency of Protecting Human Rights
  • Let us also recall the famous preamble of UNESCO’s Constitution which stipulates: "Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed." Here it is that literature has such an important role to play. Through enhanced knowledge and appreciation of each other’s literature we can contribute to the expansion of the culture of peace and human rights.
pax optima rerum peace is the highest good
Pax optima rerum:Peace is the highest good
  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was at the heart of the Millennium Summit that justified the world-wide effort to achieve the Millennium Develop-ment Goals by 2015.
  • Zero Tolerance towards obscenity of hunger and extreme poverty;
  • Lip-Service: States are wasting vital resources in useless armed conflicts;
  • Is Peace possible?
a new hierarchy of human rights
A new hierarchy of human rights
  • Promotion of human rights means equality of dignity, equality of rights and opportunities.
  • In an effort to revisit human rights, a new hierarchy of rights appears plausible.
  • Indeed, not all human rights have the same importance, not all have the same purpose, and some human rights even enter into competition or conflict with others.
different trends on the concept
Different Trends on the Concept
  • Among human rights writers, there exists a clear range of views on the question of human rights concept. The differing views reflect the academic as well as political debates on the definition and focus of human rights. Somehow some of the views mirror the Cold War scenario and the north-south divide. One can also detect the view that is fit for political expediency agenda of some governments.The varying views, however, can also be seen as results of the different histories of evolution of the idea of human rights. The writers trace the conceptualization of human rights based on the ideas coming from people with dissimilar backgrounds.One author summarizes the different dimensions of the human rights conceptualizations as follows:

a. Whether rights claims are based on status as an individual human being or status as a member of some community or group of persons;b. The extent to which differential treatment of persons is permitted on grounds of achievement and ascription;c. The emphasis on rights compared to duties or obligations and the extent to which rights and duties are thought to be interdependent;d. The emphasis on so-called economic and social rights compared to the emphasis on civil and political rights, sometimes conceived as a difference between positive rights of governmental obligation to provide economic and social well-being and the negative rights of governmental obligation to refrain from abridging political and civil rights;e. The extent to which rights are viewed as absolute or relative. (Johnson 1988: 42-43). [emphasis ours;

It is said that these dimensions are inter-related though separately classified.

he further explains that
He further explains that
  • the nature of human rights will not lead to excessive individualism as portrayed of the Western individualism....
  • although human rights clearly enlarge the scope of individual freedom, they are by no means merely individualistic. They are not meant to lead to an "atomistic society" devoid of communitarian solidarity.
  • Against the widespread confusion of human rights and Western individualism, human rights always imply a social dimension because human freedom can unfold only in relation to fellow persons.
  • A purely individualistic concept of religious liberty, for instance, would almost amount to a contradiction in terms, because religious life is hardly conceivable outside of religious communities.
  • Accordingly, religious liberty entails not only the rights of individuals to hold and express their personal creeds, but also includes the rights to worship together and to organize religious communities independent of government interference.
universality and relativity of human rights
Universality and Relativity of Human Rights
  • The universal character of human rights is based on the belief that human rights are natural attributes of human beings. The abstract idea of inherent existence of rights in all human beings is the key reason why human rights are possessed by all people, and thus their universality.Human rights therefore cannot be seen as valid only in certain contexts. Their validity is derived from the very source of their existence, the nature of human beings. The socio-economic-cultural and political conditions of peoples do not define human rights.
hierarchy of human rights
Hierarchy of human rights
  • 1. Right to life: art. 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, security of person (art. 9 ICCPR),right to health, food, environment, clean water;
  • 2. Right to freedom and identity: both a collective and an individual right - the right to be who we are, the right to enjoy one’s culture collectively, but this requires the right to education, language, religion, family, privacy, truth, history;
  • 3. Right to one’s homeland: self-determination, the right not to be expelled from one’s ancestral lands, the right to return of refugees and expellees, the prohibition of ethnic cleansing (this, again relates to the right to life and the prohibition of genocide);
  • 4. Right to peace (freedom from war) - this is also intimately related to the right to life, and similar to Roosevelt’s "freedom from fear", and the raison d’?tre of the United Nations (article 2(4)) UN Charter);
  • 5. All other enabling and overarching rights.
  • The right to freedom of expression and the press are not ends in themselves, but rather rights that facilitate the search for truth, so as to be able to develop and complete one’s identity and to exercise democratic civil rights responsibly. Control of the press is just as damaging and dangerous when it is done by the private sector (CNN, Fox) as when it is imposed by governments.
  • The crucial test is whether the people have the information they need to make their own decisions, or whether they are just victims of manipulation.
victor hugo 1802 1885
Victor Hugo (1802-1885)

So long as the three great problems of the century—the degradation of man through pauperism, the corruption of woman through hunger, the crippling of children through lack of light—are unsolved; so long as social asphyxia is possible in any part of the world;—in other words, and with a still wider significance, so long as ignorance and poverty exist on earth, books of the nature of Les Misérables cannot fail to be of use. HAUTEVILLE HOUSE, 1862. [Translation by Isabel F. Hapgood]” ― Victor Hugo, Les Miserables: Complete 5 Volumes

joseph slauhgter
Joseph Slauhgter
  • Human Rights: The World Novel/ Narrative Form (2007)
  • Slaughter argues that international law shares with the modern novel a particular conception of the human individual. The Bildungsroman, the novel of coming of age, fills out this image, offering a conceptual vocabulary, a humanist social vision, and a narrative grammar for what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and early literary theorists both call the free and full development of the human personality.
  • Revising our received understanding of the relationship between law and literature, Slaughter suggests that this narrative form has acted as a cultural surrogate for the weak executive authority of international law, naturalizing the assumptions and conditions that make human rights appear commonsensical.
  • As a kind of novelistic correlative to human rights law, the Bildungsroman has thus been doing some of the sociocultural work of enforcement that the law cannot do for itself. This analysis of the cultural work of law and of the social work of literature challenges traditional Eurocentric histories of both international law and the dissemination of the novel.
  • Taking his point of departure in Goethe's Wilhelm Meister, Slaughter focuses on recent postcolonial versions of the coming-of-age story to show how the promise of human rights becomes legible in narrative and how the novel and the law are complicit in contemporary projects of globalization: in colonialism, neoimperalism, humanitarianism, and the spread of multinational consumer capitalism.
  • Slaughter raises important practical and ethical questions that we must confront in advocating for human rights and reading world literature-imperatives that, today more than ever, are intertwined.

Literature in this process not only engages itself with human-right concepts, their vicarious possibilities, but also paves way for interdisciplinary readings of these two interrelated disciplines. These seemingly distinct subjects inform each other at the level of theory, praxis and pedagogy.

  • Literary works can, therefore, be seen as potent and rich resources to correlate and study the Human Rights concepts, as both literature and Human Rights become complementary to each other.
  • Indian Fiction in English has problematized Human Rights issues focusing on some literary representation of Dalits or the marginal/tribal people in Indian Fiction in English and English translation / Subaltern narratives as alternate aesthetics;
the victorian literature
The Victorian Literature
  • Benjamin Disraeli : Two Nations Theory
  • Thomas Carlyle: Reactions against Industrial Ogres
  • Charles Dickens: Oliver Twist/Hard Times
indian english literature the modern novel
Indian English Literature:The Modern Novel
  • Mulk Raj Anand: Untouchable:
  • Bakha: ‘They think I am dirty because I clean their dirt’.
  • Kamala Markantaya
  • Anita Desai: The feminine Psyche
  • Mahaswetha Devi: Breast Stories / Modern Droupathi
i am a negro by langston hughes
‘I am a Negro’ - by Langston Hughes
  • I am a Negro:Black as the night is black,Black like the depths of my Africa.
  • I’ve been a slave:Caesar told me to keep his door-steps clean.I brushed the boots of Washington.
  • I’ve been a worker:Under my hand the pyramids arose.I made mortar for the Woolworth Building.
  • I’ve been a singer:All the way from Africa to GeorgiaI carried my sorrow songs.I made ragtime.
  • I’ve been a victim:The Belgians cut off my hands in the Congo.They lynch me still in Mississippi.
  • I am a Negro:Black as the night is black,Black like the depths of my Africa.
telephone conversation wole soyinka
Telephone Conversation Wole Soyinka
  • The price seemed reasonable, location             Indifferent. The landlady swore she lived             Off premises. Nothing remained             But self-confession. “Madam,” I warned, 5         “I hate a wasted journey—I am African.”             Silence. Silenced transmission of             Pressurized good-breeding. Voice, when it came,             Lipstick coated, long gold-rolled             Cigarette-holder pipped. Caught I was, foully. 
  • 10      
  •    “HOW DARK?” . . . I had not misheard . . . “ARE YOU LIGHT             OR VERY DARK?” Button B. Button A. Stench             Of rancid breath of public hide-and-speak.             Red booth. Red pillar-box. Red double-tiered             Omnibus squelching tar. It was real! Shamed 15         By ill-mannered silence, surrender             Pushed dumbfoundment to beg simplification.             Considerate she was, varying the emphasis— 
  •             “ARE YOU DARK? OR VERY LIGHT?” Revelation came.             “You mean—like plain or milk chocolate?” 20        
  • Her assent was clinical, crushing in its light             Impersonality. Rapidly, wavelength adjusted,             I chose. “West African sepia”—and as an afterthought,             “Down in my passport.” Silence for spectroscopic             Flight of fancy, till truthfulness clanged her accent 25         Hard on the mouthpiece. “WHAT’S THAT?” conceding,             “DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT IS.” “Like brunette.” 
  •             “THAT’S DARK, ISN’T IT?” “Not altogether.             Facially, I am brunette, but madam, you should see             The rest of me. Palm of my hand, soles of my feet 30         Are a peroxide blonde. Friction, caused—             Foolishly, madam—by sitting down, has turned             My bottom raven black—One moment madam!”—sensing             Her receiver rearing on the thunderclap             About my ears—“Madam,” I pleaded, “wouldn’t you rather 35         See for yourself?”