Remembering Balagopal – Thought, Action and the Moral Imagination of Human Rights: Arvind Narrain

Guest post by ARVIND NARRAIN, based on a talk given at the Kannada book release of Inner Voice of Another India: The Writings of Balagopal, at National College Basavangudi, Bangalore, 30 October, 2010

Remembering Balagopal: Thought, Action and the Moral Imagination of Human Rights  [i]

Introduction

One  year after Balagopal’s death, what remains with us are memories of the number of times he spoke with such eloquence on  human rights issues on his numerous visits to Bangalore.  We also go back to his writings in the EPW  which show the clarity of his thought. Be it his speeches or his writings , it was clear that for Balagopal words were tools he used to express thought. Language for him was not something which served to obfsucate meaning and muddy concepts, but rather a tool which had to be used to clarify difficult ideas and cut through conceptual confusions. In George Orwell’s striking phrase, both his writing and his speeches had the clarity of a windowpane.

Balagopal writing on the second anniversary of the massacre of Dalits in Karamchedu noted:

One way of marking history is by the anniversaries of events of injustice; of         suppression, of pillage and of loot. It is certainly more moral than marking     history by the anniversaries of coronations; and more rational than marking it        by the birth, death, revelation or flight of a prophet, July 17 this year was the         second anniversary of an event that has done much to shape political awareness in Andhra Pradesh in recent times: the Karamchedu killing of 1985. [ii]

Balagopal asks us to move beyond an elite history, and recognize  brutalities inflicted upon ordinary people as part of a people’s history. I would add one more way of marking a people’s  history to what Balagopal has narrated, namely remembering those who have struggled for a more humane world and who are no more with us. Marking history should include not only remembering the sadness and pain of a life lived in the shadows of injustice but should also be about  remembering integrity and courage, humility and passion and how these nobler aspects of human nature find their expression in some truely extraordinary human beings. We are gathered here to remember one such extraordinary human being -Balagopal whose memory serves to inspire human rights activism around the country.

I would like to analyze four dimensions of  Balagopal’s truely multifaceted contribution to human rights:

1)    Fact Finding Reports: Historical insights through collective authorship

2) Critiquing the Supreme Court : Reason, ethics and passion

3) Narrating the inner life  of the oppressed: Balagopal’s literary imagination

4) A philosophical approach to human rights: The unfinished project ?

Fact Finding Reports: Historical insights through collective authorship

Balagopal went on Fact Finding missions throughout the length and breadth of India. He travelled in Kashmir, the North East of India, Chattisgarh, Orissa, Karnataka and of course Andhra Pradesh and produced  incisive reports  on numerous contexts of human  rights violations. The Reports themselves are authored by human rights organizations and do not bear individual names. This format itself is a tribute to a form of collective working and collective authorship in which Balagopal choose to subsume a lot of his writing.

A Report by a team in which Balagopal was present was something which had to be read.  What a good human rights report does, is  bring an  incident  of a human rights violation  which has been either minimally reported by the press, or not reported at all to the wider public attention. An excellent  fact finding report is  able to go beyond the narration of what has happened and explore the deeper socio-economic reasons for the incident. The best fact finding reports in fact  give the reader an insight into why the incident happened which goes beyond mere rhetoric and newspaper reportage. I would contend that the human rights reports in which Balagopal participated, always had the insight which raised the value of the report beyond the immediate context and raised deeper historical and philosophical questions. They deserve close reading as an expression of collective writing which tries to understand a contemporary violation and is able to give a sense of history to an ‘event’. These Reports also raise questions which are ultimately about the relationship between human rights and human nature.  In this  context I would like to refer to the Report on the Chunduru massacre as well as the report on communal violence in Karnataka and Orissa in 2008.

If one refers to the Fact Finding on the Chunduru massacre in 1991 in which nine Dalits were killed and six persons went ‘missing’, and Dalit women were raped, the  Fact Finding Report by APCLC  makes the point that ,

Unlike in other villages, the dalits of Chundur are better educated, some of   them had gained political positions and a good number of them are employed. On the other hand, members of the upper castes particularly the  Reddy’s and       Telegas are less educated and most of the youth do odd jobs like tractor drivers          or are engaged in farming.’ [iii]

Over a period of time, there has been a change in the lifestyle of the Scheduled     Castes. People, who were virtual serfs till a few decades ago  have now become         tenant cultivators while the younger generation has acquired decent jobs. This          transformation among the dalits was seen as a threat to their authority by the         upper castes. They could no longer address the dalits in the customary rude       manner. Public places like tea shops and cinema halls have come into common      use by the upper castes and the dalits. ‘[iv]

The Report after documenting these changes in the socio- political situation of the Dalits, makes the point that:

This is precisely the reason why a small incident like an educated dalit youth         stretching his leg on a seat occupied by an upper caste boy in  a theatre led to a     social boycott of the dalits and culminated in the August 6 carnage.’[v]

By doing so, the APCLC Report gives  a historical context to a horrendous atrocity and  helped us to understand violation  not as an unchanging reality of Indian society but rather as the particular expression of caste outrage when the  Dalit community  attempts to  break out of the ritual confines of the caste hierarchy. In effect its precisely becuase Dalits are breaking out a ‘slave like  situation’ that these forms of  brutal violation dog independent India. This understanding of the caste atrocity as anchored in an analysis of the changing nature of caste applies with equal force to the other major caste atrocities be it Kambalapalli in Karnataka ( 2000)  or Khairlanji in Maharasthra. (2006)[vi].

What we in Karnataka remember with particular poignance is one of the last Fact Finding Reports published with Balagopal as a member of the team.  The Report was titled, From Kandhamal to Karavali: The Ugly Face of the Sangh Parivar.

Taking the  example of  Kandmahal , the  Fact Finding Team locates the reason for the brutal atttack on the Christian tribal community  by the Dalit  community in the  historical cleavages between the two communities and their cynical exploitation  by the Sangh Parivar.  The Report is unsparing in its detailed analysis of the  role played by the Sangh Parivar in inciting hatred against the Christain community. In its description of the brutality with which the  Christian community was  set upon by elements of the Sangh Parivar it is unrelenting.  Where the Report is able to make the leap from a description of an undoubtedly horrible situation is in its understanding of human beings as living not a  mere animal existence, but as motivated by a spark which makes them human and hence imbued with rights.

As the Fact Finding Report of the nine Human Rights Organizations noted:

Each batch of persons who finally ended up in a relief camp spent days on end      without food, water and shelter in the forests before smuggling themselves into       the camp. They could easily have said ‘Jai bajrang bali’, ‘Jai shri ram’ and stayed back  and may be even feted by Lambodar Kanhar.  It was a strong sense of          dignity that drove them to undergo the trauma. Some have gone quite far away,         to Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh, where they do not know the          language and where the Government gives no assistance because it is not seen      as its problem.’[vii]

What this insightful passage communicates is the human will which  gives flesh  and blood to the right to freedom of conscience and an understanding that this right is indeed an inalienable right of all human beings. The simple act of renouncing Christianity would have enabled the violated to go back to their villages as the condition imposed by the Bajrang Dal for re-entry to the village was re-conversion.   The  remarkable dignity of those who have lost everything choosing to hold on to their faith, when re-conversion would have enabled them to return to their homes speaks to that undefinable aspect of human nature  which lifts human existence above mere animal existence. In doing so, the Report reminds us of  how human rights are really a form of legal protection to ways in which human beings  express themselves.  These  expressions are defining aspects of what we mean by the word ‘human’.

The Fact Finding Reports in which Balagopal participated are not just reports but rather in A.R.  Desai’s words:

documents which are forged in the fires of struggles and are therefore symbols       of heroic battles carried on by the people in different parts of the country.’[viii]

Equally it is important to remember that the Reports are not just  a history of the violation  but also a history of the heroic struggle against  violation and one man’s     determination to bear witness and bring justice to the violated in different and far flung parts of the country.  The unifying theme underlying his work is the idea of protecting and defending the idea of an inclusive and humane India with a deep commitment to justice.

Balagopal articulated his worldview in the context of the struggle against Hindu fundamentalism:

The fight against the Sangh Parivar, whether on the political terrain or in civil      society, whether in the realm of power or that of values, is a fight over the  idea         and the reality of the India we want. A humane society committed to political,          social and economic justice, freedom from fear and want, liberty of thought,          belief and practice, inalienable dignity of person, opportunities of equitable       growth, peace in its relations with other societies and nature( all of which add       up to the foundational value of equality) or an aggressive power mongering      polity based on a hierarchical and monolithic society?’[ix]

Critiquing the Supreme Court : Reason, ethics and passion

Another task which Balagopal took on with great relish was that of critiquing the decesions of the Supreme Court. His critiques combine the language of irony and passion, reason and feeling, becoming an all together uniquely grounded  voice speaking out on behalf of a moral or just order.   His stinging critique of the decesion of the Supreme Court which upheld the constitutional validity of  TADA in particular stands repeated reading. Balagopal took apart the reasoning and logic on which the decesion was based and decried the Courts inability to understand the right of political expression which he saw as being the heart of democracy.  This piece is a tour de force of impassioned writing which is not only a critique of TADA but also a vivid description of a more humane India.

In his words:

A court that does not possess a social, understanding of the ugly thing called

terrorism cannot possibly look critically at the provisions of T A D A . A court       that understands terrorism the same way as the  union home ministry (as          Justice Pandian and his brotherhood unabashedly do) cannot look at T A D A         in the spirit of the best values expressed by the Indian Supreme Court in the         past. A court that does not begin to make of the striking fact that the terrorists   and extremists of India—Sikhs in Punjab,Muslims in Kashmir, tribal people in        the north-east, the wretched of rural Bharat in Bihar and Andhra Pradesh,          expatriate Jaffna’ Tamils in Tamil Nadu, and in recent days disillusioned          Muslim youth in various urban centres—are all from the political, social,      ethnic and economic periphery of Indian society, cannot begin to see what it       means if suspects in ‘terrorist’ crimes are denied rights that mainstream       criminals possess.Democracy in the best sense hat always meant justice for the         dissident, the abnormal, the peripheral, notwithstanding that ‘their proclivities       may be held morally unjustifiable and p o l i t i c a l l y unsupportable by the          mainstream, or even a majority of the periphery too. Only a court that values     such  a justice can look properly at T A D A . A court  that thinks justice is          another name for the securing of public order cannot.[x]

In his very last piece in the EPW , entitled ‘Ideology and Adjudication:The Supreme Court and OBC Reservations, he severely criticised the decesion of the Supreme Court in Ashok Kumar Thakur’s case  wherein, the Court sought to use the concept of creamy layer to further curtail the benefit OBC’s could get from reservation. While being a critique rooted in legal doctrine, Balagopal goes one step further and locates the very decesion in ideology.

Adjudication of public issues is an ideological act. Courts say they do

their job within the four corners of the law, but the four corners are only    corners.The space enclosed may be quite wide, and can permit divergent          tendencies, all of them passing for interpretations of the law or the     Constitution. It is idle to pretend that this divergence is the result of a pure difference of a juridical character. There is considerable politics in these          divergent tendencies, when social issues of significance are involved.[xi]

Just taking these two examples, what emerges is that the voice of Balagopal provides an engaged critique of the decesions of the Supreme Court. Supremely well versed in the culture of legal reasoning, Balagopal parses the decesions carefully exploring what each judge had to say and comments caustically whenever he feels that judges have not understood the  Constitution. Of course the unique element which Balagopal’s  articles add is the fact that they are rooted in a social and political understanding. The two together, a close reading using the tool of  legal reasoning combined with a contextual understanding of the law makes a powerful argument which is able to transcend the limitations of both these forms of argumentation.

Narrating the inner life of the oppressed: Balagopal’s literary imagination

While Balagopal was a experienced practitioner of the forms of human rights activism which demanded a close attention to facts, the ability to organize information and to get to the root of the conflict at hand, what is not much known in human rights circles  is his equal felicity with literary expression.  Here I would like to draw attention to Balagopal’s nuanced descriptions of the interior life of those who were the objects of state brutality and  societal indifference.

Two particular  articles of his in the EPW which come to mind are Excerpts from the Memoirs of Death[xii] and Drought and TADA in Adilabad[xiii]. Both these pieces narrate the subjectivity of those the state persecutes.  I will direct your attention to some extracts from, ‘Excerpts from the Memoirs of Death’, which  shows a fine literary sensibility evoking the memory of masters like Kafka and Dostoevsky.

In a moving piece called, Excerpts from the Memoirs of Death,  Balagopal writes from the perspective of a youth  who is picked up by the police and brutally tortured. The unnamed youth sees his life as a flash back and reflects upon the range of actions he has engaged in , from picketing liquor shops  to joining the Naxalite movement and gaining an awareness of the injustice of the world.  He reflects back upon what he  now perceives as his ‘own inexcusable innocence’.  I will cite  three extracts which communicate the subaltern life not merely as the object of state violence but really as a conscious human subject, making meaning of the injustice around him and finding strategies to cope with unbearable violence.

The innocence that believed that   because what one did appeared self evidently     just to oneself, as plain as two and two make four, it should appear equally just       to everyone else. The innocence that believed that only the very unreasonable        and the very wicked who are in a minority in the  world could be against one.     The innocence that just could not conceive of the possibility that a large    number of otherwise perfectly normal people could oppose this evidently just         struggle. Considering the facts as he perceived them of course- was he  really    to be blamed ? The earth belonged to no one, and yet a few people had          parcelled out large chunks of it among themselves. Now the rest were demanding their share. Was that not plainly just ?[xiv]

This sense of innocence leads to the youth being arrested under TADA  and the scene before the judge is described in a manner which can only be called Kafkaesque,

It was in a chastened and desolate mood that he had stood before the court. All     the charges were under TADA and there was little likelihood of his getting bail         within six months. As he stood gazing at the distant judge and playing         nervously with the chains of his wrists, his heart continued to burn at the injustice of it , though he was already wise enough to know that there was little      he could do about it. ………He had felt like shouting in the court, maybe make a    speech the way wronged persons do in films. But he could not get himself to do     that. It was not fear that deterred him, but the sheer absurdity of it, so          preoccupied the court was with ridiculous bits of paper and pieces of gossip          that there appeared to be no place there for the questions of justice and injustice       that burnt his heart. So remote and indifferent were the faces of the judge and       the lawyers who waited in boredom for their cases to be called, that instead he   had fallen to gossiping with the constables who had brought him to court.’ [xv]

Finally to highlight a scene which communicates the fine sense of irony with which    the  young  Naxalite  perceives  the psychology of the policeman’s brutality:

They pushed him into a smelly but mercifully empty cell and locked it up. He         sate down and leaned against the wall, glancing watchfully at the policeman outside. He badly wanted to lie down and stretch out but it would not do to let      them think he was relaxing. He knew enough about policeman by now. Let          them think you are having a pleasant moment and they will trash you just to    spoil it. So he sat back and allowed himself to look as sick as he felt.’[xvi]

These writings draw our attention to facets of human beings, going   beyond dry facts and objective realities. By narrating the very subjectivity of the oppressed,  Balagopal provides a literary lens  with which the dry statistics such as a Naxalite death or being  an accused under TADA is given new meaning. To narrate the inner life of the oppressed is a profound act of humanizing  people  that figure in the mainstream media  as  mere statistics of suffering.

A philosophical approach to human rights: The unfinished project ?

As noted above the range of contribution of Balagopal to human rights was immense. Right from unearthing and publicizing human rights violation, to critiquing the Supreme Court in its numerous decesions to writing passionately and with a humane intelligence from the perspective of the persecuted, Balagopal’s contribution to human rights was awe inspiring.

In one of his public talks in Bangalore, Balagopal  lamented that,

We dont have a tradition of people  writing philosophically about human      rights. Amartya Sen is one of the few people who writes philosophically in    defence of human rights.[xvii]

In another seminar in Bangalore he noted that,

Fortunately or unfortunately we belong to an ideological persuasion which   devalues ideas and regards power alone as important. The state however knows the power of ideas and opinions which have a value in creating consciousness       and political strength. [xviii]

The idea of a philosophy of human rights or a theory of human rights was thus  deeply appealing to Balagopal. As one  tribute to Balagopal by Kodandaram an activist who worked closely with Balagopal put it,

These essays ( all raised fundamental questions about how Marxism as we

knew it addressed (or did not address) the relationship between “being” and         “consciousness”. His dissatisfaction with Marxism as we knew it then     translated into the practice of human rights. It is perhaps due to the limits of         history that the questions he raised through those essays had no immediate       answers. It is unfortunate that at a time when his efforts were beginning to          coalesce into a coherent body of critical praxis that Balagopal himself has left        us.[xix]

Balagopal’s life and work  is a testament to the fact that human rights movements have an independent existence from other social movements. From this theorisation flowed his nuanced position that the movement too could be criticised if they violated basic norms of human rights such as the right to fair trial or the freedom from arbitrary action.  One should note that on the question of violence and non violence , Balagopal refused to take a dogmatic position, instead taking forward a critique of both the state as well as non state actors on the basis of the rights of the affected population. Balagopal’s deep concerns about the impacts of what he called, ‘destructive development’ strongly affirms the co-equal importance of both civil and politicial rights as well as socio-economic rights. He  tbereby enjoins  us to move beyond the image of the state as a nasty leviathan to also understand that the state has democratic and welfare responsibilites to its citizens. Thus on a range of  complex issues of a human rights practice, Balagopal’s writing always provided a guide. While each of the points made above deserve greater analysis to provide an account of human rights in the Indian context, in this section I will explore Balagopal’s contribution to two philosophical questions concerning human rights, namely the question of  where did human rights originate and the question of the implications of the universal language of human rights .

The origins of  human rights: Rights as a product of struggle.

In the theoretical literature on rights, Human rights have often been critiqued as being bourgeoisie or as being status quoist or in some cases as  being a western imposition. In particular the charge that human rights are a product of a western society and hence are not relevant to the particular ethos of  the developing world has a certain academic valence. [xx]

As Upendra Baxi puts it:

Even today Third World theory and action is thought to be mimetic, picking up      cognitive bits and pieces from the smorgasbord of the critique of Enlightenment from Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Hiedegger, Rawls, Foucault or          Derrida. Overall, human rights discursivity was and still remains, according to    the narrative of origins, the patrimony of the west.[xxi]

Balagopal defended the notion of human rights as being a product of struggle. In Balagopal’s understanding rights were to be defended because  rights were not gifts granted by the state , but were rather wrested from the state by a range of struggles be it the labour movement, the women’s movement or the tribal movement. In his words :

On the whole, without some struggle or agitation, rights do not accrue. A right      takes shape in some people’s minds, in their thoughts. Then it spreads into the        social consciousness. It gets recognised in the political practice. At a particular          phase it registers victory politically. That means the law, the constitution, the         traditions, the culture -all these recognise it as a right. [xxii]

What Balagopal’s work cuts through is this false differentiation between  the west and the east and instead insists on rights as values which emerge through struggle and form part of  ‘the moral storehouse of the human species[xxiii] From this perspective, the  work of the National Civil Liberties Union in Britain, the China League for Civil Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Indian Civil Liberties Union contributes to this human value called rights. Similarly the work of the Naga Peoples  Movement for Human  Rights and the struggle of  tribal communities contributes towards this value called human rights.

Cutting through this divisions which have bedevilled human rights theory, Balagopal insists that:

Nevertheless each such right expresses a value that is as much a lasting       resource of human civilisation as the steam engine that Marx was immensely        impressed by and each of the institutions evolved by bourgeois society for the          implementation of the rights (a professional and independent judiciary, for    instance) embodies principles that need to be carried forward while the         structural and conceptual limitations of the institutions (such as the equation of      total alienation from society with judicial impartiality) are criticised and overcome. Every contemporary civil liberties struggle must strive and does          strive not only to protect a given right in a given context (the right of a prisoner     against torture, or of slumdwellers against eviction) but also the democratic        values and institutional principles relating to that right, while critically overcoming the bourgeois expression of the notions and forms in which the      principles are embodied, and the institutions in which their realisation is          enshrined.[xxiv]

For Balagopal it is a given that rights are not the patrimony of the west but are instead the product of the struggles of people around the world. However Balagopal also insists that the struggles could have resulted in rights which are limited by the institutional frameworks in which they are embedded and this needs to be criticised and overcome.  The critique thus needs to be directed not towards the question of where did the notion of rights originate but rather towards how do we ensure that the rights are able to fulfil their full potential.

In fact drawing from Balagopal’s thoughts if we only study Fact Finding Reports produced by different human rights organizations, we will get a sense of the close link between grassroots struggles and the language of human rights. Balagopal’s work  historizes the rights question  and amplifies the voice which asserts that rights embody a lived reality of struggle  in the Indian context.

Universality of human rights  and its critics: The thinking of Balagopal

Particularly with the advent of post-modernist thinking in the academia, the language of universality has been subjected to intensive critique. These has been a resurgence of the idea of cultural relativism which is to mean that human rights cannot claim to be a universal language and is limited to being a specific language of the western world.

Balagopal’s defence of the idea of universality of rights, flows from the complex questions thrown up by  struggle. The position on whether rights should be universal was arrived at through an intensive process which involved both practice and thought.

As Balagopal puts it

I don’t know whether any other stream of the civil rights movement can claim      such an achievement, but for us being open to reality is the only thing that we        can claim for ourselves. And we learnt from this, and I remember very well, the          other stream of the civil rights movement in our State spent a long time       theoretically discussing whether the assault is a civil rights incident, violation,    and should they go for fact finding? We on the other hand didn’t even bother to     theoretically  discuss…… We went to the village the next day, talked to people.       When we held a press conference we were forced to theorize. The moment you        express values, you have to theorize.[xxv]

This theorisation evolves in the course of concrete dilemmas posed in the course of  human rights activism. For example, Balagopal narrates the questions thrown up by the work aimed at preventing the torture of political prisoners in police lock up:

In the beginning police used to make fun of us. That  look when you come to a     police station asking for the release or somebody to be produced in court who       happens to be a radical, he is in the lockup, there are ten more people in the lock up along with him, why don’t you talk about them? Police, of course were       not interested that we should talk about them. They were interested in exposing       our one sidedness. But we learnt a lesson from that. So we started saying that       torture is wrong. And if torture is wrong, then you have to answer many   more questions. Because you are saying torture not only of a political          revolutionary, but also of a criminal is wrong.[xxvi]

From the concrete context of the policeman’s contempt for the so called ‘one sidedness’ of human rights activists evolves the theoretical position on universality of rights:

That’s the only way you can formulate a protest. The moment you do that ( in      terms of principles not interests, ie not I am being oppressed but oppression is          wrong) the principle becomes universal. Not universal in the sense of 100%          universal, but it finds for itself a class which goes beyond you. Then what   happens is that, you will have to speak for many more people, which again has   its own further consequences. So a perpetual expansion of the principled     concerns is          unavoidable in the very fact that a protest has to be expressed in        terms of universal values. So once we say that torture is wrong, it is impossible          for civil rights movement to say torture of Naxalites (only) is wrong. You have      to say torture (per se)is     wrong. Once you say torture is wrong you have to         look at who else is being tortured….[xxvii]

Conclusion

Thus two aspect of Balagopal’s philosophical perspective on human rights include an understanding that rights are a product of struggle and that the language of universality is at the core of human rights struggle. To arrive at these two positions on human rights, Balagopal was guided by his practice of human rights. Thus his work on doing Fact Findings and representing human rights issues in court constructed a worldview. The worldview was tested repeatedly on the anvil of struggle and evolved  with the kinds of struggles that Balagopal participated in.  In his senstivity to context and its ability to constantly broaden the moral imagination of human rights, Balagopal was unique. It is our tragedy that we dont anymore have the unique voice of Balagopal charting out principled paths of thought in action.  Taking Balagopal’s work forward would mean that we aspire in our work to similarly fuse thought and action and chart out ethical and principled ways to constantly broaden the moral imagination of human rights.

Endnotes

[1]        Talk at the Kannada book release of  ‘ Inner voice of another India: The writings of Balagopal , at National College Basavangudi, Bangalore, 30th October, 2010

[1]          Balagopal, Karamchedu: Second Anniversary, Economic and Political Weekly,  August 15, 1987

[1]          APCLC , The Chundur Carnage ,1991. pg 4.

[1]          Ibid. pg. 6.

[1]          Ibid.

[1]          See Anand Teltumde, Khirlanji: A strange and bitter crop, Navayana Publications , New Delhi, 2008,  p. 14. Khairlanji  represents the quintessence of caste India- that people have to observe their ascriptive statuss; stay put in their place. They cannot cross caste boudaries. If they do, they could be punished. Khairjani lays bare the self righteous arrogance of the caste Hindus and their assumptions about and demands from the suboridnated castes. Paradoxically, Khairlanji also represents their vulnerability. It reprsents resistance, defiance and struggle-however feeble- of the subaltern castes.

[1]          From Kandhmahal to Karavali: The Ugly Face of Sangh Parivar , A Fact Finding Report of nine Human Rights Organizations that visited Orissa and Karnataka in Sep-Oct.2008 www.humanrightsforum.org

[1]          A.R. Desai , Ed. , Violation of democratic rights in India, Popular Prakashan , Bombay, 1986 ,  p. xvi.

[1] From Kandhmahal to Karavali: The Ugly Face of Sangh Parivar , A Fact Finding Report of nine Human Rights Organizations that visited Orissa and Karnataka in Sep-Oct.2008 www.humanrightsforum.org

[1]          Balagopal, In defence of India : Supreme Court and terrorism,  Economic and Politcal Weekly, August 6, 1994

[1]          K Balagopal, Ideology and Adjudication: The Supreme Court and OBC Reservations, Economic and Political Weekly,  Oct 24, 2009.

[1]          Balagopal, Excerpts from the Memoirs of Death, EPW Mar 21. 1992.

[1]          Balagopal, Drought and TADA in Adilabad, EPW  Nov 23, 1989.

[1]          Balagopal, Excerpts from the Memoirs of Death, EPW Mar 21. 1992.

[1]          Ibid.

[1]          Ibid.

[1]          Democracy, Political Dissent, and Repressive Laws, Proceedings of A PUCL-Karnataka Seminar Held on 1 July 2007 at Bangalore, http://www.altlawforum.org/grassroots-democracy/publications/seminar%20proceedings.doc/view accessed on 10.11.2010.

[1]          PUCL-K,  Violence, Civil Society and Democracy: A conultation , Keynote Address by K.Balagopal ,Bangalore , 22 March , 2005.

[1]          Kodandaram, To Remember Balagopal  Is to Remember Our Own Humanness, EPW  Jan 16, 2010 . The essays referred to are the  essay in Telugu  titled “History, Man and Marxism”, the  one in EPW in 1995 addressing Sumanta Banerjee on communalism and democratic practice in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition “Democracy and the Fight against Communalism” (7 January 1995) and then in the essay titled “The

Darker Side of the Naxalite Strategy” in  Telugu.

[1]          See Makua Matua, A noble cause wrapped in arrogance, Boston Globe, 29.04.2001. He notes, ‘There is no doubt that the current human rights corpus is well meaning. But that is beside the point. International human rights falls within the historical continuum of the European colonial view in which whites pose as the savior of a benighted and savage non –European world.’

[1]          Upendra Baxi, The Future of Human Rights, Oxford University Press,  New Delhi, 2002. p. 24.

[1]          Interview with Janan Saxi, www.balagopal.org

[1]          K Balagopal,  Democracy and the Fight against Communalism, EPW Jan 1995.

[1]          K Balagopal, Democracy and the fight against communalism, Economic and Political Weekly, January 7, 1995.

[1]          See the transcript of the interview of K. Balagopal with  Deepa Dhanraj , www.balagopal.org accessed on 10.11.10

[1]          Ibid.

[1]          Ibid.


[i] Talk at the Kannada book release of  ‘ Inner voice of another India: The writings of Balagopal , at National College Basavangudi, Bangalore, 30th October, 2010

[ii] Balagopal, Karamchedu: Second Anniversary, Economic and Political Weekly,  August 15, 1987

[iii] APCLC , The Chundur Carnage ,1991. pg 4.

[iv] Ibid. pg. 6.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] See Anand Teltumde, Khirlanji: A strange and bitter crop, Navayana Publications , New Delhi, 2008,  p. 14. Khairlanji  represents the quintessence of caste India- that people have to observe their ascriptive statuss; stay put in their place. They cannot cross caste boudaries. If they do, they could be punished. Khairjani lays bare the self righteous arrogance of the caste Hindus and their assumptions about and demands from the suboridnated castes. Paradoxically, Khairlanji also represents their vulnerability. It reprsents resistance, defiance and struggle-however feeble- of the subaltern castes.

[vii] From Kandhmahal to Karavali: The Ugly Face of Sangh Parivar , A Fact Finding Report of nine Human Rights Organizations that visited Orissa and Karnataka in Sep-Oct.2008 www.humanrightsforum.org

[viii] A.R. Desai , Ed. , Violation of democratic rights in India, Popular Prakashan , Bombay, 1986 ,  p. xvi.

[ix] From Kandhmahal to Karavali: The Ugly Face of Sangh Parivar , A Fact Finding Report of nine Human Rights Organizations that visited Orissa and Karnataka in Sep-Oct.2008 www.humanrightsforum.org

[x] Balagopal, In defence of India : Supreme Court and terrorism,  Economic and Politcal Weekly, August 6, 1994

[xi] K Balagopal, Ideology and Adjudication: The Supreme Court and OBC Reservations, Economic and Political Weekly,  Oct 24, 2009.

[xii] Balagopal, Excerpts from the Memoirs of Death, EPW Mar 21. 1992.

[xiii] Balagopal, Drought and TADA in Adilabad, EPW  Nov 23, 1989.

[xiv] Balagopal, Excerpts from the Memoirs of Death, EPW Mar 21. 1992.

[xv] Ibid.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Democracy, Political Dissent, and Repressive Laws, Proceedings of A PUCL-Karnataka Seminar Held on 1 July 2007 at Bangalore, http://www.altlawforum.org/grassroots-democracy/publications/seminar%20proceedings.doc/view accessed on 10.11.2010.

[xviii] PUCL-K,  Violence, Civil Society and Democracy: A conultation , Keynote Address by K.Balagopal ,Bangalore , 22 March , 2005.

[xix] Kodandaram, To Remember Balagopal  Is to Remember Our Own Humanness, EPW  Jan 16, 2010 . The essays referred to are the  essay in Telugu  titled “History, Man and Marxism”, the  one in EPW in 1995 addressing Sumanta Banerjee on communalism and democratic practice in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition “Democracy and the Fight against Communalism” (7 January 1995) and then in the essay titled “The

Darker Side of the Naxalite Strategy” in  Telugu.

[xx] See Makua Matua, A noble cause wrapped in arrogance, Boston Globe, 29.04.2001. He notes, ‘There is no doubt that the current human rights corpus is well meaning. But that is beside the point. International human rights falls within the historical continuum of the European colonial view in which whites pose as the savior of a benighted and savage non –European world.’

[xxi] Upendra Baxi, The Future of Human Rights, Oxford University Press,  New Delhi, 2002. p. 24.

[xxii] Interview with Janan Saxi, www.balagopal.org

[xxiii] K Balagopal,  Democracy and the Fight against Communalism, EPW Jan 1995.

[xxiv] K Balagopal, Democracy and the fight against communalism, Economic and Political Weekly, January 7, 1995.

[xxv] See the transcript of the interview of K. Balagopal with  Deepa Dhanraj , www.balagopal.org accessed on 10.11.10

[xxvi] Ibid.

[xxvii] Ibid.

One thought on “Remembering Balagopal – Thought, Action and the Moral Imagination of Human Rights: Arvind Narrain”

  1. Lessons in Pedagogy

    Read with interest the two recent posts “Remembering Balagopal” and “Nobody can stop the Revolution”. The contrasting styles are a good lesson in pedagogy, ranging from outbursts to nuanced debates and raise issues of alienation, culture and debate.

    The culture of discussion reflected in the two varying styles makes one think of Hegemony and counter-hegemony. Hegemony can be resisted by means of the counterhegemonic practice of “organic intellectuals” who work with or rise from the ranks of working class or indigenous peoples. To that end, the Italian Communist and thinker Gramsci himself taught militant workers in Turin, Italy, and wrote about education as a means of producing such intellectuals among the subaltern classes—an aspect of his writings that continues to inspire adult worker and other educational projects.(1)

    One commentator (Gaurav Dikshit) has rightly pointed out that the urban middle class lives atomized individualized existence where the idea of community is under strain. This alienation which diminished human experience and social relations to brute market forces has been critiqued by Marx. The laborer is estranged from the labor process which objectifies labor as a commodity, now alien and oppressive to the producer, whose labor converts him or her into a commodity as well. The movement has found sympathy but not much mass base in urban areas as it has probably not been able to address these issues of alienation in a nuanced manner .

    The ancient Oracle of Delphi is said to have advised seekers of wisdom, Socrates amongst them, that the key task was to ‘know thyself’.Later indeed, Pope said that the proper study of man was man. Now, apart from the obvious lack of political correctness in such a statement, there is another more important ambiguity. Is it “man” as an individual or “man” as a collective noun-that ‘great Levithian’ society itself-to be studied? (2)

    The contrasting styles of the posts also brings to mind the Enlightenment period which for both admirers and critics alike, is considered the beginning of modernity. Our contemporary culture is still shaped by the dynamic of Enlightenment –the dynamic of criticism and innovation. While criticizing aspects of traditional life-religion, political organization, social structure, science, human relations, human nature, history, economics, and the very grounds of human understanding and subjecting them to intense scrutiny and investigation, the proponents of Enlightenment attempted to establish adequate grounds for a clearer and surer understanding of these topics.(3)

    The styles of the two posts contrast and are illustrative of the difference in approach and faith in the power of human knowledge to solve basic problems of existence.

    Notes and suggested readings

    1.Borg, C., Buttigieg, J.A., and Mayo, P. (eds) (2002) Gramsci and Education. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc.. As quoted in Critical interventions:the meaning of praxis. by Deborah Mutnick in Cohen-Cruz’s Boal Companion to Theatre of Oppressed.Routledge 2006

    (2) Cohen Martin.Political philosophy.From Plato to Mao.Page 11.Pluto Press 2001

    (3) Judy Wilson , Peter Reill: Encyclopedia of Enlightenment. Book Builders Incorporated 2004

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