Rights based Political Movements in Contemporary India

Home/ Rights based Political Movements in Contemporary India
Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation ElectiveSLG1EL1014

Semester and Year Offered: Winter Semester 2019

Course Coordinator and Team: Pooja Satyogi

Email of course coordinator: psatyogi[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in

Pre-requisites: None

Course Outcome: On successful completion of the course, the students

  • Will understand contemporary social and political movements in India
  • Will have a firm grasp about citizenship issues
  • Will have an awareness of contemporary discourses on rights
  • Will understand Indian politics and citizens negotiations with the State


Course Aim: In keeping with the logic of the BA in law and politics, this course attempts make connections with recent political mobilisations in India, which were oriented towards finding a solution in law. It seeks to interrogate the relationship between politics and law and how the two sometimes have a symbiotic relationship, at other times confrontational and yet other times exceed each other—something that we see in ongoing debates around entry for women in the Sabarimala temple. The course sits adjacent to the course on Social Movements in India, which is offered by the Sociology department. The point of departure are two: (i) this course is rooted in the contemporary moment, ties to urban political formations and think rights based approach critically (ii) it is not doing a longue durée analysis of these formations; in fact, the course is invested in asking how one might imagine the after-life of such legal enactments. The outlier here is the disability movement, a study of which is offered as a rejoinder to think how an active phase of a movement invariably takes its public presence for granted—presence itself understood in terms of space, occupancy and accessibility. Disability is conspicuous by its absence even in courses on Social Movements because we tend to think movements with visibility.

Course Details:

Summary: By focusing on contemporary India, this course will introduce the students to recent political movements, which take enactment of rights as their primary goal

Objectives: This course introduces the students to thinking citizenship and political movements in contemporary India

Overall Structure: The Course is divided into 5 modules:

Module 1: Debating Rights and Citizenship

Module 2: State and the Rights Movements in Contemporary India

Module 3: Transparency, Right to Information and the Anti-Corruption Movement

Module 4: Right to Food, Work and Education

Module 5: Disability Movement


Syllabus with List of Readings

Module 1: Debating Rights and Citizenship

2 Weeks

This course is designed to focus on contemporary Indian politics and rights based political mobilisations that have seen their culmination in legislative enactments. The first module will focus on a conceptual understanding of Rights as privileges, claims, powers and immunities and broaden this Hohfeldian framework to think what it might mean to call a political mobilisation as being oriented towards rights based legislation. For this, it is also important to understand the development of citizenship rights in India and together this will form the first module of the course.

Weeks 1-2: Debating Rights and Citizenship

  • Béteille, André. “Can Rights Undermine Trust: How Institutions Work and Why They Fail.” Democracy and its Institutions. Oxford University press (2017): 99-121
  • Jayal, Niraja Gopal. “Introduction”. In Citizenship and its discontents: An Indian History. Harvard University Press (2013): 1-27.
  • Roy, Anupama. “Becoming Citizens”. In Citizenship in India. Oxford University Press (2016): 155-199
  • Ruparelia, Sanjay. “India’s new rights agenda: Genesis, promises, risks.” Pacific Affairs 86 (3) 2013: 569-590.
  • Wenar, Leif, “Rights”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.


Module 2: State and Rights movement in Contemporary India (2 Weeks)

Weeks 3, 4

A focus on rights based political movements brings attention to the form that contemporary Indian state has taken. By this I mean a move from welfare (50-70s) to development (70-80s) to approaches of empowerment (90s onwards). This module will explicate how rights based political movements tie into discourses of empowerment in a changing neoliberal milieu.

  • Basu, Deepankar, and Pratyush Chandra. “Neoliberalism and Primitive Accumulation in India: The Need to Go Beyond Capital.” In Social Movements: transformative Shifts and Turning Points. London, New York, New Delhi: Routledge: 144-159.
  • Chacko, Priya. “The Right Turn in India: Authoritarianism, Populism and Neoliberalisation.” Journal of Contemporary Asia (2018): 1-25.
  • Cornwall, Andrea, and Celestine Nyamu‐Musembi. “Putting the ‘rights‐based approach’ to development into perspective.” Third world quarterly 25, no. 8 (2004): 1415-1437.


Module 3: Transparency, Right to Information and the Anti-Corruption Movement (4 Weeks)

Both Right to Information and the Anti-Corruption Movement tie into the debates on transparency in governance and citizenship entitlements. There is a vibrant debate on this issue particularly after Michael Power’s work on Audit Explosion (2000). This course will not be linked to the debate on Auditing practices in the Euro-American context, but will flag that it is worthwhile to think RTI and ACM as standing adjacent to similar developments elsewhere in the world. These movements are not without limitations and readings will illustrate how these achievements fall short in their realisation of “deepening” democracy and “combating “corruption.

  • Baviskar, Amita. “Winning the right to information in India: Is knowledge power.” In In J Gaventa & R McGee (eds) Citizen Action and National Policy Reform. London: Zed, 10. 2010.
  • Jenkins, Rob, and Anne Marie Goetz. “Accounts and accountability: theoretical implications of the right-to-information movement in India.” Third world quarterly 20, no. 3 (1999): 603-622.
  • Sharma, Prashant. Democracy and transparency in the Indian state: The making of the Right To Information Act. Routledge: 2015 (selections)
  • Webb, Martin. “Success stories: rhetoric, authenticity, and the right to information movement in north India.” Contemporary South Asia 18, no. 3 (2010): 293-304.


Week 7-8 : Anti- Corruption Movement

  • Harindranath, Ramaswami, and Sukhmani Khorana. “Civil society movements and the ‘Twittering classes’ in the postcolony: An Indian case study.” South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 37, no. 1 (2014): 60-71.
  • Goswami, Debika, and Kaustuv K. Bandyopadhyay. “The Anti-corruption movement in India.” New Delhi: Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) (2014).
  • Sengupta, Mitu. “Anna Hazare's anti-corruption movement and the limits of mass mobilization in India.” Social Movement Studies 13, no. 3 (2014): 406-413.
  • Verma, Arvind and Ramesh Sharma. 2018. Combating Corruption in India. Cambridge University Press (selections)


Module 4 : Right to work, food and education

(3 weeks)

The questions in this section relate to how right to life is reinterpreted in the context of welfare functions of the state with respect to providing its population a living wage, sustenance and education to realise their basic liberties. The three cut into each other making it difficult to separate them into stand-alone rights.

  • Bhagwan, Vishnu. “NATIONAL RURAL EMPLOYMENT GUARANTEE ACT: A SWOT ANALYSIS.” The Indian Journal of Political Science (2009): 139-150.
  • Bhatia, Bela, and Jean Dreze. “Employment guarantee in Jharkhand: Ground realities.” Economic and Political Weekly(2006): 3198-3202.
  • Ghosh, Jayati. “The ‘Right to Work’ and Recent Legislation in India.” Social Scientist (2006): 88-102.
  • Nigam, Aditya. “‘Right to Work’: Reading ‘Rights’ through Discourse on’ ‘Work’.”Economic and Political Weekly (1998): PE16-PE24.


Week 10: Right to Food

  • Birchfield, Lauren, and Jessica Corsi. “The right to life is the right to food: People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India & others.” Human Rights Brief 17, no. 3 (2010): 3.
  • Guha-Khasnobis, Basudeb, and S. Vivek. “The rights-based approach to development: Lessons from the right to food movement in India.” In Food Insecurity, Vulnerability and Human Rights Failure, pp. 308-327. Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2007.
  • Hertel, Shareen. “Hungry for justice: Social mobilization on the right to food in India.” Development and Change 46, no. 1 (2015): 72-94.
  • Jakobsen, Jostein. “Neoliberalising the food regime ‘amongst its others’: the right to food and the state in India.” The Journal of Peasant Studies (2018): 1-21.


Week 11: Right to Education

  • Ramachandran, Vimala. “Right to Education Act: a comment.” Economic & Political Weekly 44, no. 28 (2009): 4-10.
  • Jain, Pankaj S., and Ravindra H. Dholakia. “Feasibility of implementation of right to education Act.” Economic and Political weekly (2009): 38-43.
  • Jha, Praveen, and Pooja Parvati. “Right to Education Act 2009: critical gaps and challenges.” Economic and Political Weekly (2010): 20-23.


Module 5

Disability Movement

Disability movement here is an outlier in this is because we have not seen a mass movement on rights of disabled persons. Precisely because disability (temporary or permanent) does not affect a large section of the population, a movement such as this remains in the background. This debate raises the question of what kind of movement bursts onto the public realm and which recede into the background, thereby enabling us to develop a critique of mobilisations.

Week 12: Disability Movement

  • Addlakha, Renu. “Disability, gender and society.” Indian Journal of Gender Studies 15, no. 2 (2008): 191-207.
  • Bhanushali, D., 2007. Changing face of disability movement: From charity to empowerment.
  • Mehrotra, Nilika. 2011. “Disability rights movements in India: Politics and practice.” Economic and Political Weekly: 65-72.
  • Thomas, Phillipa. 2005. “Mainstreaming disability in development: India country report” Disability Knowledge and Research.


Additional Reading

  • Ghai, Anita. “Disabled women: An excluded agenda of Indian feminism.” Hypatia 17, no. 3 (2002): 49-66.


Assessment Methodology

  • Class Attendance and Participation 20%
  • Written Assessment (Class Assignments/Mid Term): 40%
  • End Term Exam: 40%


Recommendation of the School of Studies:

  • The proposal was discussed by the Board of Studies in its 10th of November 2018 meeting and has been approved in the present form.