ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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A Survey of Human Rights in India

Ravi Nair ( is at the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre, New Delhi. Geethanjali Jujjavarapu ( is a student at NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad.

Mapping Human Rights and Subalterns in Modern India edited by Jagannatham Begari; New Delhi: Kalpaz Publications, 2015; pp 305, 990.

Human rights have most often been construed in terms of violation of civil–political rights or first-generation rights. While there is an acknowledgement of the existence of socio-economic rights and third-generation rights, they have not been given the importance that has been attributed to civil–political rights whose violation is considered to be a violation of the core human rights guaranteed to a person. Mapping Human Rights and Subalterns in Modern India largely focuses on issues of caste, poverty, gendered problems, education, and their intersection with human rights at every level. It draws attention to how globalisation has affected the marginalised sections in India along with stalling any real development in the country. The book is a collation of academic papers written with the help of primary and secondary data.

The book has its strong and weak chapters with each chapter authored by individual academics from varied backgrounds. The chapters which have significantly depended on primary data through fieldwork are largely statistical and documentary in nature. While they highlight the issues at the ground level, they lack an argumentative strand and are predominantly factual. However, these chapters manage to highlight issues of development or the lack thereof, in sample states. The chapters highlighting caste issues in Gujarat and education as well as development issues in Andhra Pradesh/Telangana provide categorised details of the prevailing conditions in the areas. Not only have they documented the current conditions but have also delved into the history of the issues along with expounding on the international recognition of the right to development and education.


Issues of caste and discrimination mar the country. A plethora of literature is available on the problems of the concept of caste which is endemic to the Indian subcontinent and how it has raised myriad human rights issues over the years. Similarly, this book remains true to its title and “maps” the issues of caste discrimination and violation of core human dignity and values. However, it does not adequately address the way forward and possible solutions to prevailing issues. While there is no quick fix solution for an issue such as caste discrimination, which stems from deeply held pernicious beliefs that have been ingrained in the mindsets of people, literature on such issues should aim to sensitise the public and invoke some form of action towards the “annihilation of caste” as propounded by B R Ambedkar.


Two chapters in the book have focused on what has been termed as the “right to language.” With the arrival of the British in India and colonisation, English has been thrust upon the inhabitants as a mode of communication, language for official purposes, and medium of instruction at educational institutions. The Indian subcontinent is rich in diversity and there are hundreds of indigenous languages spoken across religions, communities, tribes and cultural groups. There is an apparent suppression of these languages with the creation of the English-language hegemony. This is evident in all spheres of life with the English-language taking over indigenous languages that have been preserved by communities over the years. This hegemony is not restricted only to English but also to dominant languages such as Hindi across the country, which overpower regional and dialects of those languages which are spoken in smaller towns, villages, and forest communities.

The authors of the chapters focusing on the aforementioned issue have efficiently articulated the existing hegemonic structures in the arena of language. However, the chapter titled “Language Rights: Implementing Worldwide Language Rights and Promoting Social Justice” falls short of raising individual arguments and largely reiterates arguments and assertions made by previously published scholars. The chapter is more in the nature of a literature review as compared to a critical academic paper on the theme of language rights. The second chapter on the issue goes the extra mile and analyses the role of “right to language” in light of globalisation and how this has fast-tracked the erosion of indigenous languages in India.

Environmental Issues

The chapter on the aftermath of the tsunami in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands has given an overview of the ecological, cultural, social, and economic situation before and after the occurrence of the natural disaster. However, this chapter lacks argumentation and the potential relief mechanisms for basic human rights violations in the form of deprivation. Ample literature is available on the after-effects of the tsunami and the devastating impact that it had on the coastal areas in and around the Indian Ocean. Pankaj Sekhsaria has published a book titled Islands in Flux: The Andaman and Nicobar Story (2017), which efficiently highlights the issues in the islands since 2000 which have also been ignored by the mainland over the years. In light of existing literature elaborately covering issues of the kind, the chapter falls short by drawing on a distinct argumentative tangent and merely restricts itself to a brief statement of facts.

Education and Women Rights

A few chapters of the book have focused on education, rights of women and larger societal issues faced by them. These issues have been well documented in these chapters. The chapters have been written with the help of primary data and interviews conducted by the authors of the relevant subjects. One of the chapters has focused on rural education in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. While examining the existing conditions and giving evidence it leads towards possible measures that can be taken to address the issues at hand.

Two more chapters, dedicated to women’s rights have focused on issues of victimisation and right to food for tribal women. These chapters have discussed a niche area of subaltern human rights, which has not otherwise been extensively written on. They provide new and distinct insights into the issue with primary data to supplement their arguments.

Broad Coverage

The remainder of the chapters focus on the broad themes of tribal rights, development in light of globalisation and the plight of domestic workers in contemporary times. These chapters have captured the essence of the title of the book and bring out the convergence between human rights and subalterns in India. The authors of these chapters have chosen distinct subthemes and focused on the issues being faced in different geographical areas in the country. While a few of these chapters only outline the issues and lack a critical analysis of the same, they provide a broad overview of contemporary issues for a reader who is looking to get a surface-level understanding of human rights violations among subalterns in modern India.

A majority of the chapters in the book are interrelated in nature and contextualise each other. Overall, the book documents, through primary and secondary data, the prevalent situation across India with respect to human rights violations, which are not just restricted to first- and second-generation rights. The subalterns in India often bear the brunt of the lack of recognition of second- and third-generation rights which are so often violated due to the extent of globalisation. Lastly, the publishers could have ensured tighter editing of language.


Updated On : 3rd May, 2018


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