Sustainability of Rights after Globalisation


Edited by: Sabyasachi Basu Chaudhury & Ishita Dey

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    This publication is an outcome of the research programme on ‘Globalisation and Sustainability of Rights’ conducted by the Calcutta Research Group. The present body of work is a result of a one-and-a-half year long research and dialogue on various concerns of globalisation and its interface with rights. This work builds and expands on our previous work on rights and globalisation, where the main objective was to engage with the notions of ‘justice’, ‘rights’, ‘welfare’, ‘vulnerabilities’ and marginalisation in the contemporary globalising time, thereby linking international norms to the issue of dignity and justice in our lives. The present volume, through a combination of microhistories, legal analyses and policy critiques, examines the ways in which the process of negotiating rights has undergone a change in recent times.

    This participatory and collective research could not have been carried out without the support and advice of Itty Abraham, Ashok Agrwaal, T.C.A. Anant, Pradeep Bhargava, Sharit Bhowmik, Bhupinder Brar, Partha Chatterjee, Sanjay Chaturvedi, Samir Kumar Das, Kalpana Kannabiran, Soumen Nag, Dipankar Sinha and Virginius Xaxa. Their valuable suggestions helped the authors and editors of this volume to chisel their ideas in finer ways and to enrich the essays. Therefore, we remain grateful to all of them. We would like to thank Jean Drèze, whose views on globalisation and rights, in light of the essays, have enriched the volume. This work could not have taken this form without the constant support, encouragement and criticism of Ranabir Samaddar. It was in his company that every issue was discussed, debated and clarified. We especially thank him. We also thank our colleagues, Paula Banerjee, Anasua Basu Ray Chaudhury, Supurna Banerjee, Sutirtha Bedajna, Suha Priyadarshini Chakravorty, Geetisha Dasgupta and Sucharita Sengupta for helping us in various ways in preparing this volume. We would like to thank Samaresh Guchhait for designing the web segment of the research programme. We also thank our administrative and accounts department, particularly Ratan Chakraborty, Manjari Chatterji, Ashok Kumar Giri and Raj Kumar Mahato for their co-operation and assistance.

    This work has been possible due to the support of the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR). We would like to thank the then chairperson, Javeed Alam, and other members of ICSSR. We would also like to put on record our thanks to the ICSSR office, in particular G. S. Saun, for constant advice and support that facilitated the research programme. We thank the members of the mid-term appraisal team: R.S. Deshpande, Vasanthi Raman, and Chairman of the Appraisal Team, Apurba Kumar Baruah, in particular, whose suggestions and recommendations helped us in improving the papers. We are thankful to them. We also thank all the contributors of this volume.




    The present volume examines the interface between globalisation and rights, and provides a new way to understand the constitution of ‘rights’ through various microhistories drawn from the field of environmental rights, law, information and labour studies in India. While the present body of work draws upon the existing studies on ‘globalisation’, particularly its political impact, the main aim of this volume, however, is to examine the way in which the question of rights has been reconfigured in a post-colonial democracy, such as India, in face of the particular dynamics of power emanating from a nexus of political and economic institutions caught in the web of globalisation, with some of them deeply implicated in the latter.

    Studies of globalisation have indicated the interdependence of market forces, the state and neo-liberal economic policies, with their adverse effect on people's livelihoods. Erosion of rights and continuous marginalisation of sections of population—be it the indigenous groups or other sections—are also the standard themes in these studies. The gap that exists in these works is in the form of a lack of appreciation of the relation and interface between these two different ideas, which have been customarily treated as two separate entities. This body of work brings together the concerns and issues from studies on ‘globalisation’ and those on ‘human rights’ in order to examine how the rights language has been re-negotiated in the past 20 years.

    Limits of Globalisation: Scenario of Edges

    Mobility of capital, resources, subjects, images and ideologies has been the key to understand the social and economic processes of globalisation that have produced interconnectedness between different spaces and time. According to J.X. Inda and R. Rosaldo (2002) globalisation ‘is a world of motion where capital traverses frontiers almost effortlessly drawing more and more places into its dense networks of financial interconnections’. They also argue that there are limits to mobility and the very processes that produce movement and linkages also promote immobility, marginality and exclusion. One of the concerns that emanates from this is that the market forces are destroying community and social solidarity. Alan Scott in his introduction to the book The Limits of Globalisation: Cases and Arguments begins with two interesting extracts from two different articles that appeared in Guardian on 4 January 1994. In the first extract, noted political theorist John Gray points to ‘the rhetoric of globalisation’ which reduces the scope of the political life to management of market institutions. In the second extract, Hutton draws from Karl Polyani to call for ‘social democratic planning as a means of holding the destructive force of the market in check before it is met by some much more desperate political action’ (Scott 1997: 2). Scott argues that these articles call for a renewal of politics that can at least resist the subordination of the political and social to the economic forces.

    The context of globalisation can be read from various vantage points and the issues that have been addressed under the ambit of globalisation in the recent anthologies are a testimony to that. The idea of ‘free’ market and its control and impact on our socio-economic cultural life has been documented. Each microhistory tells a different story and the present volume of essays goes a step further to show what does rights mean in the present Indian scenario. Do we read the scenario of edges, produced by contradiction of economic interest and people's rights, as post 1990 syndrome with the opening of markets and encouragement of free trade?

    In the postscript, Ranabir Samaddar illustrates that the Indian scenario is marked by scenario of edges in three dominant areas: the ‘pure’ economic scenario, the political economy scenario and the present ‘economy’ of politics. What we see here is that the market forces have been responsible for certain social political changes and there is a need to read the connections, ruptures in these interconnections to understand the limits of globalisation. Drawing from G. Balachandran and Sanjay Subrahmanyam (2005), we should read the process of globalisation in the context of the ‘conjecture, and the institutions—both internal and external—that underpin the market today’. There is a need to look into the interface of globalisation and people's movements to look into the reframing of rights as a consequence of ‘limits of mobility’.

    Globalisation is understood as ambivalent dynamics (bringing both possibilities and challenges in the socio-economic realm) and it encompasses global processes that increase interconnectedness between peoples and countries, and intensify global trade in products between them. In this context the neo-liberal model of globalisation promoting the right of free trade and capital has a basic clash with the tenets of universal human rights. Thus, there is a constant tension between the ‘social’ yearning for democratic values and ‘economic’ competition for unhindered profit, trade and movement of capital. Studies on globalisation have addressed this tension, whereas a gap clearly exists in the available literature revealing another aspect of globalisation, namely that in itself it is a rights conflict between the different interests of various actors in direct confrontation. These actors are (a) the nation states, (b) the international institutions (UN, WTO, World Bank, IMF, etc.), (c) the MNCs, and (d) the affected population groups in various countries, in this case, India. Nation states have to assert their right to retain their sovereignty. International institutions clamour for the right to global governance. Multinational corporations claim the right of free trade and commerce. Affected population groups demand that basic human rights be achieved and sustained.

    It is against this backdrop and context that we need to understand the way popular struggles feature in the contentious framework of rights and rights-bearing actors. The rights question has assumed significance in such a perspective; and it differs significantly from the traditional Western concept dominated human rights scenario. In the post-colonial context the rights discourse is a part of the claim making dynamics in a democracy; it expands democratic tolerance, stresses the preservation of popular gains in face of globalisation and emphasises socio-economic rights in the same measure as civil and political rights.

    In this ‘glocal’ (global plus local) paradigm local institutions are portrayed in the ‘state’ policies and ‘protective’ legislations as self-sufficient, for instance, ‘The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (hereafter referred as FRA)', passed on December 18, 2006 and notified into force on December 31, 2007. Legislations like Forest Rights Act (FRA) are cited as recognition of people's rights and people's movements. The interface between the people's struggle and state in the age of globalisation has been a two-way process. The concern here is that even after such historic legislations (such as the FRA) for most of the movements the agency to access to ‘rights’ is determined or influenced by a lot of external factors promoted by globalisation. For instance, in case of forest rights, the debate is now between conservation of natural resources, management of resources and forest management, where the discourses are influenced by powerful external elements. The studies here indicate strengthening of local institutions and governance of rights by local population groups still seem a farfetched dream.

    In other words, globalisation has produced various paradigms (governmental, political, neo-liberal, popular-democratic, ‘ethnic’, etc.) of rights articulation and rights entitlement. The rights based movements have moved at times from local to global and the various world social forums or social networks of movements across the world provide an alternative space of dialogue and future action to these movements. The main agenda of these movements is twofold: first to strengthen local institutions and second to bring in state accountability through judicial activism. On the other hand, we have also witnessed over the past few years as in India an overflow of ‘policy’ approach to mitigate the demands of the social movements and find a middle path to negotiate the demands from below. For instance, both the Forest Rights Act and the Right to Information Act reflect the post-colonial nation state's attempt to negotiate the rights of the people in the framework of governance and givernmentality. Thus, while this is true that the rights agenda has put its stamp on governmental policies and actions, the same governance of the post-colonial nation state has been driven by the ‘global’ economic agenda, and has been prey to structural adjustment programmes, and programmes like those of development of infrastructure and dams at the cost of removal of government support mechanism in terms of subsidies, loans, assistance prices and other such policies, which had strengthened the agriculture sector in past. In this post-globalisation milieu, land is seen not as something required for meeting the food needs of population, but as real estate—meant for development of Special Economic Zones (SEZs), creating high-class infrastructure, multi-storied housing projects, export-based units—while depriving thousands of the only available source of income or sustenance. In such cases, the state has used the legislative avenue to curtail people's rights, promote special measures to create SEZs; where the labour laws of the land can be put to rest.

    This ‘scenario of the edges’ opens up crucial questions, which the present volume of research papers (on themes such as forest rights, right to information and labour rights within SEZ and of the internal migrant workers, with focus on women, dalits, indigenous population and the vast informal sector) seeks to address. Collectively they address the following issues and concerns: What is the legal shape of rights? How does democracy reconcile competing claims? How can rights be sustained in face of globalisation? What is the nature of the erosion of rights we are witnessing? What is meant by ‘sustainability’? And, finally, what is the nature of justice emerging from this complex situation?

    Refraining Rights and Popular Struggles

    This publication is an outcome of the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) supported research programme ‘Globalisation and Sustainability of Rights’. The research papers from three different areas of popular struggles in India in the areas of (a) environmental justice, (b) law and right to information and (c) labour rights—all in the context of globalisation—demonstrate the above mentioned scenario. They do this through the studies of people's negotiations with the ‘liberal’ rights discourse, and look into the important question of how the notion and the conception of ‘rights’ have undergone a change. The research papers not only address how the re-conceptualisation of rights has taken place in current time, but also whether this negotiation has brought about a change in the relevant institutional profiles.

    Section I: Environmental Justice and Rights

    One of the main concerns of the popular struggles against globalisation occupying centre stage in the recent times has been against the efforts of various forces towards privatisation and erosion of the hold of local communities over common property resources. This tension has been reflected in debates round issues of environmental justice, control over resource, resource management and people's livelihood. The proposed section will contribute to that debate. Through two studies respectively on the Forest Rights Act and the ‘commons’ in the Jadugoda, where uranium mining has had an impact on the indigenous people there, this section will reflect on the question of sustainability of rights.

    Suha Priyadarshini Chakravorty in her essay on ‘How Equal Is Common? Common Property Resources and Local Institutions’ moves beyond the much talked about nature, content and context of common ‘property’ to understand the notion of the ‘common’ and ‘commons’ through a study of the ‘common environment’, a form of ‘common property’, through a detailed study of Jadugoda uranium radiation crisis and associated risks that have affected and continue to affect a large segment of the tribal populace of the region. Through a detailed study of the functionality of local institutions in and around Jadugoda region, namely Tilai, Tand, Bhatin and Digri, Suha tries to examine the metamorphosis that has taken place in people's claim making processes in the present scenario by drawing a comparison with past mechanisms of access, control and functioning. She examines how the socio-cultural beliefs and practices of the adivasis with regard to ‘common property’ and the notion of preserving ‘the common’ and the role of the local institutions like Gram Panchayat and JOAR (Jharkhandi Organisation Against Radiation) in people's day-to-day lives. In her analysis of JOAR, Suha reveals how the articulation of people's rights, in this case protest against Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL), has been stamped by UCIL as anti-national. The UCIL has been responsible singularly for the major displacements that have taken place in the region without having given the displaced the minimum resettlement/rehabilitation compensation for a long period of time. This study reveals how the local institutions struggle to re- negotiate ‘rights’ through their movements against UCIL in Jadugoda and try to bring in the larger issues of landlessness, exploitation of common property and natural and environmental resources.

    Madhuresh Kumar in his chapter on ‘Forest Rights Act and Polemics of Correcting Historical Injustices’ makes an attempt to study the antecedents of the Act, constitutional provisions for securing adivasi rights, hurdles in implementation of the Act, points for struggle and contention, and lastly, tries to analyse the potentials of this law to redress historical injustices. Madhuresh Kumar argues that one of the significant differences in case of FRA is that unlike other forest laws which are being governed or promulgated by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, this one is administered by Ministry of Tribal Affairs. This in itself marks a great shift and recognition of existence of tribals in forests and need for their welfare. Those advocating for this Act knew pretty well the opposition of forest departments to any such move and also from their experience of 1990, when Ministry issued six notifications for regularisation and settlement of various rights of forest dwelling communities. Since, the spirit of Forest Rights Act challenges the supremacy of the principal of eminent domain, as manifested in functioning of the forest department it also could not have been expected from the same agency to implement the legislation. However, the basic question still remains: can law deliver justice? In this case it becomes more poignant given that there are contradictions in the definition of rights as such. The Act promises to recognise rights over the resources which communities traditional claim to already have had. In their understanding forest department is an ‘encroacher’ on their property. This might not be true in all cases but it is most certainly true for the indigenous tribal groups.

    Section II: Law and Information in a Globalising World

    The post-colonial nation states have adopted various strategies to govern populations and law has been a crucial tool to manage, control, or conversely, empower the rights of the people. In this context, the ways in which law has been utilised to mediate the global economic, ecological agenda is crucial to understand the effectiveness of laws and legislations.

    Ashok Agrwaal in the chapter on ‘Globalisation and Justice: Fait Accompli or Choice’ examines the nature of the ‘rule of law’ regime, which, is the lynch pin of the globalised world order. In modern times the superiority of law (and rule of law) has acquired a special edge and Ashok Agrwaal examines this through the unfolding of the rule of law regime against mining in Lanjigarh-Niyamgiri by Sterlite-Vedanta which shows how law is part of the globalised world order and yet contains the potential to identify the limits of that order. It is this tension that the struggle for rights produces and entails which is significant to the studies on globalisation and its interface with rights.

    Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury in his chapter on ‘Right to Information as a Means of Mass Persuasion’ argues that India has been a democracy since her de-colonisation in 1947 except during the period of Emergency (1975–77). But, the bitter experiences of Emergency started creating awareness among the citizens that the mere form of democracy is not enough and its content is sometimes more important for empowering people. In that context, the enactment of Right to Information (RTI) reflects a substantial shift in the predominant view (among citizens and elites alike) of the state's role from trusted guardian to merely that of an agent of the people that requires careful monitoring of citizens. The governments so far preferred to withhold information on many occasions to cover up malfeasance or to protect themselves from political embarrassment. In this scenario, the citizens had to have the right to access that information in order to hold the government accountable for its actions. However, access to information is a relatively new norm. It is important so that the public can be effective advocates for its causes. Many would argue that, the civil society needs to know of threats and trends and understand the origins and consequences of these factors. The new opportunities of globalisation, like Right to Information Act, he argues, can become a means of mass persuasion provided these fresh legal mechanisms are taken seriously and implemented at different levels of governance.

    Sibaji Pratim Basu in his chapter on ‘Globalisation and Right to Information’ examines the function and reach of Right to Information Act and says that the rights discourse in India attained its ‘Human Rights’ phase in this decade of transition (i.e. 1990s), which also marked the end of the ‘cold war’ and emergence of a new world order. This decade also witnessed a global rise in enactment of right to information/freedom of information laws. He argues that globalisation has acted as a catalyst in right to information movements. In a time of declining/undermined national sovereignty, when the welfare/protectionist policy of the ‘third world’ states are shrinking day by day, the common/disadvantaged citizens are taking two courses action: (a) negotiating with the state by resorting to claim makings dynamics of right-based politics, or (b) resorting to armed movements that challenge the very sovereignty of the state. From the experience of last two decades it is now clear, the author argues, that at least in India, the state has badly failed to combat the second course of movement only through over-armed coercion or by patronising counter-insurgencies. Thus the possibilities of rights-based politics are gradually gaining ground. The RTI movement as well as the Act has indeed become a very powerful instrument in this direction.

    Section III: Globalisation and Labouring Lives

    Studies on global labour markets, flexibilisation of production process show how global spaces have produced newer division of labour and work categories. This shift as the two studies on internal migration and special economic zones indicate, the shrinking space for articulation of labour rights as the economies in the global world not only compete with each other but are also dependent on each other.

    Swati Ghosh in her chapter on ‘Labour Out-flow and Labour Rights’ shows that in development policy discourse, there is a general consensus that circular or seasonal migration is a ‘win–win’ model of human mobility. Circular migrants maximise return and minimise cost for both sending and receiving economies. For receiving governments, circular migration is a way for importing low-skilled labour without having to incorporate them in the social fabric. For sending economies, they provide a regular source of remittance without permanent loss of skill/brain/care services. For the migrant worker, however, circular migration is a survival strategy when economic opportunities do not respond favourably at home. Her study is based on two migration streams of skilled labour that has gained momentum in the last 20 years, one in Hooghly and the other in Howrah districts in West Bengal. The study includes interviews of 60 out-migrants, 36 in Domjur area of Howrah and 24 in Arambagh area of Hooghly districts. As evident from the study, the regular flow of migration from Domjur is linked to the gold jewel industry of Mumbai and the migration flow from Arambagh is directed to the embroidery and zari work in the garment industry of Delhi. Studies show that both the migration streams have been able to escape poverty without participating in the employment opportunities created in the rural economy through NREGP. Other case studies confirm the trend when they observe that in certain pockets of West Bengal, out-migration has emerged as a way of accumulating a useful lump sum, rather than simply a surviving strategy.

    Ishita Dey in her chapter on ‘Negotiating Rights: The Case of a Special Economic Zone’ examines if ‘rights’ have acquired a new meaning in the context of SEZs as the Act carries a provision of ensuring the rights of developers, the SEZ authority, but nowhere mentions the rights of the people working in SEZ apart from issue of identity cards which implies control and surveillance. Her study is based on interviews with contract workers, management employees and union leaders inside and outside the Falta Special Economic Zone, West Bengal, a former export processing zone, to understand how the special economic zones have produced differentiated citizenship rights through ‘techniques of state and governance for differential administration of localities in the interest of accumulation, and these techniques are made possible precisely because of globalisation within a national context’. The chapter gives an in-depth study of the functioning of the special economic zone with special reference to governance structure within the zone, production processes and work time, contractualisation of work, feminisation of work and the scope of democratic accountability within the act and its translation in the everyday life of a worker. Dey argues that contractualisation and feminisation of an unskilled workforce in the wake of globalisation produces contradictions of rights and claim-making processes in the SEZ, making it a successful experiment of neo-liberal mantra of cheap production to ensure economic growth.

    Ranabir Samaddar in the concluding chapter on ‘Rights after Globalisation’ through a demonstration of the current scenario of edges produced by India's development policies unravels the lessons we need to learn from India's experience to understand retraining of rights or claim-making processes. The regime of developmental democracy he argues needs to be looked from five specifics of technologies of governance. The specifics of rule are crucial to understand the regime of developmental democracy and prescribed forms of claim-making. The basic aim of technologies of governance is to integrate life with an efficient system of control over society. There is a need to revisit some of these specifics to understand ‘the life controlling aids emerging out of the combination of development and democracy have produced in terms of new forms of power and new forms of subjugation’. With development, he argues that bio-power ‘as a mode of power is strengthened, because developmental issues affect the society at the level of life; and democracy is the framework that forces development to reinforce bio-political issues’. Through the narrative of the ban on bar dancers in Mumbai, Maharashtra he illustrates the contested sites of claim-making where the female political subject emerges as resilient to the regime of developmental democracy with its own logic of rule.

    Jean Drèze in his interview shares his experience of working with the National Advisory Council, his role as an economist and activist, in his work on food rights. The interview also focuses on the limitation of governmentalisation of rights, need for public action and the future of food rights.


    In a nutshell, these studies woven together reveal how the entire rights language has been re-negotiated in the last 20 years and how a certain ‘glocal’ way of re-conceptualising rights have come into place. Second, the volume tracks the changes in the rights-related institutional profiles —changes that have much to do with popular struggle and legal enactments.

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    About the Editors and Contributors


    Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury is Professor at the Department of Political Science, Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata, and member, Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group. He is known for his work on international political theory, politics of globalisation, democracy, rights and justice in South Asia. His recent publications include Indian Autonomies: Keywords and Key Texts (co-edited with Ranabir Samaddar and Samir Kumar Das, 2005) and Internal Displacement in South Asia: The Relevance of UN's Guiding Principles (co-edited with Paula Banerjee and Samir Kumar Das, 2005).

    Ishita Dey is currently working with Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group as a Research Associate. She is known for her work on Cooper's Camp and she is also a member of the editorial board of Refugee Watch Online.


    Ashok Agrwaal is a lawyer, researcher and civil rights activist noted for his work on issues of accountability and state impunity. His work on ‘Law's Autonomy: A Paradigm of State Power’ was published in a volume entitled Autonomy: Beyond Kant and Hermeneutics (edited by Paula Banerjee and Samir Kumar Das, 2007). He is the co-editor of State of Justice in India: Issues of Social Justice; Volume II, Justice and Law: The Limits of the Deliverables of Law (co-edited with Bharat Bhushan, 2009).

    Sibaji Pratim Basu, a noted political analyst, teaches Political Science at Shri Chaitanya College, Habra, West Bengal, India, and is a member of the Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group. He is the author of The Poet and the Mahatma: Engagement with Nationalism and Internationalism (2009) and has edited The Fleeing People of South Asia: Selections from Refugee Watch (2009).

    Suha Priyadarshini Chakravorty is a Research Associate with Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group. She is a well-known protest theatre performer.

    Jean Drèze is a noted development economist who has worked on issues of food rights, hunger and famine. He was among the people instrumental in drafting the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), and was involved with the Right to Information movement, which led to the Right to Information Act, and the Right to Food movement. He is a member of the National Advisory Council and is currently an Honorary Professor at the Delhi School of Economics, and a Senior Professor at the G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad, India. He has authored several books and some of his well-known works include Hunger and Public Action (1989) and The Political Economy of Hunger (1990), both with Amartya Sen.

    Swati Ghosh is an economist and teaches Economics at Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata. She is known for her work on informal labour forms, gender identity, sexuality and worker-status of women in a colonial and postcolonial setting, with focus on widows, prostitutes, migrants and deserted women.

    Madhuresh Kumar is a renowned social activist working with the National Alliance of Peoples' Movements (NAPM).

    Ranabir Samaddar is a well-known political thinker on contemporary issues of justice, human rights and popular democracy in the context of post-colonial nationalism, trans-border migration, community history and technological restructuring in South Asia. His recent works include The Politics of Dialogue (2004) and The Materiality of Politics, two volumes (2007), and The Emergence of the Political Subject (2010).

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