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Manu Bhagavan
Tuesday , April 08, 2014

India and South Africa: Commemorating the 20th anniversary of the fall of apartheid


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This month will mark 20 years since elections that brought the system of apartheid in South Africa to a formal end. India can rightfully celebrate its historic opposition to one of the world's most grotesque and brutal forms of state discrimination based in segregation. Indeed, it was Nehru's government that initially stood up to the precursor to apartheid, the Ghetto Act, championed in 1946 by none other than Jan Smuts, Gandhi's old sparring partner. In one of the first acts of the newly established United Nations, it was Nehru's sister, Madame Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, who led the fight against the South African law, and with oratorical flourish, called on the "conscience of the world" to bring justice to the oppressed. This move internationalized the issue, cracking a defense based on domestic jurisdiction and the protection of sovereignty, and helped empower the new international organization forever after. Madame Pandit....


Thursday , December 12, 2013

The Indian Supreme Court, Section 377 and the Assault on Fundamental Rights


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The 11 December Indian Supreme Court 377 IPC judgment is rife with outlandish claims and pseudoscientific posturing, including in paragraph 43 that LGBTQ people only comprise a "minuscule fraction" of India's population, and, worse, that they therefore don't warrant equal constitutional protections. This is an entirely mystifying way to put things, especially when Article 14 explicitly states that "the State shall not deny to any person equality before the law." (emphasis added) This is but one example of what is an opinion with little actual logic or legal reasoning. I'll leave it to my friends in the legal community to parse the finer details, but there is one main issue I want to address here. The Court claims in paragraph 52 (incidentally where Justices Singhvi and Mukhopadhaya use contradictory language acknowledging that "sexual minorities" have rights, while also deviously suggesting that these rights are only "so-called") that judgments....


Friday , September 06, 2013

The Right to Life = the Right to Food


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An interview with Colin Gonsalves, Senior Advocate with the Supreme Court of India

On the 26th of August 2013, the Indian Lok Sabha passed the National Food Security Bill, which will provide subsidized grain to a large majority of the Indian population. The bill has generated tremendous controversy as debate has centered on whether or not the country can afford such a measure, on the ways and means of implementation, and on the ever-looming specter of corruption, all framed by political posturing.

The central question, though, is a simple one. Do people have a right to food? Colin Gonsalves, Senior Advocate at the Indian Supreme Court and Founder Director of the Human Rights Law Network, is someone who has long thought about just this question. Over a decade ago, he won a landmark case that established the answer in the affirmative. For this....


Thursday , December 06, 2012

The shadow of December 6, 1992, Ayodhya, still continues to haunt the idea of India


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6 December 1992. Ayodhya burned, while NaRao fiddled (at a puja)(i). Flash forward 20 years. Today, in the heart of Hyderabad, once celebrated by many for the syncretic elements loosely weaving the city's great traditions together, a "temporary Hindu shrine" sits adjacent to the renowned Charminar. Religious activists are arguing that the shrine has been around forever, despite clear, photographic evidence to the contrary.(ii) As the violence begins to escalate, once again the state and its agencies are caught on the back foot, staggering about as if in stupor, while citizens who look to it for protection are left to fend for themselves. The demolition of the Babri Masjid twenty years ago still matters to us today, because it struck then like a knife at the very heart of the idea of India, and remains an open and sore wound, baring raw and festering questions. What....


Monday , October 29, 2012

A review of Ananya Vajpeyi’s new book, 'Righteous Republic'


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'Righteous Republic', the terrific new book from Ananya Vajpeyi, focuses on the idea of swaraj, a term liberally used both historically and historiographically, but one that has never been fully and effectively interrogated. Vajpeyi suggests that scholars have only focussed on a portion of this term, the raj, or the concept of sovereignty, but swa-raj properly understood is about the rule of the self, and the complex relationship between self and sovereignty. She reads the search for the self through five founders of modern India: Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar, and the Tagores, Rabindranath and his nephew Abanindranath. To each of these she assigns a category that best defines the parameters of their engagement with the idea of self, so for Gandhi ahimsa (non-violence), for Ambedkar dukha (suffering), for Rabindranath viraha (longing), for Abanindranath samvega (aesthetic shock), and for Nehru both dharma (aspiration) and artha (purpose). Vajpeyi unpacks each founder's....


Friday , October 19, 2012

An Interview with Mallika Dutt, president and CEO of Breakthrough


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Mallika Dutt is the founder of the groundbreaking human rights organization Breakthrough, where she serves as President and CEO. Breakthrough combines innovative new technologies with grassroots campaigns in communities across the world to uplift women and girls, migrating peoples, and those living with HIV-AIDS, and to more broadly fight for a better world for all. Breakthrough's emphasis on social media has placed it on the frontier of movements for the social good, recognized for its particular effectiveness at involving young people. Mallika has been widely acclaimed for her work. She recently received an honorary doctorate from Mt Holyoke College, her alma mater, and has also been named one of the "50 coolest Desis in the world" by DesiClub.com, joining the likes of AR Rahman, Indra Nooyi, Sachin Tendulkar, and Padma Lakshmi on the list. In 2010, Mallika was the leadoff speaker of the Clinton Global Initiative (see Mallika's talk....


Friday , October 12, 2012

On India, Nehru and non-alignment: a tete-a-tete with acclaimed writer Nayantara Sahgal


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Nayantara Sahgal is the Sinclair Prize, Commonwealth Writers Award and Sahitya Akademi Award-winning author of numerous works of fiction and non-fiction. She is the daughter of Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, leader of India's delegations to the first several sessions of the United Nations, first woman president of the UN General Assembly, and a historic ambassador to the Soviet Union, United States, and Britain. Sahgal is also the niece of Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister. In the midst of World War II, Nayantara Sahgal and her sister, Chandralekha Mehta (nee Pandit), travelled halfway around the world to study in the United States at Wellesley College where they were to attend on the recommendation of Madame Chiang Kai-shek, First Lady of China. The sisters would soon be joined in the US by their mother who made waves on a year-long anti-imperialist tour of the country, highlighted by her radio takedown of....


Tuesday , September 18, 2012

An interview with Garry Davis, the first World Citizen


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In a recent blog post, I introduced readers to Garry Davis, the first "world citizen," who has spent his life trying to convince fractious peoples of their shared humanity. He has throughout his life championed world government, with the support of people like Albert Einstein and Albert Camus. In 1956, Davis travelled to India to share his ideas and to learn new ones, and while in the country met Prime Minister Nehru. I had a chance to interview Garry Davis as a follow up to my earlier post. 1. Mr. Davis, what first led you to declare yourself a "world citizen?" What do you see as the benefits of this kind of classification? First, professionally I am an actor. I have been in four Broadway shows plus summer stock shows. Second, when WW-II exploded on the world scene in 1939-40, I was drafted into the....


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More about Manu Bhagavan

Manu Bhagavan is the author of "The Peacemakers: India and the Quest for One World" and associate professor of history at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

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