One word: Human-rights

Debates have come up here and there on the “priority” of human rights in face of other “important” questions like “poverty and starvation”. Everytime the debate of women’s rights are brought up through the use of the term “feminism”, phrases like “upper-middle class obsession” and “urban question different from rural reality” have popped up. Again and again, in India, we have come to see the question of development with this strange dichotomy that everyone considers as the necessity to distinguish and understand the problems, and it falls very much in the same dichotomy that we have had before: pure and impure, modern and traditional and now we have “western” and “Indian”, as if all of East was supposed to be us, yes, India. It has entertained me much in all of what I call my “sociological” experiments to see day and night people shouting of the streets against a movement that had progressed, a movement of a right here and a right there. And as I have laughed at all this shouting, I have seen much with my eyes the fall of the little achievements we have made as a people.

I find the questions rather wrongly framed. I have never seen the poverty question being framed as the loss of right to dignity, of a loss that encompasses so many more issues that are linked to being poor. It tells the story of the women who walk in the dark night for spots to defecate in a country where half of the population doesn’t have access to toilet. It tells the story of the absence of education infrastructure, of no roads, of promised electricity connects that became only odd dreams. It tells stories, yes, these issues of human rights. But then they become too many stories to listen to. That is what I have been told. It becomes files and folders of never-opened cases of rapes being filed, not only in Delhi but in the village in Uttar Pradesh you or I have never heard of. So feminism is not the question of me living in Ahmedabad or Mumbai. But if I do shout, it is for myself, yes, because I have to protect myself when the state cannot and I shout so that the state might listen and I would hope that my right to dignity stays in my hands. If I can have mine, every woman and man will and that is the magic of human rights. It is a story-telling mechanism that doesn’t tell you who is poor and who is not. What we need today is a question that doesn’t divide but rather is pertinent to the very institution that is failing in food and income distribution and that is the question of human rights. It is the aggregation of “I”s being put together then one group fighting for another.

I have been constantly amazed by agendas that get to be a part of the electoral debates. They have been lower taxes, cutting in electricity and water prices (so that the population that has the connection to them benefits, rather than the one who doesn’t), gas subsidies and “economic development” that has come to be largely synonymous to short-term “let us put a bandage here, another there!”. It has been fixes rather than construction from a start. We have a monument of bandages today, and it is threatening more everyday to explode apart. So we have created this other we need to fix, this other filled with “poverty and starvation”. Then we put faces of poor female farmers from Bengal up on these fancy posters so we forget that we suffer from this monumental system of bandages. And no one wants to come out and acknowledge that everyone is suffering, you and I. All of us, yes, and not just these people on posters we have on UNICEF pages.

What I have been always amazed at is this tendency of everyone I seem to meet these days to put themselves and their interests on the back-seat in search of this exotic “guiltfree” poster-from-UN agenda. It is in this hypocritic hiding of the self-agenda that the self-agenda itself has become a taboo. I can’t speak about my sexual rights without being told that the poor of Indians are starving and dying. I am always amazed by the recurrence of this point. And this appearance of a distinct dichotomy continues to be my question: is our vision so made as to see things and classify them into two? If only everyone could be made to stand up for their word and be heard for it, we wouldn’t have this guilt in presenting ourselves for our self-interest. On the contrary, India as a democracy is a representative one, in all its ideals.

Human rights, in my belief, is a “good” that is of ownership of one individual for herself, that is inseparable from herself as her body is (I am still trying to find a better word for “good”, so bare with my materialistic description). The nation-state, if it has one grand function, is to stand for this, in case an infringement of this relation occurs. I find no right as being big or small, as having a priority over another. I find them all rather in harmony, like a physical human body itself.

PS: No harm is meant to any work done by UN or its colourful posters that hang all over Sciences Po Paris apparently.

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About Shreya Parikh

I am Shreya. Project Rethought is my attempt to rethink my own observations as a brown woman of Indian origin. I currently live in Paris where I teach at Sciences Po Paris and Parsons Paris-The New School.
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