Sumi Madhok, London School of Economics

26th February 2019

What difference does a politics of location make to understandings of intersectionality, bare life and the politics of rights and human rights? The political activism of women in one of India’s ‘states of exception’ challenges formulations of ‘bare life’ as undifferentiated and devoid of politics. In refusing the discourse of ‘exception’ of the Indian State, the women activists in Manipur, known as the Meira Peibis, open up the corporeal as not only a site of politics but also deploy particular vocabularies of protest to invoke democratic imaginaries challenging the ‘the state of exception’.

The Meira Peibis deploy the Arabic/Urdu term haq in order to articulate their protest and challenge the legally sanctioned state of exception. The deployment of haq by the Meira Peibis raise two sets of interrelated questions for this paper: the first is to do with the adequacy of conceptual descriptions of the ‘state of exception’ within political theory but also of the nature of the vocabularies of protest mobilized against the legally sanctioned exception. And, the second, leads us to think about the conceptual descriptions of claim making in ‘most of the world’. Not least because, haq is a key literal and conceptual term used to signify a right or an entitlement in contemporary grassroots political struggles for rights across South Asia. Its reach cuts across linguistic, geographical and religious boundaries to become the principal word to demand rights from the state, including challenging the legally sanctioned state of exception. And, therefore the questions that become significant are: what can the presence of the word haq and its use tell us about contemporary articulations, practices, discourses of rights and human rights in ‘most of the world’? What different stories of human rights would we tell if we told the stories about the struggles for haq? And, furthermore, how can scholarly investigations of contemporary struggles for haqinform global human rights scholarship? Both sets of questions, however, inform my main argument, which is this: the work of decolonising human rights, must be accompanied by conceptual work aimed at conceptually capturing the gendered stakes and struggles for rights/human in most of the world. This attention to conceptual work is crucial if we are to shift the epistemic centre of human rights talk and politics.


Sumi Madhok is Associate Professor at the Department of Gender Studies, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK. She is the author of Rethinking Agency: Developmentalism, Gender and Rights (Routledge 2013); the co-editor of Gender, Agency and Coercion (2013, Palgrave) and also of the Sage Handbook of Feminist Theory’ (Sage, 2014). Currently, she is completing a monograph on decolonising human rights titled: ‘On Vernacular Rights Cultures and (human) Rights Politics In ‘Most of the World’. She is a member of the advisory board of the journal, ‘Social Politics’, and of the Editorial Collective of the Palgrave Book Series, ‘Thinking Gender in Transnational Times’. She also sits on the LSE’s Advisory Board for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

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