Thursday, October 15, 2009

What Is Worth Teaching

The Wages of Impunity consists of essays on human rights and civil liberties in India. Reiterating the indispensability of fundamental rights, read in the context of the Indian Constitution's Directive Principles, the essays focus on aspects such as secularism, socialism, and right to life, liberty, free speech and association. Using the Constitution as the point of departure, the author opens up the complexity of rights through incisive analyses of case law on each of these aspects.Examining the basis of repressive legal regimes in India and their history, K G Kannabiran traces discourses on rights along multiple channels, all inextricably linked yet separate and autonomous-the courts (both the judiciary and the bar), the government, and politics (progressive and reactionary). What is particularly striking about the essays is the manner in which each addresses a distinct point of law, but all of which converge on a single point that is in fact the core of rightlessness-the habit of impunity.On one track, the book looks at the origin of preventive detention laws in the country in the context of the debates during the colonial period on the issue. Arguing that, starting from 1950, the Constitution has been interpreted by the courts in a manner that breaks the critical link between it and the aspirations of a newly liberated people, The Wages of Impunity traces the whittling down of civil liberties in the emergency, which saw the suspension of free speech and freedom of association. The book shows that the years after 1980 saw the use with impunity of preventive detention in the political and legal fabric of governance and justice delivery through the enactment and validation of a series of antiterrorist laws. On a second track, the essays look at the practices of politics-the undermining of mass struggles and left movements and the rise of right-wing nationalism. On a third track, the essays explore possible remedies to a seemingly hopeless situation. These include absolute accountability, transparency and the rule of law in institutions of governance and justice and in political praxis.

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