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Book review: vernacular rights cultures: the politics of origins, human rights and gendered struggles for justice

Ziadah, Rafeef, Rai, Shirin, M., Jamil, Ghazala, Sokhi-Bulley, Bal, Baxi, Upendra and Madhok, Sumi ORCID: 0000-0002-3192-6098 (2023) Book review: vernacular rights cultures: the politics of origins, human rights and gendered struggles for justice. International Affairs, 99 (2). 825 - 835. ISSN 0020-5850

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Identification Number: 10.1093/ia/iiad054


Vernacular rights cultures tells a different story of human rights. The book moves away from the dominant narrative of universal human rights, based on western history and epistemology, pointing readers towards ‘vernacular rights cultures’. Sumi Madhok complicates the unidirectional account instead, narrating a subaltern story of rights that is foregrounded in ‘struggles and contestations over rights’ in the south Asian context. This attentiveness to the ‘vernacular’ refers to the ways marginalized groups articulate rights claims, and to the political imaginaries and subjectivities that their articulations engender. In the first three chapters, Madhok critically engages with the multiple literatures on human rights and presents her conceptual framework. The author takes on board the robust and growing critique of the racialized basis underpinning the prevailing human rights law and discourse. Then, Madhok goes further and presents an alternative genealogy, embedded in the local notions of haq. According to the author, the word haq translates to ‘right’, but ‘in the course of its travels, it has gathered complex meanings and iterations that inform political imaginaries, subjectivities and political cultures of rights and rights claim-making’ (p. 1). This transregional term appears in multiple languages across the subcontinent, and the book conveys its historical roots and contemporary usage not only in south Asia, but also in the Middle East and North Africa. The fact that haq is transregional allows the author to traverse borders and trace power struggles over rights across states and institutions in India and Pakistan. This is particularly important in a postcolonial context of contestation over state borders and associated citizenship rights.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2023 The Authors
Divisions: Gender Studies
Subjects: J Political Science
K Law
Date Deposited: 17 May 2023 09:33
Last Modified: 16 May 2024 04:06

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