Civil Society Actors and the Construction of Human Rights in India

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 9:45 AM
Room: 418
Oral Presentation
Simin FADAEE , Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany

Human Rights discourse has increasingly been adopted by social movements and civil society actors around the world since the 1990s. This discourse has generated negative and critical assessments from scholars in a variety of discipline. However, there is little scholarly research on how local organizations strategically adapt human rights discourses to local exigencies and challenges. In this paper I present original research on the practice of human rights activism in New Delhi, and I focus on NGOs that frame their activism in terms of human rights. I demonstrate that human rights activism is multidimensional, and that notions of ‘human’ and ‘rights’ are empty signifiers which are given contextualized meaning by local actors in the course of activism. I argue that human rights discourse can empower local actors by providing a framework within which they can bundle claims and frame localized struggles. Thus, I suggest that the criticism of human rights discourse is misguided, and instead scholars should focus on how this discourse can serve as an emancipatory vehicle for localized struggles.