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Group Rights and What it Entails

Shefali Jha

By Rochana Bajpai
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 324, 745.00

VOLUME XXXV NUMBER 12 December 2011

Rights are of various kinds-every day we read about people struggling somewhere in the world, for the right to free speech, for sexual rights, for the right to a minimum wage, or for the right to freedom of religion. These rights are indi-vidual rights. One can also have a right to a place in a university, not as an individual but, for example, as a woman, or as a Christian. This right belongs to one by virtue of one's membership in a certain group or community. Such rights are called collective or group rights; Rochana Bajpai's book is about the journey of group rights in India. Bajpai's book has a two-fold project-its first purpose is to map out 'the career of group rights in India' (p. 173) by focusing on two time periods. From Bajpai's perspective, the years 1946 to 1949 constitute 'the moment of containment', when group rights were curtailed by the Constituent Assembly of India in comparison to the regime of community based rights which existed in colonial India. The late 1980s and the 1990s make up 'the moment of crisis', when the issue of group rights was reopened and such rights were extended in terms of religious groups (the Shah Bano case) as well as socially disadvantaged groups (the Mandal issue). The author's main interest is in certain arguments which have been made to restrict or extend group differentiated rights in India. This ties in with her second project of looking for a political argument in the disputations of politicians and policy makers. She claims that more light can be thrown on the question of whether group rights can be accommodated within a liberal democratic framework if, in addition to looking at the discourse of multicultural political theory, or at the writings of important leaders, one looks at the intellectual exchanges between those who were deciding directly on whether to restrict or advance group rights in a postcolonial democracy like India. So, in her book, she analyses three Indian debates—the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly, the Parliamentary debate over the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Bill of 1986, as well as the discussions in Parliament over the decision to implement a 27% quota for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in government employment in 1990. She also looks briefly at the Parliamentary discussion over the extension of reservations for OBCs in educational institutions in 2005-2006. Tracing the trajectory of group rights in ...

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