Talking of turbulence
Nonika Singh

Human rights issues in India might be perceived as "ivory tower intellectualism." However, that didnít deter India-born Oxford Brooks University reader Pritam Singh from exploring the same in his latest book, Economy, Culture and Human Rights: Turbulence in Punjab, India and Beyond.

The trigger for the book, he recalls, lay in a personal experience. Sympathetic to the Naxal cause, he remembered the days when he was picked up by the police and tortured. The book, however, only takes off from that personal suffering and soon spawns into a deeper analysis of the significance of human rights in todayís economic order.

Pritam Singh
Pritam Singh

First and foremost, he describes two kinds of approach to human rights, the intrinsic worth and the instrumentalist. While the first one focusses on human rights as an end it itself the other approach he asserts uses human rights as a means, as an instrument towards another end. The ends could vary from secession to national causes to military conflict or suppression of an armed struggle. Predictably, he favours the first approach but adds that sadly, there are a few humans right groups, which have no other axe to grind and have only one mission: to ensure human rights for people.

Often, he feels, that the human rights groups create a divide of "who is human and who is not", tend to be sectarian and follow the principle of "defending the right of the people they think are their own," thus challenging the very notion of human rights itself.

But talking of turbulence in Punjab at a point when the dark chapter of terror is over`85. doesnít that sound dated, if not absurd? But then, he weighs, disturbance not only in terms of bloodshed but also the economic, social and cultural cost. "Punjab", he observes, "which witnessed a fast rate of economic growth that led to automisation and paid a huge price in social cultural terms is yet to emerge out of the cultural crisis." Being an economist he realises how economic, human and social development are intertwined. Mercifully, he feels that the world, including the MNCs, is realising it and the concept of corporate social responsibility has sunk in. On the negative imaging of human right groups, particularly in India, he says, "Itís because the manner in which human rights have been presented has made it a suspect subject, often viewed as anti- national, harming the nationís interest and Indiaís image abroad." But this notion, he feels, is changing.

"The idea of human rights", he avers "is central to human existence. Unless we respect minority and pluralism there will be no room for creativity. Creativity doesnít come from conformity but by cherishing the differences." Thatís why in his previous book, Federalism, Nationalism and Development: Indian and the Punjab Economy, he had spoken against the growing power of the Centre in India, which, he feels, doesnít go well with pluralism.

Based in the UK, why the persistent need to talk and write only about India and Punjab? Way back, he had edited a book on Punjabi identity in the global context. Well, first things first, far away from home in a developed nation, he feels that one is forced to introspect about the injustices in oneís homeland, the overwhelming presence of bureaucracy in normal walks of life and much more. But, of course, he has no intention of being India-centric. Living in a place that opens out a world view`85 his next book will take a broader look. Politics and economy of human rights in a globalised world, which will dwell on experiences in Africa, is what he is mulling over . On the need and readership of academic books, he feels, "Itís a misconception to believe that academic books are not read or donít find publishers. Between fiction and serious non-fiction, same rules apply. If itís a good book, say by an established name like Amartya Sen, it will certainly sell."

As his latest book has evoked a keen response, he is eager to keep the discourse on, which is why he picked up the pen in the first place: "to involve people in the debate."