The Right to Culture
I begin with a few clarifications before coming to the main substance of the paper. First, this paper does not purport to explain social and political events; rather, with the help of some conceptual clarification and by tidying up an already existing argument it proffers some prescriptions on what in some crisis situations can be expected from ourselves and from the state. In other words, this is a part conceptual and part normative exercise. Second, it is only addressed to those who are willing to be coopted into a discourse of rights. It is directed primarily at left-liberals, including those marxists with a toe-hold in the framework of rights. Perhaps, all those committed to our constitution form the audience of this paper. Anyone who espouses the language of force and violence rather than speak with reason and argument may well quit reading any further. Why persist in appealing to those who have casually sidestepped parameters set by the constitution or those who refuse to listen to argument? At best, the paper is in the conditional mood with an argument that hopes to work in the following way: if you adopt the framework of rights then you must also accept some of its presuppositions and implications. Moreover, the argument relies on the idea that even our ordinary modes of thinking and speaking secrete deeper anthropological and ethical commitments of which we may not always be aware. It also accepts that a relation exists between words and the social world. Social things are what they are at least partly by virtue of the descriptions they possess. Therefore, it matters what we call them. Descriptions of things in part determine our orientation towards them and even our evaluations. These are very many largish things to keep in mind but necessary to specify if only to render defeasible the charge that the paper does not address itself to real issues or to people who matter most.
Let me begin by drawing attention yet again to three situations that
* Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
Social Scientist, Vol. 18, No; 10, October 1990