a) The fall of Lula

The arrest of former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva after his conviction in a corruption case is a blow to his Workers’ Party, which hopes to return to power in the October general election. Mr. Lula da Silva, or simply ‘Lula’, had announced he would contest the poll, and was the front runner to become President. But after a federal judge rejected his request to remain free till his appeal options are exhausted, his eventful political career — which began as an organiser of metal workers when Brazil was under a dictatorship — seems to have come to an end. On Saturday he began his 12-year jail term, and asked supporters to “transform themselves” to keep the revolution going. Over the last few years, Brazil’s judges and prosecutors had launched a set of investigations into alleged corruption cases that became known as Lavo Jato, or Car Wash, targeting mainly Workers’ Party leaders. Dilma Rousseff, his chosen successor and Brazil’s first woman President, was impeached in August 2016 over allegations of cooking the country’s budget accounts. That brought an end to 13 years of Workers’ Party rule. With Mr. Lula da Silva now behind bars, the Workers’ Party, arguably the most powerful political organisation in Brazil with a strong base among the country’s poor and the working population, will face a challenge in its election campaign this year. Prosecutors say Mr. Lula da Silva has been convicted in a proper trial and that he should be treated as any other citizen before the law. But his supporters as well as several international observers have raised questions about the judiciary’s stance. The case against him is that he accepted an apartment as bribe from a construction company as a quid pro quo for contracts granted. But there is no documentary evidence that either he or his wife owned the apartment, rented it out or stayed there. The evidence against him is the testimony of an executive of the company, which prosecutors got as part of a plea bargain. Still the judges found Mr. Lula da Silva guilty as they also concluded that the contracts given out to companies under his rule were overpriced. It is also no secret that several from the establishment elite wanted him out of politics. On the eve of the Supreme Court hearing of Lula’s appeal, the Army chief tweeted that the military “repudiates impunity”, apparently sending a message to the judiciary. By imprisoning its most popular leader on such weak evidence at a time when the polarised country is ruled by unelected elite, the judges may just have heightened the crisis in Brazil’s young, fraught democracy.

b) Inclusion and the right to dignity

On the morning of April 3, the front pages of newspapers told us of violent protests by Dalits in northern India the day before. They had opposed the dilution by the Supreme Court, in its order of March 20, 2018, of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Blazing headlines and accounts that followed told us how many people had been killed and injured, about innumerable acts of arson, of the blocking of trains, closure of shops and the calling in of Central forces in some States. Sadly, the tone of most reports was dispassionate, soulless and bare. They might have been recounting a tale of a privileged group inflicting violence on geographical and human landscapes for the noble purpose of lowering taxes. But we need to go beyond headlines and ask why a vulnerable community took to the streets. Think of its desperation, how it has lost confidence in the ability of Indian democracy and now the judiciary to give it justice, how the promises of the Constitution have been blatantly and vulgarly betrayed, and how it has been subjected to repeated indignities, reiterated insults and bodily harm by citizens of this great Republic. Worse, its own leaders have let it down. If the leadership had faithfully discharged its mandate of representing the needs of Dalits, the represented would not be living lives that are best described as subhuman. In January 2016 the death of Rohith Vemula, in July 2016 the public attacks on Dalits in Una, and earlier this year attacks on celebrations of the historic Bhima-Koregaon battle in Maharashtra showed up in great detail the flaws of our body politic. How many more indignities does the community have to suffer? How long will non-Dalits be indifferent to this suffering? It is time to reflect. What has gone wrong with the project of justice that independent India initiated with a flourish? What has gone wrong with our own sensibilities? It is time to agonise and to feel shame.

Uneven results

Affirmative action policies centring on the politics of presence have certainly contributed to the repair of historical wrongs. The advantages of these policies are, however, unevenly spread out. The constituency of affirmative action has benefited in bits and pieces. For instance, we see the making of an educated and professionally qualified Dalit middle class. A Dalit movement has succeeded in prising open worlds that for long had been closed to the community. Activists have seized the right to voice through collective action, and now influence and even shape, public debates. Today, Dalits write their own histories and biographies. A vibrant literary movement denounces the ostracism of an entire community from mainstream society, and chronicles the nerve-racking experience of being treated as an outcaste. Challenging prevailing literary conventions, rewriting the script of literary and poetic production, inserting the community into critical narratives of the Indian nation, and intent on representing their own community, writers have profoundly dented the way we think of others and of ourselves. This genre of literature has gained considerable acclaim. English translations of Dalit literary works, for example Omprakash Valmiki’s Joothan (2003), Narendra Jadhav’s Untouchables (2005), and Baby Kamble’s The Prisons We Broke (2009), have expanded the canon of post-colonial literature and aesthetics in Indian and western universities. And, above all, electoral politics, affirmative action and the space afforded by civil society for mobilisation have enabled a suppressed community to recover agency and speak back to codified power. Yet caste-based discrimination persists in significant areas of social interaction. In short, the one vital good that the justice project tries to secure — respect/self-respect — continues to elude attempts at repair of historical injustice.

Unrealised justice project

The impact of disrespect upon the Dalit community cannot be underestimated. Disrespect reinforces other injustices confronted by the community in everyday life. And it disrupts social relationships based on the reciprocal obligation to see each other as equal and as worthy of dignity. Disrespect demoralises and diminishes human beings and erodes their confidence to participate in the multiple transactions of society with a degree of assurance. Despite historical struggles against rank discrimination in words, verse, and collective action, despite acceptance of historical wrongs by the leaders of the freedom struggle, despite the mobilisation of the Dalit community, and despite affirmative action, caste-based discrimination continues to relentlessly stalk the political biography of independent India. Till today what caste we belong to continues to profile social relations, codify inequalities, govern access to opportunities and propel multiple atrocities. The project of justice remains unrealised. Indians have failed to secure justice for their own fellow citizens. It is time to express solidarity. Constitutional and legislative provisions and Supreme Court judgments are important, but they are simply not enough. If the right to justice is violated, citizens should be exercised and agitated about this violation. For this to occur, for society to feel deeply about violations of basic rights, the right to justice has to be underpinned by a political consensus. A consensus on what constitutes, or should constitute, the basic rules of society is central to our collective lives. A social movement geared to attack caste-based discrimination can remind us that denial of respect is a problem for non-Dalits as well.

Shrugging off indifference

To put the issue starkly, if respect is compromised, the project of redistributive justice has borne inadequate results. One of the most essential goods human beings are entitled to, the right to dignity, has not been realised. For this right to be recognised, social movements that speak the language of equality for their own particular constituencies have to come together and support the idea of building a political consensus on what is due to all human beings, what should be done for them and what should not be done to them. We read of such movements in pre-Independence India. In independent India, the onus of battling discrimination has fallen onto the shoulders of Dalits. The rest of society wends its way without regard for the infirmities of its fellow citizens. We have to shrug off indifference and shoulder responsibility. It is only when we concentrate on the construction of a political consensus in society, that the uncomfortable distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’ that bedevils much of the case for remedial justice will dissolve. We have to do this because disadvantaged communities are not only likely to be economically deprived but also socially marginalised, politically insignificant in terms of the politics of participation as distinct from the ‘vote’, humiliated, dismissed and subjected to intense disrespect through practices of everyday life. Anyone who suffers from these multiple disadvantages will find it impossible to participate in social, economic and cultural transactions as an equal. Certainly, efforts have been made to repair historical injustice. But the ideology of discrimination continues to dominate despite a multitude of constitutional provisions, laws, affirmative action policies and political mobilisation. We can no longer assume that some redistribution of resources will lead to respect and self-respect. The politics of voice can achieve a great deal in the public sphere, but if the ideology of discrimination continues to shape social relations, much of the gains are lost. One of the most essential goods human beings are entitled to, the right to respect, has not been realised.


1) Conviction

Meaning: A formal declaration by the verdict of a jury or the decision of a judge in a court of law that someone is guilty of a criminal offence.

Example: “she had a previous conviction for a similar offence”

Synonyms: Sentence, Judgment

Antonyms: Acquittal

2) Exhausted

Meaning: Expound on or explore (a subject or options) so fully that there is nothing further to be said or discovered.

Example: “she seemed to have exhausted all permissible topics of conversation”

3) Dictatorship

Meaning: A country governed by a dictator.

Example: “the party was seeking to establish a dictatorship”

Synonyms: Autocracy, Monocracy

Antonyms: Democracy

4) Impeached

Meaning: Charge (the holder of a public office) with misconduct.

Example: “congressional moves to impeach the president”

Synonyms: Indict, Charge

Antonyms: Acquit

5) Allegations

Meaning: A claim or assertion that someone has done something illegal or wrong, typically one made without proof.

Example: “he made allegations of corruption against the administration”

Synonyms: Claim, Assertion

6) Quid pro quo

Meaning: A favour or advantage granted in return for something.

Example: “the pardon was a quid pro quo for their help in releasing hostages”

Synonyms: Exchange, Trade

7) Testimony

Meaning: A formal written or spoken statement, especially one given in a court of law.

Example: “the testimony of an eyewitness”

Synonyms: Evidence, Affidavit

8) Overpriced

Meaning: Charge too high a price for.

Example: “overpriced hotels”

9) Tweeted

Meaning: To publish a short remark or piece of information on Twitter.

Example: He tweeted that he was just about to meet the president.

10) Heightened

Meaning: Make or become more intense.

Example: “the pleasure was heightened by the sense of guilt that accompanied it”

Synonyms: Intensify, Increase

Antonyms: Reduce

11) Fraught

Meaning: Causing or affected by anxiety or stress.

Example: “there was a fraught silence”

Synonyms: Anxious, Worried

Antonyms: Calm

12) Dilution

Meaning: The action of making something weaker in force, content, or value.

Example: “he is resisting any dilution of dogma”

13) Blazing

Meaning: (of an argument) very heated.

Example: “she had a blazing row with Eddie and stormed out”

14) Dispassionate

Meaning: Not influenced by strong emotion, and so able to be rational and impartial.

Example: “she dealt with life’s disasters in a calm, dispassionate way”

Synonyms: Collected, Calm

Antonyms: Emotional, Biased

15) Soulless

Meaning: (of an activity) tedious and uninspiring.

Example: “soulless, non-productive work”

Synonyms: Boring, Tedious

Antonyms: Exciting

16) Privileged

Meaning: Having special rights, advantages, or immunities.

Example: “in the nineteenth century only a privileged few had the vote”

Synonyms: Wealthy, Affluent

Antonyms: Underprivileged, Disadvantaged

17) Desperation

Meaning: A state of despair, typically one which results in rash or extreme behaviour.

Example: “she wrote to him in desperation”

Synonyms: Hopelessness, Despair

18) Blatantly

Meaning: In an open and unashamed manner.

Example: “yet another space show that blatantly disregarded scientific fact”

19) Betrayed

Meaning: Treacherously reveal (information).

Example: “many of those employed by diplomats betrayed secrets”

Synonyms: Reveal, Disclose

Antonyms: Conceal, Hide

20) Subhuman

Meaning: Having or showing behaviour or characteristics that are much worse than those expected of ordinary people.

Example: Their treatment of prisoners is subhuman.

Synonyms: Morally wrong

21) Agonise

Meaning: Undergo great mental anguish through worrying about something.

Example: “I didn’t agonize over the problem”

Synonyms: Worry, Fuss

22) Bits and pieces

Meaning: An assortment of small items.

Example: “there are a number of openings and storage areas for all sorts of bits and bobs”

Synonyms: Odds and ends

23) Vibrant

Meaning: Strong or resonating.

Example: “his vibrant voice”

Synonyms: Resonant, Booming

Antonyms: Soft, Mellow

24) Ostracism

Meaning: Exclusion from a society or group.

Example: “the family suffered social ostracism”

Synonyms: Exclusion, Rejection

Antonyms: Acceptance, Welcome

25) Nerve-racking

Meaning: Causing stress or anxiety.

Example: “his driving test was a nerve-racking ordeal”

26) Dented

Meaning: Have an adverse effect on; diminish.

Example: “this neither deterred him nor dented his enthusiasm”

Synonyms: Diminish, Reduce

Antonyms: Increase

27) Aesthetics

Meaning: A set of principles underlying the work of a particular artist or artistic movement.

Example: “the Cubist aesthetic”

28) Codified

Meaning: Arrange (laws or rules) into a systematic code.

Example: “the statutes have codified certain branches of common law”

Synonyms: Systematize, Organize

29) Underestimated

Meaning: Estimate (something) to be smaller or less important than it really is.

Example: “the government has grossly underestimated the extent of the problem”

Synonyms: Underrate, Miscalculate

Antonyms: Overestimate, Exaggerate

30) Diminishes

Meaning: Make or become less.

Example: “the new law is expected to diminish the government’s chances”

Synonyms: Decrease, Decline

Antonyms: Increase

31) Relentlessly

Meaning: In an unceasingly intense or harsh way.

Example: “Joseph worked relentlessly”

32) Solidarity

Meaning: Unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group.

Example: “factory workers voiced solidarity with the striking students”

Synonyms: Unanimity, Unity

33) Underpinned

Meaning: Support, justify, or form the basis for.

Example: “the theme of honour underpinning the two books”

34) Redistributive

Meaning: Used to describe an action that is intended to share money more fairly between rich and poor people.

Example: A redistributive budget.

35) Consensus

Meaning: A general agreement.

Example: “there is a growing consensus that the current regime has failed”

Synonyms: Agreement, Concord

Antonyms: Disagreement

36) The onus

Meaning: The responsibility or duty to do something.

Example: The onus is on the landlord to ensure that the property is habitable.

Synonyms: Duty, Obligation

37) Dissolve

Meaning: Close down or dismiss (an assembly or official body).

Example: “the National Assembly was dissolved after a coup”

Synonyms: Disband, Dismiss

Antonyms: Establish

38) Marginalised

Meaning: Treat (a person, group, or concept) as insignificant or peripheral.

Example: “by removing religion from the public space, we marginalize it”

39) Humiliated

Meaning: Make (someone) feel ashamed and foolish by injuring their dignity and pride.

Example: “you’ll humiliate me in front of the whole school!”

Synonyms: Embarrass, Humble

Antonyms: Aggrandize, Glorious

40) Multitude

Meaning: A large number of people or things.

Example: “a multitude of medical conditions are due to being overweight”

Synonyms: Host, Swarm


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