Martin Fuchs: Übersetzung zwischen Universalisierung und Lokalität. Kämpfe indischer Dalit und urban poor um Menschenrechte und Menschenwürde

In the evening speech, Martin Fuchs discussed the problem of human rights and dignity in socially marginalised groups, in a theoretical as well as empirical perspective. Theoretically, he employed the concept of translation to discuss how local struggles connect to universal discourses. Empirically, these dynamics were discussed in view of the struggles for dignity and human rights among Indian Dalit and urban poor in the mega-slum of Dharavi.

Fuchs characterised translation as an interactive relationship, which does not only happen in particular situations, but is a common feature of everyday interaction as the communication of particular contents has to be readjusted in view of particular contexts. Being processes of inter-action, translations are also processes of power, and they are pro-jective. They want to bring something across. Against this background, it is important who is the addressee of the translation, someone from inside or outside.

In some context, a so-called “third idiom” becomes important, as a universal, mediating discourse. Human rights can understood this way. But also some universalising religions can become such a “third idiom”. One of the particularities of third idioms is that they are not “owned” by experts, but that they can be appropriated by ordinary people.

Universal claims to validity appear in different forms; they are never “universal” in the first place, but are expressed in one particular form, which is dependent on the respective context. They then are re-interpreted in the light of universality. Universalitation is always contextually mediated.

Fuchs points out that for most of human history, the language of human rights was not available. Universal claims were made in other languages, for example the one of religion. In the era of human rights, these older formulations are re-translated in the language of human rights.

Another important aspect is that not all universal claims are brought forward in the language of “rights”. Especially, demands for justice in a broader sense, for social inclusion, are framed differently.

In the second part of his presentation, Fuchs illustrated his ideas discussing the situation of Dalit and urban poor in India, especially in the mega-slum Dharavi. Most of the Dharavi’s inhabitants are Dalit or belong to other marginalised groups within Indian society. Currently, the most important struggles going on  in Dharavi are, first, for respect at the individual level, i. e. the fight against stigmatisation; second, for Dharavi as a form of life, i.e. for the preservation of “informality” as a key characteristic of living-together; and third, for the activation of the state to improve living conditions. Important in view of the topic at hand is that although all claims are framed in terms of universal values, only the last one is framed in the language of human rights.

Fuchs concludes that human rights discourses cannot represent the totality of fundamental human needs. especially with regard to the importance of particular forms of life or particular social relationships. To articulate such claims, another “third idiom” is necessary, and may be a new type of social movements.


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