Postcolonial Affects:Victim Life Narratives and Human Rights in Contemporary India

Pramod K Nayar


This essay looks at life writing by homeless children, prisoners and child abuse victims to argue that such narratives serve as claims narratives in the field of human rights. These claims generate affective narratives. Such narratives, the essay argues, move across various stages. They open as trauma narratives, detailing suffering, brutalization and injustice where the narrators describe the denial of agency. In this component the narrator adopts two primary modes: of the "captivity" and "demoralization" narratives. In the second moment, these narratives move toward a detailing of affect. Human rights require the establishment of identity as human. It is through affective speech and emotion narrative that the victim begins to articulate a self, a subject with a certain amount of agency. Through affect the victim also speaks for other victims, and appeals to us, readers. This is the making of a "moral web." Finally, the victim asserts agency – and therefore their identity as humans requiring human rights – by proposing a break with the past. It is in the conscious decision to choose a different life that the subject emerges out of the traumatic past. The affective rhetoric sentimentalizes public culture. Affect, the essay suggests, is an important mode of articulation of human rights within postcolonial India.


Life-writing, human rights, trauma

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