2021 Radha Devi Joshi Foundation Lecture

‘Corruption,’ is a global preoccupation as never before, and is a vacuous political signifier in every locale we pick. It is there, everywhere, yet it isn’t anywhere, as we witnessed in the notebandi actions (demonetization) triggered by the Indian government with the explicit purpose of choking off the ‘black money.’ And yet, despite its hollowness as a political stake in probity, it continues to reign supreme as the enemy that must be vanquished. This raises, importantly, not the question of why laws are ineffective, or why successive political regimes escape accountability, or even why judges can never be impeached on grounds of corruption despite having formal procedures in place, but rather points to the need for a deep engagement with the circulation of ideas, imagination, consensus and resistance to corruption in the everyday, at different sites of life, government and politics. I attempt to look at corruption in literary imagination in India and its correlates, historically, with a view to unravelling its situated meanings, continuities and discontinuities over time and across regions and linguistic cultures. A constitutive element in what I call the ‘corruption complex’ in Indian literature is the law: colonial law and its fossils in the postcolonial period and neo-liberal legal regimes, as also law that is constitutive of the decolonized state. Apart from formal law, we also have the incessant prescription and destabilization of norm/normativity in Indian creative writing. How might we excavate radical critique in the fictional narration of corruption?  I attempt to do this by examining six texts that tell stories of corruption – novels and short stories written originally in Hindi, Oriya, and English between 1901 and 2019.

Kalpana Kannabiran is a feminist sociologist, legal researcher and human rights campaigner.  Based in Hyderabad, India, she co-founded Asmita Resource Centre for Women in 1991, was on the founding faculty of NALSAR University of Law (1999-2009), and is Professor and Director, Council for Social Development, Hyderabad, a position she has held since March 2011. She is currently also Civil Society Advisory Governor (Asia Region), Commonwealth Foundation, London. Her work has focussed on understanding the social foundations of non-discrimination, structural violence, and questions of constitutionalism and social justice in India. Author of Tools of Justice: Non-discrimination and the Indian Constitution (2012), among others and editor of several collections, her interdisciplinary writing straddles law, gender studies, literature, and human rights, among others.  With a PhD from JNU, Delhi and an LLM from Osmania University, Kalpana Kannabiran is recipient of the Rockefeller Humanist-in-Residence Fellowship at Hunter College, City University of New York in 1992-93, VKRV Rao Prize for Social Science research in the field of Social Aspects of Law in 2003 from ICSSR and the Amartya Sen Award for Distinguished Social Scientists in 2012 for the discipline of Law also from ICSSR.


Invitation to the 2021 Radha Devi Joshi Foundation lecture