Born in 1938 in Rajkot, in Saurashtra, Gujarat, Upendra Baxi's legal career began at the Government Law College—where he once inadvertently complained to a librarian about BR Ambedkar's notes in library books. He then received masters' degrees from the University of Bombay and the University of California at Berkeley. A prolific jurist and a renowned academic, he began his teaching career at the Sydney Law School, in 1969. Baxi went on to serve as the Professor of Law at Delhi University from 1973 to 1995, as well as its Vice Chancellor between 1990 and 1994. He served as one of the foundational advisors for the National Law School University in Bangalore, and an honorary professor at the National Academy of Legal Studies and Research (NALSAR) at Hyderabad. Baxi retired the emeritus professor of law at the University of Warwick.
For over five decades, Baxi has been writing on issues surrounding law, social justice, sociology, constitutionalism and human rights—themes that have been essential to his academic work. Baxi's writings include books such as Inconvenient Forum and Convenient Tragedy: The Bhopal Case (1986), The Rights of Subordinated Peoples (1994), and The Future of Human Rights (2002), as well as over 250 articles in reputed journals and publications. He has advised the Indian Law Commission and United Nation's Commission on the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Prisoners. He has contributed to volumes such as the Oxford Encyclopaedia of Human Rights (2009), the Blackwell Companion to Post Colonial Studies (2009), and the Oxford Handbook of Indian Constitutional Law (2015). He served on the editorial team of international law journals such as Law and Society Review and The Common Law Review. His writings have been cited by Indian high courts, the Supreme Court of India, and the International Court of Justice. Few scholars in India have contributed to legal thought as much Baxi. “But when [my granddaughter] was 11, she said to me, ‘Daddy, you don't exist,’” Baxi said. “I said, ‘Here I am, alive and kicking, why do you say I am not existing?’ And she said I don’t exist because I am not on Facebook.”
In February 2016, soon after students from the Jawaharlal University in Delhi were arrested and charged with sedition,The Caravan, met with Baxi at his residence. They discussed sedition, nationalism, and the constitutional and legal developments of these concepts in India. Published below is an excerpt from the interview.
This conversation is a part of ‘Notes on Nationalism,’ a series being published by The Caravan that considers various aspects of the public discourse around sedition, nationalism, and Indian identity. You can read other pieces in this series here, here and here.
The Caravan: As both a law professor as well as a pre-eminent law scholar of our times, you have a double advantage to help us make sense of the debate and the recent political developments around sedition. Could you put in perspective the recent incarceration of young students on sedition charges?