Constitutionalism and Rights in South and South East Asia

Course Description: 

This course seeks to provide an overview of the theory and practice of constitutionalism in four countries that are located in South and South East Asia: India, Indonesia, Singapore and Sri Lanka. Two of these are among the largest, most pluralistic nations in the world, while the remaining two are small island states. All four nations experienced long periods of colonial rule, which continues to have a decisive impact on their postcolonial legal and constitutional orders. Further, in each of these nations, discussions about constitutionalism have become enmeshed within larger societal debates about economic development and cultural values. All four nations have also been identified as playing vital roles in the ‘rise of Asia’ narrative that is currently on the ascendance. Discussions about constitutionalism invariably invoke questions about constitutional and human rights, which will be the focus of the second part of the course. Some of these nations were also at the forefront of the ‘Asian Values’ discourse in the early 1990s which sought to reframe debates around human rights. By studying the constitutional orders in these nations together, this course aspires to have a rich, interdisciplinary conversation about constitutionalism and rights, within Asia and beyond. The emphasis will be on comparative constitutional insights, and students will be encouraged to draw upon the constitutional experience of their own home jurisdictions.

Learning Outcomes: 

Students taking this course will be able to add an exposure to the history of constitutionalism and a broad sense of debates within Asia about constitutionalism and rights to their existing corpus of knowledge. The course’s focus on the particular role of colonialism in shaping post-colonial experiences will be an additional perspective for those who have not yet been exposed to this important dimension in their home jurisdictions.


To this end, the course will assess students through the following modes: class participation (20%), short response papers (10%) and a final, take-home exam (70%). The final exam will be a 24-hour exam with a choice between 4/5 questions, of which the students will have to write word-limited essays on two questions.