The twentieth century has seen many changes in Indian society in every field. The world itself saw two World Wars, many other big and small show-downs, cold-war, and rise of fundamentalism and terrorism which has become a threat to civil society. The development in science and technology has made life more comfortable but increased the destructive capacity of warfare to such high proportions that the world seems to be living on a heap of explosives and may self-destroy it one day. Man seems to have lost himself in this material world.
Coming back to India, it saw the intensification of freedom struggle in the beginning of the last century, gained independence midway through it and underwent fast socio-economic changes. It has been able to maintain its secular democratic nature and structure. But at times our commitments to maintain human rights were tested to the full.
The volatile situations in Kashmir, Gujarat and some other sensitive areas and even normally peaceful areas at sensitive times have raised certain questions that need to be answered. Questions like: Has India been able to protect human rights? If there have been laxities or failures, how can they be removed? Do the blatant charges against the country, of having failed to protect human rights hold water or they are just a part of political propaganda? And finally what steps have been taken by the government to ensure that these rights are not violated? These questions have to be answered in the right perspective before reaching a consensus whether human rights are safe in our country. And more importantly, what should be done to maintain and strengthen them.
There are two opinions on the matter that India has a tradition of upholding human values and protecting human rights. The Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi ventured as far as South Africa to fight for the cause of the local black people. The Indian people’s own struggle for freedom was great in it and assumed greater magnitude when discerned in the higher perspective of putting an end to the atrocities and oppressions meted out by foreign rule to humanity living in a country.
It was, therefore, in right earnest that after achieving independence; India was made a Sovereign Democratic Republic. The six Fundamental rights, i.e. (i) Right to Equality, (ii) Right to Freedom, (iii) Right against Exploitation, (iv) Right to Freedom of Religion, (v) Cultural and Education Rights and (vi) Right to Constitutional Remedies were enshrined in the Constitution. Besides, there has been a legislative assembly at the State and the Parliament at the Centre to enact laws from time to time for social and economic justice and development.
There is an independent and powerful judicial system for protection of rights of the citizens. Hence, right conditions and an adequate set-up were created for peaceful, lawful and progressive existence for everyone with little or no scope for violation on human rights.
Thus, we have a strong tradition and constitutional backing to ensure maintenance of human rights. But this does not mean that there have been no laxities in the system. There is no denial of the fact that there have been blatant violations of human rights ‘n some parts at some period of time like Delhi in 1984, Godhead m 2001 and J&K in 1980’s and 1990’s. It is pertinent to mention here that different communities have been at the receiving end of such violations in different times and areas, with each community proclaiming to be the worst sufferers. But we can call these incidents laxities not failures for the simple reason that they have been sporadic incidents not a State provoked orders of genocide like those of the Jews in Nazi Germany. By and large people themselves have been responsible for creating havoc on target groups. State has always stood for victims and reinforcement of law and order.
The government’s performance in this regard has received wide spread criticism from various quarters. But in all fairness, we must first of all have a look at the steps taken to maintain human rights.
The National Human Rights Commission was created in October 1993 which is an expression of India’s concern for protection and promotion of human rights. It has emerged as a permanent body having vital instructive link with the Minorities Commission, the Women’s Commission and the SC’s and ST’s Commission. Its main functions are enumerated below:
The creation of an independent commission laying down a proper system and procedure for its work and bringing all the related issues within its scope and power speaks volume about the government’s concern to establish justice and rule of law.
The Commission has its own staff for conducting investigations into complaints of human rights violations. It can also utilise the services of professionals or investigating agencies of Central or State Governments. The Commission has also associated itself with Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in investigation work. It fixes time limits for receiving information or report failing which it precedes on its own and orders prosecution or such other action against the accused for which it can approach and involve the State High Court or the Supreme Court.
It may recommend to the concerned authority or government the grant of such immediate interim relief to the victim as it may think necessary. The Commission also has the power to precede in motions or petitions of allegations of human rights violations by armed forces.
That the government has made it binding on itself to indicate its action taken report on the recommendation of the Commission bears testimony to the fact that the government is not only keen to protect human rights but also serious about creating an autonomous body which could create an atmosphere of trust on it among the people of India. The government wants to show that it is its responsibility to maintain proper public order and peace.
The objectives and spheres of the Commission also include protection of scheduled castes and tribes as these classes have suffered immensely for many centuries in terms of blatant discrimination and exploitation. The Commission knows the value of engaging Central and State Governments, NGOs, natural institutions and other elements of civil society in its crusade to fight discrimination.
Since its inception in 1993, the National Human Rights Commission has fared remarkably well in its objectives. It has continued to receive and redress numerous individual complaints from persons notably Davits and Advises against the alleged acts of discrimination, untouchability, violence against human beings, atrocities of various kinds and high-handedness of public servants, etc. The Commission is very much capable of dealing effectively the issues like Godhead carnage and other ethnic and religious issues.
The outside worlds as well as the detractors at home are quick to criticize that the incidents of large scale exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley are clear indications of the poor state of affairs in the country regarding human rights.
We may say that the journey to end human atrocities in a world which is divided by economic gulfs and religious beliefs is long and testing. In India as everywhere else in the world, history and society have witnessed carnage and genocide. As we march towards civilization and progress, there is wider condemnation of violence perpetrated by religious or political fervour. What is important is to realise the urge to respect human rights as a national responsibility, a moral imperative and God’s dictum of universal brotherhood. Nothing else matters more.