“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
These opening words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights express a concept of man which underpins the framework of human rights embodied in the Universal Declaration and the two international covenants of Human Rights.
It is a concept which, it derives most directly from Western political traditions, is in harmony with moral and social teachings to be found in many other traditions and patterns of belief.
The over whelming endorsement and subsequent reaffirmation of the Universal Declaration by the U.N. General Assembly afford striking evidence of the extraordinary status and appeal of its principles and precepts, compelling Governments of all forms and persuasions to publicly recognise their obligation to ensure that all persons within their jurisdiction are accorded the rights specified.
Traditionally the natural rights of human beings were seen as the rights which each individual had in the state of nature, either as a pre-social historical condition or a pre-social hypothetical model.
In these terms, the rights tended to be regarded as the rights of independent individuals against other individuals or against society, rather than as the rights which human beings in society require if they are to live their own individual lives as members of a community.
The concept of human rights as those rights both negative and positive, which all people ought to have vouchsafed to them under the law, makes a shift in emphasis away from the former approach to the latter.
Human rights remain centred in the concept of the individual: these fundamental requirements are necessary to meet the common needs of the individual members of the community, where each member is considered as a unique person and an embodiment of ultimate value.
The situation is different where every member of the community is considered to have common needs derive directly from some general conception of a communal good or of a communal goal.
Though what constitute human rights is controversial, we may identify human rights as those moral rights which are owned to each man or woman by every man or woman solely by reason of being human.
In other words, without human rights an individual cannot maintain his or her existence as a being different from the rest of the animal kingdom.
Even then, the differences persist as o the permissible degree such rights and the consonant freedoms.
The universally acclaimed human rights have been broadly divided into the following categories:
(i) Right to live, (ii) Right to liberty, (iii) Right to freedom of Belief and Expression, (iv) Right to Freedom of Association and Assembly, (v) Right to property, (vi) Economic and Social Rights.
Almost all of these rights have been bestowed upon the Indian citizen by the constitution. The preamble says that the state, in India, will ensure the dignity of the individual as a human being.
The constitution seeks to achieve this object by a guaranteeing fundamental right to each individual. The individual can seek to enforce his minimal rights, if eroded by anybody, in a court of justice and law.
Seeing that the Justifiable rights may not be enough to maintain the dignity of an individual if he is not free from wants and misery, a number of Directives have been included in part iv of the constitution.
These exhort the state2 shape its social and economic policies so that, inter, “all citizens, men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means of livelihood”, “just and human conditions of work”, and “a decent standard of life and full enjoyment of leisure and social and cultural opportunities”.
The constitution guarantees and secures to all the people of India justice, social, economic and political; equality of status, of opportunity, and before the law; freedom of thought, expression, belief faith, worship, vocation, association and action, subject to law and public morality.
Adequate safeguards have been provided for minorities, backward and tribal areas, and depressed and other backward classes.
The preamble declares unequivocally that the source of all authority under the constitution is the people of India, and that the constitution rests on the authority of the people.
It implies democratic system or government based on universal adult suffrage. The fraternity which is professed in the preamble is not confined within the bounds of the national territory but visualises the loftier ideal to promote international peace, amity, security and progress.
While the declarations in the American Bill of Rights are absolute and the power of the state to impose restrictions upon the fundamental rights of the individual in the collective interests has to be evolved by the judiciary.
In India this power has been expressly conferred upon the Legislatures by the constitution itself in the case of the major fundamental rights, though, of course ensuring a power of judicial review.
But the situation in England is some what different-the courts have full power to protect the individuals against executive tyranny but are powerless against legislative aggression upon individual rights.
Thus the degree of safeguards that the fundamental (human) right enjoy in India lies somewhere between those of America and England.
In India, it appears that the fundamental rights have both created a new quality and helped to preserve individual liberty.
The number of ‘rights’ cases brought before High Courts and the Supreme Court attest to the value of the rights, and the frequent use of prerogative writs testify there popular acceptance as well.
Often the degree of the freedom permitted under the human rights in India is adversely compared with the situation in the developed countries.
This comparison is not tenable if we consider the differences in the scales of progress of India and the developed countries, the differences in the culture and historical realities of the two sides.
In India, the removal of poverty and poverty and ignorance assumes more importance while the advanced countries have to increase and enjoy their luxuries. Interestingly enough.
The western countries have begun these human rights ‘hype’ after having reached a high level of economic development themselves. It is doubtful whether in their march ahead they paid much attention to these rights on their own soil.
There is no denying, however, that in spite of all the constitutional provisions and safeguards, their have been certain aberrations and lapses with regard to the practice of human rights in India.
A healthy sign however is the free discussion about it. Our media records daily cases of abuse of authority by law enforcement authorities, custodial deaths and rapes, excessive use of force and torture by security forces, terrorist violence against innocent populace and extensive use of draconian laws of detention without trial. TADA has assumed notorious connotations.
Thus political equality has been granted to all the citizens, it sometimes appears to be limited only to the ‘universal adult suffrage’.
There is gender bias at most levels. The individuals or groups having control over the means, machinery and resources constitute the ruling elite.
Education and employment are yet alien to many people. Child labour and bonded labour exist in many parts of our country. The reprehensible practice of untouchability has not disappeared.
Transportation of human excreta by scavengers can be seen even today. He right o participation in development is fundamental to he exercise of human rights but in most large scale projects in India there is little attention given to the concerns of those likely to be affected by such projects.
Certain aberrations and the poor record in human right enforcement may partly be attributed to the lack of will and resources on the part of the Government, and partly to the specific cultural fabric and historical moorings of India.
For the greater realisation of human rights, the attitude, the normative behaviour, the value system of individuals and different social groups, and social psyche have to be changed. Such changes cannot be brought about over night or even in a few days.
India is made great efforts towards developing human rights after getting rid of colonial rule which had throughout perpetrated blatant violations of human rights of the ‘natives’.
The status of women and depressed classes has visibly improved with respect to education employment opportunities and many other social and economic rights. The practice of untouchability, though it is yet to disappear is on the wane.
Minorities and tribal groups have been given sufficient protection though aberrations have occurred. Ever since independence the press in India has largely enjoyed its freedom save during the emergency (1975-77).
The Indian Constitution has in-built safeguards for human rights. The establishment of women and minorities commissions have given teeth to the human rights aspirations and strengthened protective mechanisms at the institutional level. The Government is now to set up a Human Rights Commission.
Recently, India has become a target of attack from what may be called “human rights diplomacy”. The international agencies like Amnesty International and Asia Watch have been condemning the acts of the police and paramilitary forced in Punjab and Kashmir as violations of human rights.
They have been demanding their entry in two sensitive provinces o study the human rights situations. Refusal by India has increased their suspensions and criticism. The individual states of the West have also been pressing for a check on the security forces to prevent ‘violation’ of human rights.
Indian diplomats confirm that in bilateral meetings the Western Governments have expressed concern over reports of civilian deaths in Kashmir and Punjab, and that the pressure from these countries has begun to grow.
John Mallott of the U.S. recently commented upon the human rights situation in India in serious terms. Germany, France and Japan are also known to have expressed their concern. So much so even Pakistan minces no words in accusing India for such violations at any international forum.
The views of these countries and international agencies ignore what the secessionists, terrorists and other ultras are doing to innocent civilians.
The international community also seems to be oblivious of the fact that the police and para-military forces in Kashmir and Punjab are fighting against forces hell-bent on breaking up India, force well-trained well equipped and profusely supplied with sophisticated weapons and other provisions by the neighbouring countries.
Generally the evidence given by international agencies of the human rights violations given total credence to data and facts supplied by some groups, without taking into account and of the justifications offered.
One of the objectives of Indian diplomacy on human rights has been to try and introduce the concept of terrorism as a violation of human rights.
The Indian Government would like the Amnesty International and other similar organisations to get in touch with the Human Right Commission, proposed to be set up soon, for ascertaining the veracity of the information in their possession on alleged excesses by the security forces and custodial in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere.
Since the proposed Commission will take care of the human rights in their entirety. Amnesty and others, according to the official view, could interact with it. India however rejects outside intervention on the issue of safeguarding human rights within its territories.
Being a democracy India has sufficient checks and balances with regard to violation of human rights. Aberrations are not denied but most of the cases have been probed and these found guilty punished.
It is no fair to level general charges without verification. Due process of law and judicial inquiries take time and would be unjust to impute motives in cases of delay.
The practice of human rights diplomacy is characterised by the same degree of blatant self-interest that characterises a nation’s foreign policy. However the fact that human rights have been accepted as a matter of global concern is a potentially positive step.
It would help to ensure political and economic rights to millions of people in the developing world.
The real test for countries like India will be to try and benefit from the genuine humanitarian impulses that the human rights advocacy represents while insulating itself from the political manipulation of human rights issue.
So far, thanks to the liberal democratic traditions. India has been relatively unscathed at international foray. At the U.N., India has only to contend with the ritual denunciation from Pakistan.
These are no difficult to counter, and more important they are not taken seriously by other countries because of Pakistan’s own duplicity.
The Ayodhya incident of December 6, 1992 has had its impact on the Islamic world, and there have been rumbling from the Muslim countries at the human rights conference in Vienna.
But once more the fallow can be minimised. The structure at Ayodhya was after all not destroyed as a result of conscious state policy (as Pakistan has tried to insinuate) but by fanatics against whom legal and political action has to be taken.
However India’s strategy at the Human Rights Commission so far has been essentially defensive. This does not imply that India is going to have an easy time years ahead.
The facade of Indian democracy is looking increasingly tattered, and the Indian state is rapidly deflating the capital stock of goodwill that it had built up in the first few years of its independence.
The Indian security forces are engaged in a brutal counter insurgency war in Kashmir and Punjab, and the artrocities against civilians cannot be wished away by stating that Pakistan is responsible for the aggression.
The decision to admit an Amnesty International team to India recently after years of refusing to do so is an indication of the growing international pressures.
Human rights are not likely to be guaranteed in full measure to the Indian citizenly unless the nation as a whole is determined to cure itself of its basic maladies.
On the other hand, the international community should retain from initiating punitive measures as they are only likely to worsen the situation. It should not be forgotten that India is a nation is a child when compared to west.
The Indian vulnerability to secessionism and separatism should also not be lost sight of. The nation cannot be allowed to disintegrate for the sake of human rights are required by international standards, a high rate of illiteracy and poor health services, India cannot be equated with the west in terms of adherence to human rights values.
India would like the west to view the issue in its entirely and take into account the strains under which the security forces (also humans) operate in conditions of insurgency, and the human rights of the innocent of terrorist violence.
The state can and should, however, strive harder to minimise the violations of basic human rights by the authorities in power.
Constitutional safeguards are no worth on if they are not actually implemented. And here it is political will and sincerity that matters, not empty words and hypocritical claims.