Bol Ke Lab Azaad Hain Tere

Human Rights Issues: Need Change Within for Better World

The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened. – John F Kennedy, Former President of USA

Kanishka Kamble and Pranav Kamble for BeyondHeadlines

Vikram and Bhola are two ten year old boys. Both like to play games, be naughty, throw tantrums, long for parental love and care and do and demand many such things like any ten year old kid. Vikram’s actions are met with the required patience, love and understanding. Home for Vikram is the place of eternal bliss. Parents for him are the lifelong ATM for all his wishes and demands. Along with providing him with the requisite strong social and economic support system, nurture and care.

Bhola on the other hand is the orphan child laborer working at any of the thousands of industries in the country employing children. His demands are met with kicks, slaps, punches and canning. Home is something best forgotten cause of the different kinds of inhuman abuses he has had to face there. Nurture, care and support system is the opportunistic and systematic betrayal he has faced innumerable times by elders close to him. Happiness is something very rare and brings out the moistening and twinkle in his eyes. Not because he is not happy but because he does not know how much more he would have to suffer till the next “HAPPY” moment.

Across the world several scholars have written about them. They have been defined, redefined, amended and eulogized time and again. However the real definition of Human rights is based on how it benefits and improves the lives of worst of the worst people.

The various recent events like Arab Spring movement in West Asia to Umbrella movement in Hong Kong, Angelina Jolie to Leonardo DiCaprio to Emma Watson with United Nations, Godhra to Muzaffarnagar, 16th December 2012 to Badaun, Pandher-Koli to Satyarthi all are associated with human rights issues.

The universally accepted, basic tenets of Human Rights are:

  1. Rights associated with Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  2. Measures needed to bring in equality and fairness in treatment and tackle inequalities.
  3. Set of moral and legal guidelines that promote and protect our values and identity.
  4. Set of principles which ensure recognition and respect of people’s dignity.
  5. Set of guidelines to ensure and help secure an adequate standard of living.
  6. Universal and inalienable.
  7. Interdependent and indivisible.

Human rights, norms, values or social code of conduct have all been part of civilizational developments in unwritten form. At national level they were codified and enforced through constitutional and statutory backing. Their violation was also not a new phenomenon. It has happened at various times with varying frequency and at almost every place. However it was the two world wars and the succeeding cold war which truly brought out the worst form of human right violation across the world. Thus necessitating codification and enforcement of Human Rights at global level.

This essay analyses following basic questions about recent issues of Human Rights: 1. Why these issues are coming up? 2. How they affect various stakeholders?

Why these issues are coming up?

As mentioned above the cycle of drafting to enforcement to violation to penalties to evaluation and fine tuning of Human Rights is an ongoing process. This process takes place continuously and through various structural, procedural, legal and institutional mechanisms.

However there has been a persistent criticism about these mechanisms like:

  1. Not targeting the real reasons for human rights violation.
  2. Working in isolation which leads to disconnect between grass root level stakeholders and decision makers
  3. Visualizing problem in isolation due to which only some reasons for a problem get detected and targeted rather than a comprehensive detection and targeting.

Thus a comprehensive study of Human rights is needed involving various stakeholders like NHRC and other government agencies, Civil Society groups, social sciences experts, media etc. This needs to be done on a periodic basis and a draft plan for better implementation and review of Human Rights at sub national, national and international level should be carried out. This will help in periodically reviewing the factors which are preventing betterment of human lives at grass root level.

Based on works in various media like books, radio, documentaries, movies, historical works etc. some of the reasons for human rights violation can be briefly listed as follows:

I. Economic/Financial: Human rights are based on principle of human dignity and freedom. For this certain economic provisions are important. But following problems persist:

  1. Lack or loss of factors of production like land, skills, capital for investment, etc.
  2. Unequal allocation, distribution, diversion and misappropriation of national resources
  3. Absence of or inadequate or improper or poor quality of access and availability of entitlements like education, health services, food security, housing, water, clothing, adequate employment opportunities etc.

II. Social/Cultural: Society and culture are an outcome of human interaction. Since human beings are not perfect thus the rules governing human beings also cannot be perfect. Hence there is a need to codify social rights to counter these imperfections.

However following problems persist:

  1. Social rigidities and prejudices on the lines of religion, age, region, caste, creed, gender, race, language, skin tone, physical features etc. increase discrimination, widen inequalities and increase marginalization.
  2. Superstitions, blind faith, unscientific and irrational practices.
  3. Decrease in tolerance between various groups and increase in chauvinism and ethnocentricity.
  4. Existence of khap panchayats, ulema, fatwas and other such traditional institutions
  5. Balancing individual versus group rights
  6. Decrease in importance of moral, ethical and legal values in everyday social conduct

III. Gender Related: Gender discrimination persists across boundaries. India was one of the first few nations to recognize and implement equal rights for women along with necessary protection. However following problems:

  1. Independent assertion of rights and exercise of choices and opportunities is looked down upon and viewed as a challenge to patriarchy.
  2. Patriarchal society where female existence is dependent on male population and females considered as repositories of family, community and societal honor.
  3. Women considered burden and liability right from womb to tomb.

IV. Institutional level problems:

  1. Inefficient and insensitive working of various institutions like NCW, NCM, and NHRC etc. in India as is evident from their inability to obtain conviction in majority of the rights violation cases. Government apathy, bureaucratic red tape, manipulation of legal terms etc. is widely observed.
  2. Challenges faced by global organizations like UNESCO, UNHRC, and UN Women etc. during enforcement and protection of rights at regional level. Global governance organizations playing a disputable role like UN role in West Asia or

World Bank’s superimposition of Good Governance principles on underdeveloped countries. Thus bringing disrepute to their global image.

V. Political and Legal: India adopted a Parliamentary Democratic form of government.

The basic features towards running a government are also enshrined in the constitution, especially the preamble. However, after political leadership crossed from freedom fighters to the next generation, there has been a consistent degradation of the polity. Such opportunistic leadership use destructive, separatist and divisive politics.

Thus either violating human rights themselves or turning a blind eye to such incidents. Curb on political rights under the garb of emergency provisions or authoritarian rule is also a major cause for unrest as is evident from Orange Revolution to Jasmine Revolution to Umbrella movement. Inability of age old laws to meet developmental needs of people has also been highlighted periodically.

VI. Globalization: It helps increase integration and interdependence between countries and people at a global level. However many scholars like Joseph Stiglitz, Arundhati Roy etc. have pointed out negative effects of globalization. Certain historically, socially, economically and politically marginalized sections have not been empowered enough. There are very few social security nets to protect them from effects of globalization. In such a scenario their rights continue to be violated at the cost of benefit for a few.

VII. Media: It has played both positive and negative role in human rights. However its use for spreading social, political and economic tension has led to debates over its constructive role.

VIII. Corruption: It is another major factor which causes human rights violation. This is widely evident from the movements which have started in West Asia and in Indian subcontinent. It is widely utilized for misuse of power, violation of rights, concentration of wealth and resources in the hands of a few.

Thus the reasons for human rights violations are far and wide. They are networked and connected thus increasing their inter-sectoral pulls and pressures. They keep varying with time and situation; here the political, social and economic scenario plays a major role in this variation.

How they affect various stakeholders?

As is the case with the reasons, the effects are also far and plenty. Huge amounts of paper have gone into printing books and articles about this. Conferences are held where experts discuss such issues, accompanied with food and wine flowing.

However this essay discusses some of these disastrous effects for humanity.

  1. Major security concern for the country is emanating from movements which have their roots in human rights violation. E.g. Naxalism, left wing extremism, religious extremism and militancy, riots and tension in Europe in 2010 due to cultural chauvinism etc.
  2. Prevents marginalized groups from participating in mainstream society, polity and economy. Thus further marginalizing them.
  3. Prevents human beings from developing themselves holistically.
  4. It acts as a barrier to social integration and social harmony.
  5. It prevents or increases cost for people from going ahead with pursuing normal tasks like answering nature’s call.
  6. It builds up mental handicap and mental blocks in the minds of certain sections of population because of which the cant pursue their dreams.
  7. During economic downturns some of these marginalized groups are the most badly hit.
  8. It creates a vacuum and latent mistrust against legal judicial system which could be occupied by anti-social elements for their own gain.
  9. The Roop Kanwar case, Vishakha case guidelines, Shah Bano case, December 16 event and the resulting nation-wide movement helped throw light on the wide areas of women’s right violations. It helped start an in depth analysis of the reasons for such overt and covert incidents. Media pitched in by raising awareness about certain inherent contradictions about the society. Government has taken steps to make laws more stringent, sensitize implementation and arrest the degradation of moral values.

A lot of civil society organizations have been working towards constructive resolution. However a new trend is also gaining pace whereby ethnocentricity, low tolerance of cultural differences, chauvinism, political mobilization based on divisive ideologies etc. is being practiced. The most serious problem is that the constructive forces which can oppose this trend are weakening. This has serious implications for national integration as well as humane development of civilization.

It needs to be understood that many of these problems can be controlled at the individual level. As the famous saying goes “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself” by Alexander Hamilton.

With increase in literacy and social, political, legal and economic awareness such divisive forces can be ignored at individual level. India is a diverse country and the needs-demands, norms-values, tastes-preferences keep varying. Similarly the world is increasingly converting to a global village despite all its diversities. Incorporating all diversities towards a global model would be difficult. Hence the principles of:

  1. “Be the change you wish to see in the world”-Mahatma Gandhi
  2. Basic tenets of compassion, honesty, reciprocity of positive conduct, patience, generosity etc.
  3. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you should be the best way to hold us strong and help us move forward. The role of media and civil society towards achieving this goal cannot be denied. And this will eventually make the system work towards human and societal development.

[Kanishka Kamble is a student of M.A. Economics in Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi; Pranav Kamble is studying B.Tech Civil Engineering from Lovely Professional University, Jalandhar, Punjab.]

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