A Short History of Human Rights in India

Human Rights are given to us by the virtue of birth, only because we are human. These are inseparable, inter-dependent and there is no discrimination in provision of these rights. Human rights are what every human being is entitled to; to allow them freedom to live a dignified, secure life of their choice. They include rights related to the safety of the person; the right to be free from coercion by other individuals, groups or governments; the right to social benefits, rest and leisure; and the right to a good basic education and many more such rights.

In Hindu philosophy, „dharma‟ is perhaps the closest word to ‘human rights’. Actually, dharma has many levels of meaning: law, norms of conduct, truth, right, ritual, justice, morality, destiny, religion, and more. ‘Vasudhaib Kutumbakam’ (the world is our family) is the underlying Hindu philosophy. In particular, this philosophy says that rights are not confined to humans alone; animals and plants also have such rights. (In fact, this is a part of the Jain philosophy too.)

Human rights are not rights only; they are also duties, and both are inter-dependent. Hindu philosophy looks at society and the universe as a whole. This differs from the Western view of the ‘individual-based’ notion of human rights. In fact, most Asian societies reject the individualistic approach to human rights. The Buddhist doctrine, for example, does not accept the concept of life based on the self or ego. It emphasises the holistic nature of things.

The rock edicts of Ashoka (in the 3rdcentury BC) proclaim the emperor’s concern for the well being of the hill-dwellers. This line of thinking shows concern for the disadvantaged people, runs through all the ages and has produced bold advocates like Jyotiba Phule, Periyar and Ambedkar in the recent years.

India passed the Protection of Human Rights Act in 1993. In spite of this and the fact that India has signed the IBR, people are not treated as equals and there is a great divide in the society based on the caste, creed and religion. Almost every week you can read about incidents which can distinctly be linked with human rights violation making headlines in the newspapers.

What can a country, especially one that has signed the ICCPR or the ICESCR, do to make these universal rights available to its people? The economic rights, of course, would depend on the resources that a nation can muster. But what about the civil and political rights? According to the Vienna Declaration, poverty and backwardness cannot be offered as reasons for not subscribing to the universal nature of human rights.

It is hence important to know that being citizen of India what rights do we have according to Constitution of India and if trespassed what legal action can be taken against it. Human rights like education, health, food, work, information; clean environment, peace, etc are accessed by all even children, women, disadvantaged, minorities, bonded labourers and prisoners.

All laws and regulations laid by the constitution and law enforcing agencies are binding for the protection of rights and violation of these may lead to prosecution. But it is also true that internal and external destructive powers in the country- terrorism, civil movements, militancy etc. mock our legal system. It also aims to endanger the unity and integrity of India.

In the personal context several rights are granted to citizens. Civil and political rights are the entitlements relating to fair and equal treatment, to justice and political freedom and to general security, Some of them are

  1. Freedom from slavery and torture.
  2. The right to life, liberty and security of person.
  3. Equality before the law.
  4. Protection from arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
  5. Right to a ‘fair trial.
  6. Right to own property.
  7. Right to privacy, family, home and marriage.
  8. Right to nationality.
  9. Freedom of religion.
  10. Freedom of expression.

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