Skip to main content

Observing Human Rights Day amidst leaders' 'penchant' for demagoguery, autocracy

By Moin Qazi*

What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independence?... Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms. Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere. – Abraham Lincoln
The ideal of universal human rights has been among the most important political legacies of this century. It offers a promise of ending many of the injustices that bedevil human society. Human rights refer to a wide continuum of values or capabilities that enhance human agency or protect all people everywhere from severe social, political and legal abuses. They symbolise humanity’s highest aspirations.
The tragedy is that this powerful idea has lost its sheen and the human efforts needed to guard and nurture it have weakened in the face of continuous assaults on human rights by the predators of civilisation. The ideals of human rights are far more fragile than we believe. In more and more countries, leaders are showing a penchant for demagoguery and autocracy. 
These once pure ideals are now much harder to separate from the impure world of murky politics, civil rights abuses and unfulfilled hopes. A large number of citizens now believe that the lofty idea of fair justice and human rights rings hollow – that justice is reserved for the powerful, and the elite.
The fact remains that the supposed liberty of the citizen to do as he likes so long as he does not interfere with the liberty of others to do the same , which has been a shibboleth for several human right lovers, has been reduced to a mere romantic ideal .
The idea of human rights was kindled by courageous campaigners who passed on the flame to succeeding generations. These rights were first formally enshrined in 1948 when the United Nations approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that boldly proclaimed that recognition of ''the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.'' Human rights became embedded slowly but steadily in human consciousness and began to symbolise legal morality.
The movement that culminated in the historic charter grew out of the horrors of Adolf Hitler’s vicious and tyrannical regime that darkened the rest of the 20th century. But its roots can be traced to the Greek Stoics, who believed in universal natural laws; the Romans, who refined concepts on the rule of law; and the Enlightenment philosophers, who believed that freedom was a natural condition. 
In this millennium, documents like Magna Carta of 1215, the English Bill of Rights of 1689, and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789, and the American Constitution of 1787 and the Bill of Rights of 1791 advanced the universality of human rights.
Clause 39 of Magna Carta is the fountain from which springs forth the pure transparent stream of human rights.: “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land." The courts across the world continue to look to Magna Carta for inspiration and guidance in identifying those rights that are fundamental to the idea of freedom in human society. 
Large number of citizens believe, lofty idea of fair justice and human rights rings hollow – that justice is reserved for the powerful and elite
In the universe of justice, it is a widely held view that law is an expression of eternal truth. The notion that legal principles were the product of historical development, which itself was beyond the control of the people who lived it, was, in a word, teleological. The principles were sometimes equated with the will of God; sometimes they were the product of a secular but nevertheless inescapable evolution. Thus human rights are the product of convergence of several social movements; they are an ocean in which several rivers have merged.
Sakharov, Solzhenitsyn
It is owing to the sacrifices of our ancestors that we enjoy several immutable human rights and precious freedoms. These rights include free speech, the freedom of peaceful assembly, the freedom of religion, equality for men and women under the rule of law. We can understand the preciousness of these rights when history reminds us that there was a world that was profoundly different from the one we now live in, one in which people had far fewer rights and far less voice.
It was around the time of the Human Rights declaration that the great writer George Orwell wrote his 1946 essay, “The Prevention of Literature.”Orwell’s concern then was not just with Russian totalitarianism, but with the arguments used by much of the Western intelligentsia to justify repression. “What is sinister,” he argued, “is that the conscious enemies of liberty are those to whom liberty ought to mean most.”
He was addressing Western scientists who admired the Soviet Union for its technical prowess and were utterly indifferent to Stalin’s persecution of writers and artists. “They do not see that any attack on intellectual liberty, and on the concept of objective truth, threatens in the long run every department of thought.” Several dissidents like Andrei D. Sakharov and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Eastern bloc heroes of another age first made “international human rights” a rallying cry for activists across the world. 
We need to build coalitions with friends and partners across movements -- human rights activists, lawyers, trade unions, social movements, economists and faith leaders and ensure that the voices of those who need to be heard most are amplified and they are rid of the fetters that shackle them. It is only through this solidarity that we can realise a world without inequality and injustice- a world for which many of our great ancestors have made extraordinary sacrifices. Till we achieve this, our struggles remain a part of the work in progress.
---
*Development expert

Comments

TRENDING

Communal rhetoric? Hindutva preached by RSS-BJP is 'monolithic', not Hinduism

By Prem Verma*  I am a devout Hindu but not a believer of RSS Hindutva form of Hinduism which brings about hatred of other religions. My Hindu religion has not taught me to look down on other religions and neither has it instilled in me to go about converting others to my religion because my religion is superior.

Gross 'injustice' to children: Rs 5000 cr cut in education budget; 15 lakh schools shut down

Counterview Desk  More than 100 dignitaries, including educationists, academia, social activists, teachers’ union, civil society organisations (CSOs), various networks and people working on child rights, in a letter to Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman have sought reversal of reduction in allocation for education in the Union Budget 2021-22, even as demanding substantial increase in it.

India sees 62 journo deaths, 4th highest, amidst pandemic: Swiss media rights body

By Our Representative The Switzerland-based media rights body Press Emblem Campaign (PEC) has noted that India is the fourth most affected country as far as mediapersons’ death on account of Covid-19 is concerned. According to Blaise Lempen, secretary-general of PEC, the global tally of casualties among media persons in the Covid-19 pandemic has reached 1,036 journalists in 73 countries till date.

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

RSS love for 'killer' Myanmar junta behind Indian military presence at Tatmadaw Day?

By Shamsul Islam*  If a shameful act means an action which is criminal and nauseating, it would be an understatement to describe the attitude of the present RSS-BJP rulers of India towards the demolition of democracy and large-scale killing of the people of Myanmar by the military ( tatmadaw ) junta which took power through a coup on February 1, 2021 after renegading the election results in which the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, National League for Democracy, was a clear winner.

Chhattisgarh’s Apra riverfront imitates Sabarmati: 'Devaluing' water, environment

Sabarmati riverfront By Mansee Bal Bhargava*  This year’s #WorldWaterDay (March 22) focus was on ‘Valuing Water’. My school friend, Pragati Tiwari from Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh, called that day knowing my interest in water matters. We were remembering our childhood days as how we used to play on the banks and the bed of the Arpa Nadi (River) during the summer holidays and as how the river would swell like Anaconda to flow happily during the monsoon.

Bihar massacre on Holi day: Brahminical, casteist mindset behind 'uneasy' silence

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*  Several people were killed in Bihar amidst Holi festivities, but not much response has come in from the media. The silence of the government and the society as a whole is also appalling. We seek to romanticise these festivals, yet we forget that every year they take so many lives. This despite the fact that Holi appears to be the best time for 'avenging things'.

India's draft migrants policy: Whither concern on job restrictions imposed by states?

By Anil Kumar*  India’s Niti Aayog has prepared a Draft Migration Policy. The draft policy acknowledges migration as an integral part of development, and it calls for positive government interventions that facilitate internal migration. With a rights-based solution to migration, the draft states that the policy should “enhance the agency and capability of the community and thereby remove aspects that come in the way of an individual’s own natural ability to thrive”.

Recalling Jallianwala martyrs' communal amity as BJP 'warns' of Sitalkuchi everywhere

By Shamsul Islam*  The RSS-BJP rulers declare India to be a battle-ground between Hinduism and Islam. Muslims have been declared as ‘internal threat’ by RSS ideologue MS Golwalkar (“Bunch of Thought”, Chapter xvi). Behaviour of many of their leading cadres, including those who hold high constitutional posts, is such that they seem to be conspiring over-time to ignite a civil war between the two communities. They are under the impression that this would help divert attention from failures of the Hindutva rulers on developmental front.