A very enlightening exchange took place during the Second World War between two stalwarts?Mahatma Gandhi and H.G. Wells on this question of human rights. Mahatma Gandhi steadfastly refused to accept the rights discourse that was taking place in the 40s within the western tradition. Eminent English writer H.G. Wells had drawn up a list of human rights. But Mahatma Gandhi told him that he would do better by drawing up a list of the duties of man.
?Begin with a Charter of Duties of Man? and I promise the Rights will follow as spring follows winter. I write from experience. As a young man I began life by seeking to assert my Rights and I soon discovered that I had none not even over my wife. So I began by discovering performing my duty by my wife, my children, friends, companions and society and I find today that I have greater Rights, perhaps than any living man I know?. (Richard L. Johnson, Gandhi'sExperiments with Truth)
Current debate on human rights:
Besides, I have one more point to add regarding this human rights discourse. We in principle are not against capital punishment. We believe that in a world infested with criminals of horrible nature and inhuman terrorists the threat to human rights and dignity is as serious from these non-state agencies as from reckless and dictatorial state power. Hinduism believes in the concept of Dharma Yuddha.
Interestingly, one of our Upanishads states that:
Tyajedekam Kulasyaarthe Graamasyaarthe Kulam Tyajet
Graaman Janapadaarthe Aatmarthe Prithiveem Tyajet
?We should be able to sacrifice one person for the welfare of the clan if necessary; one clan for the welfare of one village; one village for the welfare of one region and finally we should be ready to detach ourselves from the entire universe for the sake of moksha, i.e. salvation.?
This I see as the Hindu position on the question of human rights. We don'tbelieve that the State is always a repressive agent. We believe that the State has obligations, prominent among them being the welfare and well-being of its citizens. In the process of achieving that if the so-called rights of certain individuals are to be curtailed Hinduism views it as legitimate in the larger perspective.
Also, India is witness to the fact that human rights causes too can horribly go wrong because of the inherent resistance of its protagonists to accept the duties/obligations dimension. The result is, many end up supporting terrorists and criminals in the name of human rights and in the name of opposition to torture forgetting the fact that the state in such cases is motivated to act by its obligation.
In India, the Constitution, while granting ?Rights?, explicitly enjoins upon the state to ensure that these rights of the citizens are enjoyed ?subject of Peace, Public Order and Morality?. That is why in Hinduism there is no place for absolute rights and Mahatma Gandhi'sviews of complementarity and inter-connectedness of rights and duties is the essential Hindu view.