Human Rights Day is observed every year on December 10 – the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. At a plenary session on December 4, 1950, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution that invited all UN member states and any other interested organisations to commemorate the December 10, 1948, proclamation of the UDHR with an annual celebration, called Human Rights Day, to be held on the anniversary of that landmark date. Each year a theme is chosen to draw attention to a particular facet of the effort to uphold human rights. Themes have included ending discrimination, fighting poverty, and protecting victims of human rights violations. Additionally, since 1968, which the UN designated as the International Year for Human Rights, the organisation has periodically awarded a United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights on Human Rights Day. The theme for Human Rights Day 2022 is “Dignity, freedom and Justice for All”. The 30 articles of the Declaration set out a foundation for individual rights that have been incorporated into treaties, regional bodies, and national laws all around the world.
The recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. Disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people.
The United Nations has reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and are determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.
The Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
“Ajyesthaaso Akanisthaasa Yete
Sam Bhraataro Vaavrudhuh Soubhagaya”
– RigVeda, Mandala-5, Sukta-60, Mantra-5
‘No one is superior or inferior; all are brothers; all should strive for the interest of all and progress collectively’. One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s self. This, in brief, is the rule of dharma. Yielding to desire and acting differently, one becomes guilty of adharma.
-The Mahabharata XII 113.8, quoted in Rajiv Malhotra: Indra’s Net. p. 182, 1st. ed.
“In the happiness of his subjects lies the king’s happiness; in their welfare his welfare. He shall not consider as good only what pleases him but treat as beneficial to him what-ever pleases his subjects.”
-Kautilya (L.N. Rangarajan trans., Arthasastra 1.19.34. xi, 1987
In fact, the Narada Smriti, one of the many constitutions Hindus have had during the course of their long history enjoins upon the king to protect non-believers too.
“Pashandanaigama sreni poogavraata ganadishu
Samrakshet samayam Raja Durge Janapade Tatha”
“The king should accord protection to compacts of associations of believers of Vedas (Naigamas) as also the non-believers (Pashandis) and others” (Narada Smriti, Dharma Kosha)
Bharat’s contribution to UN declaration of Human Rights
However, respect for human dignity and rights as a part of its social philosophy has existed in the Bharatiya ethos for a long time. It is pertinent to note that Bharat was not an independent nation rather a British Colony when the draft of Universal declaration was being prepared. India took active part in drafting of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. The Bharatiya delegation to the United Nations made important contributions in drafting of the Declaration, especially highlighting the need for reflecting gender equality. India is a signatory to the six core human rights covenants, and also the two Optional Protocols to the Convention of the Rights of the Child.
Since inception, the Bharatiya Constitution incorporated most of the rights enumerated in the Universal Declaration in two parts, the Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles of State Policy, that covered almost the entire field of Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The first set of rights are enunciated in Articles 2 to 21 of the Declaration and incorporated under the Fundamental Rights – Articles 12 to 35 of the Constitution. These include the Right to Equality, Right to Freedom, Right Against Exploitation, Right to Freedom of Religion, Cultural & Educational Rights, Saving of Certain Laws and Right to Constitutional Remedies.
The second set of rights enunciated in Articles 22 to 28 of the Declaration is incorporated under Directive Principles of State Policy – Article 36 to 51 of the Constitution. These include ‘right to social security, right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and protection against unemployment, right to equal pay for equal work, right to existence worthy of human dignity, right to rest and leisure, right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, right to free & compulsory education, promotion of welfare of people, equal justice & free legal aid and the principles of policy to be followed by the State.’
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC was established on October 12, 1993, under the provisions of The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993.The Commission serves as an independent and autonomous body for protection of human rights in the country.
Why do human rights matter?
- Human rights endeavours people have basic needs like food, clothes, and shelter, medicine and education met
- Human rights protect vulnerable groups from abuse
- Human rights allow people to stand up against legal/social abuse and corruption
- Human rights encourage freedom of speech and expression without fear of brutal reprisal
- Human rights give people the freedom to practice their religion
- Human rights allows people to love and marry who they choose
- Human rights encourage equal work opportunities
- Human rights give people access to education
- Human rights protect the environment including right to clean air, clean soil, and clean water
- Human rights provide a universal standard that holds Governments accountable
Although the UDHR was a non-binding resolution, it is now considered to have acquired the force of international customary law which may be invoked under appropriate circumstances by national and other judiciaries. Needless to say that the provisions of Human rights has contributed a lot to protect millions of people from power abuse and lead a dignified life but simultaneously the inadequacies of human rights have been realised at several times. And yet it is hard to avoid the conclusion that governments continue to violate human rights with impunity , the militants and miscreants enjoy better protection than common people and armed forces, women remain a subordinate class in nearly all countries of the world, children continue to work in mines and factories in so many countries, millions of people are still denied two time bread , people are being killed just for following different faith and this list is never ending. These conditions world wide necessitates a serious review of the very foundation of human rights regime and universalability of its applicability.
In fact, most of the political, social, moral, legal, cultural and even religious institutions of our present-day society use ‘rights’ as the key concept, not only to define but also to ‘justify’ their existence. The root cause of the major problems confronting our contemporary world lies in this right-centric world-view. This world-view perceives men as “Little Gods” having ‘rights’ as ‘absolute powers’ to be used as defense weapons in their war against fellow beings or society as a whole. As a result, individual ego has overpowered the community spirit and humanity has split into factions of races, classes, cultures, genders, groups, professions, religions and ideologies. The unity conferring principles of the whole humanity are lost and man has emerged as an isolated individual having no emotional bondage with the larger reality popularly called as ‘NATURE’. A plausible solution to this situation, is nothing but replacing this right-centric world-view by obligation or duty-centric world-view, a world-view which maintains that ‘obligation’ and not ‘right’ is the fundamental notion to understand human reality. India took a lead towards this direction by inserting article 51(a) as fundamental duties.
The ancient Hindu wisdom realised the fundamental truth that the nature and status of different rights necessarily correspond to the nature and the mode of duties from which they are derived. In order to achieve the goal of duty centric rights, the notion of Rina(debt), Yajna(Sacrifice) and Purushartha (Duties of Man) were developed. The notion of the three rinas and five yajnas is integrally woven into the scheme of four-fold Purusharthas – the four basic goals / ends of all human endeavors. The merit of Bharatiya perspective of rights lay on goals of putting an effective check on the possibility of the inclusion of putative immoral rights and cannot be misused to permit the pursuit of prima facie immoral ends.
The source of Western view of Human rights is regarded as Cyrus Cylinder-a Babylonian clay cylinder account of the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus in 539 BC with royal inscriptions on it. The earliest traces of the idea of Human Rights date back to more than 4,000 years. Rig Ved is considered as one of the oldest sources of Human Rights in the world. In the words of Lukman Harees.
“The earliest attempts of literate societies to write about the rights and responsibilities date back to more than 4,000 years to the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi. This Code, the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, the Analects of Confucius, the Quran and the Hindu Vedas are the five oldest written sources which address questions of people’s duties, rights, and responsibilities.”
The notion of equality, which supplies the backbone of UNDHR is duly found in Rigveda.
“Ajyesthaaso Akanisthaasa Yete
Sam Bhraataro Vaavrudhuh Soubhagaya”
– RigVeda, Mandala-5, Sukta-60, Mantra-5
‘No one is superior or inferior; all are brothers; all should strive for the interest of all and progress collectively.’
Atharva Ved also provides for Human Rights such as right to food and water.
“Samani Prapaa Saha Vonnabhagah
Samane Yoktre Saha vo Yunajmi
“All have equal Rights to articles of food and water. The yoke of the chariot of life is placed equally on the shoulders of all. All should live together in harmony supporting one another like the spokes of a wheel of the chariot connecting its rim and hub”.
-Atharva Veda – Samjnana Sukta
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, states about right to happiness, the same existed in the texts of Brihadāraṇyaka Upanishad
“Sarvepi Sukhinah Santu
Sarve Santu Niramayah
Sarve Bhadrani Pashyantu
Ma Kaschid Dukhabhag Bhavet”
‘Let all be happy Let all be free from diseases, Let all see auspicious things Let nobody suffer from grief’.
Right to happiness is also emphasised in the Kautilya’s Arthashashtra
“Prajasukhe Sukham Rajnah Prajanam cha Hite Hitam
Naatmapriyam Hitam Rajnah Prajanaam tu Priyam Hitam”
“In the happiness of the subjects lies the happiness of the King; in their welfare his welfare. The King shall not consider what pleases himself as good; whatever pleases his subjects is only good for him”
The ancient Hindu texts not only provide for traces of the ideas on the human rights but they do also lay special emphasis on the duties. This can definitely help in developing and enriching the doctrine of International Human Rights , as in most of the international instruments on the subject, even today we do not find mention of fundamental duties, but only of the fundamental rights.