An Equal Footing

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‘School-going child succumbs to injuries inflicted by teacher’, ‘Bride tortured to death for dowry’, ‘Grandmother killed over property dispute’. These are but a few headlines that jump out at you on browsing through a newspaper on any given day. There are many more cases that go unreported every day. It is evident that the entire world, and not just India, is full of hatred, inequalities, discrimination, human degradation and erosion of values. 2012 marks India’s 65th year of independence. Yet, in many parts of the nation, people are unaware and live in the dark with regards to their rights as citizens of the world’s largest democracy and as human beings. In the World Report 2012, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that it had been a disappointing year for India. Custodial killings, police abuses including torture, and failure to implement policies to protect vulnerable communities marred India’s record in 2011.

While NGOs and social activists take up the issue of human rights awareness, it is ironic that the majority of people are hardly in the know. According to Sahil Koul, who is in charge of the strategic functions of Youth for Human Rights India (YHR India), “More than 70 per cent of the educated youth don’t even know how many human rights there are in total.”
Right from the institution of the caste system, India has been witness to disturbingly huge instances of human rights violations. Even today, atrocities on women, religious- and politically-driven violence, foeticide, child labour, deprivation of education and domestic violence are rampant in society. There is a grave need to spread awareness about human rights as a tool to cultivate defences against oppression and exploitation.

So what exactly are human rights and what do they entail? Such rights are fundamentally inherent to a person simply because he or she is a human being irrespective of nationality, sex, ethnic origin, religion, language or any other status. Back in 1948, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed to provide a common understanding of what everyone’s rights are. This was a result of the atrocities and enormous loss of life that took place during World War II. Article 1 of the declaration states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

The country’s independence and the drafting of the Constitution of India were two important developments for India. Fortunately, since the Constitution was drafted at the time that all this movement was taking place in the international arena, the drafting process was heavily influenced by human rights. From as early as 1829, when the practice of sati was formally abolished, several human rights were charted out including those related to child marriage, disabled people, protection of scheduled castes, freedom of speech, human trafficking, religious violence and basic medical assistance, continuing up to the recent decriminalisation of homosexuality.

“As we are associated with making people aware about human rights, there has been no considerable difficulty. But with regards to what I’ve noticed about this as a general social phenomenon, people are very proactive to demand when it’s about their own rights. But it’s very important to be empathetic and understand that every person is guaranteed the same rights as we are. So we, as responsible and aware citizens, should first try to understand what human rights are and how many of them are there and what they actually guarantee you,” Koul explains.

Proper education and awareness about human rights and its implementation will go a long way in creating a humane culture in the country. The concept of human rights is not static; it is constantly evolving with the times. Interestingly, the human rights awareness theme of 2011 recognised the significance of social media and technology in assisting human rights defenders in new ways. In December 2012, when the world celebrates Human Rights Day and the Nobel Peace Prize are awarded, India too will join in as a country that aims to spread a heightened sense of awareness of human rights through campaigns, drives, seminars and voluntary action mostly driven by the youth to build a better India by starting at the individual level.

YHR India is known to engage the youth in awareness drives and human rights walks. “Volunteers discuss these rights through our specially created education material. We also air a documentary that portrays human rights in a creative fashion! This helps us to form a connection with youth,” explains Koul. He feels that it becomes easier to demand justice only when we know what rights are withheld. Thus, awareness is key when it comes to the human rights issue.
At the Jaipur Literature Festival earlier this year, Steven Pinker,experimental psychologist, Harvard professor of cognitive psychology and author of ‘The Better Angels of Nature: Why Violence has Declined,’ said that currently, there are greater levels of intellectual awareness in society and new ideas as opposed to early ideas of tribal purity. He feels that violence is at an all-time low  today — and human rights, social equality and gender egalitarianism are at all-time highs. “The ultimate idea is the value of human life,” he said.

Awareness, education and government action with regards to protecting human rights is indeed the need of the hour.

 Volume 1 Issue 9

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