PUCL Bulletin, November 2002

Human rights in peril
-- By Y.P. Chhibbar

The Protection of Human Rights Act 1993 is deemed to have come into force on 28 September 1993, more than four decades after the new Constitution came into force. About half a century after the coming into force of the new Constitution, the concept that human rights belong to every citizen of the country is yet to be a part of the thought and psyche of the government. The dark days of Emergency, the brutal suppression of the movements led by J.P., and his tragic death form the background of the in built opposition to the concept of the rights of the common citizen.

On top of this is the freedom that the law and order maintaining forces enjoy to suppress the people's movements, the freedom of expression, and to flout the rule of law. All the elements combined together have created a scenario in which the fundamental rights granted by the Constitution and the human rights propounded by the United Nations have been branded adversarial by the bureaucracy, the security forces, and the 'politicians in power'.

The anti terrorist winds fanned by the attack on the World Trade Centre twin towers in the U S A and on the Indian Parliament have further helped the attitudes that have not yet internalised the concept of primacy of the rights of the people.

The initiatives of the National Human Rights Commission, the National Commissions for Minorities, and the National Commission for Women in the Gujarat carnage starting with the burning of the train at Godhra have no doubt put a brake on these processes. On the other hand the direction of the Supreme Court to the Election Commission of India to take steps to collect and publish some information on the assets, criminal record, if any, of the prospective candidates, and the consequent notification of the Election
Commission was opposed by all the political parties. An ordinance to nullify the Judgement of the Supreme Court was sent to the President. The last chapter of this episode is yet to be written. The significant thing is that on one ground or the other all the political parties tried to block this attempt to cleanse, to some extent, the electoral process.

All this goes to show that not only the section that is in power but also those who aspire to be in power are prepared, at the drop of the hat, to curtail the rights of the people and to jeopardise the institutions created to protect them.
The protection of Human Rights Act 1993 provides for the establishment of the State Human Rights Commissions. Even after a decade of coming into force of the above law only twelve States established the State Commissions. Probably the case of U P is a classic example. According to the National Human Rights Commission the highest number of cases referred to them are from this state. The U P state branch of the PUCL had first moved the State High Court in 1998 for direction to the State government for the establishment of the UP State Human Rights Commission. Once the process had reached up to the stage of notification. Still U. P appointed a State Commission as late as on October 7, 2002 on the intervention of the High Court on yet another petition by the U P PUCL.

The Manipur State Human Rights Commission became dysfunctional sometime ago because the State government said that it had no funds. The Rajasthan State Human Rights Commission and the Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission also face such a situation. The Himachal Pradesh State Human Rights Commission was abolished as late as last the week of September.

As it is, in most of the States the State Commissions were treated by the State governments as Ashrams for the retired favourites. Barring a few, these had totally failed to inspire any confidence in the hearts of the people.
The National Human Rights Commission is working with the Chairperson and two members. The vacancies are not being filled up.

It is, therefore, clear that those in power and those aspiring for power do not want the people to complain, to question, let alone, challenge the lawlessness of those who come to place of position and power and take an oath of allegiance to uphold and to protect the laws and the Constitution of the country.

In any moment of trial or difficulty the rights of the people are the first casualty.

Home | Index