PUCL Bulletin, January 2002

A symposium in Patna to mark the silver jubilee of the PUCL,
October 17, 2001

Economic rights, womens rights, political rights and other challenges

The participants were welcomed by Mr. Ramchandra Lal Das, President, Bihar. He congratulated the members for carrying on the task that the organisation had taken upon itself, he at the same time spoke about the problems that were faced by the organisation. Some interventions have been made and despite the limitation several enquiries have been carried out of massacres and kidnappings. The reports have also been published. Some initiatives had also been taken up to sensitise professional groups for taking a stand against kidnapping, extortion and massacre.

He mentioned that much more needed to be done to make the movement a more effective one.

Synopsis of the views presented by the speakers:

* The first speaker of the symposium, Mr. Ratneshwar Prasad Singh, began by referring to an article written by Justice Rajindar Sachar. The article referred to the various instances of violation of human rights, but the most serious and yet the least discussed was poverty. The Vienna Declaration and the Programme of Action stated that the protection of human rights is the first responsibility of the governments. If human rights means freedom, it loses its relevance if the economic condition of the poor does not improve.

Mr. Prasad stated that in the capitalistic society, the struggle against the worsening economic conditions of the poor had begun in the 20th and the Svatantravadis focussed their attention on civil rights, as a result the economic issues were no longer focussed upon as these could be problematical to a capitalistic society and this today has become the agenda of the human rights activists.

On the other hand, he said in communism the stress shifted on to the economic issues and they remained silent on the question of civil rights. In both the situations the issue of human rights loses its meaning. In the ultimate analysis democracy means that humanity can be free from oppression, exploitation social and economic differences and in which the requirements for basic existence is met with. Any other definition would be called lopsided. Any organisation which while calling itself the watch dog of democracy, limits itself to incidents of state oppression and highlights only such instances and refuses to take into cognizance the question of socio-economic inequality, the efforts of such organisation would be entirely meaningless. The human rights movement must look into with all seriousness the views expressed by Justice R Sachar. The traditional things require a change, the movements scope should be extended so that the human rights movement emerges stronger. Otherwise the (movement) organization, he said, would lose its vitality. He gave the example of the PIL filed by a PUCL unit on the question of hunger in the Supreme Court and the Government was put in the dock. There are so many such instances of violation of human rights e.g. the eviction of the slum dwellers with no effort being towards their rehabilitation A resolution should have been passed for the rehabilitation of the slum dwellers. Therefore, the most important question is whether human rights is a topic for ideological debate or whether it has to be related to the poor and the deprived. Mr. R Prasad said that there were so many other issues like fake FIRs and that as an organisation one would have to think about these issues.

* The next speaker was Dr. Daisy Narain who spoke on the topic, 'Women's Rights as Human Rights'. Women's issues, she said, had moved to the centre stage of discussion and debate since the decade of the 90s. Like other movements women's struggle has moved through several phases and has recognised ideological variations leading to women's movements rather than a movement. While recognising some areas of commonality in the struggle, women groups today recognise the specificity of problems related to different groups. So far as Human Rights charters are concerned, of particular reference to women has been the convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women. Here it can be argued she said that the rights in the Universal Declaration are those that also benefit women e.g. right to equality the denial of which affects both the sexes. It is however felt that these charters do not relate to the reality of women's lives, that is sufferance of human rights has gender specific abuses. The every day issues that relate women's lives e.g. reproductive rights issues of sexual orientation violence against women by family members do not seem to be at the core of human rights activism.

She cited two examples, to emphasize the point related to women's health.

One is the pre-natal diagnostic tests initially meant for the detection of abnormalities, are also being used to detect the sex of the foetus The implication can be seen in the demographic imbalance shown in the decreasing FMR against female. The other given by her was the question of reducing Infertility Systems like use of Net-en by women with disastrous side effects on women's health need to be challenged.

There are several reasons for the lack of forms on women's rights, such as: Sex discrimination is trivial compared to the larger issue of human survival; Abuse of women is a private and not public matter. It could overwhelm all other aspects of human rights. That which is cultural, personal or religions cannot be intervened upon. The question, she said, is whether to take it as women's rights or human rights. While debating this it should be kept in mind that the language of human rights is accepted nationally and at the international level and by adopting this language, women can make their voice heard. Global concept like human rights can help build up links with different women's organisation and can be empowering for women. International pressure is more effective in bringing about a change in the government position than merely local pressure. Three are different ways in which women's right can be asserted as human rights, she said. For ex. Human rights organisation can draw attention to abuses suffered by women for ex. rape in custody and then again in the context of what is known as women friendly rights as health crew, rights to food, shelter and clothing. The other area, she said, could be legal, as domestic violence which women have argued that the state through its omissions bears some responsibility for the violence and can be held to account.

* Sister Sudha Verghese dwelt on the rights of Dalit women, as she has the experience of working with them for years while agreeing with the issues raised by the earlier speaker. She said among the dalit women, the question is not so much of reproductive rights or female foetecide, rather it is the question of dignity. Right to live, she said, alone is not important, the question is the right to live with dignity. It is the right to equal wages and to be treated with dignity. In a police station, these women are addressed contemptuously and as women who do not deserve respect. Therefore when we speak of women's right, we must also raise these basis questions related to dignity.

* Dr. B.D Prasad said that Civil Society aspires for an order in which exists: (a) Security of Life; (b) Freedom; (c) Dignity. Man exists not to the exclusion of others. Man, he said, among all animate forms has rationalised his existence and this rationalisation must have started right since the Paleolithic stage with the knowledge of creation and procreation and what began as an instinctive act because of a conscious quantum of life. This was passed down from generation to generation. And what has been referred to above as the three ingredients are achieved through various stages of social evolution. The next question he said was what is the place of terror. The dialectical nature of terror in social life exists because on one side an orderly social effort involves command and obedience and on the other competence. In the early stages of human existence there prevailed the law of the survival of the fittest and then the great transformation as human societies march to different stages of cultural excellence. The helplessness of the weak was recognised and man tried to establish a pain-free society. To exist for food or society he had to fight and terror was a part of the game. He further said that when we set out in 1947 to create a civil society the instrument for the implementation of the objectives of Life, Liberty and Dignity was the govt. of India.

However the government has failed and terror stalks every walk of life. There is wanton extortion, kidnapping by groups and individuals to terrorize and eliminate the freedom of the of action of the civil society. The saddest part is the apathetic incompetence of the state and the inability of the individual to rise up in resistance. He said that today those of us who have gathered here are engaged in observing and reacting to events in Bihar. Much need to be done in this respect. Finally he placed his submission as: In a civil society, human life is not sustainable without apportioning a productive role to every able-bodied individual; Terror destroys not only physical movement but creativity is brought to an end. PUCL must always emphasize that our struggle for human rights is totally inclusive and does not exclude; Finally the dignity of the individual is the essence of human existence. Life is not worth living, he concluded, if compassion of social order is destroyed by terror of insecurity to life, liberty and dignity.

* Prof. Prabhakar Sinha spoke on the challenges before the human rights movement in Bihar. Tracing the origin of PUCL in 1976 when it was founded by J.P. in the perspective of devastating assault on human right and civil liberties, he said that when Indira Gandhi fell out of power and the Janata Government was voted in, it was felt that PUCL had become defunct as civil liberties, it was felt, was safe in the hands of Janata Government. However it was soon realised that civil liberties is always under threat irrespective of the nature of the Government and in November 1980, the organisation was revived in its present form. Going back to the decade of eighties, he referred to the Congress Government and its apathy towards civil liberties. In the 90's the Janata Dal came to power and it was hoped that with the coming of these to power who had made human rights an issue, things would improve. The decade long experiences have proved otherwise, witnessing severe violation of civil liberties. The present situation is unprecedented, as no previous chief minister had enjoyed such absolute power and the bureaucracy assuming the character of employees. There has been complete abdication of responsibility by the state Government to protect life, liberty, and dignity of the people. Kidnapping and extortion is now big business in this state. The professional groups are being targeted and people live in fear. Any protest, of which there are some examples have been ruthlessly suppressed. The criminals go scot free while the families of the victim remain as witness, as the right to prosecute is vested in the state. There should be some amendment made in the law, which can empower the victim's family to prosecute.

What is worse, is the perpetration of crimes by those in power and by those who enjoy political patronage. There are ministers and legislators who have committed crimes, but are too powerful to receive any punishment. These, he said, are not ordinary crimes committed by anti- social elements, they are attacks on the life and the personal liberty of the people with the willful connivance of the state and the only remedy available is the mobilisation of public opinion. He said that one remedy could be amending Act 356 of the constitution to empower the Supreme Court to decide about the functioning of the State Government and recommend mandatory imposition of President's rule in case it is otherwise. This might give the citizens the power to make the State Government accountable to some extent. He then referred to the violent clashes between various armed groups over the issue of land rights and the State Government lets the landowners and organisations claiming to take possession of the illegally held land to settle the issue between themselves. There are clashes between armed criminal groups committed to different ideologies. It is the duty of the state to stop all this and its connivance is a violation of human rights by default. Exploitation of caste loyalty for political support has always existed, but caste animosity did not exist but now mass killings of innocent men, women and children do not evoke revulsion against such crimes, instead these killings evoke contradictory responses, either sorrow or joy.

It is important to understand that the essence of human rights is not in its being enshrined in the U.N. Declaration but in its universality, which needs to be internalised. But when a society is divided on caste, communal and ethnic lines it offers a very hostile climate for civil rights. Human rights cannot be protected only by laws alone but with societal support and the society will have to internalise the protection of human rights as an abiding value. The determination of a person's status on the basis of birth, economic or any other consideration are inimical to our cause, but with time this mindset among those who dominate our political and social life and this poses the most formidable challenge to the human rights movement.

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