and Human Rights:
National and International Perspective
-- By Y.P. Chhibbar
International attention became focused on terrorism with the attack on
World Trade Centre twin towers and Pentagon on September11, 2001. Since
it was the first time that such attacks were experienced by the U S A
on its surface, it shook up the entire country from the President downwards.
And for the first time terrorism became a four letter word in the U S
A. The citizen on the street and the entire power structure of the U S
A felt humiliated at the gall of the attackers.
A similar incident, back home, was the attack on Indian Parliament on
December 13, 2001.Here the situation was different in the sense that for
the first time such a serious attack was mounted on the symbol of Indian
Republic in the capital of the country. It gave the government a powerful
argument in favour of 'streamlining' and 'providing more teeth' to the
existing anti-terror laws.
power structure of our country did not react qualitatively very different
from the power structure of the United States except that the latter was
in a position to take independent decisions in its interest unhindered
by any other limitations. The power structure of our country felt strengthened
in its pleadings in the court of the U S A against Pakistan.
The international bulwark of joint action concerning any development that
impinges on the international law rightfully belongs to the United Nations.
The new situation created by the attack on the twin towers exposed the
impotence of the world body and underlined the position of the U S A as
an undeclared rival of the United Nations.
On the home turf, the government received widespread popular support in
favour of the existing laws designated as 'anti terror laws' and a fillip
to adopt more such measures with the result that in the general atmosphere
created by this attack in favour of license to curtail liberties, the
attempts to browbeat and suppress the media, Indian and foreign, did not
evoke much protest. Even when those elected representatives who had supported
such 'anti-terrorism' laws in the Parliament were themselves detained
under these laws there was not much hue and cry against it.
While in the USA the brunt of anti-terrorism steps was borne by the foreigners,
mainly the foreigners from Asian countries, in India it fell on the common
citizen. It had happened in the past also when the TADA was in operation.
It was widely applied on trade union workers, political activists, and
defenders of Human Rights.
One fallout of the United States campaign against terrorism was destruction
of Afghanistan and conversion of Pakistan into one of the bases for mounting
attacks on Afghanistan, compelling the country to completely reverse its
policy vis-à-vis Taliban Afghanistan.
There are strong possibilities at present (which may turn into a reality
by the time these lines appear in print) that the U S A may start a second
war against Iraq. How far is the USA concerned with containing Iraq in
its 'criminal' intentions and how far is it concerned with its oil is
an important question. It is also important to note that it has been made
clear that while the USA has the right to pre-emptive strikes, India (or
for that matter Pakistan) does not.
point to be noted here is that while all anti-terrorism fortifications,
technological and armament based, in countries in the Asian sub-continent
and the limited wars as anti-terrorism steps, prove a tremendous strain
on the economy of such countries, they result in a huge surplus creation
for the American armament industry. Such situations, therefore, receive
solid backing of the American politico-economic structure. As other under
developed countries step up the process of equipping for 'containing and
facing terrorist acts' the American economy, and also the economics of
its European allies, net increased demand in these fields. Limited wars
between two under developed countries or against such a country by the
U.S. creates increased demands in Defence Industries of the U.S. and its
Armament industry thrives during such wars. Armaments are produced for
destruction and are needed again and again as the war goes on. The relationship
of the development of capitalist countries and the resources and markets
of the underdeveloped countries has been forcefully laid bare by political
and economic thinkers like A.A. Berle, John Kenneth Galbraith, Paul A
Baran, Paul A Sweezy, and others.
The above may appear a disjointed narration but there is a binding string
running right through. In today's unipolar world scene anti-terrorism
campaigns, especially those emanating from the U.S.A., cannot be separated
from globalisation and the end aim turns out to be service of American
At home we have to pause and think. We have to separate the grain from
the chafe. Our political thinkers, academics, and the media have to girdle
themselves to examine rationally all the steps being taken to see how
far they impinge on the Human Rights of the people. How far in the name
of challenging terrorism from across the borders we are fanning communalism
at home (a la Modi, Bal Thakckeray, Togadia, Singhal et al.) How far we
are creating an atmosphere of intolerance by exhorting the people against
one religion or the other and calling upon the people to be vigilant against
one minority or the other is a question that merits serious consideration.
In a surcharged atmosphere you may not need to say something in so many
words. An oblique Togadia or a blatant Singhal would serve the purpose.
In such situations there is always a possibility of going back to June
1975. We have to remember that suspension of fundamental rights may not
always be sudden and in one stroke.
Every law restricts some rights. Some laws restrict even human rights
as defined by the United Nations. True, some restrictions may be inevitable
because society in the real world is not Utopia as visualized by Sir Thomas
More wherein everything is perfect or idealistic and all the citizens
are selfless. The spirit of capitalism, today's reigning philosophy, derives
from selfishness of human beings. In a society of self-less citizens Capitalism
will fail. Capitalism has to have laws to safeguard the selfish spirit
of the individual. It is not called individualism for nothing.
One person's rights ends where the other person's rights begin. We have
to be clear and conscious, therefore, that when we make a law and restrict
the freedoms of the citizens, the restrictions have to be minimum, well
defined, and open to justiciability. There have to be clear and strong
safe guards and the restrictions have to be, the especially in the case
of human rights, temporary.
In today's scenario we have also to see whether our laws serve our interests.
The interests of an under developed country may clash with the interest
of developed countries, though their will always be grey areas. Such a
situation needs fearless and honest leadership. We have to beware that
compelled by globalization or 'need to curb terrorism' we may not be surviving
the interest of the developed world. Just as terrorism is temporary, curbs
on human rights also have to be temporary as human rights are permanent.
To summarise the argument, we have to understand that every act of terrorism
infringes on the human rights of the people. We also have to accept that
laws restrict rights of the people, necessarily or unnecessarily. But
we have to be clear that we have to define terrorism in the context of
our country and have to devise temporary limitations on the rights of
the people. International pressures may land us in situations which may
push us into the lap of self appointed Inspectors of the world who need
our markets and resources and are therefore keen to point out 'identity
of interests' in fighting 'international terrorism'.