PUCL Bulletin, March 2003

Human rights - What next
By V.M. Tarkunde
8 Oct., .2002, New Delhi

Most of the civil liberties and human rights guaranteed by the Constitution or otherwise provided by law are intended to serve the purpose that political power should be utilised by the people and not merely for the people. That seems to be the purpose of all important civil liberties and human rights, such as equality before the law, non-discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth, abolition of untouchability, freedom of speech and expression, right to information, etc.

If the main purpose of civil liberties and human rights is to enable the people to directly utilise the political and economic powers placed in their hands, it is obvious that the most important of the civil liberties and human rights is the decentralisation of power and empowerment of the people through a suitable media such as the panchayat system in rural areas and through municipalities in town and cities. However, although the Constitution makes it necessary to provide for well-functioning panchayats and municipalities, it is found that almost everywhere the people are deprived of power by such means as postponing the elections of panchayats and municipalities or the undue empowerment of Government appointed Secretaries of gram panchayats and municipalities or empowering the local MPs and MLAs.

There are very few places where themselves have been able to exercise the power granted by the law. It is however found that in every place where people are allowed to look after their own affairs, they have achieved real progress, which is spectacular in some cases. Hence the next step in Indian path of progress is to ensure that the Indian people are able to exercise power at a grass root level by removing all the impediments created by the local self government, by MPs and MLAs and by other vested interests, so people's self rule become a reality.

The real difficulty is that the people's will to take the future in their own hands and to be the makers of their destiny is almost absent in most places. That is why the people rarely resist the attempt made by the local government and other vested interests to snatch the power away from their hands. The result is that we still have in most places a regime where power is exercised "for" the people and not "by" the people.

In the normal course, decentralisation of power and creation of an apparatus of a panchayat system in rural areas and municipalities in all towns and cities should have been preceded by a struggle of the ordinary people to have power in their own hands. In India, however, the demand for decentralisation was a demand of the middle class and not of the poor and deprived majority. Even the middle class people who demand decentralisation did not have to work hard to secure their object. It appears that the Central Government in Indira Gandhi's time desired to cripple the powers of the State Governments by setting up a system of gram panchayats and the extension of municipalities so as to cover all towns and cities. The fact that the laws (a constitutional amendment) providing for decentralisation of power was enacted without any struggle by the ordinary people is the main reason is why the law so enacted is not being properly implemented.

What is necessary now is to have a countrywide movement amongst the ordinary people, the deprived majority, to insist that they will strive for the improvement of their lot and that they must have the necessary power under the law which would enable them to work for their own progress. They should give up the idea that the law can be utilised by others who promise to work for them, such as the agents of State Governments, the local MPs and MLAs and other vested interests. They can improve education by supervision over the local schools; they can enhance agricultural production by watershed management and by having better seeds and manure; they can control population growth; they can create communal harmony
and they can in fact do everything necessary for their own progress.

To promote the spirit of self-reliance and mutual cooperation amongst the people is, therefore, the main task of non-party organisations (NGOs) like radical humanists, PUCL, socialists, progressive Gandhians and all those who are willing to work 'with' the people and not merely 'for' the people. The few places where the ordinary people have taken power in their own hands and tried to improve their lot, have achieved spectacular success. Let us go to villages and to the centers of the deprived people in towns and cities 'for' the purpose, not of working 'for' them, but of working with them.

India at present is in a condition of social stagnation. A country-wide movement of the type mentioned above can change this situation and place the country on the path of progress.

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