Bulletin, May 2003
23rd JP Memorial Lecture
rights in retreat
-- By P.B. Sawant
(Justice P.B. Sawant started his practice in the Mumbai High Court in
1957 and was elevated as a judge of the Court in March 1973. He came to
the Supreme Court in 1989 from where the retired in 1995. He was appointed
the Chairperson of the Press Council of India in 1995 from where is retired
in 2001. He was elected President of the World Association of Press Council
in 1996, which office he relinquished in March 2003. As the chief of the
Press Council of India he had raised the issue of private ownership vis-à-vis
freedom of the press.)
I am beholden to the President and the General Secretary of the PUCL for
inviting me to deliver this 23rd J.P. Memorial annual lecture under the
auspices of their organization.
After carving out in the heart of the people, his place as one of the
darling young leaders of the freedom movement, true to his self-effacing
nature, he chose to remain away from power-politics, when the independence
invited the people to rule themselves. It appears he was convinced from
the beginning that the social revolution that he and others had dreamt
of and for which essentially, the freedom struggle was lunched would never
be realized, by exercising power from above and through the governmental
machinery. The place to start the revolution was at the grass-root level,
and in India in the villages. He devoted himself to the constructive work
there, while continuing to guide the socialist movement throughout the
country with his abiding faith in democratic socialism as the true solution
for the ills of the masses.
With the courage of his conviction, transparent of his intention and
clear of his goal, he continued to wiled a moral influence on the political
life of the country, and to inspire the young and the old alike. Were
it not for the perversion of the democratic process, the subversion of
the rule of law, the rank corruption and criminalisation of the public
life, he might never have returned to the active political life. But when
he saw all this and something more, including the wanton suppression of
the basic civil liberties of the people, and not only the absence of any
resistance but a crawling submission to it, true to his creed and indomitable
spirit, during the emergency, he thought it is duty to rise to the occasion,
in spite of his failing health. To me his greatest contribution to the
country's polity, lies in the fact that without any political organisation
of his own, he could rally round him people with diverse and even opposing
creeds, and launch a successful movement, the first of its kind in the
post independence period. It has its lessons for all times and for all
those who may feel overwhelmed by the adverse political circumstances
and helpless to fight them.
The JP movement has shown that with a common cause, the will to unite,
and the moral leadership, the masses can be galvanized to attain their
goal. True it is that thought J.P. had no political organization of his
own those who rallied round him had their own, even with drilled and disciplined
cadres. True it is that their temporary unity was brought about by the
same juggernaut of brutal force. True it is also, that they had come together
with diverse ultimate ends. In mind and using the temporary unity as a
device to achieve them, which fact was fully exposed soon thereafter.
But this does not detract from the value of the message the experiment
has generated. Those who will ardently, can unite to meet the common threat,
in spite of the crippling handicaps.
Is there not a worse situation today than during the Emergency? There
was no colonization of the country by the foreign powers, with agriculture,
industry, education, defense, health and trade being at their mercy. There
was no communalization of the country's private and public life on the
present scale with the communal parties and their militant armed outfits
and volunteers attacking the life, liberty, dignity and property of the
religious minorities. There was no unbridled play of capitalist forces,
with public undertakings and public assets being handed over to them for
a song on a platter. The unemployment is rising by leaps and bounds, the
inequalities are widening, the corruption and criminalisation of public
life has increased many fold, the communalization of the institutions
of both the political and civil society including education, is going
apace, and the terrorization of the dissenting voices through even physical
attacks is taking place with impunity. But where is the unity among the
forces opposed to these evils today? Where is the leadership to lead them?
That brings home the unique importance of J.P. and his movement.
It is both ironic and tragic that the new movement, if at all it is organised
today, will have to be launched against the forces patronized, encouraged,
connived at and unleashed by those very leaders some of whom were in the
forefront of the J.P. Movement. May his soul rest in peace!
It is for this reason that I have chosen the present subject with a design.
What were the human rights which J.P. stood for in his life and which
were the rights and the values he wanted to preserve and promote by launching
the movement? Are the safe today, or are they being trampled upon every
Generally the civil liberties and the political rights are traced to Magna
Carta (Charta) which contained sixty three chapters and was forced upon
the reluctant King John of England by his rebellious barons, dressed in
marshal apron, at Runnymede in 1215. But few know that its ancestors were
two earlier precedents which were also both English. The last of the pre-Norman
Kings, Edward the Confessor, had some rights enumerated in his laws which
were later incorporated in Coronation Charter issued by Henry I in 1100,
in a bid for support, when he seized the English throne. The Charter was
no more than a mere promise to observe the rights, the charter being itself
revocable at the King's pleasure.
The Magna Carta was drawn up on the basis of the Coronation Charter.
Although it became the fundamental law of the future, it was sought to
be repudiated by King John soon after he signed it, with the support of
Pope Innocent III who declared it void. But the Nature intervened and
the death of both the Pope and the King in 1216 averted the repudiation
and also further revolution, when King Henry III, the son of John renewed
the pledge to observe it and reissued it in a slightly altered from, in
1225. It is this document which remains on the English statute book, today.
The civil and political rights secured by the barons under the Charter
were nothing but their feudal rights which worked for their immediate
Not only the commoners were not benefited by them, but the oppression
of tenants increased thereafter, since the barons looked upon the Charter
as a freedom for greater oppression of their tenants, its first expansive
interpretation came at its first reissue in 1225, which acknowledged that
the rights of liberty mentioned therein were meant for "people and
populace" alike (note the differentiation made between 'people' and
'populace'). The document had no smooth journey. It had to be reissued
thirty-two times by reviving it, whenever it fell out of favour with the
kings. With all the vicissitudes in its journey, its single-most contribution
is the establishment of the concept of the rule of law as against the
rule by arbitrary and temperamental whims. Its further connotation that
the law was above everybody including the king, and even the king was
subject to the same law as the commoner, facilitated the development of
democracy -- "a government of laws and not of men". The Charter
soon came to be looked upon as declaration of rights and also as a source
of rights, and judgments in violation of these rights came to be looked
upon as invalid. The government was subjected to the limitations prescribed
by the rights, and the concept of constitutionalism was born.
This history of the origin of the Civil and political rights is as much
interesting as instructive. Interesting, because the rights came to be
guaranteed by the kings to appease the then insignificant but powerful
minority of the landed aristocracy, to secure their support to their rule.
They were then of use only to the barons to protect their interest as
against the Crown on the one hand, and the tenants on the other. The definition
of the 'people' was limited to the then elite, the 'populace' -- the commoner,
being unable to use them with no means to do so. It is instructive because
they opened the door for the rule of 'law' and the 'government of laws'
making all, including the then sovereign, the king, subject to the same
law and subordinate to its authority. The written charter of rights did
something more, in due course.
The orders issued and the decisions given in violation of those rights
came to be considered as non est. The practice of written declaration
of the rights grew, some of them being held as inalienable rights of Man.
Beginning with the U.S.A.., (1789), a practice developed for the nation-states
to incorporate a written bill of rights in their constitutions. And we
have now declaration and conventions beginning with the Universal Declaration
of the Human Rights (1948), a whole set of human rights of the people
declared by the United Nations and covering the entire globe. They answer
the needs of the human race felt from time to time and are binding on
all the nations which are parties to the declarations and the conventions
in which they are incorporated. Although, the mankind now represented
in the United Nations through 189 national-states, has during the last
fifty eight years made progress in acknowledging a whole range of human
rights from the right to life and security, to the right to share in the
scientific advances and the cultural heritage of the mankind, has the
world as a whole or the individual nations, made progress in securing
to all their citizens at least the self-evident inalienable rights to
life, liberty, security and happiness? If not, what are the factors and
the forces responsible for the same?
Pausing here for a moment, we may ask a question, whether with the social
and economic inequalities of the present social order, the same process
of exploitation, as prevailed during the days of the Magna Charta is not
on today? It is only those with power, are able to use the rights whether
they are declared by the international documents or national constitutions,
at the cost of the powerless, with the legal sanction behind it. The exploitation
of the present, may be with a human face, nevertheless it is expropriation
of the wealth produced by others.
De-democratisation of the polity
The human civilization marched from the feudal polity to democracy, and
from the feudal economy to the capitalist economy and thence to the experiment
in the planned socialist management of the economy in a sizeable part
of the world. While it can be said, with some amount of confidence, that
democracy as distinguished from the other forms of the political management
of the society, has gained acceptance and ground in many countries of
the world, its from and practice is not uniform everywhere. The principles
that the affairs of the nation must be managed by the elected representatives
of the people, that they have to be managed by the rule of law and not
by the arbitrary will of those who govern, and that all are subject to
the same law and none is above the law, would appear to have been accepted
and mostly practiced in the countries which are running some kind or the
other, of a democratic regime. In some of these countries, there are occasional
attempts to repudiate even these basic principles, but the people sooner
or later succeed in asserting themselves, and reestablish their minimum
But the governance of the country by the people either directly by themselves
or through their elected representatives, and the enforcement of the rule
of law, though important, are not the only essential features of a truly
democratic regime. A citizenry well-empowered to assert itself; sufficiently
well-informed to take proper decisions on public issues, active enough
to participate in the day today affairs of the state, and always alert
to call the governors to account for their acts of omission and commission,
are the minimum prerequisites of a successful democracy. These preconditions
of an effective democratic regime presume the existence of a social order
which ensures firstly, that every citizen is assured of at least the minimum
basic rights to equip himself/herself physically, mentally, intellectually
and morally, to play his/her part as an effective citizen, and secondly
there exist no social and economic inequalities at least to the extent
where some are in a position to dominate the will of others. Judged by
these criteria, it would appear that at present no country in the world,
including the so-called advanced democracies, has a real democracy in
practice. In the U.S.A. itself the economic inequalities are significant.
The social and economic inequalities in the society tend to subvert the
democracy, right from the electoral process, and the decision and law
making process, to the implementation of the laws and decisions.
Those with unequal money power are in a position to control all the key
institutions-the media, the bureaucracy, the police etc. and manipulate
and corrupt them, manufacture consent in their favour, and sabotage not
only the will of the people, but also the law of the land. It was expected
that in the onward march of the humanity. The democracy will be strengthened
by increasing empowerment of the people, and by reducing the power of
the privileged class to dominate, and interfere with, the democratic rights
of the people. However, with the widening social and economic inequalities,
the democratic process is being increasingly undermined. The political
power is being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, and even the issues
of war and peace, of long term obligations of the nations, and of the
survival and sustenance of the nations themselves, are decided by ignoring
the people and their elected representatives.
In fact, there is a trend towards de-democratising the polity. Even according
to Aristotle-the apostle of democracy, democracy never meant the rule
of the people but only of the elite of the society. Most of those who
advocated democracy down to the 19th century did so, to prefer it to the
monarchy and with a narrow definition of the world 'people' to mean the
aristocracy of the intellectuals. Including Madison, they had a profound
contempt of the 'ignorant rowdy crowd'. Their disciples in the present
century are not few. Since, however, they cannot openly plead for the
exclusion of the people, they have been resorting to the next best thing
viz., to exclude from the purview of the people as many subjects of governance
as possible. The attempts at present afoot in this country as well as
in other countries, to privatize as many aspects of the affairs of the
country as possible, from education to defense, and thereby to exclude
them from the people's jurisdiction, is a clever device to effectuate
by the back door what cannot be achieved openly. If this process continues,
a time may come when people will have no aspect, of the governance left
with them, except the maintenance of the law and order. The right of the
people to govern themselves is thus being increasingly devalued and denied.
In that sense there is a privatization of the democracy itself.
irrational economic system
The economy is the basis of both civil and political society; and the
social, political, economic and cultural rights of the individuals stand
defined by it.
Neither the feudal nor the capitalist economy could be said to have been
organized for the benefit of the people. They were meant to serve the
interests of the privileged, notwithstanding the cost of it to the rest
of the society. The welfare of the society was the last thing intended
by them. On the other hand, they could prosper only by exploiting the
underdogs. The capitalist economy with free enterprise and competition,
always kept the society on tenterhooks, and the people's livelihood was
perched on the vicissitudes of the market forces. Precisely to do away
with this state of affairs, that the philosophy of socialism was born
and a planned economy with planned priorities, production and distribution
was advocated. Under the socialist economy, all the resources of the society
were to be the property of the State. They were first to be utilized for
meeting the basic human needs of every individual and the surplus was
then to be distributed according to their varying functional needs. The
inequalities in individual incomes were to be reduced to the minimum,
none getting more than was needed to discharge his function. In short,
an egalitarian society with justice to all was the goal, which was to
be attained by organizing the economy on rational basis.
The experiment to organize the economy on the socialist principles was
made first in the Soviet Union, and after the Second World War in the
East European countries, in China, in Cuba and some other countries. Initially,
it showed tremendous success in the Soviet Union, and the socialist economy
there brought about material progress in few years, which the capitalist
countries had not achieved during the last two centuries. This, in spite
of the constant machinations of the capitalist countries to topple the
socialist regime, and the ravages of the Second World War. Under the guidance
of the Soviet Union, the East European and other countries also made some
significant progress. But, thanks to the exclusive dependence on the party
and the government machinery, the one party totalitarian system, the suppression
of freedom of speech and expression and of the dissent, and the sabotaging
tactics of the capitalist countries, the Soviet experiment in socialist
management of the economy, came to an end in 1989, after about seventy-two
years, and with it also, the experiments in the Eastern Europe. The only
economies organized on socialist principles which at present survive are
those in China and Cuba, which countries are following their own indigenous
patterns of socialist management of their economies.
The era which was opened up for the assurance of the basic economic rights
for all, came to a close in the Soviet Union and the Eastern European
countries abruptly, and its place was taken by widespread unemployment,
scarcity of the basic necessities, almost hyper-inflation, beggary, crime
and violence. A vast section of the populace in these countries was deprived
and continues to be deprived of the basic human needs.
The story in Cuba is of a different genre. Because this tiny country continues
to defy the attempts its powerful capitalist neighbour is making, to compel
it to fail in line, it has become a victim of the economic sanctions and
the blockade imposed upon it, and the Cubans are being subjected to all
kinds of hardships including starvation and even lack of basic medicines.
This much for the respect for human rights by the super powers.
The point to be noted is that while constant attempts are being made by
the capitalist countries to prevent others from developing themselves
according to their choice and evolving social orders suitable to them,
endeavours are also being made by them to impose on others social orders
and ideologies to promote the interests of the world-capitalism, by all
means, with no holds barred. The overthrow of the hostile regimes by violent
means, the assassination of the rulers, creation of division and anarchy,
fomenting of the internecine wars, installing puppet regimes and dictatorships,
wholesale physical liquidation of the dissenters etc. are the usual methods
resorted to, by these powers.
The globalisation, which is orchestrated through its Gurus and the media,
is nothing but the international incarnation of capitalism. As far as
the developing countries are concerned, it is an euphemism for new economic
imperialism or neo-colonialism. With unequal power to compete with the
advanced countries, on account of the backward technology of production,
the developing countries are being converted into the markets for the
products of the advanced countries. The result has been that both agriculture
and industry in the developing countries have received a setback with
the agriculturists unable to sell their produce and the industries closing
down one after the other. Added to the disability to compete, are the
restrictions imposed by the WTO on tariffs, subsidies, duties, etc., to
prevent the developing countries from protecting the markets for their
products, their agriculture and industries, and the employment in their
But globalisation has not stopped there. It has also led to the loss of
national resources of the new colonies, and the destruction of the environment
there, displacement of the population from their natural habitat, flooding
the markets with harmful products and drugs, and general impoverishment
and degradation of life. This has in turn led to the rise in crime and
violence, and the culture of inhuman behavior. To encourage this culture,
all kinds of media, the big and small screen, the print, the advertisements,
etc., are enrolled. An all-out attempt is made to spread the culture of
consumerism and to impose it on the developing countries. The rights to
develop one's economy, to lead one's way of life and to preserve and promote
one's culture are thus directly and indirectly invaded and dented.
The national terrorism
The section of the society who are denied the basic human rights, and
even the right to redress their grievances, are forced to resort either
to peaceful or violent agitation. Since the redress of their grievances
invariably involves the parting of some property or rights by the established
interest, or of the property of the government, or concessions by it to
the agitationists, even the peaceful agitation is sought to be countered
by repressive measures. These measures are taken by the established interests
themselves or by the government on their behalf and of course by the government
when it has to part with some property or to give concessions which they
resist. In either case, violent attacks on the life, liberty, property
and the dignity of the individuals follows. The deprived sections suffer
double injury, first because of the denial of their legitimate rights,
and then on account of the violence unleashed against them. The casualties
depend on the leadership of the agitating and the established sections,
and the attitude and approach of the government machinery. At some places,
both the deprived and the established sections have raised their regular
armed outfits. The vicious circle of the attacks on each other continues
The political militants and terrorists are another section who seek to
secure their ends by violent means.
They believe that by letting loose terror by killings, rapes, explosions,
and destruction of the property, they may be in a position to secure their
objectives. The force thus let loose by them is sought to be checked by
the police and the army, wherever deployed, by resorting to violence.
The daily casualties in these encounters add up to a number of lives,
including those of the innocent men, women and children.
The peaceful political agitators also, many times become the targets of
the police. Even the media persons are not spared, and if they carry cameras,
they become the easy first victims, lest they capture the scenes of the
atrocities by the police.
The abuse of the preventive detention laws like POTA against their political
opponents by the ruling parties, goes on like a slinging match between
the political rivals, along with the arrests and prosecutions on false
charges. But while this is publicized on a wide scale by the media, the
arrests, detention and prosecutions of innocent persons in the name of
the threat to the security of the State, is hardly noticed. Many fall
victims to this kind of harassment and prosecution by the State, almost
daily. Even those who raise dissenting voices are dubbed as enemies of
the State, and incarcerated in the prisons under the detention laws.
The number of those killed in the police encounters is increasing daily.
It becomes easy to wipe out the political opponents by faking encounters,
with impunity. Some political outfits and parties have come to depend
upon the criminal element to attain power. In the process, the rival criminal
gangs are patronised by the rival parties. After coming to power, the
score is settled through the police by fake encounters, arrests and detention
on false charges, and by murders, which are never investigated. The deaths
in police custody and during the so called attempts to escape, during
chase and during attempts to avoid arrests etc. are almost daily occurrences
in some States. When however, the police is politicised, the police felling
assured of their unaccountability, the State terrorism of various kinds
is let loose on the innocent, with impunity.
The terrorism of the mafia and the gangsters to collect ransom, has been
a comparatively recent phenomenon. With gross inequalities in income,
conspicuous consumption of the rich, and the growing unemployment, and
criminalisation and corruption of the public life, the underworld living
on loot and ransom, has come to occupy a sizeable social space. Some of
them even occupy elective offices. The life is becoming increasingly insecure,
threatening the very civilized existence.
Communalism and casteism
While the occasional conflicts triggered by the racial, regional, religious
and linguistic differences, and the caste rivalries are not unknown to
this land, the recent emergence of the phenomenon of the State-sponsored
attacks on the minority religious communities should become a matter of
grave concern to all humanists. The genocide of the Muslim community in
Gujarat in February/March 2002 with the active support of the State government,
in which the ministers of the government and the police personnel actively
participated with the blessings of the Chief Minister, is not only a brazenly
atrocious criminal offence by the law of the land, but also a crime under
the international law. During the Gujarat carnage, the constitution and
the rule of law remained suspended, and the human rights of the Muslim
men, women and children were mercilessly trampled upon while their houses,
the property and the means of livelihood were permanently destroyed.
About 2000 Muslims were killed and more than 200 women were mass-raped.
The destruction of the mosques and dargahs was undertaken with revenge.
What is worse, the police prevented even the apprehension of the criminals
including the recording of the first information reports of the incidents
and of the names of the accused. Equally callous and sadistic was the
treatment accorded to the refugees huddled into the camps, which were
organised and catered to not by the government, but by the private individuals
from the Muslim community.
Although the cause of fire in the railway compartment of the Sabarmati
Express, at Godhra on the 27th February, which led to the carnage of the
Muslims, is yet not ascertained, suspects all from the Muslim community
are being arrested and tortured. While the fire if set by some individual's
is certainly both a heinous and an inhuman crime and has to be punished
with all the severity the law permits, it is surprising that even after
a year the mystery of its cause remains unresolved. In the meanwhile,
it continues to provide excuse for arousing the passions of the majority
community against the Muslims, and with the slightest excuse, the attacks
on the Muslim community have continue to take place at various places
in Gujarat, since then.
But Muslims are not the only community under attack in Gujarat. There
are sporadic attacks also on Christians and their houses and places of
While the attacks on the dalits in the different parts of the country
have not abated, those on the minority communities have increased. It
appears that some organizations like Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang
Dal are busy raising armed volunteers, while the Shiv Sena has given a
call for suicide squads, all in the name of protecting Hindu religion
and culture. All these organisations cherish dictatorship as their ideal.
The VHP also wants amendment of the Constitution, to make the country
a Hindu Rashtra - a theocratic state with the other religionists relegated
to the status of the second class citizens. The fascist ideology with
all its anti-human implications is being openly preached.
The International terrorism, war and weaponry of mass destruction:
With more sophisticated weaponry, the advanced means of transport and
communication, and the new devices and strategies, the terrorism across
the border, particularly between the countries with disputes with each
other, has increased during the last two decades. Many of these terrorist
attacks go unnoticed by the world community when the victims are the under
developed or the developing countries and their people. Whether it is
bomb blasts, suicide squads, abductions, hijacking of planes, ships or
vehicles, or exploding them, destruction of the buildings, outright shooting
etc, the terrorist attacks are planned, organised and masterminded, its
victims mostly being the innocent civilians, and in some cases the unwarned
army and police personnel. Thus the advances in science and technology
while benefiting the mankind, have also enhanced the capacities and the
potentialities of the destructive forces.
In the meanwhile, the emergence of the U.S.A as the unchallenged super
power since 1990's after the collapse of the Soviet Union, has multiplied
threats to the political, economic and military security of the mankind
as a whole.
The threat of war and of the nuclear annihilation of mankind:
The in-built law of expansion of the capitalist economy ultimately leads
it to colonising weaker, countries both for natural resources, for the
promotion of its industries and for marketing its products. The economic
and political imperialism is the result, and the use of all stratagems
including the overthrow of the unfavourable regimes and rulers, assassination
of the hostile elements, installation of puppet regimes and authoritarian
rule through them etc. To secure the desired objectives all follow as
a natural course. To capture as much part of the world as possible for
the purpose being the end, a constant increase in the military power becomes
inevitable. The manufacture of increasingly destructive weapons and keeping
ahead in the arms-race become a priority. Today the U.S.A. and its satellite
countries have nearly 36000 nuclear heads in addition to the chemical
and biological weapons.
Each of the nuclear heads is capable of destroying in a few seconds all
animal and plant life in a sizeable part of the world. With this stockpile
of weaponry, no part of the planet is safe. The entire humanity today
lives constantly under threat. A mere pressing of the button can make
the difference between life and death for all life on the planet and can
convert the entire planet into a desert in no time. Armed with this arsenal
of death and destruction of the billions, the U.S.A. has been dictating
terms to the other nations to fall in line or to face sure annihilation.
The latest instance in point is of Iraq. In the name of wiping out the
so called terrorism, the U.S.A. wants to gain control over Iraq's oil,
which today accounts for 1/10th of the total oil available in the world.
Under one excuse or the other, the U.S.A. wanted to wage war and overthrow
the present Iraqi President Saddam's regime, since Saddam is not ready
to oblige the U.S.A. with the control over the Iraq's oils resources.
The war is waged defying the world opinion and also the U.N. Security
Council. The U.S. is thus playing the role of an international bully and
is terrorising the World. The U.S. is not only acting as the terrorist
state, but is also thereby encouraging terrorism in the world.
In the last war against Iraq, in 1991, the U.S. military killed 200,000
civilians and 200,000 army personnel and destroyed civilian property worth
millions of dollars. What will be the damage in the present war? The record
of the death and destruction wrought by the U.S. in different parts of
the world during the last more than hundred years since 1898, speaks for
It is not only the human rights of the Iraqis but of the entire mankind,
which are under threat today. The fall-out of the nuclear war-fare apart
from spreading to the globe will also affect the generations to come.
But the financial-industrial-military coterie of the U.S. is completely
blinded by their short-term narrow selfish interests, as usual. A regime,
which is controlled and virtually run by these interests, will always
remain a menace to the humanity. If we are serious in averting danger
to the humanity which is inherent in the mass-destruction weaponry, the
least that we can do is to demand and enforce the dismantling and destruction
of all such weapons that may be in possession of any country, beginning
with the U.S.A., and a ban on the manufacture and possession of such weapons
by any country hereafter.
Any one who directly or indirectly assists in manufacturing or possessing
such weapons, including the scientists and the technocrats who design
the weapons, should be declared as criminal offenders under the international
law framed for the purpose, and prosecuted before the international criminal
tribunal and suitably punished. Without such measures, all talk of protecting
and promoting human rights sounds hollow and insincere.
destruction of environment
The world has been a global village environmentally since the birth of
the planet, though it may have become a global village commercially today
on account of the advances in the transport and communication technology.
Any changes in the weather conditions in any comer of the earth have their
impact sooner or later in the other parts of the planet. The sea-water
undergoes similar changes, whether it is on account of natural or man-made
disasters. Whether it is a nuclear weapon explosion, atomic plant mishap,
nuclear, chemical, biological or germ warfare; the destruction of green
coverage, forest fires, fires in oil-wells, oil-spills, production and
use of dangerous substances, gases etc. Its effects are felt everywhere,
by the plant and the animal life. The thinning of the ozone layer, the
warming of the hole in it, the warming of the globe, the reduction in
the rain-fall, the acid rain, the lowering of the water-table, the scarcity
of water, the pollution of the air, water and soil; the green house effects;
and the denuding of the non-renewable resources of the earth are some
of the immediate consequences of consumerism and competition promoted
by the capitalist economy and the acquisitive society. The future of man
is thus in danger. Instead of marching towards freedom, prosperity and
happiness, the man is facing the prospect of penury, drudgery, and insecurity
of life. With the threat of war to be fought by the nuclear weapons, the
prospects of the survival of mankind are bleak.
censorship of free speech
The freedom of speech and expression is the mother of all the civil and
political rights and is therefore the foundation of democracy. The freedom
of the media is a species of this general right. In an unequal society,
it can be effectively used only by those with mean, whether from the platform
or through the media of various kind. The unequal economic power in the
inequitable society thus ultimately comes to vest the control over the
media only in the hands of the rich. The source of information and the
means of supplying it being concentrated in the hands of the few, the
suppression, distortion, manipulation, and planting of even false news
become easy and are not unknown to this business. By controlling and manipulating
the information, the few are thus in a position to control the decisions
on public issues, manufacture consent or dissent as desired, and direct
the course of affairs of the society. The enrolment of a section of the
media to propagate in favour of the Dabhol project of the multinational
Enron company, is fresh in our memory. The country's affairs thus come
to be run virtually by the media, democracy or no democracy.
Those who control the media, come to control the national and international
affairs. The propaganda in support of war against Iraq which is at present
launched by the international media and the similar propaganda which was
undertaken by it before launching and during the war against that country
in 1991, are patent instances on the point. The media-propaganda in favour
of globalisation and consumerism is another instance in point.
We in this country have also noticed the role played by certain section
of the media in Gujarat during the carnage of the Muslim minority there
in February/March 2002. The incitement to communal violence and the planting
of false news to trigger off communal riots, has been an old game of some
section of the media, in this country.
While some sections of the media indulge in the manipulation of the news
and information, the other section is under attack of the fascist forces
which have been gaining strength in the recent years. The dissenting voices
are sought to be suppressed by these forces, by attacking the journalists
physically and by destroying their property. Even social activists and
public speakers are physically prevented from speaking, and mercilessly
assaulted for expressing their views. An atmosphere of terror is created,
so that nobody dares to express opinions and views contrary to those of
the militant establishment. The fundamentalism, Communalism, casteism
and fascism are on the rise and the freedom of speech and expression,
the rule of law and the democracy itself, are on trial.
Incidentally, this very land gave birth to the first-ever Satyagrahi of
the world, and that too in defense of the right to the freedom of speech
and expression. It was in the region around here, at Dehu, that the great
saint Tukaram undertook the fast unto death against the triple punishment
imposed upon him by the then obscurantist establishment, for having composed
his Abhangas or the quartets which challenged the falsehood, the privileges,
the authority and the inequalities perpetrated in the name of God and
religion. He was asked to destroy his compositions, stop further compositions
and also to cease reciting them. When he did not comply, his property
including his house and land was confiscated, he was externed from the
village, and his entire composition was drowned in the nearest river.
He undertook fast, in protest against the punishment and remained without
food and water for thirteen days, at the end of which his property was
restored and the externment order was withdrawn. But his valuable composition
could not be retrieved.
It was reconstructed from memory, much of which had become a part of
the daily recitation of the village folk. In the process, lacs of words
of wisdom and invaluable philosophy were lost to the mankind forever.
Later, he became a martyr in the same cause of defending the right to
the freedom of speech. But in that martyrdom, he was in great and glorious
company of Socrates and Jesus. This was around the mid- seventeenth century.
Exactly three hundred years thereafter, we have the freedom of speech
and expression incorporated as the fundamental right in our Constitution.
But even 53 years thereafter, and in this 21st Century, the very same
forces of intolerance are attacking this right with the same brutal force.
Are they progressing or regressing?
journey in reverse
The preamble of the Charter of the United Nations adopted on the 26th
June 1945 reads as:
"We-the peoples of the United Nations determined
- To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice
in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
- To reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and
worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and
of nations large and small, and
- To establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations
arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be
- To promote social progress and better standards of life in larger
And for these ends:
- To practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another
as good neighbors, and
- To unite our strength to maintain international peace and security,
- To ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of
methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest,
- To employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic
and social advancement of all peoples".
The purposes of the United Nations are mentioned in Article I of
the Charter and they are:
- To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to
take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of
threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression
or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means,
and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law,
adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which
might lead to a breach of the peace;
- To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for
the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and
to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;
- To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems
of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in
promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental
freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion,
- To be a center for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment
of these common ends".
However, instead of peace, we had regional tensions, conflicts and wars
since the establishment of the UN and more people have been killed during
the last fifty-eight years than were killed during the last two World
Wars together, and many more maimed, injured, orphaned, rendered homeless
and destitute.. The property destroyed is similarly many times more in
value. There are regional conflicts triggered and arms-race encouraged
all to benefit the arms and ammunition industry and to maintain the hold
over the regions. The wars are deliberately initiated under one pretext
or the other, to loot and control the natural resources, and the nuclear
and chemical weapons are deployed in the wars irrespective of their consequences
to the humanity. The opposition to war is crushed by using all means,
and is drowned in massive war propaganda launched against it.
An enormous amount of the resources is diverted to the research, production
and testing of the arms and the ammunition, in spite of the fact that
1/6th of the population of the world goes to bed hungry, and an equal
number suffers from malnutrition and disease, and as least 20% have no
pure drinking water.
Although, the last fifty-eight years saw many erstwhile colonies gaining
independence, during the last two decades, many have become the victims
of economic imperialism of the super powers through the process of globalisation.
The developing countries and the newly independent nations, in particular,
stand converted into the markets for the products of the developed countries.
They have also been looted of their natural resources. Their agriculture
and industries are in shambles, and the unemployment in these countries
is increasing, with crime, violence and unrest on the upside. The countries
and their peoples, instead of becoming free, are becoming slaves of the
economically and militarily powerful. Those who do not toe the line are
being subjected to the economic sanctions and blockade, which result m
the deprivation of their populace of the basic human rights.
The destruction of the environment of these countries through the loot
of their resources, and by imposing on them exploitative economic order
and the consumerist culture, is spelling disaster for the entire mankind.
All over the world inequitable societies with growing poverty, hunger
and disease are increasing in number. The unemployment, destitution, violence
and crime have become the order of the day.
As if this was not enough, to support the inequitable social and economic
system, a culture of violence and crime is being deliberately spread through
big and small screen. The print media, the literature and the stage.
Instead of the egalitarian system and peaceful worlds, with dignity, security,
liberty, unity and happiness, for the individual we have today an international
culture of war, violence, constant insecurity and conflict on the one
hand, and poverty, hunger and disease for the majority on the other. Instead
of securing at least the basic human rights for all, we have more and
more people being deprived of them.
Instead of enlightened humanism, fraternity, respect for all faiths, ideologies
and ways of life, scientific temper and spirit of enquiry, we have growing
intolerance of others, deepening fundamentalism, and widening schism based
on race, religion, language and caste.
How many show concern about it? On the other hand, both the print and
the electronic media, to a great extent, seems to be yoked to the juggernaut
of the new inhuman culture unleashed by the powerful forces of the world.
If the present process continues, while the progress in science and technology
may land us in the outer space, the social and economic order that we
are promoting will take us back to the Stone Age.
Is there a solution?
With the march of time, it was expected that the human rights will be
expanded in scope and enriched in their content. While the rights as expounded
by the U.N. came to include over the years, the social, political, economic
and cultural rights, and also the rights against discrimination on any
ground including race and gender, and against slavery, and the right to
peace and development, in practice, they also continued to be decimated
and devalued. The humanism underlying the human rights itself came to
be denigrated. This was facilitated by the power of governance, and therefore
the power of giving teeth to the rights, remaining in the hands of the
few. In the capitalist economies, the inequitable economic system made
it possible while in the socialist systems, the want of the freedom of
speech and expression and of the multiparty polity secured that result.
The small privileged class continued to perpetrate itself.
The democracy implies the right to dissent and to organise the dissent.
It also implies the accountability of the rulers to the people. Necessarily,
therefore the freedom of speech and expression and of association are
the minimum political rights that have to be guaranteed, in a democratic
polity. But political democracy without economic democracy is unreal,
since without sufficient economic empowerment of the individual and without
minimum equality, even the political rights cannot be exercised with independence
and free will. Unless the pelf and the power of the State is utilized
to strengthen and widen the human rights of the people constantly, the
resources continue to be appropriated by the ruling class to itself. For
this purpose, the people have to be represented at the policy making as
well as at the implementational level, effectively.
That is not possible in an economically unequal and inequitable society.
Hence, the need for economic democracy as an essential component of political
What are the measures to secure economic democracy? What economic structure
will ensure it and where does one begin, are matters of detail. But the
present national and international de-humanising situation is not without
remedy. Once the economic foundation of the society is laid on a rational
basis, and democratic rights are assured to the people in full and in
effective measure, it will be easy to deal with the communal and obscurantist
forces as well. It is the disillusion and frustration of the masses on
the economic front, which drives them into the fold of the communal, the
casteist and the fundamentalist forces. It becomes easy for these forces,
to project the imaginary enemies as the cause of their ills, to divert
their attention from the real issues and problems, to divide them amongst
themselves, and to perpetuate their privileges by continuing the status
quo. The present tide of the anti-humanist forces both within the country
and on the international plane can be stemmed only by educating the people
on rational lines and organising them to meet the threat from the grass-root
But where is the leadership?
It would be futile now to expect some individual with moral authority
to come forward to lead the people by educating and organising them. The
people have to organise themselves on one or the other platform at all
levels. The way is being fortunately shown by some voluntary organisations
in this country as well as abroad by organising people from time to time
on different issues. The need is to coordinate the humanist efforts of
all, both at the national and at the international level, to answer the
call of the time. We are not without remedy for rescuing the mankind from
the present catastrophe. If there is a will, there is