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PUCL Bulletin, May 2003

23rd JP Memorial Lecture


Human 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 day?

Magna Charta
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 benefit.

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.

The 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 democratic rights.

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.

The 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 neo-colonisation
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 countries.

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 uninterrupted.
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 worship there.

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 itself.
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.

The 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.

The 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?

The 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 maintained, and
  • To promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
    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, and
  • To ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and
  • 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:

  1. 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;
  2. 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;
  3. 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, and
  4. 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 democracy.

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 level upwards.
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

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