PUCL Bulletin, December 2001

Mumbai PUCL:
Human Rights in the Twenty First Century
-- By Justice S.M. Daud

(The Mumbai PUCL organized a meeting at Mani Bhawan, Gandhi Sangrahaalaya to observe the 25th anniversary of the PUCL on October 17th 2001. Justice S. M. Daud (Retd.) was to deliver the following address. Due to unavoidable circumstances he could not be present. The text of his address that was read out is reproduced here) - General Secretary.


That the PUCL completes its Silver Jubilee in these troubles times, is itself an achievement. The times in which we live are troubled ones. There is a war in progress, and the strange thing about it is that the creator and nourisher of the specter of fundamentalism, is now targeting its creation. This should be a lesson to all of us and the lesson is as old as civilization, to wit, that the end is the all encompassing obsession the means being irrelevant, is the biggest fallacy. The Mahatma in the twentieth century preached and practiced the aim of the means being as important as the ends. In your aim was purification of some polluted segment, the means to remove the same had to be as pure as the end? America created the Taliban and Osama bin Laden to fight what they labeled the Godless creed of Communism. The truth was that they didn't want a strategic point in the world to go under Russian influence for that threatened their oil supplies and the right of passage through the air spaces, the seas and landmass of the Asiatic continent. Russia wasn't fighting in Afghanistan to save civilization though it flaunted the banner of communism. It was trying for the umpteenth time to secure a foothold wherefrom it could preserve its Eastern flank and in the process coerce the nearby nations into giving it all weather ports. The great game was on, the only difference being that the two sides now spoke in language more akin to the evangelism of the rival creeds of communism and the Judeo Christian-Islamic faiths. The orient has always shown a regrettable proclivity to succumb to this sort of gibberish. And no country at least, that cluster which covers west Asia, North Africa, the Indian Sub Continent and the countries right up to Indonesia and Philippines get taken in by this façade of piety and righteousness to cloak what is in reality naked imperialism or great power hegemony.

Now what is the much talked of concept of human rights? The expression may be of recent origin, but its prevalence since the start of organised living by humans is stated in almost all the ancient times-historical, mythological, and folk tales. And this was not a mere pipe-dream. The Romans-inclusive of lawmakers like Justinian termed it Jus naturale: The law that nature taught all living things; that supposed to be constituted by right reason, common to nature and to man; the principles deducible from every concept of decency. Humanism is the creed that came to embody all these ideas in later times and I believe that this is the underlying theme of all religions. Every religion speaks of force being necessary to ward off violent speech action or gestures though are now so-called educated persons who speak as if violence were the monopoly of one particular religion or creed. The Jihadis are the latest amongst the religious warriors. They were preceded by Crusaders and Dharma-Yoddhas -- not to speak of other variants of recent times like Sharon of Israel, Osama of Saudi Arabia and Acharya Giriraj Kishore of India. Fundamentalism and fundamentalists are the greatest danger to peace and civilization, to those against whom their vitriol is directed as also for those for whom they profess to speak.

Forget not the plight of Mussolini's Italy, Nazi Germany and Tojo's Japan. They could initially amass a following of those deluded by their maniacal talk directed against hopeless minorities and nations. Eventually however, their own people had to endure untold miseries and massacres for acclaiming them as saviors and redeemers. I accept that militant creeds are on the ascendancy the world over. In fact, in Mumbai itself books laudatory of Hitler have been circulating and one of those convicted of participation in the Mahatma's killing has acquired the halo of being a saint. This is a perverse word. Those preaching hatreds of various kinds to divide humanity are getting a footage they never should have, while those preaching sanity and peace are being dubbed as appeasers, betrayers and weaklings.

The ghost of ancient hatreds is being revived and placed on a pantheon of the adored ones. First and foremost, the world requires a creed, which will root out hatred and false doctrines like domination over the minds and hearts of humanity. The first human right we should now propagate is the gospel of equality and the need to recognize every group and person as deserving of equal treatment. Until we realize the happy ideal of 'from each according to his capacity and to each according to his need', what has to be ensured is that there is the right of survival, which transcended into legalese means no more than the right to equality and equal opportun1ty. Rights of nations, presently occupied by outsiders, to survive and thrive is of course a very worthy ideal. Equality however is the fist right to take a toss in the real world in which we live. Nations are forcibly occupied, enslaved, divided and held down by different forms of imperialism and hegemony. This gives birth to frenzied creeds of revenge which creeds in course of time lead men and groups to commit unspeakable crimes. At the same time we must recognize that every group of people does not have the discernment to govern itself. The world is too small to allow every assumed nationality separate territory of its own. Residence and occupation or all lands by different and diverse people is a fact of life that cannot be ignored. Its not possible to immerse or assimilate different peoples into one monolith.

Diversity has to be accepted and where the civil society is not strong or discerning enough to ensure this, the United Nations organization has to intervene. A trusteeship has to be devised and this time the same is not to be leased to nations like Germany, Britain or America. The trusteeship has to vest in the UNO, acting through its chosen representatives. These representatives should not be partisans. In fact they should not for the present be from nations other than the Scandinavian countries, the Baltic Republics, Austria, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Thailand and possibly Japan. The world has to be made safe for all species of mankind and this requires strengthening of the UNO and its different organs. In a unipolar world this may sound like an unattainable aim. The aftermath of extended hegemonism is the inevitable end of the bully e.g. the British Empire, Stalin's Russia- not to speak of the many others in the past and in recent times. There comes a stage in every nation's life where it can do barely enough to survive, as was the case with imperial Turkey.

Ensuring respect for all human beings in nations is not as easy as might be supposed; not even in those which are governed by the common Law or Constitutions. While civil rights like those which have been incorporated and enforced there are many that have been reduced to pious incantations by being pushed into the Directive Principles. No great research is necessary to establish that humankind's primary requirement is food, shelter and clothing. Without these needs being satisfied, human beings cannot think of the exercise of civil rights except in the category of silent listeners to sermons and platitudes. We need to emphasise the importance of satiation of essentials and to make them a reality.

We have to use the tool of free speech, honest governance and urgent steps to redress inequalities and inequities. Above all else we should take up cudgels to ensure genuine equality amongst the people of this country lest the mischievous in our policy, society and economy continue to keep us divided on frivolous grounds like religion, caste, language and place of origin etc. India is a mini-universe and we must try to set an example in harmonious living so that a fast-turning heterogeneous world turns to the same ideal. Rights, whether individual, group or national, can exist only if we learn the biggest lesson of history, to wit, that there is a corresponding responsibility attached to every freedom. In particular, we have to accept and with pleasure the diversities without which the world would be dreary and drab. The right to dissent is going to become more and more difficult with rulers talking of the need to be wary unless we want terrorists and saboteurs to eliminate us. Yes, we have to be careful! This does not however mean that every person belonging to a persuasion other than that to which the majority belongs is a spy, a traitor or a wrecker of our institutions.

Its difficult to avoid pessimism in the difficult times in which we live. In fact its difficult not to be cynical when we see a quest for power and pelf being dressed up as service to the nation, faith or freedom. Politicians and preachers engaged in this nefarious talk abound. But mankind lives on hope and on this solemn occasion my fervent prayer is that organisations such as the PUCL will be celebrating jubilees even in the thirtieth and more centuries that follow it. Human Rights will then also require nurturing and defending for the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

May we hope that efforts of the wel1-meaning wi1l one day make this our country truly great and a role model for a world at peace in which every culture sustains another and is the gainer by a process of cross-fertilisation from others.

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