Human Rights & Indian Values: THE HINDU EDITORIAL

Human Rights & Indian Values: THE HINDU EDITORIAL

Neither civilisational ethos nor the mere enshrining of constitutional morality is enough to deliver on basic rights

Dadri, Alwar and Rajsamand are names that must ring a bell for every aware Indian. In a little more than a year these have been sites where a fellow citizen has been brutally murdered by another Indian. They should be a source of deep shame to us as these were not random events. In every case the victim was a Muslim from the poorest sections of our country. Mohammad Akhlaq, Pehlu Khan and Afrazul Khan were murdered for the identity assigned to them and the alleged guilt that is thereby claimed to cling to them.

Acts of hate

Union Minister for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi was quick to respond to the murder of Afrazul Khan stating that it should not be seen as religiously motivated but as a criminal act. Not only is this difficult to sustain given the explanation by Afrazul Khan’s assailant that he was only seeking revenge for “cross-community” marital relationships but it also ignores a pattern in the three killings in question. In all cases the murders have been justified in the name of injuring the sensibilities of Hindus. They are, for all to see, unmistakably acts of hate committed against a member of a religious minority. Four days after the killing of Afrazul Khan on December 6, India celebrated Human Rights Day. December 10 is the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN General Assembly. As an early supporter of the UN movement and a constant participant in its deliberations, India has, in international fora, constantly endorsed the charter of rights that the declaration unfurled. On December 10, at an official ceremony at Delhi’s Vigyan Bhavan Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu said two noteworthy things. He first affirmed India’s commitment to human rights emphasising the duty of governments to ensure them to individuals. Second, he observed that human rights existed in India not due to some constitutional morality but because of the DNA of Indian civilisation. To clarify what he meant he chantedfrom the Upanishad “Sarve Janaha Sukhino Bhavantu”, loosely translated as “May all be happy”. The Vice-President was obviously referring to the many assurances of the freedom of thought and expression and the right to life and liberty in the Constitution, suggesting that their provenance lies in the immemorial history of the country’s civilisation. While there may be a grain of truth in this observation it doesn’t count for much when it comes to repeated violation of human rights in India, of which the murders of Mohammad Akhlaq, Pehlu Khan and Afrazul Khan are instances.

Role of government

In the light of these violations, it may have been more helpful if the Vice-President had said that the constitutional provisions are inadequate by themselves and the role of government is fundamental in advancing them. In fact, it is precisely because we cannot rely on civilisational values that may or may not be enshrined in the constitution to deliver us rights that we adopt democracy as the form of government. Historically, votaries of civilisational values have struggled to break free of cultural prejudices and accord similar status to other civilisations. Not very long ago, colonialism had been justified on civilisational terms, with the very term “civilised” being used to differentiate the West from the indigenous populations of the lands colonised by Europe. It is perhaps this that led Gandhi to respond to the query of what he thought of Western civilisation by saying, “I think it would be a good idea.” Gandhi is unlikely to have been any softer on champions of the superiority of eastern civilisations. Civilisational hubrisabounds in claims of “the inclusivity of Hinduism” or “the egalitarianism of Islam”. Whatever be the exhortations in the texts that underlie these religions, the history of caste and gender inequality in India and Islamic societies, respectively, show them to have been neither inclusive nor egalitarian. It is clear that civilisational values, in our case Indian, are far from sufficient to deliver us the rights that we seek to make our own. Though the UN’s declaration of human rights is expansive, in his speech the Vice-President took it further to include social and economic rights. It is clear that Indian civilisation has not had much success in ensuring their delivery. If any progress has at all been made in the desired direction, it has been after the adoption of a democratic form of governance; an arrangement that is distinctly non-Indian in its origins. In terms of human development, 21st century India is radically different from what it was in the 20th century. That economic inequality has steadily risen and ecological stress is written all over the country cannot take away from the fact that there has been progress of a form that has collapsed social distance. The rise to the prime ministership of India of Mr. Narendra Modi is the best testament to this. There is social churning in India, with some of it having come through affirmative action and some of it through economic transformation in which the more recent liberalisation of the economy has had some role. However, as India has managed to shed some of the centuries old practices that maintained social distance due to caste and economic differentiation, newer axes of power have emerged. We have begun to see an unimaginable rise of violence against women and Muslims. Hardening patriarchy and Hindu chauvinism are India’s unanticipated demons. These have taken us by surprise, and as a society we appear to be incapable of handling them.

Ways to tackle intolerance

Our task of ensuring human rights in India is, however, made no more easy after rejecting the potential of civilisational values and of the instrumentality of economic growth combined with constitutional morality in achieving such a state. While “constitutional morality”, a term used by Ambedkar to appropriately reject any role for “societal morality” in the Republic, is of course a useful guide to the courts when it comes to adjudicating between individuals, it is by itself helpless in preventing acts of violence. The efficacy of constitutional provisions is entirely dependent on the government machinery entrusted to our elected representatives. An effective protection of individuals, in this case women and minorities, from acts of violence requires the power of the state to weigh in on their side. In too many cases of violence against women, Muslims and Dalits, the Indian state is distinguished by its absence. In a recent paper Canada-based economist Mukesh Eswaran demonstrated that it is possible to understand “9/11” and home-grown terrorism in western Europe as a response to the historical wrongs inflicted on Muslim societies by Western powers, notably the invasion of Iraq. This is a useful corrective to the collective gaspof incredulity let out by Western elites when addressing the violence unleashed against them by Islamic groups. Transferring Eswaran’s reasoning to the Indian context, one might argue that India should contain violence against its Muslims to ensure the safety of Hindus. But such crass instrumentalism would be unworthy of a great civilisation. We want to ensure the flourishing of all the peoples of India not out of self-preservation but because we want to be civilised. Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, anyone?


1) Brutally
Meaning: In a savagely violent way.
Example: He was imprisoned and brutally tortured.
2) Alleged
Meaning: Said, without proof, to have taken place or to have a specified illegal or undesirable quality.
Example: The alleged conspirators.
3) Cling
Meaning: Hold on tightly to.
Example: She clung to Joe’s arm.
Synonyms: Clutch, Grip
4) Assailant
Meaning: A person who physically attacks another.
Example: The police have no firm leads about the identity of his assailant.
Synonyms: Attacker, Mugger
5) Fora
Meaning: A meeting or medium where ideas and views on a particular issue can be exchanged.
Example: We hope these pages act as a forum for debate.
Synonyms: Meeting, Assembly
6) Endorsed
Meaning: Recommend (a product) in an advertisement.
Example: He earns more money endorsing sports clothes than playing football.
Synonyms: Support, Back
Antonyms: Oppose
7) Unfurled
Meaning: Make or become spread out from a rolled or folded state, especially in order to be open to the wind.
Example: A man was unfurling a sail.
8) Noteworthy
Meaning: Worth paying attention to; interesting or significant.
Example: Noteworthy features.
Synonyms: Notable, Significant
Antonyms: Boring, Ordinary
9) Affirmed
Meaning: State emphatically or publicly.
Example: He affirmed the country’s commitment to peace.
Synonyms: Declare, State
Antonyms: Deny
10) Emphasising
Meaning: Give special importance or value to (something) in speaking or writing.
Example: They emphasize the need for daily, one-to-one contact between parent and child.
Synonyms: Highlight, Spotlight
Antonyms: Understate
11) Ensure
Meaning: Make certain of obtaining or providing (something).
Example: Legislation to ensure equal opportunities for all.
Synonyms: Safeguard, Protect
12) Chanted
Meaning: Say or shout repeatedly in a sing-song tone.
Example: Protesters were chanting slogans.
Synonyms: Shout, Sing
13) Enshrined
Meaning: Preserve (a right, tradition, or idea) in a form that ensures it will be protected and respected.
Example: The right of all workers to strike was enshrined in the new constitution.
Synonyms: Embody, Express
14) Struggled
Meaning: Make forceful or violent efforts to get free of restraint or constriction.
Example: Before she could struggle, he lifted her up.
Synonyms: Fight, Grapple
15) Accord
Meaning: Give or grant someone (power, status, or recognition).
Example: The powers accorded to the head of state.
Synonyms: Give, Grant
Antonyms: Without, Remove
16) Colonialism
Meaning: The policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically.
Example: The state apparatus that was dominant under colonialism.
17) Indigenous
Meaning: Originating or occurring naturally in a particular place; native.
Example: The indigenous peoples of Siberia.
Synonyms: Native, Aboriginal
Antonyms: Expatriate, Migrant
18) Hubris
Meaning: Excessive pride or self-confidence.
Example: The self-assured hubris among economists was shaken in the late 1980s.
Synonyms: Arrogance, Conceit
Antonyms: Modesty
19) Abounds
Meaning: Exist in large numbers or amounts.
Example: Rumours of a further scandal abound.
Synonyms: Proliferate, Flourish
Antonyms: Meagre, Scanty
20) Exhortations
Meaning: An address or communication emphatically urging someone to do something.
Example: Exhortations to consumers to switch off electrical appliances.
Synonyms: Urging, Persuasion
Antonyms: Discouragement
21) Egalitarian
Meaning: Believing in or based on the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities.
Example: A fairer, more egalitarian society.
22) Testament
Meaning: Something that serves as a sign or evidence of a specified fact, event, or quality.
Example: Growing attendance figures are a testament to the event’s popularity.
Synonyms: Testimony, Witness
23) Churning
Meaning: The number of customers who decide to stop using a service offered by one company and to use another company, usually because it offers a better service or price.
Example: Internet and cable television companies suffer from a high churn rate.
24) Adjudicating
Meaning: Act as a judge in a competition.
Example: We asked him to adjudicate at the local flower show.
Synonyms: Judge, Adjudge
25) Efficacy
Meaning: The ability to produce a desired or intended result.
Example: There is little information on the efficacy of this treatment.
26) Gasp
Meaning: A convulsive catching of breath.
Example: His breath was coming in gasps.
Synonyms: Pant, Puff
27) Incredulity
Meaning: The state of being unwilling or unable to believe something.
Example: He stared down the street in incredulity.
Synonyms: Disbelief, Unbelief
Antonyms: Credulity, Belief
28) Unleashed
Meaning: Cause (a strong or violent force) to be released or become unrestrained.
Example: The failure of the talks could unleash more fighting.
29) Crass
Meaning: Showing no intelligence or sensitivity.
Example: The crass assumptions that men make about women.
Synonyms: Stupid, Insensitive
Antonyms: Intelligent
30) Stepping up
Meaning: An increase in the amount, speed, or intensity of something.
Example: The recent stepping-up of the campaign.
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