Essay on Human Rights and State Representation in India



In 1947, when India embarked on its adventure of building a modern, liberal and prosperous society through democratic means, many doubted if the country could manage to have mothered and freedom.

Today, after nearly 63 years, while the freedoms remain, daily bread eludes a large proportion of the masses. The causes are many, ranging from unchecked population growth to adoption of a centralized socialist economic model more suited to Stalinist communism, transplanted on a multi-party political democracy.

Since the 80s, this awareness has translated into economic liberalization, and, given the time and sane population control policy, India is likely to win its war against poverty as well.

It is indeed ironic that India’s liberal democracy at this crucial juncture is under attack from western liberals on the issue of human rights. Modern Indian liberalism is directly linked to western intellectual giants like Thomas Jefferson, Edmund Burke et al. Though the structure of the Indian state and its enshrined constitutional guarantees are indeed of western origin, liberalism is deeply ingrained in Indian civilization. Basudev Kutuabakam, or the whole world is one family, is a concept propounded in the Upanishads which date back a milleaminum. It is, therefore, no wonder that democratic tradition and freedom took deep roots in India from very ancient times.

India is a multi-ethnic, linguistic, religious state much on the lines of the US. But slow economic growth has put a severe strain on the liberal Indian state. This is being exploited by external forces, either theocracy of particularistic ideologies. Freedom of expression and a free press ensure that all that happens in the country is extensively covered.

The Forces accusing India rely on the very Indian press and human rights groups, to paint a picture of state repression. The situation is much like the one which prevailed during the cold war when the communists made full use of the reports in the American press to damn it.

It is unfortunate that victims of similar slander are today, instead of supporting a liberal democracy that believes in the rights of an individual, are siding with fundamentalist and intolerant local majorities in India to weaken and ultimately destroy the Indian experiment.

The movement for human rights is an age-old phenomenon. During the cold war it became a potent weapon in the hands of democracies to break the stranglehold of the repressive communist regimes. The Paris declaration of November 21, 1990, signed by virtually all European and North American nations, is a landmark as the ideology of human rights in the post-cold war era draws its sustenance from this historic document. To understand current cancers, it is essential to quote it.

“Human rights and fundamental freedoms are the birthright of all human beings,. Are inalienable and are guaranteed by law. Their protection and promotion is the first responsibility of the government. Respect for them is an essential safeguard against an over-mighty state.” The declaration further elaborates individual right against arbitrary exercise of state power and also specifies political and legal rights.

The recent emphasis on human rights worldwide, and especially in the West, is primarily due to the need for a viable ideology in the post-cold war world. There are also a large number of ‘activist’ intellectuals unemployed after the demise of the ‘stannic empire of communism’, and for them it is a search for relevance as well as a matter of bread and butter.

Real politic practitioners, it is a means to achieve other national policy goals from nonproliferation to curbing revolutionary Islam. It is also a mean to keep the western alliance together which is otherwise under strain due to economic interests. Unsteady but true, is also the search for viable ‘bad guy’ states to justify the existence of military machines.

The human rights situation in India is indeed dismal. The most basic of human rights, right to life, itself is not guaranteed to nearly, 56000 citizens annually – the number of people who die on the roads every year. There are still pockets in India where untouchability is practiced and human beings are discriminated against on account of their birth. Child labour is widely prevalent and young children lead a life quite close to slavery. There are frequent ‘caste wars’ or group war on the basis of either language or religion.

Due to secessionist-generated violence in Punjab and Kashmir in the past many years, thousands of people have lost their lives. This includes innocent bus passengers, segregated on religious basis, and shot in cold blood by the protagonists of a separate, state of Khalistan by weapons generously supplied by Pakistan.

Faced with this orgy of violence and under severe strain, Indian security forces have often opened fire in crowded areas, resulting in large number of deaths. The secessionists have often been using unarmed civilians as a shield to attack soldiers. In such situations the soldiers have only two options-remain passive to avoid civilian causalities, or retaliate. It is really a case of Hobson’s choice, if there ever was one.

The Constitution guarantees fundamental rights to all citizens irrespective of caste, creed or language. There are special provisions for the protection of religious and linguistic minorities, not seen in any other country. Minorities have not only the right or retain their identities but the state is obliged to help them do so. A provision for affirmative action is part of the Constitution to promote equality and give favorable treatment to the oppressed groups.

The biggest single cause behind human rights violation in India is the slow economic growth and poverty. Many human rights abuses like child labour, or even caste discrimination, can be directly attributed to poverty.

Removal of poverty is also linked to the check on population growth as it is mainly the poorer sections that are today indulging in irresponsible re-productive behaviour. This issue falls more under economics rather than politics.

Group violence of various kinds that involves atrocities and killing are in a way, linked to the weal Indian state that is hamstrung by, a weal judiciary, an ineffective police force and a general climate of lawlessness that has been promoted by the political class as the legacy of the freedom struggle.

In India, the poor break the law to survive, the rich to feet richer and the vast majority out of sheer habit. Absence of rule of law has become the single biggest cause of all kinds of violence, including repression by State agencies. Human rights abuses are instances of individual aberration and not institutional. Unlike in communist countries or some theocracies, oppression of groups or political opponents is not a state policy, let alone principle of the State.

A clear distinction also needs to be made, between human rights in ‘war’ zones’ like Kashmir (or Punjab some time back), where the state is fighting, secessionist forces, aided and abetted externally Kashmir today is a battle ground for a low intensity proxy war by Pakistan against India.

The distinction between ‘low intensity’ and normal war is essentially applicable at the strategic level. At the ground level, where fighting takes place between the army and militants, it is a total conflict and not different from practical engagements in any war. As many of these engagements take place in populated areas, innocent bystanders suffer. Many of these are provoked deliberately so as to malign the armed forces and alienate the masses further from the state.

India knows that insurgency is not a matter of search and destroy missions or contest in body count but a struggle for the hearts and minds of the people. To label such accidents as human rights violation is sheer perversity. Especially, so when a country like Pakistan provides the ‘means’ to perpetuate this violence!

India has a long experience of dealing with secessionist movements. In the northeast, largely Christian Naga and Mize tribals waged a secessionist’s campaign for many years. Yet today, the north-east is well on its way towards integration with the rest of the country. The fairness of the Indian system and the Constitution were the greatest weapons that won this war for India.

Thus, there is need for an effective, efficient, transparent government which can enforce the Constitution in to and redress the grievances of the suffering masses, who are forced to undertake the path of violence and terrorism, so their genuine demands like providing roads, health, services, drinking water, proper infrastructure, good law and order, education, transport facilities, jobs to unemployed youths, effective judiciary, corruption free police – must be met and their agitations for these demands must not be crushed by violating their human right. Though there can be no compromise on the question of unity and integrity of the nation.