Prof. H.J. Laski rightly remarked that, “a state is known by the rights it maintains”. In an authoritarian state, the individuals virtually enjoy no liberty. But in a democratic state people enjoy a number of liberties. The individual has right not as an isolated being but as a member of the society and state. Rights have no meaning unless they are recognized and upheld by the state. The right of one individual becomes the duty of another. Rights prevail only in a state and it gives values to the concept of liberty and equality.
The citizens of a state enjoy a number of privileges or rights. A right may be defined as a claim or power of an individual against others which are recognised and enforced by the state.
Prof Laski defines rights as “those conditions of social life without which no man can seek, in general, to be himself at his best”.
To T. H. Green “Right is a power claimed and recognised as contributory to common good.”
Thus, right means some opportunities and privileges that are granted by the state to its people for the development of their inner potentialities. A right has to satisfy five conditions.
(1) The rights are claims of citizens from the state.
(2) It aims at the development or enrichment of the personality.
(3) It promotes social good.
(4) It must be recognised by the state.
(5) They are regulated by the state in the interest of the community.
With regard to rights there are broadly three theories (a) The theory of Natural Rights and Natural Law which states that natural law confers some natural rights on the individuals. These rights are not created by the state but are protected and maintained by the state, (b) The Legal school of thought which states that, the sovereignty of the state is the source of all authority, (c) The Economic theory states that, rights are the reflection of economic conditions of the state.
Types of Rights
The rights are broadly classified into two categories- Moral Rights and Legal Rights. Moral rights are based on our ethical awareness and on a sense of morality and justice. As these rights are not normally enforced by the court of law but by the customary provisions, its breach may not amount to punishment by the state. But on the other hand, legal rights are recognized by the state and are enforced by the court of law. Therefore, its violation will lead to punishment. The fundamental rights of our Constitution enumerated under part III of the constitution are justiciable.
The legal right can be further sub-divided into two categories- Civil Rights and Political Rights. The Civil Rights are essential to the free development of individual self. Right to life, liberty and property are included in this category in the absence of which no civilized life is possible. But the rights of the people to participate in the affairs of the state such as taking part in election, associating with the government of the state etc. are known as political rights. These rights are enjoyed by the people not in their personal or private capacity but in the capacity of being the citizens of that particular state. In recent years one more right namely economic right has been added to the category of legal rights. Some of the important rights are given below.
(1) Moral Rights :
As moral rights are not guaranteed by the state these are to be asserted by the citizen. Right to resist the state is a moral right. Green advocated resistance to the unjust state and Gandhiji through Satyagraha- a kind of resistance got rid of many unjust laws. But this right is to be used only in extreme cases as it is likely to incur far-reaching consequences.
(2) Legal Rights :
These rights are recognised by the state and is also enforced by the state. In the event of any breach of such rights and privileges one can take shelter in the court of law. Therefore, these rights are enforceable in a court of law. The legal rights are of three kinds such as Civil Rights, Political Rights and Economic Rights. Some of these rights are given below:
(a) Civil Rights :
These rights consist of those privileges in the absence of which nobody can attain his best self. Some of the civil rights are as follows:
(1) Right to Life :
A citizen has the right to life and the right to protect his body. It is the fundamental of human existence.
(2) Right to Liberty :
It means that a citizen is entitled to enjoy privileges freely for the development of his inner self without hindrances. Prof Gilchrist opines that “Mere life without movement would be meaningless and without the exercise of human faculties it would not rise above the level of that animals”. The freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention enables a citizen to see redressal in a court of law.
(3) Right to Property :
The institution of property, prior to the advent of Marxism, was viewed as an ally of civilised life. Locke was the greatest exponent of the institution of private property. It creates a sense of possession, responsibility and interest to work. The state can restrict this right for the larger interest of the community.
(4) Right to Equality :
That all are born equal and are to be treated equally is the essence of this right. It is the first principle of democracy and it also prescribes for some punishment for the offenders who commit the same offence under the similar circumstances.
(5) Right to Contract :
The citizens can enter into contracts with their fellow beings on the basis of equality.
(6) Right to Family :
This is another important civil right enjoys by the citizens.
(7) Right to form Union & Association:
As human beings are destined to live in groups, this right is enjoyed by every citizen.
(8) Right to Freedom of Religion and Conscience :
This was treated by some as a right and the individuals were given the option to choose their own religion. The state, however, is entitled to impose restrictions on this right on the ground of morality, maintenance of law and order and decency
(9) Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression :
The freedom of thought and the freedom of speech and expression are the cornerstone of democracy. Prof. Laski is of the opinion that “To allow a man to say what he thinks is to give his personality the only ultimate channel of free expression and his citizenship, the only means of moral adequacy”.
(10) Right to Language and culture :
The right of every citizen to preserve, protect and develop his own language and culture is an important civil right.
(11) Right to Freedom of Movement :
To move freely throughout the territory of a state, is a civil right enjoyed by the citizen of that state.
(12) Right to Education :
The right to education aims at minimum intellectual level and training that form a part of his civil rights.
(13) Right to Freedom of Assembly :
The right to freedom of assembly in a peaceful manner without arms is also an important civil right.
(b) Political Rights :
The opportunity granted to the citizens to take part in the administration of the state is known as political rights. Some of the important political rights are as follows:
(1) Right to Vote :
It is an important political right and it is also known as right to franchise. Every adult citizens has the right to cast his vote freely without fear and it confers the right against discriminatory treatment in this regard.
(2) Right to be Elected :
The right to contest election and the right to be elected are closely connected with the right to vote. As democracy rests not on the principle of heredity but on the principle of election, this is an important political right.
(3) Right to hold Public Office :
The right to hold public office in accordance with the established procedure and without any discrimination is also an important political right.
(4) Right to Petition :
The democratic government operates efficiently if the citizens enjoy the right to petition thereby ventilating their grievances. The people can submit petition against one government to another government.
(5) Right to Discuss Public Policy :
The people enjoy the right to discuss public policy either to appreciate or to criticise it. This keeps the government on the right track.
(6) Right to Residence:
A citizen has the right to reside and settle in any part of the state. As voting rights are connected with residence, so it is an important political right.
(7) Right to Protection while Staying Abroad :
When a citizen goes to a foreign state or stays abroad he gets all kinds of protection from his native state.
(8) Right to Public Meeting :
To J. S. Mill, “The entire world has no right to silence a fool”. A citizen enjoys freedom to transmit his views in a public meeting without any fear.
(C) Economic Rights :
Rights like, right to work, right to rest and leisure etc. are some of the important economic rights in the absence of which civilised living becomes impossible. In the socialist states these rights are paid much weightage.