Redefining Human Rights: Are All Human Beings Born Free?
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Category : COVER STORY
December 10th has been celebrated as Human Rights Day every year since 1950, commemorating the day United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. The document mentions 30 rights and freedoms for every human being irrespective of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. It is the most translated document, available in more than 500 languages. There is no doubt that it is a well thought of and drafted document and if the recommendations are followed, our planet will be a peaceful abode for all. It is true that it is accepted ‘as a common standard of achievement for all people and nations’ and almost all countries have made regulations following the recommendations of UDHR. But the question is – are we able to reduce human rights violations in the world? Some might claim that yes, we are able to abolish slavery, we are able to bring women out of their homes, we are able to have more educational institutions, we have better medical facilities and so on. But the truth is slavery in the nature of olden times has ended giving place to new forms of it like forced labour, bonded labour or debt bondage, women or child trafficking etc. In many parts of the world – not all – women progressed in the field of education and started coming out of their homes and work in almost all fields like men, but domestic violence and atrocities against women in work place and other public domains are increasing. Ethnic cleansing in the name of religion, region, colour and language is still going on with more people losing lives and getting affected than in the past thanks to the advancement in technology and media which help in spreading hate campaigns. Stories heard are bad but those unheard are still worse and dreading which rarely come out. Gwantanamoes are created in many parts of the world to torture people who are the ‘Other’. And in all these, UN is only a helpless spectator.

This is alongside the gender pay gap, as measured by the Gender Gap Index 2020, according to which India is at an embarrassing 112th position.

History:

The Magna Carta signed by John II at Runnimade in England in 1215 has been considered as the oldest human rights declaration in history. It has been applauded as the driving force for all other human rights regulations. But we all know that it was after the Magna Carta that many imperialistic, colonial atrocities and martial laws were implemented by the British in under developed countries across the world including India. After that, many countries came up with regulations to ensure human rights for the people in their countries. It was the atrocities of the Second World War that made the importance of human rights an international priority. It was in 1947 that Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted by the Human Rights Commission chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt. Great thinkers and philosophers across the globe including Mahatma Gandhi were consulted during the framing. Hansa Mehta from India also played a major role in editing the draft. The first sentence of the Declaration initially was “All men are born free…” But it was Hansa Mehta who asked to change it as “All human beings are born free…” to avoid male domination in language. The Preamble states that “…recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

But all major governments at the time of drafting did their best to ensure that the declaration had only international application and carried no legal obligation on them to be implemented domestically. They knew that for their own discrimination against the minorities, claiming enforcement of these wide-reaching rights would create pressures. But as envisaged by Eleanor Roosevelt, it became an international Magna Carta leading to many treaties at international level and Human Rights regulations in different countries. Articles 12 to 35 of the Indian Constitution are considered as the Magna Carta of India. It was in 1993 that the Human Rights Regulation came into existence in India. Based on that the statutory bodies such as National Human Rights Commission and State Human Rights Institutions were established. The rule was amended in 2006 and 2019. At least one of the members in the statutory body should be a woman. NHRC is considered as the watch dog of Human Rights in India. Like this there are regulations and bodies in almost all countries. But is there any country in the world that can say with 100% surety that there is no human rights violation in our country? Or can say that we give immediate justice to all with no disparity of any kind? The specialty of the modern world is, in the name of war on terror, they create more terrorists. After 20 years of war on terror the world has witnessed that all the propaganda against certain communities and countries were wrong and the saviors themselves were wolves in sheep’s clothing. How many lives, families and how much wealth were destroyed in the false propaganda of bringing peace to all. Another irony is that by using the tools of Democracy they establish tyranny. Hitler coming to power with stunning majority after the holocaust and Narendra Modi getting a mandate in his favor after the Gujarat massacre are best examples for this. Scapegoats are created and through propaganda, they are branded and isolated. Then, all actions of human rights violations against them get justified. Islamophobia has been spread to this end.

The theme for 2020 was ‘Recover Better – Stand Up for Human Rights’ relating to COVID – 19 pandemic. This year the theme as declared by the UN is ‘EQUALITY – Reducing Inequalities, Advancing Human Rights’. Sounds great. But the goals remain mere dreams to many year after year.

The theme for 2020 was ‘Recover Better – Stand Up for Human Rights’ relating to COVID – 19 pandemic. This year the theme as declared by the UN is EQUALITY – Reducing Inequalities, Advancing Human Rights

Reasons for not achieving the goal:

How we look at human rights is very important. If you are a man, are you concerned about the rights of a woman? If you are a woman, are you concerned about the rights of a man? If you are a parent, have you ever thought of the rights of your children? If you are a son/daughter, have you ever thought of the rights of your parents? If you are a ruler, how concerned are you regarding your citizens? If you are a manager, are you ready to give the rights of the cleaner at your office? Always think of the people who are less privileged than you due to one reason or the other and consider how many of us are able do justice to their basic rights? People create ghettos in their minds while dealing with fellow human beings of different ideologies and origins. Political leaders of almost all democratic countries see to it that these ghettos are intact and try to widen the gap through their actions and words so that their vote banks are safe. We usually see a double stand from world leaders in addressing human rights violations. They show their grief and express their contempt promptly and as loudly as possible when their own people get affected. If not, they are either silent or delay in their responses. If at all they respond, they try to be very diplomatic in not hurting the feelings of their people and try to balance by finding reasons for such atrocities and putting the blame on the affected for prompting and giving reasons to attack them. Even human rights activists take this double stand. Religion, region, caste, ideology, race, language and gender affect the support the oppressed get from the public and national and international human rights watch dogs. So, most of the human rights violation cases go unnoticed and the oppressed do not dare to file petitions afraid of the delay and formalities in court proceedings, the money they will have to spend for that, lack of support and further torture. Those who stand for human rights and raise their voice are branded as terrorists or anti nationals and penalized for that even in the countries where the constitution itself gives freedom of expression as fundamental right. As a result, only those with real courage and honesty are ready to stand for justice and bring out the truth. When such activists are in the limelight you can see people following them, giving likes to their statements in social media and sharing their videos. But once they are in the clutches of the authorities, you see that most of these followers and supporters withdraw and become silent.

It is equally important that everyone knows about the rights that they have as a human being. A vast majority of people across the world are not aware that a day has been celebrated every year on this topic. They don’t consider themselves as equal in enjoying the basic human rights. The greatest challenge is in educating and giving awareness to them. They are made to believe throughout history that they are inferior by birth. The caste system in India and the colour consciousness in the so-called progressive nations are examples of this. The disparity between white collar jobs and manual labour and looking down upon those who work in such sectors with less education and qualification gives way to exploitations and inhuman treatments. Gender disparity and considering women as less productive in the capitalist world which considers everything in terms of loss and profit has resulted in much oppression on women. They are even denied the right to marriage, family and child birth. Superstitious beliefs like the first woman Eve was the cause for the original sin also adds to the lack of any guilt in ill-treating women. All those liberal articulations prove to be mere oral exercises at the practical level.

Situation in India:

The recent developments in the country prove that the whole nation is going centuries back to the age of barbarians in terms of human rights violations. The big cities and higher educational institutions witness atrocities of wild nature which have crossed all boundaries of humanity. Muslims, Dalits and other backward and downtrodden communities are not only denied of basic amenities but are brutally assaulted in public. Radicalisation of the youth is happening at a very fast pace. Often, government machineries and forces turn out to be silent partners handing over the streets to goons. Those who raise their voice against this are put in jail. Animals are better treated than human beings of certain communities in the country. Women have no fearless existence with the capital city Delhi being the capital of rape cases in the world.

And the irony is India is one of those countries that signed the UDHR. The rulers and politicians have no fear or shame in encouraging, motivating and supporting the goons who are let free and the victims are again tortured by the law enforcing agencies. Any voice against it is suppressed from the root. Corruption and partiality is seen in almost all government offices. Who will bell the cat?

Path ahead:

Strict and impartial implementation of justice is the solution at all levels. Politics and religion should never be a consideration at courts. Based on UDHR the countries across the world including India have made many regulations which can work if implemented impartially. The problem is instead of using those rules for giving the basic rights to all they are used to give extra rights to their people and ignore the rights of the under privileged. This is the basic problem with a democratic system. Governments are obliged to only those who vote for them and others are treated with vengeance. By educating the masses and empowering the opposition in parliaments one can overcome this and ensure good governance which is essential to put an end to atrocities. One should use the right to speak against human rights violations. Social media can be used as a tool to keep the minds open, draw the attention of concerned authorities and educating the masses instead of spreading hatred against each other.

But most important of all is the belief that there is a superpower watching: the Creator of the entire humanity who sent His messengers to bring justice on the Earth. The very belief that all human beings are created by Him and are the descendants of the same father and mother, if well established in the minds of people, can create the sense of universal brotherhood easily. Great thinkers like Mahatma Gandhi advocated tolerance as a solution to problems of oppression. He said: “Ability to compromise comes only when we are very tolerant to other’s point of view.” But the very idea of tolerating someone means you don’t like them, but you tolerate and bear with them in the name of humanity. It is not a permanent solution. The real solution is to educate all humans to love each other as brothers and sisters and pardon each other. This is what the Qur’an emphasized 14 centuries ago:

“Human beings, We created you all from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another. Verily the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the most God-fearing of you…” (49:11-12)

Through this verse the Qur’an rejects all false criteria of superiority based on race, nationality, color and language. It makes righteousness and good conduct the only mark of superiority in the sight of the Creator. The very essence of the Qur’anic teachings is nothing but upholding human rights and dignity and there are so many clear injunctions and instructions on how to achieve them. The surprising aspect as felt by many thinkers outside the Muslim world also is that those areas of human rights which even the most modern and impartial rulers and philosophers couldn’t identify or address were being dealt by the Qur’an. For example:

Right to protection of honour and privacy:

“Believers, let not a group (of men) scoff at another group, it may well be that the latter (at whom they scoff) are better than they; nor let a group of women scoff at another group, it may well be that the latter are better than they. And do not taunt one another, nor revile one another by nicknames. It is an evil thing to gain notoriety for ungodliness after belief. Those who do not repent are indeed the wrong-doers. Believers, avoid being excessively suspicious, for some suspicion is a sin. Do not spy, nor backbite one another. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would surely detest it…” (49:11-12)

Right to protest against tyranny:

“Allah does not like speaking evil publicly unless one has been wronged. Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.” (4:148)

Right to a basic standard of life:

“And in their wealth there was a rightful share for him who would ask and for the destitute.” (51:19)

Right to cooperate or not to cooperate:

“Cooperate with one another for virtue and piety, and do not cooperate with one another in sin and transgression.” (5:2)

Right to be born:

“…and do not slay your children out of fear of poverty. We provide you and will likewise provide them with sustenance…” (6:151). We know that even the so called most civilized societies consider the right to be born only on the basis of nationality, colour or race and that is why we hear concerns regarding the population growth of certain people.

Right to be born:

“…and do not slay your children out of fear of poverty. We provide you and will likewise provide them with sustenance…” (6:151). We know that even the so called most civilized societies consider the right to be born only on the basis of nationality, colour or race and that is why we hear concerns regarding the population growth of certain people.

Pardoning one’s enemies with the intention of bringing peace on the land needs a lot of compassion and will power from the part of a leader. This is what the world witnessed in Makkah on the eighth year of Hijra. After being forced to migrate from Makkah to Madina by the forces of Fascism when the Prophet and his followers came back to Makkah and won over them, he asked: “O Quraysh! What do you think that I am about to do with you?” The question was to the same people who even plotted to kill him. They replied, “Good. You are a noble and generous brother, son of a noble and generous brother. It is thine to command.” He then spoke to them words of forgiveness as recorded in the following verse of the Qur’an. “He replied: “No blame lies with you today. May Allah forgive you. He is the Most Merciful of all those that are merciful.” (12:92) The reference in this verse is to the similar approach by Prophet Yusuf towards his brothers who pushed him into a well with the intention of killing. Read chapter 12 of the Qur’an for more details on the life of Prophet Yusuf. To those people who ill-treat and suppress certain communities and groups accusing them that their forefathers oppressed them, there is a good lesson in the act of Prophet Mohammed who declared a general amnesty for his bitter enemies of two decades who had broken their pact of Hudaibiya and who had tried every trick to harm the Prophet and his followers.

The reason why most of the human rights regulations and declarations fail is because the very people or authorities who declare or frame them do not follow them. Instead, they use them as a means to oppress their opponents and favor their own people. The last sermon of the prophet Mohammed (S) is engraved in history word to word and has been considered as the oldest and most comprehensive document of human Rights Declaration. It was not just a statement but a tested and proved formula of justice within 23 years of Prophethood addressing the root causes like disparities on the basis of race, gender, wealth & language.

He declared: “…Allah has forbidden you to take usury (interest), therefore all interest obligation shall henceforth be waived. Your capital, however, is yours to keep. You will neither inflict nor suffer any inequity. Allah has judged that there shall be no interest and that all the interest due to Abbas ibn Abdal Muttalib (Prophet’s uncle) shall henceforth be waived…”

“O People, it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women, but they also have rights over you. Remember that you have taken them as your wives only under Allah’s trust and with His permission. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers. And it is your right that they do not make friends with any one of whom you do not approve, as well as never to be unchaste….”

“All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action…”

Similarly, the slogan of ‘Right or wrong, my nation’ is something that the prophet did not approve. He advocated that both the oppressor and the oppressed should be supported. He said: “Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or oppressed.” People asked, O Allah’s Messenger! It is all right to help him if he is oppressed, but how should we help him if he is an oppressor?” The Prophet said: “By preventing him from oppressing others.” (Sahih Al Bukhari 2444)

It is the duty of every Muslim to follow and spread these lessons of love and compassion in order to make the Earth a better place to live for all, knowing the fact that the world has not been able to produce a more equitable set of laws than those completed and given to us centuries ago through the Qur’an and Sunnah. We must remember that those rights sanctioned by Allah and upheld by His Prophet are permanent, perpetual and eternal. They are not subject to alterations as per our prejudices and selfish motives. This is in contrast to a regulation framed by human beings which can be withdrawn, violated or ignored as per their wish. Lip service will not suffice here.

Conclusion:

10th December is an occasion to reaffirm the importance of human rights, the need for global solidarity as well as our interconnectedness and shared humanity to ensure peace and progress to the world. Every nation and its leaders must expand their vision of human rights beyond narrow and selfish visions. Small steps at home, at market place, at places of worship etc. are important. As Eleanor Roosevelt said: “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on the maps of the world… Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

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