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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Human Rights Certificate Course. Tuesday 4/1/11.

UN and Human Rights and Duties
What are human rights?
Most of the class agreed with ‘they are the basic rights an individual should have by the virtue of being a human.’ 
If they are rights given to an individual, who gives him/her these rights?

Others answered that any issue against an individual would be a human rights issue. With the example of the Sufi shrine in Shimoga it was explained how religious issues (in terms of claiming land) are not treated as human rights violations.
Another response was that human rights are the rights acquired at conception. This brought us to discussing the ‘inalienable’ nature of human rights.
Mapping out Human Rights
The most important concept that is the foundation of the understanding of Human Rights: is the role of the state.
It is essential to understand that Human rights violations are charged against the state.

Many have claimed the existence of human rights in Indian history. But the acceptance of human rights would suggest a neglect of the ‘divine right’, which was the dominant guiding force through the history of Indian society.
John Locke and Natural rights

Challenging the then predominant belief of original sin and the inheritance of this sin by every individual of the human race, Locke propagated the idea of Tabula Rasa. This marked the shift from the Divine right of the King and the Christian Monarchy. This suggested that a child is born with a clean slate and it is society that ‘writes’ on this slate. The Lockean doctrine of natural rights approached the individual as free to define his/her character based on interaction with society.  To read about the understanding of Tabula Rasa from the 11th C Ibn Sina, and following through St. Thomas Aquinas, Locke and Freud, and its application in different fields:

Social Contract Theory

The relationship between the individual and the state, which involves the rights of an individual, is no longer considered a divine rule; it is a contract. This introduced the concept of the contract theories, a broad class of theories that explain the ways in which people form states to maintain social order. It implies that people give up sovereignty to a government to receive social order through the rule of law. (Law can only be enforced on a body, it cannot function without a physical human body; someone has to be held responsible, a face to represent.)
For further references to the social contact theories of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau; .

It is in a way, legitimate state authority, derived from consent of the governed. For example, Hitler is often seen as a dictator who forcefully took over Germany. But we forget that he was democratically elected and that it was a state sponsored violence. Once at power, he claimed that the Jews are his people and he is free to do with them as he pleases, even sending them to concentration camps in a similar way that a parent claims authority over his/her child defending their reasons and power to beat the child when they feel right.
The contract between you and state is to be protected by the police. So violation of our rights happens when the state steps past its role as protectors to exploiters; Fence eating the grass.
Theoretically, no citizen can say no to war and is expected to pick up a gun and fight for the state at a war situation. This sweeping power that is allowed to be imposed upon us by the state began to be questioned; the protection of human rights from the state.
The question of Human rights only comes into the picture in a state that enforces control. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) declares a protection of the people against violation by the state. (Declaration, not law) The situation of mass violation of people’s rights by different states, brought the need for a UDHR and for the United Nations, an international body that would keep a watch on the governments of countries, ensuring they don’t overstep their power and violate citizens.
Context of UDHR
By questioning the claim that ‘human rights are western rights’, the argument of the drafting of UDHR was discussed. 
The developing countries including Latin America, Africa, India etc drafted the declaration that reflected the fundamental beliefs shared by countries around the world regarding human rights, in an attempt to ensure they avoided a situation such as the suffering of Germany. These declarations were later inculcated and the provisions of human rights were made part of the Indian constitution.

The allies supported these third world countries; (Atlantic Charter 1941) a joint statement by Franklin D Roosevelt and Winston Churchill of their mutual goals for post WWII. It explained the objectives of the war and reaffirmed the four freedoms; “the freedom of opinion, of expression, of religion and the right to basic needs”. This was an ‘assurance that all men in all the lands may live put their lives in freedom from fear and want’, that promised an evolution, avoiding another Germany of repressed citizens.
The UDHR was drafted in 1948 after WWII as the first global expression of rights that every human being is entitled with.
Hence the UN and the UDHR was created with the purpose of watching over and protecting the citizens of countries.
The Repressive State Apparatus and the Ideological State Apparatus was discussed in response to categorizing human rights violation in public schools and private schools.  The RSA includes Heads of State, government, police, courts, army etc. that can intervene and act in favor of the ruling class by repressing the ruled class, while the later includes ideological practice by institutions like the media and education systems.
For further details of RSA and ISA and the difference between their functions,
Questioning the fundamentals
The previous discussion led to another, which pointed out that the media is always for the government; commenting on their ideologies but never questioning them. For example, though the Times of India might comment on the slow or poor development of the metro, it will not question if the metro is required in the first place. Similar questions can be raised with respect to every field; in Social work for instance; Why should the poor be uplifted? Why must a boy in the slum be educated? 
This highlights the importance of developing a critical faculty of thought as an approach.

Further reading:
·      Upendra Baxi and PIL
·       Non-human persons rights; Animal rights.
·       Alternative Law Forum:
Pinto, Anil. 'Introduction to Human Rights.' Christ University. 4 Jan 2010. Lecture.


Anil Pinto said...


Anonymous said...

Lovely work Sriya!

Sriya Rao said...

@ AP was your lecture...