Philosophy and Birth



The human rights movement represents the historical journey travelled by humankind ever since the beginning of an institutionalised political and social order. Few phenomena have made such a profound impact and a few movements have acquired such a universal presence and so powerful a potential in the totality of human experience. Human Rights concept finds expanded expression and constantly covers new areas as human society continues to evolve to higher levelsof development. The original content of philosophy of fundamental freedom was limited to civil and political rights of the individual, often referred to as "first generation" rights, which in large part call for a negative obligation on governments to desist from interfering with the exercise of individual liberties. The expansive nature of the concept of human rights clubbed with the realization that without guaranteeing economic, social and cultural rights, full enjoyment of civil and political rights was not possible led to inclusion of economic, social and cultural rights, popularly described as "second generation" rights. These "second generation" rights place a more positive duty on governments to act in order to ensure the realization of these rights.


The concept of human rights in its expanding comprehension, has now travelled to encompass what are called "third generation" rights which include : right to self determination, right regarded as belonging to peoples rather than individuals, right to sovereignty over natural wealth and resources of the country and, right to development as well as rights of disadvantaged groups to special protection. Thus the road travelled by human rights movement has been historic and impressive


For a long time, and till recently, the study and concern about human rights remained largely confined to international lawyers, diplomats and statesmen. It is only in the recent decades that these rights are increasingly becoming the subjects of concern for national lawyers, activists, reformers, policy makers and other citizenry. This development has largely been the result of the following :


Growing realization of governments, activists, elite, opinion builders and constitutionalists that constitutions of most of the nations believing in rule of law incorporate explicitly or implicitly the provisions of various international covenants on human rights in one way or the other. For example, the Founding Fathers in India incorporated in the Constitution most of the rights enumerated in the Universal Declaration in two parts - the Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles of State Policy that covered almost the entire field of Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The first set of rights enunciated in Articles 2 to 21 of the Declaration and incorporated under the Fundamental Rights-Articles 12 to 35 of the Constitution and the second set of rights enunciated in Articles 22 to 28 of the Declaration In the Cold war era plea for respecting human rights was made more as a tool for condemning the  'other' - the charges of violations of human rights by nations of one block were levelled by members of the other bloc frequently and at each international as well as national fora. Most of the times these charges were levelled more for serving political interests of one power block against the other and vice-versa. End of the Cold War led to shift in attention of human rightists and other from serving the cause of ideological war to relating human rights movement to issues of social justice, distributive justice and putting check on the ever-increasing power of the State with potential of its being abused or excessively used against the individual in the national context as well.


Emergence of new and very powerful movements like feminist movement, movement for environmental protection and sustainable development, movement for protection of minorities and indigenous people and their culture, movement for abolishing of child labour and all forms of exploitation contributed to taking recourse to human rights concept and its language more frequently. In fact, these movements have contributed in great measure to the increasing reliance on human rights concept in national contexts. All these developments lead us to believe that in the centuries to come the extent of human development, prosperity and peace would largely depend on the degree or realization of these rights in different communities on one hand and global community on the other.


Respect and realization of human rights requires evolving a culture that is more sensitive to the basic needs of every human being. It respects the need for ensuring, to everyone, justice social, economic and political, and provides fair and equal opportunities for growth and development to every individual and group of people. It protects everyone from being subjected to the whims of State and its arbitrary exercise of power and use of force by its agencies. In fact the Founding Fathers while aiming at this goal gave a detailed constitutional scheme. Unfortunately, despite more than five decades of its operation the goal of ushering in human rights – culture has still remained a distant reality. Amongst other causes, lack of recognizing the significance and importance of education as a key instrument for bringing changes in social and cultural attitudes and that too in a country like India, which has a history of feudal and colonial past, and where impoverishment, ignorance and illiteracy pervade all around, is perhaps the most important reason responsible for this situation. It is only in the last few years that the importance of education in relation to human rights has attracted the attention of national policy-makers, educationists and education planners.


However, respect for human rights as a part of its social philosophy has existed in the Indian ethos for a long time-despite its aberration intermittently.


The goal of evolving human rights culture requires operating at various levels such as (a) spreading awareness, amongst masses, of and about these rights and also their duty for respecting the rights of others, (b) not only creating awareness amongst masses particularly amongst weaker, poor, and vulnerable groups but also imparting capacities and confidence in them to stand for protection and preservation of their rights, (c) requiring many to shed away some of their prejudices and reforms some of the attitudes which are derogatory to others' dignity, (d) creating different kind of knowledge, innovating or reforming structures, methodologies and normative regimes, and imparting new skills and competencies so that policy making, its enforcement and realization become more sensitive to the demands of human rights culture, (e) establishing new structures of accountability and making existing modes of accountability more effective so that the State, its agencies and its personnel can be easily, effectively and meaningfully made responsible for human rights violation on one hand and can be made to internalize respect for these rights on the other.


It hardly needs stressing that the activity called 'education' - an exercise in assimilating, creating and disseminating knowledge is a powerful means of influencing and bringing attitudinal change in the citizens in general as well as professional groups in particular. Being a tool to spread awareness, information and knowledge amongst its recipients education can play a crucial role at each of the levels mentioned above for the promotion of human rights culture. But, unfortunately, the education system and more so the higher education system in India, except in the last few years, has hardly shown any credible signs of being a partner in the efforts of evolving human rights culture in the country.