Hinduism does not believe in the concept of localized state interest, but it talks about Universal peace, happiness and equality. The most basic concept of equality has been beautifully mentioned in Vedas, which is defined as follows-“No one is superior inferior all should strive for the interest of all and should progress collectively”.
Human Rights Day is observed every year on December 10–the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. At a plenary session on December 4, 1950, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution (423 [V]) that invited all UN member states and any other interested organisations to commemorate the December 10, 1948, proclamation of the UDHR with an annual celebration, called Human Rights Day, to be held on the anniversary of that landmark date.
Each year a theme is chosen to draw attention to a particular facet of the effort to uphold human rights. Themes have included ending discrimination, fighting poverty, and protecting victims of human rights violations. Additionally, since 1968, the UN-designated as the International Year for Human Rights, the organisation has periodically awarded a United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights on Human Rights Day. The 30 articles of the Declaration set out a foundation for individual rights incorporated into treaties, regional bodies, and national laws worldwide.
The recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all human family members is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace. Disregarding and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy the freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed the highest aspiration of the common people.
The United Nations has reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, the dignity and worth of the human person and the equal rights of men and women and are determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom. The Member States have pledged themselves to achieve the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms in co-operation with the United Nations.
India’s Contribution to UN Declaration of Human Rights However, respect for human dignity and rights as a part of its social philosophy has existed in the Indian ethos for a long time. It is pertinent to note that India was not an independent nation rather a British Colony when the draft of the Universal declaration was being prepared. India took an active part in drafting the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. The Indian delegation to the United Nations made important contributions in drafting the Declaration, especially highlighting the need for reflecting gender equality. India is a signatory to the six core human rights covenants and the two Optional Protocols to the Convention of the Child’s Rights.
Since its inception, the Indian Constitution incorporated 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 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The first set of rights as enunciated in Articles 2 to 21 of the Declaration and incorporated under the Fundamental Rights – Articles 12 to 35 of the Constitution. These include the Right to Equality, Right to Freedom, Right Against Exploitation, Right to Freedom of Religion, Cultural & Educational Rights, Saving of Certain Laws and Right to Constitutional Remedies.
The second set of rights enunciated in Articles 22 to 28 of the Declaration is incorporated under Directive Principles of State Policy – Article 36 to 51 of the Constitution. These include the Right to social security, right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and protection against unemployment, Right to equal pay for equal work, right to existence worthy of human dignity, right to rest and leisure, right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, right to free & compulsory education, promotion of the welfare of people, equal justice & free legal aid and the principles of policy to be followed by the State.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC was established on October 12, 1993, under The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993. The Commission serves as an independent and autonomous body for protecting human rights in the country.
Why do human rights matter?
1: Human rights endeavours people have basic needs like food, clothes, and shelter, medicine and education met
2. Human rights protect vulnerable groups from abuse
3: Human rights allow people to stand up against legal/social abuse and corruption
4: Human rights encourage freedom of speech and expression without fear of brutal reprisal
5: Human rights give people the freedom to practice their religion
6: Human rights allow people to love and marry who they choose
7: Human rights encourage equal work opportunities
8: Human rights give people access to education
9: Human rights protect the environment, including the Right to clean air, clean soil, and clean water
10. Human rights provide a universal standard that holds governments accountable
Although the UDHR was a non-binding resolution, it is now considered to have acquired the force of international customary law, which may be invoked under appropriate circumstances by national and other judiciaries. Needless to say that the provisions of Human rights have contributed a lot to protect millions of people from power abuse and lead a dignified life, but simultaneously the inadequacies of human rights have been realised several times. And yet it is hard to avoid the conclusion that governments continue to violate human rights with impunity, the militants and miscreants enjoy better protection than common people and armed forces, women remain a subordinate class in nearly all countries of the world, children continue to work in mines and factories in so many countries, millions of people are still denied two-time bread, people are being killed just for following different faith and this list is never-ending. These conditions worldwide necessitate a serious review of the very foundation of the human rights regime and the universal ability of its applicability.
Most of the political, social, moral, legal, cultural and even religious institutions of our present-day society use rights as the key concept to define and justify their existence. The root cause of our contemporary world’s major problems lies in this right-centric worldview. This worldview perceives men as Little Gods having rights as absolute powers to be used as defence weapons in their war against fellow beings or society. As a result, individual ego has overpowered the community spirit, and humanity has split into factions of races, classes, cultures, genders, groups, professions, religions and ideologies. The unity conferring principles of the whole humanity is lost, and man has emerged as an isolated individual having no emotional bondage with the larger reality popularly called ‘NATURE’. A plausible solution to this situation is nothing but replacing this right-centric worldview with an obligation or duty-centric worldview, a worldview that maintains that obligation and not right is the fundamental notion of understanding human reality. India took the lead in this direction by inserting article 51(a) as a fundamental duty.
The ancient Hindu wisdom realised the fundamental truth that the nature and status of different rights necessarily correspond to the nature and the mode of duties from which they are derived. To achieve the goal of duty centric rights, the notion of Rina( debt), Yajna(Sacrifice) and Purushartha( Duties of Man) was developed. The notion of the three Rinas and five yajnas are integrally woven into the scheme of four-fold purusharthas – the four basic goals/ends of all human endeavours. The merit of the Indian perspective of rights lay on goals of pushing, an effective check on the possibility of the inclusion of putative immoral rights and cannot be misused to permit the pursuit of prima facie immoral ends.
The source of the Western view of Human rights is regarded as Cyrus Cylinder-a Babylonian clay cylinder account of the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus in 539 BC with royal inscriptions on it. The earliest traces of the idea of Human Rights date back to more than 4,000 years. Rig Ved is considered one of the oldest sources of human rights globally. In the words of Lukman Harees, “The earliest attempts of literate societies to write about the rights and responsibilities date back to more than 4,000 years to the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi. This Code, the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, the Analects of Confucius, the Quran and the Hindu Vedas are the five oldest written sources which address questions of people’s duties, rights, and responsibilities.”
The notion of equality, which supplies the backbone of UNDHR, is duly found in Rigveda.
Ajyesthaaso Akanisthaasa Yete
Sam Bhraataro Vaavrudhuh Soubhagaya
– RigVeda, Mandala-5, Sukta-60, Mantra-5
‘No one is superior or inferior; all are brothers; all should strive for the interest of all and progress collectively.
Arthvar Ved also provides for Human Rights such as the Right to food and water.
Samani Prapaa Saha Vonnabhagah
Samane Yoktre Saha vo Yunajmi
“All have equal Rights to articles of food and water. The yoke of the chariot of life is placed equally on the shoulders of all. All should live together in harmony supporting one another like the spokes of a wheel of the chariot connecting its rim and hub”.
-Atharva Veda – Samjnana Sukta
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states about the Right to happiness, the same existed in the texts of Brihadāraṇyaka Upanishad
“Sarvepi Sukhinah Santu
Sarve Santu Niramayah
Sarve Bhadrani Pashyantu
Ma Kaschid Dukhabhag Bhavet”
‘Let all be happy Let all be free from diseases, Let all see auspicious things Let nobody suffer from grief.’
Right to happiness is also emphasised in the Kautilya’s Arthashashtra-
“Prajasukhe Sukham Rajnah Prajanam cha Hite Hitam
Naatmapriyam Hitam Rajnah Prajanaam tu Priyam Hitam”
“In the happiness of the subjects lies the happiness of the King; in their welfare his welfare. The King shall not consider what pleases himself as good; whatever pleases his subjects is only good for him.”
The ancient Hindu texts not only provide for traces of the ideas on human rights, but they do also lay special emphasis on the duties. This can help in developing and enriching the doctrine of International Human Rights, as in most of the international instruments on the subject, even today we do not find mention of fundamental duties, but only of the fundamental rights.
Indian Model of Human Rights
The fall of India and shifting of the centre of global power from wisdom centric India to money-centric west is primarily responsible for creating a divisive world based upon differences and conflicts. Increasing inclination of human interest from duties to Right, from the need to greed, from spirituality to religion and from collectivism to individualism is the main reason for rising conflicts and discrimination.
Indian philosophy was always duty-driven, considering all animate and inanimate objects of the earth as a manifestation of God. It does not support the idea of rights being alienated from the concept of duties. Karma is considered as one’s highest duty in Hindu tradition.
Indian society was based upon “Dharma”, which has no exact corresponding translation in the English language. It is a fundamental concept treated as a cosmic law and order that relates to the orders and customs that make life and a universe possible. It connotes “Duty to right way of living” whose fundamental is to protect weak against strong and develop a strong sense of morality. Hinduism does not believe in localised state interest, but it talks about Universal peace, happiness and equality.
Svetasvatara Upanishad says- ‘Amritasya Putrah Vayam’. Man is treated as the ‘son of the immortal’, where immortal is used for the almighty. Hinduism does not regard humans as mere material beings, but an element of spirituality and divinity is attributed to all human beings. On this aspect, all human beings are kept on the same footing.
The most basic concept of equality has been beautifully mentioned in Vedas, which is defined as follows-“No one is superior inferior all should strive for the interest of all and should progress collectively”.
In Hindu Tradition, Human dignity is an integral part of the Right to life. Hinduism, by laying stress on universal brother-hood rejects hatred and emphasis the spiritual and eternal growth for all human beings to promote the concept of human dignity.
Non-discrimination, the core principle of the International Human Rights convention, was pre-eminent in the ancient Hindu texts. It is believed that every human body consists of an aatma or the soul that travels from one life to the other. ‘Aatma’ is regarded as an integral part of the divine whole- ‘parmaatma’ is a constituent of ‘param’ (penultimate) and ‘aatma’ (soul). A human body should be identified based on its soul or aatman and not based on physical existence. That is to say that the ‘aatma’ had been connoted under Indian legal philosophy, a discriminatory stature.
Further emphasising equality, Rig Veda says, “Ajyesthaaso Akanisthaasa Yete Sam Bhraataro Vaavrudhuh Soubhagaya” – Mandala-5, Sukta-60, Mantra-5 No one is superior or inferior; all are brothers; all should strive for the interest of all and progress collectively.
Rig Ved talks about three rights that are civil in nature, i.e. Tan (body), Skridhi (dwelling place) and Jibhasi (life), thereby relating to the Right to physical liberty, Right to shelter and right to life as we know them today.
Atharveda also provides for Human Rights such as the Right to food and water- “ Samani Prapaa Saha Vonnabhagah Samane Yoktre Saha vo Yunajmi Aaraah Nabhimivaabhitah” means- “All have equal Rights to articles of food and water. The yoke of the chariot of life is placed equally on the shoulders of all. All should live together in harmony supporting one another like the spokes of a wheel of the chariot connecting its rim and hub”. –( Samjnana Sukta).
Subsequently, the importance of Human Rights was mentioned in several Hindu Texts. In this regard, Kautilya beautifully sum up the concept of the welfare state in Arthshsshtra- “Prajasukhe Sukham Rajnah Prajanam cha Hite Hitam Naatmapriyam Hitam Rajnah Prajanaam tu Priyam Hitam” (Translation- “In the happiness of the subjects lies the happiness of the King; in their welfare his welfare. The King shall not consider what pleases himself as good; whatever pleases his subjects is only good for him”) He also says that – Arth and Kama are also essential, but they should be acquired according to dharma.
Manu, who first formulated civil and legal rights, also added economic rights. Several stories in Puranas and Panchtantra reveal that Vedic society was committed to human rights. The same concept was further carried forwarded by Jainism and Buddhism.
The same was inscribed by Samrat Ashoka, mentioning- “All men are my children and just desire for my children that they may enjoy every kind of prosperity and happiness with in this world and in the next, as also as I desire the same for all men”.
India is the country where happiness was regarded as one of the highest fundamental Rights. Brihadāraṇyaka Upanishad says: “Sarve bhavantu Sukhinah, Sarve Santu Niramayah Sarve Bhadrani Pashyantu Ma Kaschid Dukhabhag Bhavet” (Let all be happy Let all be free from diseases Let all see auspicious things Let nobody suffer from grief).
Thus it seems that the Hindu Notion of Human Rights is more broad and inclusive, and it has the place of all creations of God from nature to the universe. It emphasises a lot about duties and believes that the rights of an individual can be ensured only if everybody is committed towards its duties for humanity and sees a life beyond physical existence and includes the entire cosmos.
The most unfortunate part of the modern-day Knowledge system, including theories on international Human rights jurisprudence, is that they never considered Hindu Philosophy’s contribution. A country that ruled the world for thousands of years through its wisdom without destroying any civilisation and giving respect to all thoughts and faiths, which respected the rights of every living being and remained the most advanced civilisation of the world without destroying nature and the universe was deliberately ignored by modern Indian and Western thinkers and policymakers. The whole world will have to realise that the present development model cannot be sustainable as it is based upon conflicts, greed, individualism and economic expansion. Ancient Hindu philosophy can help develop and enrich the International Human Rights jurisprudence, which could be more realistic, acceptable and applied.