Human rights refer to those inalienable rights that a person is entitled to enjoy irrespective of his/her nationality, caste, creed, sex, colour, religion, income or any other socio- economic divisive category. Human rights are those entitlements which an individual own just because of his/her existence as a human being.
Both-the East and the West roots of human rights have a considerable appeal of promoting human dignity. Human life is given a distinctive weight over other animals in most societies precisely because we are capable of cultivating the quality of our lives.
The present status of women in society is a challenge for human rights. Women form nearly half of the human capital in most of the country but in terms of gender equality and gender equity, they remain the most deprived and long neglected segment of society. Despite several rights and privileges women, in general, are fighting for crisis such as dowry, female infanticide, sex selective abortion, health, poverty, education, sexual harassment and domestic violence.
In this era of Globalisation the growing attention is considered as a strategy for survival, competition and growth. As a result of this a new economic environment has been created wherein only self-reliant and self-regulated economic enterprises, including women enterprises will survive. In the situation in many developing countries structural adjustment programmes have been poorly designed and implemented and they are unable to meet negative effects of globalisation.
Development of the concept in East
Today human rights are universally accepted as those conditions of social life which allow the full development of human personality. They refer to a wide continuum of values that are universal in character and in some sense equally claimed for all human beings. We claim for these rights all over the world simply by being human. The term ‘human’ is itself a vague since the life cycle of a human being ranges from conception to death and decay.
Even before conception, sperm and eggs exist that contain human genetic material but decision is made easily on the issue because they are human cells and not human beings. In between the discussions and controversies various groups hold the view that there is some special quality of human life that provides a basis for possessing rights; when that quality is acquired, so are rights. This approach is favoured by many since it allows for the distinction between humans and other animals. Human rights are rights particularly to human beings, thus the basis of the claim to rights should be something that differentiates humans from other animals.
The modern concept and interpretations human rights have its bases in Eastern as well as in Western countries of early history when well-known human rights movements started with ancient religions and societies and showed the evolution of concepts and institutions of human rights across civilizations.
In developing the basic notion of human right we cannot deny the role played by the influence of ancient Dharma with its universalistic and humanistic approach. In general ancient Indian society was peaceful within the moral codes of conduct of the society provided by religion which in due course of time hegemonised all sections of the society within its rule of the game. Ancient thinkers like Manu and Kautilya all have tried to protect the rights and dignity of individuals from the whims and tyranny of the rulers. This was done primarily by imposing some moral restrictions upon the activities of the rulers and thereby providing some kind of shield to the rights of the individuals.
Addition and enhancement of human rights aspects continued in medieval and British period. In medieval period the three basic elements of the ancient Indian tradition; universalism and humanism in its philosophical thought, the struggle against caste discrimination and religious tolerance received a fresh relevance and impetus from Islam. King Akbar’s great regard for rights, justice and secularism could be cited as an example. Religious movements like Bhakti and Sufi made remarkable contributions towards eliminating the irreligious practices of the contemporary society.
These movements tried to revive the ancient humanist tradition and preached the sacred principles of humanism and universalism. With the coming of Britishers, English was introduced in education and some Indian leaders including Raja Ram Mohan Roy, being influenced, started a movement for Renaissance and Reformation. They demanded the abolition of Sati system, female infanticide, caste system and also initiated a movement for widow remarriage and female education. It resulted in the enactment of several humanitarian legislations in subsequent years.
Development of the concept in the West
Likewise the Western philosophical tradition manifests, from the ancient times, the stories of an inevitable conflict between the concept of individual rights and state authority. In the writings of great Greek individual’s right to resistance against sponsored terror was highly glorified. In the later periods the theme of humanity was carried out in the classical philosophy of Plato and Aristotle who attempted to protect the citizens and non-citizens under a scheme of justice.
Another Roman thinker Cicero first gave a philosophical foundation to the concept of rights and its association with the idea of natural law. The concept of natural right as a precondition for human development had received further staunch support in the works of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau, who believed that the state as an institution is the most effective instrument for protecting the rights of the individual against the oppression of the rulers. The concept of human rights found its further elaboration and promotion in the writings of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), Thomas Paine (1737-1809), Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and Karl Mark (1818-1883), the revolutionary thinkers of the 20th century.
However, in the evolution of modern human rights the ideas of liberal humanism and universalism played a significant role. For instance John Rawls (1921-2002), who although did not assign the label of universalism to the concept of human rights, but attached a special status to it. ‘These rights do not depend on any particular comprehensive moral doctrine or philosophical conception of human nature …but basic human rights express a minimum standard of well- ordered political institutions for all peoples who belong, as members of good standing, to just political society of peoples. He also made the human rights distinct from the constitutional rights, or the rights of democratic citizenship, or from other kinds of rights that belong to certain kinds of political institutions, both individual and associations.
Jurgen Habermas, another important contributor, called it a part of the post-modern agenda and believed that human rights and the principle of popular sovereignty constitute the sole idea that can justify modern laws. In today’s society, human rights have become the necessary condition of a regime’s legitimacy and of the decency of its legal order.
Human rights and women in globalisation
In the phase of globalisation, privatisation and liberalisation, the concept of human rights has been defined and analysed by Amartya Sen, the philosopher-economist and Tony Evans, the noted theorist of international politics. Dr. Sen has viewed rights usually in terms of political power and according to him the invoking of human rights tends to come mostly from those who are concerned with changing the world, rather than interpreting it.
In the final analysis he concludes that human rights may or may not be reflected in a legal framework through specific human rights legislation, but there are also other ways of implementing human rights that includes, public recognition, agitation and monitoring. While Tony Evans linked the concept of human rights and its universalisation aspect with the issue of power and hegemony.
For him, it is an instrument for empowering people in their fight against persecution and injustice. Evan’s understanding of hegemony provides a new insight into the post-war politics of rights, particularly in the context of the emerging role of US as the leader of human rights.
In the present there are three categorisation of right based on three major generations of the concept. The first generation of rights refers to the traditional or classical notion of rights denoting different political and civil rights. The second generation of rights mainly includes different types of socioeconomic rights, while the third generation of rights emerges in course of the worldwide anti-imperial movement in different parts of the world and includes cultural rights, environmental rights, right to development, minority rights, etc. All these rights are essential not only because of our existence, as human being but these are needed also to make each one of us an ideal human being.
*Dr. Rajkumar Singh, Professor and Head, P. G. Department of Political Science, BNMU, West Campus P.G. Centre, Saharsa, Bihar, India.