Human Rights in India

by Satish Tandon, 2005

One purpose of a democratic and representative government is to guarantee rights to its citizens. This is usually done by a "Bill of Rights" which details the rights of citizens enshrined in the country's constitution. And how does the government enforce rights? The rights are enforced by the local civic authorities, the police, and an independent judiciary.

What happens if the constitution enshrines human rights but the government fails to enforce them? This is the situation in India where basic human rights are systemically and regularly violated. Freedom from arbitrary arrest is a basic human right. Yet, thousands of people get arrested every year and languish in our jails in inhuman conditions for years while prosecuting authorities take their time in framing charges. In mature democracies, the sequence of events starts with collection of evidence, framing of charges, and the issuance of an arrest warrant. The Tehelka expose provided solid evidence against some members of the government to the prosecuting authorities who used it to arbitrarily arrest the provider of evidence. The 'exposed' ministers remain free to this day. What a travesty of justice!

We know about this case and its outcome only because it involved senior members of the government. But there are tens of thousands of cases of a similar nature involving ordinary people which are never reported and are therefore not known to us. We understand these kinds of cases exist in large numbers because most of us do know somebody who has been victimized by our system. On the other hand, no senior politician or minister in India has ever been convicted for his crimes in a court of law. And this despite the fact that a significantly large percentage of our politicians are known to have criminal backgrounds and be corrupt. The failure of our judicial system to convict even a single minister or politician represents one of the biggest obstacles to a clean and honest administration. Furthermore, failure to enforce human rights is the surest guarantee to their repeated abuse and violation.

But let us get back to human rights violations at the ordinary level. Education and access to a primary school is a universal human right. But if I live in a village which does not have a school within a radius of 30 miles then my children are being deprived of their fundamental human right to education. There are millions of children in India whose right to primary education is being violated because our governments fail in their primary responsibility to provide social goods that should include schools, hospitals and water, etc. I wish to file a public interest litigation on behalf of my domestic help in New Delhi whose children's right to primary education is being violated. Will I, or rather they (the children), win? I think we all know the answer.

The country of our birth is a sea of human rights abuses. As Joseph Goebbels, the propaganda minister of Hitler once said, "if you tell a lie one hundred times, it begins to look like truth". We are unable to see or visualize the extent of human rights abuse because our system is managed by, and dependent on, thousands of Goebbels' Indian clones who know nothing else but to speak lies, and nothing but absolute lies. They take credit for successes of private sector and NGO initiatives, while keeping their mouths shut about governance, or a complete lack of it.

Fifty-eight years is a long time for any country to put its house in order. As responsible citizens of a free India, we need to double our efforts to ensure universal human rights for all. The right to freedom has no meaning if tens of millions among us have to continue to fight for freedom from hunger, poverty, illiteracy and exploitation.