This post has been written by Diksha Dubey , a second year student from Amity Law School, Amity University, Chattisgarh.
Bharatiya values regarding human rights perhaps have the oldest pedigree. Rigveda which is regarded as the oldest document, declares that all human beings are equal and they are brothers. The Atharvana Veda declared that all human beings have equal rights over water and food (natural resources). The Vedas including Upanishads (shruti) were the primordial source of Dharma which is a compendious term for all the human rights and duties, the observance of which was regarded as essential for securing peace and happiness to individuals and the society as well. The highest ideal of human life, evolved in India, is incorporated in a short but meaningful manner in the most popular prayer. “Let all people be happy”.
Salient aspects of human rights as laid down in the Vedas and Smritis and Kautilya’s Artha Sastra and the recognition of these rights made in 1948 by the UNO and incorporated in the modern constitution of India are dwelt upon.
Right to happiness
The natural desire of all human beings is to be happy at every stage and in every aspect of life. It is a natural human right, for without happiness life becomes meaningless. Therefore, the right of every individual to happiness has been recognized in the Bharatiya culture since ancient times. This being the most important and comprehensive human right, it includes every kind of right, the fulfillment of which leads to happiness. An individual has the capacity to fulfill his desires by his efforts and thereby secure happiness for himself, for members of his family and for fellow human beings. “Dharma” was evolved to secure Right to happiness for all without any exception. The idea that for the good or happiness of greater number, unhappiness or misery could be inflicted on a smaller number was never accepted in Bharateeya culture and civilization. Instead the “right to happiness” of every human being was laid down as an ideal. This was incorporated in the following most ancient prayers:
“Let all be happy,
Let all be free from diseases,
Let all see auspicious things,
Let no body suffer from grief”
“May He (God) protect us together,
May we share the food together,
May we work conjointly with great energy,
May our study be vigorous and effective,
May we not hate anyone.
Let there be peace, peace and peace.”
The “right to happiness is a compendious expression which covers all specific human rights, which are intended to secure happiness. Declaration of this Right is a mark of distinction of Hindu scriptures. That is why the ideal that “Let all people be happy” (Loka Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu) became an article of faith in our social media and constitutional system, comprising of various specific human rights, the protection of which leads to happiness.
Duty based rights
The unique method evolved by the great thinkers who moulded the civilization and culture of India was to secure the rights to every individual by creating a corresponding duty in other individuals. This was, for the reason that they considered that sense of right always emanates from selfishness whereas the sense of duty always generates selflessness. Therefore, every kind of right evolved which became the values of Bharatiya culture were based on the duty of every individual towards other individuals. For example, the duty of parents towards their children, and the duty of sons and of daughters as the case may be to maintain their parents in old age, and duty of teachers towards their students, duty of students towards their teachers, duty of every individual in a family towards other individuals in the family and other members of the concerned human society, duty of the state towards citizens, duty of the citizens towards the state, were all created to protect the basic human rights.
Therefore, instead of making right as the foundation of social life establish a right based society, the ancient philosophers of this land preferred to establish a duty based society where the right given to an individual is the right to perform his duty. This fundamental approach to life has been clearly laid down and understood in all ancient literature. To illustrate, in Vishnupurana there is an entire chapter which is devoted to defining the territorial boundaries as well as the basic philosophy of this country. In one of the verses therein, the importance given to duty in this land is emphasised. It reads
Among the various countries, Bharat is regarded as great because this is the land of duty in contradistinction to others which are lands of enjoyment i.e based on rights.
Mahatma Gandhi who personified all the human values evolved in India eulogized this idealism in the following words:
“India is essentially Karmabhumi (land of duty in contradistinction to Bhogabhumi (land of enjoyment).”
According to the culture evolved in this land every one owes a duty towards others. By this method right of an individual was made part of the duty of other individual. It is by this process the human rights were sought to be created and protected.
Right to equality
Right to equality (Samanata) is perhaps the most valuable right, without which happiness is impossible. Unjust discrimination always results in misery and unhappiness to those discriminated against. The Vedas which constitute the primordial source of Dharma declared charter of equality (Samanata).
It is found incorporated in the Rigveda, the most ancient of the Vedas and also in the Atharvanaveda. They are worth quoting.
“No one is superior (ajyestasa) or inferior (akanishtasa). All are brothers (ete bhrataraha). All should strive for the interests of all and should progress collectively.”
“On human beings, all of you should,
Live together with mutual cooperation,
Converse with each other in a friendly manner,
Acquire knowledge having common ideals of life”
“All your prayer and desires be similar and for common good,
All your get-togethers be without separatist feeling.
All of you be united in thought, word and deed.”
“Let there be oneness in your resolutions, hearts and minds.
Let the strength to live with mutual cooperation be firm in you all”.
“All have equal rights in articles of food and water. The yoke of the chariot of life is placed equally on the shoulders of all. All should live together with harmony supporting one another like the spokes of a wheel of the chariot connecting its rim and hub”.
Thus, the right to equality of all human beings has been declared in the Vedas, which were regarded as inviolable. In order to emphasise the dignity of individual, it was declared that all are brothers, which meant that all are children of god. Therefore, it was declared that no one is inferior or superior. Similarly, the verse in Atharvanaveda declared that all have equal right over natural resources and all were equally important as spokes in a wheel. Both the Rigveda and Atharvanaveda declared that cooperation between individuals is necessary for happiness and progress. It is also of utmost importance to note that right to equality was made part of “Dharma” long before the State came to be established.
Duty of State to give equal protection
After the establishment of the State the obligation to protect the right to equality was cast on the Rulers. It was made a part of the Rules of Rajadharma, the constitutional Law.
“Just as the mother earth gives equal support to all the living beings, a king should give support to all without any discrimination.”
This also meant that the kings were required to afford equal treatment to all the citizens in the same manner in which a mother treated all her children.
As held by thirteen-judge Bench of the supreme court of India, the right to equality constitute one of the elements of basic structure of the constitution of India which cannot be amended or altered even by Parliament (Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala). The right to equality and prohibition against discrimination are incorporated in Articles 14, 15 and 16 of the constitution of India.
Right to Education
Mahabharatha ordains that every individual should discharge four pious obligations. They were towards the Creator, the Parents, The teachers and Humanity.
As to the importance given to education in ancient Bharat, it is sufficient to quote the following verse composed by the great Sanskrit poet Bhartruhari of the first century B.C.
“Education is the special manifestation of man,
Education is the treasure which can be preserved without the fear of loss,
Education secures material pleasure, happiness and fame,
Education is the teacher of the teacher,
Education is the friend when one goes abroad,
Education is God incarnate,
Education secures honour at the hands of the State not money;
A man without education is equal to animal.
The human right to education is aimed at securing happiness. Therefore, it should not be confined to literacy. The aim of education should be allround development of personality, intellectual, mental, moral and physical and to make an individual as asset to the human society. The Right to Education is one of the Human Rights vide Article 26 of the Universal Declaration.
Right to Protection
The right to protection of the people was created by casting duties on the Rulers as part of Rajadharma, the Constitutional Law of Ancient Bharat. It applied to all the Rulers, who might be ruling in any part of the territory of Bharat. Some of the duties of the kings were as mentioned in the following verses:
“To punish the wicked, to honour (protect) the good, to enrich the treasury (exchequer) by just methods, to be impartial in rendering justice to the litigants and to protect the kingdom- these are the five yajnas (selfless duties) to be performed by a king.”
“The king conducting himself always in conformity with Rajadharma, should command all his servants to work for the welfare of his people.”
These ideals set out in the Mahabharata and other works on Rajadharma inspired and guided, by and large, all the kings in ancient Bharat. They invariably acted in conformity with them. The belief in the supremacy of Dharma among the people was the best guarantee for proper functioning of Kings. Dharmic supremacy generally prevailed, which corresponds to constitutional supremacy under the present day written constitutions.
Right to Practice any religion
Whether to believe in the existence of God or not, is another matter in respect of which there was absolute freedom for every individual. Whatever that may be, for those who believed in God, they had the liberty to believe in any God by any name and to follow any religion of their choice and to adopt any method of worship. Though basically every one among Hindus believe that God is one, on account of the aforesaid liberal approach, several names were given to God, according to the desires and choice of individuals and their need, such as God for protection, Goddess of knowledge, Goddess of Shakti, Goddess of wealth, God of remover of obstacles, God of nature in the form of elements, God in the form of air, water, earth, light and tree etc. As a result the number of Gods swelled but without disturbing the belief that god is one.
This probably is the mark of distinction of Hindu culture and civilization in the whole world. This broad outlook is found expressed in the following popular verse:
“Just as the rain water coming down to the earth from the sky reaches the same ocean, obeisance to God may be in any name, but destination is same, the God by whatever name called.”
This basic human right was sought to be protected by incorporating a specific rule in Rajadharama to the effect that the state was under a duty to protect every religion without discrimination. It is for this reason Fundamental Right to all to practice any religion of their choice.
Article 25 reads
“Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion. Subject to public order, morality and health and to other provisions of this part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion.”
Similar is Article 18 of the Declaration of Human Rights. Thus, Secularism is given the pride of place in our Constitution framed and adopted by the people.
Special rights of Women
Undoubtedly the right to equality and all other human rights are all applicable to men and women, equally. However, the ancient Bharatiya thinkers considered that having due regard to the special attributes of womanhood, they require special protection for it is undisputable that women are vulnerable to attack by men with evil propensities. It is a matter of common knowledge , that offences against women by men has been a problem throughout human history and not vice – versa. Even at present, when we boast of modern civilization and scientific advancement, the rate of offences against women are on the increase every year. Men behave in inhuman manner against women. In particular sexual assault against women which is most heinous which ruins the whole life of a women, is indulged in by many men who are nothing but demons in human form. The law enforcing agencies such as the police and the courts come into picture only after a woman suffers an irrepairable injury and consequently they are not adequate to protect the rights of women. As a solution to this problem, the ancient Bharatiya thinkers considered that right to be protected was of utmost importance to women. They also came to the conclusion that the best method to protect the right was to ingrain the ideal of ‘Respect for womanhood’ in every individual and in particular in men through moral education right from the inception and at all levels of education.
This right became the most cherished value of life from times immemorial in Bharat. Men were asked not to consider women as an object of mere physical pleasure but to regard them as divine treasure for family life. Hitopadesha of Narayana is a compilation of code of conduct. In that in his inmitable style, Narayana lays down the following directive
“ A person who regards, every woman other than his wife as equal to his own mother, who regards wealth, which belongs to another as equal to a clod of earth and who regards every other individual, as his ownself, is an educated man in the real sense of the term.”
This value appears to have created and cultivated assiduously as an antidote to sexual propensity of man, for, once the value that every woman is mother is ingrained in the heart of an individual, sinful thoughts of committing any offence against woman gets destroyed. There can be no doubt that inculcating of such a value is the greatest safety against criminal sexual propensity of man. The creation and maintaining of this value is really the most valuable contribution of Indian thinkers to humanity.
Apart from creating the value of respect for womanhood, there have been special provisions for protecting several human rights of women, in view of the disabilities and vulnerability of women for attack by men. Rules of Dharma created an obligation on the part of the male members of a family to afford protection to every woman at every age and stage of life. Further, under Rajadharma it was the duty of the state to provide protection to women. The Rule of Dharma which made it the duty of male members of the family to afford protection women reads:
“Father protects the girl during her childhood, the husband protects her after marriage and her sons protect her in old age. At no stage a woman should be left free.” The meaning an purpose of the aforesaid verse is that a woman requires and is entitled to protection at every stage of life. Correspondingly, it is duty of the father , the husband and the sons to look after her as daughter, wife and mother respectively.
The important role assigned to women has been correctly identified. It is no doubt true that the times have changed. We have women who are competent in various professions, avocations, business, competent political rulers, bureaucrats, technocrats, advocates, judges and what not! In many cases they have surpassed men. But the fact remains that their responsibility as mothers to look after the interests of their children and to transmit cultural values to them and to make them good citizens has not decreased but has increased in view of the greater chances of moral and material abandonment among youths in the prevailing hostile environment. Further we are seeing that atrocities on women are increasing day by day. Obscenity is spreading like wild fire through cinematograph films, televisions, magazines and through commercial advertisements. These and similar such activities instigate onslaughts on women and tantamount to a clear violation of human rights of women. Women’s organisations are craving for protection. It is for the reason that women are vulnerable to attack in many ways by men, the duty to afford protection to the person and property of women throughout their life had been made part of the rules of Dharma and Rajadharma. This is indicated by two provisions of the ancient law of India.
- Exception to Women’s Property from law of adverse possession
The provision of ancient Indian law regarding perfecting title to an immovable property by adverse possession was made inapplicable in respect of property belonging to women, state and temple.
“No plea of adverse possession is tenable in respect of property belonging to women, state and temple.”
- Death sentence for rape of women in custody
Capital sentence should be imposed for offence of rape committed against woman arrested by an officer of the state.
- Protection to girls carried away by force
“If a damsel has been abducted and not given in marriage in accordance with law, she may lawfully be given to another man. She is as chaste as a maiden.”
The rule indicates that unless a girl is lawfully given in marriage following the procedure prescribed, the mere fact that a man (offender-kidnapper) carried her away, married forcibly and kept her as wife forcibly, did not deprive her of having a legal and valid marriage. The concluding words – “She is as good as a maiden” were obviously meant to impress upon the society that a girl being an unfortunate victim of an offence should not be looked down upon by society. This provision is most humane, for if a girl were to become an unfortunate victim of sexual assault by a man and for that reason the society were to reject social status and refuse to take her in marriage, it would be a case of most inhuman treatment and a calamity.