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Of Rights And Its Genesis

Until HIV/AIDS came along, the focus of the international community in the last century was human rights. There is a reason why the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations on December 10, 1948. The world had just emerged from the deadliest war fought not only in Europe but also in many parts of Asia.  The League of Nations had collapsed paving the way for personalities like Adolf Hitler to occupy centre stage with their brand of politics, now known as Nazism, and which many historians ascribe its rise to the Treaty of Versailles, after WW I.

It was during this period, that the Sun started setting on the British Empire and the world saw the birth of a number of Nations, each trying to come to terms with their new found identity and responsibility. India is one of the rare examples, where democracy has withstood the test of time while others, particularly Pakistan has had to cope with coups and uniformed Generals issuing their writs and diktats.

Apartheid in South Africa was already beginning to prick the conscience of many countries, particularly the liberal West and the civil rights movement which started gaining momentum around this time, under Martin Luther King Jr in the US, was beginning to catch the imagination of the people and pit them against the systematic discrimination the Blacks had to face in the US.

On the other hand, communist countries such as the then USSR and their dominions after WW II, China, North Korea and Cuba, adopted a different approach to governance, wherein the individual had to always make way for the State, totally ignoring the individual’s rights as a citizen of the land or as a human being. There are reasons why Stalin and Siberia are synonymous and mid-night knock is a term closely associated with the now disbanded KGB. USSR is today history, but China and North Korea continue to be the flag bearers of the philosophy that the State is everything and damn the individuals and all talks about human rights.

The brutal crackdown on pro-democracy students at Tiananmen Square in 1989 and the recent ruckus over the decision of the Nobel Committee to hand the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xia Obo, who is presently serving a 11 year jail sentence says something very significant about how the rights of human beings have to be relegated to the interest of the State. Obo was put under arrest because he dared to raise his voice and called for a change in the system of Government in China. The diplomatic pulls and pressures applied by China not to attend the prize distribution is a fitting example of how desperate China is in trying to nullify any move that may cast it in a negative light in front of a global audience.

These are but just some examples that come to mind, and the world has seen its fair share of the Devil incarnate, who did not feel the need to introspect when they had to eliminate any potential rival. Saddam Hussein is now history, may his soul rest in peace, but the bitterness left behind by his brutal regime will not be forgotten easily. Osama bin Laden, the Taliban etc are all distinct species of human beings, who will be remembered for giving a new definition of human cruelty and religious fundamentalism.

The examples we have quoted above are all open chapters in the history of mankind, but there is a more sinister and more dangerous form of dealing with human rights. The British did it while trying to nullify the growing demand for freedom from the Indians and came up with Acts which today has taken the form and shape of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Not only this, the British also employed a number of tactics such as the Doctrine of Lapse, according to which a kingdom or a province automatically comes under the suzerainty of the East India Company, there is no adult male heir to the throne, before India came under the crown.

Yet no one will point a finger at the British for gross human rights violation and better still is the adoption of their legacy by their erstwhile subjects. On paper India is the largest democracy in the world and is one of the few ‘˜third world countries’ where democracy has been a success, but does this tell the factual story of India. If a country, which won independence more than 60 years back feel the need to fall back on some archaic Acts and laws left behind by their erstwhile masters, then something, somewhere is seriously wrong and this is not a matter to be taken lightly.

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act came into the limelight recently following the large scale killing of civilians during the protracted unrest in Kashmir and there were debates galore on whether to continue with the Act or amend it or bring it down by a peg or two, so that it may appease the people. Much before 2010, Manipur witnessed a historic protest against the said Act, paralyzing the State for months, after the bullet riddled and battered body of Th Manorama was discovered following her arrest from her house by Assam Rifles men the previous evening.

The nude protest, the visit of the Prime Minister to assuage the mood of the people, the handing over of Kangla to the people of Manipur, the institution of the Justice Jeevan Reddy Commission are all somehow or the other linked to the uproar against this Act. However blaming this Act alone will not be able to bring the real picture out in the open. This Act does not apply to the State police, but who can forget July 23 of 2009, when Sanjit was photographically shown being pushed into a shop at BT Road and later brought out as a corpse with the police claiming that he was killed in an encounter! If this is not State sponsored elimination, then what is? Sharmila is a living icon, who has managed to expose India’s uglier profile before the world.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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