Anurag Gangal, Human Rights 1
India and Human Rights Perspective: Context and Contours
Professor, International Politics,
Department of Political Science,
University of Jammu, Jammu
The ‘King can do no wrong’ is still, as it were, de-jure philosophy of modern liberalism
in the country of Magna Carta fame, i.e., United Kingdom. The de-facto position is different.
As such, an individual, as it were, can do no wrong under the libertarian rigmarole of
individual’s rights leading to human rights. The concept of an individual’s duty to family and
society is not linked to the conception of human rights in the Western philosophy.
The fundamental philosophy and concept of Human Rights since the oncoming of first
generation Civil and Political Rights is overburdened with mainly rights of the individual
and, conversely, position of the King in Parliament. These individual basic rights are right to
vote, assemble, free speech, fair trial, freedom from torture and protection of law including
rule of law.1
Second generation of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights date back to nineteenth
century are also exclusive rights vis-a-vis the individual. These rights largely deal with
problems of poverty, and rights of access to government, state protection to individual, better
social condition of living, education, housing, health, employment, adequate income and
The third generation of Human Rights denotes collective rights dating back to second
half of the twentieth century. Indeed, but for the African Charter of Human and People’s
Rights, these have not been included into any human rights treaties and conventions. These
rights are also exclusive rights for economic development, prosperity, benefits from
economic growth, social harmony and healthy environment. Despite being collective and
primarily environmental in nature, these rights are also exclusively for the individual, by the
individual, of the individual.
Another emerging form of human rights is to be seen in the twenty-first century’s
fourth generation of individual liberties. These relate to the present day knowledge age.
These are also exclusive rights for the individual anent right to knowledge, originality,
intellectual property and patent. Despite the exclusiveness of this knowledge perspective,
these are also positive rights for they do not snatch away any part of authority and power
from the institution and apparatus of the state.
Anurag Gangal, Human Rights 2
The first generation of Human Rights are negative rights for they impose restrictions
upon the authority of state. The second, third and fourth generation of human rights are
positive rights for they seek solace and cooperation from the state and society both without
putting any restrictions on the political power of state.
As it is known, the first three generations of human rights have been categorized for the
first time by a Czech jurist, namely, Karel Vasak at the international Institute of Human
Rights in Strasbourg in November 1977. The ‘categorization’ of fourth generation of Human
Rights has seen the light of day at the behest of Mohamad Mova Al’s Afghani in September
2006 in The Jakarta Post.
In the foregoing paragraphs there is a clear cut indication about an inherent Western
libertarian piquant way of thinking, mental orientation and not so balanced way of life
because of their singularly undue and overarching stress on individual’s rights. The Western
history is replete with examples of widely accepted one or the other type of domination – it
may be the King, Church or the individual from time to time. The social context is relatively
missing in the fundamental perspectives of Western philosophy and history in comparison to
ancient and medieval Indian philosophy and history.
The first documentary use of the concept of
human rights was in the Charter of the United
Nations. Indian pedigree could be traced back to
Manusmriti, the concept of vasudhaiva
kutumbakam and Kautaliya’s Arthashastra etc.
Yet, it was the Western experience in formulating
this concept in the medieval period and its
transplant into our time by the impact of the
English, American and French revolutions that
made us conscious of rights. The emergence of
humanitarian ideas in the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries in Europe and India led to
enactment of laws relating to slavery and labour.
Twentieth century focused on victims, minorities,
‘crime against humanity’, rights of women and
children, refugees, rights of the disabled and
mentally disabled and physical and intellectual
integrity in the context of scientific advance and
in upholding the struggle against the state. From
time to time the foundations are monitored and
Anurag Gangal, Human Rights 3
It is said that the ancient and medieval Indian philosophy generally ignores
fundamental human rights while the modern Indian political philosophy is largely derived
from the Western contours of modern liberal and democratic concerns. Does it mean that
Indian Vedic traditions of thought and Akbar’s Deen-e-Ilahi etcetera are completely devoid
of human concerns relating to an individual’s peaceful life and social existence? Apparently
it may be so. But reality is different.
For John Stuart Mill, the nature of human and individual’s rights is contradictory in
itself because, on the one hand, every individual has a right to do and think as one wishes
even if the opinion of the entire world goes against the concerned individual. Yet, again for
Mill there are self-regarding and other-regarding rights. In case of a clash between self-
regarding and other-regarding rights, the role of rule of law emerges. Hence, there has to be a
link between the concept of basic human rights and the rule of law. This link is inherent in
the human faculty of reason.3
However, the ancient Indian philosophy goes much beyond this power of reason among
human beings. That is why, as against the Western tradition of political thought, original
Indian writings in Vedas, Manusmiriti and Arthashastra etcetera seldom enter into exclusive
expositions of rights. They, instead, mostly discuss Dharma and duties in social and political
context. Yet, they do not ignore the individual because Dharma is for the individual only.4
The entire paraphernalia of ancient and medieval Indian thought constructs and
reconstructs Dharma and duties primarily for the welfare of the individual in a cohesive
social and political system. Therefore, individual is everywhere in the Indian thought while
the individual is not in chains. So is not the case with the Western political traditions of
thought and practice because there individual is born free but everywhere in chains. Even
modern democracy, liberalism and globalisation have not been able to end this
enshacklement of individual. Modern technology and flights of science into space have also
mainly burdened the modern individual with high level of stress, dependence and social and
Philosophically speaking, the concept of human rights and efforts to provide diversified
protection to individual in society are welcome features of concurrent social, national,
international and global perception towards democracies. Yet, they are far away from what
they intend to bestow upon the individual.
The apparent intentions behind introducing human rights in the form of various
declarations, conventions and treaties appear to be infected with perverted political contexts
of nations like United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany and France. Just as their
developed a strand of behaviouralism during mid-nineteen-sixties to mid-nineteen-seventies,
Anurag Gangal, Human Rights 4
modern human rights perspectives were also evolved in the similar vein in the post-World
War II period under the leadership of United States and its other agencies having global
reach. These agencies are known to be employing, overtly or covertly, the services of various
university professors and college teachers for the formulation of theories and philosophies
that can help penetrate human mind all over the globe for expanding such frontiers of
knowledge which may secure larger political interests of the United States and other relevant
countries of the West.
The ancient Indian tradition of Dharma appears to be away from philosophical and
practical weaknesses found in the theory and practice of human rights in India and the world.
Therefore, expanding this philosophy of Dharma and its application in the modern context of
human rights may as well bring more meaningful dividends to deeper and larger concerns of
Anurag Gangal, Human Rights 5
Brian Orend, Human Rights: Concept and Context, Broadview Press, 2002, pp. 30-32.
J. Nirmal Chiranjivi, Human Rights in India Historical, Social and Political Perspectives, Oxford University
Press, New Delhi, 2000, p. xxviii.
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, Longmans, Green Reader and Dyer, 1869, pp. 18-30.
S. D. Chamola, Kautilya Arthshastra and the Science of Management: Relevance for the Contemporary Society,
Hope India Publications, 2007, pp. 47-48.