Injustice, prejudice and detrimental outlook of the social and legal entities, sadly, is omnipresent and more often than not, we fail to affirm and support the failing and neglected systemic framework of our Nation. Recently, I had an opportunity to participate in ‘Front lines Defenders Award (Regional)’ ceremony in Delhi in October 2018.

Front Line Defenders or The International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is an Irish-based human rights organisation founded in Dublin, Ireland in 2001 to protect human rights defenders at risk, i.e. those who work non-violently to uphold the human rights of others as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Soni Sori was among five winners from their respective regions, on whom Front Line Defenders Awards were bestowed. The other winners are Nurcan Baysal (Turkey), the LUCHA movement (Democratic Republic of Congo), La Resistencia Pacífica de la Microregión de Ixquisis (Guatemala), and Hassan Bouras (Algeria).

It made me introspect certain points: we have a supportive government till we question them, freedom till we demand answers, equal rights till we get in direct conflict with the powerful. Unless and until we don’t get in the position where we question our human rights, we won’t know if it’s really there or we have been brainwashed to not see the real picture.

Some of the highlights of the event are given below.

  • Soni Sori, an adivasi school teacher in Sameli village, Dantewada, Bastar, Chhattisgarh, has been working for protecting the rights of adivasi community in the Bastar region. She was arrested (2011) on charge of being a conduit of Maoists in the region. She was tortured and sexually assaulted by Chhattisgarh police in custody. She talked about her ordeal and acquittal in six of the eight cases due to lack of evidence. Subsequently, she joined a political front.
  • Chandrashekhar Azad, founder of Ambedkar Army (2014) working towards empowerment, development and education of Dalit, Scheduled castes and marginalized communities. He was arrested on allegations of violence under National Security Act and released yesterday after one year of jail. Such ‘preventive detention’ is uncommon as none of the cases had not been proved and he has no early record of unlawful activities.
  • Arresting rights-defenders and activists arbitrarily, purports to bending the law to one’s advantage, further abetted by a biased media.
  • Other topics of discussions were misuse/abuse of power by central and state government, issuing arrest warrants on false charges by law enforcement agencies, etc. Such malpractices continue to prevail primarily due to lack of accountability of government servants, opacity in official functioning, absence of monitoring systems, political pressures from vested interests, etc.
  • Gross violations of fundamental rights (like Protection of Civil and Political Rights, Freedom of Speech and Expression, Freedom to Practice Religion, Freedom of Association and Peaceful Assembly) by state and central government are rampant in the country. Many participants and victims shared their experiences in his regard.
  • In present times, a phenomena of mob lynching is intentionally being promoted in the name of religion, belief, political inclinations, hard-core thinking and ideology, lacking any cognitive reasoning. The vested interests involved are self-evident.

In this context, it will be relevant to glance over the ‘fundamental rights’ enshrined in Constitution of India, and every citizen (and alien too in some cases) is entitled.

  • The Right To Life – The Article 21 states “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law.” Under it, state is duty-bound to make provisions for safety, wellbeing and liveable environment for its citizens. This right shelters an array of other rights which support life, such as minimum wage, availability of basic minimum needs. Other aspects in the orbit of this right, as interpreted by Honourable Supreme Court from time to time, are – Right to Live with Human Dignity, Right of Family Life, Right of Privacy, etc.
  • The Right of Education – The 86th Amendment of 2002, almost took eight years to come in effect in 2010, showing government’s apathy, callousness and neglect. Free education to every child born and to the children between the ages of 6-14 are entitled for an elementary education. Every person has a right to be educated not just in words and action, but in thoughts and behaviour as well.
  • Freedom To Practice Religion – Every Indian citizen has freedom to choose, pray, preach, practise and promote, one’s religion. However promotion of violence, forced charity, pro-secular beliefs and practises which hinder governmental and secular are not covered under this right. No government can promote pro-religious texts and behaviour in its state, as every religion is equal under the law.
  • Right To Equality – The Articles 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 of the Constitution of India guarantee ‘Equality Before Law’ i.e. each citizen is equal in the eyes of law irrespective of status, religion, sex, etc. Abolition of untouchability is also covered in this right.

Nelson Mandela once said – “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Let all of us work together to create an egalitarian society in this direction.

Author – Aman