Post-colonial nation-states inherited the colonial model of political administration as a package deal along with independence. We know now that India was not free to devise a constitution in keeping with the reality of her society and history. Retreating colonial countries held up their democracies as the ideal and post-colonial nation-states adopted some kind of democracy as a price for independence. It was also the price that former colonies had to pay to be inducted as member-States into the new, post-World War Wilsonian world order. India was no exception. If anything, the pioneers and leaders of our freedom movement, for the most part, were all educated either in Britain or within the British education system in India and they had internalised the assumption that western democracy, while imperfect, was still better than all other forms of governance.
Western democracy, it must be understood, was a reaction to the abuses of the totalitarianism practiced by the Church and State in Europe. Totalitarianism was integral to the Western State as represented by the monarch or the Emperor because unlike in the Indian context where even Kings and Emperors and religious leaders had to subject themselves to Dharma, the kings in lesser civilizations did not subject themselves to a higher law or principle. This was also the defining characteristic of the Church as embodied in the Pope. There was no law or principle higher than the Pope. People were caught between the pincers of these two authoritarian structures, both of which demanded and received total control over the individual. Protestantism was a challenge to the totalitarianism of the Catholic Church and the ensuing movements of the Reformation, Enlightenment and Republicanism led Europe towards democracy accompanied by the diminishing power and influence of the Church in the lives of the people. Protestantism and democracy legitimised the individual. More importantly, they introduced the concept of ‘freedom of the individual’. Concepts like ‘Free will, freedom of conscience and religion’ flowed from the concept of ‘freedom of the individual’. The movement legitimising the individual, the movement campaigning for the freedom of the individual to choose to live as he willed or desired, was the beginning of the process of atomising the human being, severing him from the context of his family and community.
The concept of human rights derives directly from Protestant Christianity and western democracy. It must be said that western democracy itself derives from Protestant Christianity, and States in the West, even democracies, retain strong elements of totalitarianism and despotism in their state and administrative structures. And autonomy of the kind that was the hallmark of the social and religious institutions in India was and is unknown to western democracies. The concept of human rights, as it has taken shape today, like democracy, also reduces humans to individuals. Besides severing him from the context of his or her family and society, the concept of human rights negates the nation too and places the individual over all other institutions. Not only does the concept of human rights place the individual over all other institutions, it also places him squarely in confrontation with all of them. Human rights activists encourage individuals to challenge and defy all forms of authority, including authority vested in family, caste, religion, village and community. They also challenge and defy the authority vested in the State and state apparatus. In short they thrive on throwing all institutions into disarray, into a state of near total anarchy. Their confrontational attitude also severs all communication between sections of the same community, village or nation.
When we speak in the idiom of ‘rights’ be it women’s rights, dalit rights, rights of the child or whatever, we also speak in terms of activism. We thus have women’s activist, social activist, animal activist, dalit activist, environmental activist and so on. Activism has unfortunately come to be associated with confrontation, with an adversarial attitude. Human rights activism suffers from the same malaise. Human rights activism defines itself by posturing aggressively against family, religion, tradition, society and nation. Not surprisingly, human rights activism, speaking only in the language and idiom as devised by the West and backed by foreign powers and funds, is beginning to eat into the vitals of the institutions of marriage and family; it is also threatening national security.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was proclaimed by the United Nations on the 10th of December, 1948. Right to life and property, right not to be tortured, right to association, right to freedom of conscience and religion, are some of the noteworthy components of this universal declaration of human rights. The timing of the declaration, the point in history at which the world was located at that time is illustrative of the compulsions that provoked the universal declaration of human rights. The Second World War had just ended; the wounds of fascism and Nazism were still gaping, raw and bleeding. The determined war against the Nazis opened the eyes of the sane and the conscientious in the western world to the evils of slavery, racism and colonialism - no less evil than Nazism and perpetrated for far longer than Nazism. The right to freedom of religion and conscience in the universal declaration of human rights must therefore be seen in the light of the destruction of cultures and peoples carried out in the name of religion, over centuries by Islam and White Christianity through the Crusades, Jihad, slavery and colonialism. The double standards of the western world – strongly opposed to the Nazi genocide of Jews on the one hand but sanguine about the genocide of the native Americans, slavery and racism and the evils of colonialism on the other – stood naked before the rest of the world. It was a bitter pill to swallow and the United Nations proclaiming the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 must be viewed in this context.
But ironically, the original spirit of the declaration has been slowly marginalised and today, the concept of human rights has been crafted and honed into a foreign policy weapon against some governments and nations – not surprisingly, specifically against those governments or nations which stand in the way of the US and its allies realising their political, strategic or economic objectives. One only has to study the reports of various commissions and bodies of the American State Department, like the USCIRF or the Department’s annual report “Patterns of global terrorism”, to understand how the American State uses the concepts of human rights, freedom of religion and democracy to make a case for American intervention even in the domestic affairs of other countries.
Social tensions, religious conflict, the right of Christian missionaries to undertake religious conversion, labour standards, gender discrimination and inequality, and State force against anti-national forces have all been accommodated into the deep pocket of human rights. Deprivation resulting allegedly from multilateral trade arrangements and unchecked market economy has also been brought under the umbrella of human rights. The real danger of this expanding concept lies in the threat of irrelevance to the basic concept contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was specific in its aims and objectives and specific in its context. It is in this ambitious over-reaching by human rights activists to touch every sphere of human life and to oppose all forms of authority and in the consequent dilution of the original content of the concept that we find the seeds of self-destruction of the concept itself. If left unchecked and unchallenged, human rights activists and organizations with the full complicity of outside agencies, as pointed out earlier, can bring any nation to the brink of chaos and anarchy by undermining the authority of national, political, social and religious institutions, and even by bringing democratic institutions to confront each other, as they have been doing in India. Inevitably human rights activists, as they are functioning today, will also discredit the concept of human rights to the detriment of civil society.
Human rights organizations in this country and activists are by nature intensely confrontational in their attitudes. The most disturbing and unhealthy confrontation taking place now is the NHRC versus the judiciary, the NHRC versus governments, the NHRC versus our soldiers and police, the judiciary versus governments, the judiciary versus the police. The flawed idiom of human rights discourse and its selective approach to what constitutes human rights abuse has brought governments, the judiciary, the NHRC and State instruments to assume a mutually confrontational posture and this is not healthy for any democracy. More importantly, the thoughtlessness with which human rights activists and irresponsible members of the media and academia have colluded to defame our army and police both within the country and on foreign soil cannot but have a debilitating effect on the functioning of our men in uniform. And this will not, in the long term, serve national security interests or human rights interests for that matter.
While not denying the need to guarantee and protect human rights, there is every need to tame the concept to suit national conditions and de-link it from foreign influences and coercion. We can and must reject the idiom of discourse without rejecting the concept. To achieve this, we need to do two things. First, to look critically at the current idiom and modus operandi of human rights activists and organizations, both foreign and domestic. Second, to evolve a nationalist idiom on human rights which will define human rights in keeping with the reality of our society and history. We may accept in part or in whole or we may reject totally the borrowed idiom, if it is in the interests of our society and nation. But we begin by acknowledging that so far, the intellectual section among Indians and the Indian State have uncritically accepted the human rights idiom and language imposed by the developed nations and their pan-national organizations on the rest of the world. We have also accepted the untenable dictum that whenever there is a conflict between domestic laws and international laws, particularly on the issue of human rights, the norms of international law will prevail and that in the event of such a conflict arising, domestic laws must be amended to bring them in line with international law. Our work will entail inevitably looking critically at the NHRC and the Indian judiciary in this regard with a view to exposing the double standards and the selective approach to human rights that this borrowed idiom has caused to happen.
As an essential component of this critical approach to the current idiom, we will also have to understand the nuances of human rights as a foreign policy weapon and the clearly stated uses to which it will be put to attain the specific objective of
1. Undermining local institutions and authority
2. Weakening a nation politically, militarily or economically
3. Bringing about regime change
4. Invading and occupying another country.
For the analysis to be comprehensive we will need to study human rights activism and its confrontational style of functioning within our country from the following angles:
1. Human rights versus family
2. Human rights versus society
3. Human rights versus religion
4. Human rights versus nation.
To put human rights activists and their patrons in the media and the academia on the defensive and to expose their brazen double standards and hypocrisy, this group will have to document:
1. Human rights activism with regard to Hindu victims of communal riots
2. Human rights activism with regard to victims of Islamic jihad
3. Human rights activism with regard to our men in uniform, specifically army men and police who are the stated targets of Islamic terrorists and Christian terrorists of the North-East, targets of Naxalites, Tamil extremist groups, PWG, and other sundry insurgents and separatists.
4. The deliberate attempt by Christian missionaries to destabilise families, communities and other social institutions.
5. Human rights activism with regard to the widows and children of our men in uniform when they are killed in action
6. Human rights activism with regard to Kashmiri Pandits
7. Human rights activism with regard to the victims of demographic aggression caused by infiltration from Bangladesh.
8. The Nexus between human rights activists, their organizations and even secular intellectuals with terrorist and insurgent groups.
9. The double standards of the Indian judiciary and the NHRC with regard to Hindu victims of terrorism and communal riots.
HUMAN RIGHTS DISCOURSE – FLAWED AND SELECTIVE
The thrust and focus of our project to critique human rights discourse in this country must be to unapologetically expose its anti-institution, anti-nation and anti-Hindu bias. Western societies (read White Christian) have a long history (well documented) of genocide and brutality against religious and racial minorities. As mentioned earlier, the proclamation of the universality of human rights was meant to check and punish this hatred in the context of Church despotism, slavery, colonialism and Nazism. The concept of human rights is one of the several other concepts and ideas that we transplanted mindlessly from the West on to Indian soil. Western democracy, freedom of conscience, freedom of expression and religion, secularism, pluralism, rights of minorities and human rights have all become a compact package today. Or a complete weapons system, depending on how we view it. That this largely American inspired western ideological package can be converted into a destructive and devastating weapons system was demonstrated in the change of regime effected by the US, the UN and other western powers in Indonesia when they brought the country to the brink of anarchy which deposed Suharto. It was also demonstrated by the maniacal sanctions that were imposed on Iraq in the name of this ideological package, for twelve long and death-causing years followed by the immoral military war against Iraq last year. In India this idiom on human rights has so perverted the very concept that human rights has come to mean the human rights of minorities and dalits only and the human rights of minorities and dalits has come to mean literally the right of minorities and dalits, almost without exception to refuse to respect Hindu symbols and sentiments, and of the more extreme among them, the right to practice terrorism with impunity from the State and its instruments and from the wrath of the Hindus. Compound this with the other ‘isms’ we accepted uncritically and we have a potent anti-Hindu and anti-nation coalition of activists like Teesta Setalvad, Nirmala Deshpande, Ram Puniyani, Malini Parthasarathy, Shabana Azmi, Arundhati Roy, Vijay Tendulkar, Girish Karnad and their like.
This unholy coalition comprises film and stage personalities, media persons, journalists, academics, writers, lawyers, retired judges, and human rights activists. While the broad social band seems impressive, their numbers are nowhere near as impressive. More to the point, they do not enjoy the broad-based support of members of their respective professional groups. These are truly the fringe members of their communities but because of the international agenda on human rights, democracy, pluralism and secularism, this fringe group attracts huge media attention disproportionate to their numbers or the causes that they espouse. It is largely because of the hatred-filled confrontation of these persons against Hindu society, its institutions and the nation, that the socially and politically influential dalits and the Muslims have chosen to stand aloof from mainstream society with all channels of communication shut between them and the Hindu society. Not this alone. These activists and the dalit and Muslim groups that they patronise have publicly and unreasonably expressed their lack of confidence in national institutions and have sought international intervention to deal with state and national governments for alleged human rights violations.
These along with their fraternity in the media and academia are the torch-bearers of this western democracy-human rights ideological package in India. The human rights of minorities and dalits condones cow slaughter, condones obscene depiction and interpretation of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, condones terrorism and ethnic cleansing of Hindus by the Muslims of J&K and Marad, condones the burning alive of Hindu pilgrims in Godhra. Conversely, human rights activists have never taken up the cause of Kashmiri Pandits, the cause of the widows and children of our army men and police killed by terrorists and insurgents, have never taken up the cause of the Hindu victims of communal riots, have never ever protested or campaigned against Islamic jihad, have never campaigned against or protested Church backed and funded terrorism in the North-East, have never campaigned against or protested against the violence of religious conversion with the same vehemence that they have campaigned against ‘Hindu fascism’. They have never campaigned against the foreign funds flowing into Churches and Madarasas in India nor have they ever sought to investigate the uses to which these funds are being put, with the same passion with which they protested and campaigned against NRIs in the US and UK contributing funds to Hindu organizations for their innumerable religious and charitable activities. It is time to stand these activists in the dock and expose their hypocrisy and intrinsic anti-Hindu and anti-nation bias.
TOWARDS A NATIONALIST IDIOM ON HUMAN RIGHTS
It took a few years of sustained discussion and debate on the concept of secularism to turn the tide against the secularists and their role in perverting this western concept. We had to expose the western origins of the concept of secularism and the context in which it developed in the West, to drive home the point that secularism has little meaning in a country whose people, for several thousands of years now, have regulated their personal lives and their social and political institutions on the basis of dharma. Similarly, we will have to delineate the western origins of the concept of human rights and the context in which it developed and then go on to look at the concept as it was and is practiced in this civilization.
We will come to two sticky patches when we will be forced to grapple with the dalit question and question of women’s rights. Women’s issues, including domestic violence, sexual harassment in the workplace, feminization of poverty, have all been brought within the purview of women’s rights abuse. Women’s rights have now been incorporated into the human rights agenda as an integral part of the discourse and action on human rights. “Women’s rights is human rights” has come to stay in the current idiom. Much as we may not agree with the idiom of the human rights discourse as it is today, we will have to resist the temptation to deny that we do have a huge problem with untouchability and the way we have treated and continue to treat our women. Our attempt must be to expose the destruction that human rights activists are causing to the institutions of family and marriage, and the destruction that they are wreaking upon our societies by playing upon the vulnerabilities of our women and goading them to confront their families or by playing upon the vulnerabilities of the dalits and goading them to confront society as a whole. There is the tendency to snigger at women’s issues or at best to hide behind a yawn. It is this attitude which drives some women into the arms of human rights and feminist activists who lead them down the path of litigation, confrontation and ultimately alienation from their families. It is also this attitude and an unwillingness to change entrenched attitudes that is increasingly causing the break-up of marriages and families in urban societies.
The most challenging task will be to define human rights in the context of national security and communal riots. This will entail also a study of predatory international and foreign organizations that pounce on governments for perceived failure to prevent or punish human rights violations. The unholy coalition of human rights, feminist and anti-Hindu activists are also vocal about defense spending, militarism, nuclearization and war as an option. These activists and their international and pan-national allies are a potential threat to weakening us militarily and softening the State’s political will to deal ruthlessly with terrorists and anti-national elements. The project must aim at presenting to the nation for discussion, an idiom on human rights which is nationalist, ethnic, non-confrontational and prescriptive. Any confrontation must be reserved for the proponents of the current, alien idiom on human rights.
This paper is in no way a comprehensive analysis of the current human rights discourse. It is merely a seed paper intended to provoke more thinking and study. It is intended to serve as a concept paper for beginning to re-define the concept of human rights in a manner that serves national interests.
RADHA RAJAN, 16TH DECEMBER, 2003.
(For more on American intentions towards the rest of the non-western world using this ideological package as a weapons system, read Cowboy George’s State of the Union Address, 2004 where he sets out his country’s foreign policy vis a vis non-democratic countries of the Middle-East )
American Vice-President Dick Cheney’s chest-thumping, sabre-rattling war cry in Davos at the World Economic Forum on Saturday, 24th January, 2004.
(Text of talk not yet available on the net)