In Search Of A Realistic Approach Towards The Human Rights Movement In India

12 Sep

In this age of globalisation, the very framework in which we live is undergoing great upheavals. While the nation-state remains the fundamental constituent element of the international community, its role is changing in the face of the expansion of the global market. Market, clearly dominated and controlled by the imperialists world-over, is assuming aggressive control over more and more aspects of our lives. Frameworks of human rights – cast largely in terms of the individual’s relationship to the state – are facing an unprecedented challenge.

According to the direct or indirect proponents of globalisation, economic development, in other words, market, should precede over every thing else in this present world. But what is this ‘economic development’? Whose development? Whose economy? Does it ensure people’s basic welfare and rights? The grim reality is that the global economy is not at present working in favour of the poor countries or of the poor people; rather the rich countries and persons are becoming richer and the poor poorer. There is a lot of debate about the extent to which economic growth leads to the realisation of economic rights (such as an adequate standard of living), but what is undeniable is that in the pursuit of economic growth, people who are defending their land, livelihood and resources have been facing violent repression by the state. Economic growth often comes at the expense of other rights, with governments justifying, tacitly supporting, or even engineering human rights violations in the name of development and economic competitiveness

In this context it should again and again be emphasised that quality and security of life cannot be measured solely in terms of the market or economic development, economic growth or per capita income. Genuine sustainable development is a more holistic process, embracing the place of individuals in civil society, their personal security and their capacity to determine and realise their potential. As United Nations Development Programme policies state: “The concept of human development is much broader than the conventional theories of economic development… It analyses all issues in society – whether economic growth, trade, employment, political freedom or cultural values – from the perspective of the people. It thus focuses on enlarging human choices….” Or as made clear in the Declaration on the Right to Development adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1986: “the human person is the central subject of development.” 
In this way, the process of development brings together the full range of human rights — civil, cultural, economic, political and social — into one indivisible and interdependent whole. Freedom from fear and freedom from want are the two sides of the same coin. That is why in the preamble to the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights , one of the cornerstones of international human rights law, it has been clearly and unambiguously accepted that “the ideal of free human beings enjoying freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his economic, social and cultural rights, as well as his civil and political rights.” Even though the historical evolution of international human rights law saw the artificial and misleading separation of civil and political rights on the one hand, and economic, social and cultural rights on the other, into separate covenants with separate characters, in 1993, at the World Conference of the governments of the different countries on Human Rights in Vienna, clearly declared that : “All human rights are universal and indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. The international community must treat human rights globally in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing and with the same emphasis.”

At the very outset it should be remembered that the concept of Human Rights is not an abstract idea, independent of class-division, but basically dependant on the specific stage of the social development of any country. There cannot be any unchangeable and ‘ pure ‘ concept of Human Rights, independent of a specific society, universally applicable to all countries of all ages. The experience of the development of human society has shown that the social and economic progress achieved through the continuous development of productive forces helps to develop the concept of human rights, which again plays a role in developing human cosciousness. A primary consciousness regarding human rights can be traced even in the early stages of human society, but in the absence of appropriate social base, it could not develop, not to speak of its realisation. The revolutionisation of social productive forces in Europe under capitalism through industrial revolution created that social basis through the challenge thrown at the old feudal monarchial and religious authority, and gradually thereby shaping the concept that ‘ human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’ . Democratic ideas began to take shape against the national and international autocracy, which again helped the concrete development of the concept of human rights. Since then gradually, through ups and downs and in the context of different social realities and times, it has been almost universally established that the concept of human rights is not static or unchangeable and independent of social reality, but rather dynamic and always developing. And in this context it must be emphasised that though the aspiration for equality and dignity of all human beings reflecting the essence of human rights, were inherent in the culture and civilisation of the different stages of human society, they have, in the final analysis, developed and brought to reality through class-differentiation and class-struggle.

We, in West Bengal , generally try to explain this class-nature of human rights in a class-divided society with the help of two stories. One is a story involving Bertrand Russel, the reknowned British pacifist philosopher, taken from his ‘ Portraits from Memory’ . Once, during the first world , Russel, the pacifist, was trying to build up public opinion against Britain ‘s participation in the war by publicly speaking in a park in London . Some chauvinistic war-hysteric persons started to physically assault him. One of his students present in the meeting, ran to the nearest police station so as to request them to save him. The office-in-charge was then picking his teeth in a leisurely manner, putting his feet on the table. He asked: `Who is this chaff Russel?” When told that he was a world-famous philosopher of Cambridge University , he remarked : ”So what! One who opposes war should certainly be assaulted!” The youngman exclaimed in an exasperated voice : ‘‘Do you know that he comes of a Lord family?” The police officer jumped up, brought his feet to the ground, gave a salute and angrily said, ‘‘ Why didn’t you say it earlier?”, and then ran to the park to save ‘the Lord’, Prof. Russel.

And the second story is actually a famous realistic Bengali story : ` Democracy and Gopal Kahar’ . A rich and influential landowner, belonging to the ruling party, lodged a false complain to the police against a landless poor peasant in order to evict him from his land. The obliging police duly brought him to the police station and tortured him mercilessly, accusing him to be a dangerous element jeopardising democracy. The innocent and puzzled farmer again and again declared in the name God that he did not even know the identity of that Babu, democracy. But the torture continued and ultimately he lost one leg for no fault of his. The fate of the two characters – Russel and Gopal Kahar – was actually pre-determined on the basis of their class-identities. And actually this is the real picture of democratic rights in a class-divided bourgeoise society: the whole super-structure of the system is based on the property-relations, where there remains the fundamental and inviolable discrimination between the haves and the have-nots. Without this realisation we cannot actually understand the basic class-nature of human rights in a class-society.

The historical trajectory of democratic transformation of European autocracies has hinged upon the successful assertion of three important components of human freedom : (i) freedom of expression; (ii) freedom from arbitrary imprisonment; (iii) freedom from custodial violence. The legitimisation of these freedoms as the inalienable civil and political rights of the citizens against the state constitute historical landmarks in the evolution of liberal democracies, initially in Europe , and subsequently in other parts of the advanced countries. In this process of evolution of the concept of human rights special mention should be made of the role played by the Magna Carta (1215), Petition of Rights (1627), and the Bill of Rights (1688) in England; the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens(1791) of France adopted after the French Revolution; and especially of the Bill of Rights(1787) of the USA. These civil and political rights constitute the sources of the first generation of the modern concept of human rights. The Russian revolution under the Bolshevik slogan of “bread, land, and all power to the Soviets” inspired the Soviet Bill of Rights with its conscious primacy of economic and social rights over civil and political rights, ultimately leading to the most comprehensive and fundamental acceptance of the human rights as contained in the constitution of Soviet Union adopted in 1937. These, along with the post-war era’s concern for the right of self-determination of the colonial world, and against racial and/or gender discrimination, have paved the path of the unanimous adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ( UDHR in short) by the United Nations in its General Assembly session on December 10, 1948, signed by our country India amongst others.

 

II.

We shall now try to sketch the evolution of Civil Rights Movement in India in the background of this brief introduction.

Quite obviously in India the civil rights movement began during the colonial period in close association with the national liberation movement. Though the movement did not acquire any organisational form before 1936, its genesis can be traced from even the early nineteenth century, when the embryo of the civil libertian consciousness was manifested through the demand for the freedom of expression and also for the freedom of press, equality before law and protection against racial discrimination etc. And the ground for an organized effort for developing the civil liberty movement was gradually being prepared by different significant events like the adoption of the Declaration of Rights in a special session of the Congress(1918), the spontaneous agitation against the Rowlatt Act (1919), the historic meeting at Calcutta addressed by Rabindranath Tagore amongst others to protest against police firing in Hijli Jail on the political prisoners (1931) leading to the efforts for the formation of a Citizens’ Committee for championing the cause of the release of the political prisoners and safeguarding individual freedom etc. The 30’s of the 20 th century was a significant period in the history of India ‘s freedom movement. Mass movements against the imperialist rule were gradually spreading and assuming organised form. The All India Trade Union Congress, the Students’ Federation, All India Kisan Sabha, Progressive Writers’ Association etc were founded at this time. All India Trade Union Congress was gathering strength on the basis of the much-cherished unity of the different factions. All these actually prepared the foundation and the background for an organisation in India for developing the civil rights movement.

Ultimately on 24 August,1936 All India Civil Liberties Union ICLU in short) was founded in Bombay with Jawharlal Nehru as the main initiator. Rabindranath Tagore was elected as the president, Sarojini Naidu as the working president, and K.B.Menon as the general secretary and a 21-member executive committee which included Jawharlal Nehru, Abul Kalam Azad, Sarat Chandra Bose, Rajendra Prasad, BallavBhai Patel, Jayprakash Narayan etc as members. The inherent spirit of the ICLU was precisely reflected in the closing sentence of Nehru’s address at the inaugural session : “ The idea of civil liberty is to have the right to oppose the government.” That in a capitalist state the civil liberties movement must, in essence, be an anti-state movement in spirit was realised even then, and it obviously had, and still now has, a serious and far-reaching impact on the civil rights movement in our country.

ICLU was quite active in the political arena of our country till the mass-explosion of the Quit India movement in 1942. It built up the tradition of citizens’ investigations in cases of political imprisonment and harassment, police brutalities, government bans and autocratic restrictions etc and publishing reports on them, and also of lodging protests and placing demands before the government. That the activities of the movement became considerably effective was proved by the fact that the Congress ministries formed in many provinces after the 1937 elections were directed by the Congress Working Committee to show respect to civil liberties of the people. But one of the inherent weaknesses of the movement on a national scale was that the cases of revolutionary freedom-fighters following the path of armed struggle were not given proper importance. And it should be noted that even today, almost 75 years after the organized beginning of the civil liberties movement in our country, not only the Congress, but rather all the ruling parties, be they of ‘left’ or right variety, are virtually denying the civil rights of those political activists, who follow the path of armed struggle to fulfill their dream of leading the Indian people to liberation ‘enjoying freedom from want and hunger’ as postulated in the UDHR . Still the played a commendable role in developing civil libertine cosciousness among a significant section of the people in a colonial set-up.

III.

There must be some basic distinction in the civil rights movement in any country between its colonial and post-colonial phases. But at the very outset it must not be forgotten that in spite of a post-2 nd world war revolutionary upsurge all over India against the imperialist domination, India ‘s freedom was achieved basically through a compromise with the imperialists, thereby handing over the power into the hands of the bougeoise in alliance with the feudal elements. Consequently human and civil rights of the common labouring people were not at all guaranteed, nor were these expected to be ensured. The constitution of India , framed after the adoption of the UDHR of which India was a signatory, no doubt, has ensured the inclusion of some fundamental rights like right to life, expression, press, association, mobility etc. But even in this ‘rights-giving’ constitution, provisions have been included to take away all the fundamental rights on one or other excuses.

Although during the independent struggle Pandit Nehru, supposed to be the champion of and the main spirit behind the democratic and civil rights movement in the pre-independence period, and also the first prime-minister of independent India, had repeatedly assured that there will be no ‘black law’ in independent India infringing upon people’s fundamental freedom from arbitrary imprisonment, rarely was there any prolonged period in our country in the post-independent period when a ‘black law’ in some form or other, e.g PD Act , DIR, PVA,MISA, COFEPOSA, ESMA, TADA, POTA, UAPA etc, ( like the different names of the mythical character SreeKrishna of the hindus! ) was not in operation. Recurrent use of the draconian and colonial ‘Disturbed Areas Act’ and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, etc in some areas of the country has turned the promise of non-prevalence of black laws into a sheer mockery. Innumerable instances can be cited in this respect.

And again rights to work and shelter have not been included in the constitution in spite of the demand repeatedly raised by the people as well as by the civil rights oganisations. Consequently the unbridled persecution as well as exploitation of the common labouring people continued, and has since been continuing. Naturally the people fought and have been fighting during the whole of the post-independent period for service and other means of livelihood, land for cultivation and housing, for better wages and living conditions, exercising their constitutional democratic rights to fight for the demands. But the state takes recourse to persecution and torture, imprisonment and police brutalities like lathi-charge and firing, unashamedly suppressing all the basic democratic and legal norms and grossly violating all the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution. This process is going on and on, whatever may be the colour of the government either at the centre or in the states –green, saffron or red.

The civil and democratic movements began to develop in post-colonial India just side by side with the process of transfer of political power from the British imperialists to the Indian ruling classes, in the main dependant upon them. The first organization that came up was in 1947, the Madras Civil Liberties Union (bearing the same name as the erstwhile Madras branch of ICLU ). In the meantime a Bombay Civil Liberties Conference was held on January 1 & 2 January,1949 . The same year MCLU organized an All India Civil Liberties Conference in Madras on July 16 & 17. Significantly even then, just after India ‘s independence, apprehension was expressed in the conference that the limited-liberties enjoyed under the British rule would be ‘the first casualty’ even in independent India . In 1948 the Communist party of India was banned and an all-out severe repression on the members and sympathisers of the party was unfolded. A Civil Liberties Committee was formed in West Bengal in the same year. Eminent scientists, lawyers and academic intellectuals like Dr.Meghnad Saha, Sarat Chandra Bose, N.C.Chatterjee, Khitish Chattopadhyay etc joined this movement against the Government’s onslaught on the civil and democratic rights of the political workers and persons.

In this context a particular characteristics of the initial phase of the Indian civil liberties movement in the post-independent period should be emphasized. At that time the members and the supporters of the Communist Party of India (undivided) mainly organised and took the main role in the people’s civil rights movements at different junctures of time. This really created a couple of problems. First, the movement used to become active only when the communists were under state-repression and persecution. But when this state-repression remained in low web, the movement practically evaporated. This lack of continuity was, no doubt, detrimental to the building up of a strong and organized movement. Secondly, and most importantly, since the communists’ main commitment and devotion were to their party-programmes, it was virtually impossible to frame policies and develop and organize the civil liberties movement independently on a broader basis beyond the boundary set forth by the party, so that the interests of the broad section of the masses in general be served.

A resurgence of the civil liberties movement began only in the 70’s of the last century on a new and more or less independent plane. With the formation of APDR ( Association for Protection of Democratic Rights ) in West Bengal in 1972 began the present and undoubtedly the new and higher phase of the movement. Thus began a new chapter in the process of evolution and development of human rights movement in India , when the movement acquired more or less an independent theoretical and organizational foundation leading to continuous existence and activities. In Andhra too, Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberty Committee (APCLC) was formed in 1974. Gradually this movement, no doubt, began to be a permanent feature of the Indian Society, spreading to Delhi , Maharastra , Assam , Punjab , Kashmir , Chattisgarh, Tamilnadu etc. APDR was formed in West Bengal at a time when the most heinious attack came there on democratic rights; when the state terrorism appeared in the most barbarous form through mass-killings, jail-killings, fake encounters and atrocious and continuous attacks on the mass-movements of the labouring people. Naturally the main demands at that time were end of all those inhuman, illegal and undemocratic acts of the state, release of all political prisoners and the repeal of the black acts like MISA etc. International support came from the international civil rights organisations like Amnesty International etc. The movement got tremendous support from the people. But in June,1975 the most draconian internal emergency was imposed in India , taking away by a stroke of pen, that too in an illegal and questionable method, all the basic civil rights of a citizen enshrined in the Constitution of India. Taking the opportunity, the Government of West Bengal banned APDR and arrested some leading activists including the present writer, most of whom had to languish in jail without any meaningful trial for the whole emergency-period, i.e.about 21 months. During this infamous emergency period an all India Civil Rights Organisation (People’s Union for Civil liberties & Democratic Rights , or PUCL&DR in short) gradually took shape in 1976,with Jayprakash Narain as its moral spirit. In the 1977 Parliament elections the repressive government was defeated, and PUCL&DR played a significant role in mobilizing the people against the ruling clique. After the withdrawl of emergency there developed a high tide of mass-movement demanding the release of all political prisoners, which had to be included in the election-manifesto of the Left-front in West Bengal . Consequently the newly elected Left-front Government had to release the political prisoners, and the ban-order on APDR had to be withdrawn. Subsequently a number of civil rights organisations have been formed one after another in India regionally or on a national basis in almost all the states. A few years back an All India Co-ordination Committee, comprising of almost all the regional Civil Rights organizations has been formed. At present this movement has, no doubt, emerged as a permanent feature of the Indian Society.

Though a democratic atmosphere prevailed after the withdrawl of the emergency and the installation of the new Government in New Delhi , it was apprehended by the civil rights workers that state-terrorism, police-atrocities as well as attacks on mass-movements and human rights would continue in some form or other. Experience of the next four decades confirmed these apprehensions. All the anti-people acts of the state continued although in a smaller scale. And APDR played its role as before. But it was at the same time felt that public opinion as well as movemens, as far as possible, should be built up not only for the political and civil rights, but also for the general economic and social rights of the people. With this contention the UDHR was accepted as the basic aims and objectives of APDR . Consequently the human and civil rights of even the non-political people began to be included under the purview of APDR. At present APDR has been fighting, as far as possible, not only against state-terrorism, violation of political and human rights and police-atrocities, but also against indiscriminate non-state terrorism, and in favour of the people’s right for livelihood, education, medical fecilities, and against globalisation, environmental pollution, communalism and fundamentalism etc. As a result APDR has been able to penetrate among different sections of the people. About a decade earlier a Human Rights Commission has been formed by the Government of West Bengal. Since its inception APDR has been aware of its limitations and constraints, but still the Commission is being utilized as far possible.

It will not perhaps be irrelevant to mention here that, so far as the attitude of the state towards the human rights movement, especially in West Bengal, is concerned, time and again, it has gone through significant shifts and changes, reflected through the attitudes of the state-personnel, especially the police and those in administration. Initially they looked at the civil rights workers with contempt, always eager to neglect, giving virtually no importance. Then it was felt that they have some popular support, and consequently they had to be accepted with some grudge; and in private state-personnel began to fear them a bit. But even when they have to aceept the human rights workers, at the same time they try to denigrate them as far as possible. Initially they tried to generally allege that APDR protects the criminals and anti-socials in the name of protection of human rights. And the just-overthrown `leftist/Marxist’ government of West Bengal has even viewed APDR since the 90’s of the last century virtually as a terrorist organization, closely linked with the Maoists. This trend has been observed in almost all the states of India , be they led by the centrists like Congress, Hindu fundamentalists like BJP , regional parties like DMK, AIDMK, BSP , or self-declared Marxists like CPI(M) . But time and again the ill motives and activities of the Governments, both at the Centre and in the states in violation of human rights, and even the laws of our country, have been exposed publicly. And on this specific issue of what should be the viewpoint of the civil rights organisations to any government or a political party, a clear difference of opinion emerged. When the Janata Party came to power after the fall of the Congress Government at the centre, the national leaders of PUCL&DR refused criticise or condemn the Government even after the killing of the workers in Kanpur and the mine-workers in Dalli-Rajhara. Consequently the Delhi Unit of the organisation came out of the organisation and built up a separate one : People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR). In fact, in the context of more and more criminalisation and corruption of the political parties and brutalisation of state-terror evn on democratic rights, the civil liberty organisations like APDR, PUDR etc have emerged as significant social forces in many states, which both the Central and state Governments have to reckon with again and again. That no doubt signals, to some extent, the maturity of the civil rights movement.

IV.

But that does not mean that a correct and clear orientation, in the proper sense of the term, has already been achieved. As we’ve already noted, though many of the existing civil rights organisations have begun to take note of the evil consequence of globalisation, running amock in our country since the beginning of the 90’s of the last century, it must, no doubt, be admitted that not yet a significant and comprehensive programme has been formulated which can fully and properly address the onslaught of globalisation and its consequences. In order to achieve that goal, we must try first to redefine the very concept of human right itself in the context of the grim reality, particularly, the globalisation. For the very definition of the concept undoubtedly depends on the class-character and class-interests of the human rights theorists. Just as there is the possibility of existence of darkness under a lamp, similarly there remains the danger of confusion, consciously or unconsciously, behind the formulation of this definition. So long we, the human rights theorists as well as the activists of the third world countries like India , in the main, have been following the concept in a narrower sense as set forth by the Western theorists of the advanced capitalist countries.

In the conventional analysis, the Western theorists equate human rights, in a general sense, only with the civil and political rights, thereby basically almost negating economic, social and cultural rights of the people of the third world, and also the right to develop independently themourselves and their nations. This will naturally be conducive to the maintenance of the economic domination of the imperialists on the third world. The UDHR of 1948 itself shows overwhelming concern for political and civil rights and gives meagre attention to economic, social and cultural rights. Though the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1966, largely through the insistence of the third world countries, seeks to rectify the imbalance, human rights continue to be equated with only political and civil rights. On the other hand, they want to interpret human rights only in an individualistic sense, showing no concern for the sense of collectivity, or of the collective interests of the people, or the country itself. Its aim is to impose their own reality-induced mentality on the third-world people facing a completely different reality and background. The aspiration for the freedom and development of the individual self of the post-renaissance advanced capitalist countries, basically liberated from the domination of feudalism and the church of the middle ages, has almost no similarity with the fundamental aspiration of the people of the third world, still gasping under the bondage of imperialism(direct or indirect), feudalism and religious fundamentalism. The spirit of the International Covenants of 1966 and the Declaration of Development of third-world countries of 1986, adopted by the United Nations in spite of the stiff resistance by the advanced countries, has rightly led to the Tehran Declaration of 1986 : “ The Civil and Political Rights cannot be fully realised without fully realising the economic, social and cultural rights. 

In order to secure the most basic of all human rights – the right to life, along with the fulfillment of the ideal enshrined in the Preamble to the UDHR (of ` enjoying freedom from fear and want’), conditions must be created to achieve and secure human rights to food, to clothing, to shelter, to education, to health, to employment etc., which are fundamental to the very survival of the vast majority of the human race in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Life and liberty, food and freedom, must go hand in hand if we want to develop an integrated and real vision of human rights for these people. That too not revolving around the individual, but around a notion of the rights of the collectivity, the community, the nation. It is obvious that this vision is simply contrary, almost inimical, to the goal of achieving mainly the civil and political rights of only the individuals, following the dictate of the Western proponents of human rights. This follows from the colonial experience of the third-world countries. Subjected to alien and exploitative colonial domination for centuries, fighting for freedom for whole generations of these people came to mean fighting for the freedom of not merely the individual, but for their whole people. This explains why freedom as well as the basic economic, social and cultural rights to these people become a composite collective ideal, interwined with the quest of the whole communities for human dignity and social justice, ` free of hunger and want’ . And this should be primary understanding for redefining and developing a basic concept of human rights relevant to the peoples of the third world, far away from the concept as understood and propagated so long by the Western theorists of human rights, and almost imitated by us, the human rights activists of countries like India, shamelessly, though perhaps unconsciously.

 

V.

Once we accept that for the people of the third world, the right to live is the most important and decisive human right to realise and secure, it also becomes evident that even in this 21st century, the most disastrous obstacle to the realisation of that right is the colonialism or domination of the imperialists of different hues and colours, and their aggression and exploitation, control and domination over the third world. This again basically encourages and perpetuates racial discrimination, fundamentalism and communalism as well as almost all the backward norms and practices of the pre-capitalist society, whichever become helpful to the continuation of that domination. It grotesquely tramples upon national independence and sovereignty of the third-world countries, controls and captures their natural resources and wealth, raw materials and produced goods, thereby depriving them of their legitimate incomes. During the post-2 nd world war period, most of the 150 major localised wars took place in the third world, with the direct or indirect backing of imperialist countries, and obviously the people of these countries became the cannon-fodders of those wars. In the last 100 years, at least 6 million (i.e.60 lakhs) people have been killed by imperialists, directly or indirectly.

Economically too, due to the exploitation and manipulation of imperialism and their stooges, the living conditions in these countries for most of the people are becoming more and more precarious. This process has actually been evident for the last few centuries with the emergence of capitalism, and especially its highest phase, imperialism. It has been tremendously accentuated in the last few decades with the emergence of the economics of Globalisation, based on neo-liberal economic doctrine. Perhaps it would be better to take the help of Lewis Carroll’s famous allegory ` Through the Looking Glass’ to understand the phenomenon of Globalisation.

In that allegory, Alice and the Queen were running hand in hand in the Red Queen’s Garden, and the Queen was running so fast that it was very difficult for Alice to keep pace with her. But still the Queen kept crying ‘Faster! Faster!’ The most curious part of the thing to Alice was that the trees and the other things round them never changed their places at all; however fast they went, they never seemed to pass anything . An astonished Alice exclaimed : ” Well, in our country, you’d generally get to somewhere else – if you ran for a long time as we’ve been doing.” But the Queen retorted : ”A slow sort of country! Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that! ” . . .

Think of the Red Queen’s Garden as capitalism. The relentless search for markets and profits brings about faster and faster changes in production and space, industry and commerce, occupation and locale, with profound effects on the organisation of classes and states. It is through this ferocious process of extension and change that capitalism preserves itself, remains capitalistic, and perpetuates basically the same system. This paradox, or rather this dialectic, can only properly be grasped if we understand that the “bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society ” (Karl Marx).This was not an understanding merely appropriate to what happened to the world in the first half of the 19th century: it is no less appropriate to understanding what has happened over the second half of the 20 th and also in the first decade of the present century, and to what is taking place in the world today in the context of globalisation. Now think of Alice , frantically running alongside the Red Queen, as the peoples and the countries of the third world. You will begin to grasp the real significance of globalisation to this people. They must run on and on to keep pace in the face of deprivity and poverty, brought about by the fierce plunder of the imperialists for more and more profit, but still basically unable to satisfy their basic needs of life – for food and shelter, for health and education and culture.

And from the point of view of imperialism, historically speaking, its most severe crisis burst out towards the end of the 1920’s, ultimately resulting in the 2nd world war. After a brief respite consequent to the huge reconstruction possiblities of the devastations of the war, the crisis again came to the fore in the 1970’s through the oil crisis. Since then the capitalist world has been continuously ridden with crises after crises, leading to the next most severe major crisis in 2008, which has not yet been overcome. The ferocity of this continuous period of crises forced the imperialists to give more acute attention to the third world for plundering more fiercely its natural resources – land, minerals, water, and even air. Globalisation process is nothing but the programmatic manifestation of this more acute phase of imperialist plunder based on the hydra-headed doctrine of neo-liberalism. Indian ruling classes began to traverse this path of globalisation since 1991.

The advocates of ‘globalization’ described it as the panacea for all economic woes, and that the only path to prosperity is to adhere to free-market principles. The nations of the third world, in particular, are being urged to deregulate and open up their economies to free trade and foreign investment, to ensure their speedy transition to the status of developed economies. But it has already been proved that globalisation has brought, in its wake, great inequities, mass impoverishment and despair; that it has fractured society more acutely along the existing fault lines of class, gender and community, while almost irreversibly widening the gap between the rich and the poor, both in terms of individuals and nations; that it has caused the flow of currencies across international borders, which has been responsible for financial and economic crises in many countries and regions; that it has enriched a small minority of persons and corporations within nations and within the international system, marginalizing and violating the basic human rights of millions of workers, peasants and farmers and indigenous communities. Though globalization has been portrayed as turning the whole world into one global village, leading to unprecedented enjoyment of human rights for every one together with the spread of the highly cherished values of democracy, freedom and justice, in reality it turned the world into a global market for goods and services, dominated and steered by the powerful gigantic transnational corporations and governed by the rule of profit, thereby trampling upon the basic human rights of the people in the world, particularly in the third world countries. The governments of these third world countries are abiding by the globalization agreements, violating the basic human rights of the people. These globalization agreements and policies had its adverse effects on the right to work, the right to food , the right to health, the right to education and the right to development. Globalization resulted in the violation of the fundamental right to work. In their drive for profits , companies, in particular TNCs, have been restructuring their operations on a global scale. The result has been massive unemployment . In 1995 , the ILO announced that one-third of the world’s willing to work population was either unemployed or underemployed. In India , only 8% of the labor force is in the formal economy while 90% work in the informal economy with no legal protection or security, and are subject to ruthless exploitation The state of workers in developing countries after globalization is a race to the bottom, and the bottom means slave-like conditions. Consequently, the calorie intake of the poor declined. The Trade Related Intellectual Property Agreement of the World Trade Organization prevents countries from producing low cost generic drugs, robbing the poor patients of their rights to health. Globalisation polices by introducing the market mechanism into the provision of health care obviously makes services less available to the poor . The privatisation of health and hospital services also makes the poor suffer as services become more oriented towards those who can pay . The lives of at least 1 to 2 million children on average are lost every year. The right to education has also been adversely affected by the privatisation policies and the turning of education into a profit- generating enterprises in the developing countries . Due to the reduced governmental expenditure on education the quality of public free education has been suffering. . The Consequences of violations of human rights is revealed by the widening gap between the rich and the poor, both on the global and on the local levels, as reflected in International Statistics ( http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats ) : (1) Half the world –nearly three billion people – live on less than two dollars a day; (2) The wealthiest nation on earth has the widest gap between rich and poor of any industrialized nation; (3) The top fifth of the world’s people in the richest countries enjoy 82% of the expanding export trade and 68% of foreign direct investment –while the bottom fifth , barely more than 1%; (4) In 1960, the 20 % of the worlds people in the richest countries had 30 times the income of the poorest 20%; in 1997 , 74 times as much; and in 2015 it is estimated to be just 100 times ; (5) A few hundred millionaires now own as much wealth as the world’s poorest 2.5 billon people ; (6) The combined wealth of the world’s 200 richest people hit $ 1 trillion in 1999; the combined incomes of the 582 million people living in the 43 least developed countries is $ 146 billion; and (7) as globalisation matures, the rate of the rich peoples’ and countries’ becoming richer and richer competes and becomes directly proportional to the poor peoples’ and poor countries’ rate of becoming poorer and poorer. It is simply unnecessary to fill up hundreds of pages with relevant statistics to prove how globalisation has been affecting human lives most disastrously in the countries of the third world. We are much more interested to the irrevocable fact that emerges from these figures that capitalism has already been proved to be detrimental to the interests of the labouring people; and that globalisation is even more so, simply inimical to the realization of basic human rights of the vast majority of peoples of the third world. This leads to the basic tasks of the human rights movement in the countries like India to raise the people’s level of consciousness so that they come forward to thwart this inhuman process of globalisation.

VI. The aspiration for achieving the civil and political rights which has primarily motivated the movement so long definitely remains, but since, even according to the UN -sponsored Tehran Declaration, as we noted earlier, without fully achieving economic, social and cultural rights, the above rights cannot be really achieved, henceforth the main emphasis should be given on these basic rights, i.e. economic, social and cultural rights. Consequently the human rights movement should now build up a direct bridge with the people’s movements that have been going on, and will surely arise more and more in near-future, defending the basic interests of the labouring people, though not directly connected with the conventional human rights demands. The implementation of globalisation policies led to the emergence of many such movements, like Narmada Bnachao Movement of lakhs of evicted people, anti-Posco movement of the indegeneous people of Orissa, the farmers’ movement in Noida, Uttar Pradesh etc, for safeguarding the living conditions of the down-trodden people. We, in West Bengal , have already acquired some experiences in such type of movements. Our organisation APDR has actively supported the Singur and Nandigram movements of the peasants against eviction by the state at the dictate of multi-nationals and big capital, and also the Lalgarh movement of the adibasis against state-terror and deprivation sponsored by the Government, by building up public opinion and extending necessary help and co-operation. Its noteworthy that SEZ projects, a direct outcome of the globalisation policies, are being opposed by the people everywhere in India, and we are proud to be a part of the Nandigram movement, which in India for the first time won victory in their fight against such a SEZ project. . We, the human rights activists of India , must frame up a new orientation and programme of action so as to serve such people’s movements, which are sure to be organized in large numbers and with broader perspectives in near future.

 

VIII.

In this context it is necessary to bring into discussion once more the question of the relation between political movements and human rights movements in a country like ours. It should be made clear at the very outset that there cannot be any Chinese wall between the two, so long as a particular political movement seeking to uphold the economic and political interests of the poor, not in words but in reality, and is not under the domination of any particular political party or group. Otherwise there will arise the question of dual loyalty. But that does not mean that a political worker cannot participate in the human rights movement. Obviously he must be allowed to do so, so long he is conscious of the limits and constraints of the human rights movement, and is ready to work in that situation. Please note in this connection that I can declare without hesitation that in the present circumstances of our country, a human rights organisation cannot and should not ‘‘limit itself only to filing writ petitions, organising signature campaigns, publishing reports by sending fact-finding teams and holding symbolic protest demonstrations”. We in West Bengal did more than that, remaining within the framework of democratic methods and norms, when the movement in question is not led and dominated by a particular political party or group, but under the collective leadership of numerous democratic organisations and persons of different political view-points during the mass-struggles in Singur and Nandigram, and at present in the context of a renewed movement for Release of all Political Prisoners in West Bengal. And we shall not hesitate to repeat the same.

But if we accept the leadership of one particular political organisation, there will always remain the danger of abandonment of human rights ideals to serve the interest of that poltical force. There are ample examples before us. We have already noted the caser of PUCL , which played such a vital role in mobilising public opinion against the Indira autocracy during the emergency period of 1975-77, refused to condemn police atrocities under the Janata Party rule in 1978 against the struggling workers of Swadeshi Mill in Kanpur, or mining workers in Dalli-Rajhara in Madhya Pradesh (now in Chattisgarh), so as not to ‘disturb the new (Janata) Government’. They repeated the same in 1959, when they refused to condemn the CPI(M)-controlled Left Front Government of West Bengal in 1959 for their inhuman atrocity on the poor refugees in Marichjhapi.

And just now in West Bengal we have been passing through a similar experience. A section of the civil liberty activists, who were most vocal and active in demanding the unconditional release of all political prisoners, just one month before the assumption of power by TMC and Congress block defeating the Left Front, is now virtually opposing the movement that is brewing up there against the new Government for refusing to release them unconditionally and imposing insaulting conditions on the political prisoners. I am happy to state that the vast majority of civil liberty activists are eager to depend not on the Government’s ‘good will’, but on the people’s movements.

Hence, our lesson is to join the political movement for the achievement of the basic economic and social rights of the people keeping aloft the flag of human rights, not sacrtificing it, to the pedastal of any other force.

I want to sum up my deliberations with the earnest and sincere hope that a new orientation as well as programme of action suitable for a third world country like ours to achieve and secure the basic economic, social and cultural rights paving the way for the achievment, too, of the civil and political rights of three people.

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