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Human Rights In India: A Chronological Approach To It's Development

The UN defined human rights as those rights which are inherent in our state of nature and without which we cannot live as human beings[1]. Human rights belong to every person and do not depend on the specifics of the individual or the relationship between the right-holder and the right guarantor[2]. Human rights are the rights that everyone has equally by virtue of their humanity. It is grounded in an appeal to our human nature. Christian Bay defined human rights as any claims that ought to have legal and moral protection to make sure that basic needs will be met.[3]

Let's understand the development of human rights in India via different time periods beginning with the position of human ancient times.

Human Rights in Ancient Times
The concept of human rights is not from the western region. It is the crystallization of the values which are common for all mankind. The United Declaration of Human Rights (1948) did not come from the left suddenly but it's a milestone on the path on which the concept of human rights is already traveling for centuries.

In fact, the language of human rights is the product of European countries but the concept of human rights is as old as the Indian culture. Humans have expressed their concern towards human rights and fundamental freedom for all since the Vedic age[4].

In ancient India, the trace of the concept of human rights can be paved back from the Vedas period of the fifteen century B.C. There is a wide range of stories, pronouncements found which showed the way to the concept of human rights. In Vedas, human right is signified with the concept of equality.

The Charter of equality of all as defined in the Vedas in the following words-No one is superior-inferior all should strive for the interest of all and should progress collectively. Kautilya beautifully sums up the concept of the welfare state by saying that the happiness of the state lies in the happiness of his subjects.

During the period, the civil and legal rights were first formulated by Manu but also added a number of economic rights. From the fact and stories, it is truly revealed that the society under the Vedic period was well stimulated and organized, and committed towards human rights. In fact, the importance of human rights was well supported by Jainism, Buddhism, and other minority religious groups.

No discussion of human rights and their roots in the ancient period is left without giving the reference of Ashoka. Ashoka inscribes, All men are my children and just desire for my children that they may enjoy every kind of prosperity and happiness within this world and in the next, as also as I desire the same for all men. In fact, king Ashoka worked day and night for the protection of human rights. It's unfortunate that the decline of human rights was witnessed with the decline of the Mauryan Empire.

Human Rights in Medieval Period
The medieval period signifies the Muslim era in India. In the pre-Mughal period the series of social, cultural, political, and religious rights existed but with the advent of Mughal, the Hindus were stressed badly. The concept of human rights got lost in the dark. But with the entry of Akbar's (1526-1605) period, once again great regard was given to the social, religious, and political rights. In his religious policy, Din-E-Ilahi (divine religion), he tried to preach the idea of secularism and religious tolerance.

Similarly, Various religious movements like Bhakti (Hindu) and Sufi (Islamic) made remarkable contributions to the emergence of human rights which were at times were suppressed by the other Mughal Empires like Aurangzeb, Babar, Humayun, etc.

Human Rights in Modern India
This period starts with the advent of the British empire. The process of Indian administration started by the Britishers with the introduction of Regulating Act of 1773. Under it, Indians were suppressed by the Britishers completely in context to social, economical, political & religious rights in all the sphere of life. They were told that they did not deserve any rights. Basic rights such as rights to life & livelihood, right to freedom, right to expression, right to equality, right to preach, etc were denied to them.

In such an atmosphere, the Indian leaders & people feel that their rights had been lost in the hands of the colonial rule, so they thought of diverting back to fight for their rights. Perhaps the first explicit demand for fundamentals rights appeared in the Constitution of India Bill 1895. The Bill guaranteed every Indian the right to expression, right to equality before the law, right to property, right to personal liberty, right to education, etc. A series of resolutions were passed between 1917 & 1919 to demanding civil rights & equality.

Another major development was drafted by Mrs. Besant's Commonwealth of 1925. The Bill contained a list of seven fundamental rights:
  1. Liberty of person.
  2. Freedom of conscience & free profession & practice of religion.
  3. Free expression of opinion.
  4. Free elementary education
  5. Use of roads, public places, courts of justice & the like.
  6. Equality before the Law, irrespective of consideration of nationality.
  7. Equality of the sexes.
The resolution was passed in 1927 which came into effect in May 1928, with Motilal Nehru as its Chairman. It is known as the Nehru Report which declared that its first concern of Indians was to secure the fundamental rights that had been denied to them. Another achievement that came in context to the fundamental right was the Karachi resolution adopted by the congress session held in March 1931.

The decade of 1940s was generally marked by the emergence of fundamental rights by the increased activities related to by UN Assembly. The further stage of development of fundamental rights in the Indian context was the Sapra Committee Report published at the end of 1945.

So, after Independence, from time to time various laws were made, suggestions came from the various committees to enlarge the concept of fundamental rights by covering the entire human race. Human Rights Enshrined in the Indian Constitution Human Rights in the Indian Constitution can be found in the Preamble of the Constitution of India. In addition to it, Part III- related to fundamental rights, Part IV-Directive Principles which together form the core of the Constitution.

  1. Mishra, Pramod (2000) Human Rights Global Issues. Delhi: Kalpaz Publications, p. 4
  2. Coicaud, Jean Marc, Doyle, Micheal, W. and Marie, Anne (eds.) (2003) The Globalization of Human Rights. New York: United Nations University Press, p. 25.
  3. Vincent, R. J. (1986) Human Rights and International Relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 12-14.
  4. Rajawat, Mamta (2001) Burning Issues of Human Rights. Delhi: Kalpaz Publications, pp. 33-47.

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