Navnirman of Indian society based on modern conception of human rights is an immediate necessity
December 10 this year marks the 70th anniversary of the adoption and proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948 by the United Nations General Assembly, very soon after the end of World War II. During the war, the peoples of the world, led by the Soviet Union, had waged a heroic struggle against the fascist states of Germany, Japan and Italy, in the course of which over 12 crore people lost their lives. People were demanding an end to fascism, to imperialist wars and to colonial slavery.
These aspirations of the people have been betrayed. The imperialists headed by the US openly violate the sovereignty of countries. They have unleashed numerous wars of conquest and regime change. Millions of people have been turned into refugees. In the so-called democracies of Europe and North America, the rulers carry out systematic racist and fascist attacks against minorities. People are jailed under fascist laws for daring to expose and criticize the state.
On the one hand, International Human Rights Day is an occasion for governments and organisations of capitalist and imperialist states to carry out lying propaganda that they are upholding human rights of their citizens. On the other hand, people the world over come out onto the streets to protest against the absence of rights. This is a stark reflection of the fact that the capitalist and imperialist states are incapable of guaranteeing and unwilling to guarantee the human rights that belong to all people by dint of being members of society.
The Declaration expresses in lofty words the need for governments to ensure justice to everyone. However it did not enshrine the obligation of the States to provide Constitutional guarantees for enabling and protecting these rights, while it preserved the “right” of the capitalists to exploit labour and the “right” of imperialists to impose their system on all countries and peoples. The struggle between the imperialist vision of human rights and the modern definition of rights broke out right during the formulation of the UDHR and continues till today (See Box).
Struggle between the imperialist and modern conception of rights
The drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was carried out in the course of fierce struggle between two different conception of rights. One was the conception advanced by the imperialist and colonial powers of US, Britain and France. The other was the modern conception of human rights advanced by the Soviet Union. Using their majority in the drafting committee, the imperialist powers headed by US worked to ensure that their vision prevailed in the final draft. The Soviet Union decided to abstain from voting for the final declaration.
The Soviet delegation, headed by Andrey Vyshinsky fought for the inclusion in the declaration of provisions that would be consistent with the modern definition of human rights and ensure that the states took responsibility for their actualization.
It demanded that all states bar racist and fascist propaganda, warmongering and promotion of enmity between nations. This was rejected by the US imperialists and their allies.
The Soviet Union demanded that the declaration must uphold the right to self-determination of nations. The imperialist powers opposed the right to self-determination.
The Soviet delegation called for provision for right of every person to her/his national culture (including the use of the language in courts, etc.). This was not accepted by the imperialists.
The Soviet delegation wanted an amendment to the clause guaranteeing “life, liberty and security of person” saying that the state “should provide every human with protection against crimes, make sure that the risk of death out of hunger is prevented, etc. ”. This amendment was rejected by the US imperialists.
The Soviet delegation demanded that the states take the responsibility of ensuring social security of all workers. Rejecting this, the leader of the US delegation Eleneor Roosevelt said the US “does not consider that the economic and social and cultural rights stated in the Declaration imply an obligation on governments to assure the enjoyment of these rights by direct governmental action”.
While the UDHR proclaimed the right to work, right to equal pay for equal work and the right to live a life of dignity, it put no obligation on the states to ensure the actualization of these rights. This was so that the capitalist monopolies could carry on unhindered, the brutal exploitation of the working people.
The Soviet Union proved in practice the superior conception of rights in a socialist system by putting an end to capitalist exploitation and guaranteeing human rights. The imperialists, on the other hand, argued that it is only the free market economy and the multi-party system of democracy which can progressively fulfill the rights of people.
India is a signatory to the UDHR. However, all the lofty rights proclaimed in the UN declaration on Human Rights are openly violated in India. Successive governments have never failed to declare their pious intentions to ensure rights for the people while refusing to commit to any guarantees. The condition of workers, peasants, women and youth in India show that rights proclaimed in the UDHR remain a far cry even after 70 years.
In order for the people to have a dignified human existence, befitting the 21st century, the orientation of the economy must be human centered. The Indian state defends the capital centered orientation of economy. It has ensured that the big Indian and foreign monopolies have the first claim on the resources of the country, not the crores of workers, peasants and toilers. If a big capitalist defaults on loans, then he is offered a waiver, restructuring or resolution options. If a worker, small proprietor or a peasant defaults, then the entire family wealth is confiscated. That is the reason lakhs of peasants have committed suicide rather than be forced to live a life without dignity. This capital centered orientation of the economy is incompatible with guaranteeing human rights.
What is the reason behind this wide chasm between the claims of bourgeois governments and reality? In 1947, when Indian people cast aside their colonial yoke, the new government had the option to make a clean break with the colonial state and its conception of rights. But they refused to do this. Colonial rule was the rule of plunder of the land, labour and natural resources of our people. The masses of people had no rights. The people who rebelled against the colonial rule were targeted as enemies of the state.
This is what has continued till today. The Indian state defends the rule of plunder of the land, labour and resouces of our people by Indian and foreign capitalists. Those who oppose this plunder are targeted under fascist laws. The right to life is listed as a fundamental right in the Constitution but additional provisions in the Constitution enable the State to introduce draconian laws such as AFSPA and UAPA which allow arbitrary imprisonment and shooting wherever people dare to revolt against injustice, exploitation or for their national rights. Violation of human, democratic and national rights are the rule rather than an exception.
The bourgeois government set up in 1947 following independence formalized the Constitution of the independent Indian state. The essential features of the colonial State and its institutions, which are incompatible with the modern definition of rights, were retained. The Constitution denied the universal, inviolable and indivisible nature of human rights. It pushed through a formalist conception of rights. It divided rights into two categories called “fundamental” rights and “directive principles”. The “fundamental” rights were supposedly guaranteed while the remaining set of rights were simply directives for the rulers to include them at some later time as fundamental, if at all. Even the “fundamental” rights declared did not have enabling mechanisms, thus leaving them to interpretation by legal pundits and keeping the people powerless to contest their lack of rights. The entire framework of rights built in the Indian Constitution was meant to fool the people into believing that capitalist exploitation and human rights are compatible with each other. Citing that a newly independent India does not have the wherewithal to fulfill even basic necessities of the people, they promoted the illusion that capitalist growth would create conditions for the state to fulfil the human rights of people.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Paris Charter ushered in by the US imperialists and their allies declared that all states must agree to a new world order based on “free market” economy, multi-party democracy and “rule of law”. The imperialist powers headed by the US gave themselves the “right” to openly violate sovereignty of nations and impose a world order which gave primacy to monopoly rights and left people to fend for themselves.
The Indian ruling class welcomed the Charter with open arms and launched the program of globalization through privatization and liberalization, with disastrous consequences for people. The state has abandoned even the pretense of fulfilling what Indian people have always considered to be the duty of the state. Education, health care, drinking water and irrigation water, public transport, sanitation, electricity supply, inputs to agriculture, the ownership of natural resources including rivers and forests — every area where the capitalist monopolies see avenue to make maximum profits is being handed over to them. People are rebelling against this course.
Rights have remained privileges in the system that we have in India today. They are given and taken away at the whim and fancy of the ruling class and its state.
Human right is fundamentally a phenomenon of human civilization. As societies evolved, the definition of what constitutes human rights has changed according to the level of advancement of society.
Today, 70 years after independence, the claim of the ruling class that they don’t have resources to fulfill such basic rights as right to work, health, education, drinking water, electricity and housing simply deserves ridicule and outright rejection by the people. In the name of “preserving the unity and integrity of India”, right to life and right to conscience have been sacrificed as “reasonable restrictions”. People have been left to fend for themselves against the vagaries of the global economy. The times are calling for a swift end to this anachronism.
The immense development of productive forces in our country and worldwide provides the possibility for the people to develop and actualize a modern definition of human rights. These rights include economic and political rights that correspond to modern times and the ever increasing aspirations of the people. Nothing short of guaranteeing these rights and ensuring the prosperity and protection for all members of society can be called modern. But what stands in the way of this actualization is the social system and political process of today. As long as the state defends the capitalist and imperialist plunder of India, it will not be possible to guarantee human rights for all, since human rights and capitalist exploitation are incompatible with each other.
The actualisation of human rights requires the replacement of the parasitic capitalist and imperialist system with a modern socialist society. Only such a society is capable of fulfilling the claims of its members by putting an end to capitalist exploitation and placing the vast resources of the country in the hands of the working people. Only in such a society the modern definition of human rights can be affirmed, as belonging to all members of society and which are universal, indivisible and inviolable.
The program of Navnirman demands taking away from monopoly capitalist corporations and banks their “right” to pocket maximum profits, and provision of constitutional guarantees and mechanisms for human rights, which include democratic and national rights, for all members of society. The struggle to vest sovereignty in the people, by replacing the present political system and process which deprives people of sovereignty, is an essential part of the struggle for realization of human rights of our people. India needs to be reconstituted as a voluntary union of consenting peoples, in order to ensure that the national rights of all the constituent nations and peoples are affirmed.
Communists have an important role to play in the struggle for the elaboration and affirmation of human rights. By elaborating the modern definition of rights , they can provide a big impetus to the revolutionary struggle of working people to rule themselves. The vision of a society whose fundamental guiding principle for the organisation of society, its economy and its administration, is the modern definition and affirmation of human rights, is a powerful vision. It has the potential to invigorate the movement for empowerment of the people and enable the Navnirman of India.