Arming the people with the modern definition of rights
When the State, instead of guaranteeing the rights of citizens, becomes an instrument for their suppression, then it is essential for the people to organise in order to realise their rights. This was the main running theme of the discussions at the All-India Conference on Rights organised by Lok Raj Sangathan in New Delhi on February 23 and 24, 2002.
Inaugurating this important conference, Justice Krishna Iyer noted that so-called anti-terrorist laws like POTO in India and the Patriots Act in the US are actually aimed at suppressing the growing opposition to the WTO and the imperialist globalisation agenda. He emphasised the need for the people to organise to actualise their rights, which are being violated today.
While both state terrorism and individual terrorism are to be condemned and opposed, it is important to distinguish between which is the cause and which is the effect. Today it may appear as if some individual acts of terrorism are the cause of the problem, when in fact they are only the effect. Comrade Prakash Rao, who delivered the keynote address, argued this out very effectively. He enumerated three factors that together pose the greatest threat to the rights of individuals and collectives today. They are: (1) globalisation through liberalisation and privatisation; (2) militarisation and war preparations; and (3) state terrorism and the criminalisation of dissent.
A right is not something that can be given or taken away by the authorities as they please. It is the very conditions of life that give rise to the demand for rights; it is the duty of the authority to ensure that rights are not violated. And when the authority fails to carry out this duty, then the people have the right to resist and not submit to such an authority. This was the modern definition of rights highlighted in the keynote address and became a running theme throughout the two-day conference.
Speaking on the subject of ‘Communism and the Inviolability of Rights’, Comrade Jasvir Singh pointed out that one of the major reasons why rights are being violated on such a broad scale today is the failure of the communist movement to consistently champion the inviolability of rights. The Soviet aggression on Afghanistan was justified on the basis of ideological reasons, thereby denying the right of the Afghan people to determine the shape of political power in their country. Conciliation with the positions of the social-imperialist Soviet Union has led some in the Indian communist movement to also conciliate with the chauvinist position of the Indian big bourgeoisie, including the notion that "fundamentalists" and "separatists" should be deprived of their rights in the name of defending national security. Such conciliation has brought disgrace, not credit, to the communist movement, he declared.
Comrade Jasvir Singh traced the history of the affirmation of rights from the time of the bourgeois democratic revolutions in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, and through the rise and fall of socialism in the 20th century. He drew the conclusion that the objective laws of capitalism are such that social differences will inevitably widen, as the rich grow richer and the poor grow poorer. The ruling bourgeoisie will inevitably suppress, not defend, let alone extend, the rights of the individuals and collectives in such a society that is based on the supremacy of private property over all those who work.
On the other hand, a socialist society is based on social property and the supremacy of human labour over all things. Such a society that leads to the narrowing and gradual elimination of social differences can affirm and extend the rights of all human beings. This is borne out by the positive experience of the Soviet Union until the mid 1950s. With the subsequent restoration of capitalism and emergence of social-imperialism, the Soviet state became an instrument for the suppression of rights. And this resulted in the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union, he concluded.
The conference covered a wide range of rights, with separate sessions on (i) individual rights, including the right to conscience, political and civil liberties; (ii) rights of collectives such as workers, peasants, women and youth; (iii) rights of dalits and minorities, (iv) rights of nations, nationalities and tribal peoples within India and (v) rights of independent states in the international arena. Resolutions were passed in each session after vigorous discussion.
Speakers at this conference included Comrade Chain Singh Chain of Desh Bhagat Yaadgar Committee, Justice Ajit Singh Bains, Justice R. S. Narula, Professor Manoranjan Mohanty, Ajmer Singh Lakhowal of Bharati Kissan Union (Punjab), Dr. L. Pardesi Singh of the Committee on Human Rights (Manipur), former SC/ST Commissioner P. S. Krishnan, Chittarupa Palit of Narmada Bachao Andolan, Dr. Binayak Sen of Chattisgarh Mukti Morcha, Vijay of Adivasi Sangharsh Morcha, Govind Yadav of Modern Foods Employees Union, Geetha of Nirman Mazdoor Panchayat Union, journalists Kuldip Nayyar, Siddharth Varadarajan and Shivanand Kanavi, Ms. Tripta Vahi of Delhi University and many others. There were over 350 participants during the two days of deliberations.
This conference marks an important milestone in the work to build the political unity of the working class and all the oppressed, in preparation to become the real masters of India and shape her destiny.