What are civil rights?
Rights which are considered necessary for civilized existence are called as civil rights e.g. Right to life, liberty, property, equality before law, right against arbitrary detention etc. are considered civil rights.
Civil rights are based on philosophy of liberalism. The basic purpose of civil rights is to check the arbitrary exercise of power by the executive and to maintain the rule of law.
History of Civil Rights Movement in India
Indian freedom struggle was not just a movement for independence, but it was the largest civil rights movement. Early nationalists demands for basic freedoms like, freedom of press, greater representation in assembly, agitation against Rawlett bill were all examples of civil rights movement.
Pt. Nehru was one of the prominent civil right activist. On 7th Nov 1936, ‘Indian Civil Liberties Union’ was established at the initiation of Pt. Nehru. Rabindranath Tagore was made President and Sarojini Naidu was made working president.
Pt. Nehru promised that there will no black law in independent India.
Civil Rights in Constitution of India
Constitution of India is a revolutionary document. It is perhaps the first constitution which incorporates the spirit of human rights. In India, FRs are also available to non-citizens. Indian constitution also has a scheme of social and economic rights. It was unfortunate that the provision related to preventive detention has been incorporated in the constitution, and that too in part III of it.
Art 22 provides certain protection to the person detained under preventive detention. However these protections are just for the name sake. In other countries, preventive detention laws are only applied in case of emergencies like war, but in India, it can be implemented even during normal times.
The trend has been, misuse of preventive detention against political opponents to curb political dissent. India even continued with the colonial law like Sec. 124 dealing with sedition.
Sec. 124 A outlaws any speech, written text, sign, visible representation or otherwise, which aims to bring hatred, contempt or even attempt to excite disaffection towards govt. established by law in India.
In above case, the penalty that it is non-bailable, non-compoundable, cognizable offence, which may result into upto 3 years or life imprisonment, with or without fine.
The government of Pt. Nehru became the 1st govt. to use preventive detention law, which was used against communist leader like A K Gopalan.
Emergency & Aftermath.
There has been decline in the Rule of Law and the rise of police state or overdeveloped state in India after independence. There was a growth of executive high-headedness, corruption.
Towards 1970s, we see the beginning of the new phase of civil rights activism in the country. By this time the nostalgia of freedom movement was over, economic failure of govt. was on surface. There was growth in anti-price-rise agitation. Jaiprakash Narayan called for ‘total revolution’. He even called for armed forces, not to obey the orders of the govt.
Govt. imposed emergency on the ground of internal disturbance. Govt. called for committed bureaucracy and committed judiciary. Emergency was darkest hour for India’s democracy. It was trial period for India’s democratic values.
Fortunately democracy survived. Not only democracy survived, it has strengthened the democracy in country. There was proliferation of civil rights organizations like Citizens for Democracy, Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), People Union for Civil Liberties etc. led by lawyers like Shanti Bhushan, who preferred the path of judiciary to ensure the Rule of Law. After emergency, judiciary also became an active participant in India’s civil rights movements.
Human Rights Movements in India
From 1980s, around the world, there has been growth in the consciousness of human rights. In case of India also a new phase of activism started in this period.
Civil society working with judiciary has led to the beginning of a new phase of human rights activism. Activist judges like PN Bhagawati institutionalized PIL (Public Interest Litigation). PIL proved to be a revolutionary step in providing access to justice to marginalized sections.
Supreme Court, which has been reluctant with respect to Directive Principles, became the champion of Social and Economic rights. It has given wide and substantive interpretation of right to life, which includes rights like right to education, health, clean environment, safe drinking water, and right to life for not just animal existence by to live with dignity.
Globalization has increased the number of advocacy groups in India. It has resulted in various international NGOs like Amnesty International, opening their offices in India and have actively participated in Human Rights movement. UNHRC conducts Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of member countries. Up till now, there have been 3 UPRs of India. (2008, 2012, 2017).
Govt. of India have also established institutional mechanisms like NHRC, Right to Information etc. However, GOI has not been able to meet targets it had taken up after 1st UPR.
Prominent Human Rights Concerns in India.
1] Large number of undertrials.
2] Poor situation in prisons.
3] Human Rights violation by members of armed forces in insurgency affected areas. (And their protection under AFSPA).
4] Extremely slow judicial system.
5] Presence of colonial laws like IPC sec 124 A.
6] Misuse of preventive detention laws against political opponents.
7] Caste and religion based violence and exclusion.
8] Negative sex ratio.
Above analysis shows that human right activism in India has not resulted into any qualitative improvement. India’s commitment towards protection of human rights is more of a rhetoric than reality.
Weaknesses of Human Rights Movements.
According to Upendra Bakshi, there is no human rights movement in India. What we find is not human right movement but human right industries. Advocacy groups, employee management graduates rather than social activists. These organizations act with corporate approach rather than attitude of social service. They lack legitimacy in the country because their approach has been biased. They have raised human rights issues by member of armed forces but hardly talk about human right violation by militant organizations of innocent civilians or killing members of armed forces, paramilitary forces by militant groups.
According to human right activist Nandita Haksar, human rights movement in India has to work within defined limits. Indian state does not tolerate any activism going beyond the pertinent of national discourse. Whenever govt. adopts ‘zero tolerance’ towards terrorists, it ends in zero tolerance towards human rights.
It is to be noted that so long India will continue to suffer threats to territorial integrity, there will always be a justification with govt. for the laws like AFSPA. However, to enhance the credibility of India, it is necessary that govt. brings reforms in NHRC, give greater powers it with respect to violation of human rights even by members of armed forces.
Govt. has to ensure discipline among enforcement agencies. There is also an urgent need for police reforms, prison reforms, judicial reforms, criminal justice system reform etc.