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PSIR 1A-5: Rights – Previous Year Questions & Answers

Model Answers to PYQs (2018-2023)

1] Multicultural perspective on rights [2023/10m/150w/1b]

Multicultural perspectives on rights are diverse and multifaceted, reflecting the variety of cultures, traditions, and belief systems that exist in our globalized world. Multiculturalism recognizes that people from different cultural backgrounds may have varying interpretations of rights and how they should be applied.

As Bhikhu Parekh asserts, in multicultural societies, cultural communities generally demand various kinds of rights they think they need to maintain their collective identity. Some of these rights, usually called group, collective, or communal, are not easy to accommodate within liberal jurisprudence and raise difficult questions such as whether the concept of collective rights is logically coherent and what kind of collectivities may legitimately claim what kinds of rights.

One significant aspect of multicultural perspectives on rights is the concept of cultural relativism. This view suggests that rights and ethical principles should be understood within the context of a specific culture and that there is no universally applicable standard of human rights. This approach is often criticized for potentially condoning human rights abuses in the name of cultural practices.

Some multicultural perspectives view rights as aspirational rather than prescriptive. They see rights as evolving principles that societies strive to achieve over time, taking into account cultural values and practices. This view emphasizes the progressive realization of rights rather than immediate and complete implementation.

Multicultural perspectives on rights encourage us to recognize the complexity and diversity of human experiences and values. It believes that just as individual rights are those rights of which the individuals are the bearers, collective rights are those of which human collectivities are the bearers. [261 words]

2] Write on the Cultural Relativism. [2022/10m/150w/1b]

The doctrine of cultural relativity holds that moral codes and social institutions reflect a vast scope of cultural variability and that such variations should be exempt from outside criticism.

In specific relation to human rights, the doctrine of cultural relativism holds that different societies within different social and historical contexts have evolved unique attitudes to the concept of human worth, human dignity or human rights.

Proponents of the cultural relativity of human rights argue that human rights as conceived in the West are not necessarily applicable to Third World and non-Western societies. Whereas Western conceptions are based on the notion of the autonomous individual, many non-Western conceptions do not know such individualism.

Many who oppose arguments for the cultural relativism of human rights, fear that a relativist position condones or even approves of customs such the subordination of women and minority groups, arbitrary killings, torture and trials by ordeal etc.

Against this background, Donnelly has categorised the doctrine of cultural relativism into strong cultural relativism and weak cultural relativism. Strong cultural relativism holds that culture is the principal source of the validity of a moral code or rule. Weak cultural relativism on the other hand, holds that human rights are prima facie universal, but recognises culture as an important source of exceptions in the interpretation of human rights

In the final analysis, it is significant to note that the universalism versus cultural relativism debate over the legitimacy and priorities of human rights can be misleading. Thus, it is useful to realise that the object of human rights discourse should be the quest for a reasonable and balanced approach to human rights that recognises the interplay between various cultural factors in the construction and constitution of human rights. [287 words]

3] Human Rights are complex and contested social practice that organises relations between individuals, society and the State. Comment. [2022/15m/200w/3b]

If human rights are taken in a wider sense, i.e. as a means of protecting individual from onslaughts or atrocities of arbitrary power, there is hardly any dispute about their status. However, if they are viewed as a tool in the hands of individual to safeguard his self-interest against the claims of the state and society, they are likely to receive different treatment from different schools of thought.

Liberal theory of rights as expounded by John Locke focuses on rights of individual against the state. He postulates that individuals form the state as a trust for the protection of their natural right to ‘life, liberty and property’. If the state fails in this duty, individuals can resist it. If it still fails, they can dissolve it. In short, liberal theory of rights treats individual as the end and state as the means.

Marxist theory of rights holds that the rights maintained by any society are the rights of its ruling class or dominant class at the expense of the dependent class. In capitalist societies, workers will have to overthrow capitalists and socialize the major means of production in order to create a new order that would protect the rights and interests of the working class.

Communitarian theory of rights as advanced by Alasdair Maclntyre focuses on individual’s commitment to the community which represents the common interest. This theory refuses to recognize independent interest or rights of the individual.

Finally, feminist theory as represented by Shulamith Firestone and Sheila Rowbotham, among others, insists on restoring the rights of women in a male-dominated society. It seeks to transform the prevalent system of rights which has been responsible for the subordination of women to men in all societies in all ages.

The concept of human rights is subject to continuous evolution. The problems of protecting life and health in the present-day society have become more complex. However, the increasing awareness of human rights itself may be treated as a great achievement of our civilization. [331 words]

4] Can there be universal conception of human rights? Give your arguments. [2021/15m/200w/2c]

The rigorous debate around human rights resulted from the shock incurred by the Nazi regime’s genocide. This first culminated into ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ in 1948. It is based on the foundation of Human dignity and are extended to every human being by virtue of being a human being.

UDHR entered into global conscience with its criticisms. It was blamed to be Eurocentric with few white people deciding the rights for the whole humanity. The cultural relativists argued that the rights can only be established in a society after understanding the customs and belief of that particular society. According to Multiculturalists, real equality is ensured not through ‘uniformity of treatment’ but by keeping in mind the social and cultural location of people.

Edmund Burke believed that rights should come out of tradition which he called the prescriptive rights and nothing should be imposed on a society. But he wasn’t against reforms. He believed that the societies keep evolving and accordingly, the laws should be reformed by the legislators.

The proponents of the Universal Human rights believe that criticism should be objective and not merely on the ground that they are ‘alien’ to our culture. Michael Ignatieff argues that opposition to human rights by cultural relativists comes from only those who are dominant in their culture and violate human rights.

While there are compelling arguments for the existence of a universal conception of human rights, the question remains complex and subject to ongoing debate. A balance must be struck between recognizing the shared values and dignity of individuals across cultures while respecting cultural diversity and addressing the challenges of interpretation and implementation. [272 words]

5] Assess the significance of right to property in political theory. [2020/15m/200w/2c]

Distribution of property and laws related to it tells us about a state and its social and political structure. Hence, there are extensive discussions of property in the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Hegel, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Kant, Marx, and Mill.

Liberal theory has usually regarded the right to private property as an essential ingredient of man’s liberty and his right to the pursuit of happiness. Hobbes postulated that the state was created for the security of man’s property. Locke held that man’s right to ‘life, liberty and property’ was a fundamental natural right, and that the state was created for the protection of this right. Rousseau described the security of property as an essential element of civil liberty provided by the state.

Thus, the right to property comprised the very foundation of market economy and the capitalist system.

Whereas, socialists, who were deeply concerned with the institution of property as a source of vast socio-economic disparities and social injustice, sought to transform it thoroughly. P.J. Proudhon, a French philosopher, went to the extent of saying: ‘Property is theft’.

Property rights are a social creation. Each society regulates, by a combination of formal legislation, common law and custom, what counts as an item of property, and how that item may be used. What is regulated is both how the state arbitrates in the property relationship between two or more private persons and how the state may intervene in the exercise of private property rights. The result is called the ‘property rights regime’ in that society. This is often the subject of intense political debate, as it has both social and economic outcomes. [272 words]

6] Discuss the doctrine of ‘rights as trump’. [2019/15m/200w/4b]

Dworkin’s gave the metaphor of rights as “trumps”. Rights permit their holders to act in certain ways, or give reasons to treat their holders in certain ways or permit their holders to act in certain ways, even if some social aim would be served by doing otherwise.

Dworkin’s metaphor suggests that rights trump non-right objectives. We can keep to the trumps metaphor while recognizing that some rights have a higher priority than others. Within the trump suit, a jack still beats a seven or a three. Your right of way at a flashing yellow light has priority over the right of way of the driver facing a flashing red; and the right of way of an ambulance with sirens on, trumps you both.

Although, saying that one has a right to such a thing means that one’s interests in that thing deserves protection. Yet not all goods or interests generate rights, it is only when there is a particularly important moral reason for protecting the good or interest in question that we speak of there being a right attached to it.

This idea is expressed in Dworkin’s claim that individual rights are political trumps held by individuals.  He goes on to add that individuals have rights when, for some reason, a collective goal is not a sufficient justification for denying them what they wish, as individuals, to have or to do, or is not a sufficient justification for imposing some loss or injury upon them. [245 words]

7] What do you understand by three generations of human rights? [2018/20m/250w/3a]

Political Scholar Karel Vasek has given the concept of three generation of human rights, which divides human rights into three categories / generations.

The first generation rights are civil and political rights and belong to the school of liberalism and are emphasized in western democracies. These are rights which are considered necessary for civilized human existence. It includes right to life, liberty, property, freedom of speech and expression,  right to representation, right to vote (universal adult franchise) etc.

The second generation of rights are social and economic rights, and belong to the school of communism. This school suggests that real freedom is freedom from necessities. It supports populist policies like dole, equal pay, state controlled economy, maternity relief, employment generation policies etc.

The third generation rights, also known as collective or solidarity rights, is comparatively a recent phenomenon. It includes environmental rights, right to peace, right to development, etc. While the first and second generation rights have individual at centre, 3rd generation rights are experienced and exercised collectively.

The first two generation of rights were given recognition in United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR 1948) and two covenants on civil & political rights and social & economic rights in 1966. Over period of time, the third generation rights are also gaining legal recognition. For example Indian Supreme Court has increased the ambit of art 19 (liberty) and 21 (right to life) to include right to clean environment, clean air etc.

The evolving theories of right demonstrate the capacity of human to develop, adapt and better their lives, not just individually, but collectively as well. [265 words]

The post contains answers to the last 6-year papers i.e. (2023-2018). Answers to the previous year questions from 2013-2017 are a part of our book PSIR Optional Model Answers to PYQs (2013-2022)

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human rights your talking about not human rights ?

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