ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

The Human Rights Movement in India: In Search of a Realistic Approach

Frameworks of human rights - cast largely in terms of the individual's relationship with the state - are facing an unprecedented challenge today. After tracing the evolution of the civil rights movement in India in the age of colonialism and its trajectory towards maturity in the post-Independence period, the author emphasises the need to focus particularly on economic, social and cultural rights in a third world context such as India's, and more so in the present age of globalisation, arguing that this will in turn pave the way for the achievement of civil and political rights.

The Human Rights Movement in India: In Search of a Realistic Approach

Dipankar Chakrabarti

economic development, economic growth or per capita income. Genuine sustainable development is a more holistic process, embracing the place of individuals in civil society, their personal security and their capacity to determine and realise their potential. As the United Nations Development Programme states,

The concept of human development is much

Frameworks of human rights – cast largely in terms of the individual’s relationship with the state – are facing an unprecedented challenge today. After tracing the evolution of the civil rights movement in India in the age of colonialism and its trajectory towards maturity in the post-Independence period, the author emphasises the need to focus particularly on economic, social and cultural rights in a third world context such as India’s, and more so in the present age of globalisation, arguing that this will in turn pave the way for the achievement of civil and political rights.

Dipankar Chakrabarti (deeceec@gmail.com) is the founder-editor of Aneek, a monthly journal in Bengali published from Kolkata, and vice-president, APDR (West Bengal).

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
novemBER 19, 2011

1 A World-Historical Outline

I
n this age of globalisation, the very framework of society is undergoing great upheavals. While the nationstate remains the fundamental constituent element of the international community, its role is changing in the face of the expansion of the global market. The global market, clearly dominated and controlled by the imperialists, is assuming an aggressive control over more and more aspects of our lives. Frameworks of human rights – cast largely in terms of the individual’s relationship with the state – are facing an unprecedented challenge. According to the direct or indirect proponents of globalisation, economic development – in other words, the spread and deepening of the market – should precede over everything else. But what is this “economic development”? Whose development? Whose economy? Does it ensure people’s basic welfare and rights? The grim reality is that the global economy is not at present working in favour of the poor countries or of the poor; rather the rich countries and the rich are becoming richer and the poor poorer. There is a lot of debate about the extent to which economic growth leads to the realisation of economic rights (such as an adequate standard of living), but what is undeniable is that in the pursuit of economic growth, people who are defending their land, livelihood and resources have been facing violent repression by the state. Economic growth often comes at the expense of other rights, with governments justifying, tacitly supporting, or even engineering human rights violations in the name of development and economic competitiveness. In this context, it should be emphasised that quality and security of life cannot be measured solely in terms of the market or

vol xlvi no 47

broader than the conventional theories of economic development. ...It analyses all issues in society – whether economic growth, trade, employment, political freedom or cultural values – from the perspective of the people. It thus focuses on enlarging human choices.

Or, as made clear in the Declaration on the Right to Development adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1986, “the human person is the central subject of development”. In this way, the process of development brings together the full range of human rights – civil, cultural, economic, political and social – into one indivisible and interdependent whole. Freedom from fear and extrication from want are the two sides of the same coin. That is why, in the Preamble to the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, one of the cornerstones of international human rights law, it has been clearly and unambiguously accepted that “the ideal of free human beings enjoying freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his economic, social and cultural rights, as well as his civil and political rights”. Even though the historical evolution of international human rights law saw the artificial and misleading separation of civil and political rights on the one hand, and economic, social and cultural rights on the other, into separate covenants with separate characters, in 1993, the world conference of the governments of the different countries on human rights in Vienna clearly declared that “All human rights are universal and indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. The inter national community must treat human rights globally in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing and with the same emphasis.”

At the very outset it should be remembered that the concept of human rights is not an abstract idea, independent of class division, but is basically dependant on the specific stage of the social development of any country. There cannot be any unchangeable and “pure” concept of human rights, independent of a specific society, universally applicable to all countries across time. The experience of the development of human society has shown that the social and economic progress achieved through the continuous development of the productive forces helps to develop the concept of human rights, which again plays a role in developing human consciousness. A primary consciousness regarding human rights can be traced even to the early stages of human society, but in the absence of an appropriate social base, it could not develop, not to speak of its realisation. The unprecedented development of the social productive forces in Europe under capitalism through the industrial revolution created that social base by challenging the old feudal, monarchical and religious authority, and gradually thereby shaped the concept that “human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. Democratic ideas began to take shape against national and international autocracy, which again helped the concrete development of the concept of human rights. Since then gradually, through ups and downs and in the context of different social realities and times, it has been almost universally established that the concept of human rights is not static or unchangeable and independent of social reality, but rather dynamic and always developing. And, in this context it must be emphasised that though the aspiration for equality and dignity of all human beings, reflecting the essence of human rights, was inherent in the culture and civilisation of the different stages of human society, it has, in the final analysis, been brought to reality through class-differentiation and class struggle.

We, in West Bengal, generally try to explain this class nature of human rights in a class-divided society with the help of two stories. One is a story involving Bertrand Russell, the renowned British pacifist philosopher, taken from his Portraits from Memory. Once, during the first world war, Russell, the pacifist, was trying to build up public opinion against Britain’s participation in the war by publicly speaking in a park in London. Some chauvinistic, war-hysteric persons physically assaulted him. One of his students, present at the meeting, ran to the nearest police station to request the cops to save him. The officer-in-charge was then picking his teeth in a leisurely manner, with his feet on the table. He asked: “Who is this Russell?’’ When told that he was a worldfamous philosopher of Cambridge University, he remarked: “So what! One who opposes war should certainly be assaulted!” The young man exclaimed in an exasperated voice: “Do you know that he comes from a Lord family?” The police officer jumped up, brought his feet to the ground, gave a salute and angrily said, “Why didn’t you say it earlier?”, and then ran to the park to save “the Lord”.

The second story is actually a famous realist Bengali story: “Democracy and Gopal Kahar”. A rich and influential landowner, belonging to the ruling party, lodged a false complaint with the police against a landless poor peasant in order to evict him from his land. The obliging police duly brought the peasant to the police station and tortured him mercilessly, accusing him of being a dangerous element jeopardising democracy. The innocent and puzzled farmer repeatedly declared in the name of god that he did not even know the identity of that babu, democracy. But the torture continued and ultimately he lost one leg for no fault of his. The fate of the two characters – Russell and Gopal Kahar – was actually predetermined on the basis of their class identities. And actually, this is the real picture of democratic rights in a classdivided bourgeois society: the whole super-structure of the system is based on pro perty relations, where there remains the fundamental and inviolable discrimination between the haves and the havenots. Without this realisation we cannot actually understand the basic class nature of human rights in a class society.

The historical trajectory of democratic transformation of European autocracies has hinged upon the successful assertion of three important components of human freedom: (i) freedom of expression;

(ii) freedom from arbitrary imprisonment;

(iii) freedom from custodial violence. The

novemBER 19, 2011

legitimisation of these freedoms as the inalienable civil and political rights of all citizens against the state constitutes a historical landmark in the evolution of liberal democracies, initially in Europe, and subsequently in other parts of the advanced countries. In this process of evolution of the concept of human rights, special mention should be made of the role played by the Magna Carta (1215), Petition of Rights (1627), and the Bill of Rights (1688) in England, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens (1791) of France adopted after the French Revolution, and especially of the Bill of Rights (1787) of the USA. These civil and political rights constitute the sources of the first generation of the modern concept of human rights. The Russian revolution under the Bolshevik slogan of “bread, land, and all power to the Soviets” inspired the Soviet Bill of Rights with its conscious primacy of economic and social rights over civil and political rights, ultimately leading to the most comprehensive and fundamental acceptance of the human rights as contained in the constitution of Soviet Union adopted in 1937. These, along with the post-war era’s concern for the right of self-determination of the colonial world, and against racial and/or gender discrimination, have paved the path for the unanimous adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR in short) by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948, signed by India amongst others.

2 Indian Civil Rights Movement: Evolution

We shall now try to sketch the evolution of the civil rights movement in India.

Quite obviously, in India, the civil rights movement began during the colonial period in close association with the national liberation movement. Though the movement did not acquire any organisational form before 1936, its genesis can be traced from the early 19th century, when the embryo of the civil libertarian consciousness was manifested through the demand for the freedom of expression and also for the freedom of the press, equality before the law, protection against racial discrimination, etc. And the ground for an organised effort to develop the civil liberties movement was gradually being prepared

vol xlvi no 47

PERSPECTIVES

by different significant events like the adoption of the Declaration of Rights in a special session of the Congress (1918), the spontaneous agitation against the Rowlatt Act (1919), the historic meeting at Calcutta addressed by Rabindranath Tagore amongst others to protest against police firing in Hijli Jail on the political prisoners (1931), leading to efforts to form a Citizens’ Committee for championing the cause of the release of political prisoners and safeguarding individual freedom, etc. The 1920s and 1930s was a significant period in the history of India’s freedom movement. Mass movements against colonial rule were gradually spreading and assuming an organised form. The All India Trade Union Congress, the All India Students’ Federation, the All India Kisan Sabha, the Progressive Writers’ Association, etc, were founded. The All India Trade Union Congress was gathering strength on the basis of the much-cherished unity of different factions leading the working class. All these movements actually set the foundation and the background for an organisation to launch the civil rights movement.

Ultimately, on 24 August 1936, the All India Civil Liberties Union (ICLU) was founded in Bombay with Jawaharlal Nehru as the main initiator. Rabindranath Tagore was elected as the president, Sarojini Naidu as the working president, and K B Menon as the general secretary and a 21-member executive committee which included Jawaharlal Nehru, Abul Kalam Azad, Sarat Chandra Bose, Rajendra Prasad, Vallabhbhai Patel, Jayaprakash Narayan, etc. The inherent spirit of the ICLU was precisely reflected in the closing sentence of Nehru’s address at the inaugural session: “The idea of civil liberty is to have the right to oppose the government”. That in a capitalist state the civil liberties movement must, in essence, be an anti-state movement in spirit was realised even then, and it obviously had, and still now has, a serious and far-reaching impact on the civil rights movement in our country.

ICLU was quite active in the political arena of our country till the mass- explosion of the Quit India Movement in 1942. It built up the tradition of citizens’ investigations in cases of political imprisonment and harassment, police brutalities, government bans and autocratic restrictions, etc,

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
novemBER 19, 2011

publishing reports on them, and also of lodging protests and placing demands before the government. That the activities of the movement had a considerable impact was proved by the fact that the Congress ministries formed in many provinces after the 1937 elections were directed by the Congress Working Committee to show respect to civil liberties. But one of the inherent weaknesses of the movement on a national scale was that the cases of revolutionary freedom- fighters following the path of armed struggle were not given proper importance. And it should be noted that even today, almost 75 years after the organised beginning of the civil liberties movement in our country, not only the Congress, but rather, all the ruling parties, be they of the “left” or right variety, are virtually denying the civil rights of those political activists, who follow the path of armed struggle to fulfil their dream of leading the Indian people to liberation, “enjoying freedom from want and hunger” as postulated in the UDHR. Still the ICLU played a commendable role in developing civil liberties consciousness among a significant section of the people in a colonial set-up.

3 Indian Civil Rights Movement: Towards Maturity

There must be some basic distinction in the civil rights movement in any country between its colonial and postcolonial phases. But at the very outset it must not be forgotten that in spite of a post-second world war revolutionary upsurge all over India against imperialist domination, India’s freedom was achieved basically through a compromise with the imperialists, thereby handing over power to the bourgeoisie, dependant on the imperialists in alliance with the feudal elements. As a consequence, human rights of the common labouring people were not at all guaranteed, nor were such rights expected to be ensured. The Constitution of India, framed after the adoption of the UDHR, of which India was a signatory, no doubt, has ensured the inclusion of some fundamental rights like right to life, expression, press, association, mobility, etc. But even in this “rightsgiving” constitution, provisions have been included to take away all the fundamental rights on one or other excuses.

vol xlvi no 47

Although during the independence struggle, Pandit Nehru – the supposed champion of and the main spirit behind the democratic and civil rights movement in the pre-independence period, and also the first prime minister of independent India – had repeatedly assured that there will be no “black law” infringing upon people’s fundamental freedom from arbitrary imprisonment, rarely was there any prolonged period in our country in the post-independence period when a “black law” in some form or the other1 was not in operation. Recurrent use of the draconian and colonial Disturbed Areas Act and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, etc, in some areas of the country has turned the promise of non-prevalence of black laws into sheer mockery. Innumerable instances can be cited in this respect.

And again, rights to work and shelter have not been included in the Constitution in spite of the demand repeatedly raised by the people as well as by civil rights organisations. Consequently, the unbridled persecution as well as exploitation of the common labouring people continues. Naturally the people fought and have been fighting during the whole of the post-independence period for service and other means of livelihood, land for cultivation and housing, for better wages and living conditions, exercising their constitutional democratic rights to fight for these demands. But the State takes recourse to persecution and torture, imprisonment and police brutalities, like lathi charge and firing, unashamedly suppressing all basic democratic and legal norms and grossly violating all the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution. This process prevails, whatever may be the colour of the government either at the centre or in the states – green, saffron or red.

The civil and democratic rights movements began to develop in postcolonial India just side by side with the process of transfer of political power from the British imperialists to the Indian ruling classes, in the main, dependant on them. The first organisation that came up was in 1947, the Madras Civil Liberties Union (mCLU) (bearing the same name as the erstwhile Madras branch of ICLU). In the meantime a Bombay Civil Liberties Conference was held on 1-2 January 1949. The same year, MCLU organised an All India Civil Liberties Conference in Madras on 16-17 July. Significantly, even then, just after India’s independence, apprehensions were expressed in the conference that the limited civil liberties enjoyed under the British rule would be “the first casualty” in independent India. In 1948, the Communist Party of India (CPI) was banned and an all-out severe repression on its members and sympathisers unfolded. A civil liberties committee was formed in West Bengal in the same year. Eminent scientists, lawyers and academic intellectuals like Meghnad Saha, Sarat Chandra Bose, N C Chatterjee, Khitish Chattopadhyay, etc joined this movement against the government’s onslaught on civil and democratic rights, particularly of political workers.

In this context a particular characteristic of the initial phase of the Indian civil liberties movement in the post-independence period should be emphasised. At that time the members and the supporters of the undivided CPI mainly organised and took the lead in the civil rights movement at different junctures of time. This created a couple of problems. First, the movement used to become active only when the communists were under state repression and persecution. But when state repression against the communists receded, the movement practically evaporated. This lack of continuity was, no doubt, detrimental to the building up of a strong and organised movement. Second, and most importantly, since the communists’ main commitment and devotion were to their party programmes, it was virtually impossible to frame policies and develop and organise the civil liberties movement independently on a broader basis beyond the boundary set forth by the party, so that the interests of the broad section of the masses in general be served.

A resurgence of the civil liberties movement began only in the 1970s of the last century on a new and more or less independent plane. With the formation of the Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) in West Bengal in 1972, there began the present and undoubtedly new and higher phase of the movement. Thus a new chapter in the process of evolution and development of the human rights movement in India was inaugurated. The movement acquired, more or less, an independent theoretical and organisational foundation leading to a continuous exi stence and a set of ongoing activities. In Andhra too, Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee (APCLC) was formed in 1974. Gradually this movement, no doubt, became a permanent feature of Indian society, spreading to Delhi, Maharashtra, Assam, Punjab, Kashmir, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, etc. APDR was formed in West Bengal at a time of the most heinous attack on democratic rights, when state terrorism appeared in its most barbarous form through mass killings, murder in police and judicial custody, fake encounters and atrocious and continuous attacks on mass movements of labouring people. Naturally the main demands at that time centred on putting an end to all those inhuman, illegal and undemocratic acts of the state, release of all political prisoners and the repeal of the black acts like MISA. International support came from the international civil rights organisations like Amnesty International. The movement got tremendous support from the people. But in June 1975 the most draconian internal Emergency was imposed in India, taking away by a stroke of the pen, that too with an illegal and questionable method, all the basic civil rights of a citizen enshrined in the Constitution of India.

Emergency and Its Aftermath

Taking advantage of this, the Government of West Bengal banned APDR and arrested some leading activists including the present writer, most of whom had to languish in jail without any meaningful trial for the whole Emergency period, i e, about 21 months. During this infamous Emergency period, an all India civil rights organisation, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties and Democratic Rights (PUCLDR in short) gradually took shape in 1976, with Jayaprakash Narayan as its moral spirit. In the 1977 parliamentary elections, the repressive government was defeated, and PUCLDR played a significant role in mobilising the people against the ruling clique. After the withdrawal of the Emergency, there developed a high tide of mass movement demanding the release of all political prisoners, which had to be included in the election manifesto of the Left Front (LF) in

novemBER 19, 2011

West Bengal. Consequently, the newly elected LF government had to release all political prisoners, and the ban order on APDR had to be withdrawn. Subsequently, a number of civil rights organisations have been formed, regionally or on a national basis in almost all the states. A few years back an All India Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisation (cdro), comprising almost all the regional civil rights organisations has been formed. The civil rights movement has, no doubt, emerged as a permanent feature of Indian society.

Though a democratic atmosphere prevailed after the withdrawal of the Emergency and the installation of a new government in New Delhi, it was apprehended by the civil rights workers that state terrorism, police atrocities as well as attacks on mass movements and human rights would continue in some form or the other. The experience of the next four decades confirmed these apprehensions. All the anti-people acts of the State continued, although on a smaller scale. And APDR played its role as before. But it was felt at the same time that public opinion as well as movements, as far as possible, should be built not only for safeguarding political and civil rights, but also for the general economic and social rights of the people. With this contention, the basic aims and objectives of APDR were aligned with the UDHR. Consequently, protection of the human and civil rights of even nonpolitical people came under the purview of APDR. At present APDR has been fighting not only against state terrorism, violation of political and human rights and police atrocities, but also against indiscriminate non-state terrorism, and in favour of the people’s right for livelihood, education, medical facilities, and against globalisation, environmental pollution, communalism, fundamentalism, etc. As a result, APDR’s influence has spread among different sections of the people. In 1995, a human rights commission was set up by the Government of West Bengal. Since its inception APDR has been aware of its limitations and constraints, but still the commission is being utilised as far as possible.

It will not perhaps be irrelevant to mention here that, so far as the attitude of the state towards the human rights movement, especially in West Bengal, is concerned,

vol xlvi no 47

PERSPECTIVES

time and again, it has gone through significant shifts and changes, reflected through the attitudes of the state personnel, especially the police and those in administration. Initially they looked at civil rights activists with contempt, virtually ignoring them. Then it was felt that they have some popular support, and consequently they had to be accepted, grudgingly though; in private, state personnel began to fear them a bit. But even when they have to acknowledge the human rights workers, at the same time they try to denigrate them as far as possible. Initially the state officials tried to generally allege that APDR protects criminals and anti-socials in the name of protection of human rights. Indeed, the recently overthrown “Marxist” Government of West Bengal has even viewed APDR (since the 1990s) virtually as a terrorist organisation, closely linked with the Maoists. This trend has been observed in almost all the states of India, be they led by centrists like Congress, Hindu fundamentalists like the Bharatiya Janata Party, regional parties like the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Bahujan Samaj Party, or self-declared Marxists like CPI(M). But time and again the ill motives and activities of governments, both at the centre and in the states, in violation of human rights, and even the laws of our country, have been exposed publicly.

On this specific issue of what should be the viewpoint of the civil rights organisations to any government or political party, a clear difference of opinion emerged. When the Janata Party came to power after the fall of the Congress government at the centre in 1977, the national leaders of the PUCLDR refused to criticise or condemn the government even after the killing of workers in Kanpur and mine-workers in Dalli-Rajhara. Consequently, the Delhi unit came out of the organisation and built a separate one, the People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR). In fact, in the context of increasing criminalisation and corruption of the political parties and brutalisation of state terror, even assaults on democratic rights activists, the civil liberties organisations like APDR, PUDR, etc, have emerged as significant social forces in many states, which both the central and state governments have to reckon with.

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
novemBER 19, 2011

That no doubt signals, to some extent, the maturity of the civil rights movement.

4 In the Age of Globalisation

But that does not mean that a correct and clear orientation, in the proper sense of the term, has already been achieved. As we have already noted, though many of the existing civil rights organisations have begun to take note of the evil consequences of globalisation running amok in our country since the beginning of the 1990s, it must, no doubt, be admitted that a significant and comprehensive programme which can fully and properly address its onslaught and consequences has not yet been formulated. In order to achieve that goal, we must first try to redefine the very concept of human rights itself in the context of the grim reality of globalisation. For the very definition of the concept undoubtedly depends on the class character and interests of human rights theorists. Just as there is the possibility of existence of darkness under a lamp, similarly there remains the danger of confusion, consciously or unconsciously, behind the formulation of this definition. So long, we – human rights theorists as well as activists of third world countries like India – in the main, have been following the concept in a narrower sense as set forth by liberal western theorists of the advanced capitalist countries.

In conventional analysis, liberal western theorists equate human rights, in a general sense, only with the civil and political rights, thereby basically almost negating the economic, social and cultural rights of the people of the third world, and also the latter’s right to develop independently and without any interference by the imperialist nations. This will naturally be conducive to the maintenance of the economic domination of the imperialists on the third world. The UDHR of 1948 itself shows overwhelming concern for political and civil rights and gives meagre attention to economic, social and cultural rights. Though the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1966 – largely through the insistence of the third world countries – seeks to rectify the imbalance, human rights continue to be equated with only

vol xlvi no 47

political and civil rights. On the other hand, liberal western theorists want to interpret human rights only in an individualistic sense, showing no concern for the sense of the collective, or of the collective interests of the people, or the country itself. Their aim is to impose their own realityinduced mentality on the people of the third world who face a completely different reality and background. The aspiration for the freedom and development of the individual self of the post-renaissance advanced capitalist countries, basically liberated from the domination of feudalism and the church of the middle ages, has almost no similarity with the fundamental aspiration of the people of the third world, still gasping under the bondage of imperialism (direct or indirect), feudalism and religious fundamentalism. The spirit of the international covenants of 1966 and the declaration of development of third world countries of 1986, adopted by the United Nations in spite of the stiff resistance by the advanced countries, has rightly led to the Tehran declaration of 1986: “The Civil and Political Rights cannot be fully realised without fully realising the economic, social and cultural rights”.

In order to secure the most basic of all human rights – the right to life, along with the fulfilment of the ideal enshrined in the Preamble to the UDHR (of “enjoying freedom from fear and want”), conditions must be created to achieve and secure human rights to food, to clothing, to shelter, to education, to health, to employment, etc, which are fundamental to the very survival of the vast majority of the human race in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Life and liberty, food and freedom, must go hand in hand if we want to develop an integrated and real vision of human rights for these people, one which does not revolve around the individual, but is centred on a notion of the rights of the collective, the community, the nation. It is obvious that this vision is simply contrary, almost inimical, to the goal of achieving mainly the civil and political rights of individuals, following the dictate of liberal western proponents of human rights. This follows from the colonial experience of the third world countries. Subjected to alien and exploitative colonial domination for centuries, fighting for freedom came to mean fighting for the freedom of not merely the individual, but for the people as a whole. This explains why freedom as well as the basic economic, social and cultural rights to these people becomes a composite collective ideal, intertwined with the quest of whole communities for human dignity and social justice, “free of hunger and want”. And this should be the primary understanding for redefining and developing a basic concept of human rights relevant to the people of the third world, far away from the concept as under stood and propagated so long by the liberal western theorists of human rights, and almost imitated by us, the human rights activists of countries like India, shamelessly, though perhaps unconsciously.

5 Globalisation and the Violation of Human Rights

Once we accept that for the people of the third world, the right to live is the most important and decisive human right to realise and secure, it also becomes evident that even in the 21st century, the most disastrous obstacle to the realisation of that right is colonialism or domination of imperialists of different hues and colours, and their aggression and exploitation, control and domination over the third world. This again basically encourages and perpetuates racial discrimination, fundamentalism and communalism as well as almost all the backward norms and practices of pre-capitalist society, whichever become helpful to the continuation of that domination. Imperialism grotesquely tramples upon the national independence and sovereignty of the third world countries, controls and captures their natural resources and wealth, raw materials and produced goods, thereby depriving them of their legitimate incomes. During the post-second world war period, most of the 150 major localised wars took place in the third world, with the direct or indirect backing of imperialist countries, and obviously the people of these countries became the cannon fodder of those wars. In the last 100 years, at least six million people have been killed by imperialists, directly or indirectly.

Economically too, due to the exploitation and manipulation of imperialism and their stooges, the living conditions in these countries for most of the people are becoming more and more precarious. This process has actually been evident for the last few centuries with the emergence of capitalism, and especially its highest phase, imperialism. It has been tremendously accentuated in the last few decades with the emergence of the economics of globalisation, based on neo-liberal economic doctrine. Perhaps it would be better to take the help of Lewis Carroll’s famous allegory Through the Looking Glass to understand the phenomenon of globalisation.

In that allegory, Alice and the Queen were running hand in hand in the Red Queen’s garden, and the Queen was running so fast that it was very difficult for Alice to keep pace with her. But still the Queen kept crying “Faster! Faster!” The most curious part of the thing to Alice was that the trees and the other things round them never changed their places at all; however fast they went, they never seemed to pass anything. An astonished Alice exclaimed: “‘Well, in our country, you’d generally get to somewhere else – if you ran for a long time as we’ve been doing”. But the Queen retorted: “A slow sort of country! Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that”!

Think of the Red Queen’s garden as capitalism. The relentless search for markets and profits brings about rapid changes in production and space, industry and commerce, occupation and locale, with profound effects on the organisation of classes and states. It is through this ferocious process of extension and change that capitalism preserves itself, remains capitalistic, and perpetuates basically the same system. This paradox, or rather this dialectic, can only properly be grasped if we understand that the “bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society” (Karl Marx). This was not an understanding merely appropriate to what happened to the world in the first half of the 19th century: it is no less appropriate to understanding what has happened over the second half of the 20th century and also in

novemBER 19, 2011

the first decade of the present century, and to what is taking place in the world today in the context of globalisation. Now think of Alice, frantically running alongside the Red Queen, as the representative of the third world. You will begin to grasp the real significance of globalisation to them. They must keep on running in order to keep pace in the face of deprivation and poverty, brought about by the fierce plunder of the imperialists for more and more profit, but still basically unable to satisfy their basic needs of life

– for food and shelter, for health and education and culture.

And from the point of view of imperialism, historically speaking, its most severe crisis burst out towards the end of the 1920s, ultimately resulting in the second world war. After a brief respite as a consequence of massive reconstruction following the unprecedented devastation of the war, the crisis again came to the fore in the 1970s. Since then the capitalist world has been continuously ridden with crises, leading to the next most severe major crisis in 2008, which has not yet been overcome. The ferocity of this continuous period of crises forced the imperialists to give greater attention to plundering the third world’s natural resources – land, minerals, water, and even air. The process of globalisation is nothing but the programmatic manifestation of this more acute phase of imperialist plunder based on the hydra-headed doctrine of neoliberalism. The Indian ruling classes began to traverse this path of globalisation since 1991.

The advocates of globalisation described it as the panacea for all economic woes; they claimed that the only path to prosperity is to adhere to free-market principles. The nations of the third world, in particular, are being urged to deregulate and open up their economies to free trade and foreign investment, to ensure their speedy transition to the status of developed economies. But it has already been proved that globalisation has brought, in its wake, great inequities, mass impoverishment and despair; that it has fractured society more acutely along the existing fault lines of class, gender and community, while almost irreversibly widening the gap between the rich and the poor,

vol xlvi no 47

PERSPECTIVES

both in terms of individuals and nations; that it has caused the flow of capital across international borders, which has been responsible for financial and economic crises in many countries and regions; that it has enriched a small minority of persons and corporations within nations and within the international system, marginalising and violating the basic human rights of millions of workers, peasants and farmers and indigenous communities.

Though globalisation has been portrayed as turning the whole world into one global village, leading to unprecedented enjoyment of human rights for everyone together with the spread of the highly cherished values of democracy, freedom and justice, in reality, it has turned the world into a global market for goods and services, dominated and steered by the powerful, gigantic transnational corporations and governed by the rule of profit, thereby trampling upon the basic human rights of the people in the world, particularly in the third world countries. The governments of these third world countries are abiding by the multilateral agreements that are deepening the process of glob alisation, thereby violating the basic human rights of the people. These agreements and policies have had adverse effects on the right to work, the right to food, the right to health, the right to education, and the right to development. In their drive for profits, companies, in particular, the TNCs, have been restructuring their operations on a global scale. The result has been massive unemployment. In 1995, the International Labour Organisation announced that onethird of the world’s workforce (those willing and able to work) was either unemployed or underemployed.

In India, only 8% of the labour force is in the formal economy while 92% work in the informal economy with no legal protection or security, and are subject to ruthless exploitation. Workers in developing countries have been forced into a race to the bottom, and the bottom means slavelike conditions. Consequently, the calorie intake of the poor has declined. The Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement of the World Trade Organisation prevents countries from producing low-cost generic drugs, robbing poor patients of their rights to health.

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
novemBER 19, 2011

Policies promoting globalisation by introducing the market mechanism into the provision of healthcare obviously make such services less available to the poor. The privatisation of health and hospital services also makes the poor suffer as services become more oriented towards those who can pay. The lives of at least one to two million children on average are lost every year. The right to education has also been adversely affected by privatisation policies and the turning of education into a profit-generating enterprise in developing countries. Due to the reduced governmental expenditure on education the quality of public free education has been suffering.

The consequences of violations of human rights are revealed by the widening gap between the rich and the poor, both at the global and the local levels, as reflected in international statistics (http://www. global issues.org/article/26/poverty-factsand-stats): (1) Half the world – nearly three billion people – live on less than two dollars a day. (2) The wealthiest nation on earth has the widest gap between rich and poor of any industrialised nation. (3) The top fifth of the world’s people in the richest countries enjoy 82% of the expanding export trade and 68% of foreign direct investment, while the bottom fifth, barely more than 1%. (4) In 1960, 20% of the world’s people in the richest countries had 30 times the income of the poorest 20%; in 1997, 74 times as much; and in 2015 it is estimated to be just 100 times. (5) A few hundred millionaires now own as much wealth as the world’s poorest 2.5 billion people. (6) The combined wealth of the world’s 200 richest people hit $1 trillion in 1999; the combined income of the 582 million people living in the 43 least developed countries was $146 billion. (7) As globalisation matures, the rate at which the rich people and countries become richer competes with and becomes directly proportional to the rate at which the poor people and poor countries become poorer.

It is simply unnecessary to fill up hundreds of pages with relevant statistics to prove how globalisation has been affecting human lives most disastrously in the countries of the third world. We are much more interested in the irrevocable fact that emerges from these figures that capitalism has already been proved to be detrimental

vol xlvi no 47

to the interests of the labouring people; and that globalisation is even more so. It is simply inimical to the realisation of the basic human rights of the vast majority of the third world. This leads to the basic tasks of the human rights movement in countries like India to raise people’s level of consciousness so that they come forward to thwart this inhuman process of globalisation.

6 Supporting Movements against Globalisation

The aspiration for winning civil and political rights which has primarily motivated the movement over all these years definitely remains. But, as we noted earlier, without fully achieving economic, social and cultural rights, the above rights cannot be really achieved. Hence, the main emphasis should be given to these basic rights, i e, economic, social and cultural rights. Consequently, the human rights movement should now build a direct bridge with the ongoing people’s movements as well as those that will surely arise in the near future, defending the basic interests of the labouring people. The implementation of globalisation policies led to the emergence of many such movements, like the Narmada Bachao Andolan of lakhs of evicted people, the anti-Posco movement in Orissa, the farmers movement in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, etc, for safeguarding the living conditions of the downtrodden.

We, in West Bengal, have already acquired some experience in collaborating with such movements. Our organisation, APDR, has actively supported the Singur and Nandigram movements of the peasants against eviction by the state at the dictate of multinationals and big capital, and also the Lalgarh movement of the adivasis against state terror and deprivation by building up public opinion and extending necessary help and cooperation. It is noteworthy that special economic zones (SEZs), a direct outcome of globalisation policies, are being opposed by the people everywhere in India, and we are proud to have been a part of the Nandigram movement, which in India was the first case of the people emerging victorious in their fight against an SEZ project. We, the human rights activists of India, must frame a new orientation and programme of action so as to serve such people’s movements, which are sure to be organised in large numbers and with broader perspectives in the near future.

7 Relation with Progressive Political Movements

In this context, it is necessary to bring into the discussion once more the question of the relation between political movements and human rights movements in a country like ours. It should be made clear at the very outset that there cannot be any Chinese wall between the two, so long as a particular political movement seeks to uphold the economic and political interests of the poor, not in words but in reality, and is not under the domination of any particular political party or group. Otherwise the question of dual loyalty will surely arise. But that does not mean that a political worker cannot participate in the human rights movement. Obviously she/he must be allowed to do so, so long she/he is conscious of the limits and constraints of the human rights movement, and is ready to work in such a situation. Please note, in this connection, I can declare without hesitation that in the present circumstances of our country, a human rights organisation cannot and should not ‘‘limit itself only to filing writ petitions, organising signature campaigns, publishing reports by sending fact-finding teams and holding symbolic protest demonstrations’’. We in West Bengal did more than that, remaining within the framework of democratic methods and norms, when the movement in question is not led and dominated by a particular

political party or group, but under the

collective leadership of numerous democratic organisations and persons of different political viewpoints during the mass struggles in Singur and Nandigram, and, at present, in the context of a renewed movement for the release of all political prisoners in West Bengal. And we shall not hesitate to repeat the same.

But if we accept the leadership of one particular political organisation, there will always remain the danger of abandonment of human rights ideals to serve the interests of that political force. There are ample examples before us. We have

already noted the case of PUCLDR, which played such a vital role in mobilising

public opinion against the autocracy of Indira Gandhi during the Emergency

period, but later on, some of its leaders

refused to condemn police atrocities under the Janata Party rule in 1978 against the struggling workers of Swadeshi Mills in Kanpur, or mining workers in Dalli- Rajhara in Madhya Pradesh (now in Chhattisgarh), so as not to “disturb” the new (Janata) government. They repeated the same in 1979, when they refused to condemn the CPI(M)- controlled Left Front Government of West Bengal in 1979 for the atrocity perpetrated on the poor refugees in Marichjhapi.

Indeed, just now in West Bengal we have been passing through a similar experience. A section of the civil liberties activists – who were most vocal and active in demanding the unconditional release of all political prisoners just a month before the assumption of power by the Trinamool Congress-Congress Party bloc after defeating the Left Front – is now virtually opposing the movement that is brewing against the new government for refusing to release them unconditionally and imposing offending conditions on the political prisoners. I am happy to state that the vast majority of civil liberty activists are eager to depend not on the government’s “goodwill” but on the people’s movements. Hence, our lesson is to join the political movement for the achievement of the

basic economic and social rights of the people keeping aloft the flag of human rights, not sacrificing it to the pedestal of any other force.

I want to sum up my deliberations with the earnest and sincere hope that a new orientation as well as programme of

action suitable for a third world country like ours to achieve and secure the basic economic, social and cultural rights which will, in turn, also pave the way for the achievement of the civil and political rights of the people.

Note

1 For e g, Preventive Detention Act, Defence of

India Rules, Prevention of Violence Act, Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA), Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Activities Act, Essential Services Maintenance Act, Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, Prevention of Terrorism Act, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, etc (like the different names of the mythical character Sree Krishna of the Hindus!).

novemBER 19, 2011

To read the full text Login

Get instant access

New 3 Month Subscription
to Digital Archives at

₹826for India

$50for overseas users

Comments

(-) Hide

EPW looks forward to your comments. Please note that comments are moderated as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear. A comment, if suitable, may be selected for publication in the Letters pages of EPW.

Back to Top