Saturday, February 13, 2010

Our Fundamental Rights

Our constitution guarantees us a series of basic rights. Without fundamental rights, any democracy is meaningless. They are meant to secure social, economic and political justice for every individual in the nation. When India was under colonial rule, Indians were denied any civil, political, social or economic right. With independence it was expected that we will be ensured these basic rights which are essential to live a fulfilling human life. Sixty years after independence, it will be a worthwhile exercise to look how many of these rights do we actually enjoy. More than that, what recourse is available to us in case these rights are violated?

Broadly speaking we can break rights into political/civil rights and liberties and socio-economic rights. While our civil-political rights have been largely secured, we are subject to daily violation of our socio economic rights by the state. Tragedy is while we can go to courts if our civil-political rights are violated by state, there is no such recourse available to us in case of violation of socio-economic rights by state. The Independence is incomplete when it comes to social and economic rights. These rights are denied to majority of the population, or are violated with impunity by the Indian govt.

Social and economic rights in India are recognized as inferable from Right to Life, but are not explicitly recognized. This is done on the excuse that these rights are not very essential for human survival and neither as crucial as civil and political rights. They are seen as needs that society or government might provide if resources are available, but which are not justiciable. These are the rights like right to work, right to choice of employment, right to own property, right to adequate standards of living, right to access to education, right to social security, right to social and medical assistance, right to adequate nutrition, right to social welfare benefits etc.

The incapability or the indifference of the constitution and the state towards these rights means that violation of these rights sometimes leads to violation of the basic rights guaranteed by the constitution. These rights are violated when a school is not constructed in a village, when starving families are not issued BPL cards and their quota of rations, when people die to lack of healthcare in villages, when a woman in labor dies on her way to a distant hospital on a kuccha road, when hawkers, rickshaw pullers etc are unable to get a secure livelihood due to rapacious bribe-seeking officers, when farmers are forced to commit suicides due to lack of appropriate lending mechanisms and crop failures, when people are forced to pay exorbitant rates for basic necessities like water. These rights are violated daily in many other instances due to inaction, inefficiency, indifference of the state. The state has tried to take over all important aspects of our lives by promising us to deliver a socialist republic and to secure ‘social, economic and political’ justice for everyone. It has run 60 years of a controlled economy and failed in all its objectives.

Its failure is apparent in millions of hungry starving mouths, uneducated children, unemployed masses, people suffering from malnutrition and disabilities, rising naxalism, pathetic state of our infrastructure and now in its inability to provide relief from rising food inflation. The state has succeeded to a significant extent in securing civil and political liberties, but has been a mute spectator or sometimes even a perpetrator of violation of social and economic rights. Large numbers of these violations are often due to the indifference of state, since the constitution does not require it to ensure these rights in similar manner as are other fundamental rights.

60 years of Independence is a sufficiently long time for a nation to mature enough so as to guarantee these basic rights. These rights should be explicitly made part of the fundamental rights. Their violation should be addressable in the courts in the similar manner as are the other fundamental rights. Exceptions can be made to cases where the state simply lacks the resources and the ability to ensure these rights, but in all other cases where violation takes place due to indifference and inaction of state it should be bought before the courts. Corrupt officers who delay crucial infrastructural projects, absentee teachers and doctors, bribe seeking policemen, hoarders from FCI (Food Corporation of India) who deem it better to let the stocks rot rather than distribute them all of them and sundry others, whose indifference violates social and economic rights of Indians on a daily basis will be brought to justice.

Time is ripe to start a movement for recognition of these rights, subject to certain natural resource constraints, as fundamental rights who are very crucial for living a decent and worthy life as a human being. Only once these rights are treated in such manner will our independence be complete.


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