The Human Rights Concept in India
Since time immemorial, India has always committed herself to the human rights ideals. To be consistent with the UNDHR, part 3 of India’s constitution provides for basic human rights, thus ensuring justice, freedom, and equality for all Indians. Moreover, part 4 titled Directive Principles of State Policy guarantees socio-economic rights. India's struggle for freedom from British rule was also seen as a fight for human rights.
In India, the six basic rights consist of both collective and individual rights, but emphasis has been put on a person's right to equality of opportunity for all, including the ones who belong to the disadvantaged group of the society in the nature of protective discrimination. Articles that concentrate on protective discrimination are 14, 15, 16, 17, 29, 38, 46, 330, 332, 334 and 335. They guarantee an equal social order. Under article 17, the elimination of ‘untouchability' has been allowed by the constitution. And its practice in any way has been termed as a public offense.
In addition, articles 16 (4), 15 (4) and 335 handle the reservation of seats to ensure admission into various educational institutes and posts for appointment to various S.Cs and S.Ts services as a way of guaranteeing and securing socio-economic justice. The state legislature and union seats have been reserved for the S.Ts and S.C s. Thirty percent of seats in Orissa state have been reserved for women belonging to urban and rural local bodies.
Protection against Human Rights Violations in India
There is no consistency in the extent of the violation of human rights. Instances of human rights violations in India are in abundance, and they are also recurring. Most of these cases include murder, prostitution, rape, child labor, sexual harassment, domestic violence, political violence, riot victimization, ethnic hatred, communal violence that have resulted in the loss of human lives and property, genocide, discrimination based on class, worker exploitation and extreme action from the state.
However, two fundamental questions arose; how can protection against human rights violations be guaranteed? Through which techniques can human rights in India be protected?
Ever since the 1980s, one type of technique or mechanism for the safeguarding of human rights of the distressed, poor and disadvantaged groups emerged. This mechanism is referred to as SAL (Social Action Litigation) or PIL (Public Interest Litigation (PIL) or Social Interest Litigation (SIL). India's Supreme Court has gone ahead and recognized these litigations, thus allowing human rights activists and other citizens, in general, to agitate for the enforcement and safeguarding of human rights of the socially and economically disadvantaged persons of the society who cannot go to court on their own.
In addition, the Supreme Court via liberal interpretation and the utilization of the Public Interest Litigation method has strived to protect the rights of human beings in the following ways:
- Through expanding the extent of human rights – The scope of the right to personal liberty and life has extended to other areas like the right to earn a livelihood, live in a dignified manner, swift trial, education, medical care, housing, and right against sexual harassment, bondage, solitary confinement, etc.
- Through the provision of short-term relief to victims and aggrieved individuals through either compensations or what is referred to as compensatory reliefs.
- Through monitoring of state-controlled institutions such as jails, police stations, juvenile homes and mental asylums by the judiciary.
- Through democratizing access to justice via the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petition filed by human rights activists or various citizens of goodwill on behalf of the disadvantaged and poor people of the society.
- By recommending new methods of fact-finding – In most instances of human rights violations, the Supreme Court of India has appointed various commissions of inquiry or officers for fact-finding missions and conducting investigations. Through carrying out this latest kind of investigative litigation, the Supreme Court of the land and the high courts have requested institutions like CBI, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and other NGOs to assist them in the investigation of human rights violations.
India’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)
In accordance with the protection of the Human Rights Act (1993), India's premier National Human Rights Commission was constituted in 1993, and its first chairperson was former chief justice, Shri Ranganath Misra.
This commission consists of only one chairperson and other members appointed by the president of India. The chairperson is supposed to be an ex-chief justice of India’s Supreme Court. The NHRC comprises of five members, of whom one should be a judge of the Supreme Court, the other a chief justice of a state high court, and the remaining two must be selected from among other individuals who are knowledgeable or experienced in matters relating to Human Rights. The chairperson plus the other members are supposed to hold office for a duration of five years or until they turn 70.
Also, the NHRC enjoys independence from the methods of appointing its members, their security of tenure and other legal guarantees assured to them. Moreover, it enjoys financial independence. On the recommendation of a body comprising of India’s chief justice, Prime Minister, Speaker of the Lok Sabha, home minister, the Lok Sabha’s opposition leader and the deputy chairman of Rajya Sabha, the president appoints the chairperson together with the rest of the members.
The president has the powers to remove the members of the NHRC on the grounds of either incapacity on an inquiry carried out by the Supreme Court or misbehavior. Also, the National Human Rights Commission has some ex-officio members such as the National Commissions for STs and SCs chairpersons, National Commission for Minorities chairperson and the National Commission for Women chairperson. The services of these commission heads are efficiently used in the common interest.
With regards to complaints of violations of human rights, the commission has its investigating team. It can also team up with any other investigative agency of the State or Central government. The human rights commission of Orissa state has lately been set up under the leadership of Justice Shri Mahapatra. One of the members appointed is former State Chief Secretary SM Patnaik.
How Does It Work?
While investigating the complaints received, the commission shall enjoy the powers of a Civil Court trying a suit using the 1908 Code of Civil Procedure. The NHRC can call for witnesses and enforce their attendance, obtain any evidence on affidavits, produce any document, request for any public record and give out commissions for any witness examinations.
While investigating the complaints of infringements, the NHRC may request for information from the respective government and convince itself as to the concerned authority or government’s action in the case. Also, it can have its inquiry if it doesn’t receive any response from the respective authority.