Emphasis on the aspect of human rights has been laid down by many articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The detention itself may be preventive or punitive. In India, it has been recognised since long that the history of honour of human rights in this field is largely the achievement of the observance of procedural safeguards against arbitrary detention. Before a person can be arrested, put in preventive detention or is given the punishment, the principles of criminal law and criminal procedure must be followed by the state. In fact the adherence to the rule of law is sine qua non for the protection of freedom of individual.
In India the State’s power of preventive detention is subject to Article 22 of the Constitution. The law must provide for the arrest warrant to be issued by a competent authority; the person must be produced before a magistrate within 24 hours of detention; he must be supplied with the grounds and details of his arrest; and he must be given the right of making representation against the decision of the arrest. In case of punitive detention, fair process in under trial custody or imprisonment for serving a term, as described in the principles of criminal justice must be followed, the denial of which means violation of human rights.
All these procedures are more or less followed. However, there have been certain indicants which lead us to believe that human rights are not secure in India. There have been atrocities on the prisoners and custodial deaths. Some of the prisoners have committed suicides. The reasons of custodial deaths and suicides in the jails cast serious aspersions on the protection of human rights in our country.
Such incidents shake the faith of people in the rule of law as prevailing in the country. The mass media- newspapers, TV and radio-is so strong these days that such incidents are exposed. At times, the authorities are forced to initiate action against the erring officers, but the fact is that no strict punishment is given to the involved high-ranking officials. However, things are changing fast.
The incidents of violation of human rights are made public by the media quickly these days. The concerned officers and even ministers are called upon to answer questions relating to the incident through teleconferencing. There are bodies like National Human Rights Commission, the States’ Human Rights Commission, Central Bureau of Investigation, many Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) and human rights/social activists which take up/investigate the cases relating to the violation of human rights.
The places of communal tension are the worst examples of violation of human rights. Innocent people are killed or seriously injured. For example, in Kashmir, thousands of Kashmiri Hindus were brutally killed by terrorists and other dissident groups. Women and children were also the worst sufferers of brutalities.
Similarly, in Gujarat, in the aftermath of Gandhara carnage, many innocent Muslims were killed by fanatics. The State administrative machinery did its best to protect the basic human right of the people-to live-but failed. Even now, terrorism remains a big threat to civil society all over the world.
It is rather paradoxical that while human life exists in family units with women and children as its integral part, yet in the modern age, women and children have to struggle to get the shelter of human rights for their existence and respectful survival. The western societies are considered more progressive than the occidental Chinese, Indian or Islamic in recognizing equal rights of women.
The slogan-‘Women’s liberation’- asking for human rights for women, equality in the right to work, recognition of property rights and protection against sexual harassment originated in the west. In the ancient Indian society, women have been subject to social evils like sati, purdah and child marriage. They were the oppressed and exploited class for centuries. In the contemporary fight for human rights in general, women and children have emerged as the deprived class-though living in the same elite set-up of rich, broad-minded and sophisticated society.
Gender relations have been noticeably independent of nature of society-western or occidental, affluent or poor, developed or developing. All of them have the same basic issue-the attitude of men towards women. Despite tall claims and official smokescreen, the fact remains that women’s equality in most societies is a myth, not reality.
Their human rights are not fully protected. Similarly, despite the enforcement of Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 there are over two lakhs working children in 13 labour endemic States in India. At the age when they should be receiving education to secure their future, they are forced to work in dangerous and unsafe conditions.
Hundreds of them get seriously injured every year; many of them even get killed. There is a need to identify such children, withdraw them from workplaces and rehabilitate them.
Bonded labour is another curse which is instrumental in the violation of human rights. In India the system of debt bondage has been an outcome of certain categories of indebtedness prevailing for a long time involving certain poor and helpless sections of society.
The system originated in the uneven social structure characterised by the feudal and semi-feudal conditions. Under the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 the identification and release of bonded labourers is the direct responsibility of the State Government concerned. The issue has also been discussed by the Supreme Court of India in the form of Public Interest Litigation. The apex court has directed that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) should be involved in dealing with the issue of bonded labour.
The NHRC has also undertaken an exercise to ensure the upkeep of mentally challenged under trials locked in various jails across the country. Necessary guidelines have been framed keeping in mind the judgments of the Supreme Court and the reference made in the Mullah Committee. The Delhi High Court has directed the judicial academy in the capital to organise short time capsule courses to sensitive judicial officers to deal with cases involving mentally unsound accused.
The problem of international refugees arose when the national minorities were not tolerated in States-as often happened in Europe. When the map of Europe was reorganised on the principle of nationalities and self-determination of people, there was a reshuffling of populations along with international assurance that those who stayed in the new States, their basic rights would be honoured. However, millions of people were stranded as refugees in various countries.
The problem of statelessness is deeply related with the protection of human rights. The international community decided to solve it by bringing the right to asylum. The General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a convention relating to the status of refugees, and created the office of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). It was felt that asylum as a human right is essential to achieving effective protection of the people likely to suffer persecution on account of political views, religious faith or ethnic consideration.