Ensuring human dignity-I

Uploaded on 28 January 2020


Ensuring human dignity
Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam
As usual I am returning to this column after a long gap. It bears reiteration that this column has been created largely as a platform for dialogue with Muslim youth. As this cohort often chooses not to interact, this remains practically a monologue.
One of the reasons for my long absence from this column is that many of my other articles, IOS seminars, symposia and lectures have themes that overlap with subjects and issues discussed here. To know that, you would have to visit this site more often. As the headline suggests, this piece is about human dignity.
In the holy Quran Allah says He made the children of Adam honourable. That means the entire humanity - black, white, yellow, wheatish, red, men, women and children - is honourable and dignified irrespective of wealth and power, ethnicity and nationality. Which means at least the believers in the Quran should learn to honour all fellow human beings.
Despite this we see human dignity being destroyed, trampled under feet from one end of the earth to the other, every moment of the day and night, without anybody lifting a finger or speaking a word. There are so many ways in which people’s dignity is destroyed through hunger, homelessness, injustice, brutal state repression and lack of access to basic resources. Add to this sporadic mass killings of Muslims in India, like Gujarat 2002 and Muzaffarnagar 2013, orchestrated by rightist groups. In this are also included periodic lynchings. 
One has to ask oneself and the State (both at Centre and in the states) what kind of a human dignity is being protected when the UP Police mow down 23 anti-CAA protesters, wound a large number, file false cases against them and put all those victims behind bars. Does not the UP government know that the Constitution and the law of the land empower people to protest peacefully against anyone, including the government and its particular laws?
Firings on anti-CAA protesters is invariably provoked by carefully staged stone throwing at police by organised gangs of a certain ideological persuasion, who support CAA. Instead of restraining them, the police attack the protesters. This is a confirmed pattern in all BJP-ruled states and Delhi, whose police is not under the state, but the BJP-ruled Centre. Hence the horrible police atrocities on protesters in Delhi also. 
Among the main differences between humans and most animals (except some primates who seem to have some idea of how they are well or shabbily treated by their own cohorts and humans) is that humans, whether most primitive jungle and cave dwellers, or highly evolved, sophisticated city dwellers, have a sense of dignity because they have a self image, ideas of honour, humiliation, triumph and shame.
The world’s most advanced democratic societies and polities take human dignity as a necessary corollary to right to life, which is not merely right to vegetate, or simple right to exist, but a right to life with dignity. Thus right to life is life with dignity, which the individual, society and State have to protect.
In one of his famous judgments, our respected elder, Justice A M Ahmadi, ruled that right to education was part of right to life, because right to life meant life with dignity and there would be no dignity without education. That was a remarkably precise argument in favour of education.
The best minds over the centuries have tried to understand what a life of dignity was all about. Nearly two millennia and a half ago the Greek philosopher Socrates declared: “An unexamined life is not worth living”. That is, living an unexamined life is undignified, not worthy of living.
The founding father of the science of economics, Adam Smith, tried to look at the material side of dignity and see what could be the essentials for living a life of dignity. He found that in the London of his time (18th century) if somebody went out in shoes that were inferior in quality and design to those worn by common Londoners, his dignity would be compromised in his own eyes and those of others. That meant ensuring a minimum standard of economic wellbeing for everyone to ensure dignity.
I say these few words to set us thinking on this vital issue, and hope to return to it in my next column in greater detail.
(To be continued)
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