IOS Webinar on “Human Rights and Good Governance”

New Delhi: A webinar on “Human Rights and Good Governance” was organised by the Institute of Objective Studies, on December 10, 2020, to coincide with the Human Rights Day. The webinar began with the recitation of a verse from the Quran by Prof. M Afzal Wani, professor of law and director, coordination, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University and vice-chairman, IOS. 

Introducing the topic, he said human rights came out of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Many countries adopted the UN Charter of Human Rights in their constitutions. The United Nations adopted Human Rights Declaration, which was based on equality, liberty and dignity. He observed that among all points outlined in the Declaration, governance was the most significant. He said the IOS suggested ways for uplift of the minorities and other deprived sections, and also pointed out pitfalls in the policies that were formulated for them. 

Initiating the discussion, senior standing counsel, Delhi High Court and Supreme Court, and president, Delhi national office of the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), N D Pancholi, described the day as significant. Its importance could be understood in terms of its observance throughout the world. He said that during the freedom struggle, it was thought that a good government would be formed after Independence. The Karachi Resolution adopted in 1931 also included Fundamental Rights, which formed a part of India’s Constitution later. It was also stated then that there would a right to employment and good governance as the hallmark of a good government. 

Participation of citizens in government and the rule of law would be based on good governance. Justice, peace, welfare of people, transparency and accountability were the aims of good governance. Protection of Civil liberties and human rights were the duties of the government. But, it was no secret that human rights were flagrantly violated during the Emergency. He said that repressive measures were used by the then government to suppress the voice of dissent. Even the judiciary, which was the custodian of citizens’ rights, did not rise to the occasion. This showed how the Supreme Court and high courts had become captive of the government. However, a silver lining was also there as the apex court and several high courts ruled against government on a number of habeas corpus petitions filed by the detenues. He made a special mention of the ADM Jabalpur case and described the SC judgment as unworthy.

The then SC Bar Association called the judges who delivered the judgment cowards. But the SC admitted that it was afraid of the consequences as a result of which the contempt of court petition was put into cold storage. This happened due to the voice of people, he observed.

Mr Pancholi held that the current situation was symptomatic of those days because in a similar way human rights were being violated today and no action was taken on habeas corpus petitions in Kashmir. Several human rights activists were in jail for two years without trial. Similarly, Article 370 of the Constitution was annulled in Jammu and Kashmir without taking the people of the state into confidence. Underlining the importance of freedom, he said that if it came to choosing between freedom and economic development, people would opt for the former. He said that voice against injustice should be raised.  He regretted that the voice of agitating farmers was being suppressed and the electronic media were speaking the tutored language. Responsive and good governance demanded that their protest should be supported and the government must talk to farmers, he added.

Human rights activist and a member, National Integration Council, Dr John Dayal, held that he was basically a reporter, who was doing his job for the last 52 years. He was associated with the IOS since its inception. The institute’s job was to give others what it studied. The writer of the draft of the UN Charter Eleanor Roosevelt, wanted human rights to be applicable also to a country like US, which was multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-social. There was a Covenant on Torture, but the ruling BJP treated the country as their won fiefdom. According to Article 31, minority educational institutions’ were a crucible of the country. He questioned India’s secular state conducting a religious ritual at the foundation laying of the new parliament building according to the custom of a particular religion. He said that they were riding roughshod over the people by giving a short shrift to the rule of law. 

Commenting on the present situation in the country, he noted that they made the Constitution hollow. People who indulged in violence could not be expected to protect human rights. High Court did not grant bail to human rights activists like Gautam Navlakha, Saibaba and Swamy. They were being virtually killed in jail.

Referring to the plight of the minorities, he said a false narrative of Islamophobia was being constructed to defame Muslims. If someone spoke for them, he would be dubbed as pro-Pakistani. The treatment meted out to Christians too was no different.  They were dividing people on communal lines with an intent to crack down on them. Love marriage was not bad so long as it was performed with the consent of both bride and groom, but under a love jihad campaign such couples were persecuted, except when the bridegrooms were Hindus. He said he was committed to continuing the struggle for protection of human rights.

Human rights activist Vidya Bhushan Rawat opined that people should be allowed to enjoy their culture and human rights as both of them worked together for a common cause. Though democracy was the best system of governance to protect human rights, it was being used as a tool to suppress dissent. Despite being a multi-cultural society, India was being ruled by a majoritarian government and the minorities were vilified. Every attempt was being made to divert people’s attention from real issues facing the nation. He said that democracy was a participatory system in which each one should be made a part of power.

The mindset of the Sangh could be understood from their approach to governance. This explained the utterance of the BJP veteran LK Advani, who never used the term Swaraj but always called it Suraj.

He quoted chief executive officer of the NITI Ayog, Amitabh Kant, who said, “Tough reforms are very difficult in the Indian context as we are too much of a democracy”. It simply meant that democracy was a hindrance to development. This also meant that bureaucrats wanted a system under which they could enjoy a secure future without public scrutiny. Calling for making the UN Human Rights Declaration stronger, he said that religious fundamentalism of the majority should not be allowed to hold constitutional institutions to ransom. He observed that as political dissent was not against the Constitution, it should be strengthened. The negative role of the media precipitated today’s crisis. Though some democracies in the world were under strain, strong roots of democracy there withstood attacks. This could be best illustrated by US president Donald Trump’s bid to halt the presidential election results, he added.

Prof. M Afzal Wani observed that amendments to the US Constitution unfolded with time. One should understand the politics and human rights situation today. The architect of the UN Charter of Human Rights was so meticulous about it that she wanted everybody to read every word. This underlined the importance of the terminology of the Charter. Its significance could also be understood by Articles 32 and 226 of the Indian Constitution that empowered the Supreme Court to authorise any court subordinate to it to hear cases related to human rights and grant remedy to the victim. The seriousness of human rights violation and Fundamental Rights could be clearly seen in the provisions under the two Articles. He stressed the need for an international regime to deal with cases of human rights violation around the world.

In his presidential remarks, secretary general, IOS, Prof. ZM Khan, described prevalent atmosphere as dangerous in which more power was being acquired by government in the name of welfare. Dissent was being disallowed and old colonial mentality continued in a new form. Police were behaving like military in a country ruled by a junta. Under these circumstances, role of international voices became important as also the international organisations. These organisations, including prominent NGOs should cooperate with each other for sharing information and planning action.

He said that at a time when the facts were twisted by corporate-controlled media, these organisations could set the record straight with their coordinated action. There were several areas in which these organisations could work together. Constant work on electoral reforms could be taken up by professional organisations. This needed to be done through a proper mechanism.

He quoted from a UN report which said that India stood at one hundred and eleventh place in terms of good governance. This could be one of the topics to work on. Referring to the ongoing farmers’ stir, he said that it could be controlled in a short time in any part of the country provided the government was serious about it. 

At the end, Prof. Wani extended a vote of thanks to the participants.


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