KALYUGA AND THE RULE OF LAW
Ever since the United Nations adop-ted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, December 10 is observed every year to memorialize this remarkable milestone in the journey of humankind towards the goals of dignity, freedom, equality of opportunity and social and economic justice for all. The international covenants adopted by the United Nations—with India as a signatory to both—are the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Formalized in 1966, these pledges actually commit the world to uphold what are perhaps the highest and noblest values of human civilization as articulated by saints, sages, philosophers, revolutionaries and political visionaries.
Today’s reality, notwithstanding these goals, is that we watch with helpless horror the chaos, blood-letting, massacres, lack of justice, inequalities and the spreading culture of impunity that prevails in every part of the globe. If one has any belief in the ancient Indian theories of yugas (eons), then surely what prevails today is the kalyuga—the dark eon—ruled over by dark knights.
So what do we do? Simply wring our hands or hold our heads in distress and pray to the heavens for relief? Prayer may be comforting and may bring on a personal sense of psychological calm. The practice may even transform you into a better human being and the more the “better human beings”, the more the progress towards a better world.
But does prayer work for all? Actually, through a process of philosophical introspection, historical experience and practical necessity over the ages there have evolved—simultaneously with the evolution of the human species—formulae prescribed for fighting ourselves out of this black hole into the universe of greater enlightenment. It is my belief that evolution’s ultimate destination is greater harmony, peace and enlightenment. If the human species is not to perish, it must pursue ethics which is a compulsion of evolution.
The formulae I speak of are not the religious beliefs of ascetics or religious pathfinders—even though many of them may have their origins in religious texts and sermons—but the down-to-earth enunciation and application of precepts by men and women of wisdom designed to make all humankind reach out to and follow “eternal truths” which will make us better citizens of a better world.
One all-encompassing precept is that of human rights which time and again finds utterance in various cultures and in various forms. In ancient India, Raj Dharma bound all kings to bow to basic principles of justice. It was a version of what we now call the Rule of Law, the gold standard which differentiates democracies and republics from authoritarian regimes, absolute monarchies and banana republics.
In England, Raj Dharma has its origins in King John’s Magna Carta of 1215. One of the most important documents in history, it guaranteed the people certain rights and bound the king to certain laws at a time when England was mainly operated on a feudal system of land ownership. In ancient Greece, the Big Three—Soc-rates, Aristotle and Plato—were philo-sophers who critically studied matters of ethics, science, politics and democracy. The French Revolution in 1789 ushered into Europe ideas of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”, while the Chartist Movement in England in the 19th Century created a working class pressure group for political freedom.
Perhaps the clearest enunciation of human rights as embodied in legally and constitutionally enforceable “freedoms” was pronounced by US Presi-dent Franklin D Roosevelt in 1941: freedom from fear, freedom of speech, freedom of worship and freedom from want.
The Indian constitution is a document which reflects the collective wisdom of progressive liberal minds which have been propelling the principle of human rights, human, freedom and the Rule of Law which are inextricably intertwined. India’s constitutionally protected fundamental rights under various sections and Directive Prin-ciples under Article 1V include freedom of religion, speech, movement, association and empower all Indians to seek justice against the state’s wrongdoings. And Prime Minister Nehru warned that governments would ignore these directives “at their own peril”.
The Indian constitution is a formidable testament to the fact that the concept of human rights was central to the collective thinking and vision of the nation’s founding fathers. But has India lived up to the expectations of international conventions and the beliefs of her founding fathers?
The country has tried to, in fits and starts, but the transgressions stick out. I will not go into statistics here, but suffice it is to say that most Indians—despite our highly evolved judicial system—do not have access to lawyers or even basic justice. Hundreds of thousands languish without trial, without court-framed charges in jails. This makes a mockery of the very fundamental concept of the Rule of Law without which Human Rights are nothing but a mirage.
Religious hatred-inspired murders, police brutality, extra-judicial killings, the misuse of the law to protect criminals and send innocents and political opponents to jail, fake encounters, torture by police…they are reported liberally in the Indian press.
The silver lining is that they are reported by a relatively free press and from social and political platforms through the exercise of free speech and peaceful assembly.
So what should Indians do to observe Human Rights day? They can study the UN’s pronouncements and make solemn speeches. Or they can express their gratitude to their own founding fathers by ensuring that they exercise the freedoms they have been given to fight for the preservation of the Rule of Law and freedom and dignity for all.
Some of the best prescriptions to fight ourselves out of many of the evils of Kalyuga exist in front of our very noses—in the Indian constitution.