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Why duty-based rights narrative is essential

Rights narrative

Much of today’s narrative with respect to society has been dominated by an assertion of ‘Rights’. Rights are basically freedom to have privileges or entitlements that can be defined either legally or socially.

Indian Constitution lists nine fundamental privileges meant for all the citizens of the country like the right to life, education, information, equality, freedom, religion, against exploitation, to constitutional remedies and cultural and educational rights.

Likewise, in the social discourse, we have human and animal rights and priviledges for women, Dalits etc. The feminist movements have spoken about the entitlements of women to freedom and equality. The Dalit movements have created narratives around the rights of Dalits and their upliftment. We have similar narratives about human and animal rights, with numerous national and international NGOs and watchdogs monitoring the adherence and violation of these rights.

But, many of these narratives either ignore the importance of ‘duties’ or at least sidelines them. As a result, people have begun to perceive ‘rights’ as being absolute in itself, and as being without any strings (responsibilities) attached. This has not only led to a distortion of reality, but, in many cases, it goes against the very essence of justice. Best example that illustrates this point is the narrative of human rights that was created when 1993 Mumbai blasts convict Yakub Memon was being hanged.

Further, such a ‘rights’ dominated narrative has completely hijacked any true discourse on the social issues from happening. This modern ‘rights’ narrative can be traced to European Renaissance movements of 15th century that arose in response to European situations. But, today, these narratives are being universally applied without taking into account the indigenous social, religious, cultural, and historical trends into account. Thus, the ‘rights’ movements have imported western solutions to solve indigenous social problems and instead of actually solving them, they have ended up uprooting Indian culture and identity.

This is not to suggest that ‘rights’ have no importance or place in social discourse. Instead, the point being made is – ‘rights’ can be properly realized only when it is perceived in the context of ‘duties’. Thus, from the ancient times the Indian narratives on society analyzed people and social issues from the lens of ‘Dharma’- a term which at once signifies duty, righteousness, and justice.

Also Read: India is free, but Indians are still colonized

This Dharmic-Duty based narrative did not grant people entitlement to unrestrained and unlimited privileges. Instead, it added two components- competency and responsibility– to those privileges. Thus a person became entitled to particular ‘rights’ only when he was also performing corresponding duties.

For example, a person became entitled to human rights like the right to life only when he adhered to human obligations (Samanya Dharma) like non-injury, etc. Hence, a criminal who inflicted violence on innocent people was given severe punishments, and not let off on the pleas of human rights.

Thus, the duty-based narrative ensured that no person takes his/her rights for granted. The ‘rights’ were stringed to duties, and primacy was given for the performance of these duties. The primacy of duties over rights also made sure that one does not violate another person’s rights.

For example, Bhagvad Gita (3.35) says, it is better to die doing one’s own duty rather than taking up someone else’s. The Gita verse has many layers of social and spiritual meaning. But, for our purpose, it is suffice to understand that, Gita is clearly saying one should concentrate on one’s duties and not infringe on another person’s right to perform his/her own duties. This automatically means that both will have their personal space, freedom, and rights.

Another example is the current ‘rights’ based narrative about women’s rights in the context of marriage. It speaks about the privileges that wives are entitled to, but is almost silent towards the duties of spouses. In fact, any discussion on wife’s duties are treated with hostility. This has distorted the narrative on women’s issues and thus the issue remains unresolved.

On the other hand, duty-based narratives in the ancient Hindu Smriti texts, speak about the duties of husbands towards wives, and duties of wives towards their husbands. This performance of duties by both the spouses will automatically result in the realization of each other’s ‘rights’. But, this does not mean one should literally adhere to ancient scriptures. The gist is one must understand the essence and the worldview propagated in those scriptures and then apply them to present circumstances.

The Hindu scriptures speak about various kinds of duties, some of which are universal (Samanya Dharma) and some of which are specific to each person based on place, time, age, gender, and work. All these various duties are deeply connected with competencies, and impart various rights and privileges to the performer. A proper assessment of current social issues in Indian society can be arrived at only by understanding this indigenous world-view rooted in Dharma.

This duty-based social narrative will not only address the deficiencies present in the ‘rights’ based narrative, it will also ensure social harmony and justice by creating a framework wherein each person understands his/her duties and corresponding rights without jealousy and unnecessary rat-race over privileges.

The absence of the element of ‘duties’ has made the ‘rights’ based narrative chaotic wherein various sections of the population are fighting with each other to lay their hands on special privileges. The rat-race has further strengthened the fault lines and increased social disharmony.

A solution to this can be worked out by migrating from western imported ‘rights’ based narrative to indigenous ‘duties’ based narrative. It is high time that India decolonizes itself and discards ‘rights’ narrative, or at least redefines it in the larger context of Dharma.

  • P G Kutty Nair

    Timely article by Nithin Sridhar, and quite to the point, too. “Right” dominates the Western society, but in India “Duty” is paramount. Bhagawad Gita calls it “Yajna”. It is by doing your duty alone you can elevate yourself, reminds the Gita. And Gita enshrines a Universal Philosophy; that is to say, it is beyond the boundaries of ‘religion’. Swami Chinmayananda describes Gita as “Solid philosophy in liquid poetry”. Only he could have come up with a line so beautiful!

  • P G Kutty Nair

    Timely article by Nithin Sridhar, and quite to the point, too. “Right” dominates the Western society, but in India “Duty” is paramount. Bhagawad Gita calls it “Yajna”. It is by doing your duty alone you can elevate yourself, reminds the Gita. And Gita enshrines a Universal Philosophy; that is to say, it is beyond the boundaries of ‘religion’. Swami Chinmayananda describes Gita as “Solid philosophy in liquid poetry”. Only he could have come up with a line so beautiful!

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Goa State Human Rights Commission terms Disrobing of Deceased Women as Human Rights Violation

Disrobing of female corpses on the funeral pyre is a common practice among Goa's Hindu community

Disrobing of deceased women, Human rights violation
Disrobing of deceased women violates human rights. Pixabay

Panaji, August 14, 2017: Terming the disrobing of deceased women a human rights violation, the Goa State Human Rights Commission on Monday said that all panchayat and municipal agencies should ensure that the practice is prevented.

“Disrobing the deceased woman in the crematorium certainly amounts to violation of basic human rights of the women which is required to be prevented by the concerned authorities by taking appropriate steps,” the order states.

ALSO READ: 10 Women Rights that every women should be privy to

The order, which was issued following a petition by Goa-based women’s group Bailancho Saad, also said that the state government, through the office of the Chief Secretary, should ensure that the fiat is complied with.

Disrobing of female corpses on the funeral pyre is a common practice among Goa’s Hindu community. (IANS)

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B R Ambedkar’s Vision of Constitution is at Stake: Here is Why!

Parliament of India, B R Ambedkar's Vision of Constitution is at Stake. Source:
Jat Andolan. Twitter

June 20, 2017: 

Father of our Constitution, Dr. BR Ambedkar said in the constituent assembly in December 1946, “I know today we are divided politically, socially, and economically. We are a group of warring camps, and I may go even to the extent of confessing that I am probably one of the leaders of such a camp.”

Constitution was the solution to bind the divided India after Independence and our forefathers put their souls to give us the constitution which gives us liberty, equality and fraternity. The only thing they expected was to preserve it for the generations to come and here we stand, 70 years after Independence, trying with all our might to put their efforts in vain by disrespecting our constitutional ideals. From killing daughters to saving the superficial honour to forcing young scholars to commit suicide because of their caste, shows we failed to pay heed to the warnings of Dr BR Ambedkar when he handed over this Constitution to us.

His vision is at stake and to save it we need to understand it.


BR Ambedkar said,” It was indeed a way of life, which recognizes liberty, equality, and fraternity as the principles of life and which cannot be divorced from each other: Liberty cannot be divorced from equality; equality cannot be divorced from liberty. Nor can liberty and equality be divorced from the fraternity. Without equality, liberty would produce the supremacy of few over the many. Equality without liberty would kill individual initiative. Without fraternity, liberty and equality cannot become a natural course of things.”


The practicality to his three ideals stated in the preamble was given in the fundamental rights. Some of the rights reflecting his ideals are: “Right to Equality” from article 14 to 18 prohibiting all sorts of discrimination and equality before the law and “Right to Freedom from article 19 to 22 giving freedom of speech, expression and right to life and liberty.

But he also knew, these rights won’t help anyone unless some legal provisions are made to safeguard these. So came in the Article 32 which provides the right to all citizens of the country to approach the Supreme Court if their fundamental rights are being violated.

Parliament, Source:


The sole purpose of the Constitution was to unite Indians in a democracy. From his experience as an untouchable, Ambedkar knew that the first step to give justice to the idea of a constitution was to improve the conditions of the oppressed untouchables whose voices were unheard since ages and to give them opportunities to be at par with the so-called “high castes”. Besides fundamental rights, there was a need for special provisions for the “Dalits (untouchables)”. His proposal of Separate Electorates (wherein only an untouchable voter would have right to cast their vote for the untouchable candidate without the influence from the higher castes) was strongly resented and replaced by the reservation of seats known as “Policy of Inclusion”.

The other ignored sections of the society were women and he knew the progress of a nation is possible by the progress of women. He was touched by how women were used as objects, whose lives were controlled by their male counterparts. He said, “Let each girl who marries stand up to her husband, claim to be her husband’s friend, equal and refuse to be his slave.” He drafted the Hindu Code Bill sanctioning divorce and expanding property rights of widows and daughters. The strong opposition from the patriarchal Indian society didn’t let it pass and Dr. Ambedkar resigned from the post of Law Minister.

Cartoon Depicting Ambedkar’s Hindu Code Bill: By K Pillai Shankar

THE THREE WARNINGS                                               

Though not able to include some provisions, his vision was noble and his contribution selfless. He gave us three warnings while handing over the world’s best constitution.

  1. Holding to “Constitutional Methods” for achieving the social and economic objectives
  2. Avoid hero worship regardless of how great or tall the leader is
  3. Not to be content with mere political democracy

The question that arises is that have we done justice to our constitution in 7 decades of Indian Independence? The answer lies around us where the citizens have turned a deaf ear to the warnings that came with it.


The recent “Jat Agitation” for the reservation, where people were taking law in their hands, destroying public property and raping women proves how we as a nation have failed to give respect to our Constitution. Abandoning constitutional methods, people are out there creating havoc.

Jat Agitation for Reservation. Twitter



Protest after Rohith Vemula’s Suicide. Wikimedia 

Coming to another warning, we have upheld the concept of “One Man One Vote and One Vote One Value” but do we consider “One Man One Value”? The answer is NO. Much to the fears of Dr. Ambedkar, we have sidelined social democracy. The tragic suicide of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit Ph.D. scholar in the Hyderabad Central University, who blamed his birth as a “fatal accident” speaks volumes of the injustice in our society which failed to free itself from the clutches of casteism. This is not just one example of injustice. Every day, hundreds and thousands of atrocities are done against Dalits.


Ambedkar said, “Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics Bhakti or hero-worship, is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship”. In the context of demonetization, is the government becoming a dictator? What was known as a step to eradicate black money, resulted in the deaths of innocent ones and the real black money with the big business houses is still in circulation.

Crowds in Front of Banks During Demonetization. SOURCE: Wikimedia

If we want to our children to live in a nation our forefathers dreamt of, we need to take the onus of upholding our constitution.

– by Supreet Aneja of NewsGram.

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India protects the Rights of vulnerable groups and is strengthening Laws for their Welfare

A woman signing a poster with her son, (representational image), Pixabay

Geneva/New Delhi, May 4, 2017: India on Thursday said that it protects the rights of vulnerable groups and is strengthening laws for their protection and welfare.

“In all its policies, India seeks to ensure inclusive development and the protection of rights of vulnerable groups,” Mukul Rohatgi said while speaking at the Third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of India at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

“We have enacted a range of laws to address sexual assault and other gender-based crimes. We have overhauled the legal framework for dealing with child sexual assault,” Rohatgi said.

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The UPR was created through the UN General Assembly on March 15, 2006, by resolution 60/251, which established the UNHRC itself.

The UPR is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all UN member-states.

Speaking further on child protection, the Attorney General said, “To better protect children from exploitative conditions and to ensure that they have freedom, dignity and opportunity, the National Child Policy, 2013 has put in place a rights- based policy framework for addressing children’s needs.”

Putting across the Indian stand on rights of minorities, he said, “Safeguarding the rights of minorities forms an essential core of our polity. The Indian Constitution enshrines various provisions for the protection of the rights and interest of the minorities.”

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Speaking on the Indian efforts towards combating human trafficking, he said that, “To comprehensively address issues relating to human trafficking, the Government is in advanced consultations with stakeholders on a new Anti-Human Trafficking Bill.”

“India has been at the forefront of recognizing the equal rights of transgender persons,” Rohatgi said and added that transgenders are “entitled to affirmative action benefits.”

“The Court also reinforced that they should have all rights under law, including marriage, adoption, divorce, succession and inheritance.”

Replying to the concerns pertaining to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), Rohatgi said that this Act is applied only to disturbed areas dealing with exigent circumstances like terrorism.

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 “These areas are very few and in proximity to some international borders.”

Highlighting the inherent checks in AFSPA against any immunity to security forces, Rohatgi said, “Recently, the Court held that the armed forces cannot use excessive force in the course of the discharge of their duties under the Act, which does not allow blanket immunity for perpetrators of unjustified deaths or offences.”

He also talked about the Accessible India Campaign which address the special needs of persons with disabilities.

On the status of freedom of speech in the country, the top law officer said, “As the world’s largest multi-layered democracy..Our people are conscious of their political freedoms and exercise their choices at every opportunity.”

UPR is a state-driven process, under the auspices of the UNHRC, which provides the opportunity for each state to declare what actions have been taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfill their human rights obligations.

Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi is leading the Indian delegation which also comprises Ruchi Ghanashyam, Secretary (West) in the External Affairs Ministry, P.S. Patwalia, Additional Solicitor General of India, and senior officials from the External Affairs, Home, Women and Child Development, Social Justice and Empowerment, Minority Affairs, Rural Development Ministries and the NITI Aayog. India’s first UPR was reviewed in 2008 and the second in 2012. (IANS)