Tuesday August 20, 2019
Home Opinion Why duty-base...

Why duty-based rights narrative is essential

1
//
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!

SHARE
  • 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!

Next Story

Mission of Female Empowerment, Ivanka Trump Aims at Increasing Economic Opportunities For Women

She was in the East African country to promote a $50 million initiative enacted by her father in February that is aimed at encouraging women's employment in developing countries.

0
U.S.
US Senior White House advisor Ivanka Trump attends a meeting as part of the African Women’s Empowerment Dialogue, on Apr. 15, 2019, in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. VOA

U.S. President Donald Trump’s daughter and White House advisor, Ivanka, is heading to the Ivory Coast to continue her four-day trip aimed at increasing economic opportunities for women in the West African region.

Ivanka Trump, who serves as advisor to her father on economic empowerment, began her trip to the region with a visit to the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa Sunday, where she announced a multi-million dollar U.S. government initiative to support women entrepreneurs.

The “2X Africa” initiative announced Monday by Trump and David Bohigian, the acting head of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, aims to mobilize $1 billion and directly invest $350 million in companies and funds “owned by women, led by women,” or by “providing a good or service that intentionally empowers women on the continent.”

Donald Trump
It was not immediately clear if the controversy that surrounds the U.S. president will follow his daughter to Africa. The president has not been kind in his remarks about Africa and its migrants. VOA

Later in the day, Ivanka Trump met with President Sahle-Work Zewde. They discussed a need for reform in Africa that would lead to improved opportunity and inclusivity for women.

She also held discussions on women’s empowerment with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, commending him for increasing the number of women in leadership positions in his government.

On Sunday, Bohigian signed a “letter of interest” with an Ethiopian company called Muya to help support the company through OPIC financing. Muya, owned by fashion designer Sara Abera, produces household products and was the first Ethiopian company to obtain membership in the World Fair Trade Organization.

Trump visited Muya on Sunday after she arrived in Addis Ababa for a summit on African women’s economic inclusion and empowerment.

 

“Fundamentally, we believe that investing in women is a smart development policy and it is a smart business,” Trump said after sampling coffee at a traditional Ethiopian ceremony. “It’s also in our security interest, because women, when we’re empowered, foster peace and stability.”

White House senior adviser Ivanka Trump smiles at Azalech Tesfaye, who is the recipient of loan guarantee through USAID, as Trump meets women who work in the Ethiopian coffee industry, Sunday Apr. 14, 2019.
White House senior adviser Ivanka Trump smiles at Azalech Tesfaye, who is the recipient of loan guarantee through USAID, as Trump meets women who work in the Ethiopian coffee industry, Sunday Apr. 14, 2019. VOA

Trump also laid a wreath at an Ethiopian Orthodox church to honor the victims of last month’s Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed all 157 people on board.

It was not immediately clear if the controversy that surrounds the U.S. president will follow his daughter to Africa. The president has not been kind in his remarks about Africa and its migrants. (VOA)