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Undelivered Valedictory Address

I had prepared this speech for a valedictory function but could not attend the same. I want to share it with you.

Esteemed President of today’s Valedictory Function Sri... the Vice Chairman of ..., Sri D.S..., the other dignitaries on the dais, members of this august gathering, and friends.

It indeed gives me immense pleasure to me to be amidst you in this auspicious function. I acknowledge that for the last couple of days, all of you have gone through a grueling and brainstorming sessions of discussion on topics such as Women’s Rights, Children’s Rights, Rights of Weaker Sections and the Disabled, or to put it in a more acceptable and modern term ‘the rights of differently-abled’. On the whole you have been deliberating on the rights of the human beings and the ways and means to secure them from the oppression and suppression by the State or the Society. I think that many questions have been raised and many have been answered. But I feel that an academic seminar like this should raise more questions that it answers. From what I hear from my friends and the participants, I glean that the two-day seminar has exactly done the same thing that it was intended to do, like raising valuable questions in the minds of scholars and the participants.

The basic premise of the Human Rights problem is all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Or as stated in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” It is generally perceived that this is the basic premise of only democracy and the communist model does not have any place for natural and inalienable rights.

However, it can also be very methodically and logically argued that even communist model is for the rights of the human beings, for without economic equality, real freedom is myth according to the leftist ideology. All human history is nothing but the story of the struggle of the man for equality of rights and treatment. We are all familiar with what Rousseau meant when he put forth his paradox that a man bound in chains, being taken to the prison is actually being taken to his freedom. Because the collective will of the people comes ahead of the individual liberty. The Dialectic Materialism, which is an offshoot of class struggle, is nothing but a struggle for the freedom and true liberty of the human beings. That is why the call “ Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains”

But over the past century, neither the democratic capitalist model nor the communist totalitarian models have remained the same. Both of them have deeply influenced each other and thereby have given rise to a synthetic model wherein both the liberty and equality have equal prominence. It is best reflected in our constitution, which proposes to establish a ‘sovereign, socialist, democratic republic’.

However, the evolution of the idea of Human Rights is not yet concluded, nor will it ever be concluded. Because, it has been relevant, is relevant and will be relevant for all times to come. The basic problem with the preservation and promotion of Human Rights is the problem of converting the Natural Rights into Legal and Enforceable Rights. This has to be so from the point of view of a civil servant or administrator, which I am. When a layman hears or reads about the violation of Human Rights, he only thinks in terms of police or armed forced excesses as happening all over the world. For instance in Jaffna Province of Sri Lanka, Balochistan or Swat Valley Provinces of Pakistan, Palestine, Tibet, etc. He also thinks of Human Rights violations by the Terror groups in different parts of the world. But he fails to notice that such violations are taking place right under his nose. What is worse, he fails to note that he might himself be violating the rights of others around him.

Take for instance, drinking and beating his own wife and children at home and considering it is his right to do so, depriving his own children of education and sending them as child labourers for his personal gain, throwing out his own parents when they become old and infirm, harassing his or her daughter-in-law for dowry, the list is too long to narrate here. All such violations of Human Rights are happening within the family.

Outside the family, obtaining a BPL card will deprive those who are really below poverty line and are starving. Obtaining a false caste certificate would similarly deprive those who are truly deserving of the benefits that accrue to the holder of such a certificate. Not paying the minimum wages to the housemaid is also deprivation of the right.

All such violations of human rights are occurring in our own civil and democratic society leave alone the communist or totalitarian regimes. Successive governments, including the alien government in India have made legislations to convert the Natural Rights into Legal ones. Right from the Abolition of Suttee Act, to the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, have been put in place to secure the human rights for the citizens. Our Constitution guarantees us the fundamental rights, abolishes untouchability and forced labour, gives the state the Directive Principles of State Policy and universal suffrage to elect our own government. There are Dowry Prohibition Act, Child marriage prohibition Act, child labour prohibition Act, Prevention of Atrocities against SC/ST Act, Minimum Wages Act and a host of labour laws, Free Legal Aid Act, Essential Commodities Act so on and so forth. We have National Programmes for community health, old age and widow pensions, National Social Assurance Scheme, pensions for the physically handicapped, subsidies to farmers and small entrepreneurs etc. There is an elaborate network of Public Distribution System and hundreds of government departments working in pursuit of translating the these Acts into enriching the citizens by securing the rights to the people. However, there is still scope for doing a lot and what has been done so far has obviously not been enough.

The first to take the blame for our failures will naturally be the administrative machinery. The governance and the leadership will also have to share the flak. And the quite obvious reason for the same would be corruption. The Transparency International Chair Huguette Labelle has said recently “Corruption has no conscience. By placing a price on a child’s education, a doctor’s time or a judge’s verdict, corruption steals futures, takes lives and fuels impunity. Fundamental economic and social rights, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are neither a commodity nor a privilege, but a necessity for human beings to live in dignity". India ranks very low in the Corruption Perception Index released by the Transparency International in 2008. Corruption is all pervading and those taking bribes as well as those giving are equally responsible for the consequences that ensue.

Resources are in abundance in India, but what we lack is in our integrity. Our belief system, our prejudices and inhibitions, our nepotism and dishonesty are all responsible for what we are today. Corruption has recently invaded the hitherto unknown areas. We have the goods, but the delivery system is not what it ideally should be. This is the question I leave for your consideration as a parting gift to all the participants in this seminar.

I take this opportunity to express my appreciation to the organizers of this two-day seminar on Human Rights Education and obviously it has been a great success. I will be failing in duties if I forget to thank the organizers and my friend Sri ... for having invited me to be a part of the valedictory function.

Thank you one and all.