Asian Human Rights Commission
As a result of modern developments, particularly in the communication sphere, there is a tremendous rise in human consciousness. This was foreseen as an important stage in development of the human race by such persons as Thiarrd De Chadin (in Western Christian Tradition) and Siri Aurobindo (Asian Hindu tradition). Henry Kissinger too have acknowledged phenomena but sees in it a danger from his political perspective. Whatever the way one may view this phenomena of growing human consciousness, there is no getting away from the fact that there is no possibility of reversing this process. Kissinger has stated that mankind is in the verge of a change, similar to which took place on the eve of industrial revolution in Europe. Asia's emergence as an economic giant in the world takes place in this unalterable context of development in consciousness and there would not be a mere repetition of the development process which took place in Europe a few centuries earlier.
One of the manifestations of this change in consciousness is the way human rights discourse is developing in Asia. Some people who try to understand this debate still relies on sonic statements of few Association for South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders, most of which were made more than a decade back. However, among the people human rights is becoming the common language through which they express their aspirations, ambitions and frustrations. In this process, even venerated leaders such as Mahatma Ghandi is been challenged for example about his views about caste. As Ghandi formed his political perspective as a leader of the Hindu majority, he had to compromise with Hindu elite at the risk of ignoring the interests of "untouchables," who had been discriminated by the Hindu elite for over two thousand years. Ghandi did not support the development of a human rights charter.
These point is well illustrated by a cable message from Mahatma Gandhi to H. G. Wells who sent him draft articles on human rights. "Received your cable. Have carefully read your five articles. You will permit me to say you are on the wrong track. I feel sure that I can draw up a better Charter of Rights than you have drawn up. But of what good will it be? Who will become its guardian? If you mean propaganda or popular education you have begun at the wrong end. I suggest the right way. Begin with a Charter of Duties of Man (Both `D' and `M' capitals) and I promise the rights will follow as spring follows winter. I write from experience. As a young man I began life by seeking to assert my rights and I soon discovered that I had none not even over my wife. So I began by discovering and performing my duty as by my wife, my children, friends, companions and society and I find today that I have greater rights, perhaps than any living man I know. If this too tall a claim then I do not know anyone who possesses greater rights than I." (reprinted in Iyer (1987:492). Ghandi saw the ideal of SWA RAJ (Self-rule) as RAM RAJ, a society build on Hindu ideals which includes caste. Ambedkar, the undisputed leader of "untouchables," a born Hindu, publicly renounced Hinduism stating "My quarrel with Hindus and Hinduism is not over imperfections of their social conduct. It is much more fundamental. It is over their ideals." Ambedkar, as the chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Indian Constitution, gave a central place in the Constitution to human rights.
Today, once silent "untouchables" are a voice that no one could ignore, judging by the results of several elections in India in recent times. So are the voices of indigenous peoples. The concept of development as "Westernization" or "Urbanization," is increasingly rejected in Asia. Once weak sections of society, who had to endure forced projects no longer consider such endurance as virtue. Those who ignore this clash of interests would be doing so at their own peril. In this context the melting pot concept of integration of social groups becomes a thing without substance. In fact the major melting pots are melting away. Regretting for lost identities may be pleasant past time for some but it is a futile political excise in modern times. Till all social force constituting a nation is fully recognized, in modern circumstances any society would be living dangerously close to violence. During this consultation itself very strong voices of the indigenous people were heard. The echo of this could be heard in almost every human rights conference held in Asia.
In essence what this means is that it is necessary to vocalise the quiet discourse that is taking place in every country in Asia, including a country like Cambodia, which went through the worst catastrophe any Asian country endured in recent times. In the process of such vocalising, it will become apparent that new approaches are needed in making and keeping Constitutions. In almost everywhere one sees a serious crisis in Constitutionalism due to failure to recognize massive changes taking place in human society and consciousness. The new South African Constitution is a unique new development trying to come to terms with historical issues ignored for a long time. Bringing about new, creative arrangements for recognising differences as a part of peaceful coexistence, remains a challenge for all law makers and peace keepers.
The attempts create rifts between new migrants and original owners of the country such as the indigenous people is often a political strategy aimed at weakening both. If both these groups recognize the realities of modern times, particularly vast changes in communication, they may contribute to the growth of a new consciousness beneficial not only to themselves but to the population as a whole. As mass communication itself could be an instrument for displacement particularly for the socially weak, it is essential to be aware of the new techniques of creating divisiveness and to find ways to protect the areas of co-operation to undermine such attempts.
There is greater recognition today of the destructive nature of the economic growth criteria as measurement of development. This criteria accompanied by `the free market ethos with its overriding emphasis on freedom as the right to the untrammelled pursuit of self-interest has turn out to be deeply destructive not only to freedoms but also of the cosmos(nature) and is leading to erosion of very foundation of life.' This approach is a result of the very foundation of Western culture, `the primacy of reason.' Karl Jung once cited an episode regarding a conversation with a native. Jung asked this old native, "what do you think of us." The native replied "sir, I think you are crazy." Jung asked "why do you think that." The native replied pointing his forehead "because you think with you head." "Then what do you think with" asked Jung. The native pointed to his heart. There is a need for a human discourse that transcends the abstractions of pure logic. Indigenous peoples have preserved in their traditions the aspects of a proper relationship with nature which has become a dire need now.
The recognition of Asia as the centre for economic development in future, has led to a sort of "Gold-Rush" towards Asia by some investors. In this almost an indecent hurry, Asia's new-would-be investors are ready to sacrifice or over look any thing including human rights. New attempts to woo authoritarian regimes is often presented as political realism. The result is an entering of new form of corruption in to political discourse in the investors" countries themselves. in such discussions one hear such reasoning as "let us not impose our views on others" and similar phrases laudable in themselves. When applied to human rights, however, it means a willingness to sacrifice the rights of people by siding with repressive regimes so long as "we get our piece of the cake." If this form of political corruption goes unchecked, the consequences of this process would seep into to the internal politics of the investors' countries themselves. Besides, as the early stage of the Asian development gives way to further stages of development, investors with such world views may find themselves viewed with displeasure by more enlightened sections of modem Asia.
Democracy in home country and repression in colonies is an old formula coming down from colonial times. These days, this is called double standards regarding human rights. This has been a repeated common accusation against the developed countries in almost every human rights conference in Asia. If moral credibility is a worthy aim to be pursued, those who wish to participate and benefit from the achievement of Asian dream ought to realize, that self respecting Asians do not want their countries to be rich only but also just and humane. During the periods of rule by ancient kings there had been many attempts in several Asian countries to combine prosperity with justice. For example, right to education, health and justice were recognized as universal in several countries. Every one, including the King, had duties and no one was above the law. Economic advisers from developed countries often advice Asian regimes to sacrifice all these, in the name of development and have thus helped to bring about situations of immense cruelties such as massive disappearances, denials of due process rights, situations of food scarcity, increase of poverty among women and environmental destruction.
This discussion should enrich the debate on human rights and democracy, if the basic issues of principles are not to be sacrificed for an imagined sharing of Asian prosperity with a few authoritarian leaders who are, any way, very much challenged by their own people.
1.Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste
2.Professor Yash Ghai, Rights, Duties and Responsibilities
3.Human Rights and Spirituality -- Dialogue of Religions of Human Rights, Asian Human Rights Commission.