Minor Research Project sanctioned to Dr, Shankar Bhat Project Name: Human Rights in Ancient India Research Finding.

Minor Research Project sanctioned to Dr, Shankar Bhat Project Name: Human Rights in Ancient India Research Finding: 


 It is necessary to delve in to the fundamentals of Hinduism in order to comprehend its position on human dignity human rights etc. The fundamentals of Hinduism are in those great dialogues that took place in the forests some 4-5 millennia back very much like the Socratic dialogues. They are not commandments but informed suggestions.

 Ancient India does not recognize human beings as mere material beings. Its understanding of human identify is more ethical-spiritual than material. That is why a sense of immortality and divinity is attributed to all human beings in ancient Indian classical thought.

 Consistent with the depth of Indian metaphysics, the human personality was also given a metaphysical interpretation. This is not unknown to the modern occidental philosophy. The concept of human personality in Kant’s philosophy of law is metaphysical entity but Kant was not able to reach the subtler unobserved element of personality. Which was the basic theme of the concept of personality in Indian legal philosophy observes Prof. S.D.Sharma (Sharma S. D Administration of justice in Ancient Bharat 1988).

  An invisible Atman the sout-dwelling in each body as the quintessential identity of all creatures forms the basis for all discussion on the status of human beings in Indian classical thought starting from the times of the Vedas, in disputably the ancient most literature of the world. It is worthwhile to mention here that it was much later and very recently that the world had come up with the ideals of French revolution or for the first article of universal declaration of Human rights that says- 

27. “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”. These ideas have found place in almost all democratic constitutions of the world.

 Human dignity cannot be ensured merely through constitutional means. It has to be embedded in the basic value system of the society. The ancient sages of India have thus visualized the grand idea of the oneness of Atman and Paramatman and universal oneness of human beings based on the collective consciousness. Vedic and Upanisadic literature abounds in ideas that proclaim universal oneness and universal wellbeing. Hinduism is the essence of all that wisdom handed down to generations after generations. These ideas have shaped and guided the Hindu socio-religious life for centuries. The ideal of the world as one family is unique in this age of Globalization in the sense that while the ancient sages of India have proclaimed that the whole humanity is like a big extended family, the modern westernized thinkers want us to believe that the whole world is in fact, a huge market. Ancient Indian thinkers no where denied diversity. This diversity is not seen by our sages as misnomer. Diversity in form and unity in spirit is what ancient India stands for. The secular ideas of Europe are nascent in front of Indian ideas of equal respect for all religions. Whereas secular ideology stops at calling for ‘tolerance’ to the diversity. India goes much further, it does not just tolerate, it accepts every religion. Indian ideal of respect for and celebration of the diversity in the creation stems from its core belief that whatever we see in the universe is nothing but manifestation of the supreme reality only. 

 28. In fact the Narada Smriti, one of the many constitutions Indians have had during the course of their long history enjoins upon the king to protect non believers too. It says, ‘The king should accord protection to compacts of associations of believers of Vedas as also the non believers and others (Narada Smiriti Dharma Kusha ) Hinduism is the religion of bliss. It considers the right of happiness to be the highest fundamental right of all humans. 

The ultimate goal for Hinduism is material and spiritual well being of the mankind. It is pertinent to mention here that this all important rights to Happiness does not find a place in the acclaimed universal character of human rights. Another significant aspect of the Hindu view on human right is its emphasis on duties. In fact Hindusim does not support the ideas of separation of rights and duties. Thus in Hindu discourse no right is absolute. All the rights bestowed upon a section enjoin upon another section corresponding duties too. And for a Hindu the highest obligation is Karmaperformance of his duty. As an essential prerequisite for the right to happiness, the Rig-Veda equivocally declares that all human beings are equal. The Atharava Veda goes further and talks about various rights and obligations or duties. Mr. Herbert Spencer, the great advocator of individual freedom. Says that the position of women supplied a good test of the civilization of the people. In India, women have always occupied a position of very high esteem. Women enjoyed not only equal opportunities and privileges with men in the classical Hindu literature; they even enjoyed rights that were not available for their counterparts. 

 29.  No discussion on human dignity and rights with respect to Hinduism can be complete without taking up the question of the caste system and the hierarchical arrangement there in. Ancient Indians perfected social organization. The Indian Varnasrama was the most scientific principle of social organization. The Varnasrama was not the same as the present day caste system. The society was organized in to four Varna’s. However, unlike the caste system of the present day the Varnas were not hereditary. Untouchability and caste based discrimination were unknown during ancient days. No one was high and on one was low. A passage in the Vanaparva of the Mahabharata says, “He in whom the qualities of truth, Munificence, forgiveness, gentleness, abstinence from cruel deeds, contemplation, and benevolence are observed is called a Brahmin in smriti. A man is not a sudra by being a sudra nor a Brahmin by being a Brahmin. Caste hierarchy and privileges based on caste had no sanction in Hinduism, They are the result of the distortions crept in to the Hindu body politic during the medieval period. Thus the duty first value system is an important positive aspect of Indian culture which needs to be highlighted. This implies that in this modern age of representative government and rule of law, the government and its agencies should perform their duties well and faithfully, so that the citizens can enjoy their rights. The example of the duties of the king in the ancient period should be cited to highlight the responsibilities of the institutions and individuals, which have been entrusted with the task of governing. Another aspect of the earlier monarchical phase the caste system was that the nonperformance of dharma was accompanied by danda (punishment). In today’s context it is the courts which act as watch dog and 
 30. compel the other agencies, the executive and the legislature to do their duties. The heterodox tradition which challenged the Hindu vision of social order, has always highlighted the equality of human beings and other values such as compassion, non-violence, tolerance, human dignity etc. The young Indians must be reminded over and over again about the human values. The main emphasis of all religions is on the broader and brighter sides of human life like tolerance, co-existence, brotherhood and fellow feeling etc. These values need to be collectively highlighted and inculcated. A culture of human rights cannot flourish in an unilateral way. One cannot have just rights without performing duties and responsibilities towards society.

 

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