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Social and political Values and Systems in India.

Rights and duties

“Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains”

                                                          Jean Jacques Rousseau

“A society that puts equality (of outcome) ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom. The use of force to achieve equality will destroy freedom and force, introduced for good purposes, will end up in the hands of people who use it to promote their own interests.”  Thomas Sowell

 ” The central idea of old Indian or Indo Aryan culture was ‘Dharma’, which was something more than religion or creed. It was a conception of obligations to discharge of one’s duties to oneself and to others.”  Pt Nehru   

Born free, but everywhere in chains – An individual is born free, but in real life, s(he) finds oneself everywhere in chains all the time. The Russian Marxist Alexander Spirkin says, “Freedom is the Key philosophical problem, the crown of all efforts of theoretical thinking, the culminating moment of any mature philosophical system.” (Dialectical Materialism, 1948) Hegel, a well-known philosopher comments. “Of no idea can it be stated with such complete justification that it is vague, ambiguous and capable of generating the greatest misunderstanding, and therefore liable to be misunderstood, as the idea of freedom, and no idea is discussed with so little understanding of its nature/”

What is Right/freedom? –  Spirtin defines freedom as, “the ability, based on knowledge of necessity, to choose and act in accordance with this necessity. It consists not only in knowledge of natural and social laws but also in the practical realization of this knowledge.

Freedom for whom? –  Usually it is thought that every person has right to do what is right in his own eyes and has his own way of life. As far as political freedom and Democracy is concerned, Ancient Greece, which was founded on slavery, with three slaves to every free man, was the birthplace of democracy and the concept of political freedom. Then, it was debated ‘Freedom for Whom?’ In a democracy, should there be freedom to everyone (even the slave) to say or act as one wishes to? But at present this type of thinking may lead to disorder. Famous philosopher Kant says that while freedom is every person’s right, it exists in social context.

An individual as social-person  – Everyone benefits from living in a society, A Famous Greek philosopher Aristotle says – man is a social animal. “if a human being does not live with men or amongst men, then surely either he is god or a beast.” While living in a society, one is not supposed to care only for one’s own-self,  one’s own comfort zone, one’s own liberty/rights/needs/conveniences, and unmindful of others’.

In duty individual finds liberation – The first century BC Roman philosopher and political theorist Cicero said, ” we ought to follow nature as our guide, to contribute to the general good by an interchange of acts of kindness, by giving and receiving and thus by our skill, our industry, and our talents to cement human society more closely together, mam to man.” He further says, “We are not born for ourselves alone, but our country claims a share of our being, and our friends a share; and since … everything that the earth produces is created for man’s use; and as men, too, are born for the sake of men, that they may be able mutually to help one another.”(On Duties, 44 BC) 

Rights and duties intertwined – Rights and duties are so intriguingly intertwined with each other that one cease to exist without the other. Everyone is bound by a duty not to harm one another. That is how, one’s rights becomes other person’s duties and others rights his/her own duties. Duty becomes a necessity of acting from respect for law, be it law of nature, human law or State-law. Clear-cut vision and a balanced approach towards one’s rights and duties is a must for any matured/civilized society.

In duty lies liberation – Duty should not be taken as a restriction on freedom. In fact, in duty, a human being finds liberation and acquires substantive freedom. It liberates from dependence on mere impulses and from depression. Well known philosopher John Rawls says, “Everyone benefits then from living in a society, where the duty of mutual respect is honoured. The cost of self-interest is minor in comparison with the support for the sense of one’s own worth.”

Fine and balanced tuning between rights and duties – A fine and balanced tuning between rights and duties is a must for any civilized society. For achieving it, effective systems of checks and balances over arbitrary use of one’s rights is a necessary.

In ancient Indian scriptures, for duties the word ‘Dharma’ is used. ‘Dharma’ embraced within itself different ideas and concepts like religion, law, duty, righteousness, morality and conformity with truth”, “ethics”, “spirituality”, or “responsibility” etc.

Whereas, Western cultures have grown around the idea of `rights forming the natural foundation of human relationship, India had evolved around the concept of duty, tolerance and sacrifice. Emphasis on duty usually makes a person or a group humble and tolerant. In Indian culture, sacrifice is regarded far more important than success, and renunciation is regarded as the crowning achievement.

All the people in the society were governed by Dharma at all times, be it a ruler or ruled, parent or child, teacher or student or man or woman (Prabhu, Pandarinath, H., Hindu Social organizations, P. 30).  The ideal of Dharma gave an abiding sense of purpose to the individual’s life, an aim to be actively striven for, cutting across class distinctions and caste boundaries, bridging the distance between rural and urban folk and between the illiterate and educated. Dharma enabled different groups to act cooperatively and to regulate the behavior of its component members.

During ancient India, Dharma guided individuals to remain true and to fulfil their duties earnestly. Molding one’s life according to Dharma is not an easy task. It requires tremendous will power and a strong character. Therefore, persons with weak faculties found it difficult to observe Dharma.

Such a system in India had prevented ancient India to exercise coercion against its working class, whereas in ancient Greece, Rome or other European countries, people were made to work under the threat of a whip. It stopped people from taking law in their own hands. While other nations passed through many bloody revolutions, Indian systems kept on adapting itself to changing times. It had filled the whole of society with a sense of duty and trained them in obedience. The sense of duty had helped the people to adjust themselves to most drastic changes in the past.  

Constitution of India on fundamental rights – The fundamental rights of Indian citizens are embodied in Part III of the original Constitution.

The Fundamental Rights guarantee civil rights to all Indians. The purpose of Fundamental rights  is to preserve individual liberty and democratic principles based on equality of all members of society. It prevents State authorities from encroaching on individual liberty. It also places  upon state an obligation to protect the citizen’s fundamental rights from encroachment by society.

Seven fundamental rights are provided by the constitution – right to equality, right to freedom, right against exploitation, right to freedom of religion, cultural and educational rights, right to property (Right to property was removed from Part III by 44th Amendment of Indian Constitution in 1978), and right to constitutional remedies.

Dr Ambedkar had said that the responsibility of the legislature is not just to provide fundamental rights but also and rather more importantly, to safeguard them. Fundamental Rights act as limitations on the power of legislature and executive, under Article 13, and in case of any violation of these rights the Supreme Court and the High Courts of States have the power to declare such legislative or executive action as unconstitutional and void. Article 12, includes not only the legislative and executive, but also local administrative authorities and other agencies and institutions which discharge public functions or are of governmental character.

 Fundamental Duties –— Fundamental Duties were introduced by the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976. Article 51-A describes the duties of Indian citizens saying that it shall be the duty of every citizen of India: To abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the National Flag and the National Anthem; to cherish and follow the noble ideals etc.

Develops de-centralization of control systems – Balanced exercise of rights and duties automatically develops de-centralization of control systems, misuse of authority and prevents chaos. However, a balanced outlook towards rights and duties is very difficult.

Focus of Western and Eastern societies – Western societies give more stress to “rights” of an individual. On the other hand, in India and eastern part of the world, societies put more emphasis on “duty”. Both the systems leaves something more to be desired.

Duties/Dharma of an Individual according to Indian Philosophy – Principles of Dharma, Karma and Varna are the three pillars, on which the culture of traditional Indian society is based. Dharma , along with a ‘Religious Idea’ is also a ‘Principle’ and a ‘Vision’ of an organic society, in which all participating members are independent, yet their roles complimentary. 

What is Principle of Dharma – Dharma specifies duties, privileges and restrictions of each role separately and their relationship with each other. The principles of Dharma not only regulated the behavior of an individual within the community, but also provided universal, practical and eternal guidelines to be followed in personal life, family life, community life, social life, professional life and national life. The principle of give and take guides the human relationships. People are taught to lead a simple life free of covetousness, greed or lust.

There is  a  common  Dharma,  general  norms  of conduct, which are applicable to all individuals irrespective of caste or creed. These are nothing,  but   mannerism, leading individuals to the path of righteousness and values of good conduct,  Such as

  • Smritis teaches the people to follow ten principles of steadiness, forgiveness, self control, abstention from appropriating any thing belonging to others, purity, control, correct discernment, knowledge, truthfulness and absence from anger.
  • Kautilya lists harmlessness, truthfulness, purity, absence of spite, abstinence from cruelty and forgiveness as common duties of all persons as members of an organized society. He advised people to abandon lust, anger, greed, vanity, conceit, and overjoy. According to him desires fulfilled, never extinguished, but grew stronger. Therefore, desires should be directed in proper manner towards proper objectives.
  • Manusmriti guides people to control the five faculties of sense and five organs of actions. The purpose of education and learning should be to train the faculties of a person to channelize his/her  energies towards right activities. Discipline and productivity are necessary for education.

In order to maintain a smooth relationship of people belonging to different sections of society, Dharma prescribes a separate Dharma for appropriate to their nature and customs,  Separate Dharma for different sections of society, different classes and different stages of human life. It is based on attitude and aptitude, inherent qualities, and potentialities of its members at different stages in life. Dharma of Brahmin is not the same as that of a Shudra, or Dharma of a student not that of an old man. Separate rules of conduct have been aimed to inspire every one to perform one’s own duties and obligations, giving everybody opportunities- social, economic physical and spiritual – to do their jobs well and preserve the tradition and lifestyle of all communities.

Winding up – Too much importance to rights though gives more opportunities to enjoy life, but makes individuals selfish and unmindful of others conveniences. Too much importance on duties makes a person or a group too much humble, tolerant and submissive.


January 27, 2017 - Posted by | Social and political values and systems | ,

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