Human Rights as a Subject and an Issue

Human Rights as a Subject and an Issue

Akham Hungyo, June 2, 2014

I am writing this little piece of my knowledge and experience on human rights with the hope of
informing and educating our younger generations who are not aware of ‘human rights’ in general as
an issue, and in particular as a subject. However, I would be glad, and it may be better still if any of
older generations, too, have something to learn out of this humble piece of writing, speaking my
consciousness. Optimistically, this humble piece of writing may prick into many minds, especially
younger generations, a sense of urgency and importance for a more meaningful and a better future.
Many of us do not have the time or the willingness to buy or borrow books/notes on human rights
to read. Today, human rights as a subject and as an issue has become the catch word as well as an
essential part of this generation if we are to claim ourselves as ‘humans’ in the first place and as
‘citizens’ in the second place. Yet, ironically, it is only when books on human rights are freely
distributed or sold at cheap rates in the form of leaflets at social programs and seminars/workshops
that we get hold of them; many of us still choose to ignore this reality.
The first thing which comes to our minds when we hear or think of human rights is the tortures
and killings of civilians in fake encounters by the Security Forces (SF). This is largely due to the fact
that we grew up in such an environment where we see and hear of frequent gunfights between the SF
and so-called ‘militants/insurgents’, thereby causing civilian casualties/injuries, too, in the cross fires,
which amounts to human rights violations. Civilians are often used as tools and shields by security
forces to vent their ire and to protect themselves when faced with the inevitable circumstances of
losing their lives and engaging imminent dangers. It is crucial to know the fact that, if a militant or
security force personnel is killed in action, it is not a human rights violation, but if arrested and killed
latter in custody, it is an indisputable human rights violation.
The term ‘Human Rights’ is frequently heard by all, including illiterate people, but many of us
rarely understood and even bother to understand it. The majority of us, especially Nagas and the
North Easterners, have seen and heard of human rights activists and campaigners fighting only or
mostly for the victims of human rights violations perpetrated by the Indian security forces, since there
are more such instances in the region. Killing and torturing in the name of counter-insurgency
operations is synonymous with human rights violations. However, lately, we have seen our activists,
both men and women folk, engaging with child and women-trafficking and undertaking rescues, both
within and outside our NE India, which is very heartening and laudable.
I guess many of us know much about human rights, except for a few, that we do not wish to read
anything which is related to the subject/theme, or do not wish to take up human rights as a subject
later in the higher studies/learning. This is either because most of us are directly or indirectly involved
in human rights campaigns, or perhaps ‘human rights’ as a subject does not have a good scope or the
prospect of making big money. Few of us take it up or learn it for the sole purpose of knowledge of
human rights, and few people learn it with the hope that human rights education or knowledge may
have an advantage or upper hand over other subjects or fields someday somehow in one way or the
other. Their hope lives on. I do not say this to discourage anyone. Neither do I say this to and for
anyone to claim superiority. On a lighter note, I wish I was born elsewhere where having knowledge
on human rights is regarded/revered as a blessing.
Let us now discuss briefly the relevance of human rights as a subject. It’d be good to know what
human rights are in a layman’s parlance. Human rights are rights that one has simply because he/she
is a human being. In other words, human rights are those rights which are inherent in our nature, and
without which we cannot live as human beings. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights article 1
explained that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with
reasons and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. An author & an
expert on human rights wrote: “At some point of time in their higher education career, many students
undertaking degree courses in humanities & social sciences will probably encounter some aspects of
what we might call ‘human rights research’. For example, in History, students will almost certainly
discuss the transatlantic slave trade, & of course, the Nazi holocaust. In Criminology, they might learn
about the death penalty. In Media studies, they will be introduced to aspect of censorship. In
Psychology, they may be asked to consider the making of a torturer. In Anthropology, a lecturer may


offer a session on female genital mutilation. In Philosophy, students will be expected to dedicate time
to understand ethics & moral behavior. If they take electives in Law, International Relations, or
Politics, students will probably be introduced to various human rights legislations & conventions. So
it would not be fair to say that the academic world has ignored human rights”. The importance of
human rights studies has been felt now more than ever due to increased numbers of human rights
violations, like cases of custodial violence, mass detentions without trials and without justice
delivered, bonded and child labor, and environmental degradation, etc. Often, they are brought to the
attention of the mass by various NGOs and human rights organizations, the media and the public
interest litigators/litigants.
‘Human Rights’ as a subject is a very interesting and an easy subject to read and understand, to
preach and to practice. Knowledge of human rights makes one aware of one’s rights, which in turn
ensures that one’s rights are not trampled on or abused by others. It also may help the conscious or
informed persons to respect and safeguard the rights of others, for our own rights become meaningful
and are safeguarded only when we are able to respect and safeguard others’ rights. It is not only the
students of human rights subject who may be aware of one’s rights, but everyone does. The United
Nations has a message for us all: Know your rights. Human rights studies cover various themes and
topics, like Human Rights education, teaching and training, research methodology, human rights in
global and regional perspectives – norms and standards, culture and religion, societal issues and
social movements/reforms, principles and theories of human rights, international relations, peace and
non-violence, media and judiciary, etc. Traditional human rights issues and new forms of human
rights issues, like censorship, political imprisonment or political prisoners, torture, genocide,
refugees, death penalty, apartheid, poverty, ecocide, female genital mutilation, forced sterilization,
child soldier, child and women trafficking, terrorism, etc., are studied as part of the curriculum.
Human rights advocates and enthusiasts have argued that if human rights education/learning is to
find popularity (or wide acceptance) among university or college going students, they should be able
to expect decent employment after graduation or post-graduation. There has been a proposal to set up
human rights courts all over the country which could result in employing substantial numbers of
students of human rights. Many have even argued that human rights subject should be included as a
subject in the national competitive examinations.
There are many human rights organizations operating at or from the local level to the highest
international level. For instance, we have, besides many others, NPMHR (Naga Peoples’ Movement
for Human Rights) and the MHRC (Manipur Human Rights Commission) at the local level, the NHRC
(National Human Rights Commission) at the national level, & UNHRC (United Nations Human
Rights Council) at the international level to address and monitor human rights issues and violations.
Besides these competent institutions, there are other well-known vocal human rights organizations
like PUCL (Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties) in India, the Amnesty International and the Human
Rights Watch at the international stage fighting for the downtrodden and acting on behalf of the
victims of human rights abuses around the world. If anyone of us in Delhi wishes to take up human
rights as a subject in a Master’s degree/post-graduation, he/she can apply at the following four
institutions, viz. Jamia Millia Islamia, Indian Institute of Human Rights, Annamalai University and
University of Madras (the latter two have their branches in Delhi).
“When the UN introduced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, it was seen by many
as a sign of optimism, of the possibilities of a better world. Yet, over 50 years later, observers
recognize that we still live in age when human rights abuses are as prevalent as they have ever been-in
some instances, more prevalent. The world is still littered with examples of violations of basic rights
like censorship, discrimination, political imprisonment, torture, slavery, death penalty,
disappearances, genocide, poverty, refugees. The rights of women, children, & other groups in society
continue to be ignored in atrocious ways. We are still faced with a world which does not fully
recognize the claims made in the Declaration/UDHR. The world of international relations is still
chaotic & competitive as before 1948; only it has become more hypocritical”, wrote a human rights
We should all know that, we, as Indian and world citizens, are equally protected and have the
privilege of equally enjoying all rights enshrined in the Constitution of India and the United Nations
Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If our issues and concerns are not addressed or paid
cognizance by our state governments/authorities and the central machineries, we have the UNHRC


and other organizations to fight for our rights. The least that we, as human beings, should have and
enjoy so that our basic human rights & needs are not ignored or violated are food, shelter, clothing,
health and education, without which we are merely as privileged as the animals.
There’s a latest & a perfect example (besides many other instances) of how the NHRC on last May
28 th 2014 issued notice to the Delhi government asking it to explain why it cannot & it should not
compensate the 12 African women who allegedly suffered racial prejudice in the Malviya Nagar
incident which took place on the night of January 15 the same year (the raid which was led by the then
Law Minister Mr. Somnath Bharti in the short-lived AAP government). The NHRC invoked Section 18
of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 to suggest that compensation can be recommended. The
NHRC report concluded that, “the African women were wrongfully restrained & humiliated without
any fault of theirs as no drug was found from their possession. They were subjected to racist slurs,
assault, humiliation, misbehavior & molestation with threats of dire consequences”. Such is the power
& authority of the NHRC & other human rights commissions & bodies, besides the power of many
other competent & lawful/legal organizations & authorities.
Let us be more aware of our rights, proactively assert and exercise our rights as and when needed.
Also, let us make the best use of the resources and assistance available to us all as Indians and as
North-Easterners in particular, and make our stay/life in Delhi safer and more meaningful. Our
presence has now been felt and acknowledged more than ever by the state and the central
governments (as well as by the local residents & other migrants), who are trying to ensure our safety
by various means. On our part, we may need to become a little more assertive in matters pertaining to
our rights. I now wish to wind up abruptly due to space and time constraints with the hope that I have
conveyed what I possibly could have to the readers. Your constructive suggestions and criticisms are
invaluable to me.
I wish everyone a pleasant & a progressive life.

Akham Hungyo
E-mail address: .

Edited By Khanrin Editorial Team 2021-2022

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