26 February 2020 : The Hindu Editorials Mains Notes : Mains Sure Shot for UPSC IAS Exam
Question – At an International Judicial Conference 2020 this weekend, the Chief Justice of India, S.A. Bobde, drew attention to the Constitution’s Fundamental Duties chapter and cited Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj, which observed that “real rights are a result of [the] performance of duty.” In this context, can we say that rights follow duties or should rights be put first?
Context – The statement of the CJI.
We often come across the words ‘rights’ and ‘duties’ in everyday discourse. It is important to know the relation between them.
Understanding the relation between rights and duties:
- Rights and duties always go together – Rights and duties are closely related and cannot be separated from one another. Both go side by side. These are the two sides of the same coin. If the state gives the right to life to a citizen, it also imposes an obligation on him to not to expose his life to dangers, as well as to respect the life of others. If I have a right to work and earn, it is also my duty to recognize the same rights of others.
- Right of one is the duty of others – Rights can be enjoyed only in the world of duties. For every right there is corresponding duty. When the people fail to discharge their duties properly, the rights all become meaningless. “I can enjoy my rights only if the others allow me to do the same. I have” the right to life and it is the duty of others to respect my life and not to cause any harm to me.
- Rights of a citizen also implies duties for him – Rights are not the monopoly of a single individual. Everybody gets these equally. This means that “others also have the same rights which I have, and it is my duty to see that others also enjoy their rights.” Laski has rightly said that one man’s right is also his duty. It is my duty to respect the rights of others as well as the duty to use my rights in the interest of society.
- Rights are to be used for social good – Rights originate in society. Therefore, while enjoying rights, we must always try to promote social interest. It is the duty of every one of us to use our rights for promoting the welfare of the society as a whole.
- Duty towards the State – Since state protects and enforces rights, it also becomes the duty of all citizens to be loyal to the state. It is their duty to obey the laws of the state and to pay taxes honestly. Citizens should always be ready to defend the state. Thus a citizen has both Rights and Duties. He enjoys rights and performs his duties. Rights and Duties are the two sides of the same coin.
Understanding the article:
- The article says that being citizens we all have certain duties. Duties means two things – one is duty towards the state and the duty towards other citizens (i.e. refrain from committing violence against other citizens). Both of these are required to live a peaceful life.
- For example – We have a legal duty to pay our taxes, to refrain from committing violence against our fellow-citizens, and to follow other laws that Parliament has enacted.
- Breach of these legal duties triggers financial consequences (fines), or even time in jail. At any given time, therefore, we are already following a host of duties, which guide and constrain how we may behave.
- So duties follow a simple logic: that peaceful co-existence requires a degree of self-sacrifice, and that if necessary, this must be enforced through the set of sanctions by the State.
- Rights on the other hand are different – according to the article one doesn’t have to follow all duties to be subjected to rights. One is entitled to certain fundamental rights just by the virtue of being human.
- So rights follow a different logic entirely. We can better understand it through history.
- At the time of the framing of the Indian Constitution and its chapter on Fundamental Rights, there were two important concerns animating the Constituent Assembly.
- The first was that under the colonial regime, Indians had been treated as subjects. Their interests did not count, their voices were unheard, and in some cases — for example, the “Criminal Tribes” — they were treated as less than human.
- The first role of the fundamental rights chapter, therefore, was to stand as a bulwark against dehumanisation. Every human being no matter who they were or what they did had a claim to basic dignity and equality that no state could take away, no matter what the provocation. One did not have to successfully perform any duty, or meet a threshold of worthiness, to qualify as a rights bearer. It was simply what it meant to be human.
- Second, the framers were also aware that they were inheriting a deeply stratified and riven society. The colonial regime had not been the only oppressor; the axes of gender, caste and religion had all served to keep masses of individuals in permanent conditions of subordination and degradation.
- The second role of rights, thus, was to stand against hierarchy. Through guarantees against forced labour, against “untouchability”, against discriminatory access to public spaces, and others, fundamental rights were meant to play an equalising and democratising role throughout society, and to protect individuals against the depredations visited on them by their fellow human-beings.
- So it is the twin principles of anti-dehumanisation and anti-hierarchy reveal the purpose of the fundamental rights chapter: so this shows that fundamental rights are not a transaction for duties.
- Overall, the recognition that true democracy could not exist without ensuring that at a basic level, the dignity and equality of individuals was protected, both from the state as well as from social majorities. It was only with these guarantees could an individual rise from the status of subject to that of citizen.
- And, as should be clear by now, it was only after that transformation had been wrought, that the question of duties could even arise.
So are duties unimportant for rights?
- This is not to suggest, of course, that duties are unimportant. As indicated above, duties exist in every sphere of society.
- Moreover, the language of duties can play an important role in a society that continues to be divided and unequal: in such a society, those who possess or benefit from entrenched structural and institutional power (starting with the state, and going downwards) certainly have a “duty” not to use that power to the detriment of those upon whom they wield it.
- That is precisely what the guarantees against “untouchability”, forced labour, and discriminatory access in the Constitution seek to accomplish.
So what is the problem with the discussions that take place on the meanings rights and duties?
- The problem arises when these two are conflated (i.e. when meaning of rights and duties are merged together.)
- As Samuel Moyn points out in an illuminating article in The Boston Review, “the rhetoric of duties has often been deployed euphemistically by those whose true purpose is a return to tradition won by limiting the rights of others”. Moyn’s target here are traditions that invoke the language of duty (often alongside terms such as “community” or “family”) in order to subordinate or efface the individual in the face of the collective (whether state or community).
- In that context, it is always critical to remember Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s words in the Constituent Assembly (which were also cited by the CJI in his speech): that the fundamental unit of the Constitution remains the (i.e. putting an individual’s rights, and dignities first).
- So if we equate rights in return for duties, we can end up entrenching existing power structures by placing the burden of “duties” upon those that are already vulnerable and marginalised.
- It is for this reason that, at the end of the day, the Constitution, a charter of liberation, is fundamentally about rights. It is only after guarantee to all the full sum of humanity, dignity, equality, and freedom promised by the Constitution, that we can ask of them to do their duty.
- The CJI’s observation is apt but perhaps, then, it is time to analyse because the same Hind Swaraj also argues that “real duties are the result of the fulfillment of rights”.
Question – Analyse the State of India’s Birds Report, 2020.
Context – The publication of the report.
- The State of India’s Birds Report 2020 represents the first collective attempt in India to understand and assess how the avifauna are doing.
- The report states that there are several species, including globally threatened ones, whose populations are doing reasonably, more bird species are showing declines in population than are showing population stability or increases.
- During the last two decades, over half the species assessed have declined. This trend is even more pronounced in recent times, with nearly 80% of the species assessed showing declines over the last five years. And these declines are particularly acute for certain groups of birds, including birds of prey, migrant shorebirds, birds of forests and grasslands, and endemic birds of the Western Ghats.
- The report further suggests that more bird species deserve immediate conservation attention than previously thought.
- To the list of 67 globally threatened Indian bird species previously identified by the IUCN (as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable), the report adds 34 more species. The number of species of high conservation concern in India is now 101.
The positive part of the report:
- The report has two distinctive features that define a new approach: first, that the information it builds on comes from citizens like us all, and second, that the report’s data and analysis are in the public domain, inviting critique and further refinement.
- The report describes key patterns of change in the populations of certain bird species, it also answers why these changes have taken place, or developing conservation action that address these changes, are logical follow-up actions that are inconceivable without focused and sustained collective efforts.
- Besides collaboration, another key value that the report seeks to acknowledge is the importance of making, not just its outputs, but also the entire process open. The data that has gone into this report are not only collected by thousands of citizens, but are open for any researcher to use.
- The analyses (and the code) that form the basis of this report are in the public domain. Finally, the report and its results too are entirely open.
- A better public and scientific understanding of our biodiversity can grow only from wider and open access not only to data, but also from opening the entire process of scientific inquiry to wider peer and public scrutiny and challenge. And we are hoping that, as more and more people come in and examine the data, the analyses and the results, and ask questions, it only adds greater strength to our understanding of our precious birds.
- Assessing the status of our birds poses a variety of challenges. For a start, there are over 1,300 species of birds in India. While some are loud, colourful or diurnal, and hence relatively easier to detect, others are quiet, shy, or nocturnal.
- Further, finding them also means having to look in a wide variety of habitats: in forests, wetlands, farmlands, cities, mountains and even open oceans.
- And to complicate matters further, hundreds of species migrate into and out of our country at different times of the year.
- Addressing these challenges and achieving a coverage both of species and of habitats has been possible only because of an alignment in the formidable energies and efforts of a large and inspired community of birdwatchers across the country.
- Only through the efforts of over 15,500 birdwatchers, it became possible to assemble a dataset of over 10 million records, with data points going as far back as the 1970s.
- Upon this foundation, a large multi-institutional consortium of researchers drawn from both non-governmental and government institutions collaborated to analyse and put together the report.
- Just as we have collectively collected, curated, compiled and analysed bird data, we must remain engaged with the results, and continue to further not only an understanding of our avifauna but also actions to conserve them.
- Of all the forms in which humans encounter nature, birds perhaps touch our lives most closely. Birds are nearly everywhere. They are colourful, they sing and they display. They perform vital functions like predation and seed dispersal. They pervade nearly every aspect of our cultural lives. Given our shared bonds in a timeless journey, to paraphrase ornithologist Nigel Collar, we need to continue building and strengthening models by which citizens, scientists, conservationists and managers collaborate not only to understand our birds, but also to enable them to fare better on our fast-changing planet.