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Rights without Duties

We have seen seventy years of democracy in this country. The noise in the name of democracy today is unprecedented and not heard ever before. If you listen to this noise it is primarily about democratic rights. The credit of this noise partly goes to the boom in means of communication. Scores of news channels running 24X7 have less news and much more time. These channels have to keep in view the TRP rather than the quality of the content, in simple words it means they will show what can be sold more. No need to say it is always the cheap goods which sell more than quality goods, at least in numbers.

Now if we talk about democracy, the corner stone of which is the fundamental rights or simply rights of citizens. Talking about and asserting your rights is acceptable and rather essential part of democracy. But does democracy confers only rights to the citizens? Are there any limitations or guiding principles, which control the undue and sometimes even abusive use rights. These controlling principles are enshrined as fundamental duties in our constitution. While politicians are expected to cry foul or fare as they have to cater to the masses in general and their constituency in particular. But Big names in journalism, academia and supposedly intellectuals of any field seem to be talking about rights only in a one sided manner. Even celebrities, who may have never seen the constitution, but for just being celebrity, are given big space by the media to express their trash on such serious matters.

Ask someone about his rights and he would roll out a list which may be beyond his legitimate rights, he may even sermonize you which more rights should be given to him. Ask the same person about his duties and he will draw almost a blank, and on being asked further whether he fulfills his duties honestly, then it is going to be a certain blank. Simple example is traffic lights which each of us experiences daily. It may be debatable in our country whether violating traffic lights is a right or following it is a duty.

Let us try to understand how this sense of rights has overgrown while the sense of duty almost seems missing. As stated earlier cheap things sell better and media is in competition of TRP which means they have to sell themselves. This is even truer for politicians and political parties. I do not mean any ideology for political parties, ideologies have been sold out few decades back, are out of fashion and do not sell any more. Selling rights is a very attractive proposition, it does not put any burden of hard work or even morality on the buyer. On the other hand there is usually an expectation of some type of gain. If one looks back past two decades, the rights conferred on one will probably outnumber the rights provided by the constitution. Right of information, education, live, and so on and on. But yes right to die is yet to come. Now a day a trash collection van moves around in my locality and blares out on loudspeaker that cleanliness is also my right. It has been doing so for past many months thanks to government’s Swachchhata Abhiyan. This right to cleanliness is being sold door to door by the government at the cost of Exchequer’s money, of which some party and its leaders expect to be beneficiary. Compare it to the selling of fundamental duty of not littering trash all around to the citizens, Could any government sell that?

Taking up another contemporary issue, or rather right which is in lime light presently is right to oppose, sounds much better in Hindi “Virodh Pradarshan ka Adhikar”. The noise about this started some time back but has reached a crescendo now. It seems country’s democracy depends upon this single right. But to my mind it seems as if country’s democracy has been held hostage to this right. Any group of few hundreds or thousands can block the roads, rails, shut down the city or town, burn public or private property involve in to anything depending upon the group’s perceived sense of grievance. In the process the much larger number of people then this particular aggrieved group gets their rights suspended or snatched away. In nutshell if one can gather a group of particular people then that person or group can snatch or high jack the rights of much larger number of people. Unfortunately our country has great diversity and numerous such groups exist in the society. Gujjar, Jat and now Shaheen Bagh, all agitations are example of such events.

This naturally raises the question about response to such acts or events. The response can be divided in two categories one government response and another public response. Governments are formed by political parties and their response shall always be at least moderated if not outright motivated by their sense of political gains and losses. Being idealistic in this regard is futile and better left for media debates. I can only point out that when violence is by protesters it is always by some antisocial miscreants but when somebody is hurt or killed by police it always is an innocent citizen or student. Someone may do a research on how the police bullet always finds an innocent person in an otherwise unruly stone pelting mob. UP governments effort to recover the losses from miscreants is a welcome move to deter the violent mobs/ miscreants who otherwise are used to go scot free in such events.

More important is the public response. Unfortunately we as a society are too government dependent. If the general public at least who get directly affected by such abuse of rights by unruly groups respond equally strongly in a visible manner then this will have a sobering effect on both the unruly groups as well as governments. In simple words the masses have to show that in appropriate action or inaction of miscreants and government are not going to pay dividends. In totality, my message is that we must have sense of rights but should put our sense of duty ahead of sense of right. I am no fan of Mahatma Gandhi but do like his quote about democratic rights asked by some westerner “In our society rights of one person are safe in the other person’s duty”. Otherwise it is our right to do ruminate about our rights in comfort of our cosy homes till someone comes and puts his claim on your house. Till then JAI BHARAT.

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