How Should We Behave in the Society? Our Rights and Responsibilities


Dr. Rao VBJ Chelikani

    In the primitive days, the behaviour of a human being was entirely conditioned by his struggle for survival and his fear for life and of death. The environment was the principal source of fear and awe, as life was fragile, violent and short. Nature was a source of suffering while being the source of sustenance and shelter. Another significant trait that we can safely presume and affirm is the fear of other human beings, along with other animals. Unfortunately, we have to thus, assume that the original man was not naturally good and noble. He was like any other animal to start with in terms of affinity with other human beings. This is the atavism that has been ingrained in all human beings, even though, today man has managed to reduce these fears and insecurity to a great extent and started expressing and developing and exchanging other innate emotional faculties more intensely such as herd mentality, competition and cooperation, loyalty, kindness, compassion, love and affection, inventiveness and curiosity about the causes and effects of what is happening around him, as a guide to his attitudes and behaviour. In the course of his experiences, the early man found pragmatically that in order to keep himself secure, he has to acquire brutal power over his surroundings and be aggressive over people that he comes across. The earliest guidance for better behaviour was provided by religious beliefs, rites and practices. They imposed a set of values of morality to guide the relations between those who are living together within a group, as well as those who are outside the group. Even now, if we observe life among a tribe and their relations with other tribes, the above social features are still evident. The moral precepts adopted by them are nothing but techniques of fear management for enhancing mutual security and building affinities among those who are together. The reactions towards the 'other' as an insider and outsider are distinctly different. Their moral values were entirely formulated and effectively followed by a vast majority of groups and later even in organised societies, as they met the needs felt by men and women in their historic geographic, climatic, economic, social and psychological conditions and context.

1. Role of the State:   

     All along the history of mankind, the state is operating in the best interests of one individual, one dynasty, one group or one class, without assuming the responsibility for the welfare of all members of the society. The state, since it emerged as an absolute power, as sovereign, it is expecting total loyalty of all the individuals in the society. In the 19th and 20th centuries, most of the countries developed nation-states and promoted nationalism, overlooking the interests of the individual as well as that of the minority communities in it. In the course of this evolution, loyalty and obedience to the state has become the only virtue of a citizen. Thus, national development is considered social development.

     Later, since the French Revolution in 1789, we have been endowing each individual human being and groups of people with inalienable fundamental rights. Ever since, there has been considerable human progress, though of varying degrees, depending upon the region and the country. Each country is being democratised first politically and then gradually this democratisation of social relations has to take place in social, economic and cultural spheres. India is still in the first phase of this slow transition. But, on the whole, Human Development has been slow and human relations within society and among nations have not been just and peaceful. In modern societies, all human relations are being controlled by the concept of Nation-State, claiming to be absolute sovereign over their populations and treating them as cannon fodder in their wars with other states for the glory of the state and its leaders, and not for the human beings. Though the United Nations Organisation (UNO) emerged after two bitter world wars among the states and declared itself as a morally superior body of the people and nations of the whole world, the political states have been rendering it ineffective, by upholding the principle of Non-Interference in their Internal Affairs. Because the entire UN system depends upon funding from the state-governments, the System is mostly filled with state bureaucrats. Outside the framework of the UN, the power-hungry states are forming Blocs and Groups like NATO, SCO, Quad, Group-7, Group-20, etc. Even in cases of utterly meaningless civil wars as in Sudan right now, where the civil population is being put to enormous suffering by two rival army generals, the powerful states sitting in the UN Security Council are preventing the UNO to intervene militarily to save the lives of the innocent human beings, even though there is a provision for Humanitarian military intervention in the Charter. The International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court are not given the means to enforce their decisions. Many important states, no doubt, sign and ratify international conventions and treaties, but with several self-exemptions or reservations on key aspects of compliance and implementation. Thus the entire humankind's energies and world's resources are being deployed only to settle futile power struggles and border conflicts among the political state entities, at a great human cost, rather than promoting people-to-people cooperation.

 The bureaucrats, including the diplomats of the states, are struggling hard to maintain their firm grip and control over the lives and destinies of people under their custody. State violence against its citizens is a contemporary evil. Any unpleasant criticism of the state and its foreign policies is punishable in many states, including in India. The UN Charter of the People declares that all states have an obligation to serve the welfare of the people under their governance, as well as those under other states. The people are not handed over like sheep to their shepherds. All international treaties in their objectives ensure more safety, security and peace for individuals and people, which side of the border they might be, as the primary objective. Universal Human Rights are declared by all states in the UN General Assembly as inviolable and expressed their commitment to observe them. In 1948, at the UN, the people have claimed and proclaimed Fundamental Human Rights against the states, as the political power of the states has been the biggest enemy of human freedoms. Even now, only in a few states, these fundamental Human Rights are respected. In the whole history of mankind, it is only today that the state entities became a threat to the very existence of mankind with all the nuclear arms that some states have in stock. Do they have any responsibility to the future of mankind?

2. A Triangular Loyalty:   

      Meanwhile, human beings are changing much faster in the 21st century than in the past due to the globalisation of the economy and faster means of communication. Scientists on this planet are becoming increasingly capable of guiding the ever-expanding evolution, thanks to human 'intelligence'. The impact of what human beings are achieving by putting together their research will decide the destiny of man in this cosmos. We are making rapid strides in terms of Human Development in terms of quality of life and standard of living. While utilizing all opportunities and freedoms to liberate oneself from environmental and social conditioning, every individual has an obligation to be sociable, since he is a product of the society. Even for personal liberation, the individual needs society to create the enabling conditions. To be sociable is to assume certain social responsibilities in the context of the given conditions of society, which is also evolving. They cannot be written down once and for all. Since human behaviour is being engineered more and more by free will and social context, there is a need today, as never before, to conceive and apply cross-cultural, humane and universal ethical values, which reduce the role of irrational and animal reflexes of aggression, destruction and violence. This is what we should understand from the ethnic war due to intolerant beliefs taking place, right now in Manipur between the predominant Meitei and minority Naga and Kuki Jo tribes. Thus the centre of our focus is the individual, no doubt, but it is the individual in society. The individual has to enrich society so that it can enrich the individual. Ultimately, we have to establish an equation between society and the individual in the interests of both, since one cannot survive without the other; nor can an individual live exclusively for the benefit of society, as it happened in the past. There should be an equilibrium and harmony in their evolution, growth and development. In terms of governance in general, just as in economic relations, it works out that the individual has firstly to take into account the protection of his self-interest, secondly, ensure the interest of the other in bilateral relations and, thirdly, keep in mind, at the same time, the general and common interests of the society as a whole. Thus, the sum of the welfare of each individual would amount to the welfare of all. Thus, it is a triangular responsibility that is to inspire all human relations. It is because lack of harmony in the expression of these loyalties that is leading to conflicts. Politicians are no good example of social behaviour, as they thrive on dividing people into parties which are nothing but a political militia to conquer others and enjoy power over all. While exploring the reasons for this slow progress in human development, we realise that the solution will not come from the political states but only from the individual members of society in their relations with each other. An individual has an opportunity to not only to self-correct but also to correct each other by dialogue and consensus. Modern means of communication make it possible for people to cooperate to express human solidarity and to promote freedoms, justice and peace among human communities, far and near.

3. Better Social and Civic Ethics:   

     Each and every individual, wherever they are residing, whether citizens or not, should show their attachment to a certain code of conduct which seeks self-interest or satisfaction in whatever a person does, but it should necessarily be in harmony with the general welfare of the society or the community, to which an individual owes so much that it can never be repaid fully. Thus Man is no more a natural product. He became totally a product of society which is constantly changing itself; often for good, but sometimes for bad. When one is acting as an employer or an employee or a producer or a consumer or a member of a group, the bilateral relationship should not affect society adversely. It is one's moral responsibility to ensure the welfare of society at the same time; simultaneously, and not later, and not as compensation. They are not moral principles inspired and prescribed by religions but are social and civic ethics that are voluntarily practised by the individual members of the society, which is constantly in the process of transformation. Today, biologists, neurologists and anthropologists are probing into the universals in the physical and cultural constitution of human beings and societies. Now, we can care for and share with each other by living together within the urban communities, formed more and more as Resident Welfare Associations, irrespective of the omissions and commissions of the political governments. When you assert, exercise and fulfil your rights, it is not a privilege; it is not to exercise of power over others. It is happening because others are allowing it. Hence your rights carry an obligation on your part to respect others' rights. It is a trust-based responsibility to ensure reciprocity, without which human relations cannot improve for the better in our societies.

4. Role of the Individual:  

  Today, we can empower ourselves to participate directly and immediately in local, municipal, regional, national and global governance. In this context, civil society organisations and social activists can act within their local communities, professional associations and within their families by adopting and spreading the following ethical attitudes:

* When you affirm the Right to your Life, then you have the responsibility to respect others' right to their lives. Human Body and Mind, whether yours or others should not be put to suffering. One should treat others humanely. Whatever you do not wish to be done to yourself, should not be done to others.

* When you exercise your Liberty to Express yourself, then you have the responsibility to respect others' liberties. Every individual has a right to be himself or herself, natural, transparent, compassionate, sincere, fair and sociable in behaviour and seek one's own happiness, without at the same time preventing others from their pursuit of happiness.

* All powers acquired politically or economically should not be used to dominate the other, as exercising power means, ipso facto, stealing others' human rights. Power in a democracy is a consented authority that is to be exercised by all concerned by turns.

 * Land, gold and other natural resources as well as all human talents and skills that serve to create wealth should not be owned and withheld, but they should procure welfare not only for the producer but also for the consumer and the community.

* Since land and water bodies on this planet are currently occupied by around 195 states due to historical happenings and coincidence, they cannot attribute holiness to their borders. It is the common heritage of all humankind and sharing these assets should obey equitable and just principles so that their good effects cross the frontiers.

* In the course of evolution, human beings have been forming separate tribal, ethnic, religious, linguistic and cultural identities and as a member of any such identity, one should see that no hegemony or force is used against other identities. Every identity has a right to co-exist pacifically and evolve internally, and if possible they should cooperate and partner for mutual enrichment.

 * Everybody has a right to establish rapport and build affiliation with extra-national groups and join international non-governmental organisations for the common good while obeying certain reasonable restrictions that a political government might impose. Every human being has a right to offer humanitarian assistance to other human beings without taking borders or state rivalries into account.

* We have a right to extend our loyalty to the United Nations Organisation and its Agencies and an obligation to persuade our countrymen and state authorities too, to respect the UN General Assembly Resolutions in letter and spirit.

* Professional or official conduct of a politician, public servant, Police, soldier, businessman, informatician, doctor, lawyer or accountant should not accept to obey or do anything that would conflict with universal social and civic ethics.

* When you want the Right to have social and economic security, then you have the responsibility to create the conditions for the enjoyment of the same by others.

* When there are differences or disputes between individuals in the family or between groups or even among the states, one should accept to dialogue, negotiate, litigate and mediate, and ultimately accept arbitration, instead of taking unilateral and violent action.

* While you vote, you have to ensure that you elect only those that represent and work for the whole of the society, and not only for you or for some other vested interests.

* When you are enjoying the power of the public function as a politician or as a bureaucrat, it is not a right to govern over others but it is an obligation to assist them.

* While you work under just and favourable conditions to gain a decent standard of living for yourself and your family, you must perform wholeheartedly and efficiently to the best of your capacities and to produce wealth for society.

* If you want the Right to express and practice your Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Beliefs, then you have the obligation to respect others' thoughts, conscience and beliefs.

* While you enjoy your Right to Education from society and to acquire knowledge, as much as your capabilities allow, then you have the obligation to share your knowledge and experience with others for common progress.

* While you have a Right to benefit from the Earth's bounty of resources, then you have the obligation to constantly keep re-establishing a harmonious and sustainable equilibrium.

* Since as human beings, we have the Right to deploy our unlimited potential for self-fulfilment, we have the responsibility to let others also develop their physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual faculties to their fullest in the interest of our common human destiny.

----The above text is inspired by a UNESCO project for "A Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities" and by the "Inter Action Council" of the world's most renowned intellectuals that took place in 1997 in Naples.

Image courtesy: Microsoft Stock Library

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