Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Rights and wrongs

Advice - Rights and Laws, Oct '13
By Kaushik Gupta

Reader queries

What is a right and what are its different forms?
Kishore Kumar, Kolkata

A right can be defined as an interest protected by law or, in some cases, by social conventions. Now, definitions always seem more confusing to me. In trying to understand what a right is, I will have to first figure out what is an interest. I tell you, this is where the lawyers make all the money!

A right, in simple words, means something which I am permitted to do or not do and if any one tries to stop me from doing something or forces me to do something, such a person can be prevented from encroaching upon my rights and can also be punished by law. There are several forms of rights, namely, Fundamental, Constitutional and Legal.

Fundamental Rights are those which are engrafted in Part III of the Constitution of India and a violation of which can be remedied by filing a writ petition before a High Court or the Supreme Court. For example, Right to Life, Right to Liberty and Right to Equality before Law. One can read about these rights here.

Constitutional Rights are those which are not Fundamental Rights under Part III but still are protected by the Constitution. For example, Right to Property under Part XII.

Legal Rights are those which have their origin in the Constitution, as all the laws of the land do, and specific statutes have been enacted on the subjects that Legal Rights deal with. Since the Constitution could not have incorporated everything within its fold, separate laws were required to be made to take care of the situations arising from time to time. For example: The law protecting women from domestic violence, that is, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.

Photo credit: Kaushik Gupta
Is there such a thing as the right to say no?
Priya, Kolkata

The question is how far my individual rights extend to. They only extend that far where I do not violate the rights of another. I might find Hrithik Roshan, Madhuri Dixit-Nene or Bobby Darling, or for that matter my next door neighbour, extremely hot. But that does not give me the right to pounce on them at every possible opportunity. No, it does not give you a right to approach the courts seeking for a direction upon them to fall in love with you either!

As you have a right to decide what you want, they also have a right to decide what they do not want. We need to know about rights, not only to exercise them demanding our own but also to ensure that we, knowingly or otherwise, do not violate others’ rights. With rights come responsibilities. You can’t exercise your right if I do not fulfil my responsibilities and vice versa.

What is a human right?
Sameer, Kolkata

There is another form of rights, which overlaps with the other forms I have written about above. But I will tell you about it only if you promise not to laugh! It’s called Human Rights. Hey, you promised not to laugh! We hear more of their violation than preservation at every step of our life. It is your Human Right to breathe fresh, pollution-free air. See, I told you it’s known by its violation!

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948. You can read about the UDHR at http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/. India is one of the signatories to this declaration, which has taken the shape of international law. A related statute, The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 was enacted to ensure the creation of National and State Human Rights Commissions. In case of a violation of a Human Right, one can lodge a complaint with the commission and they take necessary steps regarding the complaint.

It is sad that many a times we scream hoarse about Human Rights violations but rarely do we take the initiative of lodging a formal complaint and following up on the same. We need to constantly remind ourselves of the famous statement by 19th century American lawyer Wendell Phillips: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty; power is ever stealing from the many to the few”.

Kaushik Gupta is a lawyer by profession, a photographer by passion, and happy to answer your queries on legal matters around gender and sexuality. Write in your queries to vartablog@gmail.com, and they will be answered with due respect to confidentiality.

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