This website is dedicated to the great spiritual teacher Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952) whose “heart beat for all human beings” and to my wife Lakshmi Venugopal, my daughter Anupama and her children Zain, Tara and Diya and her husband Satya.
The main objective in my setting up this website is to share some of the insights I gained during my years in the Government and with India’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). Human rights are not some thing esoteric or mysterious. For the ordinary citizens, especially the poor among them, those rights actually represent their essential and fundamental needs. These rights are our birth rights, confirmed and guaranteed to us by the Constitution of India and other International Covenants and Conventions. The Indian Society violates these rights of those who are not born equal to the rest of the society in the eyes of the artificial social hierarchy set up in the distant past and in current economic terms. The State watches these violations often doing nothing and often violates the rights of the people by its own acts of omission and commission. When these continue with out redress, a stage is reached when by sheer habit, people come to accept absence of these rights as an informal reality of life. Those who can make a difference are too busy attending to their own problems to attempt to set things right. An environment of this kind is presently ruling India depriving the poor of their rights, even as the acclamation of the progress of an “incredible India” for certain levels of Indian society is drowning such voices of the poor as are raised at all. Our sensitivities have died and there is no outrage at what is happening around us. That is something we should not allow to continue to happen.
It is important, therefore, that citizens have information about the way Governments, public institutions and public authorities function in relation to issues that intimately affect the lives of the people on a daily basis. Such information may help conscientious citizens to question Governments on the way they function and such questioning in turn may bring about changes for the better in the lives of the ordinary citizens, particularly of the marginalized. It is with this view that I am placing on this site some of the reports written by me while I was Special Rapporteur to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), New Delhi. I am grateful to the National Human Rights Commission for it is the NHRC which gave me the opportunity to investigate into these issues and find out authoritatively the facts involved which I am placing on this site for public information. The reports posted here cover diverse issues such as Bonded Labour, most of whom are Dalits; Child Labour; Farmers’ Suicides; violation of rights of the most vulnerable sections of our society such as the children, the differently-abled, the scheduled tribes and the working class in the context of their right to food, work and health and therefore to life, with women bearing the brunt of the burden. These reports in their very nature touch upon the utter disregard shown by the State towards the marginalized and their rights. In placing these Reports of mine to the NHRC on this site I have stuck to the need to reproduce them verbatim, except to omit a few small details totally unnecessary for the current understanding of the matter investigated.
I am also placing at this site some of my other writings touching upon human and social development issues, which I hope provide information on issues of public importance to the readers such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 and Food and Nutrition Security. I shall be happy to clarify and provide further information on all that is placed at this site to the extent I have such information to readers who may want to write to me.
I would like to clarify while undertaking this effort that I am fully conscious of my own severe limitations as an individual and make no special claim to know the answers to people’s problems. In addition, my reports and writings are bound to be severely limited to the particular issue sought to be investigated at a particular time and therefore might appear restricted in scope to larger and connected issues but that is inherent to the nature of work we all do, though I have usually tried to take as comprehensive a look at a problem as was possible despite these limitations. An important point that needs to be made here is that the actual implementation of the laws of the land that provide rights to the people is in the hands of, and the exclusive responsibility of, the executive – whether the Government of India or the State Governments. No Human Rights Commission or its officers can directly implement the laws in the field. The Special Rapporteurs appointed by the NHRC, for example, in the very nature of their terms of reference given to them by the NHRC, can only interface with the State Governments within the frame work of those terms.
Those terms are clear: “The Commission was of the view that its task as envisaged in the order of the Supreme Court was to oversee the implementation of the laws against bonded labour under the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 by appropriately activating the statutory machinery and the State Administration at various levels by constant interaction. The task, however, did not contemplate or extend to the setting-up of parallel mechanism either in substitution of the statutory machinery or as an adjunct to it.” However earnestly and strongly one may discharge that mandate, if the Governments have no political or administrative will to uphold the rights of the marginalized, all that the Special Rapporteur can do is to report back to the NHRC. Therefore, it is clear that we have a situation in India where only when the human rights institutions which have been clothed with statutory powers are willing to confront the State and Central Governments fearlessly, even as our Supreme Court of India and the Election Commission of India indeed do often and as did the NHRC in Gujarat, the poorest of the Indian poor are likely to taste the freedoms guaranteed to them in our Constitution. Against this background, if this site helps raise questions regarding the way institutions of governance function where the poor people’s rights are concerned, its purpose will have been served. I am saying this because the single most distressing but predictable and invariable reaction from officers and institutions of Governance, whenever violation of people’s rights were reported to the National Human Rights Commission based on facts as ascertained from Government’s own records and the hapless victims themselves in the field, was to flatly deny that such violations did take place at all. Thus starvations deaths never occur; they occur always owing to the mysterious circumstance called “ill health”. The old always die only of “old age” and never of hunger and starvation. Never mind whether any senior officer has ever inspected a fair price shop or a works programme; so long as there are records and muster rolls kept by the field officers that would show the “ required figures”, they are the gospel for even the most senior officers in our system.
Existence of bonded labour in Karnataka was vehemently and smugly denied at the highest level by officers despite reports from me based on personal investigation till political rivals discovered a group of them in chains in the village of Hongarahalli in the State’s most prosperous district from which the State’s Chief Minister himself hailed but even then the culprits were not prosecuted with the necessary speed or commitment despite constant goading on behalf of the National Hunan Rights Commission. And remember, the judicial powers to try the offence under the Abolition of the Bonded Labour System Act, 1976 are vested in the Executive Magistracy headed by the Collector of the District! Starvation deaths investigated by me have been denied by the Government of Andhra Pradesh and so also large scale fever deaths in the Visakhapatnam tribal areas. Children continue to die in unacceptable numbers in the Niloufer Hospital at Hyderabad due to the negligence on the part of the Government as pointed out in my Report. The Governments in Andhra Pradesh since the last 10 years, regardless of the political party in power, have always had enough public land to provide for the global multinationals in the city of Hyderabad but not for constructing a Government home for the blind. I place on this website my own investigative reports on several of these subjects and also the response of the authorities and institutions concerned in regard to them, wherever there was such response, so that the readers may come to their own conclusions about human rights standards as practiced by us, and more importantly, may raise questions – of those who rule us and who administer human rights – as to why this is so. In such questioning may lie the hope of liberation for the marginalized. It is the duty of all of us to facilitate the emergence of such an atmosphere of enquiry as a tribute to the strides the country is making on the road to right to information under THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT, 2005 (No. 22 of 2005)
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