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Social Movements: Civil liberties and human rights movements

Social movements mainly take the form of non-institutionalised collective political action which struggle for political and /or social transformation. In India, these movements occurred since past time. The phrase 'movement' is often used differently by different social activists, political leaders and scholars. Some academics use the term 'movement' interchangeably with 'organisation' or 'union'. Other social researchers use it to mean a historical trend or tendency. Some claim to launch movements by issuing press statements on public issues.

'Social movement' grown in European languages in the beginning of nineteenth century. This was the period of social disturbance. The political leaders and writers were concerned with the liberation of exploited classes and the creation of a new society by changing value systems as well as institutions and/or property relationships. Their philosophical orientation is reproduced in their description. Nevertheless, since the early 1950s, various scholars have provided detail account of the notion of social movements. According to social theorists, A social movement is a deliberate collective endeavour to promote direction and by any means, not excluding violence, illegality, revolution or withdrawal into 'utopian' community. Social movements are thus clearly different from historical movements, tendencies or trends. It is important to note, however, that such tendencies and trends, and the influence of the unconscious or irrational factors in human behaviour, may be of crucial importance in illuminating the problems of interpreting and explaining social movement.

Many sociological scholars and theorists elaborated the phrase social movement. Herbert Blumer stated that Social movements can be viewed as collective enterprises to establish a new order of life. They have their inception in the condition of unrest, and derive their motive power on one hand from dissatisfaction with the current form of life, and on the other hand, from wishes and hopes for a new scheme or system of living. According to William Kornhauser, mass movements mobilize people who are alienated from the going system, who do not believe in the legitimacy of the established order, and who therefore are ready to engage in efforts to destroy it. The greatest number of people available to mass movement will be found in those sections of society that have the fewest ties to the social order. Doug McAdam described that social movements are those organized efforts, on the part of excluded groups, to promote or resist changes in the structure of society that involve recourse to non-institutional forms of political participation. Sidney Tarrow inferred that rather than seeing social movements as expressions of extremism, violence, and deprivation, they are better defined as collective challenges, based on common purposes and special solidarities, in sustained interaction with elites, opponents, and authorities.

Social movements often ascend with the objective to bring about changes on a public issue, such as safeguarding the right of the tribal population to use the forests or the right of displaced people to settlement and compensation. While social movements social change, counter movements sometimes arise in defence of status quo.

Features of social movements are as under:

  1. An important feature of social movement is the sense of belonging and group consciousness. Such consciousness can be brought about through active participation of the group members.
  2. Social movements lead to the formation of an entirely new social, economic, and political order.
  3. Most of the social movements tend to develop a new set of ideas, which become obligatory for the members of the group to adopt and follow.
  4. It is understandable that the social movements involve collective action instead of individual action.
  5. Social movements may be organized or unorganized.
  6. Social movements may be nonviolent in nature or they may also turn violent.
  7. The objective of a social movement is to bring about or resist social change in the society.
  8. The life of the social movement is not certain. This is because it may continue for a long period or it may die out soon.

There are many instances of social movement. When Raja Ram Mohan Roy campaigned against sati and formed the Brahmo Samaj, protectors of sati formed Dharma Sabha and appealed the British not to enact against Sati. When campaigners demanded education for girls, many protested that this would be catastrophic for society. When crusaders campaigned for widow remarriage, they were socially embargoed. When the so called 'lower caste' children registered in schools, some 'upper caste' children were withdrawn from the schools by their families. Farmer movements have often been viciously suppressed. The social movements of former excluded groups like Dalits have often invoked retaliatory action. In simple term, these movements emerged and highlighted some of the major issues such as gender and environment.

Main analyst and participant in social movements in India, Sanjay Sangvi, recognized the major agendas of them as "Movements of landless, unorganised labour in rural and urban areas, adivasis, dalits, displaced people, peasants, urban poor, small entrepreneurs and unemployed youth took up the issues of livelihood, opportunities, dignity and development."

Popular movements in India are Chipko movement, Save Silent Valley, Narmada Bachao Andolan, Koel Karo, Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha, Jhola Aandolan chutmarika (fighting polythene), Appiko movement, Save Kudremukh, Lok Satta Movement, Swadhyay Movement, Swatantra Sharad Joshi, Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha.

These movements mainly dissociated themselves from political parties, or attempted to cut across the philosophies of the political parties. Yet many of them entrenched themselves or drew from ideologies of the Mahatma Gandhi.

Civil liberties:

Civil liberties is associated with basic rights and freedoms that are guaranteed either explicitly identified in the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, or deduced through the years by courts and legislators. Civil liberties are personal assurances and freedoms that the government cannot curtail, either by law or by judicial interpretation without due process.

The evolution of civil liberties movement in India be traced back in pre independence era when the national liberation struggle was stirring up against the British tyranny. Main focus of these movements was on indefinite detention without trial which posed a serious threat to the civil liberties. Hence civil liberty movement got speed as a part of national movement. As a consequence, Indian civil liberty union was established by Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru in 1931 (Asish Kumar Das,, 2007).

Though the range of the term differs amongst various nations, basic Civil liberties include:

- Freedom of speech

- The right to privacy

- The right to be free from unreasonable searches of your home

- The right to a fair court trial

- The right to marry

- The right to vote

Other civil liberties include the right to own property, the right to defend oneself, and the right to bodily integrity. Within the distinctions between civil liberties and other types of liberty, distinctions exist between positive liberty/positive rights and negative liberty/negative rights.

Human rights movements:

Human Rights are described as all those rights which are indispensable for the defence and maintenance of self-esteem of individuals and create conditions in which every human being can develop his personality to the fullest extent. Human rights become operative with the birth of an individual. Human rights are intrinsic in all the individuals regardless of their caste, religion, sex and nationality. Because of their vast significance to human beings; human rights are also called fundamental rights, basic rights, inherent rights, natural rights and birth rights. Human rights are the unchallengeable rights of a person by virtue of being a human. All or some of these may or may not be written in the Constitution and laws of a country. These rights are considered to be widespread and have been concretised in various categories. These may be political, economic, social, or cultural. Theoretically, human rights belong to each individual, they are indivisible, and valid for all times.

Several social and political activist groups use the term 'human rights' in the context of the rights of an individual which are 'natural', inherent in our nature 'and without which we cannot live as human beings'. These rights should not be violated by the state. In other words, they require to be protected against the authority of the state. Simultaneously, ironically, it is anticipated that they need to be protected and enhanced by the state. These rights are generally included in 'civil' and 'democratic' rights. As the time passed from ancient period, these rights came with different philosophical roots. Their meanings have undergone change from time to time and in different contexts. For traditionalists, human rights include the rights personified in religion which validate ownership of private property including the system of slavery and bonded labour. Liberals and leftists believed that equality and dignity of all individuals to sustain life are the main human rights. There is intense debate among political philosophers and jurists to explain human rights (Baxi 2002).

In India, the Protection of Human Rights Art, 1993 stated that "human rights" means the rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in the International Covenants and enforceable by courts in India. Fundamental rights include freedom of expression, association, religious freedom, equality before law, and directive principles are related to socio-economic rights, such as, rights to education, equal wages, and dignity of an individual indiscrimination before laws. The former are justiciable while the latter remain guidelines for legislation. They both include broad range of different civil and democratic rights. Justice P.N. Bhagwati elaborated the scope of Article 21 of the constitution to incorporate the right to food, clothing and shelter in term 'life' in the Article.

The dialog on rights of an individual and movements around these philosophies were heated from ancient time and rooted in western society. The movements that developed in the west during the French and American revolutions during the eighteenth century influenced a small section of Indian intellectuals. Social transformation and political movements of different groups and the Congress provided base for debate and declaration of the rights. The advocates of the rights were social reformers, liberal political leaders championing for equality of Indians as 'citizens' with the British before law and there were also the defenders primarily concerned with shielding the economic interests of the landed class.

Social reformers attempted to involve for reforming social customs and traditions so as to protect women and the lower layers of society. The liberals were concerned with individual freedom of expression and association and the recognition of equality before law for all citizens. One of the many factors which led to the organisation of the Indian National Congress in 1885 was the disappointment of Indians to get the Ilbert Bill passed in its original form proposing to give Indian magistrates the power to try British subjects in criminal cases. In the end of century, this consciousness crystallised in a new generation. Congress leader stated that 'with new thoughts and new ideas, impatient of its dependent position and claiming its rights as free citizens of the British Empire' (quoted by Dutta 1998: 277). Sitharamam Kakarala discerned that the rights consciousness was concomitant to the advent of organized landed gentry and middle class. They tended to observe 'civil liberties' as something that only advanced sections of the natives can enjoy and appreciate. It can be said that 'rights' became 'advantages' conferred by the colonial rule on the advanced part of India. This attitude was further consolidated by the leaders of the Indian National Congress (INC) during the first three decades of its practice.

It is documented in studies that ancient history of human rights movement can be drawn from 13th century. Magna Carta 1215, the petition of rights 1628, Bill of Rights 1689, Virginia Declaration of Rights 1776, The American Declaration of Independence 1776, the French Declaration of Rights man and citizens 1789, and the Bill of Righs 1791, were the documents which gave human rights their initial constitutional status. Most of these documents were the result of long scuffles of the people. After the first world war, world populace began to show its concern for global mechanisms to shield Human Rights. After the creation of the League of Nations, first international effect was made for human rights on 25th June in 1930 and a conference was held on forced labour. On 10th December 1948, UN embraced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and afterward adopted two more covenants on 16th December 1966 and they came into force on 3rd January, 1976 and 23rd march 1976 respectively.

In the year of 1918, the Congress made a declaration of rights submitted to the British parliament. It encompassed the freedoms of speech, expression and assembly, the right to be tried according to law, and above all, freedom from racial discrimination (Dutta 1998). Later, the Motilal Nehru committee of 1928 claimed all fundamental rights to Indians 'which had been denied to them'. Though the demands were overruled by the British government, the Congress passed a resolution on fundamental rights in the Karachi session in 1931.

The first human rights group in the country, the Civil Liberties Union was formed by Jawaharlal Nehru and some of his associates in the early 1930s with the aim of providing legal support to nationalists accused of sedition against the colonial authorities. In 1936, Jawaharlal Nehru came forward to form the first civil liberties organisation. The Indian Civil Liberties Union (ICLU) was established in Bombay in 1936 with Rabindranath Tagore as its president. Nehru said in his address to the founding conference of the ICLU, that the notion of civil liberties is to have the right to oppose the government. In 1945, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru brought forth a constitutional proposal emphasising the importance of fundamental rights. They were integrated in the Indian constitution. Thus, liberties and rights protected in the Indian constitution were product of the freedom struggle of the people of India (Haragopal and Bala-gopal 1998). The historical interpretation of the civil rights movements during the colonial period is vague and very brief.

India was actively participating in all these developments, Finally, Government of India introduced the Human Rights Commission Bill in the Lok Sabha on 14th May 1992. On 28th September 1993, President of India publicised an ordinance namely Protection of Human Rights Ordinance. This ordinance was replaced by the Protection of Human Rights Act 1993 which was passed by both the Houses of Parliament. The bill became an Act, having received the assent of the president and it was published in the Gazette of India, Extra ordinary part II, section-I.

The human rights movement in the post-independence period is normally divided into two phases: pre- and post-Emergency. The Civil Liberties Committee was formed in West Bengal in 1948 to dissent against the state repression on the communists (Dutta, 1998). There is no account of this phase of the movement. The major civil liberties movement began in the late 1960s with the cruel attack by the state on the naxalites (Kakarala 1994). The movement elevated the issue of democratic rights of the oppressed sections of society for justice and equality. While detailing the struggle, Kakarala contended that democratic rights are needed by those who have to struggle for justice while the fundamental rights are adequate for the privileged. The struggle for democratic rights is the struggle to assert the rights already guaranteed formally but not ensured in practice. Denial of democratic rights takes the form of a spasm on the right to assert rights already guaranteed (1994).

In the regime of Smt. Indira Gandhi, the Emergency imposed on 25 June 1975 brought new prevalent impetus to the civil rights movement. She suspended the fundamental rights suing that they were used by the privileged section to prevent her from carrying out programmes in the interest of the 'majority' (Rubin 1987). The liberal intellectuals was surprised by the realisation of the 'built-in authoritarian tendencies within the political system, and the drawbacks endemic in any assumption of the durability of the democratic process, as heretofore. This formed the intellectual and political setting that led to the origin of the civil and democratic rights movement (Ray 1986). Numerous recent civil liberties organisations emerged during this period to fight for civil and democratic rights.

It has been observed recently that there are several groups in different states working on human rights. The most important and famous are the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and the People's Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR). They have their formal or informal branches and/or network organisations in many states with the same names, though autonomous.

Moreover, the important and active state-level organisations are as under:

- The Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee (APCLC)

- The Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR) in Maharashtra

- The Association for Democratic Rights (AFDR) in Punjab

- The Naga People's Movement for Human Rights in Nagaland

- Lok Adhikar Sangh in Gujarat

- Citizens for Democracy in Delhi, Mumbai and other places.

These organisations are not membership-based. They have office bearers such as the convenor, president, secretary, etc. In some places, the executive committee functions jointly. They do not have definite objectives or constitutions to lay down their functions. When there is requirement, they form committees and subcommittees to carry out certain functions. Committees of Concerned Citizens have been formed in several states from issue to issue and time to time. Sometimes, they try to intercede between the state and political groups engaged in direct actions and become the victims of so-called 'encounter' actions of the police or military. They have a temporary character in terms of organisation and functioning. Such loose organisational structures may provide flexibility for undertaking activities. But they may lack stability of members and activities. Several observers represented that these groups are often limited to a small group of individuals largely from the academia, media, writers, artists, lawyers and other professionals. Except in Andhra Pradesh, where APCLC and APDR have enticed relatively huge numbers of participants, human rights groups are mainly from the middle class (Ray 1986; Kakarala 1993).

Many reports have shown that human right movements face a constant predicament on the issue of violence practiced by the strugglers and activists as well as the violence of the state. In 1948 the Civil Liberties Committee of West Bengal which protested against the repression of the state on the communist activists faced the question of its stand on the violence practised by the mass movement. Dutta observes that:

Most of the communist activists, whose rights were under attack, were accused of practicing violence, and the liberals, who joined the CLC, had to answer the government's charge that they were condoning violence. On this issue, the CLC leaders took a stand that was, in fact, an extension of the ideal that the primary task of the movement was to oppose the authoritarian tendencies of the state. In defending the communists, they presumed that the state violence was more harmful to civil society than the violence against the state practiced by the revolutionaries (1998: 280-81).

To summarize, a social movement is s huge movement and a joint attempt of people to bring social change, or to struggle for any change. The notion central to any social movement is that people interfere in the process of social change, rather than remaining mere spectators or passive participants in the web and flow of life. There are many types of social movement. Human Rights are the basic human needs and demands. They are essential for the all-round development of a human being. Henceforth, it is expected that civilized state will incorporate these rights in its constriction and try to guarantee that its citizens can live comfortably.