Here is an important excerpt from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "All human beings are...equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. No one shall be subjected to...degrading treatment..." The reason I am reproducing it is that most of the time, human rights are narrowly construed as referring to protection of life, liberty and property, abuses of law and order machinery, excesses of security forces, atrocities committed in the course of religious, ethnic and racial strife and so on. That they have to do with the simple day-to-day relationships between person and person hardly enters the mind of an average person.

Human rights at their fundamental level are all about sensitivity, empathy, responsiveness, values and concern for individual and community welfare. Anyone who behaves in an inconsiderate, thoughtless and arrogant manner violates human rights as much as a constable who roughs up a citizen. In that sense, human rights abuses are rampant in homes, workplaces, public life, indeed everywhere.

Being unpunctual; not returning calls or replying to communications; keeping others unduly waiting; not keeping one's word; causing disturbance to neighbours; driving without adhering to the rules of the road; being callous to the elderly and the disadvantaged thousands of such hurtful instances abound at every turn in daily life.

It is not that perpetrators need any lesson in civilised human relations: Most of them come from respectable families, have presumably had good upbringing, are well educated and are of good standing in society, business or government. Sensitising such persons who are unfeeling, and unmindful of what must be self-evident to them, poses a big problem. Unless they pull themselves up by introspection, there is a great danger of their setting a bad example and passing on their objectionable traits to their offspring as well.

B. S. RAGHAVAN

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated June 16, 2006)
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