Cauvery Ganapathy & Amrita Chowdhury

All human activity, material or otherwise, should necessarily conspire to one end- a perfectibility of human welfare. What is commonly understood as human rights is an assertion of this elementary requirement. These however are a set of rights unfortunately more visible due to their infringement than their ready availability. In the Indian context, in recent times, the phenomenon of Globalization has most readily been blamed for the abysmal state and violation of these rights. This article is not intended as a defense of everything that has come in the wake of globalization, - but as a pointer to the act that by focusing so exclusively upon its purported evils, we may perhaps be overlooking the inherent flaws of our own indigenous system and might miss the opportunity to exploit globalization’s benefits on a panoply of social issues while mitigating its systemic flaws.

Human rights with its modern connotations, has seen a more or less parallel growth with the adoption of constitutional and parliamentary government in India. The pedigree, in terms of the documented guarantees for the protection of human rights is very impressive in India- yet nearly every such guarantee has been followed by a gross violation. India became a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and guaranteed civil, political, social and cultural rights through parts 3 and 4 of the constitution; around the same time there were the post partition massacres and the Kashmir violations. India then went on to sign the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights in 1976 and 1979- one of them at a time and by a government which had carried out the most systemized violation of human rights in the name of the Emergency.

The 70s and the 80s, witnessed the rise of Non Governmental Organizations(NGOs) and the very noble mechanism of public interest litigation, until finally in 1993, the National Human Rights Commission was established- and the parallel to all of this, the Indians lived through atrocities in instances like the Nellie massacre, the anti- Sikh riots, Ayodhya and numerous other carnages that had much more to do with communal frenzy and fired by vote bank politics than with freewheeling international economics.

From 1950 itself, independent India has had several legislations curtailing basic human rights by virtually arbitrary compulsions. The Andhra Pradesh suppression of disturbances act, the preventive detention act, the COFFEPOSA, the MISA, the National Security Act etc- were all promulgated in the name of national security, but they all went way beyond their avowed objective in violating basic rights in an unfortunately large number of incidents.

Much before globalization in its present form came to India, the country had witnessed the adoption of iniquitous Suppression of Immoral Traffic Act (SITA, 1956) which made only the prostitute punishable and not the male patron because the latter ‘had other social obligations in the positions of a father, a son, a husband or a brother and hence, could not be penalized without disturbing the social equilibrium’.

In reality, an objective scrutiny of our religious texts shall amply indicate that the basic philosophy itself of Hinduism is not founded upon individual justice or social utility. The caste system whose advocates seldom tire of quoting from the ancient texts renders any secularism or egalitarian principles ineffective.

The point of this enumeration is to suggest that the now fashionable obsession with tracing all the evils and violations in the Indian society to the easy transcendence of borders- in its present form- allowed only since 1991, overlooks the unfortunate truth that the Indian society with the caste system as its main pillar, presents this unique case which makes the enforcement of secular human rights virtually impossible in India- with or without globalization.

Although most of the human rights violations confronting India today were not initiated by globalization- it is undeniable that it has definitely aggravated many of the resident evils. Among the most severe criticisms leveled against MNCs, which are the supreme bastions of globalization, is one pertaining to the disregard for the primary ecological balance being disturbed by exploitation of India’s natural resources and reserves.

Critics of globalization, further argue that it effects a supposed dilution on Indian culture under an onslaught of foreign influences. They contend that domination of the mass media by TNCs has effected a cultural homogenization that has caused an alienation of the proclaimed Indian ethos. Globalization has allegedly increased the incentive to use child labour in India, enhanced the incidence of poverty in India, established an inhumanly mechanized work culture and exposed India to health and environmental hazards owing to its being an easy option for dumping.

Our contention- perhaps not as popular- however is that appropriate measures such as the one advocated by the likes of Dr Amartya Sen, may be employed to make globalization a part of the solution with adequate institutional changes and support mechanisms to better its relevance for human and social welfare. Good use may actually be made of global opportunities of trade and commerce to enhance domestic incomes and subsequently reduce poverty.

MNCs are profit making enterprises. It is therefore natural for them to seek ways and means to maximize their profits by cutting costs at the level of safeguards. Under the circumstances, it is incumbent upon the host country to ensure that adequate safeguards are met and that MNC activities comply with local specificities. Capitalism has forever flourished in an environment of lenient rules and minimal restrictive scrutiny; but the largest functioning democracy of the world with a steady 8% growth rate and billowing domestic market can- in the age of independence- afford to dictate terms commensurate with its internal benefits and welfare needs. It is the domestic government’s prerogative to ensure that the legislative process or order provides no scope for admitting violations by the MNCs; just as it is for the government to ensure that benefits from economics growth percolate to all sections.

Child labour is undoubtedly facilitated by poverty and parents naturally choose to feed their children rather than schooling them, if forced to make a choice. However, as economists like Jagdish Bhagwati and Amartya Sen contend, when income improves, poor parents may generally be expected to respond by sending their children back to school. This has been identified as the income effect- education is a superior good, the consumption of which rises as income rises. Infact, rise in literacy rate from 52.21% in 1991 to 65.38% in 2001, is an indicator of the benefits that may accrue from well intentioned and well administered policies within the sphere of a globalized economy.

Again it was the implications of the caste system and traditional divisions within the Indian society that ad facilitated the continuance of the idea of bonded labour in the country. It is however, international organisations and groups like the ILO and Amnesty International that are creating awareness against recruitment of bonded labour by calling for the provision of such empowering alternatives as basic education, micro- financing, skills and entrepreneurial training and organizationally strengthening women’s self help group in the country. The marginalized today have better chances- provided the government takes the initiative to ensure that these options become readily available by roping in agencies like the Small- farmers Agri- Business consortium (SFAC), agri- clinics, food parks etc. which have been modeled on the European success stories in agriculture and rural labour. The grape cultivation in Narayangaon area of Junnar district of Maharashtra is a case in point where the Thakkar community made use of afore- mentioned opportunities to successfully improve production and import a good amount to the European markets.

Also the impact of mass media, which has been so severely criticized for bringing the supposed evils of globalization into the Indian society, is the one responsible for creating awareness about the ‘long prevalent but only whispered about’ issues of female infanticide, dowry deaths, domestic violence, sexual abuse, alternate preferences, psychological issues etc.

Never has the opinion of so many mattered so much. Globalization has brought this basic manifestation of Human Rights home to us. If we take into consideration the case of Clemenceau, the French ship was granted permission to enter Indian waters by the Indian government, while that it was finally not allowed to dump its toxic wastes here was due largely to the pressures exerted by French public opinion and the efforts of Greenpeace. In fact, the recent manifestation of human rights violations in India- the post Godhra riots and Manorama case- had very little to do with globalization in any of its forms.

Much of the tirade against globalization emanates from equating it synonymously with the process of economic liberalization. The latter both entails and necessitates the former and is by itself, not as faulty a principle as is often suggested. Basic economics right from Adam Smith to Amartya Sen to Jagdish Bhagwati, tells us that when there is no way to significantly increase the share of the pie going to the poor, the only thing to do is to increase the size of the pie. Infrastructure and foreign investments and demands increase capital formation and hence jobs. This helps the cause of poverty mitigation when the domestic government ensures that the distributive principle of ‘trickle- down’ works.

The fact is we have moved way too far into the process of globalization, which has in any case existed in some form or the other since the medieval period itself, to now get engaged in the redundant debate over whether that monumental decision of 1991 was right or wrong. Globalization or its associated processes have their flaws; but it is important to remember that the human rights violations in India today were not initiated by globalization, although some may have been aggravated by it. Violations of basic rights in India abound even today, only because our inherent system allows it to be so.