“To different religions which talk about the sanctity

 “To deny people their human rights is to
challenge their very humanity.” – Nelson Mandela

beings are unique, and need to be respected in their uniqueness. It is the
demand of human dignity that a person’s individuality and uniqueness are
conserved. It basically implies that if a person cannot grow and develop as an
individual, then there has been an attack on his humanity.

are ancient texts in the different religions which talk about the sanctity of
human rights. In Hinduism, the ancient text of Mahabharata talks about human rights in the form of adhikaar (rights). The
concept of human rights as seen in the Judeo-Christian tradition is by the
state of grace that gives all human beings inherent worth.

was during the era of renaissance humanism that the concept of modern human
rights came into existence. The civil wars of 18th century England
and the European war of religion gave rise to the thought of liberalism and it
became the centerpiece in Europe during the Age of Enlightenment. The idea of
‘human rights’ though, can find its roots in the French1 and American revolution.
It is an irony that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a consequence
of the II World War.

human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed
with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of
Human rights are the rights a person has simply because he or she is a human
“Human rights recognize the inherent value of each person, regardless of
background, where we live, what we look like, what we think or what we believe.
They are based on principle of dignity, equality and mutual respect, which are
shared across cultures, religions and philosophies. They are about being
treated fairly, treating others fairly and having the ability to make genuine
choices in our daily lives.”4



rights in India is a complex issue. Its complexity arises out of its tremendous
diversity, its large size and its status as a developing nation. Fundamental
rights are guaranteed to the citizens of India which includes the freedom of
religion. The country has bodies to look into issues of human rights as well a
guardian in the form of an independent judiciary.

though all these competent authorities have been created with a view to curb
human rights violations in India , the 2016 report of Human Rights Watch states
that India has some “serious human rights concerns”.5 Between
2010 and 2015, 591 people died in police custody.6 Government critics face
lawsuits and intimidation and civil society groups face harassment. Freedom of
speech has also been restricted unjustifiably. It is the duty of every nation
to safeguard the basic human rights of its citizens. India has a long way to
go, to achieve human rights in its truest sense.

The essence of human rights

term ‘Human Rights’ suggests the rights of all human beings anywhere any
anytime.7 The present day chief
articulation of human rights, the UDHR claims and prescribes universality. This
means that a human right is available to every human being irrespective of his
race, religion, nationality etc. though there might be restrictions to the
particular right such as in the case of prisoners.

of prison

The Online
Merriam-Webster English dictionary defines prison as, “A place of confinement
especially for lawbreakers; specifically : an institution (such
as one under state jurisdiction) for confinement of persons convicted of
serious crimes.” 8
Any gaol or place used permanently or temporarily under the orders of a state
government for detention of prisoners, under section 417 of Cr.P.C, 1973.9 A person who has been put
in confinement in a prison is called a prisoner. A prisoner can also be called
an inmate deprived of his liberty. In India, “Prison” comes under State Subject
in List II of the seventh schedule to the constitution of India. Thus, the
primary authority and responsibility to change the rules and regulations
associated with prisons lies with the State Government.

Non-violence, mutual
respect and human dignity are the three pillars upon which the Indian
socio-legal system is based. Even after committing a crime, a person does not
per say stop being a human and the Government has a duty to safeguard his
dignity and rights.

Human Rights to the

1.     International
guidelines and obligations

chief treaty with regards to safeguarding the human rights of prisoners remains
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The covenant
was ratified by India in 1979, and it entrusts India to include the principles
stated therein in its state practice and domestic laws. The ICCPR states that
prisoners have a right to the highest attainable standard of mental and
physical health.10

the arrival of the ICCPR, the United Nations set down standard rules and
regulations for the treatment of prisoners in 1955. It states that the prisoner
will not face any prejudice on the grounds of, colour, race, language, sex,
religion, social or national origin, political or other opinion, property,
birth or other status.

or other status. At the same time there is a strong need for respecting the

and moral precepts of the group to which a prisoner belongs. The UN standard
rules made it mandatory to have separate institutions for men and women,
undertrials and prisoners detained under civil law and criminal offences.

2.     Human
Rights to prisoners in India : Present conditions and prevailing problems

time immemorial, the usage of torture techniques has been predominant in India.
Due to the fact that there has been no inspection of such techniques, it has
become a ‘legitimate’ and ‘normal’ practice all over the nation. Torture is
inflicted not only upon the complainants or informants and accused but also on
bona fide petitioners, in the name of investigating crimes, punishing
individuals and extracting confessions. They undergo treatment which is grossly
derogatory to the individual dignity of the person.

the case of Joginder Kumar v. State of UP and Ors.11, the Hon’ble Supreme Court
of India by requoting Mr. Fyodor Dostoevsky said that “The degree of
civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons. Human rights
is an eternally expanding subject.” The court further added, “At the same the
time, the crime rate is also increasing. the court has been receiving complaints
about violation of human rights because of indiscriminate arrests. A realistic
approach should be made in this direction. The law of arrest is one of
balancing individual rights, liberties and privileges, on one hand and
individual duties obligations and responsibilities on the other; of weighing
and balancing the rights, liberties and privileges of the single individual and
those of individuals collectively; of simply deciding what is wanted and where
to put the weight and the emphasis; of deciding which comes first ­– the
criminal or society, the law violator or the law abider.”

the case of Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of
India, said that the hands-off doctrine does not apply to prisoners in India
and ruled that fundamental rights do not flee the as he enters the prison,
although they may suffer shrinkage.

1 France:
Declaration of the Right of Man and the Citizen ,  26 August 1789, available at:
http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b52410.html accessed 16 January 2018

Art 1, UN General Assembly, Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
10 December 1948, 217 A (III), available at:
http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b3712c.html accessed 16 January 2018

3 Adapted from Pam Costain,
“Moving the Agenda Forward,” Connection to the Americas 14.8 (October
1997): 4. Human Rights
Educators’ Network

International USA

Rights Resource Center


Edition, 1998; Second Printing, 1999

4 Australian Human Rights Commission


6 According
to the National Crime Records Bureau, between 2010 and 2015, 591 people died in
police custody.


The Universality of the Concept of Human Rights

Louis Henkin

The Annals of the American Academy of Political and
Social Science

Vol. 506, Human Rights around the World (Nov., 1989),
pp. 10-16

Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. in
association with the American
Academy of Political and Social Science

Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1046650

Page Count: 7


8 Merriam








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