Vartanama, Oct '16
Spring cleaning in any season can lead to some invaluable finds tucked away in forgotten corners. The handout below – well, excerpts from a handout – is the result of some recent random dusting of files of personal writings and creations since college days.
The yellowing paper of a typed and photocopied handout, prepared for an exposition on human rights by the All India Catholic University Federation (AICUF), peeped out from below a pile of other documents. It had me hooked in no time – this was from my graduation year in St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata! A quarter of a century old, the handout was the work of Priya Ranjan Ghosh, a first year B.Com. student in college.
The exposition included, among other activities, a poster making contest, and participating in it was one of my very first coming out steps as gay. My parents and a few cousins already knew but I wanted to test my confidence in speaking out to the world at large.
A human arm with ‘human rights’ painted on it in bold lettering and a clenched fist smashing into a ‘wall of injustice’! The backdrop was full of placards that said ‘gender’, ‘caste’, ‘class’, ‘race’ and other grounds on which human rights are often violated. The pride of place – in the centre of the poster – was reserved for a placard stating ‘alternate sexuality’. I drew and painted all this in water colours on chart paper – ah, I could still paint back then!
The poster was displayed, one among scores of others, in the college parlour room. There were no spectacular outcomes barring a word or two of praise from a classmate and our English teacher (who I discovered much later had got my message right). But it did help me somewhere inside. It was a forward step taken; a deep inhalation of self-realization.
I never got back the poster and it must be long, long gone by now. Yet its memory remains, and so does the exposition handout. I’ll leave you with excerpts from the handout – much in there to mull over and perhaps inspire – though there was not a whisper of sexuality in there. The time for that was still to come. The excerpts:
“Human Rights are a resultant of a great feat of nature – the product of the association of the survival instinct and the flow of human life. The concept is sublime and God-given, and has come into prominence in the unfolding of human history. As early as 442 BC Sophocles talks about ‘invoking the higher law and the natural rights of man’, and it was only in 1188 that a small kingdom in the Iberian peninsula came up with a series of rights and possibly for the first time in human history, a set of rights were declared to be ‘inseparable from any living man’.
“About nine centuries later yet in another kingdom, this one in the South East of Asia – fleeing refugees are forced into areas planted with landmines, and shot. The scene: Thailand, June 1979. Human Rights are still being trampled upon everywhere . . .
“If this world of ours has to be kept together, then man has to be kept ‘intact’. In this regard there is an anecdote about a girl who was given a jigsaw puzzle of the world map. She took the map and curiously turned it over – on its reverse side there was the printed picture of a man that had become disarranged when the map had broken up. The girl put together the pieces of the map puzzle with perfect ease – she simply composed the face of the man on the reverse. Unknowingly a great truth had been discovered – there can be no perfect world in the absence of a proper image of man.
“Yet does anybody know what is that proper ‘image of man’? May be it is just an empty term of reference for the use of the stalwarts in politics or Law. The vacuum between Human Rights legislations and their interpretations by the courts and the governments gives rise to a most unnatural state of affairs. Technical aspects of jurisprudence allow even the worst violators of Human Rights to roam about with full freedom. Consequently their victims are once again victimised, this time by the machinery of Justice.
“A question persists – from where do we come to be aware of our Human Rights? The man on the street may not know. In a bid to keep his life going the poor fellow never stopped to think! Not all of us are born with the same powers of appreciation, thus many an insult of outrage is not perceived by some of us. Obviously in order to have any universal understanding of essential practices various statutes had to be drawn up. In certain countries legislations started being passed – often by force. The Magna Carta is the most luminous example. This was followed by the English Bill of Rights in 1689, the Virginia Declaration of 1791, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen in 1789. Then came the UN Declaration in 1942 and finally the Charter of the UNO in 1945 . . .
“Humanitarian intervention started playing a major role. Various organizations like the United Nations Human Rights Commission and its sister body The Commission on the Status of Women vigorously engaged themselves in addressing vital issues. Governmental policies, war-time practices, land rights, education, etc. all were reviewed and reported on along with such things as slave trade, infanticide, labour legislations, civil and criminal procedures.
“We must also take note of the considerable obstacles that still obstruct the growth of Human Rights. Poverty, illiteracy, religious intolerance are just a few. In the international field, Human Rights interventions have often been coloured by political motives and have been arbitrary and unilateral making it unacceptable to people elsewhere.
“Human Rights as an issue remains an eternal problem. Yet it remains central to the ebb and flow of human life.”
Main artwork credit: Pawan Dhall