What are Rights? Rights and Responsibilities

what are rights?
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A Right is essentially an entitlement or a justified claim. It denotes what we are entitled to as citizens, as individuals and as human beings.

Rights are primarily those claims that I along with others regard to be necessary for leading a life of respect and dignity. In fact, one of the grounds on which rights have been claimed is that they represent conditions that we collectively see as a source of self-respect and dignity.

Another ground on which rights have been claimed is that they are necessary for our well-being. They help individuals to develop their talents and skills. A right like the right of education, for instance, helps to develop our capacity to reason, gives us useful skills and enables us to make informed choices in life.

Where do rights come from?

In the 17th and 18th century, political theorists argued that rights are given to us by nature or God. They identified three natural rights of man: the right to life, liberty and property. The idea that we are born with certain rights is a very powerful notion because it implies that no state or organisation should take away what has been given by the law of nature.

In recent years, the term human rights is being used more than term natural rights. Rights are increasingly seen as guarantees that human beings themselves seek or arrive at in order to lead a minimally good life. As a human being each person is unique and equally valuable. This means that all persons are equal and no one is born to serve others. The notion of universal human rights has been used by oppressed people all over the world to challenge laws which segregate them and deny them equal opportunities and rights.

Legal Rights and the State

While claims for human rights appeal to our moral self, the degree of success of such appeals depends on a number of factors, most important of which is the support of governments and the law.

A Bill of Rights is enshrined in the constitution of many countries. Constitutions represent the highest law of the land and so constitutional recognition of certain rights gives them a primary importance. In our country we call them fundamental rights.

Rights place an obligation upon the state to act in certain kind of ways. Each right indicates what the state must do as well as what it must not do. For instance, my right to life obliges the state to make laws that protect me from injury by others. It calls upon the state to punish those who hurt me or harm me.

If a society feels that right to life means a right to good quality of life, it expects the state to pursue policies that provide for clean environment along with other conditions that may be necessary for a healthy life.

Rights not only indicate what the state must do, they also suggest what the state must refrain from doing.

To put it another way, our rights ensure that the authority of the state is exercised without violating the sanctity of individual life and liberty.

Kinds of Rights

Most democracies today begin by drawing up a charter of political rights. Political rights give to the citizens the right to equality before law and the right to participate in the political processes. They include such rights as the right to vote and elect representatives, the right to contest elections, the right to form political parties or join them.

Today, in addition to political and economic rights more and more democracies are recognising the cultural claims of their citizens.

Rights and Responsibilities

Rights not only place obligations upon the state to act in a certain way-for instance, to ensure sustainable development but they also place obligations upon each of us.

Firstly, they compel us to think not just of our own personal needs and interests but to defend some things as being good for all of us.

Secondly, they require that I respect the right to others. If I say that I must be given the right to express my views. I must also grant the same right to others.

Thirdly, we must balance our rights when they come into conflict. For instance, my right to freedom of expression allows me to take pictures; however, if I take pictures of a person bathing in his house without his consent and post them on the internet that would be a violation of his right to privacy.

Fourthly, Citizens must be vigilant about limitations which may be placed on their rights.

Even though rights can never be absolute, we need to be vigilant in protecting our rights and those of others for they form the basis of a democratic society.

The above article is just a summary of What are rights?

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NCERT Book Political Theory chapter “What are Rights?”


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