The President of India, Smt. Draupadi Murmu said that human rights are not limited to human beings only, it is for the entire humanity including nature. We must learn to treat nature with dignity. The President Smt. Murmu was addressing the Human Rights Day celebrations organized by the National Human Rights Commission here in New Delhi on December 10, 2022.
Speaking on the occasion, the President said that it is an important occasion for the whole of humankind, as it was on this day in 1948 that the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (HDHR). She noted that the text of the UDHR has been translated into more than 500 languages, which makes it the most translated document in history. She said that still, when we consider the sad developments that keep taking place in many parts of the world, we wonder if the declaration has been read at all in some of those languages. The fact remains that human rights are a work in progress around the world.
The President said that in India, we can take solace in the fact that the National Human Rights Commission has been making the best possible efforts to spread awareness about them. Now in its 30thyear, the NHRC has done a commendable job of protecting as well as promoting human rights. It also participates in various global forums for human rights. India is proud of the fact that its work has been appreciated internationally.
The President said that developing sensitivity and sympathy is the key to promoting human rights. It is essentially an exercise of the faculty of imagination. If we can imagine ourselves in the place of those who are treated as less than human, it would open our eyes and compel us to do the needful. There is a so-called ‘golden rule’, which says “Treat others as you would like them to treat you”. That sums up the human rights discourse beautifully.
The President noted that today is the beginning of the worldwide, year-long celebrations of the 75 years of the UDHR. And the United Nations has chosen ‘Dignity, Freedom and Justice for All’ as the theme of the year 2022. She said that over the past few years, the world has suffered from a high number of natural disasters caused by unusual weather patterns. Climate change is knocking on the doors. People in the poorer nations are going to pay a heavier price for the degradation of our environment. We must consider the environmental dimension of justice now.
The President said that the challenge of climate change is so enormous that it forces us to redefine ‘rights’. Five years ago, the High Court of Uttarakhand held that the Ganga and Yamuna rivers have the same legal rights as human beings. India is a land of sacred geography, with countless holy lakes, rivers and mountains. To these landscapes, the flora and fauna add rich biodiversity. In old times, our sages and seers saw them all as part of a universal whole, along with us. So, just as the concept of human rights exhorts us to consider every human being as no different from us, we should treat the whole living world and its habitat with respect.
The President shared that she wonders what the animals and trees around us would tell us if they could speak, what would our rivers say about human history and what would our cattle say on the topic of human rights. She said that we have trampled on their rights for long, and now the results are before us. We must learn – rather re-learn – to treat nature with dignity. This is not only a moral duty; it is necessary for our own survival too.