lawyers in India

Human Rights of Vulnerable Sections

Written by: Mridushi Swarup - 2nd Year Student, B.A.L.L.B.(Hons.)
Constitutional Lawyers in India
Legal Service
  • Human rights attach to all persons equally, by virtue of their humanity, irrespective of race, nationality, or membership of any particular social group. They specify the minimum conditions for human dignity and a tolerable life. Human rights are those which are inherent to all human beings whatever be the nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, language, or status in the society. Human rights encompass a wide variety of rights like right to life, right to freedom of religion, right to equality before law, economic, social and cultural rights, such as right to work, security and education, etc. Human rights are universal and moral. All individuals re entitled to these rights without any discrimination on any ground. All these rights are interdependent, inter-related and indivisible.

    In this project human rights have been explained in detail. Special emphasis is given to human rights to vulnerable sections. Also the provisions of the Protection of Human rights Act, 1993 have been discussed. In the end, working of National and State Human Rights Commission have also been analyzed. In the end, conclusions have been drawn.

    What Are Human Rights?

    Human rights can be defined as the fundamental rights which the humans have by the fact of being human, and which are neither created nor abrogated by any government. Supported by several international conventions and treaties (such as the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human rights in 1948), these include cultural, economic, and political rights, such as right to life, liberty, education and equality before law, and right of association, belief, free speech, information, religion, movement, and nationality. Promulgation of these rights is not binding on any country, but they serve as a standard of concern for people and form the basis of many modern national constitutions. They were defined first by the UK philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) as absolute moral claims or entitlements to life, liberty, and property[1]. Human Rights refer to the "basic rights and freedom to which all humans are entitled"[2]. Human rights are the rights and freedoms of all human beings. They are fundamental and universal. Human rights can also be defined as the rights of all individuals to certain fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Human Rights Act.

    They can also be defined as basic standards of treatment to which all people are entitled, regardless of nationality, gender, race, economic status or religion. Human rights represent claims which individuals or groups make on the society. They also include right to freedom from torture, the right to life, freedom from inhuman treatment, slavery, forced labour, the right of liberty and security, freedom of movement and right of residence, right to fair trial, right to privacy, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of opinion and expression, right to marry and form a family, right to participate in one's government either directly or indirectly or through freely elected representatives, the right to nationality and equality before law[3].

    Human rights as defined in the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 – "human rights" means the rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in the International Covenants and enforceable by courts in India[4].

    Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993

    This Act was passed in the year 1993 with a view to provide for a constitution of a National Human Rights Commission, State Human Rights Commission and Human Rights Courts for better protection of human rights and for matters concerned therein. It lays down provisions for – constitution of National Human Rights Commission, appointment of its chairperson and other members, removal of the members of the Commission, term of office of members, terms and conditions of service of members, procedure to be regulated by the Commission, officers and other staff, functions and powers of the Commission and the method to be followed in case of a complaint. In the same way, these things are laid down in case of State Human Rights Commission.

    The National Commission is empowered to inquire into and investigate complaints of human rights violations and recommend appropriate relief measures to the Government. At the state level, similar functions are entrusted to State Commissions[5]. The Act had a vowed objective of establishment of Human Rights Court at district level, apart from establishing Human Rights Commissions at the national and state level[6]. Chapter VI of the Act deals with the Human Rights Courts. It also states that for every Human Rights Court, the State Government shall, by notification, specify a Public Prosecutor or appoint an advocate who has been in practice as an advocate for not less than seven years, as a Special Public Prosecutor for the purpose of conducting cases in that Court[7].

    The Act also contains provisions for grants and funds by the Central and State Governments as they find appropriate to the National and State Governments respectively. Both Central and State Commissions are required to keep proper accounts and records and is required to maintain annual accounts. The Commission cannot inquire into any matter which is pending before a State Commission or any other Commission duly constituted under any law for the time being in force[8]. The government of India can also constitute special investigating teams if necessary for investigation in the matters of human rights violations[9]. Also no action can be taken against the Central or State government and National and State governments for anything done in good faith or with good intention in accordance with the rules of this Act. The Central and State governments can also make rules by notification to carry out the provisions of this Act. In case of any difficulty, the Central government can make provisions which are not inconsistent with the provisions of this Act and help in removing difficulty.

    Human Rights Violations

    Today there is universal consensus that all individuals are entitled to certain basic rights under any circumstance. These include certain civil liberties and political rights. The most fundamental of these rights is the right to life and physical safety. Human rights are the articulation of the need for justice, tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity in all the activities. Speaking of rights expresses the idea that all individuals are part of the scope of morality and justice[10].
    To protect human rights is to ensure that people receive some degree of decent, humane treatment. To violate most basic human rights is to deny individuals their fundamental, moral entitlements. Examples are acts typically deemed "crimes against humanity," including genocide, torture, slavery, rape, enforced sterilization or medical experimentation, and deliberate starvation. Because these policies are sometimes implemented by governments, limiting the unrestrained power of the state is an important part of international law. Underlying laws that prohibit the various "crimes against humanity" is the principle of non discrimination and the notion that certain basic rights apply universally[11].

    Over the course of time, assaults on political rights and the fundamental right to life are typically widespread. Some of the gravest violations of the right to life are massacres, the starvation of entire populations, and genocide. The term "war crime" refers to a violation of the rules of jus in bello (justice in war) by any individual, whether military or civilian. The laws of armed conflict prohibit attacks on civilians and the use of weapons that cause unnecessary suffering or long-term environmental damage. Women and girls are often raped by soldiers or forced into prostitution. Trafficking in women is a form of sexual slavery in which women are transported across national borders and marketed for prostitution.

    This is another form of the human rights violation as far as women are concerned. Government forces may carry out programs of torture. Torture can be either physical or psychological. Torture is used in some cases as a way to carry out interrogations and extract confessions or information. Political oppression may also take the form of discrimination. When this occurs, basic rights may be denied on the basis of religion, ethnicity, race, or gender. Apartheid, which denies political rights on the basis of race, is perhaps one of the most severe forms of discrimination. Violations of political and economic rights are the root causes of many crises. When rights to adequate food, housing, employment, and cultural life are denied, and large groups of people are excluded from the society's decision-making processes, there is likely to be great social unrest. Such conditions often give rise to justice conflicts, in which parties demand that their basic needs be met[12]

    Human rights are the rights of all to equal opportunity for social, economic, and psychological development, regardless of race, religion, caste, class, or gender. It is sad that we have to remind ourselves that all of us are human, and none should assume that some are more human than others. Sadder still, that we have to lay down laws to protect this natural equality, because some do believe and behave in ways which prove that some humans are more equal than others, meaning entitled to more privileges than others. The situation in our country has deteriorated to such an extent that the majority are deprived of the opportunity to develop themselves. Theirs is a struggle for mere survival. Denied their natural human rights to personal development, they are fighting to assert simply their right to be human[13].

    Indeed, many conflicts are sparked or spread by violations of human rights. For example, massacres or torture may inflame hatred and strengthen an adversary determination to continue fighting. In cases where extreme violations of human rights have occurred, reconciliation and peace building become much more difficult. Unresolved human rights issues can serve as obstacles to peace negotiations. This is because it is difficult for parties to move toward conflict transformation and forgiveness when memories of severe violence and atrocity are still primary in their minds[14].

    Various Vulnerable Sections of The Society

    (I) Children
    Children form a very vulnerable part of the human societies. They deserve to be valued, nurtured, and have their rights protected by responsible adults. It is incumbent upon every human being to protect and nurture his biological children. The world shall be a better place depending on how children are treated today. Therefore, own selfish interests, it is advisable to wake up to the plight of vast number of children living in poverty, where they are denied their basic right to live as human beings. So pathetic is the condition of the world children that the UN has formulated The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), in order to awaken slumbering nations to prevent the waste of their most valuable natural resource[15].

    India has more working children than any other nation. Despite Constitutional guarantee of civil rights, children face discrimination on the basis of caste, religion and ethnicity. Even the basic need for birth registration that will assure them nationality and identity remain unaddressed, affecting children's right to basic services.[16] Everyday news of children dying of starvation, dipping sex ratio, child marriage, child trafficking, child abuse, etc. is very common. Violations of children's rights are not limited to poor and downtrodden only. They happen in middle class and elite homes also, though in different forms. Girls in vulnerable situations such as poverty, disability, homelessness etc. find themselves doubly disadvantaged, by their gender and the physical, economic, political, social situation that they find themselves in. It is therefore imperative to take a gender perspective into account in examining the situation of children[17]. Some other examples of violations of children's rights are pre-natal diagnostic techniques to determine the sex, illegal sale of babies, imposition of corporal punishment on the child, children as victims of crimes – sexual abuse, bonded labour, child labour, child prostitution, use by criminal gangs, juveniles, etc. Various legislations like Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, etc. have been made in addition to the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, to deal with specific issues.

    (II) Scheduled Castes And Scheduled Tribes
    The concept of secularism is one facet of right of equality[18]. Secularism is the basic feature of the Indian Constitution. It envisages a cohesive, unified and classless society.[19] The aim of any civilized society is to secure dignity to every individual. There cannot be dignity without equality of status and opportunity. The absence of equal opportunities in any walk of social life is a denial of equal status and equal participation in the affairs of the society. The condition of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes was very bad in the society. The Scheduled castes (lower castes) remained economically dependent, politically powerless and culturally subjugated to the upper caste. The Scheduled Tribes like the Scheduled Castes face structural discrimination within the Indian society. Unlike the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes are a product of marginalization based on ethnicity[20]. Their birth-right was the badge of shame; degradation; lifelong poverty; and their only fault was to be born to their parents[21]. In India, the population of Scheduled Tribes is around 8 million and they are socially and economically disadvantaged. They are mainly landless with little control over resources such as land, forest and water. They constitute a large proportion of agricultural laborers, casual laborers, plantation laborers, industrial laborers, etc. This has resulted in poverty among them, low level of education and reduced access to health care services[22]. Initially as according to the hierarchy followed in the society, the work of the lowest caste in the society was to eliminate the pollution from the society. This caste was economically dependent on the upper caste for existence[23].

    One sixth of India's population live a precarious existence, shunned by much of Indian society because of their rank as 'untouchables' or Dalits – literary meaning – broken people – at the bottom of the Indian caste system[24]. Dalits are discriminated against, denied access to land and basic resources forced to work in degrading conditions and routinely abused at the hands of police and dominant caste groups that enjoy state protection[25]. In the case of Janki Prasad Parimoo v. State of Jammu and Kashmir it was held that – "Article 15(4) speaks about 'socially and educationally backward classes of citizens', while Article 16(4) speaks only of 'any backward class of citizens'. However, it is now settled that the expression 'backward class of citizens' in Article 16(4) means the same thing as the expression 'any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens' in Article 15(4)."[26]

    When the Constitution of India was adopted in the year 1950, under the influence of Dr. B.R.Ambedkar, it departed from the norms and values of the caste system in favour of Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity guaranteeing all citizens the basic human rights regardless of caste, creed, race or ethnicity. The implementation and enforcement of these principles has however been a dismal failure[27]. Various legislations and rules like Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 have also been passed.

    (III) Women
    Women face double discrimination being members of specific caste, class or ethnic group apart from experiencing gendered vulnerabilities. Women have low status as compared to men in the Indian society. They have little control over the resources and important decisions related to their lives. In India, early marriage and childbearing affects the health of the women adversely[28]. Also, maternal mortality rate is very high. During infancy and growing years a girl child faces different forms of violence like infanticide, neglect of nutrition needs, education and healthcare. As adults they face violence due to unwanted pregnancies, domestic violence, sexual abuse at the workplace and sexual violence including marital rape and honor killings. The experience of violence and its impact on health varies according to the women's caste, class and ethnic identity[29]. Women have always been exploited by the patriarchal society. Even after more than 50 years of our independence, Indian woman wear a pathetic look. They face an atmosphere of debilitating violence[30].

    (IV) Other Vulnerable Sections
    In India, the growing number of elderly is a matter of serious concern for government as well as policy planners. The vulnerability among the elderly is not only due to an increased incidence of illness and disability, but also due to their economic dependency upon their spouses, children and other younger family members. Vulnerability among the elderly also depends on their living arrangement since the elderly are less capable of taking care of themselves compared to younger persons and need the care and support of others in several aspects[31]. Disability poses greater challenges in obtaining the needed range of services. Persons with disabilities face several forms of discrimination and have reduced access to education, employment and other socioeconomic opportunities. Mental illness is a prominent form of disability.

    NHRC – National Human Rights Commission And Shrcs – State Human Rights Commissions

    One of the primary functions of NHRC is to receive complaints and initiate investigations into violations of Human Rights by public servants by acts of commission and omission through negligence on their part to prevent violation of human rights when brought to its notice within one year of the commission of such violation. Since its inception, the Commission has handled a variety of types of complaints[32]. In the latest period, the major types of complaints have been: in respect of police administration - Failure in taking action, Unlawful detention, False implication, Custodial violence, Illegal arrest, Other police excesses, Custodial deaths, Encounter deaths, Harassment of prisoners; jail conditions; Atrocities on SCs and STs; Bonded labor; child labor, Child marriage; Communal violence; Dowry death or its attempt, dowry demand; Abduction, rape and murder; Sexual harassment and indignity to women, exploitation of women and numerous other complaints which cannot be categorized, have also been taken up[33] . In the fourth Annual Meeting of NHRC with the various SHRCs, the issues which were discussed were Camp Commission sittings, eradication of Manual Scavenging, Right to Health, Human Rights Education, Custodial Justice, and Human Trafficking[34].

    The performance of a national institution has to be assessed in terms of not only its successes in achieving its stated objectives, but also the constraints within which it has worked. A pertinent question here is whether the NHRC as the requisite powers to fulfill its functions as a national institution with a statutory basis.[35] Compared to the institutions of similar nature around the world, it has a relatively heavy case-load; that is, it handles a larger number of complaints of violation of human rights, or of negligence in preventing such violation. And dealing with complaints is only one of the 10 major functions assigned to the Commission under Section 12 of the Act[36]. Its ambit ranges from reviewing safeguards for the protection of human rights and performing such other functions as it may consider necessary for the promotion of human rights. However, year after year the NHRC has been complaining of a lack of response from the Union government to its pleas to amend the law so as to realize its objective of "better protection of human rights and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto".[37]

    The State Commissions also work in the same way as the NHRC. The area of their jurisdiction is limited to their respective States. Also in the fourth Annual Meeting held between the NHRC and SHRCs, the SHRCs complained about the lack of infrastructure facilities in the State Commissions and other problems[38]. However, if NHRC has taken cognizance of a particular case, then any SHRC cannot take cognizance of that case again. Also, NHRC can transfer any case to any SHRC if it may deem fit.

    Human rights are a sort of special moral entitlement. They belong to an individual as a consequence of being human. Human rights are defined at different places differently. In India, human right now days is a burning issue. The act passed to protect human rights i.e. Protection of National Human Rights Act, 1993 was passed very recently with a view to prevent human rights violations. But this Act has also proved to be deficient in some cases especially in cases relating to violation of human rights by armed forces. It is very necessary to protect the interests of people like SC, STs, etc. because these people form the vulnerable section of the society. Also, the procedure followed in NHRC and SHRCs needs to simplify a bit so that every one including the vulnerable sections can access it. The concept of separate human rights courts which is coming up now a days can perhaps help in more efficient protection of human rights of the vulnerable sections of the society.

    The book referred to in this project is:

    The websites referred to in this project are:
    3. files/FAQ1.htm
    [1] Available at accessed on 25/02/09
    [2] Available at accessed on 24/02/09
    [3] Justice Basu Palok, LAWS RELATING TO PROTECTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS UNDER THE INDIAN CONSTITUTION AND ALLIED LAWS, Modern Law Publications, 1st edn., 2006, p. 5
    [4] Section 2(d), Protection of Human Rights Act
    [5] Available at accessed on 27/02/09
    [6] Available at accessed on 1/03/09
    [7] Section 31, Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993
    [8] Section 36(1), Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993
    [9] Section 37, Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993
    [10] Available at accessed on 27/02/09
    [11] Ibid.
    [12] Ibid.
    [13] Available at accessed on 26/02/09
    [14] supra note 10.
    [15] supra note 13.
    [16] Ibid.
    [17] Ibid.
    [18] supra note 3 at p. 103
    [19] Ibid.
    [20] Available at accessed on 25/02/09
    [21] supra note 3 at p. 27
    [22] supra note 20
    [23] Ibid.
    [24] Available at accessed on 22/01/09
    [25] Ibid.
    [26] supra note 3 at p. 107
    [27] Ibid.
    [28] supra note 20
    [29] Ibid.
    [30] supra note 3 at p. 229
    [31] supra note 20
    [32] Available at accessed on 26/02/09
    [33] Available at files/FAQ1.htm accessed on 7/02/09
    [34] Available at accessed on 24/02/09
    [35] Available at accessed on 25/02/09
    [36] Ibid.
    [37] Ibid.
    [38] supra note 34

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