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Origin And Development Of Human Rights Law In India

Human Rights, as the name suggests, refers to the basic rights we all possess owing the fact that we are human beings. The formal development of Human Rights Law has taken centuries to evolve. In the 13th century the Magna Carta was the first of its kind of document to limit the powers of the Monarchy over their subjects to protect them from harsh, cruel and oppressive rule. America's Bill of rights, adopted in the 18th century was done so to protect civil rights and liberties of all Americans.

Finally in the 20th century, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which recognized and spelled out the basic human rights for all living beings. The preamble of the UDHR begins as "Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world´┐Ż.".

Human Rights in Indian Scenario:

India is a signatory of the UDHR and the Indian constitution is heavily inspired by the UDHR, 1948. This can be inferred from the Articles contained in Part-III of the Constitution of India which enshrines the Fundamental Rights.

Before the Indian Constitution was adopted, there were also numerous ancient scriptures which recognized and protected Human Rights in Bharat. Shrutis and Smritis, the ancient Indian Hindu religious texts contain enormous and detailed knowledge regarding philosophy, rules of conduct, Karma etc which aim towards respecting Human Rights of oneself and of others. Likewise, other religions which originated in India like Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism too contain a plethora of scriptures that preach respect for the rights of human beings.

Law And Policy In India To Protect Human Rights:

Apart form the Fundamental Rights enshrined in part III of the Constitution of India, the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 is the legislation to give effect to those articles of the Constitution. Section 2 of this Act defines Human Rights as:
"The rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual guaranteed under the Constitution or embodied in the International Covenants and enforceable by courts in India".

The National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) and State Commission for Human Rights (SCHR) have been set up under this Act to investigate, promote and take cognizance of complaints regarding violations of Human Rights in any part of India.

Both the National as well as the State Commissions seek to protect the basic Human Rights namely "life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in the International Covenants and enforceable by courts in India".

The NHRC accepts complaints from citizens through online mode through the following link:

Some Human Rights Violations which NHRC & SHRC take or have taken cognizance of are:

  • Unlawful Arrest
  • Custodial Violence/Torture
  • Fake Encounters by Police
  • Harassment of Prisoners/Unhealthy Jail Conditions
  • Child Marriage
  • Abduction, Rape and Murder
  • Child Labour
  • Police Excesses etc

In certain cases, complaints regarding Human Rights Violations may be rejected by the Commission if:

  • There is delay of more than a year from the occurrence of the incident,
  • The issue is already Sub-judice
  • The complaint is frivolous
  • The complaint if vague or anonymous
  • The complaint pertains to service matters

Some Famous Cases investigated by the NHRC:

Batla House Encounter:

The famous Batla House encounter was investigated by the NHRC on the directions of the Delhi High Court. The NHRC gave a clean chit to the Delhi Police for the murder of police inspector Mohan Chand Sharma where it was concluded that it was one of the suspected terrorists who had shot him. The Delhi High Court accepted the findings of the NHRC.

Nirbhaya Gang Rape Case:

The NHRC had dismissed a complaint by the mother of one of the rape accused Mukesh Kumar seeking to stay the execution of her son. The commission did not find any substance in the complaint and observed that the convict had already approached appropriate authorities for relief.

Gujrat Riots Case:

The NHRC had sought intervention and further investigations by the Supreme Court into the Gujrat riots case which left around 1000 dead. However the Supreme Court termed the petitions as "infructuous with passage of time" and disposed off the same.

India is a country which has a very rich spiritual and cultural history. Even before the laws governing human rights were codified, ancient Indian religious texts had enormous references to human rights and thereby the rules of conduct. Being a signatory of UDHR, India gas given effect to its resolutions by incorporating provision for fundamental rights in its Constitution.

With the enactment of Protection of Human Rights Act 1993 by the parliament, the NHRC and the state level SHRCs have been established which are actively involved in ensuring protection of Human Rights in India. They take cognizance and investigate various valid complaints from the citizens and often also take Sou-moto cognizance of Human Rights Abuses in India.

Human Rights like the right to life, liberty, human dignity, religion are basic, universal and non-negotiable rights which must be protected at all costs. It is a truly a privilege that India is a signatory to the UDHR and also that our Constitution guarantees us basic Fundamental Rights which are sought to be protected by all the organs of our government namely - Judiciary, Executive and the Legislature.

Written By: Adv.Parikshit Somani

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