NEW DELHI: President Ram Nath Kovind on Tuesday flagged the recent incidents of violence against women in the country, saying such heinous crimes force people to think whether the society has lived up to the cherished universal vision of equal rights for all.
In his address at an NHRC function at Vigyan Bhawan here to mark Human Rights Day, he said the ideal way to commemorate the occasion will be for the whole world to "introspect" what more needs to be done to live up in letter and spirit to the "sacred text" of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
Human Rights Day is celebrated on December 10 to commemorate the UDHR, which was adopted and proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948 as the shared standard yardstick to protect human rights across the globe.
In his address, Kovind alluded to recent cases of violence against women in various parts of the country, which have triggered shock and protests from citizens, demanding that authorities ensure the safety of women in public places.
The president also recalled the contribution of Indian reformer and educator Hansa Jivraj Mehta in shaping the landmark document on UDHR and ensuring it contains a more gender sensitive language.
She is widely credited with making a significant change in the wording of Article 1 of the UDHR, by replacing the phrase "All men are born free and equal" to "All human beings are born free and equal."
"In the draft of the UDHR, it mentioned, 'all men', and Hansa Mehta insisted that it be changed to 'all humans' making it universal. Today, we owe it to her," Kovind said, asserting that the country also celebrated 70th anniversary of the adoption of Indian Constitution in November.
The president said more needed to be done to commemorate visionary leaders like Mehta who championed human rights and gender equality.
"We can make a beginning by asking ourselves if we have lived up to her vision of equal rights and equal dignity. Unfortunately, a series of events in the recent past force us to think again, and incidents of heinous crimes against women are reported from many reports of the country," he said.
He said such incidents are happening "not just limited to one place or one nation".
"In various parts of the world. The human rights of people who are vulnerable are being flagrantly violated," the president said, adding, the whole world needs to "introspect" to mark this day.
Along with such introspection, the society also needs to reinterpret the document and expand the notion of human rights, he said, adding, "All we need is our empathy and imagination."
"I have children and forced labourers, for example, in my mind. Or consider the plights of those lodged in jail, on trial for petty crimes. These issues deserve urgent attention to make a harmonious society in compliance with human rights," he said.
This introspection is indeed essential, but the society also needs to understand its rights, the president said.
Invoking Mahatma Gandhi's words, Kovind said the Father of the Nation had said that human rights and duties are two sides of the same coin.
"Our failings in human rights, as in cases of violence against women, often stem from failing on the other side (in our duties)," he said.
NHRC Chairperson Justice H L Dattu, UN Resident Coordinator in India Renata Lok-Dessallien were present on the dais.
Army chief Bipin Rawat, members of the diplomatic corps and various human rights activists were present in the audience.
"The number of complaints received by the NHRC has increased from 496 since its inception (in 1993) to 89,584 till 2018-19. The increased number of complaints show a greater awareness among people and their growing faith in the NHRC," Dattu said in his address.
Lok-Dessallien also recalled the contribution made by Mehta, who had served as the Indian delegate to the UN Commission on Human Rights from 1947 to 1948.
She also read out the message of UN Secretary General António Guterres on the Human Rights Day, the theme this year being 'Youth Standing up for Human Rights'.
"This year, on Human Rights Day, we celebrate the role of young people in bringing human rights to life. Globally, young people are marching, organizing, and speaking out," Guterres said in his message.
"Every single person is entitled to all rights: civil, political, economic, social and cultural. Regardless of where they live. Regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, social origin, gender, sexual orientation, political or other opinion, disability or income, or any other status," the UN Secretary-General said.
He called on everyone to support and protect young people who are standing up for human rights.
NHRC Secretary General Jaideep Govind said that in the last 26 years, the National Humans Right Commission (NHRC) has taken cognisance of over 18 lakh cases of human rights violations and over Rs 180 crore have been paid on its recommendations in thousands of cases.