Rights and Its Theories

The death of George Floyd, or the custodial murder of Jayaraj and his son Bennix Felix in Tamil Nadu or the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula, rights have become an extremely integral part of our lives. Enshrined in the constitution or embedded in our conscience, rights protect us from various atrocities that could be inflicted on us. As per an United Nation, it is a nation moral responsibility to ensure basic rights to its citizens. Valuable document like the UN charter is a framework that guarantees rights to everyone all across the globe. Apart from the United Nations charter, agreements such as the Geneva Conventions indicate that giving basic human rights is a pan world phenomenon.


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A collective conscience towards rights emerged after several agitations and struggles in the past. For instance, the power of vote was only granted to men, however, after many deliberations and debates voting rights were granted to both genders. Another prominent example could be that of a demonstration by a trade union for better working conditions and an increased wage. Emerging victorious out of conflicts like these has given impetus to activists striving for equal rights even today.

Formally, rights can be defined as social, legal, or ethical claims that an individual is entitled to. According to a legal institution or a document, it guarantees what people rightly deserve. It is rights that provide us an understanding that what ought to be permissible and what is prohibited in society. Often understood as imperative to a civilization, rights are the building blocks of a society and culture. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ‘rights structure the form of governments, the content of laws, and the shape of morality as it is currently perceived’.


There are various explanations for rights in the form of theories.


John Locke’s Theory of Natural Rights: An eminent personality, Locke’s theory is an infamous one. The first part of the theory deals with natural rights. It emphasizes on self-preservation and whatever is imperative to achieve the preservation of a human being. By self-preservation, John Locke doesn’t mean to propagate an egoistic but also recognizes the need to treat others as equal. For example, the right to freedom is, and should apply to all. The second part of the theory is based on the notion of Special Rights. It further has two broad categories namely ‘consensual and non-consensual special rights'. The latter, as the name suggests, doesn’t require the consent of one person. For example, drawing water from a public well doesn’t require consent it is made for the public to use. His theory is based on pre-political, which essentially denotes that that natural rights are applicable to all human beings and every individual is entitled to claim them.


Utilitarianism: Based on the notion of consequentialism, a utilitarian would judge an action as just or unjust solely based on its outcome. This theory stresses on utility, and any action that maximizes utility is term as just. According to this worldview, a right that does not maximize utility, a utilitarian can to violate it. The opposition of utilitarian perspective is of the view that it often restricts rights or sometimes it stretches rights a little too much.


Kantianism: As opposed to Utilitarianism, the Kantian theory is firmly anti consequentialist. It criticizes the utilitarian’s land suggests that consequences are largely contextual something that is beyond a human’s control. Furthermore, the Kantian theory states that responsibility for consequent is muddled. Morality should only be based on intentions which are the only thing that can be evaluated without external factors.


Laski’s Theory of Rights: This is arguably one of the best theories of rights that have ever been created. Harold Laski is of the view that rights are inseparable to a human being and propounds that human beings function at their full potential when granted all basic rights. For Laski, the state, humans, and rights in the same boat and are interlinked to one another. For Harold Laski, the state is responsible as far as the realization and recognition of human rights are concerned. Until and unless the state recognizes such rights, the population can’t exercise the rights. In addition to this, Laski believes that recognition by the state is the first to acceptability, however, the state through the legal documents and authorities should implement these rights. Laski’s most important work is based on the functional aspect of rights. It states that an individual’s claim would only be considered provided one fulfills his duty.


Barker and his Theory of Rights: Similar to what Harold Laski, Barker is a liberal with prejudice towards idealism. This means that reality cannot be distinguished from human perception. The overall development of an individual is a responsibility that the state undertakes. The conditions required for attaining the desired goal of development is in the form of rights. He states that ‘the law of the state helps me to secure rights. Bur rights are claims and the origin is the individual himself. The individual is a moral person and it is his determination that he will develop his moral personality through the rights.’ (Ernest Barker)


Recognized by International Bodies, rights have become a foundation for development. It is because of the past struggles, that we individuals enjoy rights in society. Although there are exceptions to this, International Bodies should intervene at the earliest and condemn the violation of Human Rights around the world. With recent happenings, rights have become more visible than before especially during the Coronavirus pandemic.


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