“NGOs are the eyes and ears of the National Human Rights Council,” said Cyriac Joseph, inaugurating the public hearings on Right to Health conducted by the National Human Rights Council in coordination with the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan.
I perked up at this point which came up after he talked for several minutes about the “players in the field of protection of human rights,” highlighting the role of the legislative, executive and judiciary branches of government and describing how and why the NHRC was constituted and what its mandate was. He was to repeat this statement several times in the course of his 25-minute address, the latter half of which brought out a bit of the idealist in him.
“I am saying this as a general thing …. But it is important to emphasize that protection of human rights is not only the obligation of the state but the duty of every citizen. It is equally important to emphasize that when we say state we mean the legislature, executive, and the judiciary.
I am saying this for the sake of record, so that it does not go unnoticed.”
After reiterating this and explaining the mandate of the NHRC, he stated that the NHRC with its limited staff could not address all human rights violations on its own but needed every citizen to take responsibility to stand up for human rights.
Why had the NHRC decided to associate with Jan Swasthya Abhiyan? “We will be able to get better acquainted with reality – ground realities in different regions,” he explained.
“In health care itself, we often say, we often say prevention is better than cure…. It is better to prevent violations of human rights than to seek remedies for violation of human rights. Prevention of human rights will be possible only with necessary creation of awareness among the people about their rights, so that the violators as well as the victims will desist from violations of human rights. This awareness program is part and parcel of the activities of the Human Rights Commission.”
“There are umpteen types of violations of human rights in the health care system apart form negligence of an individual doctor…. Our idea, our motto is to get better acquainted with the hard realities, ground realities in our country in the field of health care.
“If we showed some initiative to move from Delhi to different parts of the country to know better the issue or we opted to seek the help of a network of NGOs who are to be our ears and eyes in this endeavor, are we to be blamed? Instead of appreciating this, people are trying to criticize, maybe they are [ill-informed].
“In all fairness I expect the media to give the answer which I have given today.”
He was responding to a statement reported by the press accusing the NHRC public hearings of being similar to a “khap panchayat.”
In retrospect we should credit the allegation for eliciting this spirited defense of the human rights commission and its authority to work with people’s organizations, to visit different regions so as to be more approachable, to take up issues of health rights, to raise awareness proactively, and to use the medium of public hearing in order to fulfill its mission.
I wonder if he realizes that every human rights worker, every sincere NGO worker, and indeed every honest person has felt what he expressed: “Instead of appreciating, people are trying to criticize.”
I hope that his office stands behind his statement recognizing the role of NGOs in upholding human rights and I hope that this helps in some way to protect those NGOs that are being harassed by the government for doing this very job.