Indian textbooks barely mention human rights. Indirect references to human rights are included in the Directive Principles of the Constitution of India and in civics and history textbooks. In Maharashtra, supposedly among the most socially aware states in India, the 9th standard (high school) civics book reproduces the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Most universities do not offer human rights education, although some have three-month to one-year postgraduate courses on human rights.
The United Nations was created to protect future generations from the curse of war and to reiterate the belief in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and value of the human being, and in the equality of men and women. The end of the Cold War leads us to a single global conception of human rights.
The UN's message is: Know your human rights. People who know their rights stand the best chance of realizing them. Knowledge of human rights is the best defense against their violation. Learning about one's rights builds respect for the rights of others and points the way to more tolerant and peaceful societies.
Vast numbers of people are still unaware of their rights. While laws and institutions could in many cases defend them, people must first know where they may turn for help.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights confirms the nations' commitment to the UN Charter on the promotion and protection of human rights. It is now recognized as one of the most important documents in the history of humankind and can be found in the constitutions of countries that became independent after World War II.
The UN General Assembly recommends that the text be distributed in schools. NGOs are asked to bring it to the attention of their members.
How many people have actually read this short, epoch-making declaration? How many know of the International Bill of Human Rights, which consists of the declaration; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights?
The answer is: very few. NGOs are often the first to bring human rights problems to the attention of the UN and the international community. Schools offer an important means of fashioning a human rights culture, as do research institutions, as they provide in-depth information on specific human rights issues.
The National Human Rights Commission of India; the Indian Institute for Peace, Disarmament and Environmental Protection (IIPDEP); and many NGOs have launched a countrywide public information campaign for human rights. It aims to make everyone more conscious of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and better equipped to stand up for them. At the same time, the campaign spreads knowledge of the means which exist at the international and national levels to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.
IIPDEP and many NGOs work to make school authorities and the general public aware of civic education. They focus on developing knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to apply fundamental human rights and freedom and, consequently, the nonviolent resolution of conflict.
Campaign activities include the following:
A school system based on competition, and therefore failure, cannot promote the ideas of equality, tolerance and peace. The principles of civic education are the following:
The IIPDEP and many NGOs are expanding their human rights education (HRE) activities by drawing public attention to the role schools should play.
HRE promotes the application of these rights in the classroom and, by extension, in the daily lives of young people. The IIPDEP and NGOs can make government aware of the necessity of HRE and propose changes in the textbooks and programs.
Civic education aims to promote human rights, particularly nonviolent resolution of conflict, and equality and justice. HRE's mission is to encourage personal growth and acceptance of others, and to foster cooperation and peace among individuals and countries. To achieve this, a wide variety of activities in schools and collaboration with teachers and students are essential.
The IIPDEP is a nonpolitical, nonprofit NGO whose activities are mainly research and education of the public. It believes that human rights are a prerequisite for peace, security, development and democracy. If human rights are violated in India, the biggest democracy in the world will be in danger. For the sake of democracy and sustainable development in India, HRE is essential.
The IIPDEP holds seminars and lectures on human rights. It stresses HRE in schools. Materials on human rights using ordinary language are distributed to schools, NGOs and government departments.
The IIPDEP recently organized a regional seminar for teachers from the primary to university level, who, strangely, were not aware of human rights. However, after the discussions and debates on HRE, the participants concluded that respect for human rights is essential for the individual, society and country. The teachers promised to teach their students about the importance of human rights. They suggested that HRE be included in secondary-school subjects, such as history, geography, social studies, moral and religious education, language and literature, current affairs, economics and civics.
The teachers were unanimous on the following:
Activities in schools should include the following:
HRE should teach children that all are equal before the law and that all should have equal opportunities. It should promote respect for the rights of children and the development of their personalities. It is governed by certain principles such as the following:
The process of learning about human rights can have the following elements:
At the heart of democratic method is discussion, which is best done in small groups, the results of which are then reported to the class.
The principles for conducting discussions should be:
Social education based on human rights helps students
Principles of nonviolent conflict resolution include
Even young students learn responsibility through, for example,
Older students can help younger students by
The more abstract notions of human rightsphilosophical, political and legal conceptscan be introduced in secondary-school subjects such as history, geography, social studies, moral and religious education, language and literature, current affairs, economics and civics.
We noticed that headmasters and teachers very much favor HRE. However, textbooks are produced and printed by the government and it is very difficult to convince government officials to include HRE in the school curriculum. They must be convinced through a public-information campaign, for instance, or by pressure from international organizations such as the UN, UNESCO, etc.
Lack of money is one of the main troubles faced by IIPDEP and other NGOs. It is difficult to get funding from government or the private sector for HRE. It is also difficult to convince high-level government officials and policy makers of the need for HRE as they are cut off from the hardships of the person on the street.