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Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Are we Aware?

Dr. Shruti Shankar Gaur & Dr. Shobhit Wadhwa

While I was busy reading the book ‘Universal Human Rights by Jack Donnelly, my niece came and sat next to me. Curious as she is about everything, she enquired what I was reading. I put my glasses on the table and told her (as simply as I could) “It’s a book on the basic rights of humans. They are our fundamental rights”. She seemed to be impressed by the thought that we as humans have certain basic rights. After explaining her basics, I asked if she can think of one right which is existential and must be part of Human Rights. She quickly snapped, “I got this, internet access and free Wi-Fi”. I smiled at the Post Millennial. Yet a part of me cringed that we, as humans aren’t even aware how fortunate we are, living in today’s time. For it was our forefathers who endured feudalism, oppression, religious atrocities, slavery, discrimination, colonial rule,  world wars’ destruction to ensure we enjoy the Fundamental Human Rights today. It is our duty, NOT to take them for granted.     

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights


The document Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was the end result of the two brutal world wars that shook the world, left hundreds of dead and disabled bore the disaster of two Atomic Bombs. It was at this hour when the world was at the brink of extinction, ‘An eye for an eye’ mode that the great leap in the form of United Nations emerged. The nation-states recognized the urgent need to save humanity and mankind from the future atrocities of the war.  United Nations pledged to protect mankind and the first step was to develop a document that empowered every human being on earth irrespective of race, language, nation, region, religion, gender et al.

Human Rights were drafted by an eighteen member team chaired by Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt. It included China’s P.C.Chang, Frenchmen Rene Cassin, Dr. Charles Malik of Lebanon, noted international lawyer, Professor Hersch Lauterpacht of Cambridge University, and British author H G Wells to name a few. The purpose was to lay the basic rights of all humans living anywhere on the planet. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 (General Assembly resolution 217 A) as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations.

What are Human Rights?

Human Rights are the fundamental or basic rights of freedom and equality entitled to each & every individual inhabiting the earth irrespective of the national borders, gender, diversity or disparity of any kind.


The General Assembly, proclaims Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by…………teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction. 

The Human Rights List

I Right to Equality

II Freedom & Discrimination

III Right to Life, Liberty & Personal Security

IV Freedom from Slavery

V Freedom from Torture & Degrading Treatment

VI Right to Recognition as a Person before the law

VII Right to Equality before Law

VIII Right to Remedy by Competent Tribunal

IX Freedom from Arbitrary Arrest & Exile

X Right to Fair Public Hearing

XI Right to be Considered Innocent until Proven Guilty.

XII Freedom from Interference with Privacy, Family, Home and Correspondence

XIII Right to Free Movement in and out of the Country

XIV Right to Asylum in other countries from Persecution

XV Right to Nationality and the Freedom to change it

XVI Right to Marriage & Family

XVII Right to own Property

XVIII Freedom of Belief & Religion

XIX Freedom of Opinion & Information

XX Right to Peaceful Assembly & Association

XXI Right to Participate in Government and in Free Elections

XXII Right to Social Security

XXIII Right to Desirable Work and to Join Trade Unions

XXIV Right to Rest & Leisure

XXV Right to Adequate Living Standard

XXVI Right to Education

XXVII Right to Participate in the Cultural Life of the Community

XXVIII Right to a Social Order that Articulates this Document

XXIX Community Duties Essential to Free and Full Development

XXX Freedom from State or Personal Interference in the above Rights.

Declaration of Human Rights and the Nation-States

The United Nations declared Human Rights which became mandatory for the member States to incorporate them into their constitutional DNA for an equal and inclusive society. India being a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, incorporated the United Nations Human Rights Document as the core of its constitution.

Why Human Rights

History has reminded time and again that contempt and disregard for Human Rights have led to atrocities and barbaric acts that shook the consciousness of mankind. Are we prepared to renew the acts of atrocities be it fascism, Nazism, slavery, world wars or Atomic Bomb explosions from the past? Which way should Humanity move forward: ensuring every individual of the world enjoying Human Fundamental Rights of freedom and equality or individual or society living under fear and discrimination?

In the Article 1 the Declaration asserts that ‘all human beings are born free and equal and must enjoy equal dignity and rights’. It further asserted that the only way humanity can march forward is when every child is allowed to blossom in its own unique way by providing equal opportunities and freedom to become independent, responsible and contributing members of society.

Where are we now?

We are confronted with deaths and displacements in Syria; looting and killing in Iraq; rapes and amputations in the Congo; repression of dissent and ill-treatment of workers in China; disappearances and beheadings in Mexico; torture and arbitrary detention in Guantánamo Bay; racism and xenophobia in Europe; subjugation of women and oppression of homosexuals across the Arab world; religious chauvinism in India and the list goes on. There isn’t a single country in the world where there is zero violation of human rights. We are still not able to curb 100% violation of human rights. We still come across cases of discrimination on the basis of colour, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, religions, etc. Cases of torture, abuse, slavery are also common in a few countries. There are macro and micro ways in which things can be changed. The UN has the infrastructure and mechanisms to protect human rights more effectively. Regions and countries have legal systems that can protect and implement those rights. What is required is a willingness to do so.

What can we do?

It is the easiest and yet the trickiest thing to follow. At the individual level, it becomes imperative to be aware of our Basic/ Fundamental Rights as humans and to value them while enjoying them. The trickiest is to enjoy our own rights while not stepping upon others’. Secondly, if in any case, they seem to be stripped off, we must ensure to restore them keeping in mind that former generations have fought enough to provide us the platform of Human Rights. We should not only ensure Human Rights for us and by us but also ensure the compliance in surroundings and should step forward and raise voice against it if encounter any such thing.

What role can Education play?

Developing awareness towards Human Rights is a Human Right itself. It’s easy to abuse a society or section of society that are unaware regarding the Basic Fundamental Rights of an individual.  Thus, it becomes the duty of the Government and civil society to empower every individual with their rights. Democracy is the stamp where every citizen enjoys Human Rights. The knowledge of Human Rights ensures the development of an inclusive society where every individual acknowledges, respects and welcomes the basic rights of all irrespective of diversity be it that of gender, language, region, religion, caste or creed.

Students can be engaged in curricular activities encompassing human rights & values. The first step shall be to draw awareness towards the atrocities of the past that have led to Human Rights. To develop a sense of ownership and conserving ‘the gift’ received by the hard work of ancestors. Third and most important is to develop youth to respect & value diversity in true sense for the world to be inclusive. ‘Your right is my duty & vice versa’.   


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