Some reflections on Human Rights Day

By Chintan Girish Modi
Today is indeed special, and for two reasons. The 10th of December is observed as Human Rights Day every year because this is the day when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly way back in 1948. It is also the final day of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign that is collaboratively run by feminist organizations all around the world, including Prajnya.
I wanted to write something that would help me renew my commitment to human rights education — not only in terms of facilitating dialogue with students and teachers around Islamophobia, misogyny, homophobia and bi-erasure but also in terms of opening my own eyes to struggles that I do not see or care much about owing to my privilege. Instead of describing what I have done, I would like to use this occasion to highlight the efforts of two other individuals I respect — Vandita Morarka of One Future Collective and Nishma Jethwa of Strategic Advocacy for Human Rights.
On 6th October, 2018, they jointly hosted a ‘youth meet-up’ on the theme of feminist justice at a co-working space in Mumbai. The people who came were a bunch of students, activists, lawyers, educators and development sector professionals. We began with an exciting round of ‘Human Bingo’, a game designed to break the ice between participants and help them get to know each other.
I enjoyed these instructions in particular:
* Find a person who can name five non cis-male gender activists
* Find someone who can explain feminism to you in 30 seconds
* Find someone who can tell you about the recent Section 377 judgement
* Find someone who can name 5 Indian comediennes (female comedians)
That was a delightful way to share knowledge while having fun. If I had an opportunity to contribute to this game, I would also include the following instructions:
* Find someone who overcame their homophobia.
* Find a person who thinks that feminism is empowering for men.
* Find someone who believes that the fight for gender equality must address caste and class.
* Find a person who advocates for trans rights.
After the game, we were divided into two groups. One was facilitated by Vandita, and the other by Nishma. I was in the second group. We were asked to read a case study about an eight-year old girl from a nomadic community in Kashmir who was abducted, raped and murdered. The police arrested eight people, including cops who were accused of attempts to destroy the evidence and cover up the crime which took place at a temple.
The case was complicated by the fact that the girl belonged to a Muslim minority community, and the accused were Hindu. Some local politicians advocated for the death penalty, and this began to fan communal tensions. Some media houses were fined for revealing the identity of the girl. The girl’s father was not allowed to bury her body in a place of his choice, and he was also threatened to leave the village. Owing to the lack of safety, the mobility of other girls from the community was also restricted.
The case study was followed by a set of 10 questions, meant as prompts to guide a group discussion. I loved this exercise because it made us articulate our diverse understandings of what it means to be a victim, a perpetrator, and a feminist. We were asked to identify specific human rights violations that had occurred in the case study, and what justice would look like for the violated person, people or community in this specific context.
There was a lot of disagreement within our group. Some equated justice with punishment by law while others preferred restorative rather than retributive models of justice. Restorative models are victim-centred and community-oriented while retributive models tend to place too much power in the hands of the state. What does ‘feminist justice’ mean? It cannot simply mean having more women in courts as lawyers and judges though that is certainly a goal to work towards as far as representation is concerned. If our laws are steeped in misogyny and heteronormativity, would the pronouncement of a  sentence by a female judge be called ‘feminist justice’? I do not think so.
Participants were also urged to think about who ought to be accountable for upholding rights. Is it only the job of the state or should all human beings bear some responsibility for upholding each other’s rights? This is a good question to think about on Human Rights Day so that we can be more mindful through the year instead of using woke-speak merely to earn brownie points in activist and academic circles.
About the author: Chintan Girish Modi is a Mumbai-based writer and educator who works on Prajnya’s Education for Peace Initiative. He tweets @chintan_connect 
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