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Study human rights

"Whereas the recognition of the inherent dignity of the equal and inalienable right of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world... "

The preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948.

THOUGH THE concept of human rights has taken centuries to evolve into what they are today, the emergence of academic programmes in human rights in Kerala is a relatively new phenomenon. With human rights issues being at the centre stage of many a civil and political development in Kerala today, these academic programmes and their reach have come in for closer scrutiny.

In the first place the problem seems to be that there aren't all that many institutions in the State offering courses in human rights. In fact, apart from the certificate programme in human rights offered by the Centre for Adult Continuing Education and Extension (CACEE) of the University of Kerala, the inclusion of human rights for the LLM courses at the university's Department of Law and the Cochin University of Science and Technology and the specialised LLM programme offered by the Mahatma Gandhi University, there are no other academic programmes in human rights which have been accepted by academic circles.

CACEE course

The certificate programme in human rights at the CACEE has proved to be very popular with a cross-section of people - ordinary graduates, Government employees, lawmakers.

The `student' profile for this CACEE course is varied. According to CACEE officials, this programme has a heavy accent on the practice of human rights and their application in real-life situations and is not one that offers a detailed theoretical background for human rights.

The LLM specialisations at the MG University and the human rights paper at the University of Kerala too are functional in their purpose in the sense that they primarily deal with the legal aspects of human rights in the national and international spheres and the application of human rights law in various situations.

UGC initiative

The University Grants Commission (UGC) for its part has promised financial support to universities and colleges - under the Tenth Plan - to offer a whole range of courses in human rights. In fact, the UGC prepared a blueprint for the promotion of teaching and research activity in human rights way back in 1985.

This blueprint contains proposals for restructuring of existing syllabi, and introduction of new courses and/or foundation courses in human rights. This scheme has two components - human rights and duties education and promotion of ethics and human values.

Objectives

The UGC has identified certain objectives too for its proposed education programme on human rights and duties:

* To develop interaction

between society and

educational institutions.

* To sensitise the citizens

so that the norms and values

of human rights and duties

education programme are

realised.

* To encourage research

activities.

* To encourage research

studies concerning the

relationship between human

rights and duties education

and international

humanitarian law.

For the promotion of ethics and human values the UGC has set the following goals:

To create awareness, conviction and commitment to values for improving the quality of life through education, and for advancing social and human well being.

To encourage universities and colleges to undertake academic and other activities pertaining to teaching, research and extension programmes in respect of values and culture such as extramural lectures, seminars, conferences, workshops and orientation programmes for teachers and students.

To encourage universities to undertake preparation and production of requisite material, including books, handbooks, Journals, teaching materials, video CD and films relating to values.

Pitfalls

However, there are those who see a danger in the mushrooming of academic programmes in human rights. Human rights activist Babu Bhasker for one believes that though academic programmes are welcome there is the danger of the human rights sector becoming like the IT sector; one out of which people start expecting large-scale employment opportunities.

"I feel that that the right place to start teaching and creating an awareness about human rights is the high school. In one sense, this was done in the civics classes years ago. More than giving academic programmes on human rights, what is really needed is sensitising people to understand human rights and to stand up for such rights," he told The Hindu-Educationplus.

Saji Thomas, national secretary of Amnesty International India, too has similar views. He argues that the human rights sensitisation programme offered by NGOs often have much more impact than a purely academic programme in the subject. "Once we set up an academic programme, it tends to turn examination-oriented. This is not a subject for which one develops a taste by writing an examination and by scoring a rank," he explained. Mr. Saji is also quick to point out that there are many jobs to be had in the human rights sector.

However, he repeatedly emphasises that human rights organisations, including his own, do not take in activists or advisers based on their degrees or diplomas.

"It is the profile of an activist that carries the day. His/her interventions in human rights causes. What has he/she done?

That is important, not what degree from which university," he added.

These views notwithstanding and thanks to the financial support promised by the UGC, the stage looks set for a sharp increase in the number of academic programmes in human rights in the State's universities and colleges.

G. MAHADEVAN

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