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DOCTOR, CURE YOURSELF... following the path of HRBA
By John Tharakan
Hyderabad, Nov. 29. On 22nd and 23rd November 27 Human Rights Activists came together to share their experience of Human Rights praxis and to learn together the true meaning of Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA) at Don Bosco Provincial House, Hyderabad. They had come from the four South Indian States of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. What brought them together was their anguish that many people, otherwise well-intentioned, seemed to be rather averse to any talk of Human Rights or Social Justice. The idea of ''HRBA in our lives and works'' had caught the imagination of the participants. Everyone acknowledged that, at one time or other, they had boasted of following HRBA in their works. The present challenge was to explore how they themselves actually practiced Human Rights in their own lives. The meeting was set to consider the dichotomies in their lives. The participants had agreed to share in a structured way their feelings when human rights were violated and how they personally responded to such situations. They explored together how our early socialisation and later education and formation had prepared them against a human rights based approach. Now all were eager to explore how they could promote HRBA in their specific mission and in the way they run their organisations. They wanted to bring the UN Challenge of HRBA closer home in their lives and works.
A view of the SSF participants during the HRBA meeting on 22-23 November 2019 at Don Bosco Provincial House, Hyderabad.
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The invitation for the meeting, that had gone to over 100 people, had mentioned specifically that all come with their ''wedding garments'' for the HRBA banquet. As agreed each one, either in writing or orally, shared their personal understanding of Human rights and expressed their feelings in the light of human rights violations. They also shared their immediate response to violations and how they would later respond. This sharing brought out the levels of understanding of human rights as well as the violation of human rights even by the so-called practitioners of Human Rights. The group felt that a paradigm shift was called for. The common reading of the dichotomies in the understanding of human rights made this understanding very poignant.

The discussion on the wedding garments set the stage for the second part of the sharing designed to evolve the profile of an individual practicing human rights. This led to an even more personal sharing on how each one practiced human rights, violated the rights of others and the alternate way forward that they saw. As social activists, the experience of sharing personal emotions was new, and so was all the more enriching. The emotional dimension of human rights violations brought out the urgency of promoting the practice human rights even more clearly.

The truthful and realistic understanding of the position of each one on their own practice of human rights in the second part helped in the crucial discussion in the third part, on understanding early socialisation in the families, and how the parents always taught compliance with the norms and values of a dominator, hierarchical society. Unwittingly, the teachers did the same in early school years. The understanding of the evolution of ethics, beliefs and values in the current mode of socialisation was disturbing, but threw up the need for a new socialisation that would indeed promote human rights. HRBA had to being from infancy and childhood.

The group went on to discuss the need for a new approach to the efforts at social transformation based on equality, liberty and fraternity, the three pillars of HRBA. Along with our lives and works, the management and administrative styles had also be transformed in the HRBA way. The participants were delighted at the innovative approach followed during the programme. The approach that was taken from the Norwegian TV Anchor, Ingunn Solheim, was based on listening. ''Please let me finish'' was how Oliver Moody put it in a recent article in the Times of London: ''the political TV debate where politeness wins.'' The 2-day programme was an exercise in listening to one another to understand and respond appropriately. As a number of participants expressed at the end, ''We had a novel way of sharing where, by listening, we were practicing HRBA even as we were talking about it.'' The meaning of ''Practice what you preach'' was evident for everyone.

The concept of HRBA was first introduced in 1997 as part of the Golden Jubilee celebrations of UDHR. The group noted that even after 71 years, the violations of human rights were on the increase. Equality of all, the basis of all rights, and the very first article of UDHR, is not really accepted by the majority. Seen from a development perspective, the understanding of human rights and living a life based on principles, called for the development of a person's cognitive structures (Piaget) and growth in moral development (Lawrence Kohlberg). At the same time, the group acknowledged, the danger of a merely human rights based approach had the danger of promoting individualism, a scourge of the present style of development in the globalised market economy. The group resolved to practice human rights steadfastly along with developing skills of inter-individuality and living in fraternity with all. The reports prepared by the five facilitators and 10 reporters would be collated and shared with all. The group agreed to meet again to share their experience of practicing HRBA and taking it forward.

On the first day, on 22nd November, on the side-lines of the HRBA meeting, 14 Salesians who are members of the Salesian Social Forum (SSF) had a meeting of their own. The discussions were centred on the identity of the SSF and its relationship with SPCSA, the official Salesian body in South Asia. A quick perusal through the approved statues indicated that the group could carry on unimpeded in their pursuit of human rights, in their lives and works. They agreed to meet together at the same venue on 25th and 26th of January 2020 to take forward the present momentum on HRBA. The agenda would include the election of new office bearers or contact persons.

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