Human dignity: Do we really care for it?

Last Updated: Mon, Jan 07, 2013 03:50 hrs

The last year ended in a somber mood. The country was gripped with the grief that a young lady had lost her life because of the brutal attack and rape in a bus in the capital of the country. Students and others vented their anger through spontaneous demonstrations. I am not sure whether the anger is against the brutality or rape because everyday rape cases and atrocities on women reported in media could not do what a single incident has done. In general, our reaction to physical injuries is much sharper than our reaction to attack on human dignity or humiliation inflicted on an individual.

Moreover, disrespect and atrocities on women are so entrenched in our society that such incidents do not pain us the way an incident of brutality pains us. One may argue that the Delhi incident is a wake up call and Indians will fight to build a society where human dignity will be respected. It is a huge challenge.

The recent comments by members of political parties demeaning the dignity of women vindicate the fact that such comments are taken lightly by those who vote for them, that is we the common people of this country.

Political leaders know very well what weaknesses in their personality and attitude will hurt their prospect for winning the election and they are careful in guarding those weaknesses. Therefore, those comments should not be taken as a slip of tongue. They demonstrate the depth of the malice in our society.

We often claim that the society has changed for the better. We celebrate women occupying leadership positions in companies and other sectors. But women who break glass ceilings are the fortunate few whose talent could blossom with support from the environment in which they have grown up. They do not represent the average Indian woman, who is harassed every day.We make laws for women quota in institutions in which elected individuals are members. We make laws making it mandatory to appoint women in the board of directors of companies. But all these will not enhance the women's dignity in the society.

Voluntary organisations are fighting hard for it over a long period of time and have achieved some success, but that is miniscule. The change is very slow. It ought to be because change in social norms and attitude is a very slow process. There is need to give a big push by the government and by all other institutions and individuals to accelerate the process.

Let us face the reality. We have not learned to respect human dignity. The principle of human dignity requires that every human being should be acknowledged as a valuable member of the society. To injure someone's dignity is to treat that person as not human or less than human—as a thing or instrument or subhuman creature.We live with girl trafficking, ill treatment to maids in households, humiliation and harassment of employees in work place by seniors, violation of safety and environment norms by companies, and similar violation of human dignity. Those who are not affected are not much bothered about it. Those who are affected bear with it considering it as their destiny.

Let us expect that the companies will respond to the wake up call. Each company should take the pledge to produce safe products/services in a safe environment and to address reasonable aspirations and concerns of other stakeholders. Industry associations might consider introducing ethical audit to assess how their members are complying with ethical norms and impose penalty (e.g. cancellation of membership) for those who knowingly violate those norms. They should also arrange well-structured training programmes to create champions at each managerial level who will lead the movement of creating an ethical society. The Companies Bill 2012 gives an opportunity to companies to initiate actions outside their boundaries. The Companies Bill 2012 requires companies, who cross the specified threshold, to spend two per cent of their average profit of the previous three years on corporate social responsibility.

Schedule VI to the Bill provides a list of CSR activities, which include promoting gender equality and empowering women'. Companies can take this activity on their priority list. They need to come out of the business philosophy that CSR should flow from business strategy.

The activity that aims to reduce the deep-rooted malice cannot immediately be linked to the business strategy. But in the long run, every company,every other institution and every individual will benefit from a society that does not tolerate violation of human dignity. Let us start 2013 with the hope that companies and industry associations will take the first step in building an ethical society.

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