Evolution and Development of Human Rights: Pre and Post-Independence Era

Human rights were established at the dawn of human civilization. The rights that enable a person to lead a happy life are essential. Through these struggles for achieving basic freedom, man has fought for his existence against nature since the beginning of human history. The concept of human rights was established as a result of this struggle. Human rights are unique in that they are difficult to define but impossible to ignore. All of the rights that are rooted in our nature and without which humans cannot exist are referred to as human rights. These rights are essential to their human dignity, which extends from conception to death.

There are various modern definitions of human rights. As per United Nations, “Human rights are those that are inherent to our nature and without which we cannot exist as human beings”. Every person has the right to human rights; they are not dependent on the particulars of the person or the relationship between the right-holder and the right-guarantor. As per Sir Christian Bay, “human
rights as any claims that ought to have legal and moral protection to make sure that basic
needs will be met”.[1]
Human Rights are important just because they aid in the defense of vulnerable minorities against tyranny[2] .



Human rights are not something that originated in the western world. It is the elucidation of the values that are shared by all people. The concept of human rights is as old as Indian culture, the language of human rights originated in Europe[3]. Since the Vedic era, people have been concerned about human rights and fundamental freedoms for everyone. In ancient India, the idea of basic liberties can be cleared back from the Vedas times of the fifteen century B.C. In Vedas, common liberty is connoted with the idea of equity. The definition of the Charter of Equality for all states is that “no one is superior; inferior all should strive for the interest of all and should advance collectively.” By stating that the happiness of the state is dependent on the happiness of its subjects, Kautilya beautifully summarizes the concept of the welfare state[4]. Manu was the first to define civil and legal rights during this time, and he also added a number of economic rights. In point of fact, Jainism, Buddhism, and a variety of other minority religions strongly supported the significance of human rights. Without mentioning Ashoka, no discussion of human rights and their historical origins is complete. Ashoka writes, “All men are my children. I just wish for my children that they may enjoy every kind of prosperity and happiness in this world and in the next.” In fact, king Ashoka worked tirelessly to uphold human rights. It’s unfortunate that the fall of the Mauryan Empire coincided with the erosion of human rights.


The medieval ages refer to the Muslim era in India[5]. There were a number of social, cultural, political, and religious rights in the Pre-Mughal era, but when the Mughals came to power, the Hindus were put under a lot of stress. In the darkness, the idea of human rights vanished. However, when Akbar’s (1526–1605) reigned, social, religious, and political rights were once more highly valued. Din-E-Ilahi (divine religion), his religious policy, attempted to promote secularism and religious tolerance. Essentially, different strict developments like Bhakti (Hindu) and Sufi (Islamic) made amazing commitments to the rise of basic liberties which were now and again were stifled by the other Mughal Realms like Aurangzeb, Babar, Humayun, and so forth.


This era begins with the establishment of British Empire. The Indian organization began by the Britishers with the presentation of Regulating Act of 1773. Under it, the British completely suppressed Indians’ rights to social, economic, political, and religious rights across the board. They were informed that they lacked entitlement to any rights. They were denied fundamental rights like the right to life and a livelihood, freedom, expression, equality, and the right to preach, among others. Indian leaders and people felt as though their rights had been violated by colonial rule in this setting, and they considered returning to fight for their rights. The Constitution of India Bill of 1895[6] made perhaps the first explicit demand for fundamental rights. The Bill ensured each Indian the right to articulation, right to uniformity under the steady gaze of the law, right to property, right to individual freedom, right to training, and so forth.


India was ruled by the British during the modern era. The British Government of India had ruined India economically, politically, culturally, and spiritually during this time. In addition to denying the Indian people their freedom, it had based itself on the exploitation of the masses. After witnessing colonial rule, every Indian was of the firm belief that for them to lead a civilized life, the recognition, protection, and application of human rights are not only fundamental but also inalienable. From a human rights perspective, important constitutional provisions include the Preamble, Fundamental Rights, Directive Principles of State Policy, newly added Fundamental Duties, reservation for scheduled castes and tribes, and special provisions for Anglo-Indians and other backward classes.

The study of human rights in relation to the Indian Constitution reveals that almost all of the human rights outlined in the various international conventions, covenants, and treaties are enshrined in the Constitution, including:

UDHR, 1948;

      International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966;

      International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966

      Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 1948;

      International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, 1965;

      Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 1979

      Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989

      Convention on People with Disabilities’ Rights, 2006[7]

In addition to the various provisions in the constitution, the Indian legislature has also enacted a number of statutes to safeguard and advance human rights.

The ILO’s standards have also had a significant impact on a number of legislative measures that India has enacted to provide workers with social security[8]. Along these lines, the idea of common liberties created and developed its underlying foundations in India.


1.     THE MAGNA CARTA, 1215

The most significant constitutional document in human history is the Magna Carta, also known as the Great Charter, which was signed in 1215. The main theme of this Great Charter is to get protection from the king’s arbitrary actions[9]. The 63 clauses of the Charter protected the barons from unfair taxes and provided citizens with basic civic and legal rights. In addition, the English Church was freed from royal interference. On June 15, 1215, King John of England presented the English barons with the Magna Carta. The ruler was constrained to allow the Sanction, on the grounds that the aristocrats would not pay weighty assessments except if the lord marked the Contract.


The English Bill of Rights, which the British Parliament enacted on December 16, 1689, is the next source and avenue of human rights philosophy. The British Parliament made a clear declaration of its dominance over the Crown[10]. The English Bill of Rights stated that the king does not have any supreme power. The citizens’ rights and liberties were clarified and codified in the Bill of Rights. It establishes the two pillars, namely, the English constitution’s foundations are the law’s supremacy and the nation’s sovereignty.


The Declaration of Independence was approved by Congress on July 4, 1776. The Declaration of Independence was written by Thomas Jefferson, its primary author, as a formal explanation of why Congress had voted to declare independence from Great Britain on July 2—more than a year after the American Revolutionary War began—and as a declaration that the thirteen American Colonies were no longer a part of the British Empire. The Declaration of Independence was issued by Congress in various forms. It first appeared in print as a broadsheet, which was widely distributed and read by the general public. Insightfully, the Statement pushed two subjects: rights of individuals and the right to revolution these ideas spread internationally and became widely held in the United States, influencing the French Revolution in particular[11].

4.     THE US BILL OF RIGHTS, 1791

The U.S. Constitution was enacted on 17th Sept., 1787. Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, and Right to keep and bear arms, Freedom of assembly and the freedom to petition are protected by the Bill of Rights, 1791[12]. Compelled self-incrimination, cruel and unusual punishment, and unreasonable searches and seizures are also outlawed. The Bill of Rights says that Congress can’t legislate to protect religious freedom and that the federal government can’t take someone’s life, liberty, or property without giving them a fair trial.


One of the essential sanctions of human freedoms, containing the rules that motivated the French

Revolution. The people of France overthrew the absolute monarchy in 1789, paving the way for the first French republic to be established. The Declaration states that “liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression” are to be guaranteed to all citizens. The Declaration’s central tenet was that “men are born and remain free and equal in rights”.[13]


Human rights and fundamental freedoms began to be questioned after World War I. In 1929, the Organization of Worldwide Regulation embraced the Statement of Worldwide freedoms of Man. The Declaration stated that the citizen’s fundamental rights, which were recognized and guaranteed by a number of domestic constitutions, particularly the French and U.S. constitutions, were actually intended without any consideration for all men everywhere.[14]

7.     THE UN CHARTER, 1945

All 51 state delegates who attended the United Nations Conference in San Francisco drafted, approved, and adopted the United Nations Charter. Human rights promotion and protection are spelled out in the UN Charter. The fact that the use of the term “human rights” is traceable for the first time in an official document and that fundamental freedom is respected is what makes the Charter so significant.


On December 10, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration covers civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights for all men, women, and children in thirty Articles. However, the declaration is not legally enforceable. It is an ideal for all humanity.


The UDHR, 1948 was not a legitimately restricting archive. There were no enforcements. The U.N. General Assembly attempted to remedy this flaw by adopting the two Covenants in December 1966: International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966 and            International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966.

The two International Covenants, along with the Universal Declaration and the Optional Protocols, include the International Bill of Human Rights.[15] A significant event in human rights history is the International Bill of Rights. It is a Magna Carta of the human rights for the modern era.


The Fundamental Rights which are provided under the Constitution of India is similar to the human rights mentioned in Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1976 and Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1976[16]. These rights are derived from a variety of sources, including the American Bill of Rights, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man, and the English Bill of Rights. Major freedoms in India are the privileges ensured under Part III (Articles 12-35) of the Constitution of India. There are six fundamental rights perceived by the Indian constitution such as Right to Equality, Right to freedom, Right against exploitation, Right to freedom of religion, Cultural and Educational rights and Right to Constitutional remedies.

The Constitution of independent India came into force on 26th January. Part III of the Constitution was clearly influenced by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. India has consented to the International Covenants of Economic, Social and Cultural rights and Civil & Political Rights adopted by the Central Assembly of the United Nations.

The doctrine of natural rights is the foundation for the Fundamental Rights enshrined in Part III of the Constitution. Natural Rights are now referred to as Fundamental Rights in the modern name. A constitutional limitation or restrictions on the powers of the organs established by the Constitution or the action of the State operate as the effects of the Natural Rights that have been transformed into fundamental rights.

It is significant to note that the United Nations Charter includes a reference to “human rights.” “Faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women”[17] is reiterated in the Preamble of U.N. Charter. As a result, one of the goals of the United Nations is listed in Article 1 of the Charter as “promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.”


From ancient civilizations to the present, the protection of human rights has gone through a long and difficult process. Human rights violations continue to occur worldwide despite progress, necessitating ongoing improvement. While the legal and ethical frameworks established by treaties, conventions, and constitutional provisions have significantly contributed to Human rights protection, there is still a great deal of work to be done to guarantee that everyone’s fundamental rights and freedoms are protected.

International organizations, governments, and civil society organizations’ ongoing efforts to promote and protect human rights demonstrate its ongoing significance. The insurance of human rights isn’t simply a legitimate and moral commitment yet additionally fundamental for the nobility, equity, and prosperity of each and every person. As a result, it is critical to maintain the progress made in human rights protection, identify and address new threats to human rights protection, and ensure that everyone’s fundamental rights and freedoms are protected.

[1]      Anonymous. Chapter-1 Introduction: Concept of Human Rights, NAS College, (Apr 10, 2023, 20:50 PM) https://www.nascollege.org/e%20cotent%2010-4-20/dr%20sadhna%20chaturvedi/08_chapter%201.pdf.

[2]      Wardle Rhiannon, What are human rights and why they are important, Future Learn, (Apr 10, 2023, 21:00 PM) https://www.futurelearn.com/info/blog/what-are-human-rights.

[3]      Chauhan Parul, Human Rights in India : A Chronological Approach to its development, Legal Service  India ( Apr. 14, 2023, 20:06 PM ), https://legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-6688-human-rights-in-india-a-chronological-approach-to-it-s-development.html.

[4]      ibid

[5] ibid.

[6] ibid.

[7]      Agrawal Smriti, The History And Development of Human Rights In India- Comparative Study between India and USA’s Human Rights Laws, Legal Service India, (Apr.14,2023, 20:06PM), https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-4430-the-history-and-development-of-human-rights-in-india-comparative-study-between-india-and-usa-s-human-rights-laws.html.

[8] ibid.

[9]      Anonymous, Development of Human Rights, Studoc, (Apr. 16, 2023, 16:05PM ), https://www.studocu.com/in/document/mahatma-gandhi-university/ba-english-language-and-literature/development-bsw-open-course/43081660.

[10]    ibid.

[11]    Anonymous,  The Backgrounds of  Human Rights, United for Human Rights, (Apr. 16, 2023, 16:12 PM ), https://www.humanrights.com/course/lesson/background-of-human-rights/the-background-of-human-rights.html#:~:text=Documents%20asserting%20individual%20rights%2C%20such,of%20today’s%20human%20rights%20documents.

[12]    Dkar Umasehwari, Human Rights & The Historical Development of Human Rights, ( Powerpoint Presentation, Apr. 15, 17:00PM ), Slide 16.

[13]    Dkar Umasehwari, Human Rights & The Historical Development of Human Rights, ( Powerpoint Presentation, Apr. 15, 17:00PM ), Slide 17.

[14]    Anonymous, Human Rights: Nature and Constituents, Mumbai University, (Apr. 17, 2023) https://archive.mu.ac.in/myweb_test/SYBA%20Study%20Material/fc.pdf.

[15]    Anonymous, Human Rights: Nature and Constituents, Mumbai University, (Apr. 18, 2023, 20:20 PM), https://archive.mu.ac.in/myweb_test/SYBA%20Study%20Material/fc.pdf.

[16]    Anonymous, Human Rights and Fundamental Rights in Constitution of India, Law Bhoomi, (Apr., 20, 2023, 09:36 AM), https://lawbhoomi.com/human-rights-norms-reflected-in-fundamental-rights-of-the-constitution/.

[17]    Singh Tripti, Human Rights and Indian Constitution : Critical Analysis,  Legal Service India, (Apr. 18, 2023, 20:04 PM), https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-6639-human-rights-and-indian-constitution-critical-analysis.html.

Author: Chelsi

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