We began our first day of the programme with an interactive session, beginning with an introduction to the History for Peace project and the Human Rights Defenders programme. Following this initial introduction, we moved into a Q&A session with the students where we asked them what led them to sign up for the HRD programme. The class consisted of 15 students from grade 11 and most of the answers given by the students veered towards garnering a deeper understanding of freedom, peace, history, and privilege.
ccccWe then moved on to playing a word association game with the students where we asked them to define the word “human” and “rights” in a single word, which we then wrote down on the board. We made sure that the entire class participated in the activity, which led to interesting and varied answers from each student. For example, the word “human” evoked responses like homo sapiens, life, unity, and competition. However, the responses to the word “rights” had a similar theme: the students thought they were basic, a necessity, important, and guaranteed.
ccccWe proceeded to use these words to connect the two terms, before laying out two situations before them to portray the fact that human rights are layered and complex. The first situation consisted of two candidates for the job of a rickshaw puller — a man and a woman from a lower economic class who were both in dire need of employment. The woman, moreover, had a child and was also suffering from an ailment. We then asked the students who they would hire and why. While most of them voted in favour of hiring the man, there was also a consensus among them that as an employer their priority would also be arranging for an alternative job prospect for the woman. We used this moment to explore the difference between equity and equality, and to our surprise, all the students in the class knew the difference between the two. The second situation was an exact repeat of the first, but we shifted the scene to a corporate firm. This led on to a discussion on the consequence of the maternity leave on employability, and how human rights were intrinsically tied to gender, class, caste, and even religion.
ccccWe decided to explore the questions of caste and privilege a bit further. Is reservation a direct violation of human rights? we asked. This launched an extensive discussion on the caste system in India, and how basic needs (two of the words mentioned during the word association activity) like proper infrastructure for education and living conditions were despicable for most of the lower caste and lower class demographic of the country. Against this backdrop, we briefly spoke about B.R. Ambedkar’s ideas on reservation policies and this provided the context for discussing human rights in India.
ccccThe discussion on the caste system allowed us to demonstrate how the state and the civil society were equal partners in the implementation of human rights. By the end of the discussion, we asked the question again. This time, most students answered in the negative.
ccccWe then read out from the Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, stopping once to discuss the term freedom for fear, where we explored how fear of oppression was as potent as direct oppression itself.
ccccAs the first class was mostly interactive, we also outlined how our different academic backgrounds dealt with concerns about human rights. Rushali, as a student of international relations, spoke a bit about the legal, political, and economic implications of human rights in her studies, while I used my background as a literature student to talk about how memory, testimonials, texts, and films were as important as laws and statutes when it came to discussing human rights.
ccccWe ended the class by asking the students to read and analyse the UN Declaration of Human Rights, with the promise that we would begin our discussions on day 2 with the articles mentioned in the UDHR.