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Bapu's idea: All individual rights flow from one's duties

By Kartikeya Tanna

The 'anti-Islam' movie which generated ugly violence as well as the recent advertisements posted in New York metro stations have raised debates on whether they can be considered “offensive”, “hateful”, “racist” and so on. The only purpose of these debates is to expound one's subjective limits of tolerance given that the right to free speech in the United States has very limited exceptions and that the state's arm deals strictly, as it should, with those getting provoked into violence.

Much beyond these debates, however, lies the larger question of the very meaning of rights and the way we look at them.

Even though the notion of rights has ancient roots, individual rights got widespread political traction during the Age of Enlightenment and the accompanying formation of nation-States. The outbreak of individualism during that time resulted in the consensus that a man, by his very existence, was entitled to rights and nation-states were expected to be guarantors thereof.
India, by contrast, was never really a ‘nation-state' in the European sense as Indian thought usually put in a central position, as Tagore has pointed out, a society guided by dharma (righteous duty) conceived and practised communally in the vast and diverse terrains of the geography of India.

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