The term POVERTY can be defined in various aspects and from the point of view of different communities in society rather than just referring to it in the traditional sense i.e lack of money.
Defining it in a broader sense, for some poverty may mean in economic terms like lack of nutrition,
health care, education and other basic needs due to a lack of resources; for some, it may mean social
and political terms where they lack representation in decision-making and are poor in the sense that
they are not given an equal place in society for some or the other reason.
When one exercises their socio-economic, cultural and political rights, it provides a sense of freedom to an individual and with the violation of such rights, their freedom is also taken away from them.
When we say that human rights are the rights that an individual acquires by birth, it counts all
individuals irrespective of their race, religion, caste, creed, gender, age, or socio-economic status.
Unfortunately, when the question of protection of human rights arises, the wealthy class over
shadows the economically challenged class and the basic human rights of the poor are neglected.
This article deals with the human rights guaranteed to each individual by various national and
international instruments and the lack of exercise of these rights by the people for various reasons and
how their rights get violated knowingly or unknowingly. The article also deals with the enforcement
mechanism of human rights in our country.
HUMAN RIGHTS UNDER NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL INSTRUMENTS
For a human being to live life with liberty is very essential to have civil, political, economic social and
cultural rights as these rights assist us to lead a healthy life in society.
Following are some of the rights guaranteed to each individual including the ones living in poverty through the various international and national instruments. These rights are as follows-
- RIGHT TO LIFE, LIBERTY AND SECURITY OF PERSON:
Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that everyone has the right to life,
liberty and security of a person. The article has a wider scope as it includes the
practices of genocide and apartheid which are considered a violation of the right to life and
- Other international instruments dealing with the said right includes Article II of the
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article 6 of
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, etc.
- In India, Part III of the Indian Constitution deals with the various fundamental rights wherein
Article 21 specifically deals with the right to life and personal liberty. In the Indian context, the
scope of Article 21 has been widened by the Supreme Court of India through its various
landmark judicial pronouncements.
- In Samatha v. State of A. P., AIR 1997 SC 3297, the court held that the right to life means something more than mere survival of animal existence. It includes the right to live with human dignity with minimum sustenance and shelter and all those rights and aspects of life which would go to make a man’s life complete and worth living.
- In another Landmark case of Francis Coralie versus Union Territory of Delhi, AIR 1981 SC 746 the
Supreme Court has held that the right to life includes the right to live with human dignity and
all that goes along with it namely the bare necessaries of life such as adequate nutrition,
clothing and shelter over the head and facilities for reading, writing and expressing oneself in
direct forms, freely moving about and mixing and meaning with fellow human beings.
- The irony of the judgment can be witnessed here where on one hand the court has rightly
protected the rights of an individual and on the other hand, the poor people in the country
are living without bare minimum necessities like shelter, food Healthcare, education, and no
dignity and all those that form part of the right to life and liberty.
- It is the duty of the state to ensure and safeguard the fundamental right of the citizens but there is no state in the country where there is no poverty and despite various schemes, programmes, and laws, the state has failed to eradicate poverty. The most important reason for such failure could be that the state of poverty is not considered a violation of human rights and people have normalised
living in poverty without bare minimum necessities failing to know or due to lack of
awareness that it is their right to live with human dignity and get access to all those
things that are required for human survival and it is the duty of the state to ensure it to
- They also lack this knowledge that since it is their right which is violated hence they
can approach the court to seek relief. Article 21 of our Indian constitution also includes in it
the right to a clean and pollution-free environment which is guaranteed to all but how many
poor in the country could exercise this right? Hardly any state in the country is without the
slum area where people lack shelter, hygiene, sanitation facilities and many more.
- ABOLITION OF SLAVERY, FORCED OR COMPULSORY LABOR:
Article 4 of the UDHR provides that no one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and
the slave trade shall be prohibited in all forms. Article 8 of ICCPR, Article 6 of the Convention on
the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and Article 5 of the Slavery
The convention deals with the abolition of all forms of slavery including human trafficking.
In India, Article 23 prohibits traffic in human beings and recognises it as an offence punishable
in accordance with the law.
- This Article also prohibits begar and other similar forms of forced
labour. In addition, Article 24 of the Indian Constitution prohibits the employment of children below
the age of fourteen in any hazardous activities. In a landmark case of the People’s Union for
Democratic Rights v. Union of India, AIR1982 SC 1473, Court stated that any factor which
deprives a person of a choice of alternatives and compels him to adopt one particular course
of action may properly be regarded as force(including compulsion arising from hunger and
poverty, want and destitution) and if labour or service is compelled as a result of such force, it
would amount to forced labour.
- Talking in reference to Indian society, the situation is very contrary wherein the poor
people are in a situation or circumstances which is completely prohibited by our law and the
apex enforcement agency. No person wants to work as a form of slave or carry out beggary
as their profession or no woman willing wants to take up the profession of a prostitute.
- It is due to the external forces which our Hon’ble Supreme Court has rightly pointed out due to
which they take up a profession, not out of their will but out of necessity and during their
employment, they are subjected to torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading
treatment which is a punishable offence and a violation of the human rights of people living
- When an individual is guaranteed human rights, it is to be noted that it is not an
absolute right and it comes with certain reasonable restrictions which an individual is obliged
to comply with meaning while exercising their own fundamental rights one shouldn’t violate
the rights of another individual.
- Whereas in a practical scenario, it is completely opposite where people living a luxurious life tend to violate the human rights of people living in poverty and the victims are not in a position to seek relief due to their poor situation where they cannot fight back for their rights. Poverty is a situation which doesn’t even free innocent children from its clutches and are forced to take up work which is in violation of their basic human rights.
- Right of everyone to leave any country including his own and return back to his country :
Article 13, para 2 of UDHR, Article 12 of ICCPR deals with the said right of an individual.
In India, Article 21 provides for personal liberty and Article 19(1)(e) deals with the said right
through which an individual can exercise this right.
- It is ironic to see that people living in poverty have the liberty to exercise this right not to improve their status but to get exploited at the hands of people across the globe. The reason is rich people will never support or help them to get better in life and they want this difference to prevail in the
society till eternity.
- Right to freedom of speech and expression: It is the touchstone of all the freedom that the nations are concerned with. Freedom of speech and expression includes within it the right to information. It implies an individual has a right to gather, transmit and publish news. Article 19 of UDHR, Article 19 of ICCP, and Article 13 of the Convention on the Rights of Child deal with the said right.
- In India, Article 19(2)deals with the said right. This right has been given a significant place in
a democratic state where people are both government and governed. The scope of the
the article has been widened to include within it the right to information meaning every individual
irrespective of any discrimination has the right to know about the schemes, programmes,
and all the decisions related to people made by the government.
- But when we talk about the people living in poverty, they are deprived of this right. They lack awareness regarding the decision taken for them by the government. Even though it can be witnessed that mass awareness programmes are being organised to educate the masses with respect to their basic human rights, the effort has failed to reach a large section of people.
- It may also mean that if the masses get educated in respect of their rights, the government will get overburdened with the responsibilities of its citizens as then it has to take care of each and every
individual living in poverty which might not be practically possible in one go. Therefore
governments are gradually trying to overcome poverty by providing the people living in
poverty with employment, education, houses being built for them and many more.
- Freedom of association: Article 20 of UDHR, Article 8 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Article 22 of ICCPR, and Article 15 of the Convention on the Rights of Child deal with the right of freedom of association.
In India, Article 19(1)(c) of Indian Constitution guarantees its citizen the right to form an association
- This right plays a vital role in the lives of people living in poverty because they are the
ones working as workers or labourers or under the exploitative class of people and if they
raise their grievances individually, their concerns would not be addressed.
- Therefore, in order to get their problems addressed it is very important for them to present them collectively by forming associations and unions. It is pertinent to note here that some could exercise this right and some couldn’t as again the situation of poverty comes into the picture and they
get suppressed by the rich class people.
- RIGHTS OF THE CITIZENS VIS-A-VIS DUTIES OF THE STATE
It was realised that for the exercise of the rights given to individuals, it is equally
important to oblige the state to help the citizens realise these rights effectively. Therefore,
the Indian Constitution has within it the provision of Directive Principles of State Policy which
are basically the guidelines provided to the state to ensure the welfare of its citizens. It has
within it the socialistic and welfare provisions which the state is u der an obligation to fulfil
it. It also means that the rights of the citizens are the duties of the state.
- Right to work: Article 23 of UDHR provides for the right to work. Articles 6 and 7 of ICESCR,
obliges the state to provide all kinds of assistance to the citizens to achieve the full realisation of
the right to work which includes technical and vocational guidance, safe working condition,
fair wages, equal opportunity and many more. Article 11 of the Convention on the Elimination of
All Forms of Discrimination against Women oblige the state to take all appropriate measures to
eliminate discrimination against women in the field of employment.
- In India, there are various provisions in our Constitution which oblige the state to ensure the right
to work for its citizens. Some of the provisions are as follows:
● Article 41: It directs the state to secure the right to work, education and public assistance
in cases of unemployment, old age sickness and disablement. It provides social
security to the people.
● Article 42: It directs the state to provide just a human condition of work, provide
maternity leave and Secure equal pay for equal work for both men and women.
● Article 43 makes provision for a living wage which means a wage which would enable a
workman to maintain his efficiency and to provide his family with all materials which
are necessary for the maintenance of Health and physical well-being.
- Right to Education: Illiteracy is a major challenge or hindrance to the development of any
country and also for the growth of an individual therefore right to education has been
guaranteed as one of the basic human rights through which a welfare society can be ensured as
literate individuals are assets to any nation.
Article 26 of UDHR lays down that everyone has the right to education and elementary education
shall be free and compulsory. Articles 28 and 29 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child
deals with the educational rights of children and also oblige the state to take all necessary
measures to realise this right.
● In India, Article 41 of the constitution laid down that stage Charlotte make
effective provision for securing the right to education.
● Article 45 of the constitution provides that the State shall provide early childhood
care and compulsory education for all children up to the age of 14 years.
● The Constitution 86th amendment act 2002 inserts new article 21 A in the
constitution to make the right to education of fundamental rights for all children
between 6 and 14 years of age.
● Article 46 of the constitution requires the state to promote with special care the
educational and economic interests of the weaker section of the people.
The fact that education today has become the most expensive thing in the upbringing of a child
and due to lack of resources many children are deprived of this right is not unknown to the world.
Poverty and education are on opposite sides for the poor people which they can only see but
- Therefore, to ensure education government has established various government
schools and colleges through which children can exercise their right to education. But it can be
seen that the number of citizens who shall avail of the facility surpasses the number of available
educational institutions. Hence, they get deprived of this right or it can be said that their right to
education is violated.
- Right to health: the preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organisation says that
the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights
of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social
condition. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights lays down that everyone
has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of
his family including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.
Article 12 of ICESCR deals with the provision of the right to health and puts an obligation on the
state to take necessary steps for the realisation of this right.
● In India, Article 47 of the Constitution requires the state to raise the level of nutrition
and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health.
To fulfil its obligation of ensuring the good health of the citizens, the government have initiated various programmes and has also established various government hospitals where people can available the best health facilities free of cost. But when we talk about the actual realisation of the right, there is a gross violation due to several reasons. The first and foremost reason is their poverty due to which the doctors in the hospital are reluctant to attend to and treat them. Another reason is as most of the population of the country lives in poverty, they suffer from illnesses more as compared to other people in society and the number of hospitals available couldn’t accommodate the number of patients in the country.
- Right to adequate food, shelter and services: Article 11 para 2 of ICESCR recognises the right
of everyone to be free from hunger as a fundamental right. The Vancouver Declaration on
Human Settlements affirmed that adequate shelter and services are basic human rights.
● In India, article 47 of the Indian Constitution requires the state to regard raising
the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people.
● Article 48 lays down that the state shall take steps to organise agriculture and animal
husbandry on modern and scientific lines.
The plight of the country is such that a large number of people have no shelter for themselves or live
in homes unfit for human habitation. With the growth of the population, the problem of adequate
shelter is escalating with the result that there is unabated growth of slums and squatter settlements, which are, on one hand overcrowded, and on the other hand, a constant threat to health and life due
to the filthy residential environment.
ENFORCEMENT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
The Indian Parliament has enacted the Protection of Human Rights Act 1993 for the
establishment and constitution of the National Human Rights Commission, State Human Rights
Commission in states and Human Rights courts for the better protection of human rights and
formatted connected therewith. The Commission is empowered with the following powers and functions under section 12 of the Protection of Human Rights Act.
● To enquire into complaints of violating human rights or abatement or negligence in the
prevention of such violation by a public servant. The commission in such cases may move
either on suo moto or an application presented to it by a victim or on a direction or order of
● To intervene in any proceeding involving any allegation of violation of human rights pending
before a court with the approval of such court
● to visit any jail or other institution under the control of state government where persons are
detained for the purpose of treatment, reformation or protection to study the living
condition of the inmates and make recommends thereon to the government.
● To review the safeguard provided by the law for the implementation of human rights and
recommend measures for their effective implementation.
● To undertake and promote research in the field of human rights.
● To spread Human Rights literacy among various sections of society and promote Awareness
of the safeguard available for the protection of these rights through Publication the media
seminars and other available means.
Today, poverty itself has been recognized as a violation of human rights by international
organisations. It has been seen above that individuals are guaranteed various human rights which are vital for the sustenance of life. These are the rights which help an individual to live with freedom and dignity rather than mere animal existence.
- These basic human rights ensure that no individual is
subjected to any kind of inhuman treatment and hence they are provided with the right to seek relief
in case of any violation of their fundamental rights. It has been seen that enforcement agencies
have also been established for the proper realisation of fundamental rights.
- Despite all the legislative measures, poverty can be witnessed everywhere. There are people who are
struggling for the bare minimum necessities of life like food, clothing, shelter, medical care and
similar other necessities. It can be seen that the states have not fully been able to comply with their
duties directed to them under DPSP.
- Poor people are continuously exploited at the hands of rich
people. The problem of unemployment is a major factor in the development of poverty among
people which leads them to do any kind of job they get just to feed their stomachs. Due to poverty
among the mass, sometimes people even settle for less and sometimes they even try to snatch the
job of others. This behaviour of theirs is not driven by voluntary will like in the case of other normal
people rather it is driven out of necessity to survive and feed their families.
The term ‘poverty kills humanity’ can be understood from two perspectives-
● First is from the perspective of elite-class people who tend to take advantage of the poor
people to fulfil their needs and in doing so they forget the humanitarian values and the very
purpose of one’s life where one capable person is under a moral duty to help the other
an incapable person so that even they can live a dignified life if not luxurious life.
● Second is from the perspective of poor people who out of their necessities and other
external forces like poor socio-economic conditions are forced to forget their humanitarian
values and struggle and fight amongst themselves for survival.
In both cases, it can be observed that an individual while exercising their basic human rights are
violating the human rights of the other individual.
Hence, “POVERTY KILLS HUMANITY”.