Writing in the chapter 1, titled “Why This Dialogue” in the final document of a workshop on “Dialogue of Religions on Human Rights” organized by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando observed that, “Religion is often a part of the social discourse leading to human rights violations. Sometimes it is very blatant and visible…. Theological and metaphysical arguments have been advanced and maintained to keep a social discourse that is supportive of these human rights violations.”
The caste system of India as currently practiced is one of the most glaring examples of human rights violation caused by “Theological and Metaphysical arguments”. Yet there have been several scholars like Bhagwan Das (The Science of Social Organization ) and Agniveer, who have gone deep into the meaning of the scriptures and pointed out that scriptures have been interpreted erroneously.
Other societies may have had similar experiences. The question then arises as to what role have different theosophies played in evolution of human rights in different societies? Is there any lesson in that for us?
Human Rights as currently defined by the United nations may be accessed here.
This is a most interesting time for Theosophies. Traditionally, theosophies have operated in times when theosophers had to avoid the Inquisition and other pogroms and superstitions. Many, such as Giordano Bruno spoke very strongly in favor of the independence and the free agency of man and paid the ultimate price.
Additionally, in our own Declaration of Independence (USA) this concept is given credence in the statement "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
The concept of human rights, liberty and individual freedoms goes directly to our relation with divinity. It is from there that these rights begin. They are, in many ways our birthright, a part of being a free agent in creation, a concept central to many theosophies.