Rights without responsibility?

For days, weeks, months and years everyone has been clamouring about this and that right. But this scribe has not come across a statement or commitment of being a responsible, law-abiding citizen and shouldering the responsibilities which they are bound by under law. The longest surviving Constitution of the country, promulgated in 1973, contains a list of the fundamental rights clearly stating that laws inconsistent with or in derogation of fundamental rights are to be void and that the State shall not make any law which takes away or abridges the rights so conferred. Articles 8 to 28 of the Constitution pertain to fundamental rights which everyone is talking about, but not making any mention of the responsibility devolving on any citizen of Pakistan under the law as well as the security, national solidarity and defence of the motherland. These fundamental rights do not give or provide complete freedom.

Article 16, pertaining to the right to freedom of assembly says, “Every citizen shall have the right to assemble peacefully and without arms, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of public order.” Article 19, relating to the Freedom of speech sates, “Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, commission of or incitement to an offence.” Article 19A relating to the right to information provides, “Every citizen shall have the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law”. Article 25 regarding the equality of citizens reads, “1) All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law, 2) There shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex, 3) Nothing in this Article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the protection of women and children.”

Other fundamental rights given in the Constitution briefly relate to the security of a person; Safeguards as to arrest and detention; the right to a fair trial; slavery, forced labour etc prohibited; protection against retrospective punishment; protection against double punishment and self-incrimination; inviolability of the dignity of man etc; freedom of movement etc; freedom of trade, business or profession; freedom to profess religion and to manage religious institutions; safeguards as to educational institutions in respect of religion etc; provision as to property; protection of property rights; right to education; non-discrimination in respect of access to public places; safeguards against discrimination in services; and the preservation of language, script and culture. How different segments of the society by and large avail and exercise these fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution also leaves much to be desired, to say the least.

In a democratic system, which continues to prevail in Pakistan for many years together so far, the ruling party or the federal government and the opposition parties are regarded as two wheels of a vehicle. As long as these two wheels function democratically, sensibly and mutually respectfully towards each other, not only does the democratic system continue to prevail, but also gains strength with every passing day. But if both sides do not honour their obligations as required and demanded by the democratic system, then it is bad for the people at large and also not so good for the country. Healthy and constructive criticism is quite obviously welcomed by the government. The opposition parties should and must criticise the government but in a democratic, constructive and healthy manner. As an example, lawyers are regarded as educated people who study law and then practice it as their profession to earn their livelihood in a respectable and honourable manner. But when they take law into their hands, they are just violating the fundamental rights one way or the other.

People by and large also resort to open firing on marriages and other occasions and thus violate the law blatantly besides threatening fellow citizens life and property. Those directly and indirectly associated with the print and electronic media are also often heard demanding and protesting about their rights of expression and information being denied to them. As the fourth pillar of the State, they should be doing constructive and objective reporting, confirm their stories from concerned quarters and avoid basing their stories or mere hearsays or feeding by the interested elements for serving their vested interests. As a responsible and respectable segment of the society they should try to be as objective, constructive and responsible as possible and exercise their right of information and expression faithfully, sincerely and honestly, please. Mudslinging and negative reporting cannot be termed as the right of expression. All those clamouring about fundamental rights, irrespective of their belonging to one or the other segment of the society and profession, would in all good intentions and sincerity be asked to avail and exercise their fundamental rights, but also adhere to the responsibilities as required. Availing fundamental rights without responsibility is not something good, appreciable and expected from the people who should be law abiding, positive and objective thinking and remembering that where their nose ends, freedom of the other person starts from there.

Muhammad Zahid Rifat
The writer is Lahore-based Freelance Journalist, Columnist and retired Deputy Controller (News), Radio Pakistan, Islamabad and can be reached at zahidriffat@gmail.com

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