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Do Rights Have Limits?

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The recent judgment of the Supreme Court with regard to Hindu daughters’ right to property ownership underscores the importance of rights. This has been aptly brought out in the first editorial of this issue of EPW. The editorial under reference, while appreciating the positive aspect of the judgment, also expresses its resolute scepticism about the actual enforcement of such rights. The editorial aptly suggests that rights are a necessary device but not the sufficient condition to achieve human purpose in general and empowerment of the disempowered and disposed in particular. Put differently, rights tend to be plagued with contradictions between what they propose and promise and what they actually achieve. This, however, does not mean that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Rights, when viewed from a liberal point of view, are considered as positive intervention into property relations. Rights begin to override the social authority, howsoever benign that authority may appear to be. For example, in the present context, women as holders of such rights feel encouraged to override such “benign” authority of patriarchy. Rights are aimed at intervening with human purpose to free deprived individuals particularly from the politics of patronage, which necessarily undermines the self-respect or self-worth of such individuals. Rights are the guarantee for self-respect. And yet, rights from the point of view of different kinds of marginalised individuals can be ineffective in actual terms.

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Updated On : 3rd Sep, 2020

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