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Human Rights and Jain Dharma

Published: 01.07.2008
Updated: 30.07.2015

It was great blessings of lord that I was  born and brought up in a Jain family. Even then I could not learn more about Jain philosophy and shastras, as they were written in Prakrat, Sanskrit, and Apabhransha language in original. I was able to know only of the basic principles that is ‘Ahinsa Parmo Dharma’ (non violence is the supreme spiritual value), ‘live and let live’ (Jiyo or Jine do) and to discharge my own duty with utmost sincerity. These doctrines are more or less present in almost all the religions.

Having become the chairman of State Human Rights Commission, Himachal Pradesh and now in Rajasthan. On making efforts to know more about Human Rights and its philosophy, I realized that the same has been discussed and explained in Jain holy texts written over time immemorial. Small stories those were popular in our household as we hear the same form our grand mothers in the form of vows and folk tales. Keeping these in mind, this is my humble endeavor to present this article on Human Rights in Jain religion.

Human Rights in historic perspective:

Economic development of the 19th century made mankind insecure. The theory of economic development started eroding the basic human values. Machines took control over life and just at a press of a button the work was done. As a result the need for human power got diminished and the exploitation of women and children started. Two world wars were experienced during the twentieth century (1914-1918 and 1939-1942). Demand for arms and armaments increased in the world market and all countries tried to make hay in meeting these demands. We thus saw the destruction caused by wars; religious fundamentalism and disregard for Human Rights due to economic development all rising at the same time. The last one started destroying the very culture and civilization. In such circumstances we saw the rise of democratic form of government. The concept is Government of the people, by the people and for the people started gaining momentum. One nation after the other started becoming independent from their foreign rules. Earlier the countries were ruled either by religion i.e by spiritual lords or by the whims and fancies of the rulers but now they started being ruled by a democratically enshrined  constitution.

The first major international and organized effort to think about Human Rights was made in a conference to end slavery on 25th September 1926. Then four years later on June 23rd 1930, another conference was organized on bonded-labour. The first declaration of the Human Rights was made on 10th December 1948. This declaration by United Nations Organizations is called the World Declaration on Human Rights, thus December 10th is being celebrated as the world’s Human Rights day.

What are Human Rights?

Every human being has equal right / opportunity and freedom to live with dignity which is enshrined in Chapter 3 of Indian constitution as fundamental rights of its citizens. Judiciary also recognize the international covenants. Judiciary also honour this declaration. Besides having international agreements, the General Assembly of UNO has also accepted these declarations.

These Human Rights in the Indian constitution have provisions namely: to live in a pollution free environment, medical care, right against use of force and insulting methods in employment, respectful treatment of women, equal rights for children, women, old people and men etc. These rights cannot be denied on the basis of caste, creed, sex or language. These rights are provided to all citizens. Besides these, rights for compulsory education and development of all children up to the age of 14 years are also given to the citizens. Ensuring compliance of these rights by public servant of the Government comes under the purview of State Human Rights Commission.

It is the responsibility of the welfare state to be answerable to it citizens for the protection of their Human Rights. Good governance ensures effective protection and implementation of the Human Rights of its citizens. For an enlightened society it is essential that Human Rights be ensured to all people.

According to clause 2d of the protection of Human Right Act, 1993, (Act No. 10 of 1991) “ Human Rights” mean the rights enshrined in the constitution or in the internation agreements/ declarations which relate to life, independence, dignity, equality of all human beings and come under the Jurisdiction of Indian courts. International declaration is means the United Nations declaration of December 16th 1966 containing international citizenship, political rights, and international economic, social and cultural rights.

Wave of renaissance changed the lifestyle in continents of America and Europe etc, It brought democratic form of Government to the forefront along with the feeling of equality, freedom by birth and each human being, like others have the rights to self-dignity and freedom. Besides these, He is free to exercise his rights without the limitations imposed by caste, creed, gender, language, and religion, national and social circumstances associated with his birth. This doctrine was borne out as an instrument to check against the misuse of state power for personal benefits by the rulers.

Human Rights were born along with the development of mankind on the earth itself. This is so as growth and development of his talents and the culture are not possible without these Human Rights. Side by side we also saw the process of suppressing and exploiting these Human Rights as those in power can retain their position only by exploiting others. But the second generation of the twentieth century saw the weaker or the exploited people become aware of their rights.

Prior to 25th September 1926, the subject of Human Rights remained a national issue and became an international subject after this day. Since then the process to understand these and to proclaiming them internationally applicable has continued to date.

The main components of Human Rights can be grouped into right to live, right to be independent, right to practice own faith, right of freedom of expression, freedom to organize, ownership of property, social and economic rights. Almost all countries have these rights grouped as above. Today the yardstick to measure the development of a country has shifted from economic prosperity to how much it respects and enforces Human Rights of its citizens.

Indian constitution and Human Rights:

The era of democratic form of governance saw India gaining independence on August 15, 1947 and have it own constitution on January 26, 1950. By this time the subject of Human Rights was not just a matter of discussion but had become an international movement. Accordingly the same provisions were also made fundamental rights of all Indian citizens and a part of Indian constitution also. Also it was provided that aggrieved person on these matters can approach the courts of law for proper redress of his grievances. The difference between fundamental rights and Human Rights is that Indian constitution provides protection and implementation only of Human Rights. It may not be out of place to say that Indian constitution given the present form of Human Rights to protect and implement the fundamental rights them selves, Besides fundamental rights, the Indian constitution also under Directive Principles asks the central and state governments to provide facilities to all citizens, regardless of caste creed, religion or gender opportunities to live with dignity and earn livelihood. To project Human Rights, The Human Rights Act 1993 was framed. Under this Act, Human Rights commission was established along with State wise establishment of similar commissions. Under this Act, statute number 21 (1), Rajasthan Human Rights Commission was established on 18th January 1999 with its chairman and member being appointed in March 2000. This commission was re-constituted on 6th July 2005. In other fourteen states of India, similar commissions are now operational. Besides this, Minorities Commission, Scheduled caste and Tribes Commission, Backward classes development commission and National women commission were established primarily to implement provisions of Human Rights Act. In Rajasthan State Women Commission is also operational.

Human Rights and Jain religion:

Jain religion is an ancient religion that talks of the happiness, and development of all living beings. It also propagates the supreme efforts by the soul to achieve the supreme state called parmatma and propagates virtuous life styles. Jain religion is an eternal religion and has been preached by Jinendras (conquerors of the sensual pleasures and tendencies). It is neither an offshoot of any other religion nor belongs to a specific community or caste. It is completely an independent philosophy and religion. Omniscient and first tirthankara Rishabh Deva followed by twenty-three other tirthankaras with Mahavir being the last and 24th, delivered divine sermons, which were codified in book form by Ganadharas as Agamas or religious scriptures. 

Based primarily on the principle of non-violence, Jain religion propagates the life style of its followers based on the minimization and control of the five sins like violence etc, to counter these five sins, Jains talk of five vows namely non-violence, speaking the truth, non-stealing, non-possession and celibacy to be practiced by all. The monks practice these five vows in totality. While the family practice them with certain limitations (based on their capabilities and desires). Practice of religious ethics with the soul purpose of self-purification by the monks, and the family members busy in day-to-day life, activities and directly or indirectly in contact with the environment becomes the practice and preservation of Human Rights. Jain religion not only talks of Human Rights but it goes further and talks of the rights of all living beings. The fundamental doctrine of Jainism is that all living beings, be they men or elephants or ants, have each a soul of their own. Each soul has the right to exist and live according to its own wishes. Man is not only blessed with the rights to have independent existence but also to live in an environment free of exploitation or suppression where he can become a perfect person as per his own capabilities and efforts. Therefore he should live with others on an equal and brotherly basis. Hence it will not be out of place to call Jainism as human’s religion or the religion of all living beings.

Whereas Jainism and philosophy had, since ancient times, has preached and explained the human religion or the religion of all living beings; the same had been orchestrated in the west only recently. Europe, United States of America and to some extent Asia are the continent which have made other countries of the world as their dominions and exploited them to their advantage. These same imperialists in the last two-three centuries have destroyed fundamental rights of the people in places dominated by them and hence destroyed rights of their human beings also. But after the first world war (1914-1918) the same countries started talking of Human Rights when their own independence became in danger.

Jainism is a mode of the living beings. Every principle and sentence of Jainism talks of the benefit for the living beings. Jain texts describe  the spiritual and moral purity of conduct and fulfilling one’s duties to achieve supreme State ultimately. Men used to live under the shadow of his duties during medieval times while today the same man lives under the shadow of Human Rights. He is forgetting slowly the man’s duties but keeps on man’s rights only. If every one performs his duty sincerely, then all others automatically get their rights as well. If every human being observes the five vows like non-violence etc even partially then the other living beings automatically will not be pained and get the opportunity and rights to exist and do the same.

Jainism, while talking of the five vows, has in fact raised its voice against exploitation and suppression of other living beings. As per Jain doctrine, basis of non-violence is the equality of all living beings to exist and prosper. All souls, be they belong to gross or subtle or stationery or mobile living beings are metaphysically equal and similar. If every human being considers others as equal to him, and seeking same rights to live and prosper as he; then this philosophic truth that all living beings wish progress and happiness as he wishes, then he will not exploit others. He will thus protect, preserve and enhance the doctrine of Human Rights as enshrined in the Constitution and international declarations. By observing the vow of non-violence even exploitation of children will be eliminated. To give pain to others who depend on him or to make them work beyond their capacity are the two flaws against vow of non-violence. If these flaws are eliminated from the conduct of the individual practitioner, then exploitation of the children and unemployed will be eliminated. It appears that Jain acharyas have visualized these problems of the future while writing their texts and the same were given validity by constitutional and other international declarations.

By observing the vow of non-possession, we can eliminate economic exploitation of the weaker sections of the society. Jainism believes that one should acquire only as much wealth or property as is needed for a comfortable life and no more. Similarly Jainism talks of each human being to consume only that much food and non-food items as are needed for comfortable life so that others can use the remaining commodities. This way the property, which gets accumulated at one place, becomes available to be consumed by others as well. In this way we can also find a solution to money power being used to exploit others thereby eliminating economic exploitation also.

One of the duties of Human Rights Commission is also to stop sexual exploitation. Providing protection and opportunities of growth to women is also a duty of the Human Rights commission. Whereas women were an object of worship in ancient India, today even protecting her form exploitation has become questionable. The Government is taking specific steps in this direction. Eliminating social evils like dowry, rape sexual exploitation and domestic violence prostitution are the objectives of Human Rights commission. Jain philosophy and religion had, since beginning, accorded respect and regards to women; here the women had always been worshipped as the mother of tirathankaras. Besides this, Jainacharyas have also established the vow of celibacy to protect the women from sexual and other forms of exploitation. Prohibiting prostitution and being content with one’s married wife are the hallmarks of the vow of celibacy. If a married man considers other woman as his sister/ daughter/ mother; then the woman can be safe and free of exploitation. If all practice this vow of celibacy, then the problems of women’s exploitation will become a matter of past and the entire society can enjoy a free and holy environment. Hence the vow of celibacy as enunciated in Jain religious texts is being used by Human Rights Commission to protect the women in society.

Education of woman is also an important aspect of Human Rights. All efforts are being made to enable woman move forward in all activities of life. Jain literature abounds with strong sermons and stories of promoting education of woman. A review of Jain texts, like Adipurana, Uttarapurana, Harivanshapurana etc. reveal that the contemporary women were not only expert in cooking, painting or music etc but they were also experts in medicine, archery, etc. Queen Kaikeyi was adept in the art of warfare as she accompanied her husband Raja Dasharath to the battlefield. Hence Jain literature and religion had been propagating woman’s education.

Human Rights Commission have been opposing the spread of casteism and communalism. In this field also, Jain religions had contributed a lot. Jainism is neither a caste nor a community. Everybody who practices and follows the doctrines of Jinendra Deva is a Jain. According to Jain traditions, a person is neither a Brahmin, nor a khastriya/ Vaishya/ untouchable by birth but everybody decides his community by his Acts/ profession. Hence the question of casteism should not arise at all. Therefore the basis of caste and community is decided by the Activities of the individual and not by birth, as Jains believe in the primacy of karma doctrine. A person acquires the caste, community and name etc according to his efforts / Activities.

We see clearly the impact of Jain doctrine of karma about individual’s rights to freedom. Jains believe that every one is free to do what he/she wants. It depends on the individual whether he/she earns meritorious or de-meritorious life based on his auspicious or inauspicious Activities/ karmas.

Environment protection and control is also an important provision of Human Rights Commission. Under social rights, every citizen has the right to live in a pollution free environment and society with peace and harmony. Jain philosophy gives special emphasis on environmental balance and purity. All human beings and not only monks wish to live in a pure and pollution free environment. Further Jains believe existence of life and soul in air, water, fire, earth and plants; and under the vow to practice Ahinsa, the monk is asked to protect all these types of life forces while the human beings are expected to minimize harm to any or all such life forces and living beings. Therefore practice of non-violence against air, water, plants, earth and fire then environment will be full of such nutrients and live forces thereby protecting us against natural calamities like earth quakes, floods and famines etc.

Western counties talk of Human Rights but do not practice them completely. Besides this, the maximum environment pollution is caused by their industrial units who have replaced men with machines thereby having the twin ill effects of creating Human unemployment besides causing server environmental pollution. It is because of such activities that even breathing is becoming difficult. Therefore, it is important to have reconciliation and equilibrium with the nature.

The vow of non-violence of Jain religion can be said as the first step to Human Rights. It becomes difficult to digest when most of the people are eating meat & talk of Human Rights. Just for the sake of political expediency and to appear to be the leader of the just world, they talk of Human Rights, but do not implement the same themselves. It is these western countries that made the small countries of the world their dominions and started the practice of slavery and today they talk of banning the trade of goods made using child labour. Until these powerful countries who pretend to be the forefathers of Human Rights, do not protect themselves from the ills of eating meat, hunting, consumption of alcohol and exploitation; it seems useless to talk of a bright future and freedom from exploitation of Human Rights. A person who is deeply involved in violent activities cannot think of relieving others of their pains. Hence it is essential to protect the vow of non-violence to and enhance Human Rights.

Discussion on Human Rights leads us to talk of non-violence and compassion towards animals. Jain religion stands for equality of all living beings. Since the time of its first tirathankara Adinath,(Rishabdev) it has talked and greatly emphasized self-restraint, conduct, compassion and pity towards the animal. Yuvacharya Maha Pragya in his book, ‘Jain Dharma’, ‘arhat’ and ‘arhataye’ writes Human Rights can be a new and unique thought of UNO but even if we consider the preaching Mahaveer 2500 Years ago then all his teachings are abundant in Human Rights.

Description of stationery living beings by Mahaveer is of great significance. By thinking of stationery living beings, one should feel of the slogan ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’. As our feeling on these lines progress, our awakening towards equality of living beings of this universe increases. To go further we should develop the same feeling towards material also along with the world of living beings. It is not proper to place a non-living things also at inappropriate place as our self-restraint is associated with our restraint towards material objects also. In other words we should not harm air, water, earth, plants and not to pollute them and fire, and should treat them with utmost self-restraint. The basis of Bhagawan Mahaveer’s sermons are ‘accepting the existence of others’ i.e. ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’.

While clarifying the basic human values, Uma Swami in Tattvarathsutra says ‘Paraspargraho Jivanam’ i.e. living beings help each other or cooperate for being alive. Here the doctrine of live and let live and the feeling of forgiveness are at the core. This is co-existence. We want to live and so do all living beings, be they small or big. Doctrine of Panchsheel is based on the concept of peaceful co-existence. Every body wants to live peaceful & happily and no body wants to be unhappy. Hence Jains prohibit killing of living beings. Jain families should protect themselves from ego and deceit and practice the sermons of their tirathankaras.

Principles of Jain religion can work like a panacea to achieve the highest levels of spiritual beneficiation provided they are preached and practiced in the right way. Sermons of Mahavira are full of aura and are the means to attain the supreme and infinite powers and possibilities by exercising self-restraint, self-confidence and purification of the self. By practising these sermons, exploitation of Human Rights will automatically be eradicated. In other words, they are self denying ordinance.

Another objective of Human Rights Commission is to ensure upliftment and welfare of all human beings. The constitution of India prohibits discrimination against anyone based on his caste, colour, religion, sex or birthplace by the state. Jainacharyas have called this doctrine as Sarvodaya Tirtha in the Jain texts. Uplift of everyone is sarvodaya, i.e. all human beings get equal opportunities to realize their objectives of attaining the highest ideals of knowledge, power, positions etc, based on their capabilities and efforts.

People want that the Government should stop exploitation of Human Rights by anyone. The government is making efforts in this direction but a lot more is yet to be done. For examples the social evils of child marriage, killing the foetus, flesh trade in women, rape, and other social ills are yet to be eradicated completely.

Fight against Human Rights exploitation is more in practice then in the doctrine. Jain religion also provides detailed doctrinal explanation of these, but their application and practice is not found in details. More important is for an individual to be able to learn ways of getting his rights from the state, society and the family. Actually the Government and non-government bodies make their main cultural objectives of the 21st century to use the media of educational curriculum, literary writings, mass communication through print and electronic media to arouse the need to safeguard one’s Human Rights. Even though Indian religions have presented these aspects in proper form but our religious teachers were not equipped to implement them. However they gave these the moral sanctity and used it to preach these to the masses. Dominance of Indian society for a long time by foreigner colonial powers and the religious teachers have institutionalized the exploitation of Human Rights which need to be eradicated now by enhancing significantly the mental setup of Indian to demand their right for equality and eradication of slavery.

I feel it appropriate to say that the efforts made in India to ensure implementation of Human Rights are very limited. Existence of inequalities and social biases here will cause the question here and voice demanding Human Rights, It will come up again and again. Such question will be raised as the Government and its elected representatives if not sensitive to such issues. Therefore the Government, its elected representatives, officers, judiciary and individuals should keep on raising demands and continue their programme for implementation of Human Rights and punish those who violate them.

We can say conclusively that Jain religion teaches everybody to be self-reliant and make efforts to enhance their life objectives. Further it says that the just and fair treatment given by you to others will earn you merit, peace and happiness. If you exploit others or cause injury to weaker section of the society due to your status or power, then pains and problems will cloud your future life. It is essential to spread this doctrine of self-reliance and so the Human Rights Commission is involved in such activities. It is important that intelligent people should help ignorant people to succeed in their life but without any discrimination. Today the west should emphasize practice of non-violence, non-possession, speaking the truth, celibacy, compassion, and non-stealing instead of emphasizing just materialism. Like imparting education enhances the education level of teachers themselves, it also gives pleasure and happiness to both the teachers and taught. Similarly compassion in a way also gives the gift of love making all happy.

Life is hell in a situation devoid of fellow feeling, compassion and true love. It is the duty of the leaders of the Government and society to check the aggressive/ violent tendencies of their members / individuals and ensure practice of fellow felling. They must provide the minimum life’s necessities of the people dependent on them. True happiness does not lie in satisfying one’s own needs but in ensuring that the dependents face no problems of any kind. Jain texts go to the extent that a family member who does not give charity makes his home like a cremation ground. If the philosophy of giving up personal needs and possessions gets embedded in the minds of the rich, then the relations between the rich and the poor can become very friendly and free of confrontation. Such Acts enforce implementation of Human Rights. Hence there is a need for true, simple, intelligent and compassionate people. Life style of equanimity makes even the animal live in an environment free of cruelty; then the question of the same results for human beings is beyond doubt. Though a welfare State is sensitive to the welfare of its subjects, still due to lack of political and administrative will, it is not completely successful in their implementation. For this we have to provide opportunities for education, employment along with elimination of bad social practices and change our mindset, else it will be difficult to achieve the desired results. Alone with, it is essential duty of each citizen should not be self-centered only in their activities and practice the principles of Human Rights properly. Both these if implemented will result in full implementation of Human Rights. Keeping all these in mind and acting as per the directions of our soul, we can stop exploitation of Human Rights.

I personally think that question of Human Rights should not be settled by a fixed criteria. They should be considered with reference to a country, place in particular, prevailing mindset and need of the society, thought and circumstances of a person in a particular.  The question of Human Rights should also not be seen only as commercially positive interests and diplomatic propaganda. Issues of Human Rights should be seen with the view to set in motion the tempo of basic process of development of human beings. In other words they should be established to enhance the implementation of Human Rights themselves. So that opportunities of development and Human Rights are seen together and are examined vis-à-vis.

This article was originally written in Hindi by Justice N.K. Jain, Chairperson Rajasthan State Human Rights Commission and former Chief Justice of Madras and Karnataka High Courts.

It has been translated in English by S.C.Jain, Director, International Summer School for Jain Studies, New Delhi - 110017
Prof Shri S. P. Jain Principle (Retd), D-2, Raman Marg, Tilak Nagar, Jaipur- 302004

With the permission of Rajasthan State Human Rights Commission the same has been published for public awareness.

Do you wish prompt and effective Action by the commission on your complaint, the aggrieved person or authorized on his behalf can approach against inaction of public servant.

Then please provide us the following information about your grievance / complaint to us:

  • Name of the victim, his/her father/ husband, caste, residential address/ village/ town/ post office, police station and district.
  •  Name of the person/ officer or just against whom the complaint is made. His/ her complete details.
  •  Complete details of the complaint/ victimization (incidence, place, date, month, years etc.)
  •  Names of the witnesses supporting your complaint, if known.
  •  Any documentary evidence about the incidence, if any.
  •  If you have this complaint to any officer/ officer/ ministry; then send their particulars along with Action taken if any.
  •  Have your made any complaint earlier to this commission or the national commission? If yes, then the details of the same along with the results.
  •  Is any Action taken in civil/ criminal or other courts or expected? If yes, then the details thereof.


Please do not forget to sign or put thumb impression on your complaint/ grievance. Send the complaint or suggestion to Chairman or Secretary Rajasthan Human Rights Commission, Jaipur.

The chief executive officer of the commission is the secretary. In charge of Investigation attached to the commission is Inspector General of Police.


Rajasthan State Human Rights Commission
Pone No. 0141- 2227868 (Chairman)
2227565 (Secretary), 2227738 (Fax)

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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Acharyas
  2. Adinath
  3. Agamas
  4. Ahinsa
  5. Arhat
  6. Aura
  7. Body
  8. Brahmin
  9. Casteism
  10. Celibacy
  11. Deceit
  12. Delhi
  13. Deva
  14. Dharma
  15. Environment
  16. Equanimity
  17. Ganadharas
  18. Human Rights Day
  19. International Summer School for Jain Studies
  20. Jain Dharma
  21. Jain Philosophy
  22. Jainism
  23. Jaipur
  24. Jinendra
  25. Karma
  26. Karmas
  27. Karnataka
  28. Madras
  29. Mahaveer
  30. Mahavir
  31. Mahavira
  32. N.K. Jain
  33. New Delhi
  34. Non violence
  35. Non-violence
  36. Omniscient
  37. Parmatma
  38. Pradesh
  39. Pragya
  40. Prakrat
  41. Rajasthan
  42. Rishabdev
  43. Rishabh
  44. Sanskrit
  45. Sarvodaya
  46. Shastras
  47. Soul
  48. Swami
  49. Tilak
  50. Tirtha
  51. Tirthankara
  52. Tirthankaras
  53. Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam
  54. Violence
  55. Yuvacharya
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