Right to Life with Dignity

Wrote this few years back for The News blog. Thought I would share it here. Right to Life with Dignity.

Human rights rest on human dignity. The dignity of man is an ideal worth fighting for and worth dying for. – Robert Maynard

 

My first reaction on reading above quote: *HeadScratch*. All my life I have been told I had the right to life, to healthcare, education, practicing my religion and beliefs. Therefore imagine my surprise when I find out one fine day that the first right in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the right to life with dignity. What does that even mean? Dear old Google came to my help and I realized ‘Dignity’ is what everything else stems from. Dignity means knowing your worth and valuing yourself because only when we start valuing ourselves do we start asking for more and understanding our rights. Being an entrepreneur myself, the following video by Acumen Fund really struck a chord:

 

Dignity (<= is a link to the YouTube video)

 

People seek dignity, not dependence. Choice, not charity.

 

This has been a bone of contention between me and the foreign donor agencies I meet. They ask why Pakistanis hate them so much despite the aid they are sending. I say, ‘Maybe because you are throwing your aid at them from the back of trucks and enjoying seeing them make a  spectacle of themselves fighting over bags of flour and rice? It would help if you setup a proper system of distributing these goods that wouldn’t compromise their dignity.’

 

When you rip people of their self-respect you take away their most basic and vital human right. This in turn makes them hate themselves for their weakness and others for exploiting it.

 

The truth is that without dignity there can be no equality. And it begins at home. If I don’t love myself enough because of my weaknesses or failures and hence lack self-respect, I give others the power to usurp my rights. Looking down upon one’s self leads to low self-esteem which makes us doubt what we deserve allowing society or certain segments of it to take over our rights.

 

The easiest example that comes to my mind is a question that plagues the life of most women right from childhood to old age, “Am I pretty?” Think about it, look around you. You will hear mothers telling their daughters how pretty they are. Not how good, intelligent or sweet they are but how pretty they are. And when the same little girl grows up and realizes her teeth stick out, or her nose is crooked, or her chest is flat and she doesn’t come up to Hollywood’s interpretation of ‘pretty’ how does that make her feel? Crestfallen! Since the day she was born she has lived thinking being pretty was the best thing she could be and here she is all imperfect. In the process, self-esteem is what she loses. Generations of women come one after the other judging themselves on a yardstick of beauty and then cursing men for objectifying them and not looking beyond their gender or their looks. Just a word of advice for all my gender-mates – listen to this woman and follow her example:

 

This, this is about my own some-day daughter. When you approach me, already stung-stayed with insecurity, begging, “Mom, will I be pretty? Will I be pretty?” I will wipe that question from your mouth like cheap lipstick and answer, “No! The word pretty is unworthy of everything you will be, and no child of mine will be contained in five letters.

“You will be pretty intelligent, pretty creative, pretty amazing. But you, will never be merely ‘pretty’.”

 

The day we realize double standard of asking for right to practice our religion anywhere in the world when we look down upon minorities in our own country with loathing we will have a better case. The day women are well represented and at the same time do not expect quotas or ‘seats ‘ in educational institutions as a form of entitlement we know we will be making progress.

Finally the day people realize they cannot ask for a right to clean roads and public toilets while at the same time throwing garbage in front of other people’s homes instead of taking it to the dumpster they will sound more convincing. In short, we have to earn the right to ask for our rights by giving others theirs.

 

The right to life alone is not enough. Its life with dignity that we should strive and struggle for because every other right arises from awareness of our worth and respect for ourselves. I leave you with this thought:

 

Equality lies only in human moral dignity. … Let there be brothers first, then there will be brotherhood, and only then will there be a fair sharing of goods among brothers. – Fyodor Dostoevsky

 

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