Is Adhik ra good enough for 'rights'?
Purushottama Billimoria, School of Social Inquiry, Faculty of Humanities, Deakin University,
Geelong, Victoria, Australia Published in: Asian Philosophy, Volume 3, Issue 1 March 1993 ,
pages 3 – 13
The paper considers the question of whether 'rights' as we have it in modern Western
thinking has an equivalence within the Indian framework of Dharma. Under Part I we look
at purus rthas to see if the desired human goals imply rights by examining the tension
between aspired 'values' and the 'ought' of duty. Next, a potential cognate in the
term 'adhik ra' is investigated via the derivation of a refined signification of 'entitlements',
especially in the exegetical hermeneutics of the Mim ms . Finally, adhik ra's re-emergence
in the Bhagavadgit is considered. We suggest that while the boundary is significantly
extended, the Git too appears to be circumspect in opening up the discourse in the more
abstract and absolute sense which the term 'rights' nowadays enjoys.
Does the concept of rights as we have it in modern social philosophy mean anything in
the Indian tradition? Can we meaningfully speak of rights as a framing concept in
Indian Dharma? This question has concerned me for some time and I wish to confine
my exploration in this paper to some anticipations in Brāhmaņical Mīmāmsā.
Now, how does one even begin to think of rights in the context of ancient and
classical Indian moral thinking? Would it be legitimate to speak of rights as some kind
of entitlements without reference to fundamental moral conceptions such as rta,
dharma and vidhi or to scripturally sanctioned actions and so on? It would appear that
just as in contemporary moral discourse it becomes extremely difficult to speak of
duties without giving priority to rights, in the traditional Indian context, one cannot
speak of rights—if one can speak of rights at all—without giving due priority to duties.