By Yeshi Dolkar
“Thobthang matsol!” (Tibetan: Stop fighting for your rights) is an expression I hear all too often in our community. I hear this in schools when students stand up for themselves; I hear this when a woman raises her voice against injustice; and I hear this even when people criticize the workings of their own organization. Fighting for our rights has such a negative connotation that it has made our people literally shy away from asserting their individual opinions. But is speaking up for our rights really so wrong?
We are often lectured by those in power that we must focus less on fighting for our rights and instead fulfill our responsibilities as obedient, respectful, and hardworking people. This seems to be a very convenient way to silence us in the face of inconvenient truths. What is frustrating, however, is that we do not realize the negative impact of such utterances. Such irresponsible statements do not only insult our intelligence but also endanger the future of our community. It stifles our critical thinking skills and turns us into cattle unable to think for ourselves – let alone an entire nation.
Then there are those who accuse us of giving a “bad name” to the community (even to the extent of calling us traitors) when we have the courage to try to improve ourselves. If these people are so concerned about the image of our community, they should actually be attacking the perpetrators of injustice and not the victims. Pretending to be a perfect community for all these years in exile has only perpetuated hypocrisy and mediocrity within our diaspora. If we truly want to achieve progress and excellence in everything we do, it is about time we address the inconvenient truths and deal with it.
The motive behind these conformist statements and irrational accusations is to foster a false sense of unity based on the notion that meeting our responsibilities as a community is more beneficial than speaking when our rights are violated. But the question here is this: “More beneficial” for what kind of community; a progressive community open to new ideas or one that simply crushes dissent?
In a progressive community, based on democratic principles, rights and responsibilities are equally important and indeed inseparable. They are like the two sides of the same coin. My rights are your responsibilities and your rights are my responsibilities. For example, if I purchase an item from you, it is my responsibility to pay you and your responsibility to deliver the goods to me. Similarly, it becomes my right to receive the goods and your right to get paid for it. So when I am told that my rights are not as important as my responsibilities, it means I must pay for the goods I purchased but I will not get the goods. How unfair!
Maintaining a balance between our rights and responsibilities is essential for building a healthy democracy. Too much emphasis on collective responsibilities without individual rights is oppressive. Conversely, too many rights without many responsibilities makes one privileged and entitled. Here, too, someone is oppressed because responsibilities are not met. So, when rights and responsibilities are not balanced, inequality and injustice ultimately prevail in our society.
Speaking up for our rights is not just a privilege but also our responsibility, and in fact necessary for the progress of our community. So, when my school uses my earnings or community funds toward my education, it is both my right and my responsibility to demand quality education. Similarly, when a woman is treated unfairly because of her gender, it is both her right and her responsibility to demand fair and equal treatment. When our government makes us pay our taxes but does not deliver the protection and the services it owes us, it is our right and indeed our responsibility to demand they do their job. For when we all speak up, we can affect change in our community that truly benefits us all.
Standing up for our rights takes courage and is evidence of a people with integrity. It is also an indication of a responsible community taking charge of their own lives and shaping the future they’d like to see for themselves and for their children. In a community where most people choose to keep quiet and remain in their comfort zones, shouldn’t we be protecting those who risk everything to speak out against injustice?
Strong people make a strong society. A strong society promotes justice, stands by truth, is open to new ideas, and protects the rights of all people.
So, let’s promote critical thinking. Let’s encourage our people to fight for their rights!
Dr. Mark Lee Robinson (2009): Just Conflict: Transformation through Resolution: Balancing rights and Responsibilities: http://www.creativeconflictresolution.org/jc/maps-1/balancing-r-n-r.html, retrieved April 12, 2015
U.K Supreme Court Blog (2009): Rights, Responsibilities and the Repeal of the Human Rights Act : http://ukscblog.com/rights-responsibilities-and-the-repeal-of-the-human-rights-act/, retrieved April 12, 2015