On a socio-political level, Human Rights Day – observed on 10th December – marks the date of the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption and proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
On a more interpersonal level, however, it’s safe to say that this day is a celebration of everything that makes us human. It’s a cry of victory, it’s a call for help. It recognizes the empowered, it embraces the downtrodden. Beautiful yet ugly, imperative yet frivolous, it’s everything and nothing, all at once.
Here are 8 things we can all do on Human Rights Day this year – and hopefully, continue to practise for the rest of the year.
Start small – do something nice for a loved one
Human Rights Day isn’t merely about acknowledging the plight of individuals from war-torn countries, or oppressed communities (although they’re definitely important). Sometimes, it’s as simple as expressing appreciation or affection towards someone you care about, but don’t seem to make enough time for – on a regular basis.
Whether it’s your mother, your best friend, a favourite teacher, or your pet – use this day to make your loved ones feel appreciated. Write a letter, create a DIY gift, buy your pet their favourite treat, or plan a lunch date – don’t hesitate to get creative!
Do something nice for a stranger
This doesn’t have to be a life-changing act of altruism. It can be as simple as paying someone a compliment, or as extravagant as buying lunch for a stranger.
Here are a few ideas:
- Leave kind, motivational sticky notes on the walls of a restroom at school, work, or any other public place you can think of. Include positive affirmations, reminders, and even helpful life hacks or tips. Remember to take the notes down at the end of the day (or week) – so you don’t burden the cleaning staff working there! Additionally, please ensure that you’ve notified the primary authority figure about your plans, and sought their permission prior to starting this activity.
- Speak to the shy kid in class, or the asocial co-worker, nobody else seems to like – and invite them to sit with you for lunch. It’s the small gestures that count!
- Buy lunch for destitute children – and if possible, strike up a conversation with them
This day would serve no purpose if we didn’t take some time out to educate ourselves about our rights as humans. Spend a few hours reading up on the laws and legalities that bind your country, and the fundamental human rights you’re entitled to, as citizens.
The basic human rights we’re entitled to as Indians, include: Right to Equality, Right to Freedom, Right against Exploitation, Right to Freedom of Religion, Cultural and Educational Rights, and Right to Constitutional Remedies. But it isn’t enough to simply be aware of our rights, we must know how to exercise them.
Whether it’s at your local community shelter, an orphanage, or at a volunteering programme in a third-world country – becoming a volunteer is an excellent way of checking your privilege, using your resources to create a (marginally) better society, and developing empathy and compassion for the people around you.
While volunteering, be sure to strike up empathetic conversations with the people you’re in contact with, offer them affection and support, and be willing to share you skillset with them. In the capitalist world we live in, mutual skill-sharing is practically non-existent – primarily due to the belief that everything we do for other people must come at a price. It’s time to disband that belief.
Share your skills, be generous with your love, help other people without setting a price – on this day, we need to recognize that every human being has an intrinsic value, which has nothing to do with their appearance, skills or anything else – apart from the fact that they’re human, and that is enough.
While not all of us are privileged enough to donate large sums of money to aid the refugee crisis, or to fund meals for children living in poverty, those of us who are able to spend a portion of their income on less-advantaged individuals – could definitely think about donating to charity or other benevolent organizations, on this day. (And the rest of the year, if possible)
If you’re unable to donate funds, think about how the money you spend could help the less fortunate. Whether it involves buying products made by indigenous tribes, queer individuals, POC or any other oppressed communities, or using services provided by organizations which support the aforementioned groups – ensure that the consumer behaviour you indulge in, serves marginalized communities.
Sign a petition
There are several debates as to whether signing petitions actually results in structural change – and whilst it’s an area of conflict for many, there’s no harm in signing them anyway.
Pick a social issue you’re passionate about, and sign petitions to bring about the desired change. But remember: online petitions aren’t a substitute for on-ground action! Whenever possible, show your support by joining a rally or protest in your neighbourhood.
Hold a commemorative event
If you’re a student, hosting an on-campus event to commemorate Human Rights Day – is an excellent idea, and a great way to form a community of socio-politically charged students.
A few potential themes for your event:
- Public readings of books written by LGBTQ, POC, and Dalit authors
- A session by an individual belonging to a marginalized community
- A speech on human rights, by a knowledgeable individual
- A poster-making competition, using themes pertinent to Human Rights Day
Allow your art to be influenced by themes surrounding this day
It’s a well-known fact that art is one of the most powerful mediums of expression. Whether you’re a musician, an artist, a comedian, a writer or a dancer – be sure to use your art to educate, to empower, and to express solidarity towards people from marginalized communities.
Don’t be afraid to explore the darker, more complex aspects of these issues – and feel free to use your art to make these hidden truths accessible to your audience.
However, as part of the creative process, please be wary of appropriation, offensive humour and trivialization whilst creating pieces about sensitive themes.
Remember: a humorous quip for you – is someone else’s tragic reality.