Greetings from BSG Chairperson Mr. Vishesh Gupta
My dear readers of the ‘BSG for SDG’ SUSTAINABLE Newsletter. I extend my warm greetings to each of you and your family members.
Human rights are the rights that belong to all people. They cannot and should not be taken away from anyone. December 10th is celebrated annually as Human Rights Day by the UN. The date was chosen to honour the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption and proclamation, on 10 December 1948, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the first global enunciation of human rights and one of the first major achievements of the new United Nations. To commemorate this date – 10th December, Human Rights Day, the theme of this issue of the ‘SUSTAINABLE’ Newsletter has been kept as ‘Human Rights’.
The wars of the 20th and 21st century have taught us that if we have to build a firm foundation for peace in society, then human rights must be guaranteed to all people uniformly. Over the past decades, based on international collaboration and cooperation, countries have established rules and systems to protect and promote human rights as a basic condition. However, we still have a long way to go. Countless people are still living without any peace of mind and protections that human rights confer.
Why are human rights important? Why should all people be aware of their basic rights? It’s because when people are aware of their rights, they become more sensitive towards others, as well as gather the courage to take a stand for themselves. This further helps prevent human rights violations. This awareness on human rights can be done only through education. For these reasons, promoting education grounded on respecting the dignity of all life is a key focus of Bharat Soka Gakkai’s (BSG) activities.
A central tenet of BSG is that a profound change in the heart of an individual can spark change in one’s community, society at large and, eventually, the world. Through its awareness-raising activities, BSG strives to empower individuals to become catalysts for change in their local communities.
Keeping this spirit in heart of respecting the inherent dignity of all life, the content for this issue of the SUSTAINABLE Newsletter has been curated to help all of us learn more about the significance of human rights, and to help of us understand how we can usher in a culture of respect for human rights through our daily action.
I hope you will enjoy reading this issue of the newsletter. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and takeaways.
All humans are born free and equal, hence equally deserving of being treated with dignity and respect. Human rights are the fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed to us simply because we are born human beings, irrespective of gender, race, caste, religion, language, ethnicity, nationality etc. It might sound obvious now, but it wasn’t a common practice centuries, or even a few decades ago. For centuries, it was considered normal, even virtuous, to denigrate a certain class of people because of their skin colour, gender, profession, place of birth, language etc. Human rights as we know it today has been a hard earned battle, shaped after many revolutions, bloodshed, treaties and declarations.
The year 2022 marks the 54th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a milestone document that came into effect on 10 December 1948 at the United Nations General Assembly in Paris. Commonly referred to as the UDHR, it sets out the fundamental human rights to be universally protected. All the 192 Member Countries of the United Nations have signed the Declaration.
Since its adoption in 1948, the UDHR has been translated into more than 500 languages . The UDHR, along with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its two Optional Protocols (on the complaints procedure and on the death penalty) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and its Optional Protocol, form the so-called International Bill of Human Rights.
The key word here is that human rights are universal- meaning that it applies to absolutely everyone, everywhere without any pre-condition – and that includes, children, old people, women and people who identify with other genders. There are a total of 30 rights clubbed together as human rights all listed out in the UDHR.
Did you know that a handful of pioneering women delegates from various countries had a critical role in getting women’s rights included in the Declaration. While it is widely known that US first lady Eleanor Roosevelt led the drafting committee as a Chairperson, there were several others championing the cause behind the scenes. These included:
- – Hansa Mehta of India
- – Minerva Bernardino of the Dominican Republic
- – Begum Shaista Ikramullah from Pakistan
- – Bodil Begtrup of Denmark
- – Marie-Helene Lefaucheux of France
- – Evdokia Uralova of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic
- – Lakshmi Menon of India (United Nations)
Check out this video about the women who shaped the UDHR. Watch Here
However, despite being adopted by 192 countries, human rights violations continue unabated even today.
If everyone has the right to life, then why are 828 million (as per UN report, 2021) people dying of starvation?
If everyone has the right to education, then why are 244 million children and adolescents out of school in 2021 (as per GEM Report, 2021)?
If all people have the right to live a life of freedom, then why are 49.6 million people victims of modern day slavery (ILO website, 2022)?
At least 10 million people are stateless (UNHCR website, 2022), hence deprived of basic rights guaranteed as citizens, as if they don’t even exist.
The starting point of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela’s heroic struggles was rooted in their own individual experience of indignity and injustice. Their extraordinary love for people helped them transform their shared suffering into a shared pledge to achieve equality, freedom and justice for all. We must recognise that each of us are the custodians of human rights. Human rights are not history lessons, they are the choices we make everyday as human beings. As Eleanor Roosevelt rightly said, “Where after all do universal human rights begin? It begins in small places close to home”.
Check out the interactive timeline of development of international human rights.
(Source: US Institute of Diplomacy and Human Rights)
We are all unique and different from each other. Buddhist scriptures use the analogy of cherry , plum, peach and damson to symbolise our uniqueness and diversity. Each blooms in its own unique way to make up a beautiful landscape. Society too is made up of diverse groups of people, each different from another. These differences could be attributed to any number of things – gender, colour, race, ethnicity, language, nationality, beliefs, food habits, and so on. Pluralism refers to a society, system of government, or organisation that is made up of different groups of people who, while retaining their own identity, also coexist harmoniously with people from other groups or a more dominant group. In a pluralistic society or organisation, one dominant group, subgroup or culture doesn’t dominate or dictate for others how things go. Instead, systems and structures are put in place that allow for a larger number of competing interest groups to have their say in all matters that concern their personal or public life. In this way, pluralism serves as a model of true democracy where each person is seen, heard and matters.
Books to learn more about the lives of a few eminent human rights activists:
The Story of My Experiments With Truth by Mahatma Gandhi
If a Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks by Faith Ringold
Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport
Corporate Human Rights Benchmark Report
Key findings of the 2020 benchmark on human rights disclosures of 230 companies across sectors of agricultural products, apparel, automotive manufacturing, extractives & ICT manufacturing
Soka Gakkai’s efforts to promote human rights education
Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom
Biopic on Nelson Mandela’s life available on Netflix
Short film on the civil rights activist, Rosa Parks
A Path to Dignity: The Power of Human Rights Education
A documentary jointly produced by the Soka Gakkai International (SGI), Human Rights Education Associates (HREA) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which portrays human rights education in practice in India, Australia and Turkey. While the specific issues in each case differ, together they convey the message that it is possible to change society and that change starts with the inner transformation of individual human beings.
Short video titled Beyond Borders: The Threat of Climate Change for People and Planet
That shows the impact of climate crises on human condition.
Check out these 7 award winning short films on the refugee crisis recommended by Amnesty International.
The Rights Track podcast channel by Prof Todd Landman gets the hard facts about the human rights challenges facing the world today and aims to get our thinking about human rights on the right track.
Human Rights Magazine podcast explores inequality, abuse and oppression around the world right from those directly involved in an issue, examine the structural context to find why rights abuse exists, and look for possible solutions.
This Way Up podcast presented by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre aims to unpack human rights for business, exploring issues such as hidden cost of clean energy, human rights due diligence and championing gender justice for businesses.
Check out these 15 best Human Rights Podcasts compiled by Feedspot.
6 online games on Human Rights
SGI President Daisaku Ikeda has extensively written about human rights over the decades. Across his Peace Proposals, President Ikeda has addressed the multiple facets of human rights – be it with regards to gender equality, war and climate refugees and migrant children, racism, the differently abled, the elderly or children. The core spirit of human rights that President Ikeda has encapsulated through his writings is rooted in the vision of global citizenship based on the philosophy of respect for life’s inherent dignity, as also elucidated by the first two founding Presidents of Soka Gakkai – Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and Josei Toda. The freedom and dignity of all people must be protected – each of us is inherently precious and irreplaceable. No individual, irrespective of where they may have been born or whatever group they belong to should be discriminated against, exploited or have to sacrifice their interests for the benefit of others. This thinking also strongly resonates with the United Nations’ appeal to create a world in which “no one will be left behind.” (Peace Proposal 2017)
Respecting human rights requires us to strive to understand the circumstances in which people find themselves instead of viewing them through the lens of societal or class categories. The Buddhist spirit of compassion is based on the “…..refusal to allow anyone to suffer in isolation or to leave anyone alone in their confrontation with severe difficulties.” President Ikeda says, “Even when someone finds themselves in a vulnerable position, if they are surrounded by people who are prepared to share that challenge with them, it becomes possible to find a way forward. The way in which we experience even such conditions as poverty or illness can be profoundly transformed simply by the knowledge that we have the support of others.” (Peace Proposal 2020)
The state of mind that considers it acceptable for certain sections of society to be inevitably sacrificed for the pursuit of prosperity in President Ikeda’s words “……builds up in the depths of society, like a layer of sediment or sludge.” (Peace Proposal 2020) This attitude of “survival of the fittest” contributes to unhealthy competition in society assuming that our lives are independent of others. However, given how interdependent we are on each other for our wellbeing, President Ikeda emphasises the vital need to “…..consciously engage in shared living and work for a society that is based on an approach of “striving to protect and improve not only one’s own life but also the lives of others.” (Peace Proposal 2020) This reinforces Mr Makiguchi’s concept of “humanitarian competition” – competition which is conducted firmly on the basis of humane values. (Peace Proposal 2009)
A human rights-focused approach to resolving global issues is crucial. President Ikeda explains, “…at the heart of human rights is the vow never to allow anyone else to suffer what one has endured.” (2018 Peace Proposal). President Ikeda illustrates this through the example of Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) who in spite of the injustice and racial discrimination he experienced lived by the conviction that “man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished”. Through Mandela’s example we learn that even those oppressed can choose to respond by continuing to respect the inherent dignity inherent within the other. In Buddhism this is the spirit of Bodhisattva Never Disparaging who vowed to never look down on others no matter how much they despised him, bowing in reverence to each person he met. Mandela channelised his rage and grief into the struggle to dismantle the apartheid– which was a regime based on policies of racial segregation in South Africa. After his release from twenty-seven years of imprisonment as the President of South Africa, Mandela took action to protect the lives and dignity of all people, black and white alike. (2018 Peace Proposal)
Respecting the rights of all humans, let’s make peace and harmony the bedrock of human society.
Standing Up for the Marginalised Section of SocietySmriti Minocha | Young Women’s Division | Delhi
I am currently working as a Human Rights Lawyer with a leading NGO in Delhi. When I was working as a media intern in 2007, I became aware about the issue of farmer suicides in India. Intrigued to understand the cause and solution to address human rights violations, I opted to study this subject further. In 2008, I was fortunate to go to London to do my Master’s in Human Rights from University of London. Surviving alone abroad with little financial support, it was only my connection with the community of Soka Gakkai that helped me strengthen my understanding on how to wisely deal with various worldly affairs without getting defeated. At that time, I also got an opportunity to go to Geneva to see the working of UN offices on a scholarship.
SGI President Daisaku Ikeda says “A great human revolution in just a single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation and, further, will enable a change in the destiny of all humankind.” I made a determination at that time to undergo my own inner transformation and rise above my own self-focus so that I could single-mindedly work for the happiness of all people – to support human beings who are suffering the most by fighting for their rights.
On my return to India in 2009, I joined a leading human rights organisation. Over the years, I have worked for the advancement of human rights of various people, especially the marginalised section of society. My work ranged from supporting prisoners, women with disability, children survivors of sexual violence, women survivors of domestic violence, trafficking, sexual violence and others. Through my work, I got various opportunities to interact and work with eminent persons working towards securing human rights both in India and internationally. I worked with the systems and institutions to strengthen their functioning and create safe spaces. In all these years, I kept going back to the writings of President Ikeda to encourage myself in challenging circumstances. The peace proposals authored by President Ikeda encouraged me to continue my work to ensure justice for all.
In 2016, I was selected as India representative to the highly prestigious International Visitors Leadership Program for their Women and Justice Program. This was an excellent learning experience and expanded my vision to fight for human rights at the global and regional level.
In order to further strengthen my skill set to protect and support the marginalised section of society in having basic human rights, I enrolled in a law degree. In 2022, I registered as an advocate. My work now involves building strategies to focus on prevention of violence against women and children, and working alongside various stakeholders in India and South Asia to ensure end to sexual violence.
I am determined to work towards ensuring the achievement of SDG 1 – Ending all forms of poverty and SDG 5 – Achieve Gender Equality and Empower all Women and Girls by 2030. I will continue to work to build a safe India for women and children.
Upholding Human Rights through one’s Daily Actions Ayesha Prasad | Women’s Division | Delhi
I am currently working as Assistant General Manager – Marketing, with one of the world’s leading solution providers for cleaning systems. As a voluntary member of BSG, I was deeply inspired by the ‘BSG for SDG’ initiative, and started taking steps in my personal life to support this initiative. At home, I switched to bio-friendly alternatives including for washing vessels and floors, started repurposing sarees into bed covers, and donated used clothes to institutions to support the less-privileged people.
My new place of work didn’t have any CSR cell, so I took the responsibility to do something productive aligned with the SDGs. I was determined to take my learnings from the ‘BSG for SDG’ initiative into my workplace. We partnered with two NGOs I had worked with previously – ‘Prayas’, which worked to rehabilitate child survivors of abuse, and ‘Vidya’ – which worked to improve learning in government schools.
At Prayas, we conducted 2-3 sessions on health, hygiene and sanitation with children, wherein colleagues from other teams as well as our MD also joined in, and the company also donated a few mechanised cleaning machines for their use. I encouraged one of the children who felt dejected about her prospects in life, sharing with warm words of encouragement. I have learnt this art of encouragement from through the writings of my mentor SGI President Daisaku Ikeda.
During the course of our discussion with these children, we learned that many of them were rag pickers and they had to scavenge through the pile of garbage with their bare hands.
President Ikeda writes, “Human rights issues must not only be debated actively among governments; we must establish a shared global culture of human rights that is rooted in the realities of daily life and based on unfailing and uncompromising respect for human dignity.”
We brainstormed on how we could enable them to do their work safely and with dignity. While I or my company had no experience in this domain, I reached out to multiple vendors to see what we could provide to further this. We zeroed in on a kit consisting of gloves, masks, an overall, shoe covers, sanitiser, hair net and more. We got the necessary approvals in rapid time to deliver the kit ahead of time.
The second NGO, Vidya, provides holistic education to students of government schools through community programs. Every Thursday, me and my team visit the students from class 4 & 5 to teach them conversational English through simple games.
As a cleaning solution provider, every October, my company conducts a worldwide ‘Thank Your Cleaner Day’. As part of this initiative, the Vidya students across 4 facilities created 700 handmade cards to be distributed to cleaners across India. The cards were given to cleaners at facilities such as airports, IT parks, malls etc across India in October this year, as well as goodie bags for all cleaners at Vidya schools.
Through these experiences I have come to realise that sustainability is about each of us doing our small bit everyday, so that we can collectively create a better world for tomorrow. I am determined to strive continuously to create a world where no one is left behind.
SDG Tip for Daily Life
1. Read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and share it with others.
2. At work, in school, around the dinner table, help someone whose voice is rarely heard to share their views.
3. Don’t be a bystander next time you see someone being harassed, bullied or ridiculed on the street, on public transportation, while shopping or at school. Stand with them.
4. Urge your employer to sign up to the Global Compact on Business and Human Rights; volunteer to organize celebration of human rights in the work place (e.g. non-discrimination, family friendly policies, decent working conditions, equal pay for equal work).
1) BSG organises the Peace & Sustainability Conclave on 29 October 2022
On 29th October 2022, Bharat Soka Gakkai organised a Peace & Sustainability Conclave at Dr. Ambedkar International Centre in New Delhi to commemorate 75 years of India’s independence and 75 years of SGI President Daisaku Ikeda’s pursuit of peace.
The panelists at the first session – Peace Conclave included Ms. Prathibha Prahlad (Padma Shri awardee, Classical Danseuse, Arts Administrator & Culture Multiplier), Dr. Itirani Samanta (Writer, Editor of ‘Kadambini’ and ‘Kunikatha’, National Award winning Film & TV Producer, Director – Kadambini Media Pvt. Ltd., Social Entrepreneur), Ms. Mugdha Arora (Co-Founder – Mahatma Awards, Managing Editor – CSR Good Book, Trustee – Charitnation Limited, Co-Founder – CSR Liveweek and Non-Profit Liveweek), and Mr. Vinay Jain (Actor). The keynote speech for this session was shared by Mr. Amit Sachdeva (Philanthropist, Social Entrepreneur, Founder – Mahatma Awards, Founder & Chairperson: Liveweek Group).
The panelists for the second session – Sustainability Conclave included Ms. Dia Mirza (Actor, Producer, UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador & UN Advocate for SDGs), Dr. Amit Bhalla (Vice President, Manav Rachna Educational Institutions), Ms. Sanyukta Gupta (Co-Lead: Catalyst 2030 India Chapter, Co-founder: Chennai Volunteers), and Mr. Vikas Verma (Regional Head – North India: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)). The keynote speech for this session was shared by Ms. Dia Mirza.
2) BSG conferred the ‘Mahatma Award for Social Good & Impact’
Bharat Soka Gakkai was conferred the ‘Mahatma Award for Social Good and Impact’ in a ceremony held on 1st October 2022 at India International Centre, New Delhi, for its contributions in the field of peace, culture and education. The Mahatma Award is instituted as a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi by social entrepreneur Shri Amit Sachdeva, who is also known as the ‘CSR man of India’ for his efforts in the field of Corporate Social Responsibility.
3) BSG conferred with the first ‘Innovation in Sustainability’ award by Bharathidasan Institute of Management (BIM), Chennai
Bharat Soka Gakkai (BSG) has been conferred the ‘BIM Innovation in Sustainability 2022 Award’ on 18th October 2022, by the Bharathidasan Institute of Management (BIM), Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu, in recognition of its efforts in building a consensus on achieving SDGs through sustainable human behaviour.
4) SDG Club formed at MOP Vaishnav College for Women (Autonomous), Chennai
BSG has signed an MoU with MOP Vaishnav College for Women (Autonomous), Chennai on 18th October 2022 to launch an SDG Club and conduct various SDG related activities.