Rights Of An Individual versus Their Duties Towards The Society

Posted on May 11, 2012 in Society

By Anuja Tandon:

Rights. The legal regulations that give you the freedom to live your life, the way you want it without encroaching in the lives of others.
Duties. The legal obligations that you owe the society for giving you your freedom.

Nothing in your life is free, not even your freedom. With rights come duties, same as with freedom comes responsibility. Contrary to what the title suggests, these two are not opponents, instead they are allies. I reached to this conclusion after I studied the theory of externalities. Let me tell you in detail the intimate relation between externality, rights and duties.

As I was beginning to write my opinion about the above topic, a friend of mine asked me- ‘Which one of the two would you support?’ Being an individualist I instantly said Rights. At that time I was not concerned about the society. I was looking for a magical wand that will help individuals go about their lives without bothering or getting affected by others’ actions. That was the point where my assumption —‘if everyone does what they want to and that their actions will not affect others’ went a little extreme. Because I forgot about externalities. Externality — when your actions affect the actions of the others.

I will give you an example- You have a right to a clean environment, but since you can’t find a garbage can nearby you throw your trash on the road. Now this action of yours is affecting other people too. Here you could argue that a rational person will not do so. He will find a dustbin. But let’s face it, majority of people we know will be too lazy to search for a bin. Thus there is an externality of laziness.

What I am trying to say here is- if you wish to enjoy all your rights without honoring any of the citizen duties then you will find yourself facing a conundrum.

Let’s look at another scenario- The right to information. You want the information to all the public enterprises to become accessible to the common man, but what about your own business’s balance sheet? If you, yourself, are not paying your income tax, then how can you point a finger at others? Agreed that their fraud lead to bigger corruption than your action of ‘withholding information’ but then isn’t there a saying that ‘little drops of water make the mighty ocean.’

I would like to conclude this by saying that the right to enjoy the citizen rights goes hand in hand with the ability to fulfill our duties as the citizen. It is not the duties imposed on us that is bringing inefficiencies in our individualistic theory, it is the inability to adhere to our duties that is preventing us from enjoying our rights.