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“Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values.”

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Cost of the Fundamental Right to Education

An article in the Times of India a couple of days back reminded me of one of Ayn Rand’s striking essays in which she defined the nature of fundamental rights in a free and rational society.

This article, devoted to the cost of the ‘fundamental right to education’ in India, presented a whopping sum of Rs. 1.78 Lakh Crores, as what the government needs to fund this right. In figures, this is Rs. 1,780,000,000,000! The details are available here.

However, according to Ayn Rand, the phrase ‘fundamental right to education’ is invalid. Fundamental rights, or individual rights, according to Rand, are those rights which every man and woman in a rational society should enjoy, by virtue of being a human being. This is what she wrote in her essay, Man’s Rights:

A “right” is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man’s right to his own life. Life is a process of self- sustaining and self-generated action; the right to life means the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action-which means: the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life. (Such is the meaning of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.)

The concept of a “right” pertains only to action—specifically, to freedom of action. It means freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by other men.”

In a free society, there is no right to a product, according to her (education is a product). If the people are given the right to any product, it is always at someone’s expense, as every product has to be produced and paid for by someone.

If some men are entitled by right to the products of the work of others, it means that those others are deprived of rights and condemned to slave labor.”

In the case of the fundamental right to education, there is only one way the government can pay for its whopping costs: taxation (whether direct or indirect). If you are an earning individual in India, you must pay for the education of your countrymen, whether you like it or not. In fact, in all probability, during your student days you were also the recipient of education paid for by someone else.

On the other hand, the right to property, which is a crucial fundamental right in any civilized society, is not a fundamental right in India.

Click here to read Ayn Rand’s article ‘Man’s Rights’. It is a good opportunity to reflect on some of the fundamental rights that exist (and don’t exist) in our constitution.

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