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P. Pandey asked: What is ‘human-centric security’ and ‘citizen-centric security’?

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  • D.P.K. Pillay replies: Essentially human security implies citizen-centric security. The origin of the concept of human security can be traced to the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report 1994, which defined for the first time the scope of human security in modern times to include seven areas which are as under:

    (a)       Economic security
    (b)       Food security
    (c)        Health security
    (d)       Environmental security
    (e)       Personal security
    (f)        Community security
    (g)       Political security

    The report stated that it is not necessary that citizens of a country that has a well-equipped and strong military are “secure” in the true sense. Protecting citizens from external aggression is an important element in the security calculus, but it should not be the only one. There are graver threats such as disease, hunger, poverty, environmental degradation, climate change, and the violation of human rights that cause more human suffering and deaths than wars and aggression among states.

    It is noteworthy that ancient Indian philosophies have concepts akin to the modern concept of human security. These concepts exist in legends and stories from India’s past.  The key principles, known to have been characteristic of ancient India, are that of equality, not just of humans but of all living creatures, and the necessity of creating a just and noble kingdom. The guiding principle for rulers was the welfare of their subjects. One of India’s religious epics, the Ramayana, offers insights into this concept. One of the aspects of Ram Rajya, or the “ideal state”, was that “the state (Rajya) was the sole legitimate agency wielding power (force), which imposes limits upon its exercise of power, either for the greater happiness of the people, or to evade a greater tyranny that could be caused by physical power, moral outrage or self-righteousness.” One of the many lessons the great teacher, Guru Vishwamitra, imparts to both Prince Rama and Lakshmana in the epic is that unless rulers and administrators understand the pain, the sorrow and suffering of the poorest and the weakest, they cannot be considered noble kings and rulers.  The good of the subjects was the supreme law followed by kings. The various edicts of Ashoka the Great, which described, in detail, his views on Dhamma (or Dharma), and spanned his kingdom and beyond, display the same thoughts on morality and service. Stricken by remorse after large-scale killings wrought by a war he undertook, the Emperor issued special directives on the “right” treatment of slaves, servants, as well as animals.

    Human security is about placing the security of the citizens rather than of states. It implies that protecting people requires going beyond the traditional understanding of sovereignty. However, the concept of human security has been criticised for being too broad-based to serve as a basis for policy-making, as well as for creating false expectations and diminishing the relevance of a central authority in providing security to the people.

    Posted on 22 July 2021

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.