We have all seen people make the common mistake and might have done it ourselves to confuse the terms of rights and responsibilities. You see, both of these terms are very important in the legal sector. Not only there, anybody wanting to have an educated conversation or a properly structured debate would and should know the debate between rights and responsibilities.
When we talk about rights, we talk about societal rules, regulations, and norms allowed to the citizens and residents of a country, state, or the immediate politically governed are owed to them by the legal system, the local governing body.
Again, when we talk about responsibilities, we talk about the commitment of a citizen or the person living in the political area to society, the legal system, and the governing body of that place.
- Rights are legal, social, or ethical principles that guarantee individuals the freedom to act or be protected from specific actions; responsibilities are duties or obligations that individuals must fulfil to maintain social harmony and order.
- Rights are granted to individuals by-laws, constitutions, or moral principles; responsibilities are expected behaviours and actions to uphold the rights of others and maintain societal balance.
- Rights empower individuals and protect their interests; responsibilities emphasize the importance of contributing to the common good and respecting the rights of others.
Rights vs. Responsibilities
Rights refer to entitlements that individuals or groups have as citizens or human beings. Responsibilities refer to the obligations that individuals or groups have to respect the rights of others, contribute to the well-being of society, and comply with laws and regulations.
|Parameters of Comparison
|The legal body/ Governing body
|The citizens/ residents of a particular politically bound area
|Society at large
|Can be subject to legal conflict/ challenged at court.
|Usually not subject to many conflicts.
|Can change based on collective societal opinion.
|Stays static generally.
|At times, some rights are applied to specific groups only.
|Responsibilities apply to the whole population. Some rare exceptions might be present.
What are Rights?
Rights are the benefits and allowances a certain governing body owes to the citizens, residents, and the people they govern. Usually, these rights are found to exist in democracies, and in such cases, they are protected by the Constitution.
Any change which has to be brought about has to be challenged in the court, and if the court decides to rule in favor of the case, only then does the right change.
Rights can be broken into several categories in several ways, the most common being natural rights or the rights that no human ever created or can change. This includes the right to life.
The right to life tells us that each human has the right to life, and it is a criminal offense if anybody takes this right of another person away.
Similarly, there are legal rights that are defined in the Constitution. The Constitution might also take the liberty to assign various punishments to the violation of rights, including the violation of natural rights.
Then another characteristic of rights is that they can apply to selective groups too. A well-known example is the prevalent reservation system of seats in educational institutions and government jobs for people in scheduled castes, tribes, and other backward classes.
The main reason to do so is that they have been historically oppressed and enjoy this right to excel and come at par with mainstream society.
However, we can not write a paragraph about rights and not talk about fundamental rights. The fundamental rights are the rights that are guaranteed by every democratic constitution to every citizen bound by it.
They vary from country to country but mostly contain rights such as the right to equality, right to freedom, right against exploitation, right to property, right to constitutional remedies, etc. Fundamental rights are always valid but can be suspended when the nation is in an emergency.
What are Responsibilities?
Responsibilities are the civil duties that each citizen is supposed to fulfill. These responsibilities are believed to help make the country a peaceful and suitable place to live.
Rights and responsibilities are complementary, and one is the derivation of the other. Take it this way; the constitution gives the citizens the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; in return, the citizens are responsible for supporting and defending the Constitution.
If we look properly, we see that one can not stand without the other. If the constitution did not grant the right of freedom to the citizens, it would end up in an unsatisfied and unhappy society, eventually descending into anarchy. Hence there is the right to freedom.
Now that the constitution has given the citizens this right, the citizens strive to maintain the constitution, as its collapse would result in a state of anarchy again.
Thus rights and responsibilities, even though significantly different, are necessary and complementary. They are opposite sides of the same coin.
However, the main beneficiary of these responsibilities is society at large. Nobody is above the law; hence, when anybody serves the Constitution, they do not serve any single individual or group.
They support the people who made this constitution, the people. This is especially prevalent in democracies.
This is why the quote by Abraham Lincoln, ‘Democracy is of, by and for the people.’
Main Differences between Rights and Responsibilities
- The main difference between rights and responsibilities is that rights are owned by the governing body to the people, and the people owe responsibilities to the society or country.
- The citizens enjoy rights, whereas the population enjoys the benefits of responsibilities.
- Rights can be subject to legal conflict, whereas responsibilities aren’t usually.
- Rights can be changed if society feels it is wrong or undeserved. Responsibilities, however, face no such problems usually.
- Rights can be exclusive to specific groups. Responsibilities are valid mostly throughout the demographic.
Last Updated : 13 July, 2023
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Emma Smith holds an MA degree in English from Irvine Valley College. She has been a Journalist since 2002, writing articles on the English language, Sports, and Law. Read more about me on her bio page.