“Current Affairs Editorial – Equality For What?”

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Equality For What?

Paper I: Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India, Social empowerment
Paper IV: Contributions of moral thinkers and philosophers from India and world, role of family, society and educational institutions in inculcating values

Context:-

  • In December 2017, Thomas Piketty and Lucas Chancel will release the first ‘World Inequality Report’.
  • They will compare India’s inequality trajectory with other emerging, industrialized and low-income countries and suggest ways to tackle global and national inequality.
  • In the light of the research findings of the economist Thomas Piketty and his colleague Lucas Chancel, India should seriously reflect upon its society which has growing inequality.

  • The findings of Thomas Piketty and Lucas Chancel concerning India are as follows:
    The share of national income accruing to the top 1% income earners is now at its highest level since the creation of the Indian Income Tax Act in 1922.
  • The top 1% of earners captured less than 21% of total income in the late 1930s, before dropping to 6% in the early 1980s and rising to 22% today.
  • Over the 1951-1980 period, the bottom 50% group captured 28% of total growth and incomes of this group grew faster than the average, while the top 0.1% incomes decreased.
  • Over the 1980-2014 period, the situation was reversed; the top 0.1% of earners captured a higher share of total growth than the bottom 50% (12% versus 11%).
  • The top 1% received a higher share of total growth than the middle 40% (29% vs. 23%).

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel on Poverty:-

  • 1820 the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel wrote the “Philosophy of Right” which dealt with the moral squalor and the ravages that poverty brings in its wake.
  • According to Hegel the state of poverty is not an aberration but a product of industrial society, of the overproduction and under consumption which marks this social order.
    But Hegel also argues that it is precisely society that banishes its victims to the twilight zone of collective life.
  • The poor are removed from the advantages of solidarity that civil society offers and are reduced to a heap of fragmented atoms.
  • When the standard of living of a large mass of people falls below a certain subsistence level, we see a loss of the sense of right and wrong, of honesty and of self-respect amongst the poor.

Poverty: A social Phenomenon Hegel suggests that poverty is a social phenomenon because of three cardinal reasons:-

  • Firstly because he felt, society is complicit in the creation and recreation of poverty.
    Secondly, poverty breeds unfortunate consequences, such as suffering, which seriously demoralizes human beings.
  • Thirdly, the existences of large numbers of the poor pose a direct threat to the social order, simply because the poor are justly resentful of their exclusion from the benefits of society.
  • Let’s reflect upon Hegel’s criticism of a society that refuses to correct the wrongs it has heaped on its own people from an Indian perspective through the work of Piketty and Chancel.

The work of Thomas Piketty and Lucas Chancel:-

  • Thomas Piketty and his colleague Lucas Chancel’s paper is aptly titled Indian income inequality, 1922-2014: From British Raj to Billionaire Raj?
  • Their main finding is that the income inequality in India is at the highest level since 1922, when the country’s income tax law was conceived.
  • And more importantly, top 1% earners corner 22% of income.

A warning sign to the power elites:-

  • These research findings should send a powerful warning signal to power elites who are curtailing the basic human freedoms of the poor by concentrating on insignificant things.
  • But the lives of thousands of Indians are still mired in mind-numbing poverty.
  • There is more to the proposition that some persons are poor beyond belief, and others are rich beyond belief in India underlined by Piketty and Chancel.

Relationship between Poverty and Inequality:-

  • Poverty is the effect of inequality as well as the prime signifier of inequality and inequality is demeaning.
  • Inequality is not just numbers but it is a shattering reflection on the kind of society we live in.
  • If the economic ordering of society is responsible for ill-being, it is obliged to remedy the wrongs that it has visited upon the heads of the poor.
  • Hence, people who have been wronged are entitled to ask for justice.

The Basic Code of Justice:-

  • If the justice is not delivered to the poor, inequalities are reinforced and compounded over time.
  • The above logic constitutes a basic code of justice.
  • If this basic code of justice is not met, the poor are likely to be socially overlooked, politically irrelevant except in times of elections for votes.
  • They are disdained, and subjected to disrespect in and through the practices of everyday life.

Effect of Inequality on Social Relationships:-

  • Hence, the presence of massive inequality reflects sharply and pejoratively on the kind of social relations that we find in India.
  • Because these social relationships are indisputably unequal, they cannot but be entrenched in massive discrimination and exploitation.
  • This massive inequality in society will eventually lead to exploitation and discrimination of the poor by the rich and will get entrenched as the society progress.
  • Unless India confronts these background inequalities directly, inequality will continue to be produced.
  • This inequality will produce and reproduce a lopsided social order.

Implications of Inequality on Society:-

  • Inequality violates the basic democratic norm: the equal standing of citizens.
  • Each human being has certain capacities in common with other human beings providing them all an equal standing.
  • What is important, especially in a direct democracy like India, is that each person realizes his/her unique ability.

The Principle of Equal standing and Democratic morality:-

  • This principle of equal standing generates at least two robust principles of democratic morality.
  • Firstly, equality is a relation that obtains between persons in respect of some fundamental characteristic that they share in common.
  • And secondly, keeping in mind the first principle, persons should not be discriminated against on grounds such as race, caste, gender, ethnicity, sexual preferences, disability, or class.

Implications of Equality and Non Discrimination on a society:-

  • To treat persons equally because they possess equal standing means treating the other person with respect.
  • One should treat persons with respect not only because some of these persons possess some special skill or talent but because persons are human beings.
  • This is now part of common sense morality.
  • Equality in a society assures equal standing and respect, and respect is an essential prerequisite for the making of human beings.

The State and the well-being of its citizens:-

  • With respect as a inseparable component people can participate in the multiple transactions of society from a position of confidence and self-respect.
  • If the subjects, especially of a direct democracy, cannot participate with respect in their day to day transactions, the government is simply not taking the well-being of its citizens seriously.
  • In the face of government inaction and insensitivity towards people trapped in inequality, there is an increasing need to arouse the collective conscience of Indian citizens.
  • If the right to equality is violated, citizens should be exercised or agitated about this violation.

The Grand Equality Project in India:-

  • But for this change to dawn upon Indian society, we have to incorporate the right to equality into political thinking, into our values, and into political vocabularies.
  • The project requires the harnessing of creative imagination and courage on the one hand, and careful reasoning, persuasion, and dialogue on the other.

Conclusion: India in need of a sustained Political Intervention:-

  • This is essential project because a political consensus on what constitutes, or should constitute the basic rules of society, is central to our collective lives.
  • The following project envisages a determined and sustained political intervention.
  • India might be the largest democracy but we should also remember that it is one of the oldest civilization. Hence remnants of our feudal and colonial past and its presence in society will perpetuate primordial identities such as caste and clan.
  • Politicians should stop exploiting this cleavage to achieve short term gains and work towards intervening in such a manner as to promote an informed citizenry which treats its fellow citizens based on respect and dignity.