Dr. R. Praveen
If equality is the light at the end of the tunnel, social justice is the lantern that will guide us to it.
The preamble to the constitution of India states that
WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a 1[SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC] and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the 2[unity and integrity of the Nation];
The four principles namely justice, liberty, equality and fraternity are the fruits of the human intellectual evolution which paves way for the peaceful co-existence of human species in this country, along with its flora, fauna and its territories. These principles are applicable universally as a whole to the mankind, which guides us to the same goal of peace and progress.
Justice is similar to the root which holds a tree firm to the ground, for it’s the faith in justice that makes a citizen abide to the constitution.
The liberty that the constitution guarantees to its subjects, is akin to the flow of nutrients from the root to the branches of the tree through its trunk. It’s only with the flow of nutrients, the tree flourishes to its full capabilities.
Equality is the branches of the tree that’s upright with its branches spread around it evenly.
Fraternity is the fruits borne on the branches of the tree.
When the tree flourishes robustly, the flora and fauna that surrounds it thrives as well.
Equality – a human trait
Equality is defined as the condition of being equal, same or even. When a state proclaims equality as its governing principle, it’s responsible to assure and promote it among its subjects.
The characteristic to consider every individual in a social environment as equal is not found in the animal world, for their lives are driven by survival, where the strong exploit or prey the weak. In the social environment of chimpanzees there is a social hierarchy where the physically strong leads, with duties such as foraging, scouting are ordained to other members.
Humans had/have similar social structures or social hierarchies, which are akin to the animal social structures. They have the history of warring between themselves as chimpanzees do, slavery, subjugation and discrimination of the weak or less privileged. The thought of looking at the humans through the principle of equality, that all humans are equal is a product of the evolution of the human mind. And we can say the principle of equality is borne in the evolved minds that push the humans towards progress, while those minds which are averse to the principle of equality lag behind in the chronology of evolution, reeling in the animal world.
Social structure in the Indian context
The Indian society mainly is organized or disintegrated into castes on the basis of their birth, with a hierarchical pattern which aligns the privileged castes in a stepladder, with no social mobility either up or down as its basic structure. This system was formulated and professed by the Vedic or the Hindu religion, of which most of the citizens are a unit, willy-nilly.
As Dr. B. R. Ambedkar said, caste is not only a division of labour, but also the division of labourers with graded inequality down its social hierarchy. Apart from those who practice Hinduism, there are people who follow Islam , Christianity ,Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism and the atheists who are also included in the Hindu fold.
Panoramically the Indian society is distributed inequally in characteristics and there are social hierarchies with graded inequalities. To ensure equality in such a society, ensuring social justice is the initial step towards it.
Social justice – path to equality
When the resources of privilege, power and wealth are distributed unequally, social justice acts as a safeguard to its less privileged subjects from the traumas inflicted upon them on the basis of caste, religion, ethnicity, language, gender and all the characteristics that can make a subject vulnerable to inequality.
The article 13 of Indian constitution states,
13. (1) All laws in force in the territory of India immediately before the commencement of this Constitution, in so far as they are inconsistent with the provisions of this Part, shall, to the extent of such inconsistency, be void.
The tendency to view another citizen as lower caste and discriminate him on the basis of it, has its roots in the manusmriti which was/is the governing principle of the Indian psyche, which has been challenged through the social reformers from within Hinduism as well as outside of it by other religions and those who ruled this country through the centuries.
The constitution thus stands for the abrogation of the laws of manusmriti and other texts professing inequality, assuring social justice for its subjects as a fundamental right.
Reality – the space between principle and practice
To bring any policy or principle into practice in a geographical territory it should have a state which is diligent in ensuring the implementation of it in the society and subjects who abide by its principles.
The crimes against the Dalits, women and minorities, stand as witness to the still prevalent caste prejudices and discriminatory practices that prevails despite the laws and rights the constitution assures and indicates that there is a lag between practice and principle.
The onus of it, is upon the state as well as its subjects.
As subjects of this country, which is not a single entity as we are aware, is divided into castes, religions, ethnicity and other entities that delineates people into microcosms. The rights of socially less privileged groups such as backward castes, scheduled castes, tribes and minority religions are threatened by the majority groups with vested interests respectively.
India is constituted 90% by villages, where the scheduled castes people live in separate ghettos segregated from the caste Hindus. Even among them, there are separate streets and settlements for each castes. There’s neither a cultural osmosis nor intermingling between the groups. The caste prejudice is perpetuated within the families of dominant castes and put into practice in the society thereby. Any challenge to this is met with scorn or violence if needed to maintain the status quo of caste inequality.
Despite the castes if there is an initiation to unite people either by language, ethnicity or religion it paves way for another type of jingoism, which still fails to eliminate the caste prejudices.
An individual in this society, to overcome his prejudices that is taught to him by practice of his family and surroundings needs literacy, education, development of rational thinking and scientific temper to look beyond. This is the important step in an individual’s reform towards a society with equality.
Just as the state, the society still functions with the age old quasi-laws of Sanatana Dharma, with hatred and contempt in the minds of people towards the less privileged.
At schools in certain villages, the Dalit children are made to wear certain coloured threads in their hands and segregated, they are subjected to abuse and violence by their fellow students belonging to the caste Hindu groups, even there are incidents of teachers forcing them to do manual scavenging in the school toilets. This kind of exposure to traumatic experiences forces the Dalit students to drop out, experience mental scars for life and having a low self esteem, all of which will stunt their potential from blooming or becoming a better person in the society.
These behaviours are the tip of the iceberg where the iceberg remains the notion of castes inculcated by families to the further generations. Hence there is a need for creating an environment with spaces for free thinking beyond the constraints of religion and cultural practices, which depends very much upon the teachers and adults who interact with their children.
The government is adding salt to the wounds by enforces a public exam for the fifth and eighth grade students, which might increase the dropout rates, particularly in the rural parts, where the parents of most of these children can be illiterates or not having adequate education.
Social influences – stereotyping
The notion of hatred is infused mainly by stereotyping of the less privileged and the minority entities. Stereotyping based on their dialects, attire, food habits and making them an object of contempt and troll, and inciting hatred towards the whole community if a person of that community does anything that’s condemnable. Stereotyping can be exaggerated negative as well as exaggerated positive. Best example for the stereotyping is the association of terrorists with Muslims in many Indian or Hollywood movies and asking anyone who is well educated if he/she is a Brahmin.
The medium of stereotyping can be social media, cinemas, print articles of which social media and cinemas have prominent roles.
The social media and cinema these days have become channels of pushing agendas, catering people with perspectives and ideas, with some against the casteist sentiments and the others inciting the jingoistic casteism, adding fuel to the fire.
Every caste group portrays itself as a feline belonging to a valiant ruthless group which ruled over this land, through cinemas and social media, with no exceptions to any. As portraying themselves to be as ruthless, it enforces a compulsion upon themselves to uphold their casteist notions, thus perpetuating the caste hegemony.
These are often fuelled by the casteist and divisive organisations with vested political interests.
Cultural practices associated with birth, puberty, marriage, death to other religious festivities are inherent part of a social life, in this country. The ceremonies for each occasion are practiced with dictations from a religious priest based upon faith in the religious texts. These practices at times influenced by by casteist and religious fundamental groups, leads to enmity, hatred and violence, between the religious or caste groups.
State or the Government factors
The government both at the centre and state are run by the elected representatives of political parties, which had majority of its representatives elected from their constituencies respectively. On a broader aspect, the elected governments function within the constitution of this country and are also bound by the promises they made to garner the votes. The political parties are offshoots of the social organisations that has been in this country, even before the independence of this country. Namely the right wing Hindu organisations, the centrists and the left secular organisations constitute the Indian polity. Beyond the constitution, the elected government has a conscience of its own political leanings, i.e to the right, left or the centrist.
The majority in a constituency, state or country as a whole goes in a jingoistic mode when the right majoritarian governments are at power. The governments act in a manner to appease the whims and wishes of the majority, to attain their goodwill for the sustenance of power and governance. These types of governments portray the narrative of majority people by castes or religion as the narrative of the state.
The majority of population in India is Hindus and we can witness the current BJP government leaning towards that ideology in governance of the people of India, despite the Indian constitution defining INDIA as a secular socialist democratic republic. For example, the Citizenship Amendment Act(CAA) promises citizenship on the basis of religion, with exclusion of people following Islam from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, citing religious persecution against the religious minorities in those countries. The exclusion is against the basic fabric of the Indian constitution which guarantees equal opportunities and status to all its citizens irrespective of their caste, creed and religion. This will be a deviation from the secular principles, which are the building blocks of this nation, pushing the country more towards becoming a majoritarian Hindu nation. “No Indian citizen will be affected” says all the ministers of the government. When the problem lies with the threat to principles of the constitution, they point us to the endpoints comprising the Indian citizens, which is a non-issue with regards to this act.
The same phenomenon can be found at the state level appeasing the majority castes, selectively, with the constitution still ensuring the safeguarding and rights of the vulnerable, less privileged groups. Many examples can be cited. One of them is the premature release of the 13 murder convicts of melavalavu massacre of six Dalits who had won the local body elections in the Madurai district of Tamilnadu, by the current ADMK ruled government of tamilnadu citing MGR centenary celebrations and their good conduct in jail. Previously in 2008 the DMK government released 3 of the murder convicts, of the total 17 whose conviction were upheld by the Supreme Court. Here the caste Hindus who are bound by the constitution, were unable to accept being a subject under a Dalit elected representative, who is low in caste hierarchy to become the panchayat president, councillor or ward member. The state governments in an attempt to appease the major caste Hindu group, ordered the release of the convicts prematurely.
Thus a state which is bound by constitution is made to overlook it, by the influences of the quasi-laws that prevail in the society, that enforces caste hierarchy.
While the social organisations push the agendas, the political organisations reap the harvest of the notions seeded in the minds of the people, by the social organisations. Thus the political moves are made in accordance with the perspectives and sentiments of the influential majority of people, of any caste, religion, language, etc. Indian society these days is being forced to be narrated in terms of the Hindu nationalism with its two pronged fangs of casteist hierarchical hegemony and religious fanaticism, thanks to the right fundamentalist organisations with vested interests.
Reason for the sustaining inequality
The reason for inequalities are mostly dominance of one group over another, and the notion that one is superior than other by birth, beyond the realms of reason. This idea in the mind is infused from the external environment, the social organisations, religious texts claiming superiority, purity and sanctity of the group to which they belong.
There are two entities in this Indian society which influences the Indian psyche, one is the right fundamentalist organisations which want the archaic Vedic principles to be followed in the lives of the people in this country, maintaining and remaining loyal to its tenets professing caste superiority, superstitions and religious consolidation against the other minority religions and the extreme right organizations which uses violence to silence any resistance. The right wing fundamentalism is not only seen in the Hinduism, but also in Islam, Christianity, Buddhism or in every other religion where they form the majority in a social space. As Indian society has the prominent Hinduism influences inflicting much impact on the lives, it becomes the prime object of discussions, which paves way for the inequality in the society.
The other side is the organisations professing rational thinking, reason against superstition, denying caste hierarchy, stressing on equality and promoting social justice, which comprises the liberal, Dalit, Dravidian, communist organisations and the extreme left choosing paths of liberation through armed struggle.
Impact of these organisations
Despite the constitution guaranteed rights, we witness the mob lynching and flogging of persons who allegedly consumed beef or transported the cows to abattoirs. Rationalists writers, Narendra dabholkar, Govind pansare, M.M kalburgi and Gauri lankesh were gunned down by the Hindu fundamentalists in the period of 2013 to 2017. They call those who question the current government or the hindutva ideology as urban-naxal, anti-national, anti-Indian and claim India in their hindutva narratives. The superstitious practices are abetted with the ministers and other prominent members of these organisations, claiming plastic surgeries, nuclear philosophies found in vedas, thus misleading the common people from scientific path toward the path of superstitions which sans reason in the name of religious extolling.
Those who harped on the declining merit in the higher education of this country, bleating a hue and cry over the reservations for the SC/ST, OBCs, now keeps a eerie silence with the passing of 10% reservations for the economically weaker among the forward castes, though the legislators are aware the reservation is not a poverty alleviation programme, rather a social justice measure with social inequality in the name of caste as its scale, whereas economic social justice is guaranteed by the poverty alleviation programmes and other livelihood uplifting measures by the government. This was an excellent example of how most of the political parties are influenced by the dictates of the majority influential upper caste communities, including the parties that claimed to be liberal, Marxist communist and pro Dalit. This would not have been implemented without the fuelling of the right wing social organisations.
These organisations try to assimilate the common historical personalities within their hindutva veil to annihilate or pulverise their ideologies which are a threat to the hindutva philosophy. Eg. the saffronisation of the Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar, who professed equality not only among humans rather all beings, by writing
“பிறப்பொக்கும் எல்லா உயிர்க்கும்
All men that live are one in circumstances of birth;”
They keep the subjects of conversations, of the people and their media bandwagons to revolve around the hindutva ideologies of religious consolidation and inciting casteist sentiments among the castes and thereby influencing the governments to speak in their words. With the people already following the Hindu religious tenets culturally, they find it easier to propel their ideology with ease into the gullible minds imbibed in superstitions and caste superiority complexes.
The right wing organisations work in a synchronised pattern with no tussles between them as they have their common goals with no place for reason or questions.
The organisations that comprise this entity are the liberal, Dalit, Dravidian, communist and extreme left. These social organisations are counteractive forces to the right wing, as they challenge the caste hierarchical inequalities, social injustices, irrational superstitions, violence against the minorities, by their functioning principles leading people towards a rational and scientific life. These organisations stress the people to question, reason and challenge the age old archaic authorities that prevail in the society and agitate for the rights of the backward classes, Dalits, minorities and proletariats.
In this decade with the right wing factions gaining prominence, they are forced to counter the agendas and terms set by the right. The political offshoots of these social organisations are also influenced by the populist opinions of religions and caste groups. Despite that they are endowed with the responsibility uphold the survival of India as a secular state and ensuring equality for the less privileged.
Just as the right wing is driven by religious influences, the left social organisations derive its principles from the influences of the rationalists reformers of the yesteryears such as Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, Periyar, Karl Marx and others professing the equality among people, rationalism and reason.
The path ahead to equality
To idealise equality among human beings is a trait of reason, which is borne in our minds as fruits of evolution. Equality is a demand or necessity of this existence which makes us to question ourselves, on the veracity of the fact that we are highly evolved human beings. The absolute equality may seem like an utopian dream, but the amount of barbaric practices that have been abolished by mankind in actuality, with help of reason, provides the optimism to work towards the path of equality.
The words or thoughts are realised only when they are put into actual practice. The ideals derived by reason, helps us, to push through the boundaries of irrationalities.
There may be myriads of groups and individuals. The problem of inequalities arise when one claims to be superior over the other and exploit the other, using the privileges manifested, through this claimed superiority. This claimed superiority leads to an elated and dubious exclusivities from the rest and the usage of powers obtained through these means, to maintain it and protect it from the threats of the less privileged.
As individuals, the archaic concepts are intertwined in our lives as cultural and social practices, sustained by the claims of its sanctity and the sentiments attributed to it with our lives. An individual’s liberation from these shackles relies mainly on the characteristics of a person to question and reason. The art of questioning and reasoning is inherent in a man and is nurtured or curbed depending upon the social environment of his upbringing. Not everyone will have the necessities to question or reason the existence of social inequalities, only those at disadvantage by it and those who were nurtured with reason from the privileged groups, intend to pursue the path demanding equality.
To reform a social order of inequalities, requires individuals motivated and informed with reasoning to thwart the claims of the irrational social practices establishing inequalities in the society, nurturing of the young minds to reason, question and guide them in reading the writings of the social reformers professing equality. The social organisations play the key role of organising the progressive minds towards the path of equality. These left organisations operate from different ideologies with a common goal, when the particular perspective of a social organisation is in contradiction with the that of the other, it sometimes leads to differences and weakens the path. The current social scenario demands the cohesive functioning of these organisations, towards preserving this nation as a secular one upholding social justice, leading to the path of equality.
The destination of equality can take many more centuries or millenniums to reach. The torch of social justice can only be kept burning, with the minds of people pushed beyond the confines of normalised inequalities in this society, fuelled by reading, reasoning and questioning, to guide us towards a society with equality.
Dr. R. Praveen is a primary care physician living in the town of Cuddalore in Tamilnadu.