THE CONCEPT OF EQUALITY AND THE
Mr Ketkar is the Editor of Maharashtra Times, a leading Marathi daily of The Times of India Group. One time a close associate of Late Shri S. A. Dange, wellknown leader and ideologue of the Communist Party of India, Mr Ketkar is influenced by the leftist ideology. Earlier he was in The Economic Times and occasionally he still writes for it.
In this thoughtful article originally written in Marathi for Maharashtra Times (27th July 1996), he takes a realistic look at the Concept of Equality and Caste System in India and abroad.
This article is brought out by Hindu Vivek Kendra
for wide circulation among English readers.
THE CONCEPT OF EQUALITY & THE CASTE SYSTEM
1. In India, the concept of equality is mainly referred to in the context of the disparities created by the caste system. Of course, social inequality is manifested in a number of ways. The rich and the poor, landowners and landless labourers, capitalists and workers, educated and uneducated, employed and unemployed, men and women, modern and backward. In addition, there always are 'internal' inequalities among the rich, as also among the workers at various strata and the farmers at various levels. For example, in terms of the Supreme Court's judgment, there is a 'creamy layer' among the OBC's also. Further, not all BC castes are equal nor are all OBC's on the same level or in the same class.
2. The concept of 'equality' is not as simple as it appears. The meaning which we attribute to it belongs to very recent times. There is no society anywhere in the world where all individuals are wholly 'equal'. Say, for example, a nation succeeds in bringing about one hundred percent pure equality in its society; even then the equal people of that nation are going to be at unequal level compared to people in other nations. Thus, it is going to be a very long struggle to bring all the five and a half hundred crore people in the world on the same level. Assuming that this struggle will take another one hundred years, will approximately two thousand crore people be 'equal' then, after one hundred years?
3. "Equality' is an ideal accepted by all the enlightened and progressive societies and individuals; it is not a social reality.
4. The political development of this concept has been going on for the past two hundred and fifty years. The two epoch-making events, the American War of Independence (1776) and the French revolution (1789) transferred the concept of 'equality' from religious and metaphysical level, right into politics. Otherwise, all children of God were equal before Him and the question of inequality does not arise in metaphysics. Thus, even though all religions endowed everybody with equal status, in reality there existed in the society an element of inequality, hierarchy and multiple layers.
5. After the Industrial Revolution, the inequality in Europe acquired giant proportions and as a reaction to it, the philosophy of political-social-cultural equality started getting a modern shape. Mahatma Phule, who was influenced by the American Civil War and the thoughts and struggles of Abraham Lincoln dedicated his book Gulamgiri (Slavery) to 'Liberator of slaves' (Lincoln). It was a period of unlimited exploitation by capitalism in Europe. The socialistic manifestation of equality came about through the fights for democratic rights and workers' movements of the time. The workers' revolution in Russia (1917) and the Chinese revolution (1949) gave a powerful communist angle to equality.
6. The concept of 'equality' which had hitherto grown on the experiences of Europe and America, developed in India on the canvas of the caste-ridden social reality that existed here. Those thinkers who wanted to introduce social change without overstepping the broad Hindu philosophy, began strongly criticizing the caste system. They had a kind of 'Hindu Protestant' movement in their minds. It was a native attempt (no doubt feeble) to challenge religious power centres as done by the European Protestants against the Catholic religious power. The equality as envisaged by Gandhiji was based on compassion and was closer to the teachings of Jesus Christ. The essence of his equality was there in the Indian tradition of saints; but his fight was clearly political and that is why his idea of equality spread far and wide.
7. Not only Babasaheb Ambedkar, but a number of others too disagreed with the Gandhian interpretation of the concept of 'equality'. Because of these differences, untouchables became Harijans and later Harijans became Dalits. Ms Mayawati of Bahujan Samaj Party does not forgive Gandhiji even today.
8. The concept of equality accepted by our Constitution is mainly western - i.e., it is based on what happened there. This transplant, intended to eradicate the stringency of the caste system, its inequality, injustice does not appear to have taken root yet. As a result, everyone has his own version of 'removal of inequality' to suit his own convenience.
9. When the Marxist interpretation of a dialectic tension between 'capitalist' class and the 'working' class in Europe became accepted widely, a theory was put forward that 'true equality' will be established when the working class comes to power and exterminates the capitalist class.
10. In Russia, it was declared that such extermination had been achieved and twenty years after the revolution Stalin declared that class conflict being over, the road to a socialistic system of the society was clear.
11. However, the concept of 'socialistic equality' was not fully comprehended even by the Russian Communist Party. Does equality mean equal wages to all or equal opportunity for all? What does it exactly mean to say that a worker working on a machine, a clerk working with figures in an office, a teacher in a school, a professor in a university, a scientist, so also a farmer, a district collector, head of the Party, a soldier, a general, a member of the National Council, Politburo - all of them are equal? Will their wages, privileges, social 'status' all be equal? Since it was not so, it was in a way assumed that there will always be a hierarchy, albeit with less number of steps, till total socialism is achieved.
12. When Milovan Djilas presented his thesis, 'The New Class', he described the ever increasing powers of the bureaucracy in such hierarchy. He contended that even though extermination of the capitalist class and the nationalization of private property has been brought about, the bureaucracy has taken hold since power and power centres have not been 'socialised'. Djilas was called anti-communist; but the same criticism started emanating from many quarters in course of time.
13. In a way, Mao-Tse-Tung confirmed this thesis saying that extermination of the capitalist class and nationalisation of private property in themselves will not be able to establish 'socialistic equality'; a cultural revolution' will have to be initiated to destroy capitalistic ideas, tendencies, imprints and the social morality built by Them.
14. Mao sent workers to farms, made professors to go down mines, told managers to work machines, sent poets-writers to quarry stones and gave clerical work to scientists.
15. Behind these actions was the noble maxim that no job is inferior or superior than another. But the method adopted to implement it devastated the production-distribution cycle. Gandhiji had sowed the same thought in the party in a more meaningful way.
16. The cultural revolution failed to bring about socialistic equality; on the contrary it resulted in total anarchy. Wage levels of workers and scientists, professors and farmers, company managers and clerks became equal; privilege came to an end; anarchy reigned in the name of democratic equality; people became poorer - the new 'equality of poverty' was achieved by the majority; but the country was devastated. As soon as Deng assumed power, he declared that the equality envisaged by the cultural revolution was impracticable and romantic.
17. The issue of equality in a society with a class-based hierarchy and that in a society with multiplicity/inequality among various castes are qualitatively different from each other. Manu gave only the essentials of the four Varnas. Manusmriti does not envisage the hierarchical arrangement of Chitpawans, Deshasthas (Yajurvedi or Rigvedi), Karhades in the Brahmins among the Savarnas. (Chitpawans cannot have existed at all in the time of Manu.) Similarly there is no question of there being the division of the Five-kuli, Ninetysix-Kuli Marathas in Manu's time. Every caste has created such hierarchy on its own. Even though the inequality in it is called as 'casteist', it has no place in the caste system. But everybody including the Marathas and the Brahmins have experienced how sharp such divisions within a caste can be. The respective sections of the society have seen a few years ago the explosive nature of a marriage between a Chitpawan and a Deshastha or between a Five-kuli and a Ninetysix-kuli Maratha or between a Mahar families with and without Watan. Very recently the caste Panchayat in a village in Bihar sentenced a Jat boy and his Jatav mate to death and hanged them in front of all because he fell in love with her. Manusmriti does not contain the rules governing such inequalities. Therefore hanging Manu for our recent crimes is not going to end the caste system, leave alone getting rid of disparities to establish equality. Further, if the 'upper' level of the caste is buttressed by higher class also, the result is a special blend of snobbery.
18. This kind of differentiation has reached such alarming proportions in our country that a Brahmin from one state does not trust another Brahmin from a different state. The Nambudris of Kerala look down upon any other Brahmin. Same is the case with the backward castes. Some established Dalits consider the followers of Kanshi Ram as 'inferior'. A Jat boy from Punjab will not marry a Jat girl from Uttar Pradesh and Patels from Kutch are not going to call the Patels from Ahmedabad as their own.
19. All this of course was not there in Manusmriti. Thus, the jumble of castes in our country has been getting knottier during the past two arid half to three thousand years since Manu gave his dictates.
20. The policy of reservation was put forward with a view to eliminating the caste-based inequalities in our society. But this criterion can apply only to economic disparities. It has not been able to remove cultural inequalities.
21. America too has its reservation policy. Dark-skinned citizen (who used to be called as Niggers, then as Negro, thereafter as Blacks and now are known as African-Americans) enjoy certain special provisions. Asians also. Nevertheless, the dark-skinned people do not feel that it has helped to establish cultural-social equality. Interestingly, the highbrow Brahmins settled in America find the special provisions for 'Asians' acceptable; and they very much enjoy the benefits but they vehemently oppose the reservation policy in their motherland!
22. All white-skinned people do not enjoy equal status in Europe-America. The WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) consider the whites from Texas and Georgia as uncultured. In Britain, too the 'blue-blooded' aristocracy looks down upon other wealthy, well-placed whites. In Germany, Bavarians do not treat people from the East as their equals. People belonging to the Slav race in Russia despise other Russian races. This disparity was supposed to have been completely eliminated in the Communist regime. It used to be advertised that if not anything else, the disparities among the various races, languages and regions came to an end during the 75 years' reign of the Communist Party. The multiple civil wars rampant in the regions have shown how deep the hatred among them was.
23. On television, we have witnessed for the past five years the terrible turn the racism and ethnic struggle in Yugoslavia has taken. Islamic humanism/metaphysics has not been able to bring together Shias and Sunnis and various other sects and sub-sects among the Muslims. The Iran-Iraq war was not just a war between two countries; d also had the Shia-Sunni dimension. It is the experience of Indian and Russian Jews that the Jews of Israel do not accord the same respect to them which they do towards European Jews.
24. The teachings of all religions, the constitutions
all States and the policies of almost ail political parties embrace the concept
of equality'; in spite of which this inequality has not been removed.
This should not construe to mean that the hatred, the disparity are curses of
the Human society. It only means that the struggle for 'equality' is indeed
very long and is not as easy as it appears to be. If the 'progressive
Brahmins', the 'Dalit rebels' and the 'communist revolutionaries' come to realise
this much, the tendency to make political capital of the inequalities among
castes will be checked.
An article in the