Incorporating the right to equality into political vocabulary

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Incorporating the right to equality into political vocabulary

  • Ahead of the upcoming Union Budget, the opposition has stated that the government should work to address the ‘economic epidemic’.
  • They said that the income disparity between the rich and poor has increased during the pandemic.

Poverty - a social phenomenon.

  • Society is complicit in the creation and recreation of poverty. Destitution, that is, is the outcome of a skewed economy.
  • Poverty breeds unfortunate consequences, such as suffering, which seriously demoralises human beings.
  • The existence 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.


  • The United Nations describes inequality as “the state of not being equal, especially in status, rights and opportunities”.
  • Classifications:
  • Economic inequality: unequal distribution of income and opportunity between individuals or different groups in society.
  • Social inequality: occurs when resources in a given society are distributed unevenly based on norms of a society that creates specific patterns along lines of socially defined categories e.g. religion, kinship, prestige, race, caste, ethnicity, gender etc. have different access to resources of power, prestige and wealth depending on the norms of a society.

Dimensions of Inequality in India

  • Gender
  • The Global Gender Gap Report, 2021, ranks India at 140 among 156 countries.
  • Four parameters for measuring gender inequality are economic participation and opportunity, health and survival, educational attainment and political empowerment.
  • Gender wage gap is highest in India according International Labor Organization women are paid 34% less than men.
  • Caste
  • It is significant factor for determining access to resources like education, income, health valued by individuals.
  • India’s upper caste households earned nearly 47% more than the national average annual household income, the top 10% within these castes owned 60% of the wealth within the group in 2012, as per the World Inequality Database.
  • Religion
  • Religious identities can cause prejudices which may lead to economic exclusion and other forms of discrimination which can impact jobs and livelihood opportunities.
  • While minorities such as Christians, Parsis and Jains have a larger share of income/consumption than their population share, Muslim and Buddhist populations have significantly lower access to economic resources.
  • Ethnicity
  • Tribal communities in India have been identified as ethnic group on the basis of their unique culture, language, dialect, geographical location, customs etc.
  • The National Family Health Survey 2015-16 (NFHS-4) showed that 45.9% of ST population were in the lowest wealth bracket as compared to 26.6% of SC population, 18.3% of OBCs, 9.7% of other castes.
  • Economic Inequality
  • India's Gini coefficient, a measure of the distribution of income across the population, increased from 74.7 in 2000 to 82.0 in 2019, and reached 82.3 at the end of 2020. A higher Gini index indicates greater inequality.

Consequences of Inequalities

  • Inequalities tend to produce social conflict among the social groups as caste groups like Jaats, Gurjars, Patels etc are demanding reservations.
  • Inequalities among ethnic groups have led to various ethnic movements demanding separate states or autonomous regions or even outright secession from India. Eg. Nagas demanding for greater Nagalim etc.
  • Religious inequality generates feeling of exclusion among religious minority groups. .
  • Poor development indicators like IMR, MMR, low per capita income, lower education and learning outcomes at schools, high rate of population growth can be traced to existing socio-economic inequalities.
  • High economic inequality is detrimental to public healthcare and education .

Principle of equal standing

  • Generates at least two robust principles of democratic morality:
  • For one, equality is a relation that obtains between persons in respect of some fundamental characteristic that they share in common.
  • Equality is, morally speaking, a default principle. Therefore, and this is the second postulate, persons should not be discriminated against on grounds such as race, caste, gender, ethnicity, sexual preferences, disability, or class. These features of the human condition are morally irrelevant.

Implications of Political Morality

  • To treat persons equally because they possess equal standing is to treat them with respect.
  • The idea that one should treat persons with respect not only because some of these persons possess some special skill or talent, for example skilled cricketers, gifted musicians, or literary giants, but because persons are human beings, is by now part of common sense morality.
  • If someone were to ask, ‘equality for what’, we can answer that equality assures equal standing and respect, and respect is an essential prerequisite for the making of human beings who can participate in the multiple transactions of society from a position of confidence and self-respect.
  • If they cannot do so, the government is simply not taking the well-being of its citizens seriously.

Provisions in India to eliminate Inequalities

  • Equality ensured under Articles 14, 15 and 16 of the Constitutional Right to Equality.
  • Promoting Civil Society to provide a greater voice to traditionally oppressed and suppressed groups.
  • Schemes for Scheduled castes and Scheduled tribes like Stand up India to promote entrepreneurship among the oppressed classes.
  • Women Empowerment by gender equality policies like affirmative action by reserving seats in legislatures, increasing reservation at Local self governments to 50% in all states, strict implementation of Equal Remuneration act,1976 to remove wage gap, making education curriculum gender sensitive, raising awareness about women right, changing social norms through schemes like Beti Bachao Beti Padhao etc.
  • Representation to religious minority groups in government jobs, provision of institutional credit, improving access to education, protection of their human rights by empowering National commission for Minority, strengthening rule of law etc.
  • Progressive Taxes on wealthy and increasing the effective taxation on corporations, broadening the tax base through better monitoring of financial transactions.
  • Ensuring universal access to public funded high quality services like Public health and education, social security benefits, employment guarantee schemes; inequality can be reduced to great extent.

Way forward

  • There is urgent need, in the face of government inaction and insensitivity towards people trapped in inequality as a social relation to invoke the collective conscience of Indian citizens.
  • If the right to equality is violated, citizens should be exercised or agitated about this violation.
  • Government has to incorporate the right to equality into political thinking, into our values, and into political vocabularies.
  • It requires the harnessing of creative imagination and courage, and careful reasoning, persuasion, and dialogue.
  • It also requires the investment of rather high degrees of energy and time. But this is essential because a political consensus on what constitutes, or should constitute the basic rules of society, is central to our collective lives.
  • The political is not a given, it has to be constructed, as Karl Marx had told us long ago, through determined and sustained political intervention.