Equality in India- A fundamental right, a quest for order in society
Equality is a concept that is an enigma in itself, Can society and its members ever be equal? This is a question since ancient times. As everyone is different and has different merits and inclinations can they really be equal? So why do we seek equality? Why is it necessary? This article tries to find out some of these answers.
Introduction- A search of order giving birth to Inequality In the story of civilisation with the evolution of man and the growth of civilisation everywhere in the world. Some sort of concept developed to overcome any kind of disparity and inequality prevailing in society. Whatever was different needed to be placed in some kind of hierarchy and order. As a society always demands an order to stay stable and away from chaos and progress. In this quest of order, it tries to eliminate any form of difference and bring uniformity be it the difference of occupation, class and even race (a social construct too developed by the pseudo-scientists of the times as to prove the racial superiority of one race over other). So everywhere in the world where civilisation and society emerged people in power devised tools to make things uniform or set them in a vertical or horizontal order. They tried to set order so that the surplus labour, resources like land, water, cattle and even art and artefacts got distributed in their favour.
Some of the Examples of such creation of order by people in power in various countries are as follows-
In France, this was in the form of the division of Estates. The first estate comprised Clergis, the second estate of aristocracy and nobles and the third estate of commoners. And the emergence of a cruel order where surplus created by the third estate filled coffers of upper two estates.
Europe and America-
Europeans and later Americans devised a very cruel concept of racial superiority to counter the differences and hence exploit the labour of African people.
In India the concept of hierarchy was dealt with by the introduction of the Varna system- the unique concept in itself was not very bad, but it changed with time and got completely transformed. The system lost its utility of setting order instead end up creating a division of society. Divisions that were so deep that filled minds of people with prejudices that we still are not able to level it up. Under this system four Varna were classified based on their occupations. As the number of occupations increased it caused a further division into the number of castes and subcastes within the already existing Varna Hierarchy. The problem in this system came when this system became birth-based, and later more rigidity in this system caused people to believe caste was the biggest marker of their identity. This identity caused people to believe in the superiority of their birth and out of this superiority emerged the most inhumane form of segregation called Untouchability. A system in which one human feels polluted just by the touch of another human being.
Formation of Caste Within the Varna emerged Castes and within the caste emerged sub-castes which kept on growing with new forms of work and their new interpretations through the religious texts. This system became the tool of oppression and the perpetrator of the worst form of inequality, a form of subversion to the extent of introduction untouchability in it. With time when some occupations began to be seen as lowly and hence something only to be performed by untouchables. Thus the emergence of institutions within Caste called untouchability the worst kind of oppression, any human being can be subjected to with all his dignity being taken away from him/her. The people who have cleaned the society were made most unclean and away from the society shoved at the fringes and margins of society and forced to survive on the leftovers of higher castes.
Caste became the biggest marker of Identity As the untouchability crawled into the minds of people whose castes became their biggest identity. Till today in India, everyone identifies himself/herself from his/her caste. And it is not something that is just limited to the Hindu religion. But everyone in India be it Muslim, Sikhs, Christian to some extent Janis and Buddhist (a religion which was formed against this system of Hierarchy) have caste in one or the other forms. This system is still going on but disguised because of the fear of laws. We can find this disguised castism in matrimonial advertisements in the newspapers, matrimonial sites and every time a person asks another person his/her surname to find out his/her ancestral identity. These kinds of things show how deep caste identity has penetrated the Indian mindset.
B.R Ambedkar and Introduction of rights based on equality in constitution B.R Ambedkar was one of the prominent leaders who emerged from the so-called scheduled castes of India and a caste of Untouchables. Raised in such an environment of disparity and suffering all the humiliation subjected based on the caste prejudiced society. He emerged as a figure of respect, empowerment and a symbol of resistance against oppression for everyone who is subjected to any form of injustice. He contributed immensely to the formation and framing of the constitution, and it is because of his efforts that equality is given so much prominence in fundamental rights. It was he who fought for and spoke against the rights of oppressed people of Indian society in the constituent assembly with all the facts and figures. Thus borrowing the best things from the constitutions around the world. He understood the ground reality of India and thus made sure that nobody gets oppressed based on their caste, religion, sex occupation and place of birth subjected to sub humane treatment. And played a very important role in placing these provisions under Article 14 to 18 as follows -
Article 14- Equality before law
No citizen is above law and treated equally in the eyes of laws despite his caste, sex religion and position.
Article 15- No discrimination
No one can be discriminated against based on his/her religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.
Article 16- Equality of opportunities
No citizen can be denied any kind of job or opportunity based on their birth, caste, sex and religion and has to be provided with an equal chance with everyone else.
Article 17- Abolition of untouchablity
This article is peculiar to India and the problem of untouchability in India. And makes any form of untouchability against anyone based on caste, sex, religion and birth.
Article 18- Abolition of titles.
All the earlier titles used by the aristocrats and rulers were abolished and only titles conferred by the government are valid in the eyes of the laws.
Dr B.R Ambedkar with the constituent assembly and members of the drafting committee made sure any such form of practice that forced any human being to live in sub humane condition just because of his birth be penalized and members guilty for it gets punished.
Why and how Indians were and still suffering from Inequality? Despite so many provisions against any form of inequality we still see this kind of caste-based inequality prevalent in India. As everyone is aware of their caste-based identities through surnames.
This can be seen in any matrimonial advertisement in the newspapers as well. The worst form of this inequality is seen in the rural areas of India where people are not much aware of the laws and don't fear the consequences. We keep reading news of any Dalit youth getting killed at the hands of the upper caste, forced to do menial work, denied access to water resources or areas of villages and other denials. It is because Indians have made caste the markers of their identities above everything and still are not ready for many constitutional reforms. They still are bound by rules of caste endogamy, purity and pollution when it comes to food habits, still unable to rent houses without asking the surname. Despite having many laws these shameful things still prevail in society.
Conclusion A society based on equality is still a farfetched dream with a diverse Population like India. But slowly and surely we are moving towards a society based on Equity where people are getting opportunities.
We are understanding the concepts of the society of fairness and justice and not denying people's rights based on their birth and textual interpretations. Society needs more education, awareness, literacy and empathy to be able to identify itself above caste and see each other as humans. Every individual needs to remember his/her role and responsibility in society instead of just blaming it and trying to bring change in one's own level at one's own house, colony and area. So next time you come across any headlines denying any people any kind of rights based on their caste, religion and gender do think about it and notice if it is happening around you as well. Do think about it if you can change the situation around you in any way.