Equality is Justice; Inequality is Injustice
In this interesting and illuminative study the author looks at the concept of justice in the Indian context .The paper is divided into three parts.The first part deals with the concept of justice which has been universally deemed as a moral compass for guiding not only policy formulation and designing political programs and strategies, but also for conditioning behaviour, individual and collective.The second part is devoted to looking at B.R, Ambedkar's perspective, diachronic as well as synchronic on social justice in India. The third part is about examining whether the Panchayati Raj System is suitable for bringing about social justice.
It would seem that justice is not for the poor and the oppressed; it is for the rich and the powerful. In an unequal society, rule of law works inexorably differently for different persons and groups: thus, some are ruled by law; some are above law; and some are ruled sans law.
Abstract: The concept of justice has been universally accepted as a moral compass for guiding not only policy programs and designing political programs and strategies, but also for conditioning behaviour, individual and collective. In the Indian context, only B.R. Ambedkar had a clear and concrete idea of justice. According to him, equality is justice; inequality is injustice. In India, as we have graded inequalities, we have graded injustices. It would seem that justice is not for the poor and oppressed; it is for the rich and powerful. The Panchayati Raj Institutions have not met the Ambedkarite concerns. At the local level, power is stacked against the deprived dalits. Under democratic decentralisation, what has happened is the devolution of responsibilities, functions and resources to the lower tiers. What is sought to be realised is devolution of administrative power, keeping intact real - power-social, economic, political and religious. Besides, there has been a hypertrophy of centralism. Power always has a tendency for centralisation. Centralisation of power is not the problem; decentralisation of power is not the answer.Power itself is the problem because it is always used by the rich and powerful against the poor and the weak.
Key terms: Justice. Equality. Decentralisation. PRIs. Power .Hypertrophy of Centralism. Graded Inequality .Graded Injustice.
Justice, the Parallax
There are several definitions and interpretations of the protean concept of justice. We start off with the formulation of John Rawls: 'justice as fairness. '( 1971)As Rawls himself admits, every system had/has its sense of fairness. 'The heart of A Theory of Justice is Rawl's idea that two principles of justice are central to a liberal democratic society, arguably to any society; (i) the principle of equal rights and liberties; and (ii) a principle of economic justice, which stresses (a)equality of opportunity and (b)mutual benefit and egalitarianism.'( Martin and Reidy, 2006. Introduction, 4). Given the veil of vagueness and the penumbra around the concept, Rawl's Theory is '...universal in scope and objective in justification.' ( loc cit, 7). There is almost consensus across the intellectual/ ideological spectrum that there cannot be justice without equality, thus, treating justice as coequal with equality, especially economic equality. Distributive equality is treated as almost synonymous and synchronous with justice. There are philosophers who think that there cannot be perfect equality ( efficiency-related inequality is necessary, permissible and warranted) ; hence, no perfect justice. What should be aimed at is reducing injustice. ( Rawls,1971; Sen,2009).
Overall, it seems that justice has been a 'cultivated fiction'( Sen, loc cit,3). It has, so far, remained chimerical; all talks about justice, therefore, sounding hollow and disingenuous. Denial of justice to some, parenthetically, is not a new or recent phenomenon, for it has, always and everywhere, been denied to the poor, and only to the poor. The rich and powerful seldom complain about the denial of justice. Thus, one can aver without any great fear of being controversial that the poor and weak can never aspire for justice while the rich and strong need not be afraid of losing it. History is testimony to the fact that the poor have always sought justice, but justice has always evaded the poor. The rich do not oppose the demand for equality and justice as they know with hindsight that they will never be brought down to equality with the poor. There seems to be nothing like inclusive, universal or poetic justice. What is tom-tommed is, in point of fact, a livid simulacrum, a verbal fetishism / strip-teasing meant to stupefy the dominated and the excluded who under all circumstances find themselves in a catatonic state. Concepts such as equality before law, equality of opportunities appear to be misleading-. In an unequal society, rule of law works inexorably differently for different persons and groups: thus, some are ruled by law; some are above law; and some are ruled sans law. Law is a commodity with its market; therefore, one's economic position determines her ability to access law. In such a society, further, access to opportunities, is, unarguably, differential and unequal, forcing the poor and the deprived to remain perpetually in the capability penumbra with stupor and insouciance.
Our starting point is the statement: justice is freedom. Freedom is traced through the philosophies and perspectives of Adam Smith, Hegel, Marx, Ambedkar, and Amartyya Sen.
For Adam Smith, the Father of Classical Political Economy, and the indefatigable defender of individual liberty, freedom meant liberalism and individualism. Given laissez-faire, it is the individual with her interest, ability and rationale who is the source of creativity and productivity. When every individual pursues her self-interest to the maximum, the system grows, whereas, there is no guarantee that, when the system grows, every individual will grow. In the liberal system with unlimited individual liberty, growth will be harmonious as well.(1759, 1776)
Hegel (1820) contributes a more precise, classy and concrete perspective through his definition, 'property is freedom.' 'Right to property Hegel regarded as sacrosanct...it was indeed the 'embodiment of personality', 'the first embodiment of freedom.' Modern selfhood was freed from earlier religious and personal obligations and focused instead chiefly on objective relations framed by property. The means by which individuality was realized was through such[property]rights, implying that those without property were not in effect even human.'( Hegel, 51. Quote from, Claeys, 2018,19. ) For Marx, ending alienation of the worker ( from means of production, the product, labour itself, and , consequently from society) is what is called for. The ideal system is a society of freely associated producers, where everybody contributes according to their ability and everybody takes according to their need.( Avineri,1967) Ambedkar insists that economic and social democracy is a prerequisite for sustaining political democracy.( 1946). Amartya Sen( 1999) defines development as freedom.( freedom from poverty, illiteracy, disease ,lack of shelter, and unfreedom).
Thus, in all these philosophies, freedom predicated on property/ resources is the bottom-line. Successful persons, with very few exceptions, in all walks of life come from propertied families and groups. Thus, relying on property determinism, we take the position that property right as a justiciable fundamental right, and a democracy based on universal property ownership are the prerequisites for 'human self-development'( Claeys, Ibid, 28), ensuring individual and social justice. In this sense, property is justice and right to property should be treated on par with right to life. Thus, justice is right. Taken in this concrete, unambiguous, sense, instead of slobbering, our love of justice will not be hanging in the air, and , resultantly, the system will be leapfrogging to justice.
( To be continued )
Keynote Address delivered at the National Seminar on ' Social Justice and the Working of Panchayats in India: Revisiting the Concerns of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar School of Thought' organised by Sri Ramakrishna Hegde Chair on Decentralisation and Development, the Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), Bengaluru, India and Centre for Human Resource Development, ISEC, Bengaluru.
Dr. M. Kunhaman is Professor(Rtd), Tata Institute of Social Sciences[ TISS], Tuljapur Campus. E-Mail id: mkunhaman@ rediffmail.com.