Saturday, December 10, 2011

Ambedkar’s Conception of Equality

Dr. P. Kesava Kumar

Equality is a central concept in a political thought. Democracy presupposes equality. The idea of equality viewed as fundamental value of life. It is an egalitarian principle. Historically, the demand for equality has its justification on many grounds. It came to forefront as the moral or rational critique of society. The political thinkers recognized that formal equality of citizenship is not enough for substantial and meaningful life. Dahl defines democracy in terms of substantial equality in political resources. Barber argues that democracy is the politics of equality. Democracy requires an equality of democratic agency Human history witnessed many struggles against existing inequalities. Equality remains as a moral ideal for realization of democratic political value, especially in a society where inequalities are inbuilt.

The philosophers visualized egalitarian society based on their conception of equality. In eighteenth century the intellectual scheme explains that the existing inequalities are experienced as an intolerable burden and struggles for equality develops. Society generates unfreedom and inequalities of power, status and wealth, thus destroys the natural state of freedom and equality. Locke came with a theory of natural rights. Thinkers of social contract, Locke and Rousseau believed that individual surrendered his/her natural freedom and equality to the state for the sake of economic cooperation and physical safety.. The thinking of social contract assumes that the accomplishment of common purposes necessitates the voluntary surrender of primary, natural equality and freedom to social inequalities. This ideological scheme underlies most modern thinking about equality and inequality. Against the rigid and hierarchical social structures and its inbuilt inequalities emerged equalitarianism, individualism and libertarianism as an egalitarian value system. They began as a phenomenon of change. The premodern societies characterized with unfreedom, inequality, suppression and restriction of individuals. The modern Western industrial society replaced ascription by achievement: differences were justified by the degree to which different individuals attained social goals and values. Achievement of economic success gradually replaced ascriptive salvation; economic performance became the source of individual worth. It is important to understand that this transition from an ascriptive to an achievement-oriented society took place hand in hand with the emergence of capitalism. Individualism, with its claim for equality and freedom is later historical phenomenon. There is a long tradition of combining the values of individualism with equality. Individualism is a doctrine which emphasizes the dignity and worth of each individual; Egalitarianism as a theory appeals to equality as a moral ideal represented John Rawls, Ronald Dworkin, and Thomas Nagel.

Ambedkar’s theory of equality has its significance in larger debates of political philosophy. Like virtue theorists such as Kant, Ambedkar considers man as an end himself/herself and used as instrument of means. Ambedkar considers that equality has differently understood in applying for human societies in comparison with mathematical notion of equality. Equality has to be understood with the fundamental characteristics that are common to humanity. These characteristics may be named as primordial qualities or biological necessities. It is a fact that fundamental characteristics appear in all human beings. Their nature and manifestations are summed up in a phrase ‘moral equality’. By emphasizing on this moral equality, Ambedkar is critical about the supporters of inequality, who argues that in physical strength, talents, and wealth, human beings are not equal. Ambedkar holds that in essence the phrase ' moral equality ' asserts in ethical value, a belief to be sustained, and recognition of rights to be respected. Its validity cannot be demonstrated as a problem in mathematics can be demonstrated. It is asserted against inequalities in physical strength, talents, industry, and wealth. It denied that superior physical strength has a moral right to kill, eat, or oppress human beings merely because it is superior. To talents and wealth, the ideal of moral equality makes a similar denial of right. And indeed few can imagine themselves to have superior physical strength, talents and wealth will withhold from inferiors all moral rights… A society without any respect for human personalities is a band of robbers.

Ambedkar considers untouchability in has worst form of inequalities that no where finds in the world. The Hindu social order does not recognise the individual as a centre of social purpose. For the Hindu social order is based primarily on class or Varna and not on individuals. In the Hindu social order, there is no room for individual merit and no consideration of individual justice. If the individual has a privilege it is not because it is due to him personally. The privilege goes with the class and if he is found to enjoy it, it is because he belongs to that class. The Hindu social order is reared on three principles. Among these the first and foremost is the principle of graded inequality. The second principle on which the Hindu social order is founded is that of fixate of occupations for each class and continuance there of by heredity. The third principle on which the Hindu social order is founded is the fixation of people within their respective classes. The hindu social order is based on graded inequality. This scheme has designed and protected to maintain social inequality. The Hindu social order leaves no choice to the individual. It fixes his occupation. It fixes his status. All that remains for the individual to do is to conform him self to these regulations. Ambedkar observed that the principle of graded inequality has been carried into the economic field. Ambedkar concludes that inequality is the soul of Hinduism. Inequality is the official doctrine of Brahmanism and the suppression of the lower classes aspiring to equality has been looked upon by them and carried out by them, without remorse as their bounded duty. For in Hinduism inequality is a religious doctrine adopted and conscientiously preached as a sacred dogma. Inequality for the Hindus is a divinely prescribed way of life as a religious doctrine and as a prescribed way of life. Hinduism is inimical to equality, antagonistic to liberty and opposed to fraternity. According to Ambedkar, justice has always evoked ideas of equality, of proportion of compensation. Equity signifies equality. Rules and regulations, right and righteousness are concerned with equality in value. If all men are equal, then all men are of the same essence, and the common essence entitles them of the same fundamental rights and equal liberty… in short justice is another name of liberty, equality and fraternity. For Ambedkar, the source for equality lies in dhamma of Budhism .Dhamma to be a sadhamma must promote equality between man and man. Religion must uphold equality. Further he maintains that state has to play a role through constitutional provisions to bring equality .Ambedkar firmly believed that political democracy cannot succeed without social and economic democracy. In his concept of democracy, he opined that political democracy is not an end in itself, but the most powerful means to achieve the social and economic ideals in society. Associated life is consensual expression of shared experience, aspirations and values.

This is to conclude that Ambedkar has not only philosophically conceptualized the concept of equality and also demanded and fought for equality. He has negotiated with western theories of equality from Indian social context. Like social contract thinkers Locke and Rousseau argues that by virtue of human beings, he/she has certain inalienable natural rights. All human beings are equal. He further carried with Kant by considering human beings are end in themselves and not used as a means. He upholds the notion of rationality that upholds the morality and dignity. Like in the west, Ambedkar too argues for individualism against orthodox religion and demands to recognize the worth and merit of the individual. He too combines the individualism with a sense of equality and freedom. But he goes beyond liberal theory of Rawls. For Ambedkar, liberty and fraternity are the other values to be realized along with equality.. His conception of individualism is more reflected and located in mortal community. His conception of equality ensures both material and spiritual values. Ultimately his sense of equality lies in democratic, ethical, rational and humanistic religious dharma. He illustrates that brahminism and capitalism are source of inequality and has to fight against it to have democratic society.

1 comment:

Lakshmi Mareddy said...

Capitalistic society works on the concept of "you earn, you keep". It at some level cannot carry the weak, the underprivileged, and they get left behind. But eventually for any society to prosper, somebody needs to be paid. As a user of open source software, I have noticed that people are taking only and not giving back. Only 10% contribute, and 110% consume. So socialism also is not an answer! What is your take on the Egypt style protests, OCCUPY movement etc?