Monday, November 11, 2013

Ambedkar's Conception of Equality

Ambedkar’s Conception of Equality 

                                                            Dr. P. Kesava Kumar

Equality is a central concept in a political thought. Equality 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. Sullivan viewed the idea of equality as fundamental value of life. Human history witnessed many struggles against existing inequalities. Equality presupposes the democracy. 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. Robert Post too argues that democracy requires that persons be treated equally insofar as they are autonomous participants in the process of self government. Democracy requires an equality of democratic agency. At the same time democracy and equality are mutually reinforcing and mutually antagonistic. At root, a deep theoretical tension exists between democracy and various notions of distributive justice that seek to protect the moral equality of citizens. Insofar as democracy is a form of government committed to self-determination, democracy must also encompass self-determination about the meaning of the moral equality of citizens. Democracy is an ideal for human beings because it is the only form of society which at once depends upon and provides for the organization of free communication. It demands equality, because it is only as equals that men can communicate; it values the individual, because it is only the individual in his difference from others who has anything to communicate to them, and because it is only the freely communicating individual who is fully rational and the source of creativity. John Dewey has said that shared experience is the greatest of human goods. Like all moral goods, it is at once an end in itself and a necessary condition for the realization of all other goods. Equality as a moral ideal is crucial for realization of democratic political value, especially in a society where inequalities are internalized.

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. Individualism, with its claim for equality and freedom is later historical phenomenon. 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. These restrictions were presumed to be rooted in divine, or natural, order and not viewed as oppressive. When reason is applied to this order, the hierarchy requires rational legitimation and justification. It must appear to conform to principles of justice. In premodern times, such justification was based on ascription: differentials of power, status and wealth were derived from inherent characteristics such as ancestry, birth or caste; people were privileged or underprivileged be-cause of what they were and not for what they accomplished. The modern Western industrial society replaced ascription by achievement: differences were justified by the degree to which different individuals attained social goals and values. Ascriptive aristocracy was replaced by a meritocracy wherein merit consisted of achieving that which society valued most. Hierarchies based on ascription are also more rigid, whereas those based on achievement allow up-wards, and downwards, mobility; one can never change what one is, but one can change one's social position by achievement and performance. Achievement replacing ascription as the legitimizing principle went hand in hand with a class struggle. Achievement replacing ascription as the legitimizing principle went hand in hand with a class struggle. The bourgeoisie, in its struggle with the aristocracy in England and with the Ancient regime in France, attacked the traditional ascriptive inequalities through their demand for liberty and equality. The ideal of equality had the socio-historical function of attacking the existing inequalities, but it led, in turn, to new inequalities based on achievement. 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.

There is a long tradition of combining the values of individualism with equality. One of the doctrines associated with individualism is the natural sovereignty of each person. We are not born masters and servants, rulers and ruled. All are born free; no one may claim natural authority over another. Individualism is a doctrine which emphasizes the dignity and worth of each individual; Egalitarianism is powerfully represented in recent moral and political philosophy. John Rawls, Ronald Dworkin, and Thomas Nagel have defended views that count as egalitarian. An egalitarian theory might be based on an appeal to equality itself as a moral ideal.

Like virtue theorists such as Kant, Ambedkar considers man as an end himself/herself and used as instrument of means. Ambedkar endorses the Beard view of equality expressed in Freedom in Political Thought. 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. As a matter of emphasis one may point out inequalities in physical strength, in artistic skill, in material wealth, or in mental capacity. But it remain fact that fundamental characteristics appear in all human beings. Their nature and manifestations are summed up in a phrase ‘moral equality’. By emphasizing on moral equality Ambedkar is critical about the supporters of inequality, who argues that in physical strength, talents, and wealth, human beings are not equal. No rational exponent of moral equality has even disputed the existence of obvious inequalities among human beings, even when he has pointed out inequalities, which may be ascribed to tyranny or institutional prescriptions. The Declaration of Independence does not assert that all men are equal; it proclaims that they are ‘created’' 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.

The objections to equality may be sound and one may have to admit that all men are not equal. But what of that? Equality may be a fiction but nonetheless one must accept it as the governing principle. A. man's power is dependent upon (1) physical heredity, (2) social inheritance or endowment in the form of parental care, education, accumulation of scientific knowledge, everything which enables him to be more efficient than the savage, and finally, (3) on his own efforts. In all these three respects men are undoubtedly unequal. But the question is, shall we treat them as unequal because they are unequal? This is a question which the opponents of equality must answer. From the standpoint of the individualist it may be just to treat men unequally so far as their efforts are unequal. It may be desirable to give as much incentive as possible to the full development of every one's powers. But what would happen if men were treated unequally as they are, in the first two respects? It is obvious that those individuals also in whose favour there is birth, education, family name, business connections and inherited wealth would be selected in the race. But selection under such circumstances would not be a selection of the able. It would be the selection of the privileged. The reason therefore, which forces that in the third respect we should treat men unequally demands that in the first two respects we should treat men as equally as possible. On the other hand it can be urged that if it is good for the social body to get the most out of its members, it can get most out of them only by making them equal as far as possible at the very start of the race. That is e reason why we cannot escape equality. This position reminds the Rawl’s theory of equal opportunity. According to John Rawls justice is the first virtue of social institution. Rawls affirms an Equal Liberty Principle that guarantees equal basic or constitutional liberties for all citizens and a Difference Principle that requires inequalities in the distribution of certain social and economic benefits, the primary social goods, to be set so that the long-term holdings of primary social goods are maximized for the citizens whose holdings are least. The Fair Equality of Opportunity Principle holds that social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity. In other words, institutions should be arranged so that any two persons with the same native talent and the same ambition should have the same prospects of success in the competition for positions of advantage that distribute primary social goods. The combination between egalitarianism and justification of inequalities was achieved by the idea of equality of opportunity. It contains an element of equalitarianism; everybody is supposed to begin at the same starting line; but the inequalities that emerge in the competitive struggle are accepted. The idea of equality of opportunity makes possible the representation of the resulting unequal income distribution as just: because of initial equality, the resulting inequalities are supposedly based on merit. The idea of equality of opportunity can serve its purpose to justify existing inequalities only if one believes every-one has an equal start and accepts the resulting inequalities as meritorious. Both beliefs are open to grave doubts. There are obvious flaws in the assumption of an equal start; differences in environment, background, education and other factors distribute the chances very unevenly, indeed.

Ambedkar poses certain questions: Does the Hindu social order recognise the individual? Does it recognize his distinctiveness his moral responsibility? Does it recognise him as an end in himself, as a subject not merely of disabilities but also of rights even against the State? 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 disability is the disability imposed upon the class and if he is found to be labouring under it, it is because he belongs to that class. It refuses to recognise that men no matter how profoundly they differ as individuals in capacity and character, are equally entitled as human beings to consideration and respect wellbeing of a society. 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. ‘From each according to his ability; to each according to his need’ is not the principle of Hindu social order. The principle of the Hindu social order is: From each according to his need. To each according to his nobility. Every side of social life is protected against the danger of equality.

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, it has become incarnate in Hindu Society and is shaped and moulded by it in its thoughts and in its doings. In the Philosophy of Hinduism the interests of the common man as well as of society are denied, suppressed and sacrificed to the interest of this class of Supermen. The Brahmin or the Superman of the Hindu social order was entitled to certain privileges.

Man must grow materially as well as spiritually. Society has been aiming to lay a new foundation was summarised by the French Revolution in three words, Fraternity, Liberty and Equality. The French Revolution was welcomed because of this slogan. It failed to produce equality. We welcome the Russian Revolution because it aims to produce equality. But it cannot be too much emphasised that in producing equality society cannot afford to sacrifice fraternity or liberty. Equality will be of no value without fraternity or liberty. It seems that the three can coexist only if one follows the way of the Buddha. Communism can give one but not all.

For Ambedkar, the source for equality lies in dhamma of Budhism in his work Budha and his Dhamma .Dhamma to be a sadhamma must promote equality between man and man. Religion must uphold equality otherwise it is not worth having. The religion is better which promotes the happiness of others simultaneously with the happiness of oneself and tolerates no oppression. The religion of the Buddha is perfect justice springing from a man's own meritorious disposition.

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 roots of democracy lie not in the government but in social relations. In social relations are hierarchical, inequal, oppressive and exploitative in caste society. He maintains that the preconditions for the success of democracy are that there must not be glaring inequalities in society and there must be statutory provisions to mitigate the sufferings and safeguard the interests of the oppressed. The society must be based on the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity in order to ensure social endosmosis. Therefore, Dr. Ambedkar, while speaking on “conditions precedent for the successful working of Democracy”, in Poona, emphasized that, “The first condition which I think is a condition precedent for the successful working of democracy is that there must be no glaring inequities in the society. There must not be an oppressed class. There must not be a suppressed class. There must not be a class which has got the entire privileges ad a class which has got all the burdens to carry. Such a thing, such a division, such an organization of society has within itself the germs of a bloody revolution and perhaps it would be impossible for democracy to cure them.”According to him, economic inequalities are inherent in the capitalist economy which makes political equality assured by democracy worthless. Thus, according to Ambedkar, the failure to recognize that political democracy cannot succeed where there is no social and economic democracy has vitiated parliamentary democracy.

Ambedkar maintained that though “parliament democracy developed a passion for liberty, it never made a nodding acquaintance with equality. It failed to realize the significance of equality and did not even endeavor to strike a balance between liberty and equality, with the result that liberty swallowed equality and left a progeny of inequalities”

“A political democracy without an economic and social democracy is an invitation to trouble and danger”. Social democracy alone can assure to the masses the right to liberty, equality and fraternity. So, democracy is not only a form of government but a way of life through which social justice can be established.

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 universal 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.

1 comment:

Yayaver said...

Excellent writing...