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Equality: Social, political and economic; relationship between equality and freedom; Affirmative action


The belief of equality is a major assumption of a self-governing society. Equality does not entail complete equality. Equality originates from aequalis, aequus and aequalitas. These are all old French or Latin words. These French/Latin words mean even, level and equal. In general term, equality means full equality of treatment and reward for all. It is needed as natural equality. It is thought that all men are born natural and free. Nevertheless, despite a strong emotional appeal to hearts of people, the concept of natural and absolute equality of all cannot be fully acknowledged and realised. Men are neither equal in respect of their physical features nor in respect of their mental capabilities. Some are stronger others weaker and some are more intelligent and capable than others.

Actually, equality that all people must have equal opportunities for development. In fact, when we talk of equality of all person we really mean general and fair equality and not absolute equality.

The term equality used in political science differs from uniformity, identity and sameness. Some people, of course, want to use it to denote uniformity. But this does not convey the meaning when it is used by political scientists. Equality does not mean obliteration of diversity.

Theoretical review: Many theorists defined equality in their own way:

According to D.D Raphall, "The Right to Equality proper is a right of equal satisfaction of basic human needs, including the need to develop and use capacities which are specifically human."

Laski described that "Equality means that no man shall be so placed in society that he can over-reach his neighbour to the extent which constitutes a denial of latter's citizenship." Barker opined that "Equality means equal rights for all the people and the abolition of all special rights and privileges".

G. Sartori explained that "equality has so many facets and so many implications that after we have examined it from all angles we are left with a feeling of not having really mastered it."

Therefore, as a whole, equality does not mean absolute equality in all spheres and to every person. It does not aim at identity of treatment as intellectual and physical capacity varies. It opposes inequitable treatment. It means complete and absolute equality at the bottom most level and then equal opportunity to develop one's inner potentiality.

Contemporary notion of political authority was innovated by Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, two English thinkers of the seventeenth century. These two intellectuals proclaimed the natural equality of human beings. Hobbes and Locke imagined human beings in a "state of nature" and explained why they would enter into a social contract with each other for their mutual benefit. Out of this contract came government, which was established for the protection of citizens and endowed with powers commensurate to that end. On this account, government derived its authority from the consent of the governed, not the natural superiority of a ruling class.

Neither Hobbes nor Locke concluded that people ought to rule themselves once government was established, however. Hobbes argued that people should submit to an autonomous with absolute powers, while Locke believed they would implicitly accept constitutional kingdom, reserving the right to rebel against unjust governments. Thus, each man insisted on natural equality but stopped short of recommending political equality.

Characteristics of Equality:

  1. Equality does not stand for absolute equality. It accepts the presence of some natural dissimilarities.
  2. Equality stands for absence of all unnatural manmade inequalities and specially privileged classes in the society.
  3. Equality assumes the grant and guarantee of equal rights and freedoms to all the people.
  4. Equality infers the system of equal and adequate opportunities for all the people in society.
  5. Equality means equal satisfaction of basic needs of all the persons before the special needs', and luxuries of some persons may be met.
  6. Equality supports an equitable and fair distribution of wealth and resources i.e. Minimum possible gap between the rich and poor.
  7. Equality accepts the principle of protective discrimination for helping the weaker sections of society. In the Indian political system, right to equality has been given to all and yet there stands incorporated provisions for granting special protection facilities and reservations to persons belonging to scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, other backward classes, minorities, women, and children.

Equality has three Basic elements:

  1. Absence of special privileges in society.
  2. Presence of adequate and equal opportunities for development of all.
  3. Equal satisfaction of basic needs of all.

Types of Equality

1. Natural Equality:

Though human differ in respect of their physical features, psychological traits, mental abilities and capacities, all humans are to be treated as equal humans. All are to be considered to avail all human rights and freedoms.

2. Social Equality:

Social equality is referred as equal rights and opportunities for development for all classes of people without any discrimination such as civil rights, freedom of speech, property rights, and equal access to social goods and services. However, it also includes concepts of health equity, economic equality and other social securities. It also includes equal opportunities and obligations, and so involves the whole of society. Social equality requires the absence of legally enforced social class or caste boundaries and the absence of discrimination motivated by an inalienable part of a person's identity. For instance, sex, gender, race, age, sexual orientation, origin, caste or class, income or property, language, religion, convictions, opinions, health or disability must not result in unsatisfactory treatment under the law and should not reduce opportunities unreasonably.

Specifically, Social equality stands for:

  1. Absence of special privileges for any class or caste or religions group or an ethnic group.
  2. Prohibition of discrimination against any one on the basis of caste, colour, creed, religion, sex and place of birth.
  3. Free access to public places for all the people, i.e. no social segregation.
  4. Equality of opportunity for all people. It however accepts the concept of protective discrimination in favour of all weaker sections of society.

Contemporary theme of social equality is to eliminate gender inequality, to ensure equal status and opportunities to the women and to ensure equal rights of male and female children to live and develop.

3. Civil Equality:

It is elaborated as the grant of equal rights and freedoms to all the people and social groups. All the people are to be treated equal before Law. Civil liberty comprises of the enjoyment of similar civil liberties and civil rights by all the citizens. Civil laws should treat all the individuals equally. There should not be any discrimination of superior and inferior, the rich and the poor, caste and creed, colour and race, clam and tribes, groups and classes. Rule of law is in force in England and in the eyes of the rule of law all are equal. Equal treatment is given to all by the rule of law.

4. Political Equality:

It is referred as equal opportunities for participation of all in the political process. This involves the concept of grant of equal political rights for all the citizens with some uniform qualifications for everyone. All citizens must possess similar political rights, they should have similar voice in the working of the government and they should have equal opportunities to actively participate in the political life and affairs of the country. Political equality guarantees the enjoyment of similar political rights to all citizens. Universal adult franchise is a means to this end. Universal adult suffrage has been introduced in India. The same provision has been made in England, U.S.S.R., U.S.A., France and many other countries.

5. Economic Equality:

Economic equality does not indicate that equal treatment or equal reward or equal wages for all. It denotes to fair and adequate opportunities to all for work and for earning of their livelihoods. It also means that primary needs of all should be fulfilled before the special needs of few are gratified. The gap between rich and poor should be lowest. There should be equitable distribution of wealth and resources in the society.

Economic Equality is closely associated to political equality. Professor Laski stated the immense significance of economic equality. "Political equality is never real unless, it is accompanied with virtual economic liberty; political power".

According Lord Bryce, Economic Equality "is the attempt to expunge all differences in wealth' allotting to every man and woman an equal share in worldly goods". But this concept of perfect economic equality can never be materialised in practical politics.

Generally, economic equality mean the provision of equal opportunities to all so they may be able to make their economic progress. This can be done only in Socialism and not in Capitalism. Henceforth, Capitalism should be replaced by Socialism.

6. Legal Equality:

Legal Equality is defined as equality before law, equal subjection of all to the same legal code and equal opportunity for all to secure legal protection of their rights and freedom. There should rule of law and laws must be equally binding for all. In every society equality must be ensured in all these forms.

7. Equality of Opportunity and Education:

Equality of opportunity and education means that all the citizens should be given equal and similar opportunities by the state. All the individuals should have similar chances to receive education. They should have similar opportunities to develop their personality. Racial or any type of discrimination should not be observed. There should not be any distinction of caste and creed, colour and race, rich and poor. In India, all are provided with equal opportunities and all have equal rights to education.

Relationship between equality and freedom:

The concepts of freedom and equality in a group are defined in terms of individual exertions of influence or power. Freedom is deliberated in the version 'freedom from' influence rather than in the version 'freedom to do' what one wants. It is revealed that at the ideal conceptual level complete freedom implies equality.

The relationship between freedom and equality is a complex as it is something people have struggled for since the beginning of time and to continue to struggle for today. These two terms are strongly linked, though not inseparable.

Equality has simple meaning. It is resemblance or sameness in quality, power, status, or degree. In simpler terms, it is being the exact same as others. Freedom is the condition of being able to act and think however you want, without being controlled or limited. The relationship between these two first begins by obtaining freedom. Without freedom, one does not have the ability to be equal to others, as he cannot do what he wants. Tocqueville opined that "Men cannot become absolutely equal unless they are entirely free." One who is not free has a master who makes his choices for him. The only way to rid himself of the master and gain political freedom is to successfully revolt against the state. With this uprising, all people now have the ability to act however they want and because of this they are considered equal. Once they are free from their human masters they are able to lead a life directed by their own free will and compete on a level playing field with the rest of society.

Freedom and equality exist in the state of tension, but they also mutually dependent on each other's as without freedom equality is meaningless and without equality there will be no real freedom. Equality is prerequisite for freedom and makes freedom possible. The establishment of absolute equality also leads to the loss of equality (Johan Rabe, 2001).

The development of freedom and equality began with The Declaration of Independence which set the precedent that "all men are created equal. Up until this point, equality was something that could not be attained; it was almost a foreign idea. Although only white men in America were considered free after this great document was signed, The Declaration of Independence paved the way for many new forms of equality, most importantly gender and racial equality.

Affirmative actions:

Affirmative action is the strategy to errand members of a disadvantaged group who currently suffer or historically have suffered from discrimination within a culture. Often, these people are deprived for historical reasons, such as oppression or bondage. The notion of "affirmative action" was first used in the United States in "Executive Order No.10925", signed by President John F. Kennedy on 6 March 1961, which included a provision that government contractors "take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, colour, or national origin." In 1967, gender was added to the anti-discrimination list. In 1989, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination stipulated (in Article 2.2) that affirmative action programs may be required of countries that ratified the convention, in order to rectify systematic discrimination. It also states that such programs "shall in no case entail as a consequence the maintenance of unequal or separate rights for different racial groups after the objectives for which they were taken have been achieved."

In simple term, Affirmative action is anticipated to promote the opportunities of defined minority groups within a society to give them equal access to that of the majority population. In India, Reservation in India is a form of affirmative action designed to improve the well-being of backward and under-represented communities defined primarily by their caste.

Affirmative action denotes to the policies and laws that attempt to redress a situation of discrimination and promote equal opportunity. Affirmative action is also related to positive discrimination, which entails means to compensate or counter the effects of prejudices in terms of race, gender and / or disabilities. The nature of policy and terminology used vary from country to country.

The norm of affirmative action is to encourage societal equality through the preferential treatment of socioeconomically deprived people. Often, these people are disadvantaged for historical reasons, such as oppression or slavery (Christophe Jaffrelot, 2003). Historically and internationally, support for affirmative action has sought to accomplish several goals such as bridging inequalities in employment and pay; increasing access to education; enriching state, institutional, and professional leadership with the full spectrum of society; redressing apparent past wrongs, harms, or hindrances, in particular addressing the apparent social imbalance left in the wake of slavery and slave laws.

There are different kinds of affirmative action. Some are direct e.g. provisions demanding that certain quantitative or qualitative targets be reached through admission to schools, employment and political appointments. Quantitative targets are also known as quotas and they could be designed to have immediate or medium/ long term effect (Tinker, 2004).

Affirmative Action could also be indirect, consisting of programmes which support certain categories to support their performance or improve their access. While many researchers argue that affirmative action measures have, or should have a short life span, in practice, some affirmative action programmes have been of long duration, going through expansions and modifications over time. Indeed, proponents argue that Affirmative Action measures should continue until they reach their goals or until it is proven that they have negative outcomes for other groups.

In United States, Affirmative action is an active effort to increase employment or educational opportunities for members of minority groups and for women. Affirmative action began as a government remedy to the effects of long-standing discrimination against such groups and has consisted of policies, programs, and procedures that give preferences to minorities and women in job hiring, admission to institutions of higher education, the awarding of government contracts, and other social benefits. The typical standards for affirmative action are race, disability, gender, ethnic origin, and age. The United Nations Human Rights committee in its statement on Affirmative Action has asserted that, "the principle of equality sometimes requires States parties to take affirmative action in order to diminish or eliminate conditions which cause or help to perpetuate discrimination prohibited by the Covenant"

Survey reports of USA Today in 2005 revealed that majority of Americans support affirmative action for women, while views on minority groups were more split (Usatoday.Com, 2014). Men are only slightly more likely to support affirmative action for women; though a majority of both do.

Affirmative action in Indian scenario

The notion of Affirmative action which was founded to check cultural discrimination of disadvantaged classes especially during job applications so that the employees are not discriminated against due to their race, colour or nationality.

In Indian context, affirmative action concept is a debatable issue. Its initial goals can be recognized as:

- To allow equal opportunities for the classes who have been excluded and underplayed in academics - school admission, scholarships; and careers - promotions salary hikes, etc.

- Originally against racial discrimination, it was extended to include discrimination based on sex, disability etc.

- It was to be enforced for a fixed period of time till the marginalized are able to regain their rights in the society.

It is demonstrated in studies that India has had the longest history of affirmative action to counter caste and ethnic discrimination (Revankar 1971). Article 46 of the 1950 Constitution enunciates "The State shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and, in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation."

Articles 341 and 342 of the Constitution included a list of castes and tribes entitled to such provision, and the castes and the tribes included in these two lists were known as Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) respectively. As a consequence of this provision, a policy of compensatory discrimination via reserved positions was implemented both at the national and subnational levels in the allocation of university places and public service appointments (Galanter, 1984).

Consequences of affirmative action in India:

Reverse Discrimination: In the system of Affirmative action, the Majority of populace feel omitted and discriminated against as the allocation of jobs and positions in various fields is based on a quota system or reservations. In India, the government continues to reinforce reservations, and increases the quotas to gain vote bank, and the majority feel acutely side-lined. The system of reservation was meant to last for a decade or so, but it has become so established in the contemporary times, that the majority are naturally in disdain of it. The heated issue of Patidar Reservation Agitation in India is best example of reverse discrimination in India. Patels, as a prosperous caste in India are also highlighting themselves as 'backward classes'. In doing so, they demand reservations in jobs and educational institutions the same way the disadvantaged OBCs are entitled to. With considerable quotas put aside for the marginalised, the majority has to bear the brunt of tightened and hence highly competitive vacancies and posts resulting in many meritorious candidates losing at academic and career opportunities. If Patels who belong to a commercial community fear the loss of their jobs or unavailability of jobs altogether, it speaks volumes on Reverse discrimination in India.

Brain Drain: It is major outcome of identity-based politics in India. Due to reservations, and quota based systems, the public feels challenged, destabilised and even rejected as selections in jobs and education are made on the criterion of Caste than Merit. Hence, the intellectuals are forced to work abroad and the phenomenon of Brain Drain keeps draining India of its think tanks, learned scholars and intellectuals.

Against Constitution: If the constitution struggles for an democratic society with equal rights for everyone irrespective of caste, colour and creed, then the case of preferential treatment as evidenced in the policies of Affirmative Action may/will attack as a double standard. Because of this fact, in many countries Affirmative Action on the basis of race is deemed prohibited but in India such is not the case.

Creamy layer: It has been observed that there are economic divisions even in the impoverished classes such as OBCs. Mostly the well-off sections of the same community tend to seize the reservations while the poor remain poor and incapable to access the welfare schemes meant to rehabilitate them. In order to arrest such a practice, the concept of creamy layer was introduced in India according to which the upper and middle sections of OBCs are not eligible for reservations allowing the poor OBCs access to government's welfare programs. In this system, the sections belonging to low castes that have progressed in educational and job circles will not be entertained as marginalised and can compete with the majority without the helping hand of the reservations. Simultaneously, the poor castes can benefit from the quota system, and advance themselves to the level of not needing reservations in the long run.

Merits and demerits of affirmative action:

Affirmative action policies have been proved as effectual way to balance structuctural disparities in many societies.

There are many advantages of affirmative actions:

- Affirmative action guarantees representation of minorities and disadvantaged groups in positions of authority. These representatives can function as inspiring role models, which in the long term can help fight prejudices and stereotypes.

- Affirmative action contributes to diversity in schools, universities, companies and public administrations.

- These policies are a fair compensation for centuries of racial or gender discrimination.

- Affirmative action policies help disabled people enter the labour market and thus contribute to the economy of their countries. They also allow them earn a living and relieve the government from having to sustain them.

- People who start from a disadvantaged position deserve extra support to develop their full potential. Without affirmative action many would not even consider some jobs or areas of study.

Nonetheless, affirmative action policies have also many critics. In the US, by the late 1970s, reverse discrimination was an issue of heated debate. Critics opined that affirmative action is reverse discrimination and further claim that affirmative action has disagreeable side-effects in addition to failing to achieve its goals. They contend that it hinders reconciliation, replaces old wrongs with new wrongs, weakens the achievements of minorities, and encourages individuals to identify themselves as underprivileged, even if they are not. It may increase racial tension and benefit the more privileged people within minority groups at the expense of the least fortunate within majority groups (such as lower-class white people).

The famous Bakke case in 1978 exhibited the limitations of this approach to fighting inequality. Allan Bakke, a white male, was rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants. The Supreme Court outlawed the inflexible quota system which had unfairly discriminated against him.

Major disadvantages of affirmative action:

- Affirmative action can be biased against those who are not part of the minorities or groups protected. Sometimes people that fulfil the basic criteria for a job or a vacancy in a university may not be accepted.

- These policies may upsurge racial or ethnic tensions. The members of a group may develop a negative attitude towards a minority if they perceive that due to positive discrimination they are being excluded or see their chances of getting some jobs or positions limited.

- Positive discrimination can be very difficult to apply in societies where ethnic divides are not very clear and people often have mixed backgrounds.

-It is argued that these policies or laws serve to reinforce the separation and division among different groups. In some countries it is even illegal to classify people according to their race or ethnic background for this same reason.

- The basic principles to define the groups reached by these policies and the quotas allocated or type of preferential treatment are often doubtful.

There are other critics who stated that affirmative actions are not good practices. Challengers of affirmative action such as George Sher consider that affirmative action diminishes the accomplishments of people who are chosen based on the social group to which they belong rather than their qualifications, thus rendering affirmative action counterproductive (She, 1983). According to Bacchi, affirmative action violates the principle of equality stems from the fact that affirmative action viewed from wrong perspective, namely that serves to the advantage to less qualified people (Johan Rabe, 2001).

But affirmative action is intended to enhance the life of deprived people. Affirmative action is a set of measures approved by governments and public and private institutions such as political parties, educational establishments, corporations and companies to address a history of systemic discrimination and exclusion of particular social groups or to encourage the efforts of particular social groups in the interests of certain development goals. Affirmative action is expected to improve development indicators by reducing inequalities and facilitating the contribution of particular social groups to development.

To summarise, equality is an important notion of Political Science. It is demonstrated in Chinese Dictionary that equality refer to the process in which people are entitled to the same treatment in terms of society, economy, laws and the same status. That is to say, people possess the same social status and enjoy the same treatment. In the political thought, equality is described that all human beings are equal, and equality in distribution, namely equal distribution of wealth, social opportunities and political power. There are different types of equality such as political, social, legal, natural, and economic equality. There is a strong link between freedom and equality. Regarding affirmative actions, it can be appraised that Affirmative action is considered to be an effective way of eliminating or reducing the impact of discrimination (Crosby, Iyer & Sincharoen, 2006). News reports signified that affirmative action calls for women to be given special consideration in employment, education and contracting decisions.