An Equal Society


There is no society in this world which treats all its constituent members in an equal way. There is always a system – implicit or explicit – which differentiates people who exist every day in a particular society. If there is a violation of the “unequality order” of the society, it is almost immediately noticed, commented upon, published about, and in some cases the society responds in an unequal way to restore the same level of equality (or unequality).

In advanced and well developed societies, the distinction is based on haves and have-nots, and in some cases on the colour of the skin, or race. This cannot be disputed, evidence stares at us at every place or developed country we go to. While it is not widely accepted, the society continues on its journey as the primary focus is to eventually attain equality by continual economic development, as the primary driver is one of wealth creation. There is no institutionalized system of stratifying people into specific buckets as to the nature or kind of work that they have to do based on what such people have been doing in the past. Examples would be slaves in the U.S. or Hispanic workers who have gone on to generate material prosperity with education and jobs in an unequal White-dominated society. The same applies to immigrants with skills who have gone on to create wealth in the American society which affords almost equal treatment to meritorious folks with ideas wherever they may be from.

The above description does not fit many other developed countries like France or Germany where there are language barriers and cultural inhibitors which would not allow immigrants to get embedded within a reasonable length of time, into the respective societies. Such absorption into society is a pre-requisite to achieve equality eventually.

From the above arguments, it is clear that equality in societies can be achieved by dint of hard work, education, ideas, and determination, combined with a strong inclination to associate oneself with the ethos of the respective societies. Such an approach has largely worked in developed countries.

Now, let us look at India (my favourite topic of course has always been India). Even within its own society (not counting the foreigners), there exists a system of caste-based stratification which has strangled the development of India for the past several centuries. The Indian society does not, unfortunately, accord equal treatment to its own constituent members, and almost always the kind of treatment is based on religion, caste, race, or gender. This has continued in an uninterrupted manner through India’s modernization during the Nineties and beyond.

I believe that contrary to what general folks think, development of society is largely predicated on equal treatment of its members in a caste-blind, colour-blind, race-blind and gender-blind manner. Unless such a treatment is achieved, India will not be able to reach its full potential, given that roughly half of India’s population (more than 600M people) are today classified in the lower caste categories. Successive governments have failed to develop this enormous human potential. The only thing which changed the situation a bit was the IT revolution in India, which depended on people of all types as long as they met some skills criteria. Only in IT companies you will be able to meet the entire gamut of young and energetic Indians who are drawn from all castes of India. Employees are always equal and performance measurement is based on pure merit. This is not the case in the Indian society outside of these IT companies.

The reason why a Japan or a Germany was able to achieve outstanding success in industrialization post the world wars as many of us understand is the homogeneity of their population which spoke the same language and interacted in the same manner to build a power house. All citizens were equal in the eyes of the society and the government. While homogeneity is no longer possible (as there is no single language in India), the learning from such examples should have impressed upon the government of India on the urgent need to “equalize” its citizenry. Caste systems should have been officially abolished which would have benefited the country a lot. The sustenance of caste-based society even to this day shows that India has been unable to get past its past and create an “equal” nation.

Think about it for a moment. How much potential India has lost because of its insistence on recognition of past practices and customs? its inability to push its people up economically with necessary compulsory primary and secondary education – which remains elusive to most of its people even after nearly seven decades of independence from British rule……..and so on and so forth.

While we cannot blame only the upper castes for all the ills of the Indian society, it is a fact that the lower and the lowest castes are still mostly doing the things what their parents were doing – there are of course, many exceptions. But a concerted effort to pull the lower castes up would require the determination and complete cooperation from all the upper castes. The lowest castes of India are akin to the slaves of the 17th, 18th and 19th century America, and affirmative action is continually required to bring them into the mainstream society (I believe that once they attain economic prosperity, they should be considered as “equalized” and receive the same treatment – no preferential treatment). At the same time, the loss of confidence of the upper castes on the governmental treatment should not be allowed to be translated into country exits for a better life elsewhere in a developed country. Meritorious treatment is required to run and maintain the society in an equitable manner and there is no set formula which will work out of the box.

Well, it has been some long writing but I think it is a critical topic for all societies and especially for the Indian society which is on the cusp of breakthrough development as the only large-sized economy which can consistently deliver over 7 to 8% annual GDP growth for the next 25 years and it is very important that all members of its society take part and benefit from this growth irrespective of their caste, creed, race or colour.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

16th October 2016

 

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