Neera Chandhoke


political scientist

On September 22, the Supreme Court questioned the wisdom of the government to allocate a quota to the economically weakest sections. The measure has been justified on the grounds that it targets the poorest of the poor. Why, the court asked, should the grievances of doubly disadvantaged communities, which have suffered historical injustices and continue to do so, be ignored?

Members of Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) and other backward classes were excluded under the 103rd Constitutional Amendment from the 10% quota taken from the 50% allocated to the general category. Forty percent of ST’s population is the poorest of the poor, but its overall reserve is only 7.5 percent. “Is it a good idea for an egalitarian Constitution,” asked Justice S Ravindra Bhat, “to tell the poorest of the poor that they have exhausted their quota, and that additional reserves would be given to other classes? ” The bench suggested that the idea of ​​economic backwardness was nebulous; it could be a temporary phenomenon.

The Supreme Court bench led by the Chief Justice of India has made an interesting argument which can be broadened to lead to equality. Because the norm of equality has disappeared from our political discourse, even if the scale of inequality is truly staggering.

According to the World Inequality Report-2022, written by Lucas Chancel and coordinated by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, the richest and best 10%

1% of the population owns respectively 57% and 22% of the total national income, while the poorest 50% only owns 13% of the income.

Statistics on who owns what indicate the extent of inequality. Statistics are important, but they may well scratch the surface of two types of structural problems in our society: inattention to redistributive justice and redressing historical wrongs. Economic backwardness signifies the first and double disadvantage characterizes the second. Do not confuse these two categories. Both involve redistributive justice, but the rationale for each form and the reasons for different strategies are specific.

Take the income inequality statistics that indicate the extent of wealth and poverty in our society. Poverty and wealth are not parallel processes; they are relational. A woman is poor when she does not have access to the resources that allow her to access health care, education, skills, employment, housing and other basic amenities that allow her to lead a dignified life. That is to say, she is not only poor; it is also unequal to others. The poor are belittled because they are subjected to impertinence by the practices of daily life. Inequality intensifies marginalization and political insignificance and diminishes people. To be poor is to be denied the opportunity to participate in social, economic and cultural transactions on an equal basis. Equality allows us to be united because we also count. Inequality intensifies inadequacy or the belief that we simply don’t matter.

A just society tackles inequality in different ways. The first path is distributive justice. Resources must be transferred from the haves to the have-nots through deliberate policy interventions, such as progressive taxation, land reforms, property caps and employment opportunities. All egalitarians ask is that all human beings have equal opportunity to access the opportunities available to some and that there be recognition that social, political and economic institutions systematically disadvantage many people.

Within the framework of redistributive justice, special provision must be made for those who have suffered historical injustice. Dalits and Scheduled Tribes are doubly disadvantaged. They are socially discriminated against on the basis of birth and deprived of opportunities. Affirmative action policies are designed to ensure the physical presence of Dalits in public educational institutions, public jobs and elected bodies. This is necessary as caste-based discrimination continues to relentlessly stalk the political landscape of independent India. Until today, the caste to which we belong continues to shape our social relationships, codify inequalities and govern access to opportunities and privileges. Society has wronged some of our people for morally arbitrary reasons. Since the double disadvantage continues to follow lives, we must repair the evil. It is the least we owe to our fellow citizens who continue to suffer from historical injustice.

The confusion between economic ill-being and historical injustice illustrates the complexity of redistributive justice. Reservations are not a job guarantee system. They are intended for doubly disadvantaged people.

Finally, is this all we owe to the victims of poverty? Shouldn’t we be working to create a political consensus that poverty fundamentally violates the fundamental presumption of equality? Shouldn’t we, as partners in this common project, focus on thinking about what a just society based on equality should look like?

The job of the egalitarian is not to design reserves for every disadvantage. The task is to break the shackles of unequal access to resources and historical injustice and move towards a shared vision of egalitarian democracy where people can live fulfilling lives, instead of being stuck in notions of reparation or minimal remedies. We must reinforce the opportunity to bring the value of equality to the fore by imposing obligations on people whose rights have been seriously impaired and by persuading other citizens to participate in debates about what constitutes a just society.

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