Notes of Ch 3 Equality| Class 11th Political Science

Why does Equality Matter?

• Equality is a powerful moral and political ideal that has inspired and guided human society for many centuries.

• As a political ideal the concept of equality invokes the idea that all human beings have an equal worth regardless of their colour, gender, race, or nationality.

• It maintains that human beings deserve equal consideration and respect because of their common humanity.

• Today, equality is a widely accepted ideal which is embodied in the constitutions and laws of many countries.

• Yet, it is inequality rather than equality which is most visible around us in the world as well as within our own society. In our country we can see slums existing side by side with luxury housing.

A Paradox

• Almost everyone accepts the ideal of equality, yet almost everywhere we encounter inequality.

• Almost everyone accepts the ideal of equality, yet almost everywhere we encounter inequality.

• We live in a complex world of unequal wealth, opportunities, work situations, and power.

What is Equality?

• Treating people with equal respect need not mean always treating them in an identical way.

• No society treats all its members in exactly the same way under all conditions.

• The smooth functioning of society requires division of work and functions and people often
enjoy different status and rewards on account of it.

• At times these differences of treatment may appear acceptable or even necessary. For example, we usually do not feel that giving prime ministers, or army generals, a special official rank and status goes against the notion of equality, provided their privileges are not misused.

Which distinctions and differences are acceptable and which are not?

• When people are treated differently just because they are born in a particular religion or race or caste or gender, we regard it as an unacceptable form of inequality.

• Human beings may pursue different ambitions and goals and not all may be equally successful.

• The commitment to the ideal of equality does not imply the elimination of all forms of differences.

• It merely suggests that the treatment we receive and the opportunities we enjoy must not be pre-determined by birth or social circumstance.

Equality of Opportunities

• The concept of equality implies that all people, as human beings, are entitled to the same rights and opportunities to develop their skills and talents, and to pursue their goals and ambitions.

• People have different talents and skills which results in some being more successful in their chosen careers than others.

• It is not the lack of equality of status or wealth or privilege that is significant but the inequalities
in people’s access to such basic goods, as education, health care, safe housing, that make for an unequal and unjust society.

Natural and Social Inequalities

Natural Inequalities

• Natural inequalities are those that emerge between people as a result of their different capabilities and talents.

• These kinds of inequalities are different from socially-produced inequalities which emerge as a
consequence of inequalities of opportunity or the exploitation of some groups in a society by others.

• These are considered to be the result of the different characteristics and abilities with which people are born.

Social inequalities

• These are created by society.

• Certain societies may, for example, value those who perform intellectual work over those who do manual work and reward them differently.

• They may treat differently people of different race, or colour, or gender, or caste.

• Differences of this kind reflect the values of a society and some of these may certainly appear to us to be unjust.

Other Problems

• This distinction is sometimes useful in helping us to distinguish between acceptable and unfair inequalities in society but it is not always clear or self-evident.

• When certain inequalities in the treatment of people have existed over a long period of time they may appear to us as justifiable because they are based on natural inequalities, that is, characteristics that people are born with and cannot easily change.
→ For example, women were for long described as ‘the weaker sex’, considered timid and of lesser intelligence than men, needing special protection. Therefore, it was felt that denying women equal rights could be justified.

• Another problem which arises with the idea of natural differences is that some differences which could be considered natural need no longer be seen as unalterable.
• For example, advances in medical science and technologies have helped many disabled people to function effectively in society.
→ Today, computers can help blind people, wheel chairs and artificial limbs can help in cases of physical disability, even a person’s looks can be changed with cosmetic surgery. It would seem unjust to most people today if disabled people are denied necessary help to overcome the effects of their disability or a fair reward for their work on the grounds that they are naturally less capable.

• These complexities would be difficult to use the natural/ socially-produced distinction as a standard by which the laws and policies of a society can be assessed.

Three Dimensions of Equality

• While identifying different kinds of inequalities that exist in society, various thinkers and ideologies have highlighted three main dimensions of equality namely, political, social and economic.

Political Equality

• In democratic societies political equality would normally include granting equal citizenship to all the members of the state.

• Equal citizenship brings with it certain basic rights such as the right to vote, freedom of expression, movement and association and freedom of belief.

• Considerable inequality can exist even in countries which grant equal rights to all citizens.

• These inequalities are often the result of differences in the resources and opportunities which are available to citizens in the social and economic spheres.

• For this reason a demand is often made for equal opportunities, or for ‘a level playing field’.

• Political and legal equality are an important component of a just and egalitarian society.

Social Equality

• Political equality or equality before needs to be supplemented by equality of opportunities.

• Political equality is necessary to remove any legal hurdles which might exclude people from a voice in government and deny them access to available social goods.

• The pursuit of equality requires that people belonging to different groups and communities also have a fair and equal chance to compete for those goods and opportunities.

• For pursuit of equality, it is necessary to minimise the effects of social and economic inequalities and guarantee certain minimum conditions of life to all the members of the society — adequate health care, the opportunity for good education, adequate nourishment and a minimum wage, among other things.

• In India, a special problem regarding equal opportunities comes not just from lack of facilities but from some of the customs which may prevail in different parts of country, or among different groups.

• For example, Women may not enjoy equal rights of inheritance in some groups, or there may be social prohibitions regarding their taking part in certain kinds of activities.
→ The state has a significant role in such matters. It should make policies to prevent discrimination or harassment of women in public places or employment, to provide incentives to open up education or certain professions to women, and other such measures.

Economic Equality

• Economic inequality exists in a society if there are significant differences in wealth, property or income between individuals or classes.

• There are two ways of measuring the degree of economic inequality in a society:
→ First is measuring the relative difference between the richest and poorest groups.
→ Another way could be to estimate the number of people who live below the poverty line.

• With equal opportunities, inequalities may continue to exist between individuals but there is the possibility of improving one’s position in society with sufficient effort.

• Inequalities that are untouched over generations, are more dangerous for a society.

• If in a society certain classes of people have enjoyed considerable wealth, and the power which goes with it, over generations, the society would become divided between those classes and others who have remained poor over generations.

• Over time such class differences can give rise to resentment and violence because of the power of the wealthy classes it might prove difficult to reform such a society to make it more open and egalitarian.

• Marxism and liberalism are two important political ideologies of our times.


• Marx was an important nineteenth century thinker who argued that the root cause of entrenched inequality was private ownership of important economic resources such as oil, or land, or forests, as well as other forms of property.

• He pointed out that such private ownership did not only make the class of owners wealthy, it also gave them political power which enables them to influence state policies and laws and this could prove a threat to democratic government.

• Marxists and socialists feel that economic inequality provides support to other forms of social inequality such as differences of rank or privilege. Therefore, to tackle inequality in society we need to go beyond providing equal opportunities and try and ensure public control over essential resources and forms of property.


• Liberals uphold the principle of competition as the most efficient and fair way of distributing resources and rewards in society.

• They believe that while states may have to intervene to try and ensure a minimum standard of living and equal opportunities for all, this cannot by itself bring equality and justice to society.

• For them, as long as competition is open and free, inequalities are unlikely to become entrenched and people will get due reward for their talents and efforts.

• Unlike socialists, liberals do not believe that political, economic and social inequalities are necessarily linked. They maintain that inequalities in each of these spheres should be tackled appropriately.

How can we promote Equality?

• We need to consider if the use of affirmative action is justified for purposes of bringing about equality.

Establishing Formal Equality

• The first step towards bringing about equality is ending the formal system of inequality and privileges.

• Social, economic and political inequalities all over the world have been protected by customs and legal systems that prohibited some sections of society from enjoying certain kinds of opportunities and rewards.

• Attainment of equality requires that all such restrictions or privileges should be brought to an end. This is what Indian Constitution does.

• The Constitution prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Indian Constitution also abolishes the practice of untouchability.

• Most modern constitutions and democratic governments have formally accepted the principle of equality and incorporated it as identical treatment by law to all citizens without any regard to their caste, race, religion or gender.

Equality Through Differential Treatment

• Sometimes it is necessary to treat people differently in order to ensure that they can enjoy equal rights.

• For example, disabled people may justifiably demand special ramps in public spaces so that they get an equal chance to enter public buildings.

• Some countries have used policies of affirmative action to enhance equality of opportunity. In India, we have relied on the policy of reservations.

Affirmative Action

• Affirmative action is based on the idea that it is not sufficient to establish formal equality by law.

• Affirmative action can however take many forms, from preferential spending on facilities for disadvantaged communities, such as, scholarships and hostels to special consideration for admissions to educational institutions and jobs.

• In our country we have adopted a policy of quotas or reserved seats in education and jobs to provide equality of opportunity to deprived groups. This has been the subject of considerable debate and disagreement.

• Special assistance in the form of affirmative action is expected to be a temporary or time-bound measure.

• Critics of positive discrimination contend that any provision of reservations or quotas for the deprived in admissions for higher education or jobs is unfair as it arbitrarily denies other sections of society their right to equal treatment.

• In the context of this debate, it is relevant to draw a distinction between equality as a guiding principle of state policy and equal rights of individuals.

• Individuals have a right to equal consideration for admission to educational institutions and public sector employment.

• Members of excluded groups, whether they are dalits, women, or any other category, deserve and need some special help. To provide this, the state must devise social policies which would help to make such people equal and give them a fair chance to compete with others.

• The spheres of education and health care India has done far less for its deprived population than what is their due.

• Social and economic inequalities of this kind hinder the pursuit of equal opportunities.

• The policies that we choose would have to be justified in terms of their success in making the society more egalitarian and fair to all.

• On the issue of equality, a distinction must also be made between treating everyone in an identical manner and treating everyone as equal.

• Differential or special treatment may be considered to realise the goal of equality but it requires justification and careful reflection.

• Many of these issues relating to the pursuit of equality have been raised by the women’s movement.

• In the nineteenth century women struggled for equal rights. They demanded, for instance, the right to vote, the right to receive degrees in colleges and universities and the right to work — that is, the same rights as the men in their society.

• As they entered the job market they realised that women required special facilities in order to exercise these rights.

• Differential treatment is intended and justified only as a means to promoting a just and egalitarian society.
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