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On Discrimination & Inequality

Tapas Piplai

Very often we make an apparently progressive statement that we are not in favour of any discrimination! But to what extent the statement is realistic? Which discrimination are we referring to? If there is any, how to resolve it?

If we take an excursion into the development of Indian history from time immemorial, can we really deny it's existence ever ?

Inequality in any form is the root cause of social discrimination .

The difference in race, sex, occupation, costumes habit, natural wealth access, education, primary or advanced health benefits, religious allegiance, basic housing and shelter, caste, maritime control etc etc and finally anthropometric and demographic inequalities are the realities and social facts.

Religious, caste, economic discrimination are by and large the offshoots of these inequalities and class formation. These are reflected in our societal evolution in varying degree under the influence of local conditions.

The discriminations are basically of two types - physical or biological and social. Today we cannot deny the biological or social inequality. Both are having a long historical legacy.

Different identities based on these inequalities are reality but identity politics based on these differences for political mileage is deplorable.

For self-determination of the backward or oppressed groups, the discrimination and consequent special benefits to win the election with the free bees by states are imperative. But capturing those for electoral benefits are wrong. Even within a family the deserving child needs special favour from others. This is humanity. And our society is not full of robots. Therefore the inclusive growth of the society as a whole, selective privileges to the deserving communities or even individuals are indeed essential.

But too much harping on the extra privileges every time, only favouring backward or minority communities either derived from virtual or real attributes, will raise natural resistance from the upward or other classes too. The resistance is natural as the backwardness thus defined is a historical legacy. We need to fight these discriminations of historical legacy. But doing or hyping on benefits will naturally create unhappiness with other depriving groups.

Already this dissension has started brewing among forward castes everywhere entailing further polarisation resulting in violent conflicts too. We some time need to carry out some good work silently without much euphoria . We tend to forget this learnings for short term political & social gain. Therefore instead of fading away, the discrimination issue now slowly getting surfaced in our country more conspicuously than before.

In other words, the question is not the inequalities or discrimination, but it's governance or articulation. It is important - how we articulate the factual discrimination expedient to long term welfare of the society and people. Indiscriminate privilege to one group without proper and continuous evaluation will lead to violence and unrest. The researched articles of Ambedkar, Atkinson, Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib and D D Kosambi are very thought provoking in this regard.

We are endowed with lots of wisdom and virtues from our forefathers like sobriety, decency, tolerance, extending honor and respect to oppressed and unprivileged. But we always (mis)use it for short term political benefit contrary to long term Human Development.

Right from the days of societal dawn after the era of natural pastoral economy and more predominantly during initial and later agricultural society , the discrimination between groups have been in existence . The initial discrimination of chaturvarnashram was based on work nature.

The groups were initially divided into four Varnas with mutual social mobility.
Later with the emergence of jati in agricultural society and with more encroachment into forest and life of tribals, the necessity was felt for subordination.

The process of subjugation got further accentuated with the emergence of Religion in the society specially after 500 BC. The earlier Varnashram turned into caste class differentiation. The number of groups as per Megathenis was seven during post Vedic period. But the statement was not accepted by all. It is estimated as high as thirtysix.

This was the time when urbanization and centralized state control grew in India with the imposition of stricter state and societal laws for better territorial control and tribute appropriation. Merchandising activity growth also contributed to reconfigure social groups. We witness the conflict between Brahminism, Shramanic cult, Buddhist and Jain groups based on major religious differentiation. Each was fighting against others for royal patronage and social dominance.

Various social law , during this period , were enacted like Manu Sanhita , Buddhist Sermons , Jain way etc highlighting for daily rituals . To impose the strict adherence of social discrimination in more fearful way, the destiny of rebirth and to fall into menial work profession in next birth, if not followed during current birth, became the focus of religious discourses. Destiny of trans migrated soul to a lower stratum of society in the next birth became one of the pillars of discourse in caste class divided society. The social mobility as prevailing in Vedic period within the groups were rigidly stalled. The mobility was held back. Even by introducing Grammar of Sanskri, the language discrimination between Sanskrit and Prakrit - the language of common people - was imposed. It came in conjunction with food habit discrimination - vegetarianism and animal killing. All these enhanced the discrimination manifolds by 100 BC. Every time king's patronage and beliefs were added to ensure adherence.

We do also see after 500 BC till 500 AD, because of caste distinction and agricultural tribute appropriation, a greater degree of freedom conferred on local authority , within the broad framework of centralised power along with caste distinction for higher revenue appropriation . It again strengthened the emergence of various economic and social sub classes.

We see the emergence of various classes or clan’s conflicts, to have control over cow and fertile land. Subordination of forest dwellers was a regular feature with imposition of tax / rent on land. New classification of menial work and associated definition of clans facilitated the process.

Interestingly we see during these periods the infliction of apparent inconsequential Gita 's religious deliberation into the epic Mahabharata to justify the killing of kins under the veil of invincibility of Atma / soul and dharma. The killing, killers and killed all interestingly formed a part of Dharma Yudha with an assured shelter in unknown Heaven! Earlier subordination processes, in conjunction with annihilation of the opponents, received a new philosophic articulation and were ably supported by the Puranic discourse , epic and folklore .

The conflict between Naya & Niti mesmerized the 'just law of Naya' under the finer nuances of logic on class driven Dharma . The proverbial silence of Bhisma in the Kuru court while Draupadi was insulted and her modesty was attempted to be outraged in front of family elders and younger, bore the testimony of this conflict which actually enveloped and clouded the just humane logic. Niti slowly became more dominating than Naya.

All these are the result of inequality and discrimination to muster control over natural resources, means of production and agricultural tributes.

Thereafter the discrimination became just the question of degree of dominance by one group over others as decided and directed by these local and centralized power centers. Whether the older Ganashangha democracy or decentralized control or authoritarian dictatorship, all veered around the revenue generation aligning to these two power centres. It was a perfect amalgamation of State and Society. State powers changed frequently with external or internal aggression but the local societal power stayed by and large static and unchanged.

The other super structures of society like judiciary, administration, frontier protection, primary health, societal services etc just fell in line with that control of local and central authority. The penal codes were fully based on discrimination in the society depending on access and control on technology, land relation, land tribute, defence and production relation.

Time has now come to rock these orthodox pillars of discriminations and come out from the adverse clutches of inequalities developed through ages by formulating a right strategy. It ought to be based on long term humane values.

We have to take into cognizance the village wise Human Development Index ( HDI ) factoring various livelihood inputs like - income distribution , literacy, health & hospitalisation services, shelter, higher education, medicine support, roads, irrigation, communication, drinking water supply, water resources and electricity. We need to formulate our strategy to increase the HDI level based on focussed support as emanated from sectoral inequalities within HDI. We must also ensure that 60 % or more population are involved in the direct local revenue generation either through merchandise, trade , industry and agriculture.

Without attempting any of the above, the resolution of inequalities & discrimination will remain a political war cry and a distant dream.

Dec 17, 2017


Tapas Piplai [email protected]

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