Human beings, living in today’s world of ours, seem to be losing contentment and satisfaction. There are many incidents taking place in different parts of world that depict that human beings are not able to attain bliss and fulfillment that are really essential for them and that they should have achieved by now. There are marked short comings both in human personality and human societies that have been proving as factors that are pushing human beings towards instability and disorder. The societies and states that have been formed in today’s world, though have evolved with the passage of time, still possess dominant shortcomings. These shortcomings if not met on time, the discrepancies and discontentment would keep on rising and disturbing the human beings, societies and the governments. If we analyze today’s societies, we come to know that there are some very basic requirements that are missing. Among those requirements, justice, equality and rights are the most essential ones. Though all of them are necessary, we do not have much discussion available about the concept of equality. So, this particular article is to have a discussion about the concept in order to have its basic understanding.
Giovanni Sartor has rightly observed that the term 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.” In common parlance the term equality is used for identity of treatment and identity of rewards. However, this is not a correct use of the term because absolute equality is not possible. Again some scholars assert that nature has created men equal. However, this is also not correct because some people are physically stronger while the others are weak. Similarly, some are white complexioned while others are black; some are dull while others are intelligent and sharp. In short, nature has not created all as equals and there are differences in strength, intellect etc. among various people; therefore, absolute equality is a mere myth.
Equality has been assigned both negative as well as positive meanings. In the negative sense equality means the absence of special privileges. It implies the absence of the barriers like birth, wealth, caste, color, creed etc. in the positive sense equality means provision of adequate opportunities for all the members of the society. It may be observed that adequate opportunities do not mean equal opportunities. For example, an engineer and an ordinary laborer cannot be treated at par and provided equal wages and other facilities. Equality in this sense is neither practicable nor desirable. Therefore, equality really means the provision of adequate opportunities to all citizens without any discrimination. Nobody should be debarred from certain facilities simply because of his status, caste, creed, etc.
In short, equality implies the following things. First, all persons should be provided with adequate opportunities for the development of the personality. Second, no class or caste or group enjoys special privileges which are not available to other members of the society. Third, there should not be any discrimination among members of society and if there is any discrimination it should be on reasonable grounds. Thus, it does not prevent special treatment of handicapped and backward persons so that they can be brought at par with others. Fourth, rights are equally distributed among all and all have equal access to opportunities leading to authority.
The concept of equality is not basically very old, though we get some tracers of the concept in the writing of the Stoics as well as the Romans. It was only in the latter half of the eighteenth century that the concept gained popularity. The French Revolution of 1789 was largely a protest against the prevailing inequalities and the Revolutionaries adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789) asserting, “Men are born and always continue to be free and equal in respect of their rights.” But, it was only in the present century that effort was made to eliminate inequalities in the economic and social sphere and necessary laws were enacted to protect the interests of the workers. It was emphasized that equality in the economic sphere was more important than equality in the civil and political spheres. It was asserted that political liberty without economic equality was a myth. The decline of imperialism and colonialism and the emergence of a large number of independent states in Asia, Africa and Latin America gave a further impetus to the principle of equality. All the states began to be treated as equals at the international levels irrespective of their size, resources and importance. The war against racial discrimination and the introduction of universal franchise further strengthened the doctrine of equality. Most of the modern states devoted great attention to the improvement of economic lot of the deprived ones to bring about economic equality. Yet, there are serious matters to be resolved in this regard.
According to modern political principles, a state should make sure that the citizens have (1) Civil Equality – Equality of all before law, (2) Political Equality – Equal rights to participate in the affairs of the state, (3) Social Equality – No discrimination among citizens on the basis of social status, caste, color, creed, rank, etc., (4) Economic Equality – Equality in the opportunities to have sound economy. Unfortunately, these equalities are not guaranteed in many countries of the world and we have discontentment among the people.
Laski has said, “Political equality is never real unless it is accompanied by virtual economic equality; political power, otherwise, is bound to be handmade of economic power.” Definitely, in the absence of economic equality it is difficult to imagine a just political system. It is important to remember that economic equality does not imply that there should be equal distribution of wealth, because this sort of equality is incapable of realization. On the other hand it means that there should not be concentration of wealth in few hands only and certain minimum standards of income should be assured to all before anyone can be allowed to have more. In other words, the basic needs of all should be met before some people are permitted to lead a luxurious life. Prof. Laski expresses this point, “I have not right to take cakes when my neighbor is compelled to go without bread.” Unfortunately, these concepts are being neglected in today’s world and we see thousands who suffer because of inequality and discrimination.