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Social Justice in Today’s Contemporary India

Constitution of India is the prior to achieve social and economic justice for equal status. India is the world’s third largest economy and according to World Bank India has largest sharing of population below poverty line. ‘Social Justice’ concerns that it ensures the liberty providing equal distribution of resources maintaining individual’s rights of each and every human being of society. The article expresses the ideologies of Savitribai Phule, M.K. Gandhi, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on the perspective of social justice. Then after it attends further consideration of these innovating ideologies toward contemporary discourse.
Key Words
Justice, equality, liberty, casteism, caste, discrimination, distribution, rights
The word ‘social’ refers human being of society and the word justice refers liberty, equality and rights. So “The expression ‘social justice’ may be defined as the right of the weak, aged, destitute, poor, women, children, and other under-privileged persons to the protection of the State against the ruthless competition of life” [CITATION Raj06 \l 16393 ].
Social justice’ is not only the burning issue for 21st century but also the struggle to eliminate injustice from the society is as old as the human existence. In the Indian context the stratification of society into ‘Brahama’ (Priest), ‘Kshatra’ (warriors), ‘Vis’ (Common people) comes from ‘Arya Varna’ and ‘Dasa Varna’ in Vedic period. The rigidity and hierarchy gets strengthened when ‘Varna’ and ‘Ashrama’ becomes dominant features towards the end of Vedic era. “Purusha Sukta” initiates the term ‘Shudras’. “Taittiriya Samnhita” accepts ‘Shudras’ who were created from feet. ‘Shatapatha Brahmana’ emphasizes Shudras in connection with untouchability[CITATION Raj06 \l 16393 ]. The hierarchical organization continues in Post-Vedic period and proves hereditary right of Brahmins in British period as the uppermost and prominent section of society.
Nineteenth century is very significant for India in context of social reform because social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, M. K. Gandhi, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, Mahatma Jotirao Phule, Savitribai Phule and others. These reformers worked towards creating an egalitarian and just society. In the following sections, we will look at some of their contributions in the Indian society.
Ideology of social reformers and related discourses:
As a bird cannot fly with one wing only. Human space flight cannot develop any further without the active participation of women.”
Valentina Tereshkova
The first school for girls was established in Bhidewada, Pune on 1st January 1848 by Mahatma Jotirao Phule. Savitribai Phule was the Headmistress of that school. The radical idea of girls’ education was opposed by many peoples. In spite of so many oppression the numbers of school was also increased as time passed. To check the school dropout, she started the initiative of stipend, hostel facility and adult education [ CITATION Lea15 \l 16393 ]. In her poems, she expresses for the girls to be self-reliant and think oneself not as inferior to men and not just an object of male lust. It was only after acted for spreading education to the women, Savitribai took head on to other taboos of the society which victimized the women lot for long (Pandey, 2015). Savitribai Phule, in her poem Kavya Phule, (1854) states “So learn and break the chains of caste, Throw away the Brahman’s scriptures fast”. Savitribai was a visionary who visualized gender justice through various activities by civil society and the State (Pandey, 2015). In those days she fought against the society, how a widow was treated like an object. She also supported a barbers’ strike against the tonsuring of their heads of widow, a barbaric practice. Savitribai Phule is an example of rule breaker the gender based stereotypes, she lit own husband’s funeral [ CITATION Lea15 \l 16393 ]. She consistently propagated the modern values such as humanism, liberty, equality, brotherhood and rationalism through her writings [ CITATION DrR15 \l 16393 ]. She also supported the inter-caste marriage [ CITATION Lea15 \l 16393 ].
All the ideologies of Gandhi like truth, non-violence, Ramrajya, Swaraj, Sarvodaya, Satyagraha and Trusteeship theory and other thoughts signifies the term social justice as multidimensional concept. Gandhi was pioneer of the movement for social justice in India. We find the justification of the term social justice in various thought of Gandhi, like safeguard for individual freedom in idea of decentralization, complete republic in idea of village Swaraj, safeguards the liberty of the individual in idea Panchayati Raj and so forth. From the Gandhi’s point of view economic wellbeing is not signal of human equality, it should follow equal distribution and decentralisation of money and power and other needs. His opinion on the ancient Vedic doctrine of ‘Varna dharma’ is based on the principle of "justice as fairness rather than equality” and Varna-dharma and the caste are not one and the same[CITATION Tri \l 16393 ].
For Gandhi if untouchability would abolished, there will be no caste system. He gives more emphasis on untouchability than the caste issues and nullify the caste based discrimination. Here Gandhi appears as denying the existence of interests of untouchables in national level. In this context Ambedkar shows the distinction between Hindu caste and untouchables. He actually practices caste, how complex it is. Ambedkar’s ideology here is about overall annihilation of caste[ CITATION Suh96 \l 16393 ]. In ‘Annihilation of Caste: A Reply to Mahatma Gandhi’, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar’s arguments are like that i) the caste has ruined the Hindus; ii) the Varnavyavastha is like a leaky pot; iii) the Hindu society cannot be based on Chaturvarnya conception; iv) the Hindu society must be based on the principles of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity; v) Caste and Varna must be destroyed to sense of religious sanctity; vi) and to get the sanctity divine authority of the Shastras should be destroyed[CITATION IGN \l 16393 ].
Ambedkar’s view on political ideology is based on the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. Liberty is not sufficient, equality must exist simultaneously to ensure the quality of moral and material life of each individuals. But equality and liberty will be realized only when there is a strong sense of unity among members of the society. The sense of brotherhood, sharing the sorrows and joys of each other’s – must emerge in the society[CITATION IGN \l 16393 ].
Ambedkar does not approve any type of exploitation, injustice and hypocrisy of human being in the name of religion. From his rational view point religion should be based on universal principle which will applicable beyond the boundary of races, caste, creed and nation for all times. For Ambedkar Varna is system which leads the Hindu religion to include untouchability and caste system, the greatest evil of the Hindu religion[ CITATION Rag16 \l 16393 ].
Casteism makes Hindu society stagnant and a heterogeneous society. Caste obstruct the growth of national unity. Most of all caste system brings the picture of injustice on the lower castes in society. The people are remained get education, good meaning of life, human dignity. As result dehumanization, degradation and demoralization becomes prominent feature of lower caste. The idea of pollution by getting touched shows the gross level of inequality and brutality to which caste system had sunk. Thus the struggle for getting justice from purity and pollution and removal of untouchability becomes the struggle for human rights and social justice. The nation and morality cannot build till the presence of untouchability. According to Ambedkar for creating a casteless society inter-caste marriage is effective in the sense of destroying the caste. But the dominant thinking of casteism does not permit it. Therefore he describes such as inter-cate dining or marriage as ‘force feeding’. Vedas and Shastras make the every Hindu to its slave. Hindus cannot make their own conscience or be free until they discard the scriptures. The foundations of any religion should be the principles of equality, liberty and fraternity in the place of the unjust principle of hereditary hierarchy. For Ambedkar untouchables should not feel themselves inferior to caste Hindus. Untouchables should find their spirit of self-respect throwing away their bondage from the myth of inherent pollution. And access of education will influence to feel enlighten oneself. Throwing away the traditional Hindu led occupations, untouchables should engage them in new profession[CITATION IGN \l 16393 ].
These are some demands made by Ambedkar on behalf of ‘Bahishkrita Hitakarini Sabha’ to the Indian Statutory Commission for adequate representation concerning the safeguards for the protection of the interests of the Depressed Classes as a minority in Bombay Presidency are as follows:
i) The education of depressed class shall be recognized;
ii) Right for recruit depressed class in army, navy and the police shall be recognized;
iii) Right for the depressed class for priority in the matter of the recruitment to all posts, gazetted as well as non-gazetted in civil services shall be recognized;
iv) Right for the depressed classes to appoint in special inspector post shall be recognized;
v) Right of the depressed classes to effective representation on the local bodies shall be recognized;
vi) Right of the depressed classes to appeal to GOI in cases of violation of these rights ([ CITATION Har28 \l 16393 ].
Pt. Nehru was a true practitioner of socialism which reflects the ‘socialistic pattern of the society’ in the Constitution of India adopted in 1950. In Nehru report, August 1928 we find the recognition of fundamental right for deprived section like the above mention by Ambedkar. In Nehru report, he prescribes recognition authority, legislative, executive, judicial; liberty, freedom of conscience, free profession, secularity, free expression of opinion, education without any distinction, civic rights, right to health, equal rights for men and women and so on.
Nehru Government initiated the progressive land-reforms, legislation to abolish Zamindari, Mahalwari or the Royatwari system of feudalism in the Rural Sector etc. Though these steps helped greatly to grow on capitalist line of the rural agricultural sector but it was concerned with greater efficiency to generate surplus production to feed the masses in general. Nehru government did not adopt of the Taxation Enquiry Commission which deals for reducing inequality among haves and have-nots. The socialist concept fails where an equal distribution of wealth and income remained afar in his time of governance (Gehlot, 1990). For Nehru Industrialization must aim to create an equalitarian society. And rapid industrialization would raise the standard of living to reduce the pressure on land to combat poverty [CITATION IGN1 \l 16393 ]
How the above ideologies are relevant in present scenario:
Empowerment is a process and is not therefore something that can be given to people. Empowerment is achieved by people themselves through their own efforts” (Karl, 1995)
The female literacy rate of India is 65.46% which is nearly about 17% less than male literacy rate [CITATION Cen \l 16393 ]. The important factors of low literacy rate of women in India are like poor school environment for girls, the lower enrolment, dowry system, early marriage, priority to son’s education, poverty (Singh, 2015). Today’s government programmes like the ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’, ‘Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan’, the Right to Education Act and the midday meal scheme that incentivize education, may seem like modern concepts, but even 150 years back Savitribai had set a precedent – she gave stipends to prevent children from dropping out of school[ CITATION DrR15 \l 16393 ]. To check the school dropout Savitribai Phule started hostel facility, incentives for girls, these are the progressive steps are still relevant in present situation. Lack of awareness due to low literacy of parents also influence the low level of literacy. To tackle the problem both Jotirao Phule and Savitribai Phule took initiative of adult education of parents. Department of School Education and Literacy under MHRD have introduced programmes on adult literacy which had already initiated Phule in the post 1850. Low literacy rate leads low representation of female in all aspect. There are so many laws and special laws for safeguard of women but the rate exploitation is increasing day by day. Savitribai opened the door for the exploited widows who still have been neglected in society. Her ideologies for safeguard of weaker section is relevant today in terms of social security. But all the social security for women schemes are drafted by the men based on top-down approach. In this context the poem Savitribai Phule’s Kavya Phule (1854) is applicable in all aspect.
Go, Get Education
Be self-reliant, be industrious
Work, gather wisdom and riches,
All gets lost without knowledge
We become animal without wisdom,
Sit idle no more, go, get education
End misery of the oppressed and forsaken,
You’ve got a golden chance to learn
So learn and break the chains of caste.
Throw away the Brahman’s scriptures fast.
Women have to increase their Socio Economic Political participation to be truly empowered. The women get dignified power when 73rd-74th amendment bill was passed. Despite illiterate women felt confident in enjoying the powers and sharing of responsibility themselves[CITATION Raj09 \l 16393 ].
Seventy years after independence the status of various fields like education, health, equality, equity, decision making process, right of ownership, social security of widows and other benchmarks of marginalization women have not changed significantly and it remains them lowest of the rung in our society. Savitribai Phule is applicable and progressive.
Gandhi’s ideology of ‘Non-violence’ and ‘truth’ to settle down the issues of injustice is still ultimate in the context of extremist revolution like ULFA, Khalisthan, Telengana, Jharkhand movement and other movements for getting justice to their community and inter-state conflict resolution for equal distribution of resources. Gandhi’s method of ‘Satyagraha’ implies for protection of life, liberty and poverty of Indian citizens. However, Indians frequently apply these in strike, fasting, demonstrating in educational institutions, court, foreign goods and councils for fulfilment of demands. [ CITATION Das12 \l 16393 ]. Gandhi’s ‘Sarvodaya’ is against the concept of majoritariasm. For Gandhi ‘Sarvodaya’ ideology uplifts for all in all aspect which is relevant significantly for a nation’s strategy for the aim of social justice. As J.P. Narayan said, "Sarvodaya represents the highest socialist values”[ CITATION Rab09 \l 16393 ]. After six decades of the implementation of Panchayat Raj on the recommendation of Balwantrai Mehta in 1959, it remains still unfinished to fulfil the concept ‘Gram Swaraj’[ CITATION Mar11 \l 16393 ]. Village self-governance talks about democratic decentralization which is very pertinent in present context.
To uplift the depressed class, Ambedkar wanted separate electorate for the untouchables. But Gandhi opposed it. He thought it can lead to make the depressed class alienate from the society. It would not only give them opportunity to participate in the political process, but also create division in the society based on the caste. Considering these opinions, it is around the debate whether separate electorate are desirable or not.
The contemporary issue is the policy of making reservation for Dalits and O.B.C’s in governmental jobs and in higher educational institutes. Special reservation makes the deprived classes to be representative in all aspect. The OBC’s also followed the same path of right based approach. Ambedkar is the pioneer of right based approach to get their right. Now in the field of education and government jobs the deprived classes are active now. If Ambedkar would not take the just policy, the condition of the downtrodden section would have remained as before. But If look at the case of Rohith Vemula’s institutional murder and the harassment against the organizer of Ambedkar-Periyar study center in the prestigious institution, it shows that the intention to establish an ‘upper caste culture’ in the name of ‘Indian culture’[ CITATION BVR17 \l 16393 ]. The fact is accepted that lower castes are the most aggrieved groups and had faced most severe form of social exclusion[CITATION Raj09 \l 16393 ].
The empirical study of C. V. Raju in three taluks in Mysore district reveals that majority of Harijans are landless agricultural laborers and they are frequently discriminated in terms of wages and loan by the caste Hindus. And majority of Harijans do not show protest as they may be unemployed. In respect of temple entry, priestly service, village community feasts and marriage, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are still discriminated by the upper caste Hindus. Instead of approaching to police, Harijans prescribe their complaint to panchayat, political representative and NGOs. Due economic insufficiency Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are unable to contest election and in decision making process. These facts shows that socio-economic and political disabilities of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes prevent to acquire equal status of caste Hindu[CITATION Raj06 \l 16393 ].

Dr B.R. Ambedkar’s thoughts on social justice were progressive [ CITATION Rag16 \l 16393 ]. Untouchability Offence Act, 1955, Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1976 and Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, all these legislations enacted for abolition of untouchability. As implementation of such legislations makes far better position in Hindu society than earlier days. Constitution of India is the prior to achieve social and economic justice for equal status [CITATION Raj06 \l 16393 ]. But this growth gets diluted when the news comes like a temple in Madhubani district was cleaned and the deity washed after the then Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi left the place as he comes under 'Dalit community[CITATION Tew14 \l 16393 ]. The Vedic Village, an initiative of Shankara Agraharam offers Brahmin neighbors only for a township near Bangalore, such news in twenty first century encourages castes.[CITATION May13 \l 16393 ].
Rural-urban disparities of per capita expenditure have risen and within urban areas inequality increased faster than rural area. Along with economic growth, poverty has significantly declined[CITATION Kni \l 16393 ]. About industrialization of India Nehru’s concern was to combat poverty and raise standard of living if the country is to reap of full benefits of industrialization. Therefore, Nehru’s concern is still relevant for present India to check the rising inequality gap brings the right policy for economic justice. On September 30, 1991, 124.61 lakh acres of such lands had been distributed[CITATION Wha \l 16393 ]. Nehru’s progressive land reforms get relevance by the above sentence. But distribution of land resources is still largely unequally distributed in most of the states. Nehru’s vision behind the secularism was for maintaining the diversities of India. His ideology is necessary to solve the problems like rising extreme phase of Hindutva or communal riots like other important issues. The policies should be free from completely personal ambition, its aim should liberate men from poverty, disease and hunger, both of body and mind, then Nehru is of relevance today[ CITATION Hak16 \l 16393 ]
Justice is not begotten through changes in politics, economics or cultural aspect, it only makes sense when man decides to change, his thoughts, visions and ideas, that’s when it becomes social justice. Savitribai Phule fights her life for making women educated and against the gender based discrimination. For M. K. Gandhi equality is more need based where as Dr. B. R. Ambedkar believes in right based equality. Ambedkar paints the movement of untouchable as a national movement where Gandhi does not make any distinguish between untouchable and Hindu. Today the movement for social justice are more localized and community based. The high priest of socialism Jawaharlal Nehru gives India secularism. Their contribution to fight against social justice for equality, liberty, fraternity and secularism in all aspect life highly demonstrates the way in which they are fighting for to get the equal share of power and respect. Until the fruit of benefits do not reach to the poorest of poor social justice would not get its meaning.


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Written by:
Supriyo Mondal

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