Equality and Inequality in India

Inequality is a fact. Equality is value

The word equality means a state of equilibrium or a state where everyone is equal in rights, opportunities and resources. The debate on concept and state of equality and inequality around the world has been going on since decades among academicians of various disciplines. However, the concept of equality and inequality is a dynamic one and is based upon various socio-economic factors. India is home to diverse linguistic and religious groups. Due to such diversity and various other factors, the Indian society has always been one of the case studies around the globe to analyse this concept. According to Oxfam- a UK based charity’s Inequality Index India ranked at the position of 147th out of 157 countries which they analysed[1]. With one of world’s most intricately drafted constitutions and so many constitutional safeguards, let’s seek the reason for such a low rank and understand the concept of equality and inequality in India.

Social Inequality in India

Under the Constitution of India, Article 14, 15, 19 and 21 are key articles which ascertain the basic jurisprudence of Indian state and the Constitution. These ensure the rights of citizens, states duty to treat people equally and their right to life. Yet, the social inequality which prevails in India based on Religion, Caste, gender etc. Though this has been prohibited under the constitution yet it still has its roots in our society and so it still prevails. The father of the Indian Constitution once said- “In politics, we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality.”[2]

What the author interprets of this quote is that political equality will be achieved in India through the grant of voting rights to everyone commonly called Universal Adult Franchise or Suffrage which means that everyone in India who is above the age of 18 years has the right to cast his/her vote irrespective of his/her caste, creed, gender, religion etc, however, the socio-economic life of citizens will not have equality. I opine that this characteristic of Indian society points out by B.R. Ambedkar is true and it points out that when inequality of socio-economic nature is present in the basics of the Indian society, it cannot be removed merely by giving the right to vote. He further opines that the Constitutional provisions under Article 14,15,19 and 21 are though enacted and drafted to safeguard us from these socio-economic inequalities but it is futile to rely on them completely without putting an effort to remove these issues from our basic structure of society. Let’s look at the strata’s where the issue of inequality exists socially-

  • Caste- Caste system has been derived from the Varna system of Manusmriti. The varna system Manusmriti gave aa system for division of labour in the society and not as a method for discrimination. It was interpreted into what we know as the caste system today. The Manusmriti never said anywhere that Brahmins are superior to any other varna. It just outlined a system in which Brahmins were teachers and priests, Kshatriyas were soldiers and protectors, Vaishyas were accountants, money-lenders and Shudras did the jobs for the community like cleaning streets, charioteering etc. However, we interpreted it as segregation and a fixation mechanism and bound people to do certain jobs based on their castes. The Manusmriti clearly says that if someone from Shudra varna works and does his Karma well he can change his varna to kshatriya, brahmin or Vaishya. Yet we forgot about this and imposed our interpretation on people to stay in their jobs. With today’s interpretation of the caste system, a cobbler’s son can become only a cobbler and pursue no other profession which is wrong. Today, this practice has reduced substantially, yet it persists. Furthermore, practices like Shudras and untouchables cannot enter the temples or draw water from common village source was also banned. A few examples of this in today’s India are- 1. In June 2018 Prashant Solanki a 20-year-old Dalit man was riding a horse and going for his wedding when he was ambushed by high castes of the village stating that riding a horse is an upper-caste practice. 2. Two men from Tamil Nadu who were so-called Dalit were killed by high-class men because they sat cross-legged Infront of them during a temple ritual.[3]
  • Gender- Women are still believed to be inferior to men in many communities. They are to not allowed to do jobs or get an education. Furthermore, they have been given the duty to take care of family and household chores. Women are not allowed to enter into temples during their menstrual cycles. They are often forced to live outside their house in ill-maintained huts during menstruation to maintain purity[4]. Sabrimala Case[5] was a landmark case that challenged this system. Women also have to suffer crimes like rape, molestation and domestic violence in our society. Even in such a perilous situation of Covid-19 when the world is united, cases of Domestic violence are on a rise in India[6]. The newspaper Al-Jazeera reported the plight of Parvathi (name changed) from Chennai whose husband is an alcoholic, unemployed how he treated her in the lockdown. The Guardian gave the story of Poornima from Maharashtra who explained her plight about how she is forced to live in huts called gaokar while she is menstruating. This practice is done even in cold winters. So, we can see how the safeguards of the constitution still lack implementation and thought these articles make a difference yet they are not yet successful in curbing the issue of removing this ethos from the basic thought process itself.

Economic Inequality

India ranks 95th in the CIA’s index based on its Gini Coefficient[7] which stands at 35.2 in 2011[8]. Furthermore, according to Oxfam International- The top 10% of the Indian population holds 77% of the total national wealth and there are 67 million Indians who come under the poorest half of the population[9]. With such statistics, we can ascertain that India faces a situation of economic inequality. The reasons for this can be population which is growing exponentially without any laws to curb it, limited resources to support such population, lack of education facilities and unemployment. This gives rise to the crime rate in the society.

Furthermore, we are aware of how the situation has unfolded for poor and daily wage workers and labours during COVID-19. This has exposed the real scenario of the economic inequality in India. With the prevalence of these factors, we can never say India is a developed nation. In the author’s opinion, our ignorance of basic issues of health, education, inequality, shelter and population growth need to checked and covered before thinking about other lucrative plans


[1]https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/india-ranks-bottom-of-oxfam-world-inequality-index/articleshow/66137424.cms

[2] https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/618535.B_R_Ambedkar

[3] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-44517922

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/dec/22/india-menstruation-periods-gaokor-women-isolated

[5] Indian Young Lawyers Association vs The State of Kerala (2018 SCC OnLine SC 1690)

[6]https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/locked-abusers-india-domestic-violence-surge-200415092014621.html

[7] The Gini index or Gini coefficient is a statistical measure of distribution developed by the Italian statistician Corrado Gini in 1912. It is often used as a gauge of economic inequality, measuring income distribution or, less commonly, wealth distribution among a population. [https://www.investopedia.com/terms/g/gini-index.asp#:~:text=The%20Gini%20index%20or%20Gini,wealth%20distribution%20among%20a%20population]

[8] https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2172rank.html

[9]https://www.oxfam.org/en/india-extreme-inequality-numbers#:~:text=The%20top%2010%25%20of%20the,1%25%20increase%20in%20their%20wealth.&text=There%20are%20119%20billionaires%20in%20India

Rishi Raj from Symbiosis Law School, Noida

He is a criminal and constitutional law enthusiast who someday aspires to serve the Armed Forces of our country.

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