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All about equality

We all love the idea of equality in the world but what does it really mean?

india Updated: Mar 24, 2006 13:52 IST

In 1856 when the statue of Benjamin Franklin was unveiled at Boston in United States, the principal speaker said: “Lift up your heads and look at the image of a man who rose from nothing, who owed nothing to parentage.” It’s said that you can’t keep a good man down. But most human societies have been organised to keep good men down.

There have been systems in which the individual status was determined not by his gifts or capacities, but by his membership in a family, a caste or a class. Such membership determined his rights, privileges, prestige, power and status in society. His ability was hardly important.

The modern idea of democracy first developed in the 18th century. The nations affected by the industrial revolution discarded the idea of society being divided on the basis of heredity.

People wanted a society in which everybody was equal before the rule of law. There was to be no upper or lower class, no gender or race discrimination. Yet even in the United States we find society divided by class.

Certain preparatory schools and colleges were considered “fashionable” for people. There were exclusive clubs and traces of “class consciousness” even in casual conversation, clubs that weighed family background in selecting new members; mothers did not want sons to marry “below” their status.

We all love the idea of equality in the world but what does the term really mean? First of all, we must believe that all people are equally worthy of our care and concern. Beyond this we must believe that people are equal in the possession of certain legal, civil and political rights.

We believe with Greek philosopher Aristotle that the only stable state is one in which all men are equal before law. But we know that men are not equal with regard to their talent. And because they are not equal in talent they can also not be equal in their achievements. This is the reason why the debate about equal opportunity assumes so much significance, particularly in the present context.

All of us may not romp home but every man should have his chance to bat. And we should be able to tell talent from stagecraft.

First Published: Mar 24, 2006 13:52 IST