Equality - Introduction, Meaning, Importance, Dimensions, Types, Problems | Study Material, Lecturing Notes, Assignment, Reference, Wiki description explanation, brief detail |

Chapter: 11th Political Science : Basic Concepts of Political Science


The idea that human beings are equal is enigmatic.



Understanding equality

The idea that human beings are equal is enigmatic. A nation that seeks equality creates laws to bring change in its society. A law for equality is inadequate and opposed where pluralistic pattern of society has become the order of the day whether it’s a developed or under developed nation. Liberty and rights lead to a third principle in political theory, which is of equality. Equality determines how rights are to be distributed amongst the individuals as citizens and groups, both whether equally or unequally. If unequally then what are the grounds for unequal treatment?. On what ground the state or the public authority relate with citizens, individuals and groups unequally. When we talk of equality, we imply different meanings at different times. In liberal perspective, legal and political equality may be emphasized more than economic equality. 

On the other hand, in a socialist and Marxian framework emphasis is more on economic equality. A feminist would argue that gender equality is vital while in a caste divided society like India, it could be argued that social equality is more essential, if other dimensions are to be meaningful.


Learning Objectives

·              Establishing egalitarian society may look utopian but neglecting it may lead to chaos and anarchy will make welfare states meaningless.

·              Students from various background is given an opportunity to understand the concept of equality and inequality in a balanced manner.

·              The relevance of struggle made by women, minorities, dalits and linguistic groups for equality is explored.

·              Participation of an individual as a citizen of a nation in streamlining the thought of doing justice to equality as a common national goal is pertinent.


Meaning of Equality

Equality, which means state of being equal, is derived from aequs/ aequalis, meaning fair. It signifies ‘having the same rights, privileges, treatments, status, and opportunities’. Equality is treated as something that relates to distributive principle because of which rights, treatments, and opportunities are distributed amongst the beneficiaries in a fair manner. Fairness does not mean all to be treated equally in all circumstances. In fact it very well means unequal treatment for those who are unequal. Essentially it relates to the principle of justice because it requires fair distributive principle .

However those who are equal should not be treated as unequal and the unequal as equal.


Importance of Equality

Why equality is important?

The most powerful moral and political ideal that has inspired and guided human society for several centuries is equality. Every all faith and religion invariably proclaim that all human beings are creation of God. The concept of equality as a political ideal invokes the idea that all human beings have an equal worth regardless of their color, gender, race, or nationality. It urges among human beings equal consideration and respect because of the common humanity. The belief in this notion of humanity led us to the declaration of universal human rights.

Equality became the slogan in the struggle against states and social institutions which uphold inequalities of rank, wealth, status or privilege, among people during the modern period. In the eighteenth century, the French revolutionaries used the slogan ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’ to revolt against the landed feudal aristocracy and the monarchy. The demand for equality was also raised during anti-colonial struggle in Asia and Africa during the twentieth century. It continues to be raised by struggling group such as women or dalits who feel marginalized in our society.

Equality now has become a widely accepted ideal which is embodied in the constitutions and laws in the world. However the most visible and disturbing factor around us in the world and as well in our society is inequality. We can see in country slums existing side by side with luxury housing, schools which may lack even drinking water facilities or toilets, waste of food as well as starvation. There are visible difference between what law promises and what we see around us.

India through its constitution attempts to fill the gap between equal and unequal with the principle of equality as enshrined in the constitution.


Dimensions of Equality

What is Equality?

We live amidst distinctions between human beings on the ground of race and color, knowing well it is unacceptable. In fact such distinctions violate our intuitive understanding of equality which tells us that all human beings are entitled to similar respect and consideration because of their common humanity. No society treats all its members in exactly the same way under all circumstances. There can be no identity of treatment so long as men are different in wants, capacities, and needs. Injustice arises much from treating unequal’s equally as from treating equals unequally. And most importantly apart from the natural inequalities, there are inequalities created by the society- inequality based upon birth, wealth, knowledge and religion.

The movement of history is not towards greater equality because as fast as we eliminate one inequality, we create another one: the difference being that the one we discard is unjustifiable while the one we create seems reasonable. Hence the social political, educational equalities are always in need of reinforcement and reinterpretation by every new generation. Like liberty, equality can also be understood in its negative and positive aspects. Negative equality was associated with the end of such privileges and positively it meant the availability of opportunity.

According to Laski equality means:

·              Absence of privileges. It means that will of one is equal to the will of any other. It means equality of rights

·              Adequate opportunities are laid open to all. Opportunities should be given to all to realize the implications of his personality.

·              All must have access to social benefits and no one should be restricted on any ground. The inequalities by birth or because of parentage and hereditary causes are unreasonable

·              Absence of economic and social exploitation


A state divided into a small number of rich and large number of poor will always develop a government manipulated by the rich to protect the amenities represented by their property.

                                                                             - Harold laski

According to Barker, the concept of equality means

v   Fundamental equalities of all

v   Equality of opportunity

v   Equality of conditions where there is an attempt to make the conditions of life equal

v   Equality of outcome of results


Case Study


Mukilan works in a Brickkiln in Silaiman, near Madurai. The following is an extract of the interview:

Correspondent: What is your day life?


I wake up at 6.00 a.m. and go to the Brickkiln to help my parents. from 11.00 a.m. to 1.00 p.m. I am at Bridge Course entry (run by a non-government organization) Then after lunch at about 3.00 p.m. I again to help my parents at the Brickkiln and by 6.30 p.m. I return to my nut. I have been enrolled in the school nearby, so now days I go to school by 10.00 a.m. come back by 3.00 p.m. It is difficult for me to attend school regularly, as our family income is very low and sometimes I have to sell peas and nuts.


Tell us about your family. What do your parents do?


My mother is a homemaker/ my father works in a Brickkiln. I feel sad that I cannot spend time with my two elder brothers, since they stay in Kolkata. They are day laborers. My brothers, Raja Pandi(19 years) and Muniasamy(16 years) left school. When they were in Std’s IV and VI respectively. Both had worked in Brickkilns before me. I have two sisters also. Tamil Selvi(10 years), who is studying in Std III at the Government School. My other sister, Yazhini , is now 22 years and is married. She studied up to Std V.


When you grow up, What would you like to be?


I always wanted to be a doctor or to work in a pharmaceutical company, since that helps people.

Correspondent: Do you have dreams?


My dream to be live in a good house and to travel in a car.


Equality of opportunities

The concept of equality implies that all people as human being are entitled to the same rights and opportunities to develop the skills and talents, to pursue their goals and ambitions. However, it is not the lack of equality of status or wealth or privilege that is significant but the inequality in peoples access to such basic goods, as education, health care, safe housing that make for an unequal and unjust society.

Natural inequality and social inequality

Natural inequalities are those that emerge between people as a result of their different capabilities and talents. These kinds of inequalities are different from socially produced inequalities which emerge as a consequence of inequalities of opportunity or the exploitation of some groups in a society by others. Natural inequalities are considered to be the result of the different characteristics and abilities with which people are born with. Social inequalities on the other hand are those created by society. Unequal treatment in society based on race, color, gender and caste are of social inequalities. Women were denied equal rights for centuries similarly, Blacks were treated as slaves until the institution of slavery was questioned . Even people born with disability with modern technological innovations are able to contribute like any other normal person. Stephen Hawkings, contribution despite his disability is remarkable. Political philosophers have contributed various theories, philosophies and ideologies for further understanding and innovation to place society on equal platform.

Read the cartoon and identify the context of what type of inequalities are represented in this cartoon?


Let us know the dimensions of equality


What are the different types of equality?

Civil Equality

·               No discrimination (religion, belief, etc)


Political Equality

·               Access to authority

·               Voting


Social Equality

·               Opportunity

·               Privileges


Natural Equality

·               Natural rights


Economic Equality

·               Wealth


 (i) Social Equality

Social equality means no one should be discriminated in the distribution of rights, privileges and opportunities based on birth, caste, religion, race, colour, gender or social status. Each one should be given equal opportunity to develop his personality. Social equality implies few important aspects. They are: removal of discrimination based on social status, absence of special privileges to few and finally ensuring equal opportunity in terms of acquiring education. History reveals that certain forms of social inequality world over were rejected and the demand for social equality are being raised. Slavery in South Africa, west Asia and America, untouchability in India, Racial discrimination n in USA against Blacks, Policy of Hitler against Jews and gender related inequalities and discrimination are few examples of social inequalities with countries world over are trying to redress with the policy of government. Civil rights movement in United States of America for Blacks by Martin Luther king Jr and Dr.B.R.Ambedkar’s effort for the social equality for the lower caste in India are few examples that set movement for social equality in motion.

Martin Luther king Jr. was an unquestioned leader of nonviolent civil Rights movement in USA.

Civil right movement was a struggle for social justice happened during the 1950s and 1960s for blacks to gain equal rights under the law in the United states. Similarly Dr.B.R.Ambedkars liberation movement for millions of dalits was a historic movement in India. A seed for the movement for social equality.

The American declaration announced that ‘all men are created equal’, French declaration of Rights of Man and citizens declared that ‘men are born and always continue free and equal in their rights. The United Nations organization on 10th December, 1948, declared the charter of human rights which laid stress on social equality. However according to the report of Amnesty International, these rights have been violated frequently by a number of countries in the past and still efforts are being made to address the issues of social inequality world over.

(ii) Civil Equality

The word ‘civil’ is derived from the Latin word civilis or civis, which means citizen. Civil equality means equality in which each citizen is provided with equal civil rights and liberties. Civil equality consists of similar civil liberties and civil rights by all the citizens. Civil laws should treat all the individuals equally.

There should not be any discrimination of superior and inferior, the rich and the poor, caste and creed, colour and race, clans and tribes, groups and classes. In England, Rule of law is in force and in the eyes of the rule of law all are equal. Equal treatment is given to all by the rule of law. It is from the British constitution India had adopted the rule of law.

(iii) Political Equality

Political Equality means equal right of all citizens, without any distinction, allowed to participate in the affairs of the state. Political right of all citizen is ensured through universal adult franchise. The other factors that ensure the political rights of citizens are:

·              Right to vote

·              Right to contest in election

·              Right to hold public office

·              Right to petition the government and criticize public policy

Political equality guarantees the enjoyment of similar political rights to all citizens. Universal adult franchise is a means to this end. Political equality is actually the test on the experiments of democracy. It is also believed that political equality in itself is not adequate to disperse political power, it also needs socio-economic equality to achieve political equality.

(iv) Economic Equality

Economic equality is justifiable only when all people have reasonable opportunities to develop themselves fully. Economic equality is meaningful only when there is an adequate scope for employment, reasonable wages, adequate leisure and equal share in the management of economic concern. Professor Laski explains economic equality, “Political equality is, therefore, never real unless it is accompanied with virtual economic liberty; political power otherwise is bound to be the hand-maid of economic power”.

Economic equality here means the provision of equal opportunities to all so that they may be able to make their economy progress. Ideologically this is possible in Socialism and not in Capitalism.

(v) Equality of opportunity and education

Equality of opportunity and education means, all the citizens should be given equal and similar opportunities by the state. All the citizens should have similar chances to receive education and equal opportunities be given to develop their personality. Social inequalities such as race, caste, religion, language, rich, poor and gender based discrimination should be eradicated. In India, constitution provides provisions for equal opportunities and equal education.


Relation between Liberty and Equality

There is no value of liberty in the absence of equality. They are understood from different perspectives by political thinkers such as Lord Acton , De Tocqueville and Harold. J.Laski. Lord Acton and Alexis De Tocqueville were the ardent advocates of liberty. They were of the opinion that where there is liberty, there is no equality and vice versa.“The passion for equality made vain the hope for liberty.”- Lord Acton Professor H.J. Laski believed that liberty and equality should go together. If an individual is given unrestrained liberty to do whatever he likes, he may cause harm to others. Unrestrained liberty will bring only chaos in the society. In the nineteenth century, the Individualists wrongly interpreted the term Liberty. They did not attach any importance to economic equality and laid stresses on Laissez Faire to be adopted by the government said Laski.

Professor H.J. Laski in his remark said that ‘Where there are rich and poor, educated and uneducated, we always find a relation of master and servant’.

Laissez faire is an economic system in which transaction between private parties are free from government intervention such as regulation, privileges, tariffs and subsidies.

Adam Smith was the ardent supporter of the view that the Individualists maintained that there should be a free competition between the capitalists and labor leaders. They did not want the government to involve in the economic matters. Formula of Demand and Supply was adopted. It was expected that the economic difficulties will be removed by this formula, but resulted in dangerous consequences in Europe.

The capitalists exploited the opportunity to the core and as a result of it, the gap between rich poor got wider. The labor class was worst affected and the reaction against individualism resulted in the dawn of Socialism. Socialism rose to condemn and refute the principles of Individualism. The transition made clear that Liberty is meaningless in the absence of economic equality.

Individualism is a political and social philosophy that emphasizes the moral worth of the individual.

Socialism is a political and economic theory the advocates the means of production, distribution and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.

Economic equality is essential for the existence of political freedom. Otherwise it will be a capitalist democracy in which the laborers will have right to vote but they will not get their purpose served. Hence liberty is possible only in socialistic democracy where liberty and equality go together. There is only one solution to liberty. It lies in equality. Thus liberty and equality are complimentary to each other said Pollard.

Problems with Equality

·              Variety of meanings: equal treatment, equal outcomes, equal opportunities (and lots of shades of meaning within these broad categories)

·              Conflicts between each type: equal treatment prevents equal outcomes; equal outcomes violates equal treatment.

·              Equal opportunities conceptually flawed by problem of regression: is education and training an outcomes or an opportunity? Is an entry level job an outcome or an opportunity?

·              Equal treatment reinforces difference in opportunities and lacks a theory of what should count as a relevant difference and irrelevant differences eg obesity.

·              Equal outcomes are not in fact generally desired as a goal: fairness rather than egalitarianism is the model of social justice being sought. Equality is an aspect of fairness, but also inequality is desired on the ground of fairness to reward ‘merit’ and to accommodate to choose a way of life.

How Equality can be promoted

The difference as we understood between liberals and socialist lead us to the desirable way of achieving the goal of equality. The wide debate on the means of promoting equality may lead us to few methods. They are,

·              Establishing formal equality

·              Equality through Differential Treatment

·              Affirmative action

Perspectives of various Ideologies on Equality by Andrew Heywood


Liberals believe that people are ‘born’ equal in the sense that they are of equal moral worth. This implies formal equality, notably Legal and political equality of opportunity, but social equality is likely to be purchased at the expense of freedom and through the penalizing of tablet. Nevertheless, whereas classical liberals emphasize the need for strict meritocracy and economic incentives, modern liberals have argued that genuine equal opportunities require relative social equality.


Conservatives have traditionally viewed society as natural hierarchical and have thus dismissed equality as an abstract and unachievable goal. Nevertheless, the new right evinces a strong industrialist belief in equality of opportunity while emphasizing the economic benefits of material inequality. 


Socialist regards equality as a fundamental value and in particular, endorse social equality. Despite shifts within social democracy towards a liberal belief of opportunity, social equality, whether in its relative (social democratic) or absolute (communist) sense, has been seen as essential to ensuring social cohesion and fraternity, establishing justice or equity and enlarging freedom in a positive sense.


Anarchists place a particular stress upon political equality, understood as an equality and absolute right to personal autonomy, implying that all forms of political inequality amount to oppression.

Anarcho-communists believe in absolute social equality achieved through the collective ownership of productive wealth.


Fascists believe that humankind is marked by racial inequality, both between leaders and followers and between the various nations or race of the world. Nevertheless, the emphasis on the nation or race implies that all members are equal, at least in terms of their core identity.


Feminists take equality to mean sexual equality, in the sense of equal rights and equal opportunities (liberal feminism) or equal social, economic power (social feminism?) irrespective of gender. However, some radical feminists argued that the demand for equality may simply lead to women being ‘male-identified’.


Ecologist advance the notion of bio centric equality, which emphasizes that all life forms have an equal right to ‘live and blossom’. Conventional notions of equality are therefore seen as anthropocentric, in that they exclude the interest of all organisms and entities other than humankind.


Heywood, Andrew. (2004) Political Ideologies: An Introduction, 4th ed. New York: Macmillan.

Ways of establishing formal Equality

Social, economic and political inequalities all over the world have been protected by customs and legal systems that prohibited some sections of society from enjoying certain kinds of opportunities and rewards. Poor were denied of right to vote. Women were not allowed to be a carrier oriented women in some part of the world. The caste system in india prevented people from the lower castes from doing anything except manual labour. In some countries only some families can occupy important positions. Equality cannot be achieved unless these privileges are stalled.

For ages these systems have the sanction of law, hence for achieving equality government intervention is needed by means of law. Our constitution as a fundamental or supreme law of the land does it. The constitution of India prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Our constitution also abolishes untouchability. Most of the modern states and democratic governments have incorporated in their constitution the principle of equality.


Equality in Indian Constitution

The concept of Equality in Indian constitution

The Indian constitution under article 14 provides for equality before law or the equal protection of laws to all persons. This is a statement of formal equality and gives meaning to what preamble seeks to ensure in terms of ‘equality of status and of opportunity’. This also means that laws of the land will apply to all equally and there should not be discrimination on grounds of birth, caste, color, gender, language, race, religion, etc. in fact article 15 of the constitution substantiates article 14 further by prohibiting any such discrimination.

Equality before law and equal protection of law have been further strengthened in the Indian constitution under article 21. It ensures that ‘No Person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law. This means that a reasonable fair and just procedure should be followed for depriving a person of his personal liberty and life. It admits no arbitrariness, discriminatory procedure or unequal treatment for different individuals’.


Right to Equality (Article 14-18)

v   Equality before law (Article 14)

v   Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion (Article 15)

v   Equality of opportunity in matters of public employments(Article 16)

v   Abolition of Untouchability (Article 17)

v   Abolition of titles (Article 18)


How Equality can be achieved through differential treatment?

It is necessary sometime to treat people differently in order to ensure that they can enjoy equal rights. Certain differences may have to be taken into account for this need. 

Some special consideration for the disabled and protection for women employees especially in the corporate and IT industries when they travel amidst work in the night are provided. These acts should not be treated as an infringement of equality but an enhancement of equality. Similarly some of the policies are needed to overcome the hindrances of equality by the government. For example, India follows the principle of reservation and other countries follow affirmative action.


Affirmative action Perception of Affirmative action

Affirmative action implies that it is not sufficient to establish formal equality by law. In order to eliminate deep rooted inequalities, some positive measures are necessary and such positive measures could minimize and eliminate slowly the entrenched forms of social inequalities. Most of the policies of affirmative action are thus designed to correct the cumulative effect of past inequalities. In our country we have adopted a policy of quotas or reserved seats in education and jobs to provide equality of opportunity to deprived groups, and this has been the subject of considerable debate and disagreement.

Affirmative Action Definition

A policy or program providing advantage for people of a minority group who are seen to have traditionally been discriminated against, with the aim of creating a more egalitarian society through preferential access to education, employment, health care, social welfare, etc

The policy has been defended on the grounds that certain groups have been victims of social prejudice and discrimination in the form of exclusion and segregation. Therefore in the interest of creating an egalitarian and just society they need to be given special protection and help. However these measures of affirmative actions are time bound and temporary. It is expected that these special consideration will enable these communities to overcome existing disadvantages with others on equal terms.

The critics of positive discrimination contend that the provision of reservation and quota arbitrarily denies  the rights of other sections right to equal treatment. They think that reservations are of reverse discrimination where the principle of equality remained questioned. Equality is meant for treating all equals instead it creates a distinction among individuals on the basis of caste and racial prejudices. Hence this theorist wants to do away with social distinctions that divide society. Whatever the debate may be the fact is health and education for rural and slum children are glaringly deprived while comparing with the children in elite schools.

These students face hurdles in gaining access to special coaching and fees for professional courses may also be high. Hence they cannot compete on equal terms with the more privileged sections. We all know that such social and economic inequalities of this kind remain as hinder to equal opportunities. Theorists of today acknowledge this but what they contest is not the goal of equal opportunity but the policies that the state should pursue to achieve the goal of equality.

Case Study

Economic Inequality and Arab Uprising

Issues like illness, hunger and thirst are often both cause and consequences. The cause of poverty are often related: one problem causes other. For example lack of safe clean water causes bad sanitation, which causes disease and disease can result in inability to work, which leads to poverty, hunger and so on.

Poverty is an issue that can threaten the stab ility of the country. For example, the Jasmine Revolution takes the authoritarian rulers in Tunisia by surprise and triggers anti-government protests across the Arab world. The 29-day-long struggle ended Ben Ali’s 23- year rule. The self-immolation by Mohammad Bouazizi, an unemployed man who was harassed by the police in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid on December 17, 2010 was the spark the ignited the Arab street. It first started the “Jasmine “Revolution (Jasmine is Tunisia’s national flower). The residents of the sleepy town, who were already angry about routine police brutality and the lack of economic opportunities, took to the streets spontaneously with “a rock in one hand and a cellphone” in the other…

A great wave of anger, frustration, defiance and democratic demand is sweeping across the Arab world. The upsurge in Arab world is not simply about democracy versus dictatorship. It is also a revolt against a manifestly unjust economic order.

Tags : Introduction, Meaning, Importance, Dimensions, Types, Problems Introduction, Meaning, Importance, Dimensions, Types, Problems
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