The Hindu Editorial – 14th September 2017

i) Equality for what?

In 1820 the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, in his magnificently crafted Philosophy of Right, had written with some despair of the moral squalor and of the ravages that poverty brings in its wake. The state of poverty, he argued, is not an aberration, it is a product of industrial society, of the overproduction and under consumption which marks this social order. But it is precisely society that banishes its victims to the twilight zone of collective life. Here, removed from the advantages of solidarity that civil society offers, the poor are reduced to a heap of fragmented atoms, rabble, poebel. When the standard of living of a large mass of people falls below a certain subsistence level, he wrote, we see a loss of the sense of right and wrong, of honesty and of self-respect. “Against nature man can claim no right, but once society is established, poverty immediately takes the form of a wrong done to one class by another.”Hegel suggests that poverty is a social phenomenon. One, society is complicit in the creation and recreation of poverty. Destitution, that is, is the outcome of a skewed economy. Two, poverty breeds unfortunate consequences, such as suffering, which seriously demoralises human beings. Three, the existence of large numbers of the poor pose a direct threat to the social order, simply because the poor are (justly) resentful of their exclusion from the benefits of society.We should be seriously reflecting on Hegel’s criticism of a society that refuses to correct the wrongs it has heaped on its own people, in the light of the research findings of the economist Thomas Piketty and his colleague Lucas Chancel.

Inequality in India

In a paper aptly titled ‘Indian income inequality, 1922-2014: From British Raj to Billionaire Raj?’, they conclude that income inequality in India is at the highest level since 1922, when the country’s income tax law was conceived, and that the top 1% earners corner 22% of income. These research findings should send a powerful warning signal to power elites, leaders who prefer to concentrate on the politics of beef, brutal repression of dissent, and curtailment of basic human freedoms, even as the lives of thousands of Indians are mired in mind-numbing poverty.There is more to the proposition that some persons are poor beyond belief, and others are rich beyond belief in India. P is poor, we can say, when she does not possess access to the basic resources which enable q, or s, or m to consume nutritious food, avoid ill health, attend school, take up a job, and own a home, let alone go on holiday or possess a car. This implies that p is not just poor, she is unequal to q, s, or m, since the latter three, unlike p, have access to certain advantages that p does not. Poverty is the effect of inequality as well as the prime signifier of inequality. And inequality is demeaning.

Implications for society

Arguably, inequality is not only a matter of statistics. It is a shattering reflection on the kind of society we live in. Logically, if the economic ordering of society is responsible for ill-being, it is obliged to remedy the wrongs that it has visited upon the heads of the poor. This constitutes a basic code of justice. People who have been wronged are entitled to ask for justice. If justice is not delivered, inequalities are reinforced and compounded over time.Resultantly, people fated to occupy the lowliest rungs of the social ladder are not only denied access to basic material requirements that enable them to live a decent life, they are likely to be socially overlooked, politically irrelevant except in times of elections when their votes bring parties into power, disdained, and subjected to disrespect in and through the practices of everyday life. To be unequal is to be denied the opportunity to participate in social, economic, and cultural transactions from a plane of equality.Starkly put, the presence of massive inequality reflects sharply and pejoratively on the kind of social relations that we find in India. Because these social relationships are indisputably unequal, they cannot but be entrenched in massive discrimination and exploitation. Can we reflect on inequality without taking on exploitation and discrimination? And unless we confront these background inequalities directly, will not inequality continue to be produced and reproduced along with the production and reproduction of a lopsided social order, indeed as an integral part of this order?

Morality of mutual respect

Let us not understate the implications of inequality, it violates a basic democratic norm: the equal standing of citizens. Persons have equal standing because each human being has certain capacities in common with other human beings, for instance, the capacity to make her own history in concert with other human beings. Of course the histories that persons make might not be the histories they chose to make, but this is not the issue at hand. What is important is that each person realises this ability.The principle of equal standing generates at least two robust principles of democratic morality. For one, equality is a relation that obtains between persons in respect of some fundamental characteristic that they share in common. Equality is, morally speaking, a default principle. Therefore, and this is the second postulate, persons should not be discriminated against on grounds such as race, caste, gender, ethnicity, sexual preferences, disability, or class. These features of the human condition are morally irrelevant.These two postulates of political morality yield the following implications. To treat persons equally because they possess equal standing is to treat them with respect. The idea that one should treat persons with respect not only because some of these persons possess some special skill or talent, for example skilled cricketers, gifted musicians, or literary giants, but because persons are human beings, is by now part of common sense morality. If someone were to ask, ‘equality for what’, we can answer that equality assures equal standing and respect, and respect is an essential prerequisite for the making of human beings who can participate in the multiple transactions of society from a position of confidence and self-respect. If they cannot do so, the government is simply not taking the well-being of its citizens seriously.There is urgent need, in the face of government inaction and insensitivity towards people trapped in inequality as a social relation to invoke the collective conscience of Indian citizens. If the right to equality is violated, citizens should be exercised or agitated about this violation. But for this to occur, for society to feel deeply about the right on offer, we have to incorporate the right to equality into political thinking, into our values, and into political vocabularies. The project requires the harnessing of creative imagination and courage on the one hand, and careful reasoning, persuasion, and dialogue on the other. The task also demands the investment of rather high degrees of energy and time. But this is essential because a political consensus on what constitutes, or should constitute the basic rules of society, is central to our collective lives. The political is not a given, it has to be constructed, as Karl Marx had told us long ago, through determined and sustained political intervention.

ii) Cambodian slide

The crackdown in Cambodia is taking the form of criminalisation of the opposition and the media by Prime Minister Hun Sen ahead of the 2018 national elections. This slide into political regression is particularly troubling, as the country is still recovering from the memory of the genocide at the hands of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. Cambodia has enjoyed relative prosperity in recent years thanks to the boom in garment exports and tourism; it can ill-afford political unrest. Its democracy too is a work in progress, and while the long-ruling Hun Sen has never been an ideal democrat, in recent years his autocratic tendencies have become increasingly more pronounced. The detention earlier this month of Kem Sokha, leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), on charges of treason, was accompanied by circumstances that led to the closure of an independent newspaper. In July, the government promulgated a law that enables the banning of political parties with connections to criminal convicts. Mr. Hun Sen, a former commander of the Khmer Rouge, whose lengthy rule since 1985 is often compared to the tenure of other dictators, is anxious to tighten his grip on the levers of power. Recently he declared his intent to carry on for another two terms. But it was the CNRP that made significant gains in the local body elections this June, even as the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) retained a majority of seats.In his campaign during that election, Mr. Hun Sen barely concealed the instincts of a ruthless dictator when he openly threatened civil war in the event of the CPP losing the elections. Earlier, under its veteran leader Sam Rainsy, who is in self-imposed exile, the CNRP had challenged Mr. Hun Sen’s 2013 re-election and extracted major concessions at the end of a protracted political crisis. The allusion in the latest treason charge is to Mr. Kem Sokha’s comments before an Australian audience some years ago, pointing to the level of desperation in the ruling dispensation. The current political turmoil in Cambodia reflects an on-going shift in international influence in the decades following the genocide. The U.S. had been closely involved in the restoration of democratic stability in the country, and the Cambodian turnaround is one of the United Nations’ great success stories. But recent years have seen a dramatic rise in Beijing’s bilateral and regional engagement with Phnom Penh, which under Mr. Hun Sen is using the great power rivalry to evade accountability by his regime. Cambodia’s cancellation of the annual joint military exercises with the U.S. this year coincided with the first such engagement with China, underscoring the extent of the changing dynamics of big power diplomacy in Southeast Asia. The ‘America First’ approach under President Donald Trump is not likely to alter this trend. It is left to the international community to keep a sustained focus on Cambodia, and underline how precariously placed the Cambodian recovery still is.


1) Despair

Meaning: The complete loss or absence of hope.

Example:A voice full of self-hatred and despair.

Synonym: Hopelessness, Desperation

Antonym: Hope, Joy

2) Squalor

Meaning: The state of being extremely dirty and unpleasant, especially as a result of poverty or neglect.

Example:They lived in squalor and disease.

Synonym: Dirt, Filth

Antonym: Cleanliness

3) Ravages

Meaning: The destructive effects of something.

Example:His face had withstood the ravages of time.

Synonym: Damaging effects

4) Aberration

Meaning: A departure from what is normal, usual, or expected, typically an unwelcome one.

Example:They described the outbreak of violence in the area as an aberration.

Synonym: Anomaly, Deviation

5) Twilight zone

Meaning: A situation or conceptual area that is characterized by being undefined, intermediate, or mysterious.

Example:The twilight zone between the middle and working classes.

6) Solidarity

Meaning: Unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group.

Example:Factory workers voiced solidarity with the striking students.

Synonym: Unanimity, Unity

8) Destitution

Meaning: Poverty so extreme that one lacks the means to provide for oneself.

Example:The family faced eviction and destitution.

Synonym: Poverty, Impoverishment

Antonym: Wealth

9) Skewed

Meaning: Make biased or distorted in a way that is regarded as inaccurate, unfair, or misleading; suddenly change direction or position.

Example:The curriculum is skewed towards the practical subjects.

10) Resentful

Meaning: Feeling or expressing bitterness or indignation at having been treated unfairly.

Example:He was angry and resentful of their intrusion.

Synonym: Aggrieved, Indignant

Antonym: Satisfied, Contented

11) Conceived

Meaning: Form or devise (a plan or idea) in the mind.

Example:The dam project was originally conceived in 1977.

Synonym: Devise, Frame

12) Dissent

Meaning: The holding or expression of opinions at variance with those commonly or officially held.

Example:There was no dissent from this view.

Synonym: Disagreement, Argument

Antonym: Agreement, Acceptance

13) Curtailment

Meaning: The action or fact of reducing or restricting something.

Example:The curtailment of human rights.

Synonym: Reduction, Cut

Antonym: Increase, Expansion

14) Mind-numbing

Meaning:So extreme or intense as to prevent normal thought.

Example:Conversations of mind-numbing tedium.

15) Demeaning

Meaning: Cause a severe loss in the dignity of and respect for (someone or something).

Example:I had demeaned the profession.

Synonym: Degrading, Humiliating

Antonym: Dignify, Exalt

16) Implications

Meaning: A likely consequence of something.

Example:Many people are unaware of the implications of such reforms.

Synonym: Consequences, Result

17) Shattering

Meaning: Upset (someone) greatly.

Example:Everyone was shattered by the news.

Synonym: Devastate, Shock

Antonym: Please, Excite

18) Obliged

Meaning: Do as (someone) asks or desires in order to help or please them.

Example:Oblige me by not being sorry for yourself.

Synonym: Indulge, Gratify

Meaning: Strengthen or support (an object or substance), especially with additional material.

Example:The helmet has been reinforced with a double layer of cork.

Synonym: Strengthen, Fortify

20) Rungs

Meaning: A horizontal support on a ladder for a person’s foot.

Example:We must ensure that the low-skilled do not get trapped on the bottom rung.

21) Disdained

Meaning: Consider to be unworthy of one’s consideration.

Example:He disdained his patients as an inferior rabble.

Synonym: Scorn, Deride

Antonym: Respect, Value

22) Starkly

Meaning: In an unpleasantly or sharply clear way.

Example:Her motivations contrast starkly with Clara’s.

23) Pejoratively

Meaning: Expressing contempt or disapproval.

Example:Permissiveness is used almost universally as a pejorative term.

Synonym: Disparaging, Derogatory

Antonym: Complimentary

24) Entrenched

Meaning: Establish (an attitude, habit, or belief) so firmly that change is very difficult or unlikely.

Example:Ageism is entrenched in our society.

Synonym: Establish, Settle

Antonym: Dislodge, Superficial

25) Discrimination

Meaning: Recognition and understanding of the difference between one thing and another.

Example:Discrimination between right and wrong.

Synonym: Differentiation, Distinction

26) Confront

Meaning: Face up to and deal with (a problem or difficulty).

Example:We knew we couldn’t ignore the race issue and decided we’d confront it head on.

Synonym: Tackle, Address

Antonym: Avoid

27) Lopsided

Meaning: With one side lower or smaller than the other.

Example:A lopsided grin.

Synonym: Asymmetrical, Unsymmetrical

Antonym: Even, Level, Balanced

28) Postulate

Meaning: Suggest or assume the existence, fact, or truth of (something) as a basis for reasoning, discussion, or belief.

Example:His theory postulated a rotatory movement for hurricanes.

Synonym: Suggest, Advance

29) Harnessing

Meaning: Control and make use of (natural resources), especially to produce energy.

Example:Attempts to harness solar energy.

Synonym: Control, Exploit

Antonym: Underuse

30) Persuasion

Meaning: A belief or set of beliefs, especially religious or political ones.

Example:Writers of all political persuasions.

Synonym: Belief, Opinion

31) Regression

Meaning: A return to a former or less developed state.

Example:It is easy to blame unrest on economic regression.

32) Detention

Meaning: The action of detaining someone or the state of being detained in official custody.

Example:The fifteen people arrested were still in police detention.

Synonym: Custody, Imprisonment

33) Treason

Meaning: The crime of betraying one’s country, especially by attempting to kill or overthrow the sovereign or government.

Example:They were convicted of treason

Synonym: Treachery, Less-majesty

Antonym: Allegiance, Loyalty

34) Promulgated

Meaning:Put (a law or decree) into effect by official proclamation; promote or make widely known (an idea or cause).

Example:In January 1852 the new Constitution was promulgated.

Synonym: Enact, Implement

35) Retained

Meaning: Continue to have (something); keep possession of.

Example:Labour retained the seat.

Synonym: Keep, Keep possession of

Antonym: Lose, Abolish

36) Ruthless

Meaning: Having or showing no pity or compassion for others.

Example:A ruthless manipulator.

Synonym: Merciless, Pitiless

Antonym: Merciful, Compassionate

37) Self-imposed

Meaning: (of a task or circumstance) imposed on oneself, not by an external force.

Example:He went into self-imposed exile.

38) Protracted

Meaning:Lasting for a long time or longer than expected or usual.

Example:A protracted and bitter dispute.

39) Dispensation

Meaning: A political, religious, or social system prevailing at a particular time.

Example:Scholarship is conveyed to a wider audience than under the old dispensation.

Synonym: System, Order

40) Turmoil

Meaning:A state of great disturbance, confusion, or uncertainty.

Example:The country was in turmoil.

Synonym: Confusion, Turbulence

Antonym: Calm, Peace

41) Evade

Meaning: avoid dealing with or accepting (something unpleasant or morally or legally required).

Example:He never sought to evade responsibility for his actions.

Synonym: Elude, Avoid

Antonym: Confront

42) Precariously

Meaning: In a way that is uncertain or dependent on chance.

Example:A country poised precariously between economic boom and social catastrophe.