Changing Concept of Social Justice and Reservation in India

By Dr. Rajkumar Singh | Published: 2:00 AM Sep 28 2021
Columns Changing Concept of Social Justice and Reservation in India

By Dr. Rajkumar Singh 

The whole concept and structure of social justice and reservation in India revolve around three commonalities of definitions given so far; a. equal rights, b. equal opportunities and c. equal treatment. At large, it is concerned with the distribution of benefits and burdens. The basis of distribution is the area of conflict between rights, needs, and means. These three criteria can be put under two concepts of equality - formal equality and proportional equality.

 Formal equality means that law treats everyone equal, while the concept of egalitarian equality is the concept of proportional equality and it expects the States to take affirmative action in favour of disadvantaged sections of society within the framework of democratic polity. 

In this context, it encompasses a series of works done in sequence as it is the virtue which guides us in creating those organised human interactions we call institutions and when they are justly organised they provide us with access to what is good for the person, both individually and in our association with others. It imposes on each of us a personal responsibility to work with others to design and continually perfect our institutions as tools for personal and social development. 

Status in India 

As India is among the nations that upholds the principle of social justice, it was resolved in the preamble of the Constitution of Independent India, which secures social, political, economic justice to all its citizens and to make it a reality and address the myriad of problems because of caste, gender, religion, culture, tradition and others. A number of measures are provided in constitutional articles, amendments as well as through social movements, Government and non-Government organisations to achieve peace and security and respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

 It was a result of the centuries of exploitation in the name of caste and creed which split the society even today in various segments/factions leading to social tension and sometimes struggle too. Therefore, it aims to achieve/create a social status free from oppression, inequality, and discrimination at every stage to improve their socio-economic positions. 

To ensure the entire theory and practice of social justice the system of affirmative action or reservation was introduced with the implementation of the Constitution which clearly decides for historically disadvantaged groups, first to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, but later expanded to backward classes, women, the handicapped and others over the decades and years in spheres of education, employment and politics. 

Concept of justice analysed 

The word ‘Justice’ conceives pre-modern and modern meaning when applied in context of society and in literal sense includes two words- niti and nayaya. While niti is about what is right in terms of propriety, conduct and behaviour, nayaya is about what is just, not as an abstraction but as a realised outcome. It is always interpreted in social context and denotes a situation less than just, where prevails inequalities, a status not accepted as normal by the society. 

In the broadest sense, justice is the principle that people receive that which they deserve as Plato defines it, “Justice is the having and doing of what is one’s own. A just man is a man in just the right place, doing his best and giving the precise equivalent of what he has received. This applies both at the individual level and at the universal level.” 

Social justice explained 

With the passage of time and coming in 18th and 19th Centuries when the political climate changed and socio-economic transformation took place, the concept of justice underwent a subtle change and adopted two approaches-contractarian and comparative. In contractarian approach from Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, JeanJacques Rousseau to Immanuel Kant, social contract was considered an ideal alternative to prevailing chaos. 

This approach brought two essential foundations of justice - a just society as an idea and arrangement of institutions and rules that deliver a just society, they all agree that justice is derived from the mutual agreement of everyone, or in many versions, from what they would agree to under hypothetical conditions including equality and absence of bias, which, in practice means, an equal ground for all people involved in a disagreement.

 In line, the comparative approach has its origin in the works of Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham, Karl Marx, and John Stuart Mill which focus on social realisation resulting from actual institutions and its behaviour. In this approach of justice there are two essential inherent ideas - the first seeks to concentrate on comparison of situations as more just or less unjust, while the second seeks to focus on realisation in terms of outcomes for the people which may be just, unjust, more just or less unjust.

 In the context, ‘Social Justice’ is a term placed between comparative and contractarian approaches contextualised in society where justice is conceptualised in abstract principles of jurisprudence and in the sense social justice is an ideal construct which creates a society which ensures rights and opportunities for all people, irrespective of whether the State steps in to provide these rights and opportunities. 

The cognition of this reality goes back a very long time, it however, began to jump into reality as a result of the Industrial Revolution and subsequent democratic movements in Europe and elsewhere the concept of social justice emerged in the 19th Century with an aim to establish more egalitarian communities and eradicate capitalist exploitation of human labour and mainly concentrated on money, land, and wealth distribution. 

Soon thereafter, in 20th Century the scope of social justice widened to include the environment, race, gender, and other causes and manifestations of injustice and going a step forward it adopted other aspects of social life apart from mere economy. 

And gradually it also crossed the national boundary to include the universal human element as the United Nations declared that slaves, exploited workers, and marginalised women are above all abused human beings whose position is of less significance than their circumstances. In this sphere justice itself has acquired three components-legal, commutative, and distributive. Legal justice is about what people owe society, commutative justice addresses what people owe each other while distributive justice is about what the society owes the individual. 

About the Author: Dr. Rajkumar Singh, Professor and Head Department of Political Science Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences Bhupendra Narayan Mandal University Madhepura-852113. Bihar, India. [email protected] 

By Dr. Rajkumar Singh | Published: 2:00 AM Sep 28 2021

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