I heard and read the expression ‘social justice’ when I was in my school days. It was often mentioned in my civics book. But it was only part of a compulsory lesson; it made no sense to me. Lower caste, upper caste, economic equality and social injustice were dead counters to me. I played with the children of our servants, sometimes shared with them the stolen guavas of an orchard.
A little later, when I joined the college, the term became somewhat clear. Although of middle class origin, my father managed to admit me to a good government college of north Bihar. There for the first time I learnt what casteism is.
In the election of office bearers in the hostel the votes were divided according to caste. I personally felt no difference, but the others were very rigid. This was visible in a more violent form in the college elections. The Bhumihars were dead opposed to the Yadvas and the Brahmins to the Shudras. I had an intimate friend who was Paswan by title as well as caste. He was poor by living and dress. But I loved and liked him because he was very sharp in mathematics, which was my weak point. Once, one of my friends abused me for mixing with him and for sharing food with him. At first the point was not clear to me, but gradually I realized the matter.
Some of the lower caste boys were in worse condition. Their parents were not wealthy, and they were looked down upon by the upper caste boys. Even in the class this lower and upper distinction was noticeable. The professor in charge of the ‘poor boys fund’ was a Brahmin. In the list of students that were given grants out of the fund, the name of my poor friend did not appear. Among those who received grants there were some who were meritorious but not poor. This struck me for the first time as an instance of social injustice. He had scanty clothing and often borrowed books from me. It was clear to me that the Brahmin professor at the head of the committee had organized a lobby. Only those who were influential among the backwards reaped something from the fund.
Among the remedies, the first is to man all posts with men of character and impartial outlook. He must, necessarily, belong to some caste or the other. But such petty considerations can never influence a man of strong character. Such persons are obviously less in a society, but ten healthy potatoes command greater strength and nourishment than hundred rotten eggs. Secondly, the curse of poverty has to be removed. The contempt for poor that is affecting the health of the nation like a virus shall automatically disappear if their poverty is removed. This is one of the basic theories of Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi.
It goes without saying that the rich and poor are man-made distinctions. To treat the poor as ignorant and fool is silly. Even the poorest of the poor is sometimes much more meritorious than the rich and the privileged. Even the most crippling poverty could not check the progress of men like Vidyasagar and Rajendra Prasad. Talents are not the exclusive privilege of a particular community. Naturally we ought to see that more and more opportunities for learning are given to men at large.
These alone can cure our society of its deep rooted evils. A politics that is dominated by money can never cure social injustice, for money breeds corruption. Money unites the corrupt elements in a country across caste lines. Therefore a person that holds the stings of the country’s purse must be chosen with absolute care. Otherwise we shall bury our nation’s fate under the burden of democratic theories. Remedy shall be worse than the disease.
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