Equality is an important value in human society. Equality does not mean uniformity. When we say all are equal what we mean, is that all have to be treated equally. Aristotle’s approach to equality, had a narrow scope. In modern times, the meaning of equality has broadened. Empathy, tolerance, self-respect are aspects that are included in the understanding of equality. Hence, equality has a moral and collective dimension. In addition, today, equality is also looked at as a political goal.

Equality comes from the Middle French word equalité, which descended from the Latin aequalitas, with meanings that are essentially identical across the millennia referring to sameness of amount as well as of status or of shape.

History of Equality:

Aristotle had propounded the idea of equality in the ancient Greek city state system. His idea of equality was confined to the citizens of the city state. His idea of equality developed with reference to the ruler and the ruled. He considered them naturally unequal on the basis of their inequalities in intellectual and administrative abilities. In Athens, the term citizens excluded foreigners, slaves and women. Aristotle tried to reduce inequality through the idea of a constitution. He sought to remove the concept of special status and advocated equality before law. In his book ‘The Politics’ he explained the co-relation between equality and justice.

Thomas Hobbes propounded the idea of natural equality in his book ‘Leviathan’. Hobbes argued that despite having physical and intellectual inequality, all individuals must be treated as equals. It is important that every individual has certain rights as a human being.

Leviathan or The Matter, commonly referred to as Leviathan, is a book written by Thomas Hobbes and published in 1651.Its name derives from the biblical Leviathan. The work concerns the structure of society and legitimate government, and is regarded as one of the earliest and most influential examples of social contract theory.

Rousseau argued, that inequality is also created due to differences in physical strength and abilities of individuals. He suggested that equality can be brought in through natural law.

Karl Marx rejected the liberal idea of equality and propounded the socialist idea of equality. According to him, equality can be achieved through the creation of a classless society. Marx gave importance to emancipation of workers from exploitation and equal distribution of means of production.

According to Tocqueville, equality is necessary for ending dependency and slavery of people. He argued that people give more importance to equality rather than democracy. However, this does not mean that equality is achieved through the denial of freedom.

Importance of Equality :

(i) Equality is necessary to create just conditions. Equality is about ensuring that every individual has an equal opportunity to make the most of their lives and talents. It is also the belief that no one should have poorer life chances because of the way they were born, where they come from, what they believe, or whether they have a disability.

(ii)Equality recognises that historically certain groups of people with protected characteristics such as race, disability, sex and sexual orientation have experienced discrimination.

(iii) Equality is necessary for mutual respect amongst members of a society. The equal opportunity for development of individuals is possible only, when there is respect for each other.

Facets of Equality :

  • Equality before law and equal protection of law:

Law treats all citizens equally and it is equally applicable to everyone. Rich and poor, strong and weak may not necessarily have the ability to implement this principle.

Article 14 of the Constitution of India reads as under:

 “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.”

The said Article is clearly in two parts – while it commands the State not to deny to any person ‘equality before law’, it also commands the State not to deny the ‘equal protection of the laws’. Equality before law prohibits discrimination. It is a negative concept. The concept of ‘equal protection of the laws’ requires the State to give special treatment to persons in different situations in order to establish equality amongst all. It is positive in character. Therefore, the necessary corollary to this would be that equals would be treated equally, whilst un-equals would have to be treated unequally.

Article 15 secures the citizens from every sort of discrimination by the State, on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth or any of them. However, this Article does not prevent the State from making any special provisions for women or children. Further, it also allows the State to extend special provisions for socially and economically backward classes for their advancement. It applies to the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) as well.

  • Equality of Opportunity:

 Everyone should get equal opportunity for the development of their personality and enhance their qualities.

Article 16 assures equality of opportunity in matters of public employment and prevents the State from any sort of discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them. This Article also provides the autonomy to the State to grant special provisions for the backward classes, under-represented States, SC & ST for posts under the State. Local candidates may also be given preference is certain posts. Reservation of posts for people of a certain religion or denomination in a religious or denominational institution will not be deemed illegal.

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