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Equality in inequality!

Huzaima Bukhari

“The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal”—Aristotle

With the introduction of biometric verification whereby a person can be uniquely identified by evaluating one or more distinguishing biological traits, including fingerprints, hand and earlobe geometry, retina and iris patterns, voice waves, DNA and signatures; one thing stands confirmed; no two human beings are absolutely alike. The concept of equality does not entail physical or mental uniformity nor does it mean that everybody is born with exactly the same capabilities. The truth is that the extent of diversity can be seen in every aspect of worldly life and this diversity is also reflected in all the inequalities one can easily recognize as existing around us. Therefore, as propounded by sociologists, equality is not always about treating everyone the same – it is about treating people in such a way that the outcome for each person can be the same. A multitude of examples can be put forward to elaborate upon this concept.

For the sake of understanding equality in very simple terms one can say that a balanced diet is what everyone needs irrespective of gender, social status, capabilities, income, race, ethnicity and region. This naturally implies that for the purpose of physical sustenance, we are all equal as far as balanced diet is concerned but again, even here there can be an element of difference whereby certain malfunctioning within the body may disallow the intake of certain food items. Similarly, clothes are important for modesty and protection of the body so equality demands that everyone has reasonable robes but inequality becomes apparent in the price and standard of material.  Again shelter is what each person is equally entitled to but then some get to live in palatial houses while some may be dwelling in make-shift huts. A world where every human on this earth eats the same food, wears the same clothes and lives in the same house is quite absurd and unimaginable.

A middle-class school’s classroom scenario can best be described as a place where children of all types of backgrounds are taught different subjects by the same teachers. This means that every child is subjected to the same curriculum and the same method of teaching. In other words, there is no discrimination as far as opportunity for learning is concerned. Then why is it that some pick up faster than the rest or some excel in say, mathematics whereas they may not have any inclination towards languages? Given level playing field, every child in the class should not be better or worse than his mates. This clearly means that there is a measure of inequality in all the children that is reflective in their likes, dislikes and understanding. This would eventually be obvious from the occupations they take up later in life.

Similarly, two brothers who have had the equal chance of learning the tricks of their trade may not be equally deft in their skill nor is it necessary that both enjoy the same level of prosperity. In the world of social mobility there is no fixed formula and one plus one may not always be two. In short, when we talk about equality we do not mean a military like regimentation but a behavior that is devoid of discriminatory attitude, a treatment that is not meted out on the basis of justice for some and injustice to others, encouragement not just for one’s near and dear but to anyone who merits it.

The question which emerges from this discussion is apparently, then why does equality attract so much hype when we fully understand that inequality reigns supreme? The answer lies not in turning the tables and trying to equalize the unequal but in one’s attitude. The concept of equality can be likened to a pair of sun glasses through which one views the world on a bright sunny day when the glare of the sun is toned down because of the tint.. Wherever eyes are turned or things are seen, the look would be more or less the same. This is what is demanded, generally from the individual and particularly from the government that has the responsibility of taking care of the public along with establishing rule of law. In a well-worded statement by Monica Crowley, an American political commentator and lobbyist:”True equality means holding everyone accountable in the same way, regardless of race, gender, faith, ethnicity or political ideology.”  

If governments assure their people of equality in all spheres of life, there is no reason why they would not enjoy the confidence of the public.

One basic element in the value system of Islam that distinguishes it from many faiths is the principle of equality. All are equal before Almighty Allah for Whom the only distinction between human beings is goodness and spiritual excellence. In the Holy Quran Allah says: “O mankind, verily We have created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Almighty Allah is the most righteous” (Quran, 49:13).

These verses clearly signify the importance of humility without considering oneself superior to another for whatever reason. Even where a person thinks himself as fulfilling Allah’s standards of piety, a streak of arrogance may overcome his personality and this is exactly what is forbidden because the feeling of equality can be jeopardized. 

Despite there being immense differences every human being has the right to be treated with equality and not be judged by his appearance,. Agreed that there are many places where rights of admission are reserved and only a certain class or type of people are allowed but these are usually private centres and respect for their rules is important too. However, public places and institutions should be open to all no matter which class he belongs to. Despite diversity there should be equality and as Aristotle has pointed out that to convert inequalities into equality is not less than a serious transgression.


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

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