Atanu Dey On India's Development

Disguised Apartheid is also Morally Repugnant like Naked Apartheid

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Nelson Mandela’s death is an appropriate occasion to reflect on the fact that apartheid is no longer a state policy in South Africa. And also to recognize that the accounts of the death of apartheid are quite exaggerated.

What exactly is apartheid? The Merriam-Webster defines it as “a former social system in South Africa in which black people and people from other racial groups did not have the same political and economic rights as white people and were forced to live separately from white people.” It is the systematic and legally enforced segregation of people.

Let’s understand that it is discrimination for or against a person based a person’s membership in a particular group. It is a means of negating a person’s intrinsic worth and judging a person merely based on some characteristics that one is born with such as race or the color of his skin. Let’s also remember that apartheid is based on laws, that it is legal. Whether or not it is moral, it is always legal. The laws of the state make apartheid a reality.

South Africa got rid of the naked apartheid it had as state policy but that is only one of the more egregious examples. There are countries in the world today where they still have it in a disguised form. There are parts of the world where all people are not treated equally. In these parts of the world, like in places with apartheid, people are categorized or segregated into groups and rules apply differentially to them.

India is well acquainted with a version of apartheid. I am referring to the caste system. A caste system is not intrinsically bad. A caste is a kinship group: people are born into it and identify with their kinship group. That identification is voluntary and does not imply oppression and therefore it is not objectionable. What is objectionable is when an individual is discriminated against merely for belonging to that group. And the worst offence is when an individual is discriminated against by the state for belonging to a group.

Let me underline that: it is not an individual discriminating against another individual but rather the state discriminating between groups and judging individuals as worthy or unworthy based on their group affiliation. This kind of discrimination is not consistent with an enlightened, progressive, modern society. Any society that legally discriminates against persons based on group membership is retarded and backward.

India is a shining example of a country in which the state affirmatively discriminates against people based on their kinship group. In India, the laws do not apply equally to all people regardless of their group affiliation. Depending on the religion of the person or some other irrelevant characteristic, the state determines what the person is worthy of.

This subtle form of apartheid is very much alive and thriving in India. People don’t recognize it as such because they are so immersed in it. It is too encompassing to be of note, just like water is to fish. In India, as a matter of policy all people are equal but some are “more equal” than others, to borrow from George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

India will only become free from this disguised apartheid when people gain a sense of fairness and revolt against the state’s legal discrimination. It may not be that apparent but in reality this state sanctioned disguised apartheid is fueling the cold civil war that is slowly destroying India.

Is there a way out? Yes. Indians have to rise up against the Government and prevent it from imposing this apartheid. People must demand that all individuals must be equal before the law and that there cannot be different laws for different people. Disguised apartheid is as morally repugnant as naked apartheid.