Like liberty, equality is also an important concept of Political Science. Equality is a democratic ideal and in this age of democracy, it is the sine qua non of a democratic govt. The history of mankind is the history of equality and liberty. Throughout the nook and corner of the world the march of equality is received with cheers. Whether it is the fight of Dr. Nelson Mandela against racial discrimination in South Africa or Sue Kyi's fight against the military regime in Myanmar Republic (Burma), we notice and hear the voice of equality. As no two men are equal in their physical appearances, temperaments and capacities the question of equality assumes greater importance. We talk of equality because people are inequal. The American Declaration of Independence (1776) proclaims that "all men are created equal" and the French Declaration of Rights of Man (1789) says "Men are born and always continue to be free and equal in respect of their rights. Therefore, equality is the cherished aim of every individual in this world.
Equality literally means a levelling process whereby the difference between the rich and the poor can be minimised. To Prof. Laski it "implies fundamentally a levelling process. It means that no man shall be placed in society that he can overreach his neighbour to the extent which constitutes a denial of the latter's citizenship". It is essential for social justice. As no two men are equal and as inequality is a naked truth of our very existence, the term 'equality' is given much more importance.
Equality to Prof. Barker is a derivative value. It is derived from the supreme value of the development of personality- in each alike and equally but each along its own different line and of its own separate motion.
According to Prof. H. J. Laski the term equality has a threefold implication.
(a) It means the absence of special privilege.
(b) It means not equal opportunity but adequate opportunity for all individuals to develop their inner potentialities.
(c) It also means that the minimum and urgent claims of all must be met before we can meet the particular claim of some.
Thus, Laski is of the opinion that special privilege is the negation of equality and adequate opportunity is to be provided to all individuals. Identity of treatment does not convey the true meaning of equality. Adequate opportunity means that the right man must get the right opportunity and not equal distribution of paternal property among the successors. It gives priority to the urgent claims of all as against the particular claim of some. An example is given to clarify this point. Providing for drinking water is the urgent claim of all. Provision for providing a Television set to a club by the government is the particular claim of some. If we are to choose between provision for drinking water and provision for T.V set, our priority must be fixed on the first one.
To G. Sartori "equality has so many facets and so many implications that after we have examined it from all angles we are left with a feeling of not having really mastered it."
Thus, as a whole equality does not mean absolute equality in all spheres and to every person. It does not aim at identity of treatment as intellectual and physical capacity varies. It opposes discriminatory treatment. It means complete and absolute equality at the bottom most level and then equal opportunity to develop one's inner potentiality.
Types of Equality
Equality is of different types. From the beginning of human civilization and the quest for knowledge, the political philosophers have tried to analyse this concept. Plato, Aristotle etc. have advocated for the principle of natural inequality which implies that nature has made men inequal in capacity and temperament as a result some are superiors to others. But on the contrary Hobbes etc. have talked of natural equality. Nature has made men equal as a weak man can kill a strong man through secret machination and confederacy. But it is Prof. Laski and Prof. Barker who have elaborately discussed on different kinds of equality.
Prof. H. J. Laski, in his book "Grammar of politics", talked about Economic equality and Political equality. Prof Barker talks of Legal equality and Social equality. Lord Bryce writes about four types of equality namely (1) civil equality (2) political equality (3) social equality and (4) natural equality. The different types of equality are discussed below.
(A) Legal Equality or Civil Equality :
It means that all are equal in the eyes of law and there is rule of law. It also means equal opportunity must be provided by law to all without any discrimination. All persons must be subjected to same civil law and without this democracy will be a theoretical absurdity.
(B) Social Equality :
It means that all citizens in a society must be treated at par with each other and there will be no discriminatory treatment on the ground of race, sex, religion, education, caste etc. The Preamble of our Constitution aims at social equality and the directive principles of state policy further strengthens our cherished ambition. The division of society by 'Mandal' and 'Mandir' is not in conformity with the goal set by the makers of the constitution. They are used by nasty politicians to create vote banks for them and to gain cheap popularity at the cost of national interest.
(C) Political Equality :
Political equality is the nerve-centre of a democratic polity. Democracy emerged and thrives on this principle. It means that all the people must be provided with equal right in the field of voting, contesting and holding public offices. The highest office of the land is within the reach of a common man in the street. To form political party, to canvass and to mobilise public opinion in favour of a particular political party comes within the scope of political equality as in political sphere discriminatory treatment is dispensed with.
(D) Economic Equality :
It means that wealth should be enjoyed by all equally. It was Karl Marx who opined that without economic equality, political equality is meaningless. "He who pays the Piper orders the tune" is the acceptable principle of the society. He who holds the economic lever holds the political lever too. To Lord Bryce it means "the attempt to expunge all differences in wealth, allotting to every man and woman an equal share of worldly goods". It does not mean equality of income but it definitely means right of an individual to be provided with equal opportunity in the matter of public employment.
(E) Natural Equality :
It is said that all men are born equal. But a close look will reveal that it is not true. Nature has not endowed same ability to every individual. We should have to understand the term 'natural equality' in proper spirit. It means that artificial or man-made inequality must be respected and equality before law with adequate opportunity must be the rightful claim of every individual.
(F) National Equality :
National equality means that all the nations of the world are equal. With the growth of international outlook the idea of 'one world one state' has been put forth by some writers to save this world from atomic warfare. The concepts of International Law' and 'Family of Nations' have emerged. All nations are equal in the eyes of international law while dealing with other nations of the world.
Thus, to conclude, equality is an abstract concept with a magical touch that has inspired timid millions to revolt in the past. Political philosophers and revolutionaries have used this concept profusely to win over the hearts of the common man. Thus, democracy as a form of government and a way of life can succeed only when there is equality in general and political equality in particular.