The term "social justice" implies several sound and eminently desirable concepts enunciated for the good of society in general, and of course it covers fair play for every section, especially the weaker groups in the population.
This seems unexceptionable and no one, however prejudiced or narrow minded, would object to the promotion of this ideal. And yet the actions of countless people in this country, day after day, believe their words.
The reckless flouting of the concept of social justice, and the denial of equal opportunities in life which this postulates, all reflect a tendency that is anti-national and marks totally unfair and unjustified behavior.
In this defiance of the basic laws of human justice, the educated intelligent people are as guilty as their ignorant, unlettered compatriots in the countryside.
We may start with certain provisions of the Constitution, which is the fundamental law of the land. The preamble itself says: "We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign, socialist and democratic Republic and to secure to all its citizens—Justice, social, economic and political...." Clearly, social justice in all its forms and to all citizens was regarded as fundamental to the set-up which our founding fathers prescribed for the country; it is mentioned on top of the other equally sound concepts, and yet this very concept is being violated by countless people with amazing impunity, without fear.
In fact, many would say that it is absurd to talk of social justice in this country, because almost all the traditional and prevalent systems are loaded against social and economic justice. The Preamble provides for "equality of status and of opportunity...." In reality, neither equality of status nor of opportunity is assured.
There are distinct classes in society which stick to their privileges and refuse to share their riches and assets with others, even while crores of people live in misery and perpetually groan under the burden of unfair practices, unjust policies and gross inequalities.
The State, according to Article 15(1) of the Constitution, "shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, and place of birth or any of them." The State, officially, indeed does not differentiate between man and man on any of these grounds, but at the same time the government and the administrative machinery have proved incapable of enforcing this provision.
How else are we to explain the countless cases of social and economic injustice, the increasing inequalities in most spheres of human activity and the endless discrimination against the weaker sections of society, especially Harijans and members of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes? The harassment and the cruelties inflicted on them by landlords in the villages are common knowledge.
The lands granted to them have in many cases been grabbed by greedy people; and the equal rights guaranteed to them under the laws of the land are denied to them by selfish people.
The pity is that the law and order machinery (the police) generally favors the richer classes and other oppressors. No one actively takes up the case of the down-trodden people, despite the high-sounding laws of the land and the impressive proclamations issued by the President of India and his ministers.
The reservations in government services, assured to the weaker sections of society, have not benefited the really needy people, because there is virtually no end to impostors who wangle documents, certificates, the facilities and grants given by the government.
The Benami transactions in land, the deceptions and the endless frauds in allotment of surplus land, houses, plots, etc., all amount to denial of economic justice to lakhs of people urgently in need of relief. The government passes laws for promoting social justice in various fields, but these are not strictly enforced; thus the government may also be held guilty. It bows to various pressures.
Chapter III of the Constitution, entitled "Fundamental Rights", enumerates a series of rights which all Indian citizens are supposed to enjoy, and yet the number of people who are able to enjoy these rights in practice is much less than those who are denied their exercise. Their life continues to be one long, tragic and heart-breaking story of deprivation and sufferings through official and public apathy.
Their colossal poverty is a permanent handicap which prevents them from seeking redress from the courts, for grave wrongs done to them month after month by men in privileged positions, and also those who are protected by the men in power; ministers and legislators, in effect their patrons. In other words, they are all partners in the guilt and deserve to be hauled up for violating the Constitution and many other social reform laws passed by the Parliament.
Article 23 of the Constitution specifically prohibits traffic in human beings, "begar" and other similar forms of forced labour, and any contravention of this provision, it is stated, shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law. But how many people guilty of such defiance have beer, caught and punished? Economic exploitation of labour continues with a vengeance—by capitalists, unscrupulous employers, landlords and others, including senior government officials sand yet no one bothers. There is mere talk and promise, but no concrete action to redress injustices.
Corruption itself is a form of exploitation, because people holding key positions extort money in the shape of bribes, gifts and services, even for rendering simple services which are their duty. This process makes total nonsense of "equality of opportunity" guaranteed under the Constitution. Only those who have money can give bribes and grease the palms of greedy people.
The rest have to suffer through the bureaucratic ways, especially red tape, which in itself involves injustices to the countless people whose petitions or applications are kept pending for months, sometimes years. And yet, does anyone in this country suffer for causing harassment and frustration to these people through red tape?
Wherever we may go, and whichever sphere we might study, we shall come across numerous cases where justice has been continuously denied to innocent citizens. Are all those who cause such denial not morally and legal guilty, and are they not punishable under the law? And yet, even the idea of hauling up highly placed offenders does not occur to the powers that be. The hapless citizen, of course, suffers in silence. The number of people in India who are suffering in silence must be legion. Almost the entire nation is suffering in silence.
There is no discipline, and there are hardly any morals. The absences of these vital traits of character signify the absence of social and economic justice. The argument that the police do not have their heart in the job, because of the relatively low salaries they are paid and the fact that their own senior officials do not assert themselves is hardly convincing. There is no sign of justice or fair play in any sphere of activity. It is injustice and corruption on all over.
Justice is becoming scarcer with every passing year. The coming years hold little promise of restoring social injustice in the country.