Democracy without Equality and Social Justice

DemocracyNoam Chomsky once said, “In this terminal phase of human existence, democracy and equality are more than just ideals to be valued, they may be essential to survive.”

Democracy signifies a government of the people, for the people and by the people. But does the significance of democracy end in a definition? Doesn’t the essence of a democratic nation fade away if it exists in name but not in practice?

Human history is proof enough of the fact that in the modern world, democracy is perhaps the only form of government, which has withstood the test of time. Hasn’t everything from dictatorship to oligarchy been tried and failed?

In a democracy, all individuals have the right to contest elections and participate in government formation. On paper every citizen does have these rights, but what about the ground reality? Millions of people worldwide have to undergo a daily struggle for food, water and a roof over their heads. How can they be expected to actively participate in governance? When disease, destitution, hunger and illiteracy prevail, can there be mass participation in the democracy? Isn’t economic equality thus paramount for the success of any democracy?

Women constitute a sizeable, if not major portion of the population of any nation. Yet the term gender equality wasn’t even heard of during the medieval period. The beginning of the twentieth century has seen a sea of change. With the global thrust on human rights and social justice it became evident that the essence of a democracy is truly realized when women are accorded an equal status in society.

The term social justice implies a political and cultural balance of the diverse interests in society. Thus, nurturing pluralism is the only means by which social justice can be secured which is indeed a dynamic process because human societies have higher goals to attain.

Democracy concerns the well being, prosperity and recognition and respect for the citizen. Can that aim be obtained if the essential prerequisites for a democracy are absent? Only when a citizen has his/her basic requirements for survival taken care of, only when an individual lives with dignity; only in such a situation can a democracy be truly effective.

It might sound utopian, but it is what reality needs to look like if democracy is to be of any more worth than its predecessors or contemporaries in governance.

Uttara Balakrishnan