By Zafar Ahmad
Society is a complex web of individuals with different potentials, organized under different groups with unequal access to power, resources and in modern time social services, constituting a social spectrum that manifests inequality. The inequality has remained persistent throughout the known history in varying degrees but exacerbating under the specter of capitalism.
Scholars have viewed inequality differently – some consider it as necessary, thus, inevitable, while many others contend that such views envisage a society which is least human. Therefore, they later think ‘the point is to change’ the unequal society with a more egalitarian one. Such efforts ultimately led to the emergence of left wing politics, which though controversial helps in envisaging the negative impacts of inequality.
Pieces of evidence from the world including Pakistan suggest that despite a decrease in poverty inequality has grown drastically. 8 capitalists control more than half of the world’s riches. Inequality in various forms is well evident in Pakistan. Income inequality, in the form of economic class, has ensured unequal access of people to various social services. For instance, there is class based education system: English Model Schools for the elite class, private schools for the middle class, public schools for the lower middle and lower class children. Finally, there are seminaries for those who are just on poverty line or below the poverty line. Additionally, millions of children never attend schools to work as child laborers.
The class based education has become the roots of many social evils. Those who study in elite class schools remain largely unconcerned with the usual issues of society. On the other hand, those coming from the government schools lack many skills to be efficient for society. While, many religious seminaries with their exclusivist interpretation of faith create zealots, bringing intolerance and radicalization in society.
Similarly, the class system ensures class based health services. Public hospitals, where mostly middle and lower class people go, lack many basic facilities for the patients. People dying on the floors of hospitals is not new in Pakistan while many people never have any access to even the most basic health facilities. Besides, poor people’s humiliations in public hospitals are a routine business.
The worst form of inequality, however, is the gender inequality, the tenet of patriarchal societies. Women, 48.76% of the population in Pakistan, are the most marginalized section of society who largely kept deprived of their basic rights such as education, share in the property, have no say in deciding crucial issues related to their lives and much more. The patriarchal culture preserves gender discrimination and prejudices which are manifested through misogynistic attitudes and practices in society. Through gender socialization, the society transmits gender discrimination to the next generations. Quite often such discriminatory attitudes are legalized through laws. Such as the ‘Hudood Laws by the former dictator General Ziaul Haq caged women making the country even more harsh for women.
The politics of religious parties has further made the society harsh for women, who resist to any legislation related to women rights. For instance, the hues and cries of religious parties against the legislation like ‘the Women Protection Act 2006’ and the Punjab Protection of Women against Violence’ are the practical examples of how religion and politics are exploited to preserve misogyny in our society.
Finally, there is the caste system, the form of inequality usually prevalent in rural and tribal society. The caste system, which though reflects diversity, may become the cause of conflicts and rivalry in many circumstances. Politicians abuse caste system which in many cases is as dangerous as exploiting religion for the sake of politic is.
In short, Pakistani society is largely unequal. The leftist politics which aims to address inequality is sharply declining. The far-leftists were brutally persecuted during the ‘sacred’ era of Zia, while the leftist parties are on the sharp decline due to contesting on hostile pitches and prevailed radicalization in society. Today’s PPP and the ANP are no longer leftist parties in the real sense. Additionally, the decline of the left in the international politics with the parallel rise of far-rightists seem to have made ‘inequality as a norm’. The thriving of the PTI, a rightwing party, repeats the same story. The remarks of the ruling party’s MNA that ‘poor are born to serve the rich’ and the derogatory remarks of former defense minister Khawja Asif about PTI’s Shireen Mazari give the dark side of our society for the underprivileged portion.
All these along with the triumph of capitalism with the parallel surrender of socialism apparently suggests inequality has become inevitable. Moreover, the demise of the left further suggests that the negative impacts of inequality largely remain unnoticed. Thus, despite a reduction in global poverty, the gap between the rich and the poor has rapidly risen.
(The writer is M.Phil Scholar at the Department of Sociology, University of Peshawar).