महामांस विक्रय (Sale of human flesh) in Sanskrit Literature

In the हर्षचरित of बाणभट्ट, one of most surprising references which one can find is of महामांस विक्रय and its connection with Mahakaal. Had it been an isolated event recorded in Sanskrit literature, it could have been ignored but as S K Dikshit* has shown in his paper, there are other references of the practice available from different authors. The gist of the story mentioned by बाणभट्ट in हर्षचरित is as follows: During the festival of Mahakaal in Ujjain, Kumarasena (son/brother of Pradyota) was killed by a Vetala who was a member of the Taalajangha tribe, when Kumarasena had become too talkative during the bargaining of the sale of human flesh.

The second reference of the sale of human flesh incidentally comes from हर्षचरित itself. In this case, when Prataap-vardhana–the father of Harsha-vardhana was on his deathbed–the princes and chieftians were engaged in the sale of human flesh with the possible objective to save his life. Another reference of महामांस विक्रय as identified by S K Dikshit is from Panchatantra. In the story in which four Brahmin brothers were keen to do anything to get rid of their poverty, they embarked on a journey for reaching Ujjain. In Ujjain, they met an ascetic named Bhairavananda who provided them the option to do many rituals, out of which one was the sale of human flesh.

The next reference identified by Dikshit comes from the Sanskrit play मालतीमाधव written by the great भवभूति. In this one, when the hero of the play Maadhava realized that Maalti had been promised to someone else, he concluded that the only way to get her was to perform the ritual of महामांस विक्रय. Maadhava ended up with performing this ritual in the cemetery where Vetaala and other being were also present. One more reference identified by Dikshit of the practice comes from Sanskrit play प्रबोधचन्द्रोदय written by Krishna Mishra. In this case, a Kaapalika Saadhaka who was the devotee of Mahabhairava had offered human flesh as part of the ritual that he had performed which also involved drinking wine from the skull of a Brahmana.

Looking closely at the above references, we can infer that such practice was probably associated with certain Shaiva/Shaakta saadhaka-s who used to perform such intense rituals including असुर-विवर saadhana mentioned by बाणभट्ट. A thorough study of Tantra texts can throw more light on this practice which was not undertaken by Dikshit in his paper. It should also be noted that by the time of Harsha-vardhana, Ujjain was already established as the city of Mahakaal.

*:Dikshit, S. K. (1947). “MAHĀMĀMSA-VIKRAYA” (THE SALE OF HUMAN FLESH). Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, 10, 102–109.

Privatization of Russian Economy: What Went Wrong?

Emergence of Russian economy after the collapse of Soviet Union and how the Chicago school economists ruined the Russian economy by promoting the ideas of free market economy is quite popular amongst the people who neither understand market economy nor Soviet planned economy. I’ll try to summarize the key factors associated with this transition and how the entire process was destined to fail from the very beginning. To understand the events which happened from 1992 onwards requires a background knowledge of Soviet economy in 80s and the impact of Perestroika on Soviet economy. In 80s, Soviet economy was primarily sustaining itself on the basis of hydrocarbon export. Soviet economy was utterly unproductive, highly energy intensive and devoid of innovation except in military industrial sector. The inefficiency was concealed by the careful manipulation of prices which were deliberately kept low to show the higher efficiency on paper.

Soviet economy was unlike any economy which we know today. All the economic decisions were made by the central planning committe manned by Communist party officials. What had to be produced, how much had to be produced, where it had to be produced, where it had to be sold, wages of the workers, prices of the commodity and everything else related to economy were controlled from the top. Factories were run by the enterprise managers who were appointed by the government who operated without any economic constraint. When Gorbachev came into the power, the oil prices collapsed by 70% in the international markets in 1986 and he was left with no choice but to bring systemic reforms in Soviet economy. He brought two key reforms under the economic aspect of Perestroika – Laws on State Enterprises (LSE) and Laws on Corporations (LC). Under the first, enterprise managers were supposed to be appointed and controlled by the local Communist party officials and the control of central ministeries on factories was reduced. Under LC, three or more individuals could now form a cooperative and start their own business where government won’t intervene.

In any closed political system, bringing such reforms produce negative results. As soon as enterprise managers realized that they had more power, they used it to meet their own objectives. They increased the wages without increasing productivity. They withheld the payment of taxes and willfully colluded with local party officials to have absolute control on the affairs of their factories. One has to be mindful of the fact that enterprise managers were nothing but Communist party officials. However, what hurt the Soviet economy most was enterprise managers started transferring the assets of state owned factories to the cooperatives which they formed with the support of Communist party officials. This was a crucial factor in the debacle what Russia witnessed later. So, as a result of Gorbachev’s policies, the taxation revenue decreased, cost of running factories went up and state assets were appropriated. By the time Soviet Union collapsed, Soviet economy was suffering from substantial international debt, high inflation as a result of printing currency and recession due to the slump in output of the economy. This is the kind of economy which Boris Yeltsin inherited.

Boris Yeltsin focused on three domains to revive the Russian economy: 1. Fixing the macroeconomic fundamentals by tightly controlling the supply of currency and reduction in budgetary deficit by reducing expenditure 2. Removing the price controls in economy by letting market dynamics determine the prices 3. Privatizing the state owned companies which were extremely inefficient and unproductive. Let’s look into how Russia did in each domain. In 1992, Russia reduced its military expenditure by 80% and cut the government subsidies to the state enterprises substantially. It also resisted the pressure to increase the money supply. However, as these companies had survived only on the basis of government support and their products couldn’t compete with others in market, volume of production went down and unemployment increased. Yeltsin couldn’t continue with this policy and had to start subsidies and state support to companies again.

In the domain of price control, as Soviet economy was always a shortage economy, it was again the similar situation but with a major difference. Prices could increase based on the demand unlike the previous regime when price was fixed. Inflation increased substantially in 1992 but it gradually decreased as the supply of consumer goods increased. It was an area where Yeltsin did relatively well. The most controversial one was privatization. There were two suggested approach: gradual reform and rapid privatization. Gradual reform meant further expenditure on state support for government owned companies but Russian government did not have money left to undertake such measures. It went for the rapid privatization path. As I explained earlier, under Communist rule, the only powerful group of people were the ones who were connected with the Communist Party. This was also true when Russia was in its nascent stage. So, the only group of people who benefitted from the privatization drive were the ones having access to state machinary.

Yeltsin adopted two approach for this purpose – giving the enterprise managers and employees option to own shares in the new companies and gifting vouchers to citizens so that they could have their own share too. In reality, the first group was too powerful to let the second group have any share and the whole process was political. This process was further worsened when Yelstin realized that he might lose to Communist Party candidate in 1996 election. To finance his election expenditure, he took money from the new business magnets which he had created and in the return, he transferred the ownership of key oil and metal industries to these group of people. Russia’s then largest private oil firm Yukos was a product of such fraud. This move was the final nail in the coffin of privatization of Russian economy. So, if there are factors which are actually responsible for this entire mess then those ones include the first and foremost Communists who created such economic system, Communist party officials who appropriated the state wealth for their personal fortunes and Boris Yeltsin’s desire to hold power at any cost.

Beadabi: Blasphemy in Sikhism and Its Politics

The recent incident in which Nihangs brutally killed a man for the alleged sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib (GGS), the Nihangs justified their action by saying that it was an apt punishment for the crime of ‘Beadabi (बेअदबी)’ of their sacred book. A lot of people expressed their concern saying whether Sikhs had brought their own equivalent concept of blasphemy. The answer to this question is clearly affirmative, and it has not happened overnight. When we track the developments in Punjab in last 6-7 years, it becomes clear that sacrilege of GGS has become a big issue for Sikhs and they’ve become extremely intolerant of it. Even in the 2017 Punjab Assembly election, punishing the culprits of sacrilege of GGS was a big issue.

Continue reading “Beadabi: Blasphemy in Sikhism and Its Politics”

King as Divine in Mahabharata

The concept of considering king as divine or representation of divine finds its strongest suport in Hindu Polity in Mahabharata. In Hindu Polity, Manusmriti is the another text which affirms the king to be divine while Acharya Kautalya’s Arthashastra doesn’t accept the concept of king being divine in nature. Rather, it suggests the spies to use this concept to gauge the acceptance of king amongst the citizens. In Mahabharata, the concept of king as divine has been established in Shanti Parva as the dialogue between Bhisma and Yudhishthir after the Kurukshetra war.

Yudhishthir asks Bhisma that a king was considered to be deity in the world and what was the reason behind such consideration. In the response, Bhisma said that a similar question was asked by the King Vasuman to Brihaspati and he would tell the same answer as given by Brihaspati. In the domain of Arthashastra and Dandniti, we find frequent mention of Brihaspati as an acharya of these subjects but it’s difficult to determine whether this Brihaspati is same as the Brihaspati who is considered to be the guru of all the Deva-s. Bhasa in one of his plays had mentioned Brihaspati’s Arthashastra, and we also find quotations from Brihaspati’s Arthashastra in Veeramitrodaya of Mitra Mishra. Acharya Kautalya also cites the views of Brihaspati in multiple places in Arthashastra which gives us an idea that Brihaspati was a predecessor of Acharya Kautalya. It’s also mentioned in Mahabharata that Bhism had learnt Dandniti from Brihaspati which further complicates the matter. So, the view of Bhism here should be read as the view of Brihaspati on the concept of king being divine.

The reason given by Bhisma for considering king to be divine is that the king knows विनय (Discipline) and he implements it in his state. The word विनय here is a technical word in Hindu polity which included three aspects: Dharma, a Dharmic state and Dharmic citizens. So, विनय here shouldn’t be read as law and order or simple discipline. When the all three exist in a society, the state and Dharma prosper together. Interestingly, विनयाधिकरण of Arthashastra deals with the concepts of discipline of king and his offsprings and the duty of citizens towards the state. V S Agrawala in his book ‘पाणिनिकालीन भारतवर्ष’ has mentioned that Ashtadhyayi describes the words विनय and वैनयिक in this technical sense.

Bhisma further states that the foundation of Dharma is state which gives further credence to the idea of king being divine. In the absence of विनय, the state would descend in the state of chaos where neither Dharma will flourish nor the state will have any prosperity. For securing the overall prosperity of the state, the implementation of विनय by the ruler was of the utmost importance. Bhisma further states that it’s the fear or ruler which prevents one from killing another; it’s the king who keeps the citizens happy by following Dharma; and in the absence of king, the citizens will be unhappy like the fishes without water.

In Hindu Polity, the ruler or king is the executive authority with whom the दण्ड (the authority to implement laws) lies. In the modern context as well, when the law and order is nonexistent and authority of the low is vanquished, the state is destroyed and citizens in such states can neither engage in their professions without fear nor they can follow Dharma with freedom. The emphasis of Bhisma on the importance of king is a practical concern for the better administration of the state and prosperity of the citizens. Subsequently, Bhisma mentions what happens in a state which has descended into the state of anarchy in the absence of a righteous king.

While describing the happenings in an anarchical state, Bhisma mentions the troubles in day-to-day adversaries faced by citizens such as robbery, killing of citizens, destruction of public property, violence against older people and acharyas etc. He also mentions that when there is complete loss of law and order, neither the study of Vedas nor the performance of Yajna-s can continue without hindrance. It was also a practical concern as Purana-s mention numerous incidents of Asura-s troubling the Rishis who were performing Yajna-s in the absence of a king who could protect them. To summarize, Bhisma advocated the related concepts of king being divine as well as state being the basis of Dharma.

Temple Priesthood: The Fallacy of Egalitarian and Meritocratic Arguments

The recent event of DMK government in Tamilanadu appointing 24 government trained people as archaka-s in Hindu temples has been advertised as a move to open the opportunity of priesthood to everyone irrespective of the caste which will end the monopoly of Brahmins on priesthood. In India, citing the reason of reducing the dominance of Brahmins has become an acceptable reasoning to destroy the Hindu traditions due to prevailing hatred against Brahmins in Indian polity. Unfortunately, TN BJP didn’t protest against the move either which indicates that BJP is fine with it. People like Harsh Madhusudan have been arguing what’s the problem in appointing the trained candidate if he is the best to perform the duty vis-a-vis hereditary priests. I will seek to dismantle the argument of selecting the best possible candidate amongst the candidates interested in the work.

In every sphere of appointment including the public offices and private organizations, the method of appointment is on the basis of what variable is being tried to optimize in the process. Due to this, there is no uniformity in the method of appointment for the different posts. For example, the PM of India is appointed on the basis that he should be the leader of the party which commands the majority in Loksabha. Does this method of appointment guarantee that the best possible candidate who has all the necessary skills of leadership and administration to be chosen for the post of PM? The answer is clear no because the focus here on optimizing the element of public support due to which the one whose party has got the maximum vote, gets the opportunity to be the PM. In contrast, a private corporation seeks to maximise its profits and its method of choosing the next CEO/MD is based on the consideration that the prospective CEO should be able to optimize this variable. If we take another example of appointing the ministers of union government, it’s based on the factors such as loyalty of the person towards the party and PM, caste and religious considerations, regional factors and so on and skill of administration is the last factor though it should be the first.

In the case of temples, what we tend to forget is that before the government took over, there was an owner of the temple depending on its nature. The owner was usually the royal family in the case of bigger temples and the local community for village level temples. However, they were cognizant of the fact that they don’t get to decide on the rules related to rituals being performed as they’re elucidated in Agama Shastras which had to be followed. Within this context, they chose certain people for the role of archaka-s who transmitted the duty of serving the deity from one generation to another generation. Being an archaka is not a job where you’re maximizing profit or anything similar, that we have to select the best candidate from the available talent pool. Serving the deity is a duty towards the ancestors who had done the same and this sense of duty can’t be captured within either utilitarian or meritocratic framework. At the worst, we can accuse some of the traditional priests to be not doing their duty properly but it’s true for all the systems in which nobody performs impeccably in their job irrespective of the method of selection.

There was another argument of asking what’s the problem in case one has the calling to be the archaka and serve the deity. It’s a completely reasonable possibility that one may have such calling but this calling shouldn’t necessarily include the demand of serving the deity in only famous temples. If I’ve the calling of serving Bhagwan Vishnu or Shiva, I don’t need to be the priest in Sri Ranganath Swamy temple or any jyotirling to do so. I can get the pran pratishtha done of the deity in my own temple as per the rules and serve the deity without interfering into the existing traditions. A temple doesn’t need to have majestic shikhara or gopuram to be called a temple. Another possible way is to approach the current archaka-s who have been serving in the deity to know if there exists any such possibility of being trained within the traditional framework in the existing temples.

The system of traditional duty can be balanced with a few exceptional indovidual cases but when the state makes it a political issue to dismantle the Hindu practices, it becomes a red herring which needs to be opposed. Lest anyone comes with the argument that I’m asking for reserving the temples only for Brahmin priests, I’m asking for letting traditional priests do their duty without any interference. There are many temples where the archaka is a non-Brahmin as per the tradition and I support the right of all such priests to serve the deity. What I oppose is government going after the Hindu traditions for the myth of Social Justice with ulterior motives.

Note: The words ‘archaka’ and ‘priest’ have been used synonymously in the article for brevity, though they’re not technically similar.

Patrilocal and Matrilocal Custom: Gender Discrimination or Pragmatism?

Feminists are often found to have serious issues with the patrilocal societies in which the girl moves to her husband’s place after the marriage. In their worldview, it’s a sexist and discriminatory practice in which a girl is expected to act differently compared with what a boy is supposed to do. Not content with criticising patrilocal societies, they also have issues with matrilocal societies in which the boy moves to his wife’s residence after marriage and sets up the household. Throughout the recorded history, most of the societies are either patrilocal or matrilocal. Their imaginary world of freedom in which the boy and girl move to an independent place of their choice doesn’t exist except for a fraction of people living in truly modern society. True to their nature, they never bother understanding the genesis of a practice and the practical necessity of it. Before we proceed, it’s important to note that most of the complex societies are patrilocal while only a small number of societies are matrilocal.

But why there was a need of establishing the system of having patrilocal or matrilocal society when couples could decide the location of their residence on mutually agreed basis? Won’t that kind of freedom eradicate this inequality of residence? First, their understanding of marriage as a private affair between two individuals is not true for traditional society in which marriage is a religious and social obligation. Though marriage is between individuals, its ramifications are social in nature. Consider a society in which there are huge number of children being born out of wedlock due to rising rate of failed marriages and the property disputes arising due to it. There can be many such social consequences of a personal relationship, so society needs to set and define the rules of marriage. When we are members of any society, we also belong to a lineage and family. The most fundamental duty for a human is to ensure that his progenies are born so that the lineage doesn’t die. The importance of lineage is so important that Hindu laws used to consider the adoption of a child who was sole male child of his parents as illegal because that will render his parents without any successor.

Based on different factors, different societies had different nature of lineage such as patrilineal and matrilineal. Again, no freedom to decide the lineage except for exceptional cases because for a stable society, rules are mandatory. When the lineage is clearly defined, it also defines the rights and obligations of both the parents and children. For example, as a son knows that he belongs to the lineage of his father in patrilineal society, he immediately understands his obligation of looking after his parents, protecting the ancestral property and enhancing the wealth of family. It’s understandable that in modern urban society, many people have little to no ancestral property which is an aberration. But imagine a scenario in which child doesn’t have a lineage, how will he inherit the wealth of his ancestors from both the paternal and maternal sides? Consider the conflicts which he/she will have to deal with contenders from both the paternal and maternal sides. But when lineage is decided, he knows that he will inherit the wealth of his father along with his brothers.

Within this framework, we can now seek to understand the importance of defining the rules around place of residence. Consider a boy A belongs to a patrilineal family where he inherits the wealth of his father in the village. He wants to marry a girl B who says that she doesn’t accept the patriotical rule and wants to stay in her ancestral village after marriage. There is a practical difficulty of how will boy A manage his own property and use it for generating wealth when he is residing in a village where he owns nothing? But if the boy belonged to a matrilineal society with matrilocal rule, the problem wouldn’t have emerged as there was still a defined rule of succession and inheritance around it. In traditional society where most of the people found their livelihood in the place of their residence, it was simply absurd to expect him to move to a new place and start all over again because his wife desired so. Thankfully, people understood these things intuitively back then. The rules around place of residence also ensure that both sets of parents will be taken care by different set of children and their spouses with mandatory obligations instead of the utopian notion of freedom.

The ones who are truly committed to the modern way of life, these rules have become obsolete due to the changing reality since both the husband and wife work in places different from their birthplace and take decision based on these factors. But not everyone is committed to such way of life and the vast mass of rural India is still traditional where such rules are absolute necessity to maintain the order and stability in the society. If we start dismantling each of the rules which holds our social structure while the underlying economic structure remains unchanged, we are inviting great troubles except for feminists who care about none except themselves.

The Problem of Knowledge in Primitive and Civilised Society

The problem of knowledge in human civilization is a central problem which appears difficult to solve owing to our limited cognitive abilities, but we overcome the limitation as civilizations evolve and particular type of institutions emerge to solve the problem. In fact, we can try to study the differences between a primitive and civilised society from this perspective of problem of knowledge. Before we begin our analysis, it will be prudent to understand what do we mean by problem of knowledge. The problem of knowledge refers to the cognitive limitation of humans to be aware of all the particular facts. The particular facts include both the kind of facts – practical and theoretical. As no human is capable of acquiring the knowledge of all the particular facts, how does society function when most of the us live in the state of ignorance of overwhelming number of particular facts?

A primitive society is characterized by relative absence of division of labour amongst its members and lack of specialization. The members of the society perform similar activities, possess similar knowledge and the economic pursuits are rather limited. Such kind of society is observed amongst the smaller tribes―since with the growth of size―emergence of specialization is inevitable, not by design but by adaptation. For example, we can consider a small tribe living in a semi-tropical forest which sustains itself by hunting animals, foraging forest products and building mud houses. We will keep the political and religious considerations aside as our emphasis is on understanding the distribution of knowledge in the primitive society.

The members of the society show a very high degree of knowledge of their surrounding which includes the knowledge of climatic conditions, terrains, flora and fauna etc. In addition to that, members of the society will have similar skills of building bow and arrows and other hunting gears made exclusively of locally available materials, the knowledge of movement of animals and methods to trap them, processing of the animal carcass after it has been killed and so on. But their knowledge doesn’t get restricted to hunting alone. They also possess the knowledge of sourcing building materials and the technique to build the mud houses. If we take cognizance of knowledge of particular facts, we will realize that an average member of the society possesses the knowledge of plethora of particular facts.

When each member of the primitive society possesses such high degree of knowledge of particular facts, won’t it be unfair to call such society ‘primitive’? In our above discussion, as we have noted that the members of the society work for themselves or in a group for limited objectives, but there is lack of specialized division of labour. This effectively means that if a particular member of the society wants to specialise in building hunting gears, he won’t be able to do as others are not interested in buying his products or services. But this is a theoretical assumption as the civilized society emerged when there were incentives or external coercion for people to engage in specialized activities. But in our current discussion, if the other members of the society are not much interested in availing specialized services or products, the society doesn’t have a mechanism to utilize the distributed knowledge amongst its members.

In the writings of Karl Marx, he imagines a Communist society in which people will be free to engage in whatever activities they want in a single day ranging from fishing to intellectual sophistry. It’s just a fairy tale assumption. But in the example of primitive society, when members of the society have to do most of the tasks by themselves, people have less freedom to pursue anything of their interests. It’s almost the tyranny of the circumstances that the people are destined to engage in all the survival activities in the absence of a mechanism where there could be voluntary cooperation between people to harness the distributed knowledge for overall benefits. In reality, our primitive society is characterised by absence of specialized distributed knowledge.

Let’s shift our discussion to civilized or modern society now. In a civilized society, an average member of the society requires hundreds of products or services for leading a comfortable life. The total number of services and products in existence are in billions making it virtually impossible for anyone to have knowledge of all the particular facts. Even something as simple as pencil requires a specialized manufacturing process where raw materials come from several industries and there exists division of labour amongst the workers of the pencil factory. As we know, most of the members of the civilized society have specific specialization and their skills in other domains are next to zero. A highly skilled computer programmer is likely to be oblivious of even rudimentary knowledge of masonry. Compared to members of the primitive society, members of the civilized society have lesser knowledge of variety of particular facts but they possess a thorough understanding of limited particular facts.

As the requirement of having the functional knowledge of multiple activities is greatly reduced in a civilised society, it also enables us to engage in activities which were impossible in primitive societies. An author can afford to sustain his life comfortably without doing anything except writings provided the revenue generated from the book sales are adequate to meet his needs. But in a primitive society, even if someone decided to be an author, he had to still go for hunting or foraging to meet his daily needs. The central lesson from our above discussion is that there requires institutions which could help us overcoming the problem of knowledge resulting in the benefits of all the members of the society.

In the civilized society, institutions have evolved which have enabled us to overcome the problem of knowledge in which our ignorance of particular facts don’t deprive us of enjoying the products or services coming as a result of those facts. A person who is completely ignorant of knowledge of computer science or electronics can still have a mobile phone for his requirement in the lieu of paying a specified price. Through this institution of market, an illiterate farmer can enjoy the benefits of knowledge of mechanical engineers who helped putting together the tractor which he uses for multiple activities. The ignorance of vast mass of particular facts doesn’t affect our life in any negative way as long as we have the knowledge of our specific trade.

It must be noted here that I’ve not used the phrase ‘The Problem of Knowledge’ in the similar sense as used by A. J. Ayer. The Problem of Knowledge in this context is closer to ‘Local Knowledge Problem’ of Economics which has been expounded by Friedrich A Hayek and Thomas Sowell primarily. Please refer to Hayek’s thesis titled ‘The Use of Knowledge in Society’ for the details.

A Primer on Yajmani System

The peculiar feature of Indian society in which Jati (caste) system was the fundamental modal of socioeconomic organisation, its sustenance in the rural areas could only be ensured by Yajmani (also spelled Jajmani) system which was intricately intertwined with Jati system. In Yajmani system, the Jatis which were engaged in providing different services and products were integrated with the Jatis which were primarily agriculture producers or performed administrative activities. The discussion in subsequent paragraphs of Yajmani system will be restricted to rural areas where it is still in existence to some extent.

To understand the Yajmani system, we will start with the most common example of how the system works for someone who belongs to a Jati engaged in agriculture. A person engaged in agriculture needs different kind of services for religious and secular activities – iron ploughs for ploughing the land, bullock cart for carrying loads, leather straps for tying oxen to specific wooden implants during ploughing, service of Brahmans for conducting a wedding or any another samskara, pitchers for storing water in summer, service of barbers for regular and specific events such as death or wedding etc. In the Jati system, each of these products and services were provided by specific Jatis who specialized in their own domains.

In Yajmani system, each of the required products and services to a household was provided by the designated members of different Jatis. For example, if A needs iron ploughs, B from Luhar (blacksmith) Jati will provide the required product. The interesting thing to note here is that B has traditionally inherited A as his patron, which he is not allowed to change nor A has the option of going to a different vendor. When B passes away, his offsprings will inherit the same business relationship with the offsprings of A. It was a patron-client model in which the relationship was transmitted across generations where both the parties had guarantee of the relationship.

In this model, the mode of payment for the services and products varied on multiple factors. It was dependent on the geography, occupation of the patron and the nature of service. If the patron belonged to agricultural Jati, the payment was made after the main season of harvest in form of grains. In Eastern India, the payment was usually done using rice as it was the main cereal for the region. The amount of payment varied on the basis of nature of services rendered. Jatis which provided products used to calculate their expected payment on the basis of kind of products which they had delivered in a specific year while Jatis which provided services had a fixed payment and additional payments for specific activities. For example, a barber was given fixed amount of grains every year irrespective of the volume of services provided, but if he had also provided his services for a wedding during the year, he received an additional payment for that service.

The Yajmani system which we have described above differs greatly from the employer-employee model of the industrial world. Unlike employer-employee model, Yajmani system adopted a hereditary model in which the business relationship was carried forward across generations. In this system, if a patron was not happy with the quality of services or products rendered, he didn’t have the easier option of changing the vendor. If he wished to change the vendor, no other vendor would be ready to provide him the services as it will create a conflict amongst the members of their own Jati and violate the fundamental norm of not encroaching in the territory of fellow members of the community.

In the employer-employee model, the employer is free to terminate the employment of the employees based on the terms and conditions associated with the employment as opposed to the Yajmani system. While in pre-industrial world, the system ensured stability of the socioeconomic order as economic transactions were intimately connected with the social relationships, it took away the incentive to be entrepreneurial and innovative. As the producers or service providers were assured of definite base of patrons, they had no incentive to innovate as there was no additional reward associated with it. The chances of gaining an additional patron were slim owing to the social norms and the potential patron already having their own service providers. Having said that, Yajmani system was a functional social institution in a world where there was no clear difference between economic and social relationships and they often converged.

Equality of Opportunity: An Introduction – I

Amongst the many concepts of equality, probably the most widely known and accepted concept of equality is ‘equality of opportunity’. Equality of opportunity in the fundamental sense means a type of society in which all the positions available in the society should be open to everyone and the means to occupy that position should also be open to everyone. This is generally known as formal equality of opportunity and another variant of its is known as substantive equality of opportunity in which special provisions are made to ensure level playing fields amongst the people. We will first discuss the format equality of opportunity before moving to the substantive one.

The fundamental assumption behind the equality of opportunity is that it accepts the existence of hierarchies in the society. It recognizes the fact that there exists special posts in the society which confer certain special benefits on the people occupying those posts. The reason for the existence of hierarchies can be biological, social or political. To understand it in simple way, let’s take the example of a parliamentary democracy in which PM has special privileges. Proponents of formal equality of opportunity in absolute sense would say that anyone should be eligible to contest for the post of PM who is a member of that political society or citizens. But does it happen in the reality? One needs to fulfill requirements related to minimum age, not being convicted for certain types of criminal offences etc. even though it’s open to everyone theoretically. If we are imposing a criterion of minimum age, aren’t we violating the concept of non-discrimination on the basis of biological factors? One way to resolve this conflict is to argue that since everyone would theoretically cross the minimum age threshold at some point of time, it’s not really a form of discrimination.

Equality of opportunity is often contrasted against traditional societies in which public posts were not open to everyone and the ones who were born in specific families had distinct advantages. When the son of military general was chosen to succeed his father, it was a case of eligibility of certain posts being decided on birth than merit. It’s tempting to ask here if having a democratic society is prerequisite to enforce formal equality of opportunity. I had read a Twitter thread written by a propaganda handle of Chinese Communist Party arguing that China practices its own nature of democracy based on equality of opportunity. His argument was that every Chinese citizen to free to join Chinese Communist Party, rise through the hierarchy and occupy the top position. So, even in a totalitarian political system, if the position of dictator is theoretically open to everyone without any restrictions on birth, gender or race, it will still conform to the ideals of equality of opportunity.

Over the time, it was realized that formal equality of opportunity was not enough. It was not enough because even if the available posts are open to everyone, everyone is not equipped to compete on equal terms owing to their different socioeconomic status. For example, if there are two students A and B who have equal aptitude in Maths, Physics and Chemistry while A is born in a family of professor while B is born in a family of peasant, does both of them have equal opportunity to qualify for IITs? IITs just require you to clear JEE Mains and Advanced. Proponents of substantive equality of opportunity will tell that A has advantage over B owing to his socioeconomic status and special measures are needed to ensure that A and B have equal opportunity.

The role of state in enforcing formal equality of opportunity was limited, but the state has to take additional steps to ensure substantive equality of opportunity. There is also another challenge of differences in not only individuals but amongst the groups. In India, it was reasoned that certain castes suffer from social and economic backwardness and they can compete with other castes on equal terms only when they’re given special privileges. Hence, reservation was given to them to achieve substantive equality of opportunity. In US, affirmative action was implemented to have quota for some racial groups such as Blacks and Hispanics.

In the next installment, I’ll cover the controversial subject of equality of opportunity in public versus private domain and criticism of both – formal and substantive equality of opportunity.

Communism and Equality

In Communist framework, the concept of equality is central to the goal of communist society, but this equality is different from any other form of equality we know. Communists don’t refer to political equality where people have equal political rights, legal equality as in being equal before the law or even equality of outcomes where people have equal amount of wealth. Neither Communists predicate their ideas of equality on the social constructionist and Left liberal assumption of all men being equal in abilities and capabilities where they’re born equal. All such incorrect understanding comes from not reading Communist literature and conflating the concepts of Left liberalism with those of Communism.

In Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels declared the goal of Communism in a single line: abolition of the private property. The concept of equality within Communism has to be understood within the framework of abolition of private property. In Communism, equality means equality of people with regards to their position in social production as per Lenin. Communists were cognizant of the fact that the concept of political equality where citizens have equal civil rights is not the kind of equality which they seek. Their concept of equality lies in how different classes are placed vis-a-vis means of production. The bourgeoisie class owns the means of production and benefits from appropriation of values produced by proletariat while proletariat thrives on wages by selling their labour. This is the inequality which they seek to address.

The only way to remove this inequality of classes vis-a-vis their position with means of production is to abolish the concept of private property. When parivate property is abolished altogether, the classes of bourgeoise and proletariat cease to exist. Every means of production is publicly owned in the hypothetical Communist society. It’s obvious that to abolish private property, dictatorship of proletariat is necessary to abolish the private property owned by the bourgeoisie. There are often people wondering if Communists are in favour of equality, why didn’t they distribute the property of bourgeoisie equally after snatching it away from them in Soviet Union or China? The answer lies in the central goal of Communism I.e. abolition of private property, as redistribution would have again ensured that people have private property. In reality, goal of Communism is to make everyone a slave of state by abolishing private property.

When classsical liberals criticized Communists for advocating such radical concept of equality when humans are not equal in their physical and mental abilities, Lenin wrote in response, “It goes without saying that in this respect men are not equal. No sensible person and no socialist forgets this. But this kind of equality has nothing whatever to do with socialism.” He further added, “The abolition of classes means placing all citizens on an equal footing with regard to the means of production belonging to society as a whole.” So, Marxism or Communism never envisioned their concept of equality on the basis of assumption that all men are equal in terms of their capabilities or strengths and hence, that should be reflected in the outcomes as well. Neither the concept of political equality espoused by Enlightenment era iberals nor the concept of equality advocated by Communists is based on the assumption that all men have equal potential or abilities.