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.

Downside of Using Woke Jargons for Hindu Narrative

Whenever I oppose the attempt of Hindus to be a participant in the identity politics madness of Western world which emanates from the fusion of theories and concepts emerging from the broad fields of Literary Theories, Postcolonial Studies and Postmodernism, I get a predictable response along the line of turning the existing concepts on their own heads and utilizing those for our interests. The response is a characteristic of the great deal of confusion which these theories have created and for a person not very well versed in the terminologies of these fields, it does appear that these concepts can be used for our leverage. There are many examples of such concepts such as the concept of referring us as indigenous (already critiqued in the past), subaltern, epistemic violence, neocolonialism etc. by people who at least theoretically claim that they’re helping Hindus in building their narrative in global world. Their confidence is probably a reflection of their entry level position in Western academia where such theories are in vogue.

The first question is why can’t we use these terms if they’re so malleable and lack a definite meaning? Why can’t Hindus refer themselves as subaltern in the global context since we have been the recipients of Islamic and British colonialism for past 1200 years broadly? The answer is relatively simple – because these terms are the exclusive creation of the Left and they’ve complete monopoly over how these words are defined. The definition of the words and the groups which will be covered under the definition are dependent on the Left’s political considerations rather than the actual realities. Irrespective of the space and time, Hinduism is seen as an evil system which needs eradication by Left while Hindus need to be freed from the clutches of Hinduism. Alliance of Left and Islam in global context is a complex phenomenon which is based on the ability of Islam to inflict violence on its enemies and the assessment of Left which considers Islam to be the counteracting force of Western civilization.

To give a very simple example of how Left defines the meaning of these words, take the word ‘subaltern’ into our consideration. A general reader understands subaltern as someone who doesn’t have any privileges, faces multiple disadvantages in the current world, lacks access to power etc. But that’s very superficial understanding of the term and Left doesn’t understand the term in such generic way. Last year, an Indic portal had published an article on Holi using the paradigm of subaltern to argue that Hindus are subalterns whose opinions are being excluded from public discourse. The word ‘subaltern’ in the context of Postcolonial Studies has been popularized by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak who is extremely influential postcolonial theorist. She is the one who popularized Derrida in American universities to a great extent. How does she define subaltern? She defines subaltern as someone who has no access to cultural imperialism. A Hindu will think that we have no access to cultural imperialism, so we are by definition subaltern. But in the world of Postcolonial theories and Postmodernism, Hinduism is seen as vehicle of cultural imperialism which deprived the real indigenous people of India their own narrative and cultural understanding by replacing it with their Brahminical values. So, Hindus are seen as cultural imperialists while Muslims, Dalits and tribals are seen as subalterns in India.

But a more persistent person will say that we will appeal to the Global Left that what their colleagues from India have been informing them about Hinduism is not true and we will show that we are actually oppressed. This is based on the assumption that Global Left doesn’t know the reality of Hinduism and it’s an impartial collectivity which provides equal space to everyone. If one believes so, it’s a testimony of their complete ignorance of history and ideology of Left. Left will immediately brand such person as Hindu supremacist who uses the theories meant for real subalterns for their benefits, and such attempts should be treated as the crime of cultural appropriation. In fact, Meera Nanda has written on how Hindutva movement tries to use Postmodernism for their own benefits from a critical perspective. Left doesn’t only create the new concepts but guards its zealously against the ones who seek to appropriate those, as these concepts are the expression and tools of Left’s power dynamics.

Gayatri Spivak had clarified it in 1980s that subaltern doesn’t mean oppressed and if someone wants to claim subaltern status because they’re from a minority group in college campus, they can’t be granted the status of subaltern. In current context, Rashmi Samant of Oxford University who was bullied by Left, doesn’t deserve the protection accorded to a subaltern since she has access to cultural imperialism (Hinduism). In their framework, she is an oppressor who still undertakes the endeavour of cultural imperialism by practicing Hinduism. Epistemic violence which is used by a certain individual now and often is another term coined by the very same Gayatri Spivok by utilizing the concept of Episteme as defined by Michael Foucault. Like the term subaltern, it has their own criterion to classify something as epistemic violence. All these concepts are already being taught to Hindu students in Indian universities in relevant disciplines which alienate them from Hinduism and bring rich dividends for the Left. Whatever may the be case and irrespective of the person propagating Critical Theories, Postmodernism, Postcolonialism etc. should be opposed with all the efforts because once can only confuse and mislead the Hindus who aren’t well acquainted with Left and their power dynamics.

Feminism, Intersectionality and Transgender Movement

In recent days, I had made many satirical tweets couched in the language of transgender politics and as expected, European feminists descended on my timeline to call me misogynist who was taking away women’s rights. The result was along the expected lines and it was the primary reason why I had made those tweets. Though I had to protect my account for a while because they were acting like crazy, it affirmed what I have been tracking for a year now.

As it’s getting increasingly evident, most of the feminists now a days due to intersectionality principle align themselves with the broader LBGT movement which also include transgender rights. But within the feminist movement, there exists a strand which is extremely critical of patriarchy and toxic masculinity while at the same time, it’s also critical of transgender movement which in their view is a male supremacist movement. Feminist Current is one such feminist publication based out of Canada which adopts this view. But why are they against the transgender movement? I’ll try to explain their rationale without a critique of their position.

In the classical feminist theory, sex is considered to be biological and innate while gender is assumed to be a social construction based on the sex. As sex is biological, the expression of womanhood and the associated developments are also biological. In this framework, feminists advocated for women being proud of their womanhood and more aware about their distinction from men. At the same time, gender roles by the virtue of being patriarchal products were something to be shunned and eliminated. But, this didn’t mean that women had to give up things such as motherhood which is essential to women alone but they were encouraged to embrace and celebrate this distinction.

In the transgender movement, the basic premise of feminist understanding of sex has been demolished. It assumes that sex is a social construction while gender is innate to the body but not necessarily biological. Gender is more to do with feeling than biology. In this framework, as sex is not biological, transgender movement argues that one doesn’t need to be born as woman to be referred as woman. This is the reason behind the campaign for letting men who have transitioned into women to allow in women’s sports, change of language such as renaming mother to birthing parent, letting them into women’s washrooms etc. The kind of feminists whom I’ve described in the above paragraph are extremely critical of such attempts.

According to these feminists, transgender movement is a male supremacist movement which seeks to snatch away the rights which women have received as a result of their prolonged struggle. Heather Brunskell-Evans who is a feminist ideologue of this class argues in her book ‘Transgender Body Politics’ that ‘transgender movement is a regressive men’s rights movement’ under the guise of liberalism. They believe that the men who transition into women by undergoing surgeries are not necessarily women yet they ask for all those rights which women have due to their struggle. Not only that, by arguing that getting pregnant or giving birth is not limited to women alone, they’re eroding the most basic aspect of womanhood.

In Feminist Current, an article was recently published in which the author Brenda Brooks argued that due to transgender movement, there existed a significant number of girls who were currently undergoing puberty, were being forced to transition into men by the heightened sense of gender dysphoria. She writes, “In the UK, the number of children being referred for gender reassignment went from 77 in 2009 to 2,590 in 2018-19. But most striking of all is who is being referred — in 2017, according to The Guardian, 70 per cent of referrals were female.” She further adds, “The most authentic betrayal is leading girls into surgeries that remove their healthy breasts, endanger their health, and doom them to a lifetime of medical oversight.”

What’s interesting for people like us who prefer to watch Feminist movement from sidelines is that with the recent push of transgender movement due to Biden’s presidency will further increase the chasm within the feminist movement. The difference between intersectional feminists and the feminists adhering to its classical form will only grow to produce more such entertainment. It will be good to see whether the spectre of intersectionality prevails or the monster of old feminism gets another round of rejuvenation.

The Economic ‘Non-Logic’ of Reservation for Locals in Private Sector

The socialist paradise of India doesn’t leave any stone unturned in destroying the businesses and labour market because it believes that it can change the rules of Economics by political maneuvering because such attempts often bring vote. The latest entrant in this field is M L Khattar whose government has brought the law to provide 75% reservation for the locals of Haryana in private sector jobs in organized sector which pay monthly salary up to ₹50,000. Companies will have to provide the demographic data of workers in every 3 months to the government to show that they’re compliant to the new law.

While the Economic illiteracy of BJP leaders is on different plane, what nobody seems to ask is what is the current composition of migrant workers in the work force of Haryana in the sector for which the new law will be applicable. According to 2001 Census, the population of interstate immigrant into Haryana was 14% of the total population which included every type of migration such as migration due to marriage, education etc. However, the share of people migrating for jobs is the highest for interstate migration. I tried finding the data of interstate immigrants in the labour market of Haryana but was unable to find, though there must have been studies around it.

The state government while introducing the bill hasn’t cited the figure to justify that the share of interstate immigrant labour is more than 25% in the category under consideration. Looking at the broad figure which I’ve cited above, it’s quite likely that the percentage is already below 25 and the 75% rule will only increase the cost of businesses while providing political dividends to the government. Coming to the economic rationale of imposing such quota in private sector, there exists none. The government has absolutely no authority to determine on what factors a private firm hires its workers though it’s increasingly being the norm. When the government brings such arbitrary criteria, the labour market has to deal with an additional variable which is completely driven by political consideration. At the firm level, the primary consideration to hire a worker is the skills of the worker and the wage at which he will be ready to work. A company has no reason to discriminate against a person based on his place of birth or residence as it brings no positive economic output for the firm.

What will be the possible consequences of the law? First, the harassment of the businesses by the government will further increase which already have to follow hundreds of regulations under labour laws, environmental laws etc. Control breeds corruption and the companies will try their best to show that they’re compliant even if it means paying the bribery. As the cost of the business increases, the companies which are planning to establish themselves in Haryana will be dissuaded from doing so in the event of added cost. From the hiring perspective, as the pool of available worker shrinks, the companies will be forced to pay higher wages without getting commensurate economic outputs. But there is the catch. A government can impose restrictions of all sorts only when the job exists in the market but when companies shift their base and jobs vanish, who will be under their purview? Simply none and everyone else will be worse off and especially the natives who will be forced to migrate elsewhere.

As the law will apply for organized sector primarily, it also provides incentive for the unorganized sector to remain unorganized lest they’re ready to face another compliance burden. It’s very similar to MSME sector of India where the firms have incentive to remain small, inefficient and less productive as government provides several advantages to businesses in this sector. Business owners typically go for the vertical separation of businesses when they wish to grow to ensure that their old and new corporation will enjoy the same status under MSME instead of making the existing firm grow bigger.

In India, the laws provide incentive to remain economically inefficient and this will be another addition to the list. I had hoped that the governor wouldn’t give assent to the bill but since it has been provided, the saffron socialists open the another path of madness which will be followed soon by many states.

Physis and Nomos: The Building Blocks of Political Philosophy

The beginning of Western Political Philosophy starts with an important distinction between two aspects of the world – nature (physis) and convention (nomos). This was the conception of Classical Greek Philosophy which shaped how the field of political philosophy will evolve in the future. But why do we start with that distinction in the first place? Is there really a rigid distinction between nature and convention or there is an interdependent relationship between these two? To answer it, we will have to understand how Greeks understood nature and convention. For Classical Greek philosophers, nature was not created nor it was grown artificially. A tree is not grown or created by a human in the same sense as we create a terracotta figure. The latter is definitely an art. In contrast, convention or law is by tradition since we have been doing things in a particular way. Here, by law, I don’t mean legislation enacted by modern nation states where legislation is intended to achieve specific social, political or economic objectives. I consider law to be evolutionary and self emergent instead of constructed rationally. It has been elaborated by F A Hayek in details in his seminal work ‘Law, Legislation and Liberty’.

To determine what right humans should have in a political community, the distinction between nature and convention was important. Humans definitely fall in the realm of nature, but it’s undeniable fact that we are governed by conventions which are either explicit or implicit. The explicit conventions are known as laws which are formally implemented in the sense a violation of law attracts punishment. But there are implicit norms such as social conventions around marriage which are generally not violated, though there is no authority punishing you for violation. The question emerges regarding whether these conventions created by human institutions curtail our natural freedom which we get by the virtue of being humans. Is it possible that we have certain set of rights which exist automatically without any convention? For example, we have the ability to write after learning alphabet but what script one learns is more a function of convention. In Classical Political Philosophy, these rights were termed as natural rights which humans get by the virtue of merely being humans, while rights granted by law or convention are positive rights.

When we accept that there are natural rights which exist independent of convention, aren’t we arguing for establishing the rule of nature? And what are the characteristics of the rule of nature? In Hindu Political theory, when there is absence of rule of Dharma, it’s termed as मत्स्यन्याय (matsyanyay) which roughly means the stronger preying on weaker. Inequality of human beings in different domains is a fact which can’t be denied by anyone. So, the genius of Hindu Political theory advocates the fundamental fact that rights of humans can’t be protected unless there is an external authority enforcing it. This is not to say that there is no natural order of things which is also known as Rta in Hindu Philosophy, but natural order of things need to be upheld as it’s done by Varuna. In Arthashastra, Acharya Kautalya recommends establishing the murti of Varuna in prisons showing the importance of Varuna in upholding the natural order of things.

Coming back to our distinction of natural and positive rights in the context of strong preying on the weaker ones, isn’t it obvious that an external factor needs to be employed to protect natural rights? If we consider freedom to be a natural right of humans and there is another personal violating the freedom of the first person, the natural right of the first person becomes an imaginary object. How will the rights of other person be protected? And the answer lies in positive rights established by convention or law which will protect the rights of one against another. In Renaissance era, political philosophers used the concept of natural rights to argue for the formation of state such as social contract theory in which humans enter into a contract with each other to form a political institution which will safeguard their rights against one another. At the same time, natural rights can be used to argue against every human law by postulating that a law created by humans can never be just since it’s not rooted in natural order of things.

How did Hindu political thinkers postulate the origin of state? We have two divergent views. The classical view espoused in Mahabharata and Aitreya Brahamana is based on social contract theory. As the story goes, members of the society decided to elect a king who will execute rule of the law in the return of 1/6th of payment of produce to the ruler. There is no divine rights of kingship here, but a basic recognition of political factors. The other view has been elucidated in Panchatantra, which is closer to the actual political realities. Panchatantra espouses the position that the origin of state lies in the will to power and it’s the power which determines the rulership instead of any form of social contract. The kings in Panchatantra are seldom sagacious while it’s generally the council of ministers deliberating on citizen centric policies which shield them from the despondency of the king. In either case, at the fundamental level, the distinction between physis and nomos was rooted in empirical realities which shaped the direction of Western political thought for almost two millennia.


1. History of Political Philosophy, edited by Leo Strauss

Constituents of the State in Hindu Polity

Hindu Political thinkers and texts dealing with polity have deliberated on the conception of elements of state or what factors constitute a state quite comprehensively. Though there exists sort of consensus on what are the elements of the state, but there exists some interesting variations as well. I’ll be considering the views of Arthashastra, Manava Dharma Shastra (Manusmriti), Yagyvalkya Smriti, Kamandaka’s Nitisara and Brihaspati’s Arthshastra to provide a synopsis of the concept. The elements of the state in Hindu polity are often referred as limb (अंग). Starting with the Arthashastra of Acharya Kautalya, he considers that state has 7 elements: The sovereign (King or Republic council depending on the type of government), The Ministry, The country (राष्ट्र or जनपद), Capital (दुर्ग/नगर), State exchequer, Army and Allies.

The view of Acharya Kautalya is the traditional view of the Hindu Polity as this is accepted by Yagyvalkya Smriti as well. Kamandak in Nitisara upholds the position of Acharya Kautalya and as Kamandak also quotes from Brihaspati’s Arthshastra in his Nitisara, we also know that Brihaspati was of the same opinion. The text which differed from this was Manusmriti which didn’t consider the sovereign and allies as elements of a state. The exclusion of allies might be explained by the fact that the time period in which Manusmriti was written and the place where it was written, the kings of the neighbourhood states were antagonists which reduced the importance of allies. But Kamandaka in his Nitisara gives a glimpse of international affairs of the Hindu Polity. According to him, there was a concept of मंडल (mandala) in which four states were allies of each other which ensured the twin purpose of maintaining the balance of power and strategic peace.

Then exclusion of sovereign from the list of elements of state is due to an explicit proclamation in Manusmriti regarding the question of real sovereign. In the eyes of Acharya Kautalya, a king is sovereign as he is the one excutes the law (दण्ड) since without a king, there will be no enforcement of law. Obviously, the old principle of Hindu Polity was still upheld in this arrangement that Dharma is supreme and the king doesn’t enjoy Sovereign Immunity. If a king errs in administration of law, he will be fined as per Acharya Kautalya. He is subject to the trial of law and not above it. This is in direct contrast to the maxim of ‘Queen can do no wrong’ of Britain or Bhutan’s prevalent law that the king can’t be subjected to the law. Even in Nepal whrn Hindu monarchy existed, they had abandoned this principle of Hindu Polity and accepted that king can’t be subjected to the law.

Manusmriti says that the real sovereign is धर्म (dharma) and a king should never administer the law alone. It’s a fact that king never administered the law alone in Hindu Polity and the concept of trial by jury and independent judges (धर्मस्थ) have been mentioned in Arthashastra, but as Manusmriti provided a common law code for both Dharma (religious/sacerdotal) and Artha laws (civil and criminal laws), this provision of real sovereignty was made more explicit with the provision that only a Brahmin could be the judge of civil court while making no such claim on the judgeship of criminal court. Manusmriti also limits the law making authority of the king.

When it comes to the question of which element amongst the seven is the most important, Acharya Kautalya gives the rule that the element mentioned first is the most important and the importance of succeeding elements decreases in series. This is logical in the view that allies who are external to the state have been mentioned at the end. The high importance of council of ministers is the reminiscent of the old vedic tradition of समिति (samiti) which had the law making authority of popular will. Vedic literature has termed सभा (sabha) and समिति (samiti) as the two daughters of प्रजापति (Prajapati). Council of ministers has been treated as king-maker in Brahmana-s such as Aitareya Brahman while Acharya Kautalya had termed council of ministers as eyes of the ruler. The importance of capital, state exchequer and army is fairly obvious and perceptible to modern eyes as well.