Justly Unequal

The unlikely history of our greatest delusion

01 March 2013
British sociologist Michael Young’s book presents a fictional report, from AD 2034, of 163 years of a meritocratic society.

AMONG THE FLURRY OF COMMENTS MADE LAST month over what Ashis Nandy is alleged to have meant or not meant at the Jaipur Literature Festival, none were more mystifying than his own subsequent explanations. At Jaipur, where it all began, he started with what seemed like an intelligent if badly phrased challenge to middle-class myopia around corruption, a myopia that had generated many months of chest-beating on the streets and in the newsrooms. This is what he originally said: “It is a fact that most of the corrupt come from the OBCs and the Scheduled Castes and now, increasingly, Scheduled Tribes, and as long as this is the case, the Indian republic will survive.” This is what I thought he meant: an upper-class person has cultural capital, and a phone call to Daddy’s old friend will fix things; the only way a working-class Dalit person can avail of the same privilege is by paying for it; and ‘ending corruption’ will merely close this window of Dalit mobility, while giving well-bred people a free pass to carry on doing each other favours.

Then, in an interview to the New York Times blog, India Ink, Nandy gave a fuller account of what he meant, patronisingly outlining how the poor are different from you and me.

I believe that their corruption is less harmful than the corruption of the super rich. Corruption of the rich and powerful is based on greed; corruption of the weaker section arises out of desperation.

Achal Prabhala is a researcher and writer based in Bengaluru.

Keywords: corruption Jaipur Literature Festival Dalit OBC meritocracy Michael Young Friedrich Hayek Ashis Nandy