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  Inequality, Inequity and Ignominy  


By: Gaurang Bhatt
January 15, 2004

Xenophobia is probably a hard wired evolutionary trait propagated for its survival value over geological time. Lower primates form groups and attack fellow members of the same species to defend territories or steal mates. Human two year olds shy away from strangers. Adults are often intimidated by a group of strangers, even in current society. Hunter- gatherer groups and tribes practice vicious and violent rituals towards neighboring groups. The origins of racism can be traced to this heritage.

Religions, civilizations and states have boasted of genocidal holocausts and accepted slavery and discrimination. The Old Testament slaughters and slavery, the Hindu caste system and Christian colonialism and slavery, the special extra taxation of non-Muslims and inadmissibility of their certain legal testimony in Islamic state courts, put a lie to any claim of historical equality. Inequality as an official practice stands out in American slavery, French feudalism, Russian serfdom, discrimination against the native populations by colonial overlords and the apartheid regime of South Africa. The rights of the underdogs have always been trampled under the heels of the privileged and continue to suffer the same fate today in so-called democracies. This is why one of the tenets of Rawl’s theory of justice is a set of laws and a judicial system that the two opposing contenders would agree to adjudicate under, irrespective of the strength of the perceived proof and validity of their respective conflicting claims.

Since the modern formation of nation states and their resultant boundaries, the protection of their respective citizens’ rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness has been of paramount concern of Western governments. The forced concession of the extra-legal status of Greek and Armenian Christians within the Ottoman Empire by the Western powers and similar privileges in China, Iran and Japan are examples of inequitable demands. America stands out foremost in fulfilling the obligation towards its citizens. It has never hesitated to use its might for the well being of its citizens. Unfortunately, its current equality to compensate for past inequalities has led it to blatant inequity. On occasions it has started a war against a nation using the pretext of safeguarding a few of its citizens. It has used that as an excuse for invading Grenada for the safety of protecting a few American medical students. It has demanded that its armed forces or civilians stationed in another country be subject only to American law and be immune from trial by the host country’s judiciary. In doing this, it is following the practice of its predecessor, the British Empire. This would be excusable if the alien legal system was archaic, barbaric, arbitrary or administered by chance or whimsy, but the unmentioned reason is imperious high handedness, for it has been applied to Japan and The International Court of Criminal Justice. Just during last week’s Bush visit to England, the administration asked for immunity for any secret service agent who shot a protestor by mistake or inadvertently. All this knowing fully well that it is English Common Law that forms the basis of the American judicial system!

That brings us to the instances of ignominy. It is understandable that an occupying or a colonial power may perpetrate such inequity leaving no choice to the vanquished nation. When even a nominally free nation acquiesces to such overbearing imperialism, its sheepish consent deserves to be called a self-abnegating ignominy. The Shah’s Iran comes to mind decades ago. Much of Khomeini’s behavior and philosophy deserve condemnation, but his crisp words detailing the Shah’s groveling are worth paraphrasing. If the Shah were to run over an American dog in Iran, he could be tried in an American Court, but if an American cook ran over the Shah in Iran, he could go scot-free, if an American investigator said so. Japan currently gives a similar but lesser latitude to military personnel on Okinawa, accused of crimes including the rape of its residents. It is not military firepower that makes such humiliating craven behavior necessary. Sometimes money enslaves people. Why else would Indians have chosen to stay or migrate to an apartheid South Africa.

There is a swim club in Mumbai, not far from the American Consulate, which to give its honest due has no American guns trained on it. The Club allows American passport holders to utilize the swimming pool on payment of 150 INR but will not extend the same courtesy to Indian citizens. In the past Indian newspapers have printed Saudi advertisements recruiting only Muslims. All these are shameful and those unfazed by such ignominious behavior deserve the contempt of others.

Gaurang Bhatt

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Previous by:
Gaurang Bhatt

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