The social fault lines of the democratic order

As noted by Thomas Picketty, the “Social State” went into retreat during the neoliberal era and its role as a handyman of the rich got entrenched in popular consciousness. The only factors that threaten this role are mass violence and progressive taxation (Sachs 2011; Mann 2020). This compels us to understand why the ideals of social justice, peace and human welfare cannot be achieved through electoral politics in democratic societies. To understand this problem, we need to look at the social fault lines in democratic societies and the limitations of electoral politics in building bridges across social divides.

Racism

Racism is a major source of discrimination in democratic societies. This was evident during the coronavirus pandemic when medical professionals in the US pointed out that race provided a major explanation of a person’s likelihood of dying from the disease. Death rates in counties with large Black populations were found to be 10 times higher than the average country level death (Begley 2020). Police brutality is another dimension of racism. It has led to the loss of public trust and public approval of police forces, especially due to use of police as a military force in Black neighborhoods. Hate culture among white border patrol officers who formed a Facebook group to exchange racist comments is another example of how this trust has been bruised (Thompson 2019). While the economic cost of slavery has been computed by many scholars, whether African Americans will receive any reparations is anybody’s guess. But black people have been economically hurt in other ways as well. It has been estimated that due to discriminatory federal policies in the US black farmers lost 12 million acres of land during the 20th century. These policies affected 1 million farmers constituting 98 percent of Black agricultural landowners. Many of these land theft practices were legal and based on flawed federal policies (Newkirk and Vann 2019).

Black Lives Matter ignited similar movements in India in the aftermath of police brutality against women, youth and minorities protesting against discriminatory laws (Kamdar 2020). Another way of embedding discrimination in electoral politics is asking citizenship questions in the American census to access data to redraw electoral districts along racial lines, giving over representation to white votes and under representation to minorities (Berman 2019). Racism has plagued not only American politics, but the political culture of the biggest democracy in the world, India, and the “only democracy in the Middle East,” Israel. Harassment of minorities in the name of citizenship proof in India and construction of the wall in the West Bank to deny Palestinian farmers access to their land are two such examples. Background checks are used against Black workers in US to discriminate against them in hiring. Many states and municipalities have banned these practices because they affect access to jobs, housing, and other public services for 100 million Americans. It is difficult to stop these discriminatory practices in the temporary job market. Background checks tilt the scale against Black Americans because the ratio of African Americans with a criminal record is 33 percent against national average of 8 percent. Workers’ complaints of wage theft and horrific work conditions against leading employers like Walmart or Schneider Logistics have been denied due to a maze of subcontracts between the workers and employers (Burns 2019).

Low-caste communities in India, though formally included in the democratic polity are structurally excluded from power structures. They are not even extended the dignity of being recognized as human beings. Many of the scavengers in the lower castes have to manually collect human feces from latrines, and numerous deaths are reported when they drown cleaning the deep septic tanks or gutters. There is no compensation in the case of death. They are not allowed to start small businesses. The legal and judicial system does not offer them any way out of this horror (Barton 2019). They are not spared racist vitriol even if they succeed in rising above their status to academic and administrative positions (Nigam 2019). “Liberal Racism” or micro aggression has also been reported in the form of everyday slights and indignities in British universities. It also takes the form of inaccessibility to “white” rules or networks. Non-white academics feel that that they have to be exceptional to be accepted as ordinary (Sian 2019).

Babasaheb Ambedkar, leader of India’s untouchable caste, demanded a separate electorate for untouchables like Muslims to ensure their share in power during the British rule in India. Indian National Congress leader Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi threatened to fast till death if Ambedkar did not withdraw his demand. He was later inducted in the government as law minister after independence bvjawaher Lai Nehru, but he died a bitter and disillusioned man. To pull his community out of the vicious caste system he asked them to convert to Buddhism. One million of his followers converted. He accused Gandhi of hypocrisy and double dealing. No wonder protesters dug out similar charges against him during the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 and attacked his statutes in Washington and London. Earlier his statue was removed from University of Ghana on charge of racist behavior against Africans (Ambedkar 2011; Safi 2018). While Gandhi has a global image of a prophet of non-violence he came under attack for his racist politics in South Africa whereby he pleaded for caste like segregation at the Durban post office, telegraph office and jails and demanded military training for Indians so that they could fight along with fellow white colonialists against AmaZulu tribesmen (Kambon 2018).

Another example of brazen racism is the “democratic” government of Israel’s displacement of Palestinians from their land, their confinement as refugees under military occupation in Gaza and massacre of people who carry out peaceful protests against these brutalities. Israel projects the image of being the only democratic regime in the Middle East while they deny the right of peaceful protest to Palestinians under their occupation. The Great March of Return by Palestinians ethnically cleansed from the occupied territories that started in the spring of 2017 was met with sniper fire, in which children and unarmed Palestinians were mercilessly killed. Since the start of second Intifada in 2000 around 12,000 Palestinian children have been detained and interrogated by the Israeli army. It is one of the most consistent features of Israeli occupation since 1967 (Scheer 2019; Baroud 2019). The Israeli government also constructed a wall to separate Palestinians in the West Bank from their farms and pastoral lands. While, an International Court of Justice (ICJ) advisory issued on July 9, 2004 declared construction of the West Bank wall by Israel to be illegal and called Israel to dismantle the wall and pay reparations for any damages caused, the global conscience seems to be silent on the issue (Hong 2019).

 
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