Amongst the various basic rights, the Right to Equality of Opportunity is the mainspring, as it encompasses in itself various other rights, such as, justice, liberty, rights, property etc. Majority of the people in the world believe that the right to equality should be provided unconditionally to all individuals, as ‘all men are created equal‘ i.e., all human beings have similar attributes. Almost all religious traditions maintain that all humans must be considered to be equal, as they are all God‘s children. Various thinkers and intellectuals have also surmised that all human beings are equal and hence deserve to enjoy the basic human rights, especially right to equality. The majority of theorists of the world share the same belief regarding human beings. According to them all human beings share the same characteristic and needs, hence entitling them to enjoy the right to equality.
Our Constitution also guarantees Right to equality to all individuals and prohibits any kind of discrimination on the basis of class, caste, creed, race or sex. But this declaration is not enough to change the reality of the situation. The prevalence of discriminatory social norms for e.g. the status and disposition of a family surely becomes the determinant of an individual‘s position and status. Thus, generally, the privileges received by an individual are determined by the status of his or her family in the society. Therefore it would not be wrong to conclude that, as long as the family system exists, it is impossible to establish equality.
This rationale goes on to explain the prevalence of equality in the majority of ancient societies where the family was the smallest and most important unit of society. For instance, inequality was highly prevalent in Classical Greece. According to Aristotle‘s description of ancient Greece, three social classes were present in Greece and there was a great imbalance in the treatment meted out between citizens and slaves as well as between men and women. Only citizens were entitled to participate in the state activities.
Similarly, the ancient Hindu Society was divided into four castes, namely Brahmins, Kshatryas, Vaishyas and Shudras. The lowest caste faced extensive discrimination and were treated abominably.
Similarly, the feudalism prevalent in the medieval European society had established inequality in the society to a great degree. The Church also played an important part in cementing the inequality in society and it was observed that the clergy dominated the society. Thus, legal privileges were prominently based upon status and birth. Inequalities were prevalent in majority of the societies of the world during the ancient and medieval ages. In the pre-eighteenth century the majority of the societies all over the world believed that nature had made men and women unequal in every sense. Besides this the prevalence of inequalities was justified by the various societies and dominant people, on the basis of traditional values, superior race, age, sex culture, wealth, religion etc.
In spite of the various efforts taken for the removal of inequality, it still exists in the contemporary world. It naturally exists in capitalist societies where there is a huge gap amongst various sections of the society on account of unequal distribution of wealth. But, surprisingly, it is also found to be prevalent in socialist societies, where many measures have been taken for redistribution of wealth and regulation of the economic market. In fact, human societies all over the world are riddled with social inequality on the basis of power, status, class or gender.