What is Social Justice?

Social Justice is a word that we hear a lot on public platforms and in the media these days. The idea of justice encompasses notions like equity, fairness, getting what one deserves, and the absence of bias. It is a fundamental element for the proper and ethical functioning of any civilization or society. A society that is lacking in justice and does not seek to amend for this lack will be marked by discrimination, violence, and a loss of the recognition of the intrinsic value of life. It is fundamental to our existence as human beings and necessary for the harmonious co-existence of diversities.

The United Nations’ definition of social justice is as follows: “Social justice may be broadly understood as the fair and compassionate distribution of the fruits of economic growth.” The US Centre for Economic and Social Justice defines it as thus: “Social justice encompasses economic justice. Social justice is the virtue that guides us in creating those organized human interactions we call institutions. In turn, social institutions, when justly organized, provide us with access to what is good for the person, both individually and in our associations with others. Social justice also imposes on each of us a personal responsibility to work with others to design and continually perfect our institutions as tools for personal and social development.” The concept of Social Justice arose in the 19th century during the industrial revolution in Europe. The industrial revolution saw the emergence of Capitalism which thrived on exploitation and cheap labour. Concepts of social justice were brought forward to remedy the injustices that were being thus perpetuated in society. However, today we use the term to not only signify disparities in economic situations but also various other social injustices and discriminations. These could be related to gender, caste, race, ethnicity, religion, disability, or anything else that becomes a means by which negative differentiation comes about in society.

Social justice has become an umbrella term under which various struggles and fights against societal inequalities take place. It is intrinsically connected to human rights and operates under the assumption that all individuals are equal and have the right to enjoy equal access to health, justice, societal privileges, etc irrespective of the background or culture that they come from. It is employed to fight systemic injustices manifested in political, economic, and legal structures. Equality can be achieved through protests which are to lead to changes in policy. It is also supportive of affirmative action that allows groups that have been marginalized and oppressed over centuries to be given compensatory benefits. This is to ensure that they are able to move ahead and be on par with their peers in the long run, while also not being victimized by any oppressor. It stands for political representation and equity in all spheres of life.

Social justice should be the concern of every honest individual in society who cares about his fellow being. Those who fight for social justice are to understand the deeply rooted inequities in society and call them out, working towards better policies and laws. But it also involves changing mindsets, unlearning privileges, breaking apart structures of thought, opening up spaces. Recognizing privileges and being allies to those who have been subjugated by powers and thereby forced into a life of heightened oppression and lesser opportunities is absolutely necessary at this juncture in history. We have come a long way and won many battles against societal evils but there are more that need to be fought, and there is always more that we can do for others.

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