Sundar Sarukkai: Social Justice Frameworks and Internet

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Professor Sarukkai’s inaugural talk addressed the key questions of social justice frameworks and how the internet follows or affects them. Social justice and the network society inform and influence each other in a very fundamental manner. Justice in terms of equality and the avoidance of discrimination of caste and creed underly the synergy between social justice and the network society. But the problems, according to Sarukkai arise primarily in the very conceptualization of social justice.

Sarukkai drew close attention to the problems existing within the very definition of the social in social justice. He said that we can speak of these ideas in terms of groups changing the dynamics of social justice. A very fundamental problem was addressed: what is good for a group may not be good for an individual within that group. Apart from the definition of the concept of ‘group’ and its parameters, the question of representation of a group is also fundamental to concerns of justice. A group needs a spokesperson; it does not speak for itself. A representative speaks for the group. Then, what does justice mean for a group? Is there justice in leadership? This question of equality within a group led Sarukkai to the larger question of equality between groups. He said that we ask for democracy between political parties, but internal democracy within each political party is generally missing.

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Later in the talk, Sarukkai established through Amartya Sen’s ideas that social justice needs an institutional mechanism to be enforced. Principles need a constitutive structure, which in turn requires legislation, finally finding application in governance. The whole state structure has to make social justice possible. This mechanism has to come from the people. But, here, Sarukkai drew attention to the problems of extreme inequalities, where there is no more the luxury of an unbiased enforcing mechanism. He said that we need to understand inequality without negating inequality. We have to legitimize inequality in order to understand it. Here Sarukkai used a shocking statistical fact – only eighty five people own fifty percent of the world’s wealth – to comment on the very idea of a free market. What one needs to try is not to give in fully to a socialist model, but at the same time to stay with free democracy; accepting inequality by not eliminating the gap but by shortening it.

Groups may be seen as aggregations of individuals, but the complicated question of individual autonomy make it difficult to reduce one to her or his group. Here, Sarukkai interjected Gandhi. For Gandhi, in Indian society, it is not the individual that is the smallest functioning unit but the family. Now, the social becomes a different entity and not just the sum of its parts.

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Sarukkai tied it all up at this point by bringing together technology and social justice. He argued that technology is a tool that enables and influences democracy and partici-pation. Technology becomes an instrument that enhances the principles of social justice. Technology allows for a more efficient governance, which in turn influences social justice.

Sarukkai then went back in time, drawing a map of how technology was introduced in India. It was, like many other things, a colonial inheritance. The idea that technology is culture neutral is, according to Sarukkai, a much abused understanding. The relevant question here, in terms of social justice, is that the state’s involvement in developing technology arises from the idea that it is a necessary characteristic of a modern democracy. With these complexities at hand, we need to beware how technology functions. The very basic claim of technology towards equal access needs to be looked at closely. The question of who gets to sustain technology needs to be answered.

Sarukkai ended his talk with another series of questions. Even with the whole wide world at our fingertips, we remain isolated. It removes us from the social to the individual; we are becoming more individuals than social creatures. Then, does technology afford us a better understanding and grasp of what the social is?

Report: Nikitha Nisarga
Photography: Marina George & Samuel Buchoul
Editing: Chitralekha Manohar & Samuel Buchoul

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2 responses to “Sundar Sarukkai: Social Justice Frameworks and Internet

  1. Pingback: 2014 Social Justice in an Internet-Mediated World Workshop | Barefoot Philosophers·

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