An egalitarian ethos has not been a prominent feature of Indian civilization, at least since the decline of Buddhism over a thousand years ago. All people, it is believed, are created unequal, born into a hierarchy of status and dignity, and endowed not with universal but particular rights and duties. This has greatly amplified the unfairness of accidents of birth in shaping one’s lot in life. Despite a long history of resistance, such inequalities have thrived and mutated, including under European rule, modernity, and markets.
Starting with the deeply moving stories of three writers, Arora explores the origins, persistence, and textures of inequalities rooted in the lottery of birth in India—of caste, class, gender, language, region, religion, and more—and their intersections in daily life. Blending scholarly rigor with moral intelligence, these essays engage with the Bhagavad Gita; the legacies of Ambedkar and Gandhi; Indian modernity, democracy, and nationalism; linguistic hierarchies; reservations; violence against women; identity politics; and much else that today weighs on Indian minds.
Praise for the book:
“The Lottery of Birth reveals Namit Arora to be one of our finest critics. In a raucous public sphere marked by blame and recrimination, these essays announce a bracing sensibility, as compassionate as it is curious, intelligent and nuanced.” — Pankaj Mishra, Essayist and Novelist.
“A remarkable compendium. The topics Arora tackles here—India’s formidable caste, class, and gender inequalities, and how its leaders, writers, and thinkers have engaged with them—have been tackled before, but mostly in dense academic volumes. What’s unique here is Arora’s seamlessly accessible and personable language, rich with autobiographical context, so we feel that the author has a stake in what he speaks of, above all, as an engaged citizen. From ancient scriptures to Dalit literature, reservations to violence against women, Arundhati Roy’s controversial views on Gandhi and Ambedkar to Perry Anderson’s controversial views on Indian history, these essays are essential reading for anyone who wants to understand contemporary India.” — Arun P. Mukherjee, Professor Emerita, York University.
“Namit Arora writes with envy-inspiring clarity and erudition about the central role in our lives of the many random inequalities we begin life with, such as class, gender, and, especially important in the Indian context, caste. This brilliant book is an immensely useful corrective to the conservative notion that people get more-or-less what they deserve, based on their own ‘merit’ and hard work. Read it. If nothing else, it will surely soften your attitude toward the disadvantaged in our midst, which is never a bad thing.” — S. Abbas Raza, Founding Editor, 3 Quarks Daily.