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VIEW: Social stratification –Shaukat Qadir

All societies are stratified, both vertically and horizontally. Vertical stratification — a necessary evil — is a product of unequal distribution of wealth and education resulting in an ‘upper class’ a ‘lower class’ and sometimes a middle class.

All societies must have individuals available for menial services. Where such people have been unavailable, they have had to be imported. This was the case in some countries of the Middle East that imported labour from Pakistan and India and maids from Philippines until the stratification was completed.

Horizontal stratification, on the other hand, is not really necessary. It exists however in most countries. It implies a division along ethnic, sectarian, or religious lines. In the UK, for instance, a Welshman, a Scot or an Irishman would take umbrage at being referred to as an Englishman. They are all proud of their various identities and cultures, yet proud citizens, also, of a single country. In the US, which has people from all over the world; those who arrived many generation ago may have forgotten their origins, but are proud of the States they belong to.

Karl Marx and Joseph Engels sought an end to vertical stratification. In practice, however, the ideal of an efficiently functioning class-less society proved impossible to achieve. As a result the socialist countries became a little capitalist, just as the capitalist countries became somewhat socialist.

While stratification is a necessary evil, its extent can and should be controlled. One way of estimating the success of any country in doing this is the size of its middle class. The larger the middle class, the more equitable is the distribution of wealth. However, this is not the only criterion. India, for instance, has a very large percentage of population living below the poverty line despite having a huge middle class. To be successful, therefore, a country needs both a large middle class and very few people living below the poverty line.

A total elimination of poverty is virtually impossible to achieve. Even the developed countries have their percentage of the ‘homeless’. Most countries seek to resolve this problem through a combination of capitalist and socialist tools. These include proportional direct taxation i.e. a higher tax rate for the high-income groups, on the one hand and free education, healthcare, unemployment benefits, old age benefits etc on the other.

In countries like Pakistan where the rich can evade taxes with considerable impunity (according to figures published in the newspapers people like myself were paying more income tax annually than the poor, starving Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto), the governments take recourse to increasing indirect taxation, which burdens the poor and does little to alleviate poverty.

Horizontal stratification can indeed be even more dangerous. While citizens of the UK and the US take pride in their parochial as well as national identities this is not the case universally. In Pakistan, for instance, the three smaller provinces feel that they are being exploited by the Punjab. Irrespective of facts the perception is enough to nurture the animosity that has made the Kalabagh Dam such an explosive issue. The Gwadar port project is likely to bring a measure of prosperity to Balochistan, the least developed of our provinces, but is viewed with suspicion.

As far religious and sectarian stratification, we have to do no more than read our daily newspapers to be reminded of the hostility it has generated. As a result scores of innocent men, women, and children are murdered almost every month. There is little doubt that most of the violence is a consequence of state policies in the past that encouraged such elements. Pointing fingers at the US for sharing the responsibility is totally futile. We should have known better. If the US is assisting us today, it is not out of recognition of their responsibility in this regard. It is solely because the violence can spill over to pose a threat its interests.

In conclusion, I must reiterate that the government of Pakistan, like that of any other country, should strive to reduce the vertical stratification and alleviate poverty, which is increasing and not decreasing, as some of our leaders would have us believe. Without diminishing its significance, it is however the horizontal stratification that poses a far greater threat to peace and security of the citizens of this country. We must seek to reduce if not eliminate it for our very survival.

Source: Daily Times

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