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Updated: Mar 14, 2021


An egalitarian ideally states that all individuals deserve to be treated equally and should be entitled to equal opportunities.[1] In reality, inequalities do exist. Luck Egalitarianism is a theory under distributive justice which propagates that the well-being of people depends on how they act and what they choose.[2] The ones who are suffering because of their bad luck must be compensated with a part of the wealth from those who are fortunate.[3] Therefore, luck egalitarianism is a theory which creates a pathway for equality by talking about distribution of welfare and resources to those who had “bad brute luck”.[4] It excludes those who are in misfortune because of their voluntary actions and choices.[5] This paper will lay the concept of Luck Egalitarianism in detail along with Anderson’s critique to it and compare both sides of the debate in context of Indian laws.


Anderson is directed towards the luck egalitarians more than luck egalitarianism, as she criticizes how this is not what egalitarianism is about.[6] Despite various disagreements, there are two things which are common to all the luck egalitarians, choices and circumstances. Luck egalitarianism suggests that the ones with brute luck should be compensated, but it does not extend such compensation objectives to the conditions of the victims who have bad-option luck.[7] Elizabeth Anderson criticizes this model because it focuses on the distribution of resources; however, every person does not get equal respect under this ideology.[8] This theory also wrongly supposes the responsibility of individual under distributive justice.[9] She says that luck egalitarianism does not compensate those who are misfortune because of their active choices – consequently, this may lead to stigmatization of people who get any aid.[10] The ones who have misfortune yet do not receive compensation may be stereotyped as morally undeserving or lazy.

She calls for democratic egalitarianism to replace the notion of luck egalitarianism.[11] Democratic equality aims at equal social standing instead of equal distribution of welfare.[12] Equality, she says, is related to social relationships, where there is mutual respect for each other and eradicates oppression.[13] Luck egalitarianism does not distinguish on the basis of whether an individual is born in a society that discriminates against disabled persons or individuals who are born with physical inability.[14] However, most egalitarians exclude people with disability because of bad option luck from claiming justice.[15] For example, a person who got disabled because of choosing an unhealthy routine, under this model, he shall not be entitled to get compensated since it was his choice to lead an unhealthy life. Whereas, a person who is born with a disease shall be entitled to justice because it was his “bad brute luck”. Anderson condemns the egalitarians as they turn a blind eye while looking at the degree of responsibility the individual making choice actually had.[16] The approach of comparing the disabled on the basis of their internal assets, creates “assumption of inferiority”.[17] This becomes disrespectful to the already injured individual.


The Indian Constitution along with other fundamental rights, has Article 15(4) that provides for reservation of seats in educational institutions under the State for other backward classes (OBC), scheduled castes (SC) and scheduled tribes (ST),[18] Article 16 (4) provides for reservation of seats in government services for OBC’s, SC’s and ST’s.[19] There is reservation of seats in the legislature as well, for instance – Lok Sabha, for these certain sections of the society.[20] The aim of reservation is advancement of these socially, educationally and economically weaker sections and so that they are able to represent their section adequately.[21] The creamy layer is a principle which was first mentioned in the Indra Sawhney case,[22] excludes those from availing reservations who are better off than the others belonging to the same category (OBC). Later, the principle evolved in the case of M Nagraj, where this extended to the SCs and STs as well.[23] To separate and identify the creamy layer from the mentioned sections, socio-economic test is used.[24] This way only the ones who need it get to use the policy.

In India, at present the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 is operational which is in conformation with the United Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.[25] It aims at protecting them from discrimination, while giving them opportunity to be able to participate in society.[26] The disabled persons recognized by this Act are of three categories – person with disability, disabled person needing high support and person who has benchmark disability.[27] The ones with benchmark disabilities have access to free school level education, can avail to reservation schemes for government jobs, education, poverty alleviation programmes.[28] Both public and private sector have to frame policy of equal opportunities and the Government has to make sure that the disabled people’s rights are protected.


With the principles of Luck Egalitarianism, the Government, by way of positive discrimination, takes a few seats from the comparatively fortunate group (general category) and distributes it to those who suffer because of being born in weaker considered sections. In consonance with Anderson’s critique, such policy, even though helps the unfortunate, it leads to stigmatization of those individuals. It reinstates the already embedded caste system in India by using terms like SC’s, ST’s. When a person applies through such reservation quota then he has to provide details of his identity and status, and now because of this creamy layer principle his economic position as well, which means exposing himself as a member from a less fortunate section. Since now, his/her status gets publicly known, such general knowledge would lead to adding more embarrassment to the already existing misfortune. Even when the person may get compensated by way of equal opportunity and additional relaxations in competitive tests, this does not mean they get equal respect in the social aspect. Data shows that all reserved seats are not filled and have to be carried forward next year – one of the reasons being the stigma.[29] This leads to wastage of seats as well. Even if students and adults get admission and jobs through such reservation scheme, they face social stigma, they are not given enough respect by their colleagues and are stereotyped. There were protests right after the Mandal Commission expanded the scope of reservations where the young women of Delhi University stood with banners saying “We do not want our husbands to be jobless”,[30] which implied that even if a Dalit (lower caste) man would become an IAS officer with the help of reservations, those women with the banners would still marry someone from upper class only. This is everything Anderson stands against when she talks about luck egalitarianism not considering equality in social relationships and focus only on compensating individuals with bad luck.

Following Anderson’s criticism against the material compensation that luck egalitarianism provides for, the free education and reservation might be out of contemptuous pity and not compassion for the disabled ones. Such programmes would just focus to bridge the gap between them and those that are fortunate; according to her critical analysis this may lead to inferiority of those receiving the aid under this Act. In V. Surendra Mohan case, the Supreme Court held that a person to be eligible for judiciary can have maximum of 50% of hearing or visual impairment.[31] Where the Indian laws promise equality and inclusiveness in society, such decisions make it more difficult for the marginalized people to get included in their own professional fraternity. During the time of the 2020 pandemic, the guidelines and the directives issued by the Government were initially not accessible to many disabled people which lead to marginalization of the group of disabled people who could not access the information.[32] Persons with disabilities (PwD) are more exposed to getting the virus because we forget that to them social distancing and things like hand-wash are not as normal.[33] This current position in India sets parallel with Anderson’s criticism that instead of focusing on the real issues, luck egalitarianism just materially compensates.


Every individual has the right to basic amenities to live respectfully in the society. It does not only focus on survival of the individual but also having a dignified life. The Indian Constitution also provides for the right to life, which includes having respect in the society one lives in.[34] When the law tries to provide with equal access to the opportunities, the State should not ignore that it still needs to sensitize the society at large on how to resect every individual irrespective of their misfortune. While it is important to help in the development of such sections of society, it is equally important to respect their private space and treat them equal as well. Through the reservation policy and disability laws, Indian democracy has ideally invoked luck egalitarianism. However, it reflects stigmatization, as such, Anderson’s democratic state would be more ideal way of promoting a holistic approach of egalitarianism, that includes principles of distributive justice as well as equal respect. This will therefore, eradicate the arbitrary choice-circumstance model purported by Luck egalitarians.



[1] Bruce M. Landesman, Egalitarianism, 13 Can. J. Of Phil. 27, 27 (1983). [2] Nicholas Barry, Defending Luck Egalitarianism, 23 J. of Applied Phil. 89, 90 (2006). [3] Richard J. Arneson, Luck Egalitarianism Interpreted and Defended, 32 Philosophical Topics 1, 1 (2004). [4] Carl Knight, Luck Egalitarianism – Equality, Responsibility and Justice 22 (Edinburgh University Press Ltd. 2009). [5] Richard J. Arneson, Luck Egalitarianism and Prioritarianism, Ethics 339, 340 (2000). [6] Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen, Democratic Egalitarianism versus Luck Egalitarianism: What is at Stake?, 40 Philosophical Topics 117, 120 (2012). [7] Nicholas Barry, Reassessing Luck Egalitarianism, 70 The J. of Politics 136, 136 (2008). [8] Anderson, supra note 10, at 289. [9] Id. [10] Id. at 288. [11] Lippert-Rasmussen, supra note 6, at 117. [12] Lippert-Rasmussen, supra note 6, at 119. [13] Id. [14] Knight, supra note 4, at 1. [15] Id. [16] Anderson, supra note 10, at 296. [17] Id. at 306. [18] IND CONST. art 15 (4). [19] IND CONST. art 16 (4). [20] IND CONST. art. 334. [21] M.P. Jain, Indian Constitutional Law 24 (Nagpur: Wadhwa and Company 2006). [22] Indra Sawhney v. Union of India, A.I.R. 1993 S.C. 477 (India). [23] M. Nagraj & Others v. Union of India, (2006) 8 S.C.C. 212 (India). [24] Jarnail Singh v. Lachmi Narain Gupta, (2018) S.C.C. OnLine S.C. 1641 (India). [25] Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, No. 49, Acts of Parliament (India). [26] Id. [27] Id. [28] Id. [29] Tulsi Patel, Reservation in Jobs and Education, 57 Sociological Bulletin 97, 97-114 (2008). [30] Uma Chakravarti, Gendering Caste: Through a Feminist Lens 1 (2003). [31] V. Surendra Mohan v. State of Tamil Nadu, A.I.R. 2019 S.C. 3282 (India). [32] National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People, Locked Down and Left Behind, (NCPED 2019). [33] Id. [34] IND CONST. art. 21.


Author - Harshita Fatesaria

Student at O.P. Jindal Global University

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