Society and Identity
In rural Rajasthan (northern India) problems of inequality are not in the first instance met with egalitarian solutions, but rather with hierarchical ones. Poor villagers contemplating a rich man do not fantasise about taking his riches and dividing them equally among themselves, but think about how to enter into the kind of relation with him that would obligate him to sharing. They think about how to become his servant-clients. They appeal to the hierarchical theory of social responsibility, where those with more – more resources, influence, status, connections or whatever else – assume responsibility for those with less. It is when those with more fail to care for their subordinates – when hierarchy fails – that envy, talk of levelling resources and rumours of the Evil Eye spread. When the rich act responsibly, conversely, their wealth becomes the object of admiring awe, not envy. This essay ethnographically traces the shifts between hierarchy and inequality in my interlocutors’ judgments to query, more broadly, the presumptive universality of egalitarian justice.