The Lottery of Birth: On Inherited Social Inequalities


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.

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Publisher: Three Essays Collective  |  Apr 2017  |  300 pp  |  Kindle

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Advance Praise

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

“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


“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


Editorial Reviews

“To understand what is structural violence and what causes it, is this remarkable book . . . Namit Arora is an unlikely writer of a book such as this, and thus is all the more convincing. . . . These are essays written with honesty, intelligence, sensitivity and with ease. Arora has read all the relevant literature in history, anthropology and political theory and writes for the general reader. What is above all significant, is his respect for data, skillfully analysed. . . . When voices are being silenced, when debate is being stifled, we need more argumentative Indians than we have. Namit Arora’s brilliant book has contributed to this, and we must thank him for that.”

        —Dr. Mohan RaoThe Book Review (online)July-August 2017

“Arora’s wonderful collection of essays . . . engages with an enormous range of ideas succinctly and with deftness. A theoretical foundation, solid and up-to-date, is laid, various aspects of an issue examined and then, finally, a cool analysis and evaluation given. . . . Books of such intelligence and clarity are needed in our post-truth world. For the young in India, this could be a moral compass and a guide. If this book opens some eyes, till now willfully shut, it will usher in a better India.”

        —P. Vijaya KumarOutlook (PDF), 27 November 2017

“भारतीय जाति व्यवस्था की साहित्यिकी, वैचारिकी, समाजशास्त्र और राजनीति इन सभी पहलुओं से दो-चार होने वाली यह किताब अपने ढंग की अनूठी कृति है क्योंकि यह किसी बंधी-बंधाई रीति का अनुसरण नहीं करती |”

        —Kuldeep Kumar, Outlook Hindi (online), 05 May 2017


“Arora is painstakingly sensible in most of his opinions. . . . In his introduction, he deconstructs the various privileges that enabled his success and poses vital questions to himself and his readers . . . [He] brings a strong liberal disposition to weigh in behind contrarian opinions. He undertakes "the critic's simple, irritating, somehow necessary job", as Alex Ross put it in a recent essay for the New Yorker, "to stand in a public space and say, 'Not quite.'"”

        —Thomas Manuel3 Quarks Daily, 30 October 2017

“[Arora analyses] the psychological, social and ideological barriers to the level [playing] field . . . A delicious discussion [lays] the foundation for understanding the ‘forces that help sustain the fiction of deserved successes and rewards, perpetuate inherited privileges, and obstruct equal opportunity for all.’”

        —Stanley Coutinho, Free Press Journal, 17 December 2017

“The effort behind this volume must have been enormous and it deserves to be appreciated . . . The depth of learning, the impeccable logic, the range of references and the pellucid writing are not the only things that dazzle us; there is a rare lack of cynicism or bitterness and a moderation of tone that impresses too.”

        —PV Kumar, Nirmukta, 12 December 2017

Namit Arora chose a life of reading and writing after cutting short his career in the Internet industry. Raised in the Hindi Belt, he lived in Louisiana, the San Francisco Bay Area, Western Europe, and travelled in scores of countries before returning to India over two decades later in 2013. He is the author of three books: (1) Indians: A Brief History of a Civilization, (2) The Lottery of Birth: On Inherited Social Inequalities, and (3) the novel A California Story (US) / Love and Loathing in Silicon Valley (India). For more about him, visit