One has at some point been involved in discussions with friends about the quota system. Most of these years, I’ve always raised the flag of merit and bemoaned reservations without a hint of doubt whatsoever. Since the past year or two, I heard of the word ‘privilege’ and scoffed at it as some ‘theoretical construct’ (take that intellectuals :P); conveniently carrying on their existence unquestioned in musty books, stocked far far away from reality.
It was a comic strip on privilege (insert here) I came across that kind of got me thinking. It did because it explained what privilege meant using a life situation as against big words. In my head, at that point privilege came out of the safe confines of book covers, and appeared to be something that we all knew, maybe at some unconscious level. (Do go through the cartoon strip)
A few days back, having a few hours to kill before watching the much raved about Tamil movie Kaaka Muttai (crow’s egg), I was having a discussion with a friend – one more socially aware than myself – about privilege. Although, I knew at a certain level that the slide to her side of the debate had already started since the time I saw that cartoon strip– I flung several situations at her:
Q: But so many from discouraging backgrounds work hard and come up. So why reservation ?
-They have to work harder. With the same amount of hard work, someone with a better background will achieve more. (Examples followed)
Q: But Ambedkar managed to come out of it without reservation?
-She: Yes but take the ratio of how many are able to come out of their backgrounds which on an everyday basis push them back in little ways that can pass our attention so easily. (Examples followed)
I thought about it and agreed to most of what she had to say. After a riveting discussion, a visit to a bookstore and chai bun-maska strewn with sugar (those who know me, know how important the last ingredient was) it was movie time. Almost like some cosmic design up there had taken it as a personal challenge to make me a convert by the end of the day itself, the movie also turned out to be based on a similar theme (privilege) and quite inception-like drove the point much deeper in my puny brain.
Kaaka Muttai is a story of two brothers residing in a slum pocket adjacent to a highway, who want to eat a pizza from a recently opened Pizza outlet in their locality. Ever since they see a superstar, who comes for the store opening ceremony, make a circle using his thumb and index finger followed by three outstretched fingers (indicating the yummy taste of the pizza) pointed at the slum children – including the two brothers – standing outside, it is the only thing the brothers can think about. (In hindsight, what a cruel scene.)
The problem obviously is that the pizza costs Rs 299 and they begin to look for sources of money to collect that amount. After selling coal that fall off goods trains near railway tracks and unknowingly stealing coal, they finally make enough money. Then, with a bit of a swagger usually reserved for bollywood heroes, they head to the pizza place, maybe feeling like the superstar himself (oh advertisers, you will rot in hell piiissing chakki to make batter for the pizza that you will never get to eat). The security guard stops them. Even before they can point out that they have the money, they are showed the door. This was the moment for me. The boys are confused; why are they not being allowed inside when they have the money? They are later told by someone that it is their worn-out clothes that stop them from getting inside. They then save more money, get new clothes and come to the pizza place again. Here again, not only are they not allowed inside, but one of the supervisor slaps them.
The boys have the money, they have the clothes to go with it; but they are poor. The assumption is that they might make other customers uncomfortable – a not completely unheard fear right ?. It may not be good for the reputation of the outlet. (Ofcourse, firstly it is assumed that the boys do not have the money.) But here is what it is: the boys could get the money, put on new clothes, and maybe even get the chappals later that are missing when they go to the outlet the second time, but, at the end of the day, they are still crow eggs; most outlets would chicken out at the prospect of denting their image. So do what the brothers may, they cannot earn enough to rise above their circumstances- atleast not for the time being.
Coming back to the conversation, I was having before the movie, I asked my friend: So then what does one (coming for a privileged background)do about it? Pat came the reply: Maybe not credit oneself too much for what one has achieved. Ones circumstances should also be taken into account. Hmmm. Keeping ones feet on the ground never killed anyone right ?
(This is I agree a much larger debate. Here I am talking about my limited experience)
rger debate and I am here talking about my limited experience)