Cubiclenama | Lingering bigotry4 min read . Updated: 31 Jan 2014, 05:25 PM IST
We live in a society that refuses to let go of the notion that social and economic status is a barometer for almost any possible virtue
A few years ago I was invited to moderate a panel discussion at that high-profile business school in Bangalore. As is common with most such events, the moderator was the least illustrious of those on the panel. Everyone else possessed a vastly higher profile. My job as moderator was that of a glorified microphones passer-arounder.
“But first I’d like to hear from Mr. Chirpingveetil Cricketksumaran who has said so little so far that the organizers are beginning to wonder if his expense-paid trip was worth it at all."
“Before you launch into the second chapter of your insane personal agenda, Mr. Unforeseeen Psychopath, I want to remind everybody what the topic of the discussion is…"
Et cetera et cetera.
The other members on the panel were a popular blogger-cum-IT sector-stalwart, a senior politician, and a cheerful chap who had won a television reality competition for budding politicians.
Right from the start it was clear that the politician had nothing but contempt for everything and everybody else. So much condescension poured forth from him that even when he maintained silence for the odd nanosecond or two, it still managed to make itself felt.
The low-point of the entire discussion was when he referred to the IT guy as a “glorified California coolie." I don’t recall the context exactly. But I think it was while the politician was trying to defend the farmer and how little is done to prop up the agricultural backbone of the Indian state.
We all had a laugh about it and moved on. I now regret not having pushed back on this name-calling.
But wait. Why blame this man alone for this particular type of bigotry?
When the film Raanjhanaa released in 2013, I noticed several people wonder why Dhanush had been cast as a hero. One close relative said, and this is seared into my memory, “Cast this guy as some auto-driver, not as a hero!" I am pretty sure I noticed people say similar things on social networks.
Later when the whole Khobragade imbroglio unfolded there were people who wondered aloud if we were going to “take the words of a domestic help over those of an IFS officer".
So apparently auto-drivers are dark, frail fellows unworthy of being film heroes. Apparently domestic workers are not to be trusted, especially if they are in dispute with a bureaucrat. And tea vendors…god forbid one of them becomes our prime minister. And if you somehow break these barriers and become a software programmer? You glorified coolie of the white man!
But wait. Bigotry based on the jobs people do is not bad enough. There is also hypocrisy. The same mouths and minds that condemn domestic help, chaiwallahs, auto drivers and the other less-affluent members of our society are often also the ones that glorify the virtues of the so-called “underclass". Oh how resilient our farmers are! How virtuous the sweat and tears of the chaiwallah who nourishes us in the ungodly hour! And behold the gritty joy in the eyes of the maid as she scours our floors! These are fruits of our earth. Etc., etc.
The infuriating truth is that we live in a context-obsessed society that refuses to let go of the notion that social and economic status is a barometer for almost any possible virtue. Do you have an under-evaluated degree in outdated economics from an over-rated college? Would you like to become the prime minister? Or cabinet secretary?
If for centuries differences of caste and sub-caste were used to pre-judge and condemn, in the 21st century we’ve conveniently latched on to newer metrics of prejudice, one of the most devious being profession. The more glamorous your industry and the more elevated your profession, the more righteous, apparently, is your moral compass. Thus the headlines that pick out certain types of professions and qualifications because, you know, the “elite" are incapable of vice.
“IIT graduate commits suicide for third time!" or “Software engineer burns down flat whilst trying to make pongal for the first time, blames mother’s recipe."
I am truly fed up with this nonsense. I yearn for the day when we judge people for their actions and the content of their character. Instead of assuming their virtuousness based on their jobs and bank balances. Jobs are jobs. Don’t confuse them for certificates of character.
I don’t care if you are a chaiwallah, a share cropper, a shoe shiner, a Java coder, a fortune teller, a cabaret dancer, a bond trader, a newspaper columnist or a business tycoon. If you think you can run this country, and have a plan of some kind, please, please stand for elections.
Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read Sidin Vadukut’s previous columns, go to www.livemint.com/cubiclenama-