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The notion that history is forever guided by a ‘class struggle’ can be found in the detritus of failed economic memes put forth by Marxist ideology. A reminder of it, however, surfaced last week in the form of a matrimony pitch made by an ace filmmaker who led the heart of Indian commercial cinema away from its trappings of socialism to the glitz of globalization. Pitching an exclusive portal called IITIIMShaadi.com for alumni of our top educational institutes to find partners, Karan Johar spelt out its value proposition in an influencer ad on Instagram for almost 12 million followers. We live once, die once and also marry once, he says, so that’s why it is very important that our decision of a life-partner is “correct". This is not easy, Johar goes on, “especially for the highly-educated"; if you are educated thus, he adds, then before you look at “age, caste, height" etcetera, you search for “mental compatibility". The service on whose behalf this advice was dispensed is open only to folks who emerged from the portals of a few hallowed colleges, apart from the Indian Institutes of Technology and Management. It offers to scan academic credentials for admission to this brave new gene pool and deploy some clever software to guide selection. This is a classic case of elitism in the guise of market segmentation. To leave it at that, though, would be a cop-out, for this ad spiel is regressive in worse ways.

While the business may only be trying to fulfil what it has identified as a need, the sensibility aimed at by its message is exposed by its elision of second weddings at one level, and its trio of search filters assumed to satisfy this club of the supposedly better-educated at another. That a meeting of minds is accorded priority by its portrayal of this novel elite, a kind of aristo-meritocracy with angles of noses derived from degrees on paper, does not obscure the fact that each of the other criteria cited by Johar reveals a prejudice we had once hoped the ‘scientific temper’ of education would put to an end. Of the three menus that sound ready to drop down at a click for app users to objectify prospects, caste is the worst. Rigid barriers of endogamy and employment have long held India back, with genetic blends and skill dynamics constrained by old notions of ‘nature’ outweighing ‘nurture’ in the invisible labels of merit endemic to casteism, subtle or otherwise. Apart from the rank horror of its excesses, genetic, economic and epistemological research all flag the folly of it. But then, Shaadi.com might have its own data to define the “highly" educated choices of its target class and track the extent to which the bulk under its modal bell-curve think alike.

Among Marxist musings, the idea of class group-think has aged better than lurid visions of capitalists and workers in perpetual conflict, thanks partly to wide-open capital markets. Yet, a split in class interests was thrust back in focus recently by Thomas Piketty’s data on yawning inequality, which he pinned on the world’s pie of wealth typically expanding faster than that of income. This global crack in class prospects was cleaved further apart by covid, a ‘K-shaped recovery’ from which can partly be traced to the lopsided impact of big stimulus funds on assets versus salaries across many economies. In the US, class politics looks set to play out over a lazy wealth-tax proposal. Back home, upscale grads are being wooed into a walled pool for pairings, one with vast sea-blends kept out. People are getting classed apart by man-made trends of dubious value. These forces need reversal.

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