Two days ago, I was at Edubridge International School in Mumbai to facilitate workshops with students as part of their annual ‘literacy week’. Given that this year’s theme is ‘discrimination’, they asked me to suggest topics for two different groups: Grades 6–8 and Grades 9–10.
With the first group, I chose to focus on discrimination associated with gender identity and sexual orientation. We discussed ideas such as ‘mansplaining’ and ‘manterruption’ using Elsa Dsilva’s recent article for SheThePeople, which shows how some sections of Indian media reduced Esther Duflo to her role as wife to Abhijit Banerjee instead of recognizing her as an economist in her own right.
We also spent some time talking about violence faced by girls who speak up for their rights (Malala Yousafzai) and genderfluid people who reject the binary construct of gender (Durga Gawde). The session concluded with a video featuring two gay men who have become parents with the help of surrogacy, and friends who have their back.
With the second group, my focus was on caste-based discrimination. As expected, many of the students refuted the existence of such discrimination in urban spaces. They insisted that it takes place only in rural areas. Getting them to think about separate dishes for domestic help in homes, separate elevators for service staff in large housing complexes, and separate tables for nannies accompanying families to restaurants, did not help. They argued that it had nothing to do with caste.
I do not blame these young people. This conditioning runs deep in families. The students were more willing to critically examine their own ideas after watching a video that featured Sujatha Gidla, the author of Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India, and Vijeta Kumar’s essay titled “I can’t be depressed, I am Dalit.”
I learnt yet again that the oppression will end only if savarna people stop talking about how they don’t practise discrimination, and start listening to people whose lived experience of caste has much to teach us.