I remember being a part of a debate in college in 2006 when the government had introduced reservations in institutions of higher education such as the IITs and the IIMs. I was a part of a team opposed to the prospect, and my argument at that point in time was that by doing this, the government was compromising on the kind and quality of students who studied at these schools. Instead, why not focus on grassroot education, I argued. Or work towards providing equal opportunities – specifically access to resources – that would enable students to do well in entrance exams, regardless of factors such as religion, caste, and gender.
And now, almost 11 years later, I realize that I could not have been more wrong. You see, equality feels like oppression when you’re accustomed to privilege. I stood there on the dais and argued in impeccable English – a product of a fancy education and resources made available because I came from a privileged background – that there should be no reservation at all. That studying at an IIT or an IIM should be a function of merit, and merit alone.
The sad truth is that I have no idea what struggle feels like. I’ve been fortunate to have had access to resources that did give me an unfair advantage over my peers who came from a lesser privileged background. I’ve led a comfortable life with first world problems that I thought were the real issues. The whole point of this rant was to highlight that I’ve gotten so used to privilege that I’ve actually forgotten that there are people who struggle to get access to the same things that I do on a daily basis. I did well because my parents did well, and they provided for me. And that is an uncomfortable truth that I will have to accept and live with.
My arguments were based on the same premise that white supremacists and neo-Nazi’s use against people of color. They are the same arguments used by nationalists and xenophobes against immigrants. And by chauvinists against feminists. It’s the same premise on which the Google anti-diversity memo was written. And it boils down to one word: privilege. I’d like to end this post with a link to a hard-hitting description of privilege that I only hope will enable those reading to understand what I’m talking about…