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Mainstream, VOL LV No 37 New Delhi September 2, 2017

Acts of ‘sharing’ on this Independence Day

Saturday 2 September 2017

by Sriti Ganguly

India just celebrated the 70th anniversary of its independence and like every year, apart from the grand celebration at Red Fort, schools and colleges across the country and even television soaps marked the event in their own ways. One also noticed an increasing trend of flags being sold at traffic signals by homeless migrants and the same flags undulating on rooftops of residential buildings. My niece’s school also celebrated the I-Day where she and a handful of other classmates were called on 15th of August by their teachers to take part in the flag- hoisting ceremony followed by patriotic songs. Interestingly, I remember when I was in school a decade ago, Independence Day was celebrated on the previous day, that is, on the 14th. However, gradually a ‘common sense’ emerged that August 14th was Pakistan’s Independence Day, our ‘sworn’ enemy and neighbour. There-fore, our country’s flag should be hoisted on the 15th instead. According to my niece, this year a part of their celebration also included distri-bution of snacks and flags to children of slum-dwellers who were invited to the school.

While on a superficial level this gesture of kindness by a high-end English-medium private school in the Capital may seem unproblematic, something rattled inside me. A series of uncom-fortable thoughts came to my mind. I will not venture into the obviously and starkly visible irony of why even after 70 years of independence the nation has failed to address and eradicate poverty. This is a question many have been asking. So I would rather focus on this act of charity whose intention was perhaps to sensitise the privileged class and inculcate a sense of sharing among the children. Personally, I feel an often unacknowledged feeling underlying such acts is satisfaction about oneself and suppression of the guilt of belonging to the category of “haves” in this deeply unequal society.

However, the idea of ‘sharing’ is what I would like to delve into in this article. In the context of the United States, Philipsen (2007) rightly points out that while the White middle class parents may want to instil ideas of equality and an ethic of sharing, “it does not necessarily translate into sharing of privilege” which, according to her, would “constitute a contra-diction in terms”, almost a violation of a person’s “habitus“1, to use the terminology of Pierre Bourdieu. (p. 273) The White middle and upper classes have their counterparts in the Indian society where one finds class distinction overlapping with caste. It is this category that is largely catered to by these schools in the Capital. While every year a day such as the
I-Day is perhaps dedicated to “sharing”, there is evidence to show how several private schools responded to the 25 per cent reservation for economically weaker sections under Section 12(1)(C) of the Right to Education Act which mandated sharing of everyday social space. Nawani (2017) writes: “The private school lobby is fiercely contesting the reservation of 25 per cent of seats for children from economically weaker sections (EWS) in private schools.” (p. 24) Few other studies also revealed reluctance and lack of knowledge among the school staff to implement the provision effectively and there is also evidence indicating a general perception towards children, who do manage to secure seats under quota, labelling them as ‘slow learners’ or ‘deficient’. (Sarangapani et al. 2014; Sarin and Gupta 2014) “Most schools were content with admitting the children but were not committed to bringing fundamental changes in attitudes or pedagogies that would foster inclusion,” write Sarangapani et al. in their discussion on inclusion and integration of the marginalised children in the private schools of Bangalore and Delhi. (p. 40) Thus what can be argued is that if anything can in the true sense inculcate a genuine ethic of sharing and appre-ciation of diverse socio-economic and cultural backgrounds among privileged children, it is this provision rather than tokenistic and pater-nalistic gestures of charity towards children from the marginalised sections.

This unwillingness to share the social space is not limited to classrooms and schools alone but also manifests in the geography of the city. Delhi as a city has particularly been hostile to the poor, including hawkers, squatter dwellers and homeless persons. Much of the scholarly literature on urban poor in Delhi and spaces of poverty has discussed how the poor figure in the imagination of the section of non-poor and planning bodies. (Dupont 2011; Ghertner 2012; Baviskar 2006) This imagination is intricately linked with the vision of the city as a world-class or global city and it corresponds to transforming Delhi into a “slum-free city”. These scholars working on Delhi as a urban space, and on the city’s so-called planned and unplanned areas have discussed and critiqued the very way in which the urban poor and the spaces occupied by them have been represented because these depictions have subsequently become the basis on which large scale eviction and displacement of the poor has taken place.

Such processes have moved them away from their homes, social networks and sources of livelihood making their condition even more precarious.

According to Ghertner (2012), slums are cons-tructed as “nuisance zones”—“as zones of incivility that violate normalised codes of urban conduct and appearance”. Chakrabarti (2008) discusses the impact of the Bhagidari scheme of citizen participation on the urban poor in Delhi where this scheme altered the role and power of the Resident Welfare Associations and the middle classes, whose interests these bodies represent in a significant way, as they began to participate in urban policy-making and influence decisions. Baviskar (2003) uses the phrase “bourgeois environmentalism” to describe the middle and upper class concerns about hygiene and safety that again demands removal of squatters and slums whose population ironically provides numerous, everyday services to these very people and makes their freedom to work, without having to clean, cook, attend to the child etc., possible.

Thus, Philipsen (2007) correctly argues that the discourse on poverty needs to shift its focus from the poor to the non-poor and recognise the ways in which the non-poor play a role in maintaining their privilege and perpetuating poverty. As long as the poor continue to be either represented as uneducated, delinquent and incompetent, responsible for their own condition or as being deficient and in need of charity in public discourses, their inclusion in the city will remain limited to such acts of sharing once a year. 

Endnotes

1. French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, described habitus as lasting dispositions that manifest in manners of speech, gestures, and life-styles.

References

Philipsen, M.I. (2007), ‘The Problem of Poverty: Shifting Attention to the Non-Poor’ In Apple, M. W., Noblit, G. W., & Van Galen, J. (2007). (eds.), Late to Class: Social Class and Schooling in the New Economy. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Baviskar, A. (2003), ‘Between violence and desire: space, power, and identity in the making of metropolitan Delhi’, International Social Science Journal, 55(175).

Baviskar, A. (2006), ‘Demolishing Delhi: World class city in the making’, Mute Magazine, 5.

Chakrabarti, P. (2008), ‘Inclusion or exclusion? Emerging effects of middle-class citizen participation on Delhi’s urban poor’, IDS Bulletin 38:6.

Dupont, V. (2011), “The Dream of Delhi as a Global City”, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 35.

Ghertner, A. (2012), ‘Nuisance Talk and the Propriety of Property: Middle Class Discourse of a Slum-Free Delhi’, Antipode 44(4).

Nawani, D. (2017), ‘Right to Education: Are We on the Right Track?’, Economic and Political Weekly, 52(31).

Padma, M., A.M. Sarangapani, R. Mukhopadhyay and A. Namala (2014), “Inclusion of Marginalised Children in Private Unaided Schools under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009”, Oxfam India.

Sarin, A. and Gupta, S. (2014), ‘Quotas under the Right to Education: Not Leading towards an Egalitarian Education System’, Economic and Political Weekly 49(38).

The author is a Ph.D Scholar, Zakir Husain Centre for Educational Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

ISSN : 0542-1462 / RNI No. : 7064/62