Selective Discrimination

On International Women’s Day, there were many discussions about women who were/are a source of inspiration to other women. On the sidelines of one such discussion, a family friend described how her mother-in-law, who had passed away over 3 decades back, was very particular about caste segregation. For example, a certain domestic help, a young woman, was not allowed entry into the kitchen or the ‘Pooja Room’ (Prayer Room) in their house because she belonged to a lower caste. If, by chance, the same domestic help happened to touch any item of clothing on the clothes-line, that item of clothing would have to be washed again.

Strangely, however, whenever a large quantity of green chillies had to be chopped, the work was assigned to the same domestic help! The mother-in-law explained to her daughters-in-law that any person who chopped so many green chillies would have a severe burning sensation on the fingers. Hence, she assigned that task to the domestic help!

Our friend had never mustered the courage (understandable since this happened over 50 years back) to ask her super-orthodox mother-in-law why the domestic help’s touch made an item of clothing ‘impure’, and why the same domestic help’s touch did not make the chillies ‘impure’!!

My tongue-in-cheek response to my friend was that she should be thankful for the fact that her mother-in-law did not want her daughters-in-law to suffer by chopping large quantities of green chillies! Not many mothers-in-law would have been so considerate 50 years back!!

All around us, we see people who practise discrimination very religiously (pun intended) temporarily suspending their beliefs when it suits them.

In many religious institutions, widows are not permitted in the presence of the pontiff because it is considered inauspicious. Even wealthy widows are not exempted from this discrimination. However, many of these pontiffs are extremely enthusiastic about granting audiences to politically powerful widows! Obviously, political power carries more weight than ‘divine’ power! Unfortunately, these politically powerful widows apparently do not even try to put a complete end to the discrimination from which they are exempted.

On a private level, people impose discriminatory restrictions on their daughters-in-law, but do not impose the same restrictions on their daughters.

Why do a person’s beliefs/practices change depending on who is affected by these beliefs?

When a belief/practice can be suspended for a few persons, can’t that belief/practice be suspended, nay abolished, for all persons?

Isn’t it ridiculous to say that all other cars must stop when the traffic signal shows RED, but BMWs and Mercedes Benz cars need not stop?

Selective discrimination is even more ridiculous. It’s like saying that the maximum speed for all other cars is 10 kilometers/hour, but there is no speed restriction whatsoever for BMWs and Mercedes Benz cars!

Doesn’t affect me?

Recently, a friend who has been living abroad since a couple of decades, stated that he was shocked and disgusted to know that some relatives in India were not inviting his recently widowed mother home as it is ‘inauspicious’.

Quite a few friends expressed distress about this matter. However, all were relieved after one of his family members clarified that, of the persons who had called on his mother after his father’s death, many had invited her to visit them. Some had not explicitly invited her, but that did not mean she was unwelcome.

I completely agree with him that such behaviour (treating a widow as ‘inauspicious’) is disgusting.

However, I am surprised that he said that he was shocked. While he has been living abroad for over 20+ years, he did live the first 20+ years of his life in India. Surely, he would have observed this kind of behaviour among his relatives, if not his family. At the very least, he would have read about the lousy status of widows in certain communities, including the one he was born into.

One may claim it is possible that a person is actually unaware of certain kinds of discrimination (or social situations) simply due to lack of exposure. For example, people who have always lived in cities and have never been to remote villages would have absolutely no idea there are people living in places without electricity, tap water, toilets, roads, etc., which are taken for granted in cities.

I don’t agree. Even before the advent of internet, well-read people in India were aware of the discrimination faced by coloured people in countries that they had never visited. The term ‘apartheid’ was known. So how can we claim we don’t know about various forms of discrimination that have been going on for centuries in our own backyard?

There are many forms of discrimination being practised around us. Often, when we see some form of discrimination being practised and we know it is wrong, we don’t act or speak against it.
Sometimes, we are indifferent because we think it is harmless.
Sometimes, we are indifferent because we think we cannot make a difference.
Mostly, we are indifferent because we think it doesn’t directly affect us.

But, we are shocked and disgusted when the victim is one of ourselves. That’s when we realise that it’s not harmless and that we should try to make a difference, even if a particular episode doesn’t directly affect us.

Preaching without practising?

The New Indian Express (TNIE) reports that the inaugural of a political party’s 10th State conference at Tiruchy in Tamil Nadu on Saturday, February 15, 2014 was scheduled for 9.00 am, but the party president arrived at the venue well past 10.30 am. He unfurled the party flag on a 90 ft pole 10 minutes later to mark the inauguration of the conference. This was done deliberately because Raahu Kaalam (a period of time that is considered inauspicious) was between 9 am and 10.30 am that day.

This information is surprising, if not shocking, because the political party is the DMK and the party president is Dr. M. Karunanidhi, who, as TNIE reports, “made rationalism the cornerstone of his politics”.

The TNIE report states that this was not a coincidence because the DMK’s local heavyweight K N Nehru had informed the women’s wing on January 20 that, “We will bring Thalaivar (‘leader’ or ‘boss’ in Tamil) to the stage after 10.30 am as we want to avoid Raahu Kaalam.”

The report also states that ‘this is not the first time Karunanidhi has let his rationalist mask slip. During the millennium fete of the Brahadeeswara temple, he chose to enter the temple through a side gate because of the myth that netas visiting the 10th century Big Temple through the main gate would either lose their life or power.’

One wonders whether Karunanidhi has always been only preaching rationalism but practising the opposite, or whether he has become irrationally superstitious only in old age!

It is common to see ‘leaders’, political or otherwise, practising the exact opposite of what they preach. Many regional political parties advocate the boycott of the English language, but the leaders of most of these parties get their children educated in English medium schools.

Leaders of all political parties in India talk of internal democracy, but, without exception, they all practise ‘high command’ culture.

Don’t the followers of such leaders realize that their leaders are taking them for a ride?

In contrast, here is a true story: The Little Boy and Sugar

One day, a mother came to Gandhi with her little boy for help. She asked Gandhi, “Please, Bapu, will you tell my little boy to stop eating sugar. He simply eats too much sugar and will not stop.” Gandhi told the mother to leave and come back with the boy in three days.

Three days later, the mother returned with her son and said to Gandhi, “We have come back as you asked.” Gandhi turned to the boy and said, “Young boy, stop eating sweets. They are not good for you.”

The mother then asked Gandhi, “Bapu, why didn’t you tell my son that when we first came to see you? Why did you ask us to leave and come back in three days? I don’t understand.”

Gandhi said to the woman, “I asked you to return with the boy in three days, because three days ago, I, too, was eating sweets. I could not ask him to stop eating sweets so long as I had not stopped eating sweets.”

The maid must have stolen it!

An Assistant Manager in a large company had gone to an in-house meeting, inadvertently leaving an expensive wristwatch on his desk. When he came back a few hours later, he realised that the wristwatch was missing. None of the others in the office could recall seeing anybody near his desk during his absence, but almost everybody opined that the watch must have been stolen by one of the ‘Canteen Boys’ or Housekeeping staff. He reported the matter to the Administration Department, which, in turn, reported the matter to Security. Simultaneously, the GM – Administration sent an email about the matter to all employees, requesting them to immediately acknowledge receipt of his email and also to provide any relevant information.

Security summoned all the ‘Canteen Boys’ and Housekeeping staff on duty and questioned them about the missing wristwatch. All of them denied any involvement in or knowledge about the matter. As usual, they were all frisked and their belongings were checked at the gate when they left for the day, but that day the frisking and checking was more methodical than normal. However, the wristwatch was not found.

In the meanwhile, all employees had acknowledged receipt of the GM – Administration’s email, but nobody had provided any information.

The Head of Security informed the GM – Administration that their only hope would be to check that day’s records of the CCTV cameras in that office. He assured the GM – Administration that he would do this immediately and would submit a report by the next morning.

The next morning, the Head of Security reported that the CCTV footage clearly revealed that the wristwatch had been stolen by one of the company’s senior managers! There was absolutely no scope for doubt.

The senior manager had acknowledged receipt of the GM – Administration’s email the previous evening.

The senior manager was summoned to the GM – Administration’s room and asked if he knew anything about the missing wristwatch. He claimed ignorance, but accepted his guilt when shown the CCTV footage. He was asked to submit his resignation, which he did immediately, and was relieved within an hour.

This incident was related to me by a person who was employed in the same company and had been present in the office that day. He was shocked by the senior manager’s guilt. He was more pained by the fact that the ‘Canteen Boys’ and Housekeeping staff were automatically suspected, questioned, frisked and searched.

I share his pain about the way the support staff was treated, but I am not surprised at all. This happens on a regular basis in many households. Whenever any valuable item (or a small amount of cash) goes missing, the domestic help is almost invariably suspected.

Some employers keep their suspicion to themselves, but take extra care to keep all valuable items out of the domestic help’s easy reach.

Some employers politely ask the domestic help if (s)he has seen the missing item.

Some employers quietly ask the domestic help if (s)he has taken the missing item.

Some employers openly accuse the domestic help of having stolen the missing item, a few even threatening to file a police complaint. In most cases where the domestic help has been openly accused by the employer, the services of the domestic help are terminated or the domestic help quits the job.

In most of the cases, the missing item is found after a few days. When this happens, are suitable amends made to the domestic help who was suspected or accused of stealing it?

Why do we assume that economically weaker people are less honest than others?

According to me, except in very rare situations, there is no connection between a person’s honesty and his/her economic condition. What do you think?

Different strokes for different folks!

One of my service engineers and I were scheduled to meet at our office at 9.00 am one morning and proceed to a customer’s factory to meet the customer at 10.00 am. I reached our office at 8.55 am, but the service engineer reached at 9.10 am. He apologised for being late, but I was terribly upset and gave him a stern lecture on punctuality as we drove towards the customer’s factory.

Since I had kept a buffer of 15 minutes, we managed to reach just in time for our meeting, only to find that the customer himself had not arrived. When he came in at 10.30 am, he apologised, explaining that there was unusually heavy traffic that morning. Both my service engineer and I knew this was not true because the customer had used the same road that we had. Obviously, he had started late from home. Instead of pointing this out, I told the customer it was OK.

I realised that I was using different yardsticks for my service engineer and for my customer. In fact, I realised that my behaviour in most similar situations depended on who the other person was. Whenever a supplier or service provider, say an electrician or a plumber, would be late for any appointment, I would give the person a severe dressing down. However, I often tolerated the unpunctuality of my customers, bank officials and others because offending them could affect my business interests.

On the way back to office after our meeting, I explained to my service engineer that ‘practical considerations’ had prevented me from reacting to the customer’s unpunctuality in the same way that I had reacted to his latecoming. I’m not sure if he accepted my explanation, but from that day, I have consciously tried not to speak harshly to juniors, suppliers and service providers when they are unpunctual. I believe that if I cannot speak out against the unpunctuality of my customers, bank officials and other ‘important’ persons’, I have no moral right to be harsh to other ‘not-so-important’ persons in the same situation.

Don’t we all have ‘different strokes for different folks’?

Late for a meeting? The ‘not-so-important’ person is unpunctual. The ‘important’ person is normally punctual, but she/he got delayed due to factors beyond her/his control.

Doesn’t work hard enough? The ‘not-so-important’ person is a lazy bum who has no initiative. The ‘important’ person is ‘not in the rat race’.

Didn’t achieve the desired result? The ‘not-so-important’ person didn’t put in enough effort. The ‘important’ person was unlucky.

Tipsy? The ‘not-so-important’ person is drunk. The ‘important’ person is mildly intoxicated.

Eats too much? The ‘not-so-important’ person is a glutton. The ‘important’ person is a gourmet.

Drinks too much? The ‘not-so-important’ person is a drunkard. The ‘important’ person is fond of drinks.

The ‘not-so-important’ person is corrupt. The ‘important’ person is ‘street smart’.

The ‘not-so-important’ person is finicky. The ‘important’ person is methodical.

Don’t we consciously or unconsciously believe that “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”?

Shouldn’t we all believe and practise that “All animals are equal”? It’s not easy, but let’s try.