Secular Humanism

A Matter of Privilege – Recipes for an Elitist Marriage

(This article is available in Polish here)

“Have the match-making aunties started making a queue outside your home?”, I asked my friend, who was passing out of IIT.

“Yeah. A lot of proposals have already come. My mom is handling all that stuff”

“Have you been booked already?”

“Haha. No”

A question kept buzzing in my head.

I asked him hesitantly,” You will not be taking dowry, right?”

After a few moments of awkward silence,

He said,” My parents want to me take it. I can’t go against their wishes”

A bitter feeling of disgust enveloped me.

I wanted to say, “After all this education, in supposedly, one of the most prestigious institutes in the country, you are consciously making a choice to be complicit in the perpetuation of a hideous social evil”

I couldn’t. I knew he had no answer, except a few helpless shrugs. I shifted the talk towards movies and cricket- the binding force of Indians.

This was a conversation, that surfaced on my memory, when I read this article, where a website has been created for potential bridegrooms and brides who studied in prestigious institutions (IITs, IIMs etc)

This was, to me, a digitization of what IIT/IIMs have always meant to me. A stairway to exclusion. This is not an exclusion that is blotted by any hint of guilt. This is an exclusion that is celebrated. This is an exclusion that is to be proud of. This is an exclusion most middle-class and above Indians fetishize about.

Yes, IIT is a fetish of Indian middle class.

IIT is a dream many children are forced to dream from as early as 6th standard. IIT is a destination that imprisons children in corporate ghettos where education is completely stripped of its essence and a homogenous cuisine, comprising Maths, Physics, Chemistry, is consistently shoved down the throats of students. IIT is a protective cover that shields children from the distractions of society, culture, sports, arts etc which hinder their path to ‘success’.

IIT is the question. IIT is the answer.

IIT is everything. IIT is everyone.

The personalities dwarfed by this complex pedagogic process internalize the exceptionality of their existence that they were made to believe since long, and the confusion of adolescence mutates into an extra-terrestrial arrogance and apathy. They begin to enjoy the social status the society blindly bestows on them. They walk up the stairway, step after step, year after year, until they reach the zenith of elitism. Comfortably placed in that bubble, tightly packed in their gated communities, they flash their tags of meritocracy.

Marriage is an ingenious institution in this country to maintain caste,class and gender hierarchies. The process of selection of potential brides is a profoundly racist , casteist ,classist and sexist endeavour.  That marriage should be built on the foundations of love and empathy is an alien concept here. One word that is most misused in this context is ‘wavelength’ – which essentially is an euphemism for ” Is the woman white enough? Is the woman’s ‘character’ alright? Is she one of those feminist-types? Is this relation caste and class compatible?…..” and other regressive questions.

IITians and IIM students just intensify the ingredient of elitism in an already flawed marital system.

There is a false sense of assurance provided by some folks in the article that through this website the focus would be shifted to education rather caste and religion etc. This is a highly misleading and a false illusion, just like some Indians who believe globalization would lead to dismantling of regional and feudal disparities, and we know how that is working out. This is just an effort to make it easier for these people to find a person of the same ‘wavelength’ in terms of caste, class, religion, and education-which-does-not-liberate-woman-with-false-feminist-notions.

Can we dust off our hands from the misdeeds of these meritocratic messiahs?

Do we, as a society, have the right to question this hideously elitist, the blatantly sexist nature of their motives, their brazen attempts to assert their rightfully gained snobbishness? Who nurtured their privilege and their sense of arrogant entitlement?

Don’t our faces glow with admiration when tomorrow someone pretentiously introduces himself as an IIT graduate? From where does this uncritical adoration of these institutes take root from?

Shouldn’t these institutes take responsibility for the lives of children, deprived of their childhood and holistic education, distorted in their name? Shouldn’t government intervene to put a check on the hideous business of coaching institutes- an alibi for academic ghettos- that have sprouted like cinema posters in every corner of the city?

The grotesqueness of this enterprise should force us to reflect on the structural inefficiency of the education system and the charade that the private corporate entities have made of it in the guise of ‘international’, ‘concept’, ‘techno’ schools.

I will end with a verse from my poem “Two I’s of T”

A generation passes by
like tears
on the two eyes of technology
that a country is proud of
And can’t get enough of.

About the author

Abul Kalam Azad

12 Comments

  • Another problem with engineering colleges (IITs, etc.) is the prevalence of sexism and misogyny among students. It reflects the society’s attitudes, of course. But the standards for acceptable speech and behavior about and towards women in engineering colleges is much worse than in the rest of society. In 2014, unfortunately, liberalism, secular humanism, and progressivism are not ideals that the young folks of engineering colleges strive for. In fact there’s even a swing in the opposite direction with organizations like Art of Living, Isha, ISKCON, etc. becoming increasingly popular. I wonder if the situation is different in liberal arts and science colleges (that the ‘college’ system itself is flawed, compared to multi-disciplinary ‘university’-campus systems is a discussion for another thread).

    I attended an engineering college that can be categorized as (elite – 1). Bigotry, misogyny, etc. were very prevalent and only a minority of the students seemed committed to progressive values. I wonder if the absence of scientific method and political philosophy from the engineering (and cram-school) curriculum has anything to do with this problem.

    • Another problem with these ‘elite’ schools is that people there hold extremely regressive views on affirmative action. Students are generally insensitive to those who get there through reservations.

      • I must completely agree. I too come from one such elite institution and the story is practically the same here. Cult organisations, socially regressive belief systems, misplaced elitism and privilege blindness are the norm in all of India’s ‘elite’ schools.

    • I wonder if the absence of scientific method and political philosophy from the engineering (and cram-school) curriculum has anything to do with this problem.

      Any attempts to fix the lack of ‘philosophy of science’ coverage, as has been lamented here and here, are often waved aside citing resource constraints. Even if there were some curricular reform, of what avail would it be if students simply undergo to the cram-and-forget routine for their ‘Philosophy of Science’ paper in the semester exams? Campus organizations like these (1,2) maybe a start.

    • This NYT op-ed describes universities as serving a three-fold function: commercial, cognitive and moral and laments how universities in the USA have all but abdicated the third while more-or-less serving the first two. In India, the commercial function seems to have taken overwhelming precedence at the cost of almost everything else. The least counterproductive way out, would be for the formal establishment to ‘make space’ by easing somewhat the stranglehold of examinations on schedules and recruitment-prospects, space which can then be effectively utilized by campus student organizations to help mutually cultivate cognitive and moral capabilities.

    • “Bigotry, misogyny, etc. were very prevalent and only a minority of the students seemed committed to progressive values. I wonder if the absence of scientific method and political philosophy from the engineering (and cram-school) curriculum has anything to do with this problem.”

      Is there evidence that absence of scientific method in curriculum leads to bigotry, misogyny, etc. and its presence has opposite effect? Same question for political philosophy..

      Conducting experiments, evaluating results, testing hypotheses and iteratively improving ideas and products. Are these not part of engineering curriculum?

  • As a alumni from one of these colleges i agree that unfortunately all the things are mentioned is true. It is because these institutions have become factories that provide labour for capital markets nothing more. In IIT we used to refer to coaching classes but i later learnt that is more applicable to IIT itself.

  • **I asked him hesitantly,” You will not be taking dowry, right?”

    After a few moments of awkward silence,

    He said,” My parents want to me take it. I can’t go against their wishes”

    A bitter feeling of disgust enveloped me.

    I wanted to say, “After all this education, in supposedly, one of the most prestigious institutes in the country, you are consciously making a choice to be complicit in the perpetuation of a hideous social evil”

    I couldn’t. I knew he had no answer, except a few helpless shrugs. I shifted the talk towards movies and cricket- the binding force of Indians.
    **

    I thought dowry is illegal in India. You certainly must have pointed that out to your friend.

    • Sorry, for the rant – you can stop after the 1st para.I just realized how long it is.

      Dowry violence is illegal in India – burning, harassing, in some cases asking for it is punished when the groom’s side suddenly asks for it in the middle of the ceremony or refuses to enter the wedding hall or refuse to take the bride back unless a car(or something else but all the stories I know of involve transportation) is provided. Since one can’t afford or procure a car immediately the marriage can’t go through anyway so a case is registered.There has to be pain element.

      Most dowry as such falls into the category of gifts given voluntarily and so a case can’t be registered and prosecution can’t take place.

      One of the things feminists of the 1980s realized later was that they were protesting dowry violence, not dowry itself. Now the problem of dowry violence has largely permeated into the middle class psyche but dowry itself hasn’t.

      Even in families where dowry isn’t given or where an inter-religious marriage is to take place, the bride’s side insists on paying all the expenses. Thereby continuing daughter = liability, w/o dowry trend.

  • Greetings India,

    I am Cody, an American graduate of an elite college near my hometown in Georgia, USA. Unfortunately, these elitist attitudes were shared by my fellow students at Emory University, as well. The whole concept of an elite institution gravitates towards elitism. The point is to provide a place for supposedly superior people to meet each other and form exclusive relationships that will extend to financial inequality. I met many Indians at Emory, and yet, I never met a single Indian from the Sudra class or even the Viaisha class. Every single Indian at Emory was either from the Brahman or Kysatria class.

  • Hi Cody,

    I feel you have misunderstood the Hindu class system. The fourfold class/varna distinction you are referring to is the ideal one but not actual, because India is teeming with numerous castes and subcastes in reality.

    Many of your Indian fellow students are Brahmins. But the rest will be Sudras and Vaishyas except that they will belong to what we call ‘forward castes’, ‘the çlean castes’ i.e castes with money, privilege and status in society. What you will not have met are the backward castes or untouchables; there might be rare exceptions though and if so they will usually hide their actual caste identity.

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