Cultural Discrimination

[Source]. The above picture taken by Ritesh Uttamchandani is sparking some discussion in the blogosphere. As you see, it shows tea stall owners, Sunil and Arvind Parmar having their lunch with Mangal, their Dalit servant sitting below their table. Most are outraged at this display of blatant discrimination pointing especially to the fact that the boy is a Dalit.

While not commenting on the appropriateness of the treatment, wouldn’t it be also true that the boy was sitting there because he is a servant and not because he is a Dalit? Of course, the relationship between him being a Dalit hence a servant cannot be denied much like race and poverty are intertwined in the United States. But that’s besides the point. Amit Varma comments:

I’d bet that if Mangal wasn’t under the table, the Parmars would have their feet on the ground, not on their seats, where they seem rather uncomfortable. Is that out of concern or disgust, you think?

I find that interesting because it might be culturally acceptable that servants not share their owners’ table at lunch. Would it be acceptable if the boy was not sitting under the table and in fact was on the floor next to them? I’m sure most middle-class and upper-class families in India do not sit with their servants for lunch at their dining table. So why the moral outrage at this picture? It may simply be a class issue and not a caste issue; which makes it just as likely in any culture around the world. Of course, whether you think this picture is nothing out of the ordinary or despicable is upto you.

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  • Prasoon

    Well, had it been like how you suspect, wouldn’t the ‘servant’ eat at a different time other than his masters and probably in some ‘corner’ than here? A real story right from that boy’s mouth would have atleast had the blogosphere silent but then, in all probabilty, what we see and perceive right now could be true.

    Visit any northern state and untouchability exists to unimaginable levels – UP is a classic case here. It could be that the feet are folded not because of concern (had it been concern, they would asked him to sit elsewhere or maybe eat afterwards) but because of disgust. Such is our nation, sadly!

    • Patrix

      Of course, I’m not denying that prejudice and discrimination exists. In fact, it might be far worse than what this picture indicates. But as you pointed out, the reasons might be very different from what we perceive. At least, pointing out certain unfair practices helps especially when we have taken them for granted for far too long.

  • Niket

    One picture may not tell the entire story. But we are the same folks who will be up in arms against racism directed towards us, but are quite accustomed to class/caste discrimination.

    When served food, our maid refuses to sit on the dining table, instead preferring to have her lunch sitting on the kitchen floor.

    I have heard of folks who have two maids: a higher caste maid who will rinse the utensils cleaned by the regular maid. On IIT campus, no less!

    • Patrix

      I wanted to highlight that exact selective outrage. Also seen recently in the case of racist attacks on Indian students whereas plight of foreign and Indian students in India goes unnoticed.

      I remember my mom reprimanding my grandmother for letting our maid servant sit at the table and eat when she was out. I was around 10 at that time and didn’t understand why it should matter. But your case of maid hierarchy on IIT campus is something else :)

      • Anonymous

        Oi, Stupid FOB retard, this is for the Shilpa Shetty post 4 years ago:

        Retarded inbred fob, stupid fobs like you are assbackward shit that need to be beaten up for having colonialist mentality/stockholm syndrome.

        Hope you get burnt alive by your ‘white masters’ you brown sahib desi FOB pillock

  • Arunk

    Last december, I was in chennai and we were about to head back to the US. The guy who works as the car driver for our family came with this wife and 2 small kids. Basically, we give some money i.e. like a gif to the house-servant, driver, gardener etc. at the end of all our India trips and so they came for that.

    We (me, my parents and a few others) were seated in our living room and these guys came in. They also had “dressed up” i.e. came in their best of clothes etc. When I welcomed them and asked them to sit (in a general way), they insisted on sitting on the floor – including the 2 kids! In their best clothes! It was extremely awkward situation for me – I was literally on pins and needles, wringing my fingers as I didn’t know even know how to react. Obviously I didn’t want something like above – I felt no superiority over them, and not in this sort of a perverse way (we are employers, they are employees – thats it). I tried politely tell them a couple of times to sit on the chair but it was obvious from their body language that THEY felt even more awkward than me to sit “on par with their bosses family”. So in the end, I simply succumbed to the situation – I felt bad, and also ashamed that I didn’t drive the point strong enough. So this “subservient streak” runs deep within the society. Note, that this was not necessarily a strict caste situation although there probably was some caste related undercurrents. However, what is perhaps worse is that it is a broader, pervasive problem of class division – servant class vs. employer class. But I think it is also a reflection of Asian societies I think. I visited S. Korea a few weeks back and I am told there the respect shown to elders/employers etc. deep, subservient one (cannot look them in the eye directly, cannot argue, cannot start eatng before them in a dinner etc.). So a lot of the above has the society’s value for respect in it, but it is twisted in other things