Our own apartheid

Urban hubs demand the best out of everyone and merit is king.

When I was a teenager, I once met an interesting person in Bangalore. The elderly gentleman hailed from Johannesburg and tested my knowledge of international geography by asking if I knew where Johannesburg was located.

Being an avid reader, and a keen student of social sciences I quipped, “Oh! Johannesburg from that apartheid country?” Elated that I knew where Johannesburg was, yet oddly perturbed, the old man said, “Yeah! Apartheid? You, like others must be opposed to that policy.  But it’s a very good thing the South African government is following. It is not racial discrimination but protecting the purity and culture of different races by separating different races in all spheres of life. Supposing a brown or a native African guy studies in a whites’ only college, he will mingle with many white boys and white girls. The mingling may lead to love and he may marry a white girl. Mixed race and mixed cultures cause a lot of problems and the children are sometimes confused. It’s an unsavoury thought but that’s the truth”.

Now looking back at that old man’s understanding of apartheid in his wisdom, or the lack of it, and taking in our own situation here in India, it’s pretty obvious that what we have here in India – the caste system or to a certain extent, the religious divisions actually seem similar.

In our beleaguered democracy, the politics and whatever it has come down to ensures the exclusivity of castes, religions, regions and languages; it protects them, appeases them and ensures that they remain distinct to protect their vote banks. Right from the division of states along linguistic lines, to the creation of reserved seats based on different categories, the Indian polity has ensured these groups of people are protected from its peers. Although this has strengthened the fibre of these individual groups, and its numbers giving them confidence and a common cause, it has retarded the intermingling of people among these groups. It has also made the diversity go askew. Diversity has always been our national strength but this kind of intentional exclusivity has bred suspicion and contempt for each other rather than ensuring mutual respect.
For decades, debates have been raging on whether quotas have killed merit but such claims have no grounds when no study has ever been undertaken which ascertains the effects of candidates who leveraged any form of affirmative action on the society. It’s a different matter that such a study will never be conducted simply because opposing camps will read between the lines on the motive behind such an exercise.

So, do we want a world with the entire population of a beige complexion? Or do we want to segregate people on the basis of scores of factors? It would’ve been wonderful had the debate been so simple. The fact is that due to factors beyond the control of anyone, globalisation is taking place and that’s at the macro level. In India, due to rapid urbanisation people are mingling with each other at urban hubs all over India. Whether one likes it or not, these urban hubs demand the best out of everyone and merit is king. The world here is a bit more cut-throat and a great leveler. It’s difficult to get ahead on the basis of affirmative action alone. Our politicians and the government must take this into account before leaping ahead with new ways of carving out vote banks.

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