Class-driven consciousness prevails in modern Gurugram
One aspect of contemporary urban life in India that we need to reflect upon is the continuity of a strong class- and caste-driven consciousness. It manifests itself in many ways, starting from marriage to everyday matters such as separate plates in homes for those considered “unclean”. As urban denizens, we often proclaim, and proudly, that caste is not a part of our lives. But, the very act of keeping separate tableware undermines this notion.
Gurugram has apartment buildings that have separate elevators for residents and for those who help keep our houses homey. To have such a practice thrive in the Millennium City in the 21st century is an anathema, but it continues despite some dissenting voices and laws.
Looking at the blue-collar working class with suspicion has become such a part of our lives that we hardly question it.
Most apartment complexes in Gurugram control the movement of blue-collar workers by giving them ID cards and making them sign-in and -out every day. Even domestic workers who live with families have to carry a letter from their employers if they want to leave the premises. The guards also reserve the right to check their bags. The entire exercise is humiliating.
I wonder how we would feel if we were constantly treated with suspicion.
What is most disturbing is that so many of us think that such a treatment is “okay”. We repeatedly justify it by saying “after all, we have to make sure that nobody is stealing from us”. Having CCTV cameras all around the premises is acceptable because “you never know when or where people will steal from you”. But what about respecting the dignity of another person? This person comes to our homes, cleans it, cooks for us, and looks after our children and elders of the family. I am sure most of us don’t believe that all blue-collar workers steal habitually. But in the process of trying to protect ourselves, we are guilty of becoming overly suspicious and thus classist.
How do we strike a balance between protecting ourselves and not impinging on the rights and dignity of others?
All builders in Gurugram are mandated to have a certain number of apartments for the economically weaker section (EWS). Unfortunately, many of them lie vacant because the ‘other residents’ do not want people from an EWS background living so close to them, sharing a wall or even an entrance gate.
Denying an entire section of people the right to housing, even when it is mandated, is not seen as illegal, let alone unethical.
Today, it is possible to move from a gated community to other gated spaces, malls, office buildings in a chauffeur-driven car and have minimal interaction with the diversity of people who share our cities.
Development and modernisation should challenge hierarchies, but in Gurugram’s case it has become entrenched further. Children are growing up only seeing blue-collar workers in positions of service to them, without their parents setting an example of social equality. This does not bode well for a society and culture that is developing fast and growing with aspirations of global leadership.
Exclusion, discrimination, prejudice and deep inequalities cannot be the foundation of real development and progress. The process of urbanisation must address these along with economic development.