Many conflicting emotions have been playing in my head since I saw Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. For a history student, watching one of the greatest director’s alive make a war movie was nothing short of a spectacular experience. But, something died in me the moment I finished watching the film. And I have been trying to pen it down since then.
History is taught to us as a boring, drab subject in school. In college, one can love the discipline because there are so many ways to interpret the ways of men (and women). But what is never taught to us is how monstrous war is. How it never fetches anyone any happiness, it creates only misery.
The worst invention of humankind is war – for it discriminates between no one when it sets out to destroy.
Those men in Dunkirk – they weren’t out there for patriotism. They just wanted to go home. The larger-than-life pictures which we are fed of celebrating soldiers, their love for the motherland, patriotism – honestly, it’s all just a bunch of lies.
No emotion is greater than one’s love to live and I am glad Nolan made that point loud and clear in Dunkirk.
No one wants to die – especially on the battlefield. It’s a brutal life these people, the youth of the 1940’s lived, so that we can see our future today.
Realising that I am walking on the dead bodies of so many young people, whose sacrifice made me who I am today, made me feel grateful for my life. And sad. No one deserves war, no one deserves a youth where the biggest concern is finding a way to live before you get bombed. Yet, we still are on the verge of going to war today. We still are ungrateful for what we have, for the sacrifices unwillingly made by so people.
Look at the sky. Imagine seeing a plane and being scared. Imagine the sea gulping you down because humans decided to use it as a weapon against you by building torpedoes. We have misused nature to gain, and unfortunately, we still continue to blame and maim nature. After watching Dunkirk, I don’t get it why selling arms is a ‘lucrative’ trade. Honestly, those arms will one day land in the hands of an unwilling 16-year-old who has to fight a war he/she has no intention of fighting.
War divides, creates crevices. War kills. I don’t care if Dunkirk wasn’t giving me the sci-fi Kodak feel of Interstellar. Dunkirk is real, it’s brutal and it’s a reality. The Second World War was less a war against the Nazis and the Axis powers, it was more a war against our principles and the sanity of mankind. People were tested in myriad ways and mostly, we failed as a species.
What I learned from the film was that history shouldn’t be taken flimsily. The monstrosity of war should be taught to students, the bad images of war should be flashed in front of them every single day. The hunger, destruction and poverty war brings should be shown to us, so that no one even dreams of war or glorifies it ever again.
I want more directors like Nolan to reflect this side of war in their movies. Pearl Harbor wasn’t an amazing love story, War Machine isn’t a cool movie. War is not fun. Ask those who went through it. Or just look at Syria or the Philippines right now. Death can be avoided for those who want it, but only if we learn from history, unfortunately.
The February 9 JNU issue brought out two important issues to the political fora:
That the Indian institution is ready to take any issue and spiral it out of control
That there is a need to not misrepresent and misunderstand social scientists
Indians have fundamentally shunned the social sciences ever since the tech boom or rather since Independence, when our founding fathers, with a background in the social sciences ended up unconsciously putting social sciences in the background in their search for ‘modernising’ India. The social tumult India went through during the years of the Emergency and later liberalisation of the economy failed to ask a very basic question – has India’s quantitative expansion of its higher education system failed to qualitatively discover itself?
The tussle of the Indian government with JNU brought up very important debates into the public forum. All of a sudden, students of the most prestigious social science institution in India became ‘traitors’ and ‘anti-nationals’. The discipline of history was viewed with scorn when Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, students of the History department of JNU stood up in solidarity with Kanhaiya Kumar, the defamed students’ union leader of JNU.
This is not surprising in a country that has failed to produce good social scientists over the years to answer the never-ending debate of why social stigma, social differences and political unrest still prevail in a country that is supposedly a melting point of all the races of the world.
India’s tryst with the study of the social sciences started under the British rule, with the teaching of European enlightenment ideas under their education system in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The ideas of Rousseau, Voltaire, Kant and Aristotle did evoke generations of scholars like Rammohan Roy, Surendranath Banerjea, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Jawaharlal Nehru and even Gandhi to take forth the mantle of independent thought and action forward in their struggle for India’s fight for Independence. But Independence brought with it an absence of the teachings of these leaders and what they learnt from the European Enlightenment.
Take for example, the Father of the Nation, Gandhi. How many of us in India have been exposed to his teachings in school? Hardly a few can even vouch for having read Gandhi, apart from the regular exposure to him in history books, that has reduced him to a mere political figure.
The Indian diaspora desperately needs social scientists today more than ever before as glaring problems confront India. From Naxalites in the states of Chattisgarh and Jharkhand to disgruntled students to changing voter identities to caste issues, the country needs a force of social scientists that can analyse the differences and formulate social methods to bind the country together. Getting more political scientists or historians into the Civil Services isn’t the answer. The Indian society needs to let writers, journalists, political analysts, think tanks, theatre artists – any form of social dissent thrive, that can question and reform the structural basis of Indian society.
We need to understand why institutions like JNU are important for the society. Places that produce research on the social sciences reproduce talent that understands the social fabric of India, understands the behavioral psyche of people, treats people as humans, not resources. Take for example farmer suicides. In 2015, a drought in places like Latur in Maharashtra led many farmers to commit suicide after their crops failed. Politicians treated it as a scenario where the average day-to-day farmer was disgruntled with the credit system, and faced a rising debt in light of little or no crop.
A social scientist would have understood exactly which kind of farmers were being affected by the drought – the marginal farmer with land less than an acre, whose land was divided over generations, because of the Hindu system of land sharing amongst the sons. For him, the need wasn’t a better credit system or a better market rate for his crops – his need was for the government to understand that India still lives in its villages and we need to be prepared for the irregular monsoon by giving the farmers high-yielding varieties of seeds and better irrigation facilities, not bank accounts.
Recently, social scientists are being viewed by people who are making use of the identity to pursue a career in politics. And I fail to understand why that is viewed as a bad thing. People like Shashi Tharoor, with a PhD in History are trying to make a difference to Indian politics by using their deep understanding of the Indian system and its failings/strengths to work within the system and produce something relevant out of it.
Politicians in the United States are mostly from liberal arts backgrounds, and they are people who use their knowledge of American politics and foreign policy to represent their country better on an international platform (I am discarding the example of Trump’s election in this essay, for now).
Social sciences research in India has seen dismal growth in the past decade with a rather low number of papers from Indian scholars based in their country’s universities getting published in leading international journals. Even those assuming charge of important institutions like the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) have had papers published in only half-yearly college journals, with their academic research failing to reach an international forum, where feedback is more fierce and emphasis on analysis and quality more rampant.
While the dominance of the Global North in academics can not be denied, there is still a need to retrospect the failings in the Indian academic system that presents rusty social sciences research to the world. This is a scary number as it shows that Indians are failing to question their society, an example of inward regression into non-acceptance of many realities.
T.S Papola puts this in a better way in his paper, Social Sciences Research in Globalizing India:
“Major concerns of India as a politically independent nation were seen to be economic in nature, and it was assumed that economic development would lead to resolution of most social problems as well…by reorienting the pattern of growth to make it more equitable and by adopting special measures, mostly economic, favouring the poor and the disadvantaged. As a result, Economics attained the major importance among social science disciplines, in terms of relevance for identifying, diagnosing and treating the problems of Indian society.”
Yet, we can’t put the blame on the research universities alone. The Government also needs to set aside money for pursuing research in the social sciences. It’s a commonly known fact by students that it will be easier to get money for pursuing research in nanotechnology or even stem cell research, rather than on deciphering the Indus Valley script. That itself is alarming. Without funding, the Archaeological Survey of India took nearly 100 years to excavate the Harappan civilization and date India’s history back by another thousand years. And now, without further research in the social sciences, the discipline will be open to political conflict and re-interpretation because no new research is being undertaken to counter politically-inflamed views.
Economists now hold top positions in policy-making in the country, but historians, philosophers and political scientists have receded to the background. Interdisciplinary studies have diminished, making every view a narrow one.
India’s Constitution is a standing example of what can happen if only a particular discipline is allowed to prevail. At 395 articles in 22 parts and 8 schedules, India’s constitution is the longest in the world, because it was composed by mostly lawyers. The Constitution ended up being a legal document with numerous loopholes, that answered many questions, yet remained silent on others, making it open to interpretation and potential abuse.
Institutions like the London School of Economics and Oxford have become institutions of excellence because students there are forced to think, and not conform to a certain academic viewpoint. In India, a Bachelor of Arts degree has been reduced to mere rote learning. Students are expected to mug thousands of pages, ready answers to furnish as their own in the examination, leaving no scope for them to think beyond what they can read in their academic text. The vast syllabus the universities aim to complete within three years is also an injustice on the students.
The presence of multiple view points in India present a unique scenario for social sciences research and if tapped, India’s market, economy and society can be mapped on paper like never before. Students, if led on the right path, can grow into conscientious individuals ready to question the things given to them, and can help mend the cracks in the current system.
The discipline of social science gives individuals an opportunity to think, something the sciences can not offer. If we don’t create our own Tagores or Gandhis, then very soon this country will become a walking replica of George Orwell’s 1984. And one doesn’t need to read the novel to understand what kind of state I am referring to.
I was leading a normal life on Friday, when I suddenly chanced upon your tweet on Historians.
And then, the tweet after that.
A believer in free speech, I won’t say I would like you to take off your tweet. I don’t even want to get into your opinion on other things in general like intelligentsia returning their awards, nor will I comment on your ‘political affiliation’. You already must have faced flak for such a thoughtless statement and I would like to tell you that your statement comes at a time when History and Historians are being targeted the most in India. Join the brigade, maybe?
As an ardent reader, I have somehow not strayed away from reading your work. While I realise that your educational background is from an elite engineering college, where admission is difficult and close to impossible, I would also like to tell you that the tweet that you tweeted is something I have heard from many other students of that institution before. So, as I basically understand, the feeling of considering the humanities and social sciences ‘useless’ is pretty much an institutional issue.
Now, I do know that the IITs have been trying to inculcate ‘holistic’ knowledge of the social sciences in their institutions through the study of humanities. Many students huff and puff and prance and go to study Humanities courses at IIT. Now, let me point out which humanities courses are taught at your IIT- i.e, IIT Delhi. Economics, Linguistics, Philosophy, Sociology, Policy, Psychology, Literature and some multidisciplinary courses that include Communication skills, Art and Technology, Social Science Approach to Development. I can see that History isn’t a part of the Department courses, forget even being offered as a course within the Multidisciplinary ones.
So, I think, I am not surprised at your little and petty understanding of the discipline, and why historians can’t take a ‘joke’ right now in this country, like the “holy cow”. In fact, while I was in college, I was told by some very distinguished students of that very institution you studied in, “what’s the point of reading History in college? Anyone can do that. You can read those same history books in your pastime and know as much as any history student!”
But what I am worried about, is the implication of your tweet. Because there are people who read and worship and follow Chetan Bhagat and now all they need is your tweet to brandish in people’s faces that History or the study of it, isn’t needed.
Do you know Mr. Bhagat, that for the past one year, Historians are being targeted for the same thing you have said? – What do they really do? Some of them have been asked to rewrite a Hindu version of history, after all, what’s the point of reading the same history again and again and again? Right?
The advisory council of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) was disbanded this year in March, because these very historians were responsible for ‘reviewing’ the articles that will appear in the IHR journal. Some of these historians were, namely, Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, Muzaffar Alam, JS Grewal, Richard M Eaton, Satish Chandra, to name a few. Now, why would anyone bother about this? After all, these are the same people, who are wasting Government money to research on something that is constant across time and space- history. What is new to dig up in it?
Added to this, the new Chairman of the ICHR is now Yellapragada Sudershan Rao, who holds the view that Indian intellectual, spiritual and scholastic achievements have no parallel. I am wondering, Mr. Bhagat, how you will react if one day your sons come home and claim that the Taj Mahal is actually a Vedic temple? After all, that’s what’s written in their textbooks, isn’t it? And don’t worry, we already have people in this country claiming so.
Soon, our Vedas will be considered the most important and ‘oldest’ text in the History of mankind. Manusmriti might just come back into vogue! I hope you are aware of the things the Manusmriti states? According to the Manusmriti, as a woman, I shouldn’t even be countering you right now, because that is not what I am supposed to do!
I am surprised that a man as “learned” as you, after studying at two of the most elite institutions in the country, could not even understand the political scenario of the nation, before making a tweet in “good humour”? I think you are the same learned person who wrote a book called, ‘What young India wants’? Do you really feel, Mr. Bhagat, that ‘Young’ India doesn’t need historians? Or do you feel that those currently in the profession aren’t really needed in the country?
Let me enrich you with information on another incident. Recently, actually this week itself, Prof. Romila Thapar was at KC College, Mumbai to deliver a lecture on secularism. A police van had to stand vigil outside the college to “provide protection in case there was any problem.” As a writer who is quite vocal about his views, do you feel that a historian, however useless she may be, needs police vigil to be protected for talking about secularism?
Your tweet isn’t just a joke in good humour. In the larger paradigm, your statement is taken seriously by a lot of people. It is unfortunate that as a public figure, you couldn’t keep in mind a simple, rational fact that people, who are right now agitated at even the mention of ‘objective’ history will simply use your tweet as a starting point to agitate even more against those who are the only people in the country right now there to save your future from being re-told in a format suitable only for the current political opinion.
As a responsible citizen, and unfortunately, a historian, I must say, today, I am ashamed that the IITs couldn’t create conscientious thinkers. Because not only does their institution not teach one of the most important disciplines of the social sciences, but its students are also passing statements on the non-necessity of free speech and debate, and opinionated thinking. I wonder whether you are planning to write a book on a historical event in the future? Please don’t let your tweet be the deciding factor for you to pick up your pen and pen down history. We have too many unnecessary people wanting to do that already.
A Very, Very, Not-So-Angry, And Not-So-Surprised Historian.
A few years ago, a dear friend of mine and I had a very heated debate on the topic of caste based reservation. While my friend attributed reservation as a right thing, I kept arguing on the negative aspects on it, and stressing on the need to have an economic basis for reservation, not a social basis for it. My friend kept pressing that I read up more about reservation before being so vehemently against it. Right now, its admission time, and I think it is absolutely necessary to talk about a topic a lot of ‘general category’ people frequently discuss about – reservation. And I will tell you, where we (i.e general category people) go wrong.
I am a general category, Brahmin girl, and to admit it, I am obviously privileged. Not as much as a Brahmin man, but still, privileged. I have grown up in a middle-class family, I have struggled to get educated in a good college, I have been hard-pressed to become successful because of monetary issues at home. But I am STILL privileged. You know why? Because at the end of the day, I have been born into a high-caste Hindu Brahmin family, and I have never been subjected to any rhetoric that mocks my ‘caste’.
65 years into Independence, we have progressed by leaps and bounds economically. While some people got elevated, others didn’t. Post independence, Ambedkar established reservation in the Constitution for the lower castes (I hate to refer to them as lower castes, they are our own people and deserve the same level of respect. But for purposes of distinction, I will currently stick to the term lower castes). Now they are notoriously called by the Constitution as ‘SC/STs’. The OBC’s are a third category, used to refer to castes that are socially and economically disadvantaged. The highly controversial Mandal Commission report of 1980 found 52% of India’s population to consist of OBCs.
Reservation and its repercussions isn’t a new term of debate. Its a debate going on for years. From the time of the Mandal Commission, General category students have flocked to the streets protesting against reservation that ‘takes away their seats’. My plea to the General category students is- Please understand who takes reservation and that you aren’t affected by it.
1. Reservation DOESN’T take away the seats of the General category. In fact, the population of SC/STs and OBCs is larger than the General category in India. And we still get greater seats.
2. We aren’t affected by reservation. There may be economically advantaged SC/ST’s and OBC’s who take reservation, but they are taking away the seat of an economically disadvantaged SC/ST/OBC. Not YOU.
3. You may abuse reservation as much as you want, but will you ever be subjected to societal abuse like them. Even if an OBC/ST/SC candidate is talented, they are still labelled, “lower caste” by the Upper castes. If an OBC or SC/ST ever tries to explain this to you- you will never understand. Because it’s in our social training to not take into account the views of the disprivileged.
4. Reservation is NOT for economic elevation. Its for social elevation. That hasn’t happened, that’s why its still there.
I am a Brahmin girl, if I decide to marry an SC/ST, will my parents agree? I don’t think they will. Why not? Because my friends, caste hierarchy still exists in this country called India, which we call a ‘democracy’.
Now, a lot of general category people will point out that SC/ST’s and OBC’s have lower cut-offs making it easier for them to get into good colleges. Of course, thats an issue, merit should be equalised, but… the cut -offs were lowered for those people who face rampant discrimination till date in smaller towns and villages. And their seats aren’t getting filled because many of them can’t make it to school because people of OUR caste refuse to study with them. And when their seats don’t get filled – they are given to US. And the economically advantaged who do take the benefit of reservation are looking for social elevation folks – which unfortunately the institution of reservation hasn’t been able to give them because people like US won’t give it to them.
If you think I am part-Brahmin, and one of my ancestors is SC/ST, that’s the reason I “bleed” for them, then you’re very well mistaken. I am disgusted that we still live in a society where Caste as a term exists. If you think I am for/against someone, I can just clarify that I am humane, unfortunately. Reservation should have abolished caste years ago, it hasn’t been able to, because we as a society still uphold the institution. I am still referring to myself as ‘Brahmin’ because unfortunately, that is a term I have been trained to use to distinguish me from the ‘others’. And it sticks to my tongue, unconsciously, due to years of social conditioning.
An Ambedkar Periyar study circle was abolished in IIT Madras just two-three days ago. While this news has been flying around, how many of us would like to believe for what Ambedkar stood for? Here is what the students who are part of the study circle wrote in their letter to the Dean, after being derecognised by the elite institute:
We have been accused of spreading hatred between SC-ST and the Hindus and vitiating the atmosphere of the institute. We are surprised and slightly amused. Are SC, ST not part of the so-called ‘Hindus’? How MHRD and IITM is perceiving such a venomous anonymous mail with full of hatred towards the SC, ST and Ambedkar? Are we the one who polarise the students or they are the one who think IITM is their own base to propagate against the interest of SC, ST, OBC who are the majority in our Society? Rather our organization is engaged in propagating Ambedkar and Periyar thoughts, in helping depressed castes and the caste Hindus to realize the evilness of caste-based discrimination taking place in modern India and expose the ideology functioning behind such discrimination. When we talk about the hierarchical caste structure existing in Indian Society, inevitably we end up in talking about the present pathetic condition of peasants and labours. There are a number of sociological studies that will bear us out when we say that caste-based discrimination is still very strong in our society, that caste-based associations can leave some with privileges that add up throughout their lives while those that are excluded face powerful social barriers to their attempts to improve their social and economic status. We have only been discussing these issues with an aim to make a common platform for all students inspite of their caste and creed so as to dismantle the evilness of caste barriers. However, even in 2015, our activities are seen to be too radical by the religious right. If the religious right has the right to be offended, then don’t the oppressed Dalits and Bahujans who still face powerful prejudices have a right to be offended with the state of affairs? Our pamphlets do not have any material that would surprise a sociological or political scientist. Yet, the institute has taken these complaints seriously and has chosen to derecognise our organisation.
There was a reason Ambedkar left Hinduism. This is what he had to say about our beloved religion:
I am not saying that Brahmins and other upper castes don’t face any problems. Yes, a lot of us are in a minority and are labelled as ‘casteists’, when we actually aren’t. I have myself been assumed as ‘casteist’, just because I have an upper caste surname, whereas I believe caste as an institution is the worst thing Indians are born with. I find it even more disturbing that caste has permeated other religions in India too, like Sikhism, Islam and Christianity.
As a young student, I was very angry about reservation. I was very angry about the lower cut-offs for the ‘other’ people. But has our collective anger ever substantiated into equality for other people? No. We still practise Brahmanical traditions, we still like to distinguish ourselves as “upper castes”. And occasionally we love to talk about those ‘privileged’ SC/ST’s who derive wrong benefits out of reservation.
But folks, the terms ‘privilege’ and “SC/ST” don’t go together! They are not privileged! They are still treated with disgust, contempt. In good colleges, when they don’t perform well, its attributed to the fact that they sought reservation. But reservation isn’t our fight, it isn’t our war. We need to reform ourselves first before we turn around and abuse the institution of reservation.
My plea is for all students reading this article. Population boom is the reason for our woes, don’t blame it on other people. Seats in colleges haven’t increased in proportion to the number of children born in this country, if we don’t think conscientiously, how will we change India? How will we change our society? I was once in your boat, a very angry student who had a problem with reservation, especially during the JNU entrance. (JNU has over 50% reservation – but there are different categories of reservation, not all seats are given on the basis of caste). Back then, my friends who sought reservation maintained a dignified silence – you know why? Because they know that we won’t change.
It’s time we do. It’s time we take up the mantle of equality, and give everyone what they deserve- respect and adulation. Forget that we are Hindus, forget that we belong to a particular sect, embrace humanity. Be happy that there is beauty in being alive, there is beauty in having a free spirit. Half of our inhibitions will disappear, I promise you that, and the road to progress will be smoother. But the only way that can happen in India, is by doing away with our surnames, and everything else associated with “caste”, including our high-handedness.
I am only talking about education here, lets not bring up those disgusting jokes that point that fields like Acting and Cricket don’t have SC/STs and OBC’s in them because there is no ‘reservation’ in these fields. I will just point out that it is plain ignorance if you assume that singers Daler Mehndi, Mika Singh and India’s greatest Athlete PT Usha are from the ‘Upper castes’. And their struggle has been tougher because they belonged to a lower caste.
Otherwise, take a trip to a village. When you see dalits picking up our garbage, cleaning our shoes, and when you realise that our ‘privileged’ SC/ST and OBC friends aren’t exactly privileged in the first place, then maybe our eyes will open. A brahmin may clean the floors of a temple, but a kshatriya or brahmin never has to do what the harijans do for us. The Harijans are the true bastions of our country, the people on which this country stands. Don’t break the country in the name of religion and social hierarchy, I beg of you.
College life, for all of us, is our first step towards independence, our first flow into adulthood. Growing up on quintessential Karan Johar movies, my perception of college life was pretty much about handsome boys, large campuses, and mushy romance. All my dreams post school dashed when I had to seek admission in a girls college. Though my college was the best in India for my subject, it was a girls college. All of a sudden, my whole life’s quest of having a KJo defined college life seemed like a movie. Unfortunately, KJo movies aren’t exactly reality. That is the whole point of his movies.
The first few weeks in college were horrifying. There was not a single man in sight. All I saw were women, women and more women. A young teenage (woman) does need to talk to men occasionally, and given the location of my college campus, there was no college with men in sight. Did I regret my decision looking at photos of friends studying in co-educational colleges? Yes. I particularly resented the women in engineering colleges, who were so minute in number that they got all the attention from the men around them. I always believed studying with women all around me would mean endless cat-fights, bickering, unnecessary drama, tears, and everything pink and girly. Within months, my facebook profile (much to the happiness of my parents) was filled with girls. The only guys I met at random fests wanted to befriend me because I was in a women’s college and could introduce them to more “hot” chicks and maybe get them entry into my college for some nayan-sukh prapti (provision of entertainment for their eyes- a literal translation).
A lot of my friends who had studied at girls schools were also going through a similar dilemma. For a lot of my acquaintances, college life didn’t really seem like college anymore- it seemed like an extension of school. For outsiders, I was a feminist and a lesbian. For myself, I was just a loser who couldn’t get admission into an equally good co-educational institution.
But, a few months down the line, I started noticing a change in myself. I noticed a different kind of confidence in myself. All of a sudden, I was doing everything on my own. From handling projectors to organising events- all of my fellow female friends and me were doing everything on our own. Before, at home, I used to pass over all ‘hard’ responsibilities like bank work to my dad. My dad was always the ‘go-to’ guy for everything that wasn’t related to house-work. My dad bought the groceries, my dad counted the bill, my dad did the math, my dad withdrew money from the bank.
At 17, I started doing everything by myself. Initially, life was tough- but then I realised I didn’t need my father anymore to guide me to do things I could very well do by myself. Unknown to me, I was transforming into an independent woman. A woman who could do everything on her own, who could handle every responsibility. Even the elections in my college were different – no campaign attacked a woman’s sexuality. Suddenly, sexuality became something I was comfortable with. I knew I could walk in my college corridors in my pyjamas, and nobody would care. Whether my hair style was a bun or a bob- no one bothered. All everyone bothered about was the intense debate and discussion in classroom – the ability to speak up for oneself. I knew I didn’t have to look good for someone, I could simply look and feel good for myself.
I didn’t need to do ‘manly’ things to get accepted within a particular society- my college was the utopia I always longed for- it was a society of equals. By the second year, I couldn’t imagine myself to be anywhere else. I know a lot of people might perceive me to be a hard-core feminist who believes society is better off without men, but I believe the society my college gave me was necessary for me to gain my comfort level with myself as a woman.
In my second year, I got elected into my department Union, and in the first talk that our Union organized, the speaker was a Gay rights activist. He narrated incidents of how men in a co-educational college he taught at used to make a ‘chick-list’ at the beginning of the year, to rate the face quotient of all the fresher girls. I could never imagine being subjected to that in my girls college. Two or three months later I went to attend a fest at a prestigious engineering college, and I bumped into two dudes there who explained to me that the girls in their institute were non-males and only became decent to look at by the fourth year of college. For me, this was a wake-up call. After spending years in a co-educational school, trying to look good, achieve a certain standard of perfection- I realised that I had always been stuck in a vortex of patriarchy. It took me three years in a girls college to understand that women were perfect the way they were and were empowered irrespective of clothes, social status or appearance. Before, I was naive and always aspired to be someone I never was. There were a lot of my classmates who were already empowered before college, but for a person like me, from a background where women didn’t do certain things… this was a wake-up call.
My respect for women and their choices has increased manifold now. I believe in a woman’s right to exercise her decision, without judging her. My ability to reason has increased, my ability to question has increased. I became the person I am today because I went to a girls college that believed in empowering women in every way possible. My college taught me to love men, but without forgetting my identity and letting go of it. My college taught me to accept myself and be proud of my sexuality. My college taught me that there are no rules that I need to follow- morals are of my own making, not society’s. I made friends, became more than friends with others, shared my life with them, my emotions, my every movement. I loved my friends without reason, and made friends and lovers for life. The world couldn’t understand my love for my fellow college mates- no one will ever do. For them we are just a bunch of women bonding over our oestrogen-ness. But a girl’s institution is more than that. You need to be there to feel what I felt in those three years of college. Even Karan Johar’s movies can’t beat the romance I had with my college. I feel privileged sometimes, that I could live in such a space. The world is cruel, and harsh. But I know that one day, I can make the society into the kind of free world my college is. Every woman, like me can receive the privilege of being free, in every way possible. Yes, my college made me a feminist, but without my college, I wouldn’t even be half the human I am today.
For the past 7 months, I have been studying outside my country, in a place far, far foreign to my own. While living in India, living outside, studying outside – all seemed like a gateway to a wonderful life which I wouldn’t get if I didn’t ‘leave’. Now, after more than 6 months, I am looking back and thinking about whether studying abroad was the best decision of my life or not.
In a country like India, most young Graduates face the decision of either doing an MBA, or giving the Civils or going for an academic career. Some people decide to take up unconventional courses like Media for their Masters. The more conventional engineers either sit for the GATE or CAT or GRE. Studying abroad is a viable option for most, feasible for few. While many students from IITs and NITs tend to lean towards an MS/PhD in tier I Universities like Stanford, Urbana-Champaign, MIT, etc., the real number is actually very little. From outside, it is assumed by a lot of people that going to an IIT or IIM or ISB is a sling- shot to a life abroad. (and loads, pot loads of white money).
The reality is very, very different.
Very few students nowadays get placed in US Companies, most of the young graduates who join TCS or Deloitte go for short-term projects to the US. In fact, even doing a Masters or UnderGrad in the US isn’t a sure shot guarantee of a job, or a permanent life in the US. Getting an H1B visa is extremely difficult, as every year, it is a lottery system to allot a limited number of work visas. A lot of young students from illustrious colleges like IIT end up working for more than 5 years in India offices of major companies like Amazon, Oracle, GS, etc., and then ‘qualify’ for a sponsorship for the L1 visa.
Going to countries like Germany, France or Japan seems easy, but you need to learn their language to work in their country. A lot of times Indian qualifications don’t come of much use, and a lot of qualified Indians have to study in these countries again. Singapore seems like a viable option too – but look at the size of that country folks – will 10 million of us fit in?
All uncles, aunties, and other close relatives portray the lives of others as a lala land, where hopping from one country to another is just child’s play. As a social scientist, I see a very different trend in the world. With politics in nations gearing up against “foreigners”, as jobs for their nationals are scarce, there might come a time when we will have to stay in India, forever, whether we like it or not. Those who “leave” will have to come back, much to the disgrace, horror and chagrin of family members and relatives. It is sad to see people judging young people without having any idea of the horrors of politics and its repercussions on foreign students and workers.
I have been studying in the UK, and from what I understand, Nigel Farage won’t be the happiest man alive, if I ever express my desire to live on in the UK. Why would I anyways? It is not my country. And if I want to, and I am not a Finance graduate who can secure a job in a bank (financial jobs in the UK are actually the best way to stay on here – a tip for those despos wanting to live in the UK), then I will have to secure a job post my graduation worth £23,000, to apply for a work visa. And mind it, rent in UK isn’t cheap – you might just end up saving less than a thousand pounds per month (which is a pittance, to be honest- you might as well work in India and lead a lavish life, though with lower living standards).
Parents of the 80’s have seen their friends, colleagues, relatives moving to the US/UK at a time when there was a huge demand for immigrants. Countries like Australia were looking for individuals to populate their countries, the US still had to see its tech boom and needed young, bright graduates. With the demand exhausted, very few people now can actually lead the ‘brain drain’ that has drained India off its best labour for the past 40 years.
We need to understand that right now, we need to build our country and create opportunities for our own young people. We are responsible for the young people’s resentment towards their jobs, their lives in India. We have spent a lifetime spending our time in unnecessary politics, unnecessary drama, ass-licking and what not. Our government offices are in a mess, young graduates who want to lead change are demotivated by the tall bureaucracy. And we all are collectively responsible for it. We treat India as a place which is our Baap ka raj (My dad’s rule), but it is a country for all people. Living abroad like a civilised being and treating India like shit isn’t the answer.
There will come a time when Western countries will realise that they have a paucity of people in certain fields, after restricting them for entry. But then, Asians like us need to lead the march forward, instead of letting the Western world capitalise on our best graduates. It is a difficult task, even more difficult one for those who want to lead a comfortable life after spending years studying, working and earning money. But after all, we are Indians. We have a responsibility towards our motherland. Lets lead change. If one Kejriwal can rise, so can more. Lets make India the country we always desired it to be.
Oh! and yes, kindly use a condom. The last thing we need is a larger population. The current population level has already set our asses on fire. Instead of hankering for a “son” and producing more children, or attributing children as a God’s gift- kindly serve the society by helping those already alive to secure jobs, instead of sending your future generations into poverty.
(Global warming might just kill us all off anyways, just saying.)
“I want to follow my passion”, I remember telling my parents 8 years ago, when I completed my secondary school examinations. And my passion was Humanities, a subject I always loved and which loved me back. I was never very fortunate with Science and Maths, always faring badly in every exam, much to the dismay of my parents.
My father, unsurprisingly, had noticed the maddening urge in me to pursue my discipline and always stood by my side. My mother, unconvinced at first, was happy to see me happy to pursue what I always wanted to do.
8 years later, where do I stand? I am doing History, a subject I love, and by freak chance, I landed up with the right subject at University – a subject that fit my personality. History is as volatile as me, it is as multi- faceted as I want it to be. Coming back to the eternal question – where do I stand?
Now, in this corporate world (lets just call it corporate, capitalism hasn’t really managed to do otherwise), what we are in dire need of, is development, in all directions. And I belong to India – which really needs an industrial model right now, given its longing drive for development in all sectors of the economy.
So, where do I stand? What can I say? After 8 years of studying Humanities, when I now apply for a job, everywhere I am asked the question – What skills do you have? How can you apply them to your job? I never thought about “inculcating” job- related skills back in college- I just diligently studied, as any other student along side me did. I scored good marks, I got into a good University for my Masters. But skills? Wasn’t that the forum of Engineering graduates, who are expected to have industrial skills?
The confusion and dichotomy that society has thrown me under, truly makes me doubt myself now. Education is not supposed to be a business – but then education which does not empower you to earn your bread and butter, isn’t really doing much for you, right? And for people like me, who do not wish to pursue a career in academics or the civil services – where do we fit in?
Jobs are limited – candidates are more. The Western world has saturated its need for Humanities graduates, and the East does not need them. India is looking for STEM graduates – Science, Technology, Engineering and Management graduates, who can “help build” the company and give it a new “direction”. So does this mean those who followed their passion are fools? Or incapable of building and constructing new ideas?
I don’t know. I honestly wish I did.
I remember harbouring a dream to pursue a singing career as a child but didn’t take it up, as the field seemed too risky. Now, when I look back, I realize I committed a mistake by not following my first passion. But, when I give it a thought, I wonder – what if success came to me very, very late? How long would I have lasted? It all boils down to a question of time. In an age when success is required early, especially to prove your mettle and worth- where do people who follow their passion stand? There are people who follow what they despise and finally take a U- turn to finally pursue what they always wanted to. But mostly, such people, whom I have encountered are engineers or management graduates, who have something to ‘fall back upon’, if they do not manage to ‘succeed’ in the “true-est” sense of the term.
There is a saying – a person who doesn’t fear, succeeds. But what about those people who have no fear, but fear, fear itself? It’s a hard world out there – and support is limited. It is easy to follow your passion, but very difficult to live it.
That does not mean one shouldn’t follow what they want to. I never regret my decision. I just wish the world was kinder. And there were some places which did not specify that only certain people have the necessary credentials for a particular kind of function. Those who follow their passion are winners, because they weren’t afraid to stand out. The day the world sees this, will be the day when no one will pigeon- hole themselves in ‘societal pressure’. I am looking for a utopia, but it is at least better than a harsh reality.
On this note, I would just like a share a video I recently saw of Ashoka University, where noted Modern Indian History scholar Rudrangshu Mukherjee talks about bridging the historical divide between education and “business” education. It is disagreeable in parts, but at least someone is talking about something we need to know! 🙂