When incidents of caste-based discrimination or cases of misogyny surface my friends, construed mostly of educated Bahun men, hold dialogues and talk about how they can amplify minority voices.
Narratives related to minority groups put forth by persons of privilege with social and economic upper hand always end up giving a shielded and biased conclusion. Hence, I request my friends to revolve our conversations around recognizing their privileges so as to understand the nuances of systemic discrimination.
To eliminate or even minimize discrimination, we need to first understand our privileges. How you look and the way people treat you is the manifestation of privilege.
Privilege or the lack thereof is dependent on the caste, race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, religion, wealth, and class among many other characteristics an individual or a group carries.
Privileges, as described by American feminist and anti-racism activist Peggy McIntosh’s “invisible knapsack”, are the advantages of maleness and whiteness are joined by other politically significant traits: cis-ness, thinness, an absence of disability.
People may not even notice their privileges until they are aware about its existence. Privilege is an uneven distribution of power. So, in order to identify if one is privileged, one needs to see if they have an advantage that is out of their control or that one didn’t ask for.
Do you have your places of worship nearby, do you get a day off from work for your religious holidays; do you belong to a gender which has comparatively easier access to career progression, equal pay and respectful/dignified treatment at work; do you belong to a sexual orientation which does not have to worry about ‘coming out’, see your romantic and family aspirations represented in films, music, everyday conversations, books; do you belong to the economic class which doesn’t have to worry about being able to pay school fees or buy meat three times a week; do you carry a last name that does not require affirmative action for equal access to fundamental rights?
The above questions can help identify if one is privileged or not.
Alisha Upadhyaya, a lesbian transwoman who is also a student of sociology, shares her experience of being privileged as she was born in a Bahun family. “I have been subjected to oppression and discrimination as a transwoman, but the fact that my Brahmanical caste entails certain privileges cannot be ignored. For example, my parents could afford the fees for my transitional surgery as well as my therapy and my neighbours accepted my transformation because my father is an influential person. Not all transpersons have the privileges like me,” she said.
Most common global example of privilege is the ideology of white supremacy and in a more local context, its patriarchal Brahmanism (bahun-bad).
Sishir Nawag, a government employee said, “Though I studied hard to secure a job at civil service, my colleagues treat me differently because I got in through the quota for underprivileged castes. My seniors, who are mostly ‘upper caste men’, think I am undeserving of the job and the quota system gave me an unfair advantage, which is not true because my forefathers worked as Kamaiyas, traditional bonded laborers, for rich Brahmin families. I am the first person to be educated and have a government job in my family.”
In media reports of atrocities faced by Dalit people, women, and people with disabilities, people casually comment “why mention that the victim was Dalit or why make it a gender issue or why not say differently-abled instead of disabled”. The commentors fail to understand that their thought process is a result of their privilege which makes it ok for them to erase someone’s identity in exchange for a more palatable storyline.
The self-published speech by Dr BR Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste, where he talks about how and why the indignities of caste are inseparable from Hinduism, the Brahmanical hegemony implicit within it and offers intermarriage as a possible solution to the insidiousness of the caste hierarchy, helps gain some context on Nepali caste system.
Dr Ambedkar’s speech can be a great lesson on privileges and how they’re held dearly by powerful chunks of society to oppress the underprivileged.
It is common to dodge realization of one’s privileges by saying that the advantaged groups or individuals don’t have it easy because they still struggle financially – many Bahuns are poor and many Chamars are rich. Some people argue that minorities have it easier nowadays because there are business incentives for hiring and admitting minorities.
Taking exceptions as examples is one of the most common logical fallacies and no, ignorance is not bliss because our privileges shape our socio-political stance.