No Money ? Sorry ! We are the Bethany
July 31, 2010 1 Comment
As I alighted from the cab at the City Railway station, as usual, I was accosted by a group of men, young and old, with their visible red shirts. Porters or Coolies as they are better known, are a very conspicuous part of the Indian railway system eking a nominal life by helping passengers transfer their luggage from the entrance to the platform.
These days I don’t earn so much to engage a porter and I was travelling light. So, I refused their overtures. As I was trying to make sense out of the digital dashboard trying to figure out the platform number for the train I was about to board, one guy persisted. He tried in 3 different languages and I replied negatively in all the three. Even when convinced that I don’t hold any business potential, he continued to pester me, this time to “help” me. Finally I yielded and told him the train.
‘It comes in platform 6’ he just said and walked away.
As I was dragging my luggage into the railway station, my thoughts were with the coolie. Here was a man, who may not have earned anything significant on the day for his family, willing to “invest” some precious moments trying to help me.
With reasonable certainty I can classify him as poor who gets no material benefit from helping passengers like me identify a train or a platform or some other information. He was looking tired, unkempt and perhaps even hungry. But he chose to help me and didn’t probably hear the “thanks” that I offered in return.
Ofcourse, I am not suggesting here that I couldn’t have found the information myself, if I waited a few more minutes. I was well ahead of the time and not in any danger of missing my train. Given the fact that I wasn’t going to engage his services, he needn’t have played the good Samaritan, but he did. This is something I am sure he would repeat multiple times during the day.
Why did he do what he did ?
What could be his motivation to be good to those who don’t benefit him commercially, I wondered ?
Is this his nature ? Or is this the much-fabled-but-hardly-followed Indian culture of “revering a guest” ?
I think I have digressed significantly so I’ll get to the point quickly.
This experience is neither unusual nor unique but it did set me thinking about the general caricature that some of us have about the poor. Coming as it does in the backdrop of the famous Bethany school circular to parents cautioning them about the pitfalls of admitting students from economically weaker sections of the society, I feel even more convinced that the school got it completely wrong.
And it was masking it’s sinister desire for money in it’s phony concern for the students from affordable families.
The school may have issued a denial but the sum and substance of the note wasn’t the fact that it was “concerned” for the rich students and “shielding” them from the “poor” but it was an unabashed attempt to exert pressure on the government through the parents against the move to “reserve seats”.
Education is big business, very big even bigger than real-estate or telecom or petrochemicals to just name a few.
With an ageing world and a young india, we are well poised to make advantage of our “demographic dividend”. I am more optimistic than otherwise about the future of India, despite the lurking danger of a Jayalalithaa or Mayawati assuming the mantle of leadership. We may not become an United States (in terms of economic and military might) or a Japan (highly industrialized) or a China (controlled liberation). We would continue to have the ills of corruption, pollution and bad politicians but increasingly we would see upward mobility of people. Already we boast of a middle-class population that equals the US.
The point that I am driving home is that “education” will play a pivotal role in the upward mobility of india. And hence it is very big business. Every one wants to be part of this gravy train and so obviously they don’t want “ticketless travelers”.
The illusion of service that the business of education provides is a time-tested and fool-proof shield against accusations of commercialization. I completed my graduation in Rs. 1800 for 3 years which today may not be sufficient to enroll a kid in Montessori.
The inflation in the cost of education that india has witnessed thanks largely due to the “education moghuls” who are often politicians is unquestioned. The parents of today are so much worried about the “rat race” that they don’t mind the cost. More the cost, better the quality is what they are being made to believe.
In this backdrop, the attempt by the Bethany School establishment is to clearly avoid the prospect of providing “free lunch” to the weaker sections of the society. It would obviously dilute their “return on investment” significantly but they are loathe to admit it publicly.
The move by the school is a clever attempt to plant suspicion in the mind of the parents who could afford the cost that a more inclusive classroom is detrimental to their wards. The warning of the school quoting psychology is perhaps the best attempt made by the establishment to “scare” the parents of a long term impairment to their wards development.
It is very clear that the claims of the schools that they are educationists first are untrue and hollow. If the school had any sense, it would have realized that their caricature of the poor applies to about 80% of India. The School ought to know better.
The Government also must realize the folly of announcing significant measures such as “Right to Education” without understanding the downstream issues. While I fully condemn the characterization of the poor by the school, it is somehow unacceptable to me that the Government doesn’t think of fixing the apathetic quality issues of Government school system.
Before the Government can get it’s act together to expect the “educational industrialists” to willingly part away their profits was an unrealistic expectation.
The coolie is the way he is, thank goodness, perhaps because he wasn’t educated by the Bethanys.