Analysis of the documentary ‘India Untouched’ through the lens of identity and development by bringing in issues related to caste, gender and race.
Relationship between caste and development
I would in this essay focus upon the link between caste and development in the urban spaces through the documentary, India Untouched. In documentary India Untouched, it is observed that the urban upper-middle class and caste alien to the casteism existing in their country, even in the urban spaces. It was also shown in the documentary that the “menial jobs” considered in the society were still done by the people of the lower castes. For e.g. – In the documentary, it was shown that the people working in a municipal corporation as safai karmacharis in Punjab were from the lower castes and no one from the upper caste were in that job. It was also mentioned in the documentary that how the Dalit community is not being able to develop and be empowered and attain emancipation despite getting affirmative action from the state through reservations, because of the simple reason of their merit being constantly questioned. The questioning of the meritocracy of the Dalit community arises from 2 aspects -1) People from the upper caste question the representation of the Dalit community through reservations in public jobs and educational institutions as they believe they did not work hard enough to earn the position, 2) there is a sense of insecurity among the upper caste people as they want to hold onto the position of power which they currently have in the status quo and have the fear that the Dalit community might clinch this position, hence they believe they should be in the position where they are in the status quo (even in urban spaces). The documentary showed the discrimination which an experienced doctor who worked at a reputed public hospital in New Delhi faced just because of his caste identity.
Similarly in our reading “Contemporary India” by Satish Deshpande, it was mentioned that how there was hostility amongst the urban upper caste people towards the Mandal Commission’s recommendation in giving reservations to the OBC’s in public educational institutions and jobs instead of understanding the real problem which is the lack of representation of the OBC community in public jobs and educational sectors. Deshpande also argued that while the much of the perception of the majority of people on caste system might be true but there is also much that is not: most important, perhaps, are the questions that when compared to the situation prevailing at independence, the conditions of all social groups, including the lowest castes and tribes, has improved today. But by how much it has improved? How have the lowest caste/tribes fared in comparison to the rest of the population? In short, he argued that while it is significant that some members of the lowest castes are now able to occupy very high positions, this does not by itself demonstrate that caste and occupational status have been delinked. Both the documentary and the reading argue the same thing that the public perception which exists in the status quo that the Dalit community has now achieved emancipation as now their occupational status has increased is wrong because a) the proportion of Dalit people occupying high positions is very low and the menial jobs are still done majorly by people belonging from the Dalit community and b) even if they occupy high spaces their meritocracy is questioned and dignity in their job is not guaranteed.
Relationship between gender and development
Nirmala Banerjee in her essay on the book the Violence of Development argued that women have not been able to get enough economic opportunities because of the patriarchal and oppressive structure present in their households. E.g. – The priority of most Indian parents is to spend their economic and social capital to marry their girlchild instead of spending on her studies which could help her make economically independent. She also argued that women’s socialization in India is still tied to basic social values, particularly about their sexuality, and that these values tend to change very slowly. Because of this reason, it creates tremendous handicap for women when they enter the labour market. E.g.- Even if women go out of their household to do a job, they are expected to fulfil their duty to do the domestic chores because of the gender roles existing in the Indian society in the status quo. At the same time, economic development now has undermined the traditional household-based economy, marriage and family formation. Banerjee argued that the traditional role of the women in which they had to take care of their family and household is now being devalued. I noticed from my understanding that this hence created a paradox, in which women are not able to be free from their household duties despite economic development but at the same time their work is now more underappreciated because of the same economic development. On the other hand, Banerjee also stated that men who have access to job opportunities provided by economic development is less and hence they are in a minority. Hence the demand for them as grooms is high as parents want their daughter to marry them to have a stable future economically instead of making sure that the girl is economically independent herself. Also because of this reason the groom exploits the bride’s family by demanding dowry for their marriage. Although a section of women has been successful in securing high profile jobs and careers, it has done little to alter the perspective of the average middle-class family regarding their daughter’s future. More educational qualification of women also does not guarantee the removal of constraints placed on a woman by their households. Also, in a market flushed with surplus labour, the employers are prejudiced against the women workers. The primary reason for this can be seen that these employers are generally male and they don’t want to give away their position of power to women. Employers have also been successful in segregating jobs on gender lines, even the highly skilled labour and confine women to jobs on inferior terms. E.g.- The wage gap between the man and woman in a job in which the man is earning more than the woman but the effort put in for the job is same by both the man and woman. Also, women who belong from a minority community in terms of caste, religion, race etc. have to face more discrimination in the workplace than women who belong from the majority community. E.g.- In the documentary India Untouched, it was shown that how a woman belonging from Dalit community faced discrimination and had termed herself as “Double Dalit”. Banerjee also indicated that the massive change in traditional gender relations in market force happening in several Asian countries might not happen in India as there is a massive surplus of labour in India and if job opportunities arise then men would be the first who would be given priority.
Relationship between race and development
In her article Thinking race, thinking development, Sarah White tells us how concerned with economic development and the ‘war on poverty’, development at times becomes determinedly colour-blind. She also mentioned how in academic circles there is very less mention of the link between race and development. Amartya Sen spurred a major shift in development theory by making the case that per capita gross domestic product should not be the sole measure for assessing and comparing well-being across the globe. Sen called attention to global mortality data showing that men in Bangladesh were more likely to live to age forty than black American men in Harlem, despite having much lower incomes. He argued that “[t]he need to widen the scope of conventional economics to include the economics of life and death is no less acute in the United States than it is in famine-stricken sub-Saharan Africa.”
Sen’s assertion draws some of its power from the juxtaposed references to “black America” and “sub-Saharan Africa.” He shows how people of African descent, on the African continent and in the Americas, are proxies for evoking images of impoverishment and deprivation.
But development discourse rarely examines the enduring role of racism in shaping institutions, processes, and perspectives that contribute to intractable poverty in Africa and elsewhere. The obvious racialism of apartheid is acknowledged, but as income inequality increases under black majority rule, concerns that South Africa is “going the way of black Africa” gain currency. Moreover, although Sen successfully steered analysis toward multidimensional poverty by factoring in U.S. demographics, the well-being of poor black Americans is not scrutinized according to the UN HUMAN DEVELOPMENT INDEX.
This “determined colour-blindness” obscures history and geopolitics, and facilitates false assumptions and simplistic conclusions. For instance, with few exceptions, mainstream journalists and development economists routinely reduce Africa’s problems to ethnicity and corruption.
In the context of India as mentioned in the documentary Brahmins were seen as someone who had fair complexion than those of the Dalits who were considered as polluted. This was one of the reasons which helped the Brahmins to gain legitimacy in the society which in turn helped them to secure better economic opportunities.
What I have learned while researching for this essay was that people who are in the position of power are solely responsible for the oppressed community of different caste, gender and race. This is because people who are in the position of power or privilege generally are from the community of the oppressor and they want to hold on to that position of power and privilege. They fear that the emancipation of the oppressed would lead to them losing their position of power and privilege which they want to hold on to.
- Contemporary India by Satish Deshpande, Chapter 5 – Caste Inequalities in India Today
- The Violence of Development; Between the Devil and the Deep Sea: Shrinking Options for Women in Contemporary India by Nirmala Banerjee
- Sarah White (2002) Thinking race, thinking development, Third World Quarterly
- Council on Foreign Relation; Race and the Development Paradigm