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The Ignorance of Labels

November 4, 2015

I tend to fall in the same loop when it comes to my blog…over and over again. Trying to handle adult life has left me with no time (and energy) to focus on my blog. However, every now and then I come across an issue that burns my heart and I’m forced to vent out here. Of course, the aim of my posts in not be a rant in the public sphere but to simply analyse the underlying assumptions and problems with a particular issue.

My very dear friend, V, recently posted about an Indian online company that allows you to select your maids on the basis of their region and religion. To be honest this is nothing new, we’ve had ‘maid agencies’ that have been maids selected along the same lines. Moreover, selection of domestic help on the basis of a few identity makers in not limited to India either.

A junior from our alma mater commented on the same post and said, “[T]here is a good reason for why these companies do that and I would say it’s smart of them to.” To which my friend responded that it isn’t smart when discrimination prevents people of certain religions and regions from getting jobs. This soon transpired into a very long private debate over how maids of a ‘certain’ religion were spitting into the food because “their religious texts asked [them] to spit in food before offering it” to a person of a particular religion and given such concerns it’s perfectly fine to make a business model as it will not only benefit the people but also the domestic economy. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out the religions I’m referring to!

Before I point out the deeper flaws with this person’s argument let me just highlight that nowhere in the “maid’s religious text” are people of this “certain religion” mentioned. So assuming that people of this ‘book’ are doing that because of religious dictates is simply preposterous. Secondly, let us not judge a whole community of people simply because of the acts of a handful! I mean I’d hate to be referred as a ‘citizen of the land of the rapists’ just because a set of people believe they have a are superior to women and the right to do whatever they want!

However, the issue is far deeper than a debate over what one’s religion says or doesn’t say. Nor is the issue about a company making an online portal that allows you to choose (or not choose) people on the basis of their religion/culture/caste/personal eating habits. Of course, it would be preposterous if tomorrow one came up with a job portal wherein Google’s and BCGs of the world had a similar selection criteria! The issue at hand is that we as humans still are victims, and in turn victimize others, because we’re prejudiced and like to stereotype people. The fact that you want to choose a house help not on the basis of his/her timeliness, work ethics, cleanliness or personality but simply on what his/her religion or ethnicity is. The same middle class that fights against reservation and demands for ‘merit’ based admission wants to choose their domestic help not on the basis of merit but on personal identity markers?!

stereotypeThe company’s online model just shows that these prejudices exist to such a level that you can make a successful business model to exploit these ‘concerns’. It’s not the company that I’m blaming, at least not completely, it’s the consumers (people) that I’m blaming. Despite all the Human Rights conventions and movements against all forms of discrimination people across the world are facing discriminations in newer and more subtle forms. May it be in the form of racial profiling at an airport, police brutalities in the US against a particular race, gender inequality or lynching of a person because he was suspected to have consumed beef.

Even today we don’t want to rent out our houses to certain people because we’re afraid that they might be terrorists or simply because we believe they’re unclean. At the same time we want to create such a hue and cry about the discrimination that we ourselves face. Let me narrate a personal incident to illustrate the same. After having completed my education in Singapore I got a job here. I telling two Indian acquaintances (friends of my flatmate) that finding a house was such a hassle. A lot of ads clearly mention that they don’t want people belonging to certain ethnicities, especially Indians. As a result finding a good house was a back-breaking task! Finally, while renting a house I asked my American friend and flatmate to negotiate with the landlords and agent so that we could get a house (thankfully we did). As a human being I’m simply appalled by how people can just exclude people like this. They didn’t bother asking me if I was a clean person or judged me on the basis of how I presented myself. They just barred me from applying. This story was obviously met with a lot of “tsk, tsk”, “OMG”, “so racist” and “Isn’t that illegal?!”. However, as the conversation jumped from one topic to another we landed on the issue of maids and how the two (a married couple) wanted to hire a maid. They wanted an Indian maid because they want her to cook but categorically do not want a Punjabi “because they have boyfriends and are unreliable”. Instead they wanted a “South Indian maid since they’re docile”. To say the least my friend and I were aghast! They in a jiffy painted all Punjabi women in a negative light (though personally I don’t see the harm in someone having a boyfriend). Of course, the other problem with what they had said was that they wanted a “docile” maid…whatever that means!

Can we not see beyond these man-made barriers? Why is it that in our day-to-day interactions we need to put labels on people and deny respect and equal rights on the basis of them? Also if you want to defend your right to discriminate don’t complain when someone dishes out the same!

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