We have all heard—and many of us have seen, though we do not always admit it—that earlier, ‘servants’ had to enter the house through a different door. Earlier, it would have been contrary to the natural order of things for the servants of the lower class to black out the main door and, God forbid, bump into one of the inhabitants of the house. This “before” is significant when an upper-class, urban person is talking about class—it all happened in a weird, distant past, which makes it somewhat excusable, and certainly has nothing to do with us, the New Bright people from the Bright New Cities.

However, in many luxury apartment complexes across Indian cities, the elevators are segregated: only “maids and other service personnel” are supposed to use specially designated elevators, as we are still not comfortable sharing spaces with non-showers. Recently, it was reported that residents of Delhi area are against a sports facility for government school children in their area, because “outsiders” will come and “create a security problem”. One wonders if the population would be concerned if the “strangers” were the children of foreign embassy staff. In the housing association I visit, children of maids are not allowed to play in the local park. Elsewhere, assistants are not allowed to sit in groups in common areas because “their chatter disturbs the people on the ground floor.”

The defense of this separation is usually “security,” because it appears that people who work in homes suddenly become a threat to those homes once they enter elevators or common areas. Another is that residents will have to wait longer for elevators if service staff are also using them. The fact that the service staff would have to wait longer if there was only one elevator for them is of course something that cannot be ignored.

So why do we naturally, with little consequence, dehumanize those of a lower class than ourselves? The answer is simple – in India, caste still greatly overlaps with caste, and as a civilization we have internalized the idea that the “inferior” castes are simply lower beings. We are comfortable not only with inequality, but with that inequality occurring in sinister and degrading ways in most everyday things: restricting access to elevators, mistreating security guards, denying service personnel their share of the same facilities they maintain.

Those who are already rolling their eyes at “why get in on it” you are probably upper class, and have probably never wondered why there are similar surnames among all your friends, professors, bosses, and neighbors, and so different from those of your assistants, chauffeurs, and janitors. .

Caste discrimination is reprehensible in and of itself, but caste adds a more pervasive and more harmful dimension to it. After all, it’s not just the lower class that is discriminated against in housing communities, research exists to show that a lower class home in a posh area is less likely to sell, despite having the money to pay for it. In this, people imitate villages, where castes traditionally lived in groups of their own.

“We found that urban areas are just as segregated as rural areas for SCs, and even more so for Muslims,” says a paper published this month in the Development Data Lab in Washington, D.C. (“Segregation of Muslims and Scheduled Castes in India”). They are as segregated as black people in the United States today.”

Another study in 2021 of 147 Indian cities, whose contributions were from IIM Bangalore and Krea University in Andhra Pradesh, says, “The extent of apartheid in the largest urban centers of more than ten million residents closely tracks cities with populations of nearly two orders of magnitude smaller. We also show how residential segregation across a vast swath of urban India reflects the spatial geometry of rural India.”

Of course, this relaxed acceptance of “those who are different should stay away” turns to biting higher castes too at times – the problem many “collectors” have finding a home shows is that if you normalize the discrimination, the classes being discriminated against will not perform only to grow.

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar asked the Dalits to leave the villages for the cities, hoping that urban modernization would loosen the death grip on caste. Decades later, our luxury apartment complexes have become beacons of this modernization. But they kept hiding that dirty old secret – caste.



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