There's Shobhaa De... And Then There's The Rest Of Us

11/08/2016 9:39 PM IST | Updated 17/08/2016 3:59 PM IST
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The other day there was a huge uproar on Twitter when our very own Jackie Collins of India, Shobhaa De, made certain uncharitable remarks mocking the Indian contingent at the Rio Olympics. It is not the first time that Ms De has taken such a high-handed, brazen approach and nor will it be the last. It reeks of the ferocious sense of entitlement afflicting the privileged in our country. It is our home-grown equivalent of White privilege (wherein White people are treated better than the rest of the population). It is also about not being able to put oneself in the shoes of someone from a different race, religion, gender, background, body type or nationality. This is the same privilege which places an extremely high value on individuals who display "polish". The same group which bays for the blood of accused rapists of a lower socioeconomic status but which is conveniently silent on the Mahmood Farooqui rape conviction.

Ms De is the epitome of this wealthy privilege which bestows on her a no better job than leading a seemingly perfect life, where her pastimes involve posting selfies taken in the poshest surroundings, promoting "tajness " with Indian or foreign celebrities and sitting in judgment on lesser mortals. She feels that merely belonging to that elite class lends legitimacy to all her spurious views and prejudices. Her posing for selfies is natural and inevitable but athletes should only work hard and not be distracted by such things and cause us embarrassment. Everything she does is justifiable, but others not as privileged as her should stay in their place.

Our athletes may not pass Ms De's poshness test but they are our heroes, irrespective of whether they win us medals or not.

Luckily, in today's age and time when social media or news can escalate even a relatively small number of voices into a national conversation, her thoughtless tweet has completely backfired on her. She might feel that she doesn't deserve the hatred and nasty messages she is getting on her comment but our athletes also deserve repair on the emotional harms her statement has caused.

She tried to make amends with another tweet on Abhinav Bindra and since then has maintained a silence. But again she has the privilege of opting out of conversations that make her uncomfortable. Most of the Indian athletes participating at Rio are from disadvantaged backgrounds. Though hugely talented, they often do not have the privilege of training in the best of turfs or with the best of equipment. They are at the Olympics by the sheer dint of their courage and perseverance. They need our unconditional acceptance and not harassment or cruel disregard of their feelings. They may not pass Ms De's poshness test but they are our heroes, irrespective of whether they win us medals or not. It's high time we generate a conversation around social class and become sensitive to the many nuances and subtleties involved. The point here is, we are complicit in this if we don't call out those who perpetuate this entitlement, and work to change this attitude.

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