Archive for December, 2021

Privilege and Prejudice

Prejudice was a concept that remained largely alien to me till I finished schooling.  My schoolmates came from a variety of social and economic backgrounds – some ultra rich, many, like me, from families of modest means and a few were abjectly poor. Yet we sat on the same benches, rote learnt our lessons from the same teachers and ate our lunches dipping into each other’s tiffin boxes. We would instantaneously know why a poor boy is downcast and rush to share our meal with him and would help out with the homework of another whenever she missed her class tending to her sick mother. And in those crowded and dimly lit classrooms, we consciously picked up basic language and arithmetic while unconsciously developed important life skills of sharing, empathy and compassion. These skills came handy later on in life when faced with the compulsion of having to survive with fugal means or when the need to be accommodating arose while living and interacting with people of diverse backgrounds in an unfamiliar city. 

But the school that my daughter attended did not brook any variation in their student’s economic status. They all came from similar affluent families, spoke in an anglicised lingo that called out their class identity and all of them possessed an equal disinterestedness in the lives of the less privileged. The school was beyond the bounds of the weaker sections and the students in turn were robbed of the opportunity to imbibe crucial life lessons; lessons that are available only when there is an intermingling of children from a plethora of social milieu. What was designed as a privilege to the elite kids turned out to be prejudiced educational setting that proved detrimental to the wholistic development of its children. 

And prejudice in real life extends in all aspects of human enterprise as was the case with Ann’s garden. With the confluence of a thousand roses and alliums, a visit to her garden was always a bonanza of scintillating visuals, clothed in tantalising fragrance. The countless shades unraveled by the myriad varieties of the two complimenting plants are only rivalled by the musky aromas that emanate from each of those floras. While the roses, with their thick and luxuriant bloom captivates you with a romantic lure, the ornamental inflorescence of the alliums were prefect accompaniments to cast a seductive spell on the one willing to indulge. Thus a stroll in her garden was a riot to the senses, celestial to the moods and ethereal to the soul, all at the same time.

But one day, Ann felt that there isn’t enough roses in the garden that would fetch her good returns and the alliums occupy more space than they deserve.She went on, thus, to replace the lesser plant with more exotic varieties of the coveted shrub and soon her garden was carpeted with an unending array of roses and more roses …red, white, pink and pastels in neat and monotonous uniformity. But as the garden became uni-species, the bugs and the pests that were kept at bay by the alliums become abundant and widespread. With no natural repellent at work, the bugs feasted on the rose petals with contemptuous abandon while the pests bored the stems and the bushes to leave them hollow and collapsing. And before she could fathom the extent of the botanical holocaust, Ann was left with a garden that’s a pale shadow of a connoisseur’s delight that it was just a few weeks back! It’s a self inflicted disaster that could have been averted if only the alliums were allowed to thrive and share the space alongside the roses. A catastrophic fall-out of a blatant act of prejudice! 

The current pandemic and its responses are a classic case of privilege of the affluent societies and their blatant prejudices against the poorer nations. When Covid was raging the world over last year, frantic efforts were made to quickly develop vaccines against the deadly virus and a slew of them were made available in a short span of time that would protect the world population from further infection and death. But then as the vaccines were developed, a stringent protective regime was also put in place that prevented the less privileged nations from having easy access to them. While developed nations began stockpiling of the vaccines in their millions, multinational pharmaceutical companies saw a huge commercial opportunity in the sale of them and subjected their availability only by conforming to the stringent patent and intellectual property rights. These measures ensured that vaccines remain costly for many poor countries and a large swath of their population still remain to be inoculated against the virus, for they are unaffordable. 

But when substantial section of the people are yet to get their first shot of the vaccine, they are the perfect candidates for the virus to infect and to mutate into more virulent forms. The outbreak of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus is said to have begun in the unvaccinated population of Africa which is now threatening to rapidly spread across the globe. If only the vaccines were made freely available to all the people of the world, we could have lesser numbers of mutations and possibly fewer waves of the pandemic. 

In a highly integrated world, prejudice towards some could prove detrimental to the interest of the privileged. And when it comes to the prevention of Covid, no one is safe until everyone is safe! 

Yours

Narayanan  

December 4, 2021 at 3:03 pm 7 comments


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