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August 3, 2022

In a country where people are obsessed with the idea of merit, classism and casteism thrives in India’s “elite” institutions. With more than half of the populace coming from privileged backgrounds, they bestow upon themselves a responsibility to maintain this idea of meritocracy. This manifests itself in every aspect of life at these institutions. The day to day conversations, the kind of content that is consumed, even the food that is served—everything reeks of class and caste privilege.

Watch Out! brings to you an analysis of this privilege that some individuals have, why people choose to stay in denial of this privilege, and exactly how people are successful in passing off this historical privilege as “merit”.


Oxford dictionary defines privilege as a special right or advantage that one person or a group of people have over others. Privilege originates from differences in society. The fact that some resources are selectively available to individuals based on their social and economic capital is the basis of existence for such “privilege” .These privileges are created by money-factor, place of upbringing, caste, gender biases, among many others.

For example, a person born and brought-up in a metropolitan city is expected to have a larger exposure as compared to a village-raised kid. It is not to be mistaken that the latter is less capable, it is just so that city dwellers end up with accessibility to many resources unavailable to the others.

These privileges operate in an overlapping manner with respect to each other, because of a phenomenon known as intersectionality. According to this concept, people with multiple disadvantaged identities, tend to face more discrimination in society. For example, if a dalit couple move to a metropolitan city from a rural background in search of work, they are both likely to face some form of discrimination and bias because of this identity. However, it may be even more difficult for the woman to find work because of the biases that exist against her gender in addition to her other identities.

In a technical institute like ours, this privilege manifests itself in the form of “Skills”. Skills provide opportunity for recognition, social expectancy, pride and more importantly interns and placements. Having access to coding resources, books and the internet much before coming to college, allows some individuals to have an edge over their peers. It also gives them a better knowledge of how technology works, making it easier for them to navigate through tasks in college. Folks with a better and wider range of these skills are more accepted and are given preference over others. These are the skills that a person possesses by the mere factor of privilege. People without these skills feel inferior, neglected and question their capabilities, all of which is wrong. This is not due to lack of capability, this difference is due to lack of exposure.

It is often said that ‘Education is a great equalizer’, and to most extent it is true. But the question is, is the formal education of an individual enough? A large section of society in the 21st century is a firm believer of the Meritocracy. Students are indoctrinated with this idea from a very young age. Such a system believes that a person working hard enough, scoring in academics, would succeed in life. Hard work though is not the only factor which guarantees success. The knowledge and behaviors that parents pass on to kids that helps them with schooling and career. Educated parents are more likely to advise their children about good career options and more likely to use their connections to ensure a better future.

The presence of such privileges are usually neglected. The main reason being; it is very likely that when a bunch of privileged people spend time together, they neglect the existence of the privilege which they mutually possess. This privilege shows its presence on campus during various recruitment tests, in academic results or even while having conversations and making friends. We will elaborate on this further in the article.

Campus Groups

The recruitment process to get into the groups at IITR is devised to look simple to a passerby: Study the reading material/resources given to you by the club in a week or so; appear for the numerous tests and interviews, and if you’re deemed worthy, YOU’RE IN!

However, it isn’t as single-faceted as it looks. There are some aspects that are often left unnoticed.

Most of the freshers are filled with an enthusiasm to join the “famed” campus groups as soon as recruitments are announced. These freshers then contact their mentors and seniors, collecting every piece of information that they can possibly get. They are more often than not told that “No prerequisites are required to appear for the test”. Some also claim that the students can learn some basics about the topic in the short time that they are given to prepare for the recruitment tests. This is seldom the case. The basics can be useful to clear the test and for the clubs to shortlist the interested students. However, the interviews and the grilling rounds of some clubs, true to their name, grill out people with relatively less knowledge on the topic. This level of knowledge is usually hard to acquire by going through a manual in 7-14 days. It requires time, attention and honing of skills in that subject. The long-time players in the field surpass these grilling rounds and make it to the newly recruited, leaving behind the others in a cloud of self-doubt and under-confidence.

During the pandemic, people with easier access to resources had an edge over their peers. These drawings are disheartening, but notable. This framework followed by groups can end up weeding out individuals who had enough interest but lacked enough resources to jump through all the hoops present in front of them. This makes the recruitments one-sided as talent is associated with broadcastable abilities instead of considering it to be a result of skills polished over time through access to resources, not all might have. The learned ones, therefore, partake in an edge over the others. As a result, the privileged enjoy a paramount representation in these groups, and the cycle continues each year. Having a diverse set of individuals in a campus group enriches the culture of the group and makes it more inclusive. Representation of only one type of individuals makes the group inaccessible for the others.

It becomes imperative to question: what is the purpose of campus groups? To foster an environment of learning and provide a platform for everyone to pursue their interests. Then, to have a selected number of students who gain access to some specific resources, fostering exclusivity Some campus groups even take pride in this exclusivity, calling it an integral part of their culture.

The fault here doesn’t lie entirely with the clubs though. The way recruitments are conducted favours people who belong to a certain demographic and are exclusive of everyone else. This exclusion isn’t on purpose. It is an outcome of the structure that these clubs have inadvertently come to follow. Acknowledging the faults in the structures of selection criteria can help improve and change the current scenario to a great extent.

Gender based privilege

This privilege stems from what kids learn about societal and gender roles at an impressionable age. This difference is more apparent for individuals who have received education in only girls or boys’ institutions. The existence of such schools in the 21st century is a legacy of the colonial mindset that plagues our conservative society even today. Kids grow up in the company of a tunneled, singular community which is solely based on the gender they might not even identify with. The experiences that these kids have, in almost complete isolation to the other genders, clouds their understanding for a very long time.

Moreover, interaction between the various genders is discouraged both at home and school by teachers and parents alike. Gender-based stereotypes cement themselves in the minds of these individuals. It becomes convenient to make assumptions, rather than making an effort to know someone. This sort of early exposure to such radical archetypes leads to the formation of gender based groups and stigmatization of inter gender interaction in co-ed schools. This encourages branding certain interactions as “unhealthy” or “forbidden”.

The bias and discrimination isn’t always clearly visible and is present in more subtle ways in the campus. Some spaces and conversations are inaccesible to women, not because they are off-limits; but because they are so male-dominated, women find it hard to participate in them.

Casual misogynistic jokes that men might consider harmless can affect the psyche of the person towards who the joke is targeted. This is especially seen during the intern and placement seasons where people frown upon women getting a preference in certain mentorship programs and internships. Often, they end up invalidating the talents that women possess.

This can discourage them from discovering their true potential. Women are not the only ones who have to deal with the consequences of patriarchy. Gender based stereotypes are entrenched in the way our society works. Individuals who don’t conform to the roles expected of them are often at the receiving end of these harmful stereotypes. This segregation gives way to gender specific exposure to skills and experiences.

Not everyone in college has a level playing field. Some individuals are born with a silver spoon in their mouths, with them not having to struggle for things that others consider a luxury. It is in situations like these that affirmative actions to uplift the less privileged sections of society come in.

Supernumerary Seats

Female supernumerary seats in IITs is one of the most frowned upon topics of polarized discussions especially amongst those who don’t fall into the category of it. Statements like “that’s unfair to the more deserving” and “our seats were stolen by the undeserving” are ironically a clear indicator of why this measure was essential in the first place. These conversations tend to descend into even more misogynstic remarks, often questioning if women deserve to be in IIT’s in the first place.

The social stigma of women pursuing male dominated sectors like engineering is a result of generations of predefined roles. Women are often targeted by people from different walks of life, often times even their own families and friends. All this makes women doubt and undermine their own capabilities and potential which are, at most, boundless.

People need to acknowledge why reservation for women is a measure that is bare minimum to compensate for the inequites between the various genders that have existed for centuries. This will only be a small step towards trying to break this stigma and bridge the gap between women and opportunities to pursue higher education, especially in STEM.

Creation of supernumerary seats has increased women’s representation in fields where men had been making up the workforce for years. This increased representation ensures the creation of a healthy environment within the company. This encourages structural changes, making it easier for women to succeed in their workspace. These women also becomes role models for other women who aspire to break out of the cycle and step into domains rarely explored before. More representation contributes to the fostering of more inclusive spaces that encourage cross gender interactions. Shared peer groups introduce students to the concepts of sexism, gender privileges and how one cannot separate themselves from their privilege.

All this leads to the creation of a society which is less gender label based and consists of more well-rounded personalities with a sense of belonging to those around them in both their struggles and strengths.

Privilege manifests itself in various forms in almost all spheres of life. It is essential to identify them and talk about to make them a little less invisible. In the next part of this article, we will talk about the elephant in the room, caste based discrimination and reservations.