Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Social Transformation of India

At the outset itself, I'll make it clear - this isn't another we-had-so-fun kind of experience I tend to write about. For a change, I've attempted going beyond the mundane and the typical, and write about something which I feel is more relevant. What I've written below has affected me tremendously. I've written about it despite the fact that I am unhappy with the way it has come out. For all of you who expect another light piece on life at IIM K, a humble request - skip this :|

2 days. 2 hard-hitting movies. 3 hours of stunned silence as we see the darker side of our species. For all the progress and superiority we claim, it's movies (and the events and reality behind them) like these that make me question whether we indeed have progressed or regressed. It might sound like a silly question, after all, which other species on Planet Earth has so dramatically changed their living conditions in a (from an evolutionary point of view) short span of a few thousand years? The moot point here is, is this what we want to call progress? The kind of history that we as a species have, it is questionable as to whether the meaning that we attribute to the word human or humane is justified. There is no other species on earth (maybe other than chimpanzees, as seen dramatically, although completely unintentionally, in studies by Jane Goodall) which derives pleasure from the pain of fellow species members. There is no other species which tortures and creates a living hell for living beings which share 100% of their genes. Even Goodall's chimpanzees showed tendencies of such disturbing behaviour only after decades of exposure to human interference in the jungles of Africa.

The first movie touched upon the caste system which has been entrenched in Indian society. Although most of us urban, 'educated' folks (and I use that term out of lack of a better alternative, rather than to show any superiority) have slowly started moving away from casteism (call me an idealist fool, but I genuinely believe this, from whatever little of life I have seen), in terms of discrimination, the horrors of this system are still very much prevalent in the fabric of our society. Unfortunately, most of us have been brought up in situations where we have never been exposed to these realities. And as much as we all would like to believe that we come from diverse backgrounds, there is little to choose between us in terms of what we've been exposed to in life.

Today's movie was a french film on fascism, set during World War 2. It was a brilliant commentary on the levels of debasement the human race had reached during the war. Without overtly recoursing to the shock effect, it portrayed the horrifying situations our own species inflicts on ourselves.

For the first time, after the movie ended and the titles rolled, people, we all, sat back in our seats in stunned, shocked silence, staring at the screen. The lights came on, and the atmosphere in the auditorium was funereal. After a few moments, people got up and left in a hurry, heads down and in silence, as compared to the usual jovial mood that returns soon after movie screenings. There was no banter and laughing, no it's-all-a-part-of-life kind of attempts at justifying to our consciences what we'd just seen.

This is what STI, Social Transformation of India, has managed to pull off in a short span of 3 months. There is a common criticism that b-school graduates, especially IIMians, tend to be extremely selfish and shallow, with little idea or care of the problems that plague society. Whether that view is justified or not, I can state with certainty that these 16 STI hours and 12 odd movie screenings have had a significant impact on us. It might not change us dramatically, it might not make us stop running after lucrative jobs, it might not stop us from being materialistic, capitalist creatures, but the least it will do is generate that small, sneaking feeling in our minds that there are vistas other than the rose-tinted ones we are lucky to see all our lives. Atleast it will make us that wee bit open-minded about things, to analyze our actions and decisions, whether in business or private life with respect to the effects they will have on society as whole. As we move towards the end of the STI course, there is a strong feeling that we will miss this subject. Miss it not for the incredible professor who taught us, not for the fantastic lectures we had, not for the (relatively) low effort subject it was in terms of passing, but miss it because it is the only subject which pulls us down from the stupid high levels we tend to float in, talking and thinking about millions and billions and ignoring and forgetting ground realities that such a huge section of humanity - us - keep facing. We'll miss it because it's the only subject which had the potential to stop us from becoming arrogant, pompous beings whose lives start and end with money and materialistic pleasures. We desperately need STI to be a compulsory subject for all 6 semesters. As much as I tend to disagree with some of the views Prof. Mathew puts forth, I have to acknowledge that STI has made me much more open-minded and receptive about so many different things. I am ready to step out of the world-view I had created for myself based on scant facts, and have a good look at the other side. And the ironical thing is, this was the LAST thing I was expecting from management education!

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