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Us and Them

Sandhya Rao | Updated on January 08, 2018 Published on October 15, 2017

No chance until we obliterate the wall between the two

Recently I was witness to a group of young people in their twenties engage in a heated debate over NEET, the national entrance and eligibility test for admission to medical courses. Somehow, somewhere along the way, the discussion veered off into a shouting match between and about ‘Us’ and ‘Them’. Tamil domiciles were ranged on one side; on the other side were students drawn from Bihar, Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, and Telangana. The students from Tamil Nadu felt that only students from Tamil Nadu should be given spots in professional courses in their State. They should get priority, they argued. Opening up admissions to ‘other’ students ruined their chances. The ‘rest’ team felt that they should have the freedom to study wherever they wanted to; and if education in Tamil Nadu was good, it was their right to aspire for whatever seats were available there. Figures and percentages were bandied about. Soon, it was like Parliament: nobody was listening to anybody.

What happened in that classroom’s what’s happening all around the world today. Even as policymakers recite eulogies about the power and reach of globalisation, what’s actually happening on the ground is further polarisation, parochialism, prejudice, and protectionism. What else explains the call for Maharashtra for Marathas, the expulsion of Bangladeshi refugees – both, regularised and undocumented -- from various States, the rejection of Rohingyas? Or the fact that Tamils in Sri Lanka are still marked, Polish refugees in the UK are less than welcome, countries in Europe turn back Syrians escaping their crumbling nation, the call for a wall to keep out Mexicans has takers, and Trump declaims that America is for Americans?

At a time when the world should have grown smaller given how communication and transport have transformed our lives, and when people have every opportunity to get to know each other better, we have begun to feel insecure as never before. It is as though the more we ‘know’, the less we want to understand.

So, to come back to the debate: Clearly, there’s something to be said for both sides, but solutions are what we desperately seek. This wall must be broken.

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Published on October 15, 2017
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