Updated: Aug 16, 2021
The richest 1% of India's population holds more than four-times the wealth held by the bottom 70% that accounts for 953 million people, says an Oxfam study. The income gaps between the top 10% and the bottom 50% of the Indian population has consistently widened between 1951 and 2019, according to the World Inequality database. According to another Oxfam report, it would take 941 years for a minimum wage worker in rural India to earn what the top paid executive at a leading Indian garment company earns in a year.
What is the relevance of these alarming numbers with BCFAI? In a blog about English for the marginalized youth last month, Dr. Joy Deshmukh Ranadive elegantly articulated how it is of paramount importance that any initiative for the development of marginalised communities considers their socio-economic experiences. One of BCFAI’s core motivation areas is English training needs for the rural and disadvantaged population of India.
Again, one wonders why English? And what can English do? Dr. Joy says that English can be the catalyst, the ‘means to an end’ of securing a job or becoming an entrepreneur. One of the biggest disadvantages of the rural or urban marginalised in India is access – access to education, access to jobs, access to any opportunities, utilities and privileges.
During this catastrophic second wave of the pandemic that has the country reeling, authentic, widely circulated and useful information is available far more frequently in English than in other vernacular languages in India. In times of crisis, access to English could also be a life-saving skill. And if we were to make a start, maybe we could begin with equipping the marginalised population with means to navigate this path to access. Opportunities can only be meaningful when beneficiaries have the tools to access them.
When thinking about socio-economic differences, privileges, opportunities and how we perceive them, I got reminded of this Telugu proverb a friend of mine told me about:
"vanDukunE vaaDiki okkaTE koora, aDukkunE vaaDiki aravai kooralu"
- which means, the man who cooks for himself makes only one dish; the man who begs for food gets to taste myriad dishes.
For one, this proverb brought to life the very purpose with which Proverblog was started – a thought-provoking, reflective discussion with my friend followed. I had many questions to begin with: How can privilege (being able to cook for oneself) be limiting? How can lack of privileges be an opportunity (begging?) for wider, and maybe better opportunities?
What emerged from our discussion was that having the ‘privilege’ of being able to cook for oneself doesn’t always mean that one is able to explore all options. On the other hand, if opportunities need to be sought for, one might end up getting access to ones one might not have thought out or expected.
I find this proverb of particular relevance in the Indian context as it can be a starting point of rich discussions in a training context or other learning spaces. It can allow for dialogue on themes like socio economic differences, cultural perceptions of labour and status, growth mindset and open-mindedness and much more. Beggars cannot be choosers; we are rudely reminded. But they are perennial seekers alright. And if they are, can they be equipped with means to seek out opportunities? If yes, how?
Coming back to the context of the marginalised communities in India, sometimes even seeking out opportunities is a privilege, reserved only for a few. One might be ready to seek out, but where do they look? And how to they access these opportunities? Now more than ever before, we realise how deep-seated these issues are. Now more than ever before should we be looking at how we can come together to cook plenty of dishes, not just for ourselves but for everyone.
One of BCFAI’s key missions is to do our bit - to fill a gap in the larger ecosystem of the needs of the marginalised. It wishes to explore how English can help unlock opportunities. How could we bring together a community of trainers and facilitators to train a disadvantaged audience with English for employability, English as lingua franca and English for specific purposes? What are the challenges? What could be the opportunities? What are the needs? What does the audience desire to accomplish with English?
When boundaries for work and opportunities are blurring, can English open the doors to access new opportunities for those who need it the most? We realise this is a mammoth task, but we still want to take our little steps.
Ishita Ray is a Learning Consultant with more than a decade of experience in academia and corporate sectors. She has formerly worked at Tata Consultancy Services, where she designed learning content and strategy for online and face to face programs in Business and Intercultural Communication. She believes in encouraging dialogue and reflection to create inclusive and accessible learning spaces for every individual. She can be reached on LinkedIn.