How Do Online Groups Like ‘Network Capital’ Perpetuate The Caste System?

Posted by The Savarna Files in Caste
April 17, 2018

This is the second post in a series. Read the first post here.

Let’s now try to deconstruct the idea of casteism in networking more through the basic functioning of a group called Network Capital.

Network Capital is a Facebook group with more than 25,000 members. It is built to function as a “personalized mentoring platform, a platform for co-creating solutions, and brainstorming.” The aim of this platform is also to learn “about other’s culture” and building “human connections that transcend barriers of culture, religion, nationality” as per their website.

In addition to that, Network Capital has partnered with NITI Aayog’s Atal Innovation Mission to promote innovation and entrepreneurship. This partnership endeavours to create spaces for interested “mentors” who can spend 1-2 hours every week in “Atal Tinkering Labs” tied to school students across the country – so as to provide “thought leadership, mentoring, and guidance” to the students.

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Source – Network Capital Website

But who really benefits from this initiative? And who doesn’t?

Firstly, I did a Facebook search in the Network Capital group for the word “caste”. There is essentially no discussion surrounding caste or its annihilation at all among the network capital members.

Secondly, there are statements which express that this group is diverse.

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Source – Network Capital Facebook Group

But, let’s say if we take a caste census of the group, how many would be from the dominant castes? This core question if asked in the group would certainly face questions and responses as expressed in the caste scale that I put up in my previous write-up.

Because, why is there a need to talk about caste or recognize one’s caste?

However, we do need to talk about our social backgrounds. We surely have to understand what diversity entails.

How Does Network Capital Perpetuate Privilege?

1. When one joins this group, they start introducing themselves – their education, skill-sets, the company that they work in, and their interest areas. This introduction is in English. One doesn’t reveal one’s caste.

But their introduction (and their Facebook name) in itself is a marker of caste privilege.

Because in a society like that of India, the ones who can speak English eloquently, the ones who are educated from private universities in India and abroad, the ones who have the privilege to work in business start-ups, ones who are venture capitalists, or ones who are in important positions of power in non-governmental organisations are predominantly from dominant castes. Respect comes with these social markers. The inclusion and exclusion of the group, both implicit and explicit, is based on these social markers.

The ones who aren’t able to eloquently put forward their post, without the proper salutations, who aren’t “cultured” enough, who aren’t well equipped to navigate the “efficient and constructive” conversations requirement are outcasted, both implicitly and explicitly.

2. Network Capital meetings in various cities happen many a time in spaces such as Koramangala Social (Bangalore), Khar Social (Mumbai), Dialogues Café (Bangalore), Writer’s Café (Chennai), and similar other spaces. This essentially means that only those who can afford the space/food/drinks, those who are dressed-up in a particular way, and those who can navigate the intricacies of language, decorum, expectations of such spaces are included. Rest, are excluded.

These are the implicit restrictions that one needs to really take a hard look at if one is interested in the making the space inclusive and diverse.

There has to be a reflection on how small decisions such as the meeting place (affordability, location, accessibility), the language spoken, can change the ways in which people are included or excluded. There has to be a conscious effort to really understand that we do not live in an equal society. That every action of ours perpetuates inequalities in some way or the other.

Thus, a majority of oppressed castes will continue to be excluded from such spaces because of how these meetings are structured.

3. The partnership with NITI Aayog – Here, there seems to be no questioning the larger policies of the government. One can see how the discussions, the language, the thoughts in the group and the meetings are structured such that it reflects the thought processes of the government.

Take the mentoring program itself – there isn’t any critique of this initiative.

There isn’t any critique of the educational policies of the government. There is no questioning of the problems that teachers face on the ground and how a program like this interacts with the existing school system.

There isn’t any questioning on the state of the public education system in India and the result of privatising and commodifying educational spaces. There isn’t any questioning on the kind of schools and in turn the students who will be included and excluded through this program.

This program may essentially end up as a system of charity or corporate social responsibility assuaging the guilt of the oppressors instead of truly addressing the variety of problems that Indian education system faces.

It is not just historical oppression wherein oppressed castes were excluded from education systems. But even now, quality education can be accessed predominantly by only the dominant castes. The oppressed castes continue to be oppressed through government systems that are neglected and ever-increasing private systems that are unaffordable and discriminatory. None of this is questioned.

This is just a small example as to how privileged groups such as this have the tendency to remain apolitical in order to continue having access to certain governmental or industrial spaces.

4. That said, Network Capital is surely a group of thousands of individuals (and growing) in positions of power in various sectors. This can really be beneficial for any member in the group – to find jobs, to bounce ideas, to obtain feedback, to build networks, to obtain funding, to build professional and personal relationships that may benefit in a variety of ways.

However, there is a vicious circle that groups like Network Capital have to encounter and recognise if the idea is to envision a caste-less society. What is this vicious circle?

Let’s take a look at the “Report of the Expert Group to propose ‘Diversity Index’ and to work out the modalities for implementation” (thereafter mentioned as the DI Report) submitted to the Ministry of Minority Affairs India –

“Inequality traps prevent the marginalised and work in favour of the dominant group in a society. Furthermore, policies and institutions are the outcomes of the process of political economy in which different groups endeavour to make an impact through political mobilisation and seek to protect their own interests.”

“In all this, those that have more power tend to corner a disproportionate share of the benefits”

“..the way these institutions function would affect people’s opportunities and their ability to invest and prosper. Unequal economic opportunities lead to unequal outcomes which in turn lead to unequal access to political power. This creates a vicious circle power structure that determines the nature and functioning of the institutions and their policies. All these result in persistence of initial conditions.”

This Vicious Circle

Based on the nature and functioning of Network Capital and its policies, it creates a power structure that includes certain people and excludes certain people as mentioned above. Since there is no questioning of the caste diversity of this group, the dominant castes who predominantly get access to Network Capital and are able to navigate the space corner the benefits that the group provides. It functions as a caste network wherein dominant castes network with other dominant castes to increase their social, economic, and cultural capital.

Also, there is no consciously driven policy to ensure that there is diversity within the Network Capital group.

Network Capital is just a small example of the larger rigged system that we live in creating vicious circles everywhere. For example, lately, there have been many fellowships and programs that provide access to positions of power and elite spaces, access to privileged networks (industrial, business, alumni) like that of Network Capital, and access to quality education in elite universities – Anant Fellowship, Young India Fellowship, LAMP Fellowship, Chief Minister’s Good Governance Program, Vedica Scholars Programme for Women, Urban Fellowship, and many others.

But none of these programs emphasize explicitly on caste diversity. There isn’t any explicit policy to ensure that there is caste diversity within these programs. Scholarships go only so far in actually desegregating the caste identities in privileged spaces.

Another aspect of such groups, as mentioned above, is that there seems to be an aversion to really politicising the space.

Recently, after the Gauri Lankesh assassination, a member of Citizens for Bangalore Facebook Group posted the following regarding the protest held against Gauri Lankesh’s assassination at Town Hall.

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This received a barrage of comments –

 

The moderator of the group had to stop comments on the post and also post an apology stating that it was a mistake to allow for the aforementioned post.

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If the consciousness of groups like Citizens for Bangalore which calls itself a grassroots people’s movement in the heart of Bangalore isn’t shaken because of the assassination of a journalist, will it ever be able to work with framework of social justice really required for the issues it fights for? Will it ever question the caste-diversity of its own group? Will it question the predominance of the oppressed castes amongst pourakarmikas (manual scavengers, garbage collectors, cleaners) and the predominance of dominant castes in positions of power in the government? Will it really reflect on the dominant caste-consciousness in the decisions that it tends to take in many of urban-based issues? Will caste ever be an urban-issue for Citizens for Bangalore?

Even in the development sector, a similar reality persists. There, it results in dominant castes becoming the vocal chords of the marginalised without having to really work on changing material realities.

If organisations do not consciously change their strategies and ways of recruiting, it will again result in dominant castes occupying the spaces of power. The aspect of separating politics of caste, gender, class, and religion from our daily reality is embedded in all our thoughts and actions since childhood. We need to seriously encounter the pressure to be apolitical in many spaces. Because no space is devoid of Casteism or Patriarchy.

But now the question is – What do we do? What can we do?

Can one organisation or a group of people change anything? Isn’t it the government’s job to ensure that it provides better education systems and infrastructure and incentives for the marginalised? Isn’t the reservation system already correcting the inequalities? Will the oppressed castes be able to cope with respect to language, skills, and many other aspects of occupying privileged spaces? Why should a private organisation or a group think of caste-diversity or religious diversity in a country like India? More on this in the next post.

Source of Blogpost Image – Network Capital Facebook Group