There But For Fortune, Go You Or I

Mohan Rao reviews Namit Arora's book The Lottery of Birth:

51oibu21mkL._SX322_BO1 204 203 200_Namit Arora is an unlikely writer of a book such as this, and thus is all the more convincing. A graduate of IIT, who gets into IIT on the basis of a high all-India rank in the notoriously difficult entrance exam, he goes on, as many from IIT do, to the USA, where, with financial aid, he obtains a Masters degree from an American university and then finds economic success in that land of milk and honey, Silicon Valley. Most people, he notes, would see this as a just reward for his knowledge and hard work.

But as Arora notes, ‘If I’m honest with myself, I can’t take much credit for it….I happened to be born in an upper-caste household, inheriting eons of unearned privilege over 80 per cent of all other Indians, I was a fair skinned boy raised in a society that lavished far more positive attention on fair skin and boys. I neither suffered any caste discrimination, nor faced any social and physical restrictions on account of my gender or sexual orientation’ (p. 6). What bothered him was that life’s outcomes depended ‘on the lottery of birth, where people were, marked in the womb for worldly success and failure, based on their accidental inheritance of caste, class, caste, gender, region, religion, sexuality, language, and more’ (p. 7).

This book of essays is on inequality along the various axes of caste, class and gender in the country, on the distortions these impose on Indian democracy, on the writings of some of the people who have suffered the indignities that are mounted on pre-existing inequalities and on those who have attempted, with varying degrees of success and disenchantment, to overturn this unjust order. The essays argue that these are indeed man made, not divinely created. They have been published for the most part in an on-line journal 3 Quarks Daily over the last seven years. These are essays written with honesty, intelligence, sensitivity and with ease. Arora has read all the relevant literature in history, anthropology and political theory and writes for the general reader. What is significant above all, is his respect for data, skillfully analysed.

More here.