Several days ago I came across a very interesting and visually effective exercise showing what privilege in the US looks like.
The exercise starts off with a number of participants standing in a straight line, side by side (see below). A series of statements (35 in total) are read out one after another with the participants, each time, taking a step either forward or back depending on whether the statement applies to them. The questions cover a range of things like freedom of movement, student loans, education, upbringing etc.
Here’s a video of the exercise.
At the end of the exercise, where a participant ends up, in front or behind the line and how far indicates whether they are privileged or disadvantaged, and by how much, in relative terms. In other words, where a participant ends up gives a pretty good measure of his/her social capital.
Watching the video, and the work I do both with COMMITTED and independently in Nepal, on social justice, economic and gender equality and education, got me thinking…why not create a similar exercise to assess the levels of privilege different Nepalese enjoy?
So I did!
Here’s how you do my version of the exercise:
Read each statement one at a time.
After reading a statement, if you agree with it, take a step forward; if you don’t, take a step back.
It helps to do this with a big, diverse group. The floor plan for the exercise could look something like this if you indeed do it in a group:
Here are the statements:
- I speak and/or understand spoken Nepali.
- My primary language spoken at home or my mother tongue is Nepali.
- I speak a foreign language — other than Hindi or Urdu. (Most Nepalese learn to speak the two languages from TV and movies.)
- I have a citizenship card to prove that I am a citizen of the country. (About 15% of the country don’t have citizenship.)
- I am confident that I would understand the language of Public Service Commission examination papers (Lok Sewa Ayog). (One has to pass these exams to qualify for public service.)
- I lived close to or within easy access of an educational institution — an elementary school, secondary school or college etc.
- I attended school for at least three years.
- I passed School Leaving Certificate examinations (high school diploma). (Click here for the statistics.)
- I have further degree(s) beyond SLC (such as Ten-plus-two or A-levels or a Bachelor’s degree etc). (Click here for the statistics on post-secondary education and here for statistics on tertiary education.)
- I have had the opportunity to travel abroad.
- One or both of my parents have an intermediate diploma and/or SLC certificate or the equivalent.
- I have a family member or a close relative who has studied — or is studying — abroad.
- I can easily find someone from my caste when I enter a district or the central government office. (For instance, if you are a Brahmin/Bahun and you think you’ll easily find a Brahmin/Bahun in a government office then you would agree with the statement.)
- I can easily find someone belonging to my jat (ethnicity) when I enter a district or the central government office. (For instance, if you are a Koirala and you think you’ll easily find a Koirala in a government office, then you would agree with the statement.).
- I have a family member or a close relative working in a district or the central government office.
- I have a family member, or close relative, who is a high-ranking politician.
- I have felt that my caste or jat is adequately represented in the byline of newspapers or on televisions and movies.
- I have never felt like there was inadequate or inaccurate representation of my sexual orientation group/gender group/disability group in the media.
- As a primary, secondary, higher secondary or college student I had at least one teacher who shared my caste background. (If you didn’t go to school at all, take a step back too.)
- When I was a student, I had an administrator who shared my caste background. (Again, if you didn’t go to school at all, take a step back.)
- When I made mistakes, people did NOT attribute my mistake to flaws in my jat (ethnic group) or gender or sexual orientation.
- I have never been bullied or made fun of based on something that I can’t change (such as my caste/jat/cultural heritage or skin color or my facial features or my gender).
- I was never embarrassed about my traditional clothes or aspects of my cultural or religious traditions while growing up.
- Neither I nor members of my immediate family have ever had to change our speech or mannerisms or names or surnames or looks, or adopt religious and/or cultural practices to hide our cultural heritage and/or to gain credibility.
- I had more than 20 books — other than school textbooks — in my house growing up.
- I studied the traditions, culture or the history of our caste and/or jat ancestors in school.
- I feel I had adequate access to healthy food growing up.
- I grew up being attended to by helpers and/or had maid(s)/cleaner(s) cleaning up after me and/or was assisted by guard(s) and/or driver(s) etc.
- I am reasonably sure I would be hired for a job JUST based on my ability and qualifications.
- I can buy new clothes or go out to dinner or for drinks at an established restaurant and bar in Thamel Kathmandu, when I want to.
- I have been offered a job because of my association with a friend or family member or the financial (net) worth of my family or my family name.
- I am able to move around freely without fear of sexual harassment or assault.
- I feel comfortable walking home alone at night.
- I am married and after marriage I did NOT have to sever my ties with family, relatives and friends. (If you are a woman you may have had to because you might have been expected to fit into the new social world of your spouse and/or because you had to move to where your spouse lived with his family, which may have been very far from where you lived.)
A few things about the statements.
- Firstly, some of the statements were adapted from the questions in the original exercise as well as from statements to do with Khas privilege appearing in the post “Invisible Doko.”
- Secondly, if anyone in Nepal were to conduct this with a large group, they would have to translate them into Nepali and possibly into other languages spoken in the country for the benefit of those who might not understand English and/or Nepali. After all, if we were to do this with a representative sample of Nepalese, according to the 2011 census data, less than half — 44.6% — of the population speak Nepali as mother tongue.
- And lastly, the above list of statements, by no means, is an exhaustive nor an authoritative list but one that I am certain will suffice!
If we were to conduct this exercise using a representative sample of 100 adult Nepalese — based on the 2011 census report — those really far ahead, at the +30 mark or thereabouts, would most likely be Bahuns and Chhetris, the Khas people. Dalits, the untouchables, would most likely end up as far behind the line!
Furthermore, those farthest ahead will most likely be men; those farthest behind will most likely be women. There will most likely be as many men in front of the line as women behind the line.
Breaking down these structures, structures which perpetuate privilege and thus inequality, preventing a majority of Nepalese from realizing their potential, from living their lives to the fullest, and instead condemning them and their posterity to a life of suffering and servitude, would go a long way towards providing social justice, sourly lacking in our country and holding the country back from making social, political, and economic progress.
Education can be the leveler, education can bring everyone to the starting line. COMMITTED implements education-related projects in rural Nepal to that end.
What do you think?
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What Is Privilege?. The original exercise.
This Teacher Taught His Class A Powerful Lesson About Privilege. As per my FB post, I recommend you read the article twice. First read it straight through. Then, read it again replacing ‘become wealthy and move into the upper class’ with ‘life opportunities,’ and ‘privilege’ or ‘privilege of “education”‘ with ‘social capital.’
Fears over Nepal’s planned citizenship law. According to this short news-video for Al Jazeera made by my friend Subina, there are more than four million Nepalese — about 15% of the population — who do not have citizenship papers.
Nepal tops world’s child malnutrition rates. Another short news-video for Al Jazeera made by my friend Subina. According to the video, “Almost half of all Nepali children are small for their age, some are severely wasted and risk catching disease. And getting enough to eat is only part of a much bigger problem.”
The country is yours. The Op-ed by Deepak Thapa about the plight of Tamangs and the arrogance and bigotry of even current high-caste government officials.
The Invisible Doko. The blog post identifies the “subtle benefits of khas privilege” in the country. (Khas are the hill high caste Hindus — the Brahmins and the Chhetris.)
For the People. In this op-ed Promod Mishra argues “unearned [structural] privilege and mindset has stifled their [the hill high caste Hindu’s] creativity, locked their genius and killed their nobler thoughts” among other things.
Additional References (added after publication of blog because of relevance):
जनजाति नायिका किन अस्वीकृत. Lack of representation of Janajatis in the Nepali movie industry.
A short comic gives the simplest, most perfect explanation of privilege I’ve ever seen. Just what it says! To make it relevant to the Nepali context, you can imagine Richard being from a well-to-do hill High Caste Hindu family in Kathmandu, and Paula from a poor Janajati (Dalit?) family also in Kathmandu.