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Manu Mathuru

1. People in the play

Sutradhar

The narrator

Dr V Ajay Sree Chandra (Ajay)

Student at Indian Institute of Sciences (IISc), Bengaluru, India. Ended his life on 27 August 2007. 

 

Dr Balmukund Bharti

Student at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi, India. Ended his life on 3 March 2010.
 

Jaspreet Singh

Student at Govt Medical College (GMC), Chandigarh, India. Ended his life on 27 January 2008.


Manish Kumar

Student at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Roorkee, India. Ended his life on 6 February 2011.


Payal Salim Tadvi

Student at Topiwala National Medical College and B.Y.L. Nair Hospital, Mumbai, India. Ended her life on 22 May 2019.


Rohith Chakravarti Vemula

Student at Hyderabad University, India. Ended his life on 17 January 2016.


WITH

Akhilesh “Akki” Singh

Akki’s the pampered only son of a Rajput, dominant-caste land-owning (zamindar) family. While he grew up shuttling between Patna and New Delhi, home was always the zamindar ki haveli. Akki has two sisters and a younger brother, but he knows that he will take on the responsibility of the family, the business and the family lands one day. For now, he is enjoying studying Management & Economics at this British university. Akki’s family has a conservative outlook, steeped in the mainstream patriarchal norms of Bihar, which Akki has never questioned. He revels in the respect and adoration he gets as the zamindar’s son and heir, both from his extended family and all the people in his district.

 

Hari Ramakrishnan

Hari is from New Delhi and is doing an MA in Big Data Studies. His career goal is a tenured chair at a university, teaching and researching. Hari is a proud Brahmin (although he prefers to call himself Hindu Indian) and believes in the superiority of his religious beliefs. He visits the local temple in the university town as often as he can. He has also made a small temple on a table in a corner of his room to seek blessings every morning. He loves the comforts and clarity his traditions provide but equally enjoys the freedoms he experiences in the university, now that he is no longer constantly under his parents’ eyes. Hari’s favourite pastime is debating and he is a member of the same student association as Sam (see below). He frequently participates in campus discussions around life in India, which he defends to the best of his ability.

Latha “LG” Guruswamy

LG is a second-generation non-resident Indian (NRI). Both her parents are doctors who had migrated from India after gaining their medical degrees. LG’s father, Keval, is from a Brahmin family of temple priests in Andhra Pradesh. Keval met LG’s mother, Shalini Gupta, in medical school. Shalini’s family was in the cloth retail business in Uttar Pradesh for some generations, and she was the pampered ‘rebel’. Their inter-caste marriage had been accepted on both sides despite the north-south divide: for the Guptas, having a Brahmin son in law raised their status even more. And they lavished a generous dowry on their daughter that was well received in the temple priest’s household. The Guruswamys live in a sprawling detached house in a small town close to the university. LG has been friends with Sam and Lisa (see below) since high school. She is studying law but also belongs to a sociology study group. She is in a live-in relationship with Zara, a journalism student at the university she met in the study group. Her parents are unaware that she is queer. They are focused on scouting around for a suitable wife for her brother, their beloved son.

Lisa Holmes

Lisa is studying sociology. She is Black British. Her grandparents came to Britain from the Caribbean on the Windrush. Lisa grew up in a single parent household, with her mother working two low-wage jobs to keep the family together. Lisa is well clued into the social pressures and concerns that come with her  background. This includes the British colonial racial oppression of the Caribbean’s Black people and her own Black working-class and gendered experiences. She is determined to fulfil her grandmother’s dream of having an academic in the family. She has been in a steady relationship with Sam since high school. They live together in rented student accommodation. Lisa loves gospel singing and is part of her local church choir.

Manu Mathuru

Manu is originally from Madhya Pradesh, his father is a clerk in a state government department and his mother is a housewife. He came to this university on a scholarship four years ago for his MA in Anthropology. He stayed on to do his Doctorate in Development Studies as he won another grant for it. He did his Bachelor’s from Hindu College in New Delhi, having gained admission on an OBC reserved seat (although his school-leaving exam marks would have easily gained him a general seat). Manu enjoys debating and that’s how he met up with Hari on campus. They hold opposing views on many subjects, but their mutual respect and “common” Delhi background has resulted in an unlikely friendship. [OBC: Other Backward Class]

Samir “Sam” Kulkarni

Sam is a second-generation Indian British with a liberal upbringing, doing his MA in Management Science and Engineering. Sam’s father is a wealthy corporate and his mother is a society lady, on the board of many charities. Both had been born in Uganda and came to the UK when all South Asians were forced to leave that country. In Uganda, the Brahmin caste status of both families along with their business interests had enabled a privileged life in households employing several local Ugandan Africans as domestic servants. Sam has bolstered his limited first-hand exposure to India with reading, watching films/documentaries. He loves discussing many aspects of the country with his cousins in India. Lately he has joined a few WhatsApp discussion groups, which he thinks helps him understand current affairs quickly, although sometimes the messages in a couple of them directly contradict each other.


The setting

In a space in the university town of Bristol, UK. The six university friends are chilling out on a warm Saturday night after a day out in the city.


Acknowledgement

Some of the dialogues in this skit are reproduced or paraphrased excerpts from the documentary series Death of Merit. This series of documentaries was prepared by a team of Insight Foundation, New Delhi. We thank Insight Foundation for their permission to use the excerpts.

 

2. Script for Manu


Ajay:  
Jaspreet:
Rohith:
Ajay
Balmukund
Akki: Theek … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... based students … 


Manu: Akki, with all your “merit”, why are you ignoring the fact that caste-based reservations and caste discrimination go hand in hand? We need the discrimination to end for the reservations to go. And what does the goal of a 5-trillion dollar economy mean to the masses of India ? How will the lives of our villagers, and our small farmers, who are mostly from the marginalised communities, improve? They’ll continue to be stuck in the same place while the rich get richer …


Sam
Hari
Sam
Latha “LG”: Oh that’s … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... percenters?

 
Manu: Look folks, I agree that nation-building has to be a collective exercise. But I disagree with Akki and Hari on the rest. How can we work together collectively unless everyone has equal opportunities right from the cradle? It was to reduce those inequalities that reservations were instituted! And think of what both Ajay and Balmukund just said, that they’d scored top ranks in the general quota, but were still granted admission under the reserved quota. Why? Is the general quota reserved for the privileged castes?


Akki
Sam: Eat into … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... privilege.


Manu: Yep Akki, better you don’t consider the general quota literally as apne baap ki jagir! Actually only 6-8% of India’s population is Brahmin, but their representation in what I call “influencer” jobs is at least 60% +. You know judges, doctors, teachers, politicians, bureaucrats, etc. If we had equal opportunities for all, this figure wouldn’t be more than 8-10%. So who's eating into whose quota? This disproportionate resource accumulation is in fact the unspoken “reservation” of privileges for savarnas! I was shocked when I found this out myself. I didn't know this.
 

Latha “LG”
Sam
Hari:
Lisa
Hari
Lisa
Latha “LG”: My understanding … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... reservations. 


Manu: Absolutely. And the Supreme Court tried to do that by talking about “cultural capital” in their judgment. 
 

Akki
Lisa
Hari
Sam: Obviously, … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... hierarchies.


Manu: Oh yeah. The Indian Supreme Court actually has said that exams are an exclusionary method of resource allocation, that one needs to instead focus on the importance of individual character, lived experiences and hands-on training …


Latha "LG"
Sam: Yeah, Manu, … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...  race … 


Manu: Hey Sam, please share that report with me, I’d seen it in a WhatsApp group but couldn’t find it later … but, but, but tell me, if one’s concerns with reservations is all about merit, then why are teachers scaring away merit students from the oppressed castes? They should be encouraging them. Instead, they’re failing them deliberately. Why? And none of the institutions are taking any action … Just listen to all the voices around you …

---- Pause for 2 seconds ----

Jaspreet
Manish
Jaspreet

---- Pause for 2 seconds ----

Ajay

---- Pause for 2 seconds ----

Payal:  

---- Pause for 2 seconds ----

Ajay

---- Pause for 2 seconds ----

Balmukund

---- Pause for 2 seconds ----

Rohith:  

---- Pause for 2 seconds ----

Balmukund

---- Pause for 2 seconds ----

Payal

---- Pause for 2 seconds ----

Rohith:

---- Pause for 2 seconds ----

Ajay

---- Pause for 2 seconds ----

Rohith

---- Pause for 2 seconds ----

 

Sutradhar

Video to play

Sutradhar

END

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