A General Problem with Generalisations: Suhridh Sundaram (DD/AE/2018)

By Suhridh Sundaram

A lot of the ideas here are not mine. It would be plagiarism to claim this article as  entirely original. However, as the author I should entirely endorse everything I write about. Therefore, the following are the arguments I find sensible enough to include, and as T5E adequately mentions, they do not endorse my (perhaps) radical views.


There indeed is a problem. Of inequality, injustice and marginalisation of people. Multitudes of students, in particular here the Humanities and Social Science students have been derided, scoffed at and ridiculed. I’m a prime suspect in this matter, for I confess to having done it many times. With seniors and juniors, irrespective of whether I was the sole engineer wannabe hanging out with MA students, or off in a shady (most definitely, given Chennai’s climate) corner of my hostel or institute with close compatriots. I’d venture so far to say a large majority of non-MA students have partaken in this guilty pleasure of ours at least once during their odyssey here at our beloved campus. Maybe some, maybe more than some. However the problem which seems to be the main offender, is that there’s a smaller fraction among them who take jokes seriously. But claiming all subscribe to this is a generalisation that ought to be avoided under any circumstances. I think there are important points that need to be cleared up, both for the giving and the receiving end.


Every student of the institute ought to be treated equally and fairly. I agree with that, so who are these people who mistreat the Humanities students then? Well, a good point raised during these discussions was the fact that a hierarchy exists at Insti, with certain branches coming out on top, others getting trashed. This hierarchy originates at the heart of society at large itself, with certain branches being more coveted than others irrespective of interest or passion. Evidently here, it’s obvious that arguments claiming differential treatment based on those whether JEE was given or not to gain entry has absolutely no relevance, even by this model there are branches other that the Humanities who deal with derogatory comments, slighting and the works. Fact: These are two different fields with two separate entrance examinations, and although MA students seem to think BTechs enjoy looking down upon them for this, from my conversations over different groups this is most definitely not the case. It is logical that both engineering and humanities undergraduates have to make efforts to secure a position at our Institute. If the problem represented takes on a slightly different tone, saying that MA students get trashed on the most, by a huge majority of the population rather than just the a few smaller branches. Would this be saying that the insults to other branches are less hurtful, or perhaps they don’t get as much, so it’s fine, they can lump it?


Well, alright. A large majority takes on the underdogs, a minority, out to defend their honour and rights to exist in our institute. It’s a terrible war, casualties seem one sided. Let me be clear when I say this, the impact of this slanging would definitely cause mental harm to those it is directed at. I do not wish to make light of such a scenario. However, for the following reasons I do not feel that is entirely the case, that this has been exaggerated. Primarily, does the Humanities department really have to defend itself against such drivel, how much ever the quantity may be? Is the importance of Humanities not felt enough amongst the engineering-oriented? At this juncture, I’d like to bring in a portion of a much larger debate: why indeed does society (specifically in India) look down at choices in the field of Humanities, Social Science, Liberal Arts and related topics? As a country, we have only one Nobel Prize winner in Science, Sir C.V.Raman, and three others, though they were emigrants. Does this mean that the works of Amartya Sen and Rabindranath Tagore are triflings, works considered the most impact bearing in the world at that time. Yet, we deny ourselves future Tagores and Sens. All I can say is that this attitude change begins with us, the future generation of our country, the ‘best’ of this country. And we squabble about name-calling. Should we squander our intellectual prowess in finding ways to make fun of the Humanities? On the flip side, is it befitting of Humanities students to use their knowledge to classify and cry out oppression based on lame jokes? The Emperor of China from Walt Disney’s Mulan voiced a beautiful description of the scenario.


As every undergrad knows, taking Humanities electives can be especially challenging for some, and overall definitely not a cakewalk for even the best. Some hate it, naturally every course (even engineering) cannot appeal to all. Others just get by, and aren’t in any position to slight the department knowing the different pains one takes compared to the regular. Then there are the outstanding, the fantastic, the ones who do really well. A small fraction of the population, their derision perhaps may be considered. But more often than not, if you enjoy something enough to do really well (not me, I enjoyed it thoroughly and yet just got by), you tend to pick it as a minor. Like Economics or English. Would one now claim that these choices warranted ridicule of these engineering students too? By this approach, the importance and requirement for the Humanities is justified, so the realm is not under attack.


Then how do we ridicule the Humanities students? Perhaps it is important to shed some light on this specific detail. Drawing from my personal example, I can claim some sources to this. Have I joked about them being stupid? Absolutely, and would do it time and again (I also do it with other branches). Does this mean it is true? Most definitely not. My first year at the institute was a rollicking ride through our Lit scene. Some of the smartest debaters, MUNers and quizzers I know have come from the Humanities department (not to mention a dynamic SLC Speaker). These are people I have always held in the highest of regard, and yet time and again they fall victim to my jests. Perhaps being technically sound, we target the Achilles heel of some members of the Humanities, computer proficiency and other similar skills. I feel that with newer generations of tech-savvy youngsters this is on the decline, even so a far more serious issue reinforces why this inability is besieged. It is no secret that there are certain populations of students who feel inadequate at Lit activities and so stay away from anything to do with the matter. In a country like India with it’s wide diversity (thus I completely disagree with any generalisation over such a large population) there are even people who are intimidated by those who speak English well. Not all deride the Humanities though, some I personally know even revere it, who would gladly impress recruiters with fantastic speaking skills and sound arguments but are afraid of finding themselves ridiculed by the ‘elite’ for whom this is taken for granted and hence don’t participate in activities. This is indeed a real fear, as again I find and classify as a fact from conversations amongst peers. Just as it wouldn’t be fair to argue entropy and logic gates with MA pursuants, the jargonization of classical debate is unfair to the uninitiated. These people (again, not all of them) prey on jokes relating to the above mentioned Humanities inadequacies which could be a cause for the popularity of HS jokes. By all means, in such a scenario we can do one of two things: help each other out, for it is better to learn simultaneously and improve than exclude and live in the squalor of ignorance. Or my personal favourite, continue the mud-slinging in a healthy manner. Preferably at the Comedy Club so it could be made an entertainment out of too.


And finally, addressing the point of a sex ratio. I really don’t see, given the state of affairs, how things would turn out different. From a woman educated in the Humanities and understanding perspectives like that of objectification, by observing some bad elements conveniently termed in modern language as ‘beta males’ (who by the way, have learnt such ideas from cinema and society and for them it is perfectly normal and not immoral) can it be assumed that the entire male population is represented by them? This is part of a larger debate for another article, but this is the only point I absolutely and completely disagree with, that given such skewed ratios everyone expected things to be fine and dandy, what is a single attempt for one male may just be the final straw for an innocent not wishing for a relationship. Perhaps it be best that men and women don’t interact at all, that there be no ‘hitting on’ ever, that there a complete mutual understanding that attempts at a relationship can result in a call from authorities up above. May I clarify that I am not saying these are just accidents and must be let go lightly, but certainly with such varying definitions of what does and does not constitute ‘too far’ a probability of things going south exists, and I attempt to address such cases. There will be misunderstandings and encounters, and the institute has set up bodies to address just these and ensure protection in the unfortunate event of such incidents, and due to the subjective nature perhaps gender sensitisation early on as part of the Life Skills course would be ideal. All I ask is for both parties to see things for what they are, the intentions, not what could have been out of a plethora of possibilities void of exaggeration. As good engineers and economists, one extrapolates (generalises) from a large sample set, not a couple of bad encounters as most seem to argue.


All in all, a change of interaction is warranted. But as a comedian, my two cents would be a rather short sighted but absolutely obvious and clear solution: to take life in our stride, ‘grow a thick skin’ and laugh at our problems. By all means, if someone slanders, freedom of speech gives you the right to raise your voice and speak out against it. But to truly prove yourself, be witty about it.


This article was written as a response to Urvi Shah’s account, Reflections of Life on Campus.

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