The Privileged & the Divide

Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (commonly known as IGIDR) is a premier institute funded by the Reserve Bank of India. Students pursue higher studies in this college, that is, Master’s, MPhil and PhD in Economics. The Master’s students stay at the college hostel with individual rooms and attached bathrooms. The PhD students live in shared apartment or individual rooms furnished with kitchen. The rooms in the Guest House, where the MPhil students live, look more like hotel rooms and less like hostel rooms. The academic building, where the research students and professors work, has three blocks with three floors each. Facilities of water cooler and restrooms are present in each floor of each block. Each floor of the academic building is connected to the other through a lift. IGIDR library is absolutely fascinating and has four floors, with a lift to ease access and a restroom in every floor.

Whatever negative ideas you might have had about hostels does not hold good here. There are around 110 students in a 14-acre campus; the food served is of very good quality and extremely cheap. The food is subsidised to such an extent that cooking on our own would be much costlier both in terms of purchasing groceries as well as time spent in cooking. Leave aside the time spent in cooking, even if you order vegetables online, only the price of groceries would at least be three times the price of the entire dish that is served at the canteen. The campus is spick and span, with children’s park, sports facilities including table tennis, badminton, tennis, and carom and an amazing swimming pool and gym.

Our college shares the boundary with the Film City on one hand and a slum rehabilitation building in Santoshnagar on the other. The road that leads to the apartments of PhD students is cleaned every morning. However the people from the adjacent building have a habit of throwing things out of their windows. Things that can be found on the road at night can be quite unpredictable. It has ranged from t-shirt, shoes, rice, toys, plastic, marbles and more. While we do not know who throws it and from which window, one thing is known from sure. No one in that particular building cares about who is walking on the road (we have to carefully dodge things at times) and we do not know anything about the people in the building. Except their socio-economic condition perhaps, given that they stay in a slum rehabilitation building.

Let me tell you about the bustling market in Santoshnagar. Not every student at IGIDR is comfortable going there. They prefer the Gokuldham market, where fruits and vegetables are relatively costlier, perhaps driven by the reservation price of the people living there. Gokuldham has RBI quarters, ONGC quarter and of course D B Woods, which stands tall like Gulliver overshadowing every Lilliput nearby. It has five-floor dedicated to car parking and makes every building around it look like a tiny structure.

But if you want to see diversity and a range of economic activities in a narrow lane, you must go to Santoshnagar. The lane has stores and multiple carts in front of them. Informal structures exist side by side, selling vegetables and fruits, clothes and blankets, jewellery, medicine and stationary, and freshly made street food – Wada Pav, Break Pakoda, Pani puri and Samosa all the while paying hefty bribe each day just to survive. In case the officers of BMC come for a surprise visit, their shops are ceased, apart from being charged a heavy fine. Everything that you could ask for exists in this lane and the prices, you can of course bargain, are already low to begin with. I have been frequenting this market since 2013. More recently, with the completion of a multi-storeyed building in Santoshnagar, the patterns of shops and composition of customers on the road have changed. To my utter surprise, now Santoshnagar has a supermarket, with the name ‘Low Price Super Market’ – a signal to the customers who would perhaps avoid an AC supermarket amidst informal sellers.

Although Santoshnagar is changing, some questions keep bothering me. Can a student from Santoshnagar later join IGIDR – an institute not 100m from their houses? Is there a role of IGIDR in bridging the divide? If yes, then what is it?

Ours is a development research institute. We sit in very comfortable rooms and write about development and challenges in India; field work is not a common practice here. While people within a 1km radius stand in queues since morning to fill water and use the restrooms, we wake up in a wonderful apartments, fill water from the cooler and go to work. Such privileges – such divide.

Should there be a social work wing in every college? Is there a need to acknowledge our privileges and try to bridge the gap? Or is it better that we turn a blind eye to our neighbours and keep on doing the work we are supposed to? If so, I hope the research that we produce move beyond journals and journal ranking and positively impact the world around us.

I hope one day, surpassing every odd, a child from Santoshnagar walks into IGIDR as a student. I hope when he or she does get in, the divide is washed away forever.

Published by Leena Bhattacharya

A researcher who finds solace in social work

2 thoughts on “The Privileged & the Divide

  1. For development, education plays an important role and coming to an institute like IGIDR, you need a solid foundation. To cross those 100 meters I feel the issue at hand is to provide best of education facilities to these students and help them understand that no matter where you are, you can easily achieve your dreams. I would be interested in knowing how bad is the situation according to them. I am referring to a paper which might be of interest in this aspect…


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