Mumbai’s local trains have two classes - first and second. Having access to the first class has led to the creation of a sense of entitlement, by which people continually express the marking of their exclusive space. This phenomenon can be viewed as part of larger patterns that are at work in the city of Mumbai. The penetration of monetary values to almost everything has led to exacerbated class distinctions, delineations of exclusivity and a larger politics of insider-outsider.
In the simplest of terms, the possession of a first class ticket entitles you to a seat in the first class wagon of the train. During the rush hour, when unoccupied seats are limited, this entitlement is extended to a sense of moral high ground and leads to a judgmental filtering process. Clothes and language become the parameters of gauging the wrongful user - the one who is travelling first class and using up a seat without the right to do so. On many occasions, fellow passengers after having identified the potentially wrongful user remind him/her in the most gentle of ways by saying - ‘Excuse me, this is First Class’.
Well-known Philosophy professor, Michael Sandel in his latest book What Money Can’t Buy offers an interesting insight into the possible explanations for this over-extended morality. Sandel finds the association of money and monetary values to everything in our daily lives as being the cause of the sense of entitlement and moral judgement seen in the above case. So having purchased a ticket gives the passenger a moral stakeholdership to the first class space in the compartment, leading him/her to question the other person’s rightful or wrongful stake. Further, this situation is exacerbated when resources are limited and users are numerous. He cites many examples from the world over like the ability to drive in the car pool lane in Minneapolis in the United States (even when you are driving alone) and beat peak hour traffic by paying just $8. Or the ability to get the services of an Indian surrogate mother to carry a pregnancy for $6,250.
It is a truism today that there are really very few things that money or a mastercard can’t buy for you.Take another instance of the provisioning of lunch cards to students of a secondary school in suburban Mumbai. Because of paucity of space in the school (and also over-enrollment of students), the school gave out annual lunch cards of two types every year – one where by the virtue of which students could eat their lunch on the grass patches of the playground; and the other by which they could access the limited seats in the lunch hall. There are no prizes for guessing that the latter cost a lot more. Furthermore, in order to secure one of the limited lunch hall passes, parents and guardians had to queue up from as early as 4 am at the beginning of every academic year.
The penetration of monetary power is however not the sole driver of the powerful desire of carving out exclusive spaces. In several of the city’s high rise residential buildings a separation has been created for the elevators that are for use for the residents of the building and the service elevator (meant to carry luggage or heavy furniture items) that is to be used by maid servants, watchmen, plumbers, construction workers, courier delivery men or any other service providers. This practice is in tandem with the increased choice of living in gated communities, which have multiple security check points and are fully inclusive societies, often with their own schools, hospitals and recreation facilities. A sense of social exclusivity, superiority even, dominates the motivations for opting to live in such closed societies. So though the acquisition of money drives the sense of entitlement, that sense garners a life of its own by growing as symbols of status and power, reminiscent of a new caste system.
The withdrawal of the middle classes into such enclaves and the idea of restricting of interaction with those unlike them to the extent of separate elevators have led to the harbouring of mistrust and insecurity between the different classes of society. They also feed into the macro debate about who then has the right to the limited resources of the city – who is the insider and who is the outsider? Spatially, the urban poor and those involved in the informal sector of work face marginalisation by being restricted to living in ghettos of slums and informal housing. By constantly redefining the lines of exclusion and access to space, we are permitting the monetisation trends to dictate how we live and who we interact with. Moreover, by sharply zoning access and use, we will only alienate the marginalised further, creating even more intense ghettos of the mind.