Passengers on board a Delhi Metro
Photo tweeted by Sanya Dhingra
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ThePrint Reporter Sanya Dhingra tweeted a picture on 20 January which showed a woman and her child sitting on seats in the Delhi Metro while the child’s nanny sat on the floor with the caption “caste/class discrimination can be space-agnostic”.

Subsequently, ThePrint Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta wrote an opinion piece saying, “in no other urban Indian situation does class inequality show up as starkly as in employer-domestic worker”.

Responding to the picture and the article, the woman with the child shared her side of the story, accusing the reporter of ‘taking advantage of (their) situation’. ThePrint sought the woman’s permission to publish her version with the response of its reporter but the woman insisted she would allow that only if the reporter apologised first.

Sanya Dhingra responds:

Over the last 24 hours, my attempt to highlight class discrimination as a space-agnostic phenomenon has been hailed as a classic example of unethical, click-baity journalism, or even worse, a cheap publicity stunt. It was none of this.

What happened

I boarded the metro on Saturday evening from the Chhatarpur station along with a friend. We were busy chatting until we noticed this woman, the child’s mother, take some things from the bags kept in front of the nanny – until then, we hadn’t realised that the two were, in fact, travelling together. The child and the mother were sitting on the seats, as the photograph shows, while the nanny sat on the floor with three seemingly heavy bags around her. My friend and I immediately pointed out the somewhat awkward seating arrangement to each other. Why was the nanny sitting on the floor when there were at least five-six empty seats in the compartment?

But this was just a question in our heads. One couldn’t be presumptuous, so I decided to ask the woman sitting on the floor why she did not take one of the seats. As opposed to what the woman with the child has recounted in her statement, the nanny did not answer the question.

“Our nanny, who is a very nice and simple lady, told her that she is comfortable there but since Ms. Dhingra kept staring at her, I told her that we are about to get down and we are with lots of luggage so we are ok, thanks for asking,” the woman has written.

In reality, though, the nanny looked at me blankly for a second, and the mother promptly jumped in to answer on her behalf. She was the one to tell me that the nanny is comfortable, and not the nanny to whom my question was addressed.

“When we boarded the metro, there were no seats, so she sat there. She’s comfortable, she likes it that way,” she said, in a very friendly tone. The nanny continued to look blankly. That was the end of our exchange. Soon all four of us got off at the same station.

What compelled to call it out as discrimination

It’s not my contention that the mother forcibly made the nanny sit on the floor, and comfortably plonked herself and her child on the seats. She, in fact, says in her statement that she too was sitting on the floor earlier – a claim I cannot verify or deny because I boarded the train later.

But the behalf-ism is what was telling for me. Why did she defensively jump in to respond on the nanny’s behalf? How can an employer be the spokesperson for their employee’s comfort and what they like? How are they in a better position than their employee to say what makes them happy or comfortable?

In her response, she has rightly pointed out that a lot of us sit on the floor of the metro when there are no seats. But here’s what we do immediately when there is a seat – we get up and take it. The nanny did no such thing. She was, as the woman – an AIIMS doctor – insists, “comfortable” on the floor. But I would for a moment urge the readers to imagine a situation wherein the nanny took a seat on the train, and the mother and the child sat on the floor. Hard to imagine, isn’t it?

Internalising ‘mild’ forms of discrimination

The woman in her statement says that ThePrint has irresponsibly clubbed her situation with “harsh cases of ‘servant exploitation’”. But could we for a moment reconfigure our minds to not think of cases of exploitation as ‘mild’ or ‘harsh’, but call out discrimination and hierarchy no matter how “mild” it is?

This picture and the tweet were not just about the woman or her child or her nanny. It was about all of us and our collective internalisation of segregation, discrimination, exploitation of those who work for us – who we happily give euphemistic names to and call “helps”, but cringe every time they enter our homes with slippers, use our bathrooms, or eat in the same utensils as us.

I refused to apologise or take the picture down when contacted by the doctor because the picture was shot as a commentary on our blinding privileged morality as it tells an important, fully factual story entirely in public interest. I and my editors fully stand by it.

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16 Comments Share Your Views

16 COMMENTS

  1. This is journalism? Sensationalising, shaming and standing on a high horse. What is the difference between this nonsense and the village gossip pointing fingers at how other people live? If there is a class divide between sitting on a seat and on the floor, what about the class of the people who are standees? What class did you belong to? If a public place is truly agnostic, the public should be too.

  2. I would have been screaming in your defence if you had bothered to write a good piece on class and caste discrimination referencing what you saw in the Metro. Without the picture. But no. That would require effort. Why write a 1,000 words when a picture can get you the limelight. Let the editor write those 1,000 words instead because he knows his shit and you dont. If the real intention was to highlight the problem and not malign the woman, then why not blur the faces in the photo? You did not even bother to blur the baby’s face, who will now forever be a face of this saga despite not giving you his consent. If the doctor can’t speak on behalf of her nanny, neither can you. Caste and class discrimination is a real problem. Please don’t steer the narrative away from it with such attempts to familiarise the editor with your name. I’ll now find it hard to digest any copy with your byline.

  3. Well, out of authority or closeness one assumes over their employees or family members the educated ones or the talkative ones always will be the ones to respond on their people behalf whether it’s a servant or a family member, questioning that itself outright rubbish and journalist herself claims that doctor was polite and friendly then how can one assumes something and draw conclusions.
    In fact, If that women had no problem sitting with the luggage while her employer takes care of her child, what problem does this journo have?

  4. In this particular case, you are shifting goalposts; behalf-ism, shot as a commentary etc. A more dignified closure would be to apologize to this private citizen and move on.
    Brazening it out demonstrates stubborness.
    The story, at best, is incomplete and at worst, is just wrong.

  5. I am sorry but shouldn’t you have verified the story before shooting it off on Twitter and then writing a piece on it. That is plain and simple lazy journalism of the worst form. It is all very well to justify ends but at what cost – your credibility or someone’s privacy or both. The 4th pillar is fast losing credibility.

  6. I don’t buy doctors explanation. This is her after thought reply being caught in this situation. She was doing this which is very normal to do. No body thinks it. As the reporter has clicked her she is now taking about infringement of her rights. She rumpled the rights of her nanny. She being in much better social position has more to answer. If this story adds in bettering the situation of nannies is worth without caring much about doctors so called privacy

  7. Journalist assumed whole many things without verifying single one, Jumped to conclusions..

    Poor standards of journalism.. lost credibility..

    Abused a position, victimised a person and clearly there is no balance in the article

    At least editor should be sensible enough while screening the article

  8. The Swarajya Magazine has pointed out the fallacies in your argument. So I would not repeat them. But this I can say, by refusing to apologise for your article, you have diminished your stature as a journalist and next time you pen another article, it would be seen as fake news. Live with it.

  9. THis is a perfect example of painting a simple scenario in a caste biased, racist biased, labour biased cases….. Thats what report doing this time….And when they caught, like this article they very fluently show to people that there intention is not this and that and bla bla bla…. Shame on u…

  10. The reporter seems to be talking about her own biases using the unfortunate doctor and her servant. If she thinks the doctor should not speak on behalf of her fellow passenger, the nanny, what makes the reporter talk on her behalf ? Some God given authority ?

  11. Desperate attempt to find something to relate the original article too. Sometimes you guys go over the top in your fight with the shadows. You related it to caste? But did you even know her caste? Did you ask the nanny her caste?

    Any answer pieces on explaining this prejudice?
    We need social justice warriors but with a more balanced approach and not the people who over enthusiastically hammer things to take out the core and fix it inturn breaking all of that existed.

  12. I agree with the servant divide point you wanted to make, but why could you not tell this through as an anecdote without posting the picture. While you say that you are not judging the lady in picture but as she is clearly visible in it, people are bound to make opinions about her based on your limited character comment on this via twitter. You are stubborn about this, so be it, but this is clearly unethical.

  13. Classism within Indian society is a huge issue – the unwritten rules of everyone ‘knowing their place’. We will probably need a few generations to overcome this. However, the journalist is projecting her own notions of justice upon the nanny. In all likelihood, the nanny comes from a background where all that she has ever known is her ‘inferior’ place in society. Many people (usually laborers, domestic workers etc.) will choose to sit on the floor even if a seat is empty on the Metro. While this is unfortunate and symbolic of our classist society, we can’t expect everyone to understand (and then act) based on our privileged understanding of socio-economic issues. That in itself, can be viewed as classist and part of the problem! And it’s okay if the nanny chooses to make a living rather than battle centuries of socioeconomic class warfare on the Metro.

    Moreover, it’s surprising to see the photo be used without explicit permission of the Doctor, AND THE NANNY! Smacks of the privileged “I know what’s best for you” nonsense that the journalist is apparently trying to address.

  14. What about the lady’s privacy ? Did you take her consent before taking her photo? If not , how different are you from the guy who was video taping a girl without her knowledge or permission? Who gave you consent to use that pic and malign her name? Did the maid explicitly came to you and told you that she had a problem ? Privacy is a two way street. its not just for “liberals” like you.. its every one. Of course you stand by it.. because you clearly know that the lady has neither financial wherewithal nor time away from her job and family to take you guys to court .. you shame less morons..

    I have one more question.. in the entire journey, did the lady stop her maid from sitting on a seat? Do you have any proof of her doing that?

    regarding ” who we happily give euphemistic names to and call “helps”, but cringe every time they enter our homes with slippers, use our bathrooms, or eat in the same utensils as us. ” .. dont generalize things madam.. may be you cringe everytime your maid enters your homes not every one does.. yes.. everyone may not be hugging and loving their maids… but they do not hate ( or cringe) their maids either..

    Dont extrapolate everything in your head to all Indians and take us on a guilt trip.. it is you who is indulging in class bias.. the way you have responded to the lady and the people who criticized you shows it all.. nobody other than you and your “the print” is supposed to have any opinion.. only you higher beings are supposed to think for all of us

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