Clubhouse Caste: How Silicon Valley Insiders Look In India

Clubhouse Caste: How Silicon Valley Insiders Look In India

Clubhouse is a social audio app where users can communicate in audio chat rooms

Prasangana Paul

"Cultivation of mind should be the ultimate aim of existence."
Babasaheb Ambedkar.


NEW DELHI — The latest entrant in the world of social media has been Clubhouse. While the audio-based platform boasts of providing a 'room' for free-wheeling discussions on anything and everything, it is imperative that it take note and address the casteism being blatantly practiced in these rooms.

I stumbled upon the casteist side of Clubhouse when I came across a room with a clickbait topic: "Should reservation be constitutional?" In that room, the savarna hosts gave each other plenty of time to speak, but did not pass the mic to those debating the very idea of hosting such a discussion in the first place.

Hijacking our life experiences

The topic was triggering for many like me, who come from marginalised communities. Instead of letting us put our points across, we were repeatedly relegated to the audience section.

Over time, I've been witness to numerous rooms like this where elite upper-caste speakers invalidate your trauma – and in a way, your very existence – by using all sorts of hurtful words to add to the generational oppression. They keep hijacking our life experiences while blowing horns of their merit.

They don't hear us at all.

Upper castes define merit in their own ways

To those even remotely wondering as to why such talks are allowed to exist in the first place, one must remember that there are many in the audience – typically belonging to the same caste as the speakers – who not only support these casteist beliefs but also feel the need to highlight these rooms and hype the speakers, or so-called icons, who are mostly self-proclaimed intellectuals.

This is simply the age-old practice savarna gatekeeping at work.

In the room on reservation, the speakers cribbed about how seats are snatched away by Dalit students and how only those who apply through the general categories are meritorious. Such arguments are hardly limited to Clubhouse. With all their generational wealth and caste privileges, the upper castes try to define merit in their own ways.

But what many fail to understand is that we are not here to prove anything to them. We are fighting our own battles everyday and struggling to live a life in a caste-centric society where casteist comments are casually passed, where Dalits are beaten for hoisting the national flag and even murdered for riding a horse at their own wedding. Dalit women are raped and killed in the hundreds yearly, and justice is rarely done. There are countless examples of real-life violence caused by upper castes against the Bahujan community. And the vicious loop never ends.

Dalits in India live in constant fear. So how are there people who want to host Clubhouse rooms to debate if reservation should exist or not?

Photo of people protesting against increasing atrocities on Dalit community Demonstrators protesting against increasing atrocities on Dalit community, October 2020Mayank Makhija/NurPhoto/ZUMA

It is so daunting to notice how not just Clubhouse, but almost every platform is dominated by savarnas who claim to be progressive on the outside but wouldn't bat an eyelid while discussing the merits and demerits of reservation. They would rather pat their own back and say "I have a Dalit friend", but would never hold their favorite influencer accountable if they are caught using casteist slurs.

The day I encountered the Clubhouse room on reservation, I also came across a group chat where many privileged men wrote to me, asking, "So we can't even have a discussion on reservation and talk about what is right and wrong about it?"

I responded, asserting that it isn't a matter of right or wrong – it is about representation. Instead of paying attention to what I had to say, they mocked me, calling me 'too sensitive' as I was being unable to explain the facts to them calmly. How could they expect me to stay calm when the DBA samaj was being insulted in front of me, and my own voice was being invalidated? They humiliated me, even as many others stood by quietly and let it happen.

You shrink yourself in a room that is entirely yours.

DBA artists who have been hosting anti-caste rooms are barely noticed. On the other hand, savarna speakers who moderate discussions on clickbait topics by appropriating our voices have a considerable number of followers. You may have also noticed how very few artists from the DBA community are verified on Instagram or other platforms. On the other hand, savarnas are kept on a high pedestal for doing the bare minimum.

Among the words I absolutely detest is 'merit' – I simply can't stand the ridiculous nature of the word and how it forms the very grounds of discrimination. Growing up, my mother used to say, "Don't let the world dictate you, you deserve to go anywhere and everywhere". But how do I tell her that I am scared of this savarna supremacist society playing their savarnatokenism everywhere?

In a world that keeps questioning your existence, you get tired of seeking space for yourself. You shrink yourself in a room that is entirely yours.

The time has come to create our own spaces.

Prasangana Paul is an International Relations student at Jadavpur University.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!