Before the ‘Bhadralok’ Question Your Merit

The West Bengal Madhyamik (Class 10) examination results, which were announced two weeks ago, have jolted Bengalis in general and Bengali bhadralok in particular who are known for unnecessarily romanticising educational qualification or ‘merit’ to be precise. With a record passing percentage of 100, this year’s result is definitely going to raise some sceptical eyebrows sooner or later.

Being raised in a highly competitive and often suffocating academic environment, I am sure that the unforeseen circumstances – the pandemic – which led to this decision, shall soon be forgotten and the bhadralok will start passing judgements at the students who passed this year without undergoing a proper screening process as the previous batches.

The land of Rabindranath Tagore and Satyajit Ray – the stalwarts of Bengali culture – has always treated education with utmost importance. While they may not have been as vigilant about the contemporary need for critical changes in the system, they surely are when it comes to preserving the facade of fascination around it. Hence, as soon as the results were out; memes, roast videos on YouTube and funny WhatsApp forwards – all on the false idea of ‘merit’ – started doing the rounds on social media.

Despite the severity of the situation in the entire country, and especially in Bengal – the migrant crisis, cyclone Amphan and of course, the legendary state elections – the bhadralok were still pondering over the state government’s decision over the results of the higher secondary class, trying hard to accept it as the ‘last resort’ while letting out a long sigh of despair.

While speaking with a primary teacher, Sandhya (name changed), I could only feel a sense of disappointment in her voice. Was it because all the students passed this year or was it because the examination, which had once validated her ‘merit’, did not follow a similar screening process this time? Another teacher Sudhir (name changed) who teaches at the secondary level in a public school, thought it to be just another political gimmick, something that has become a usual phenomenon since the fall of the Left rule in West Bengal.

Also read: Need of the Hour: A Transformation of Pedagogy

Being a post-graduate student of social work, my fieldwork experiences in an urban slum in the recent past have exposed me to a plethora of problems: feelings of uncertainty, deprivation, school dropouts and so on. In one of the slums, the maximum number of dropouts were registered in the primary as well as the higher secondary classes. And mind you, this is just one minute example amongst many, where most of the students come from marginalised backgrounds who, during the pandemic, have had to drop out because of gender identity, lack of affordability and other such issues. The privileged gentry, on the other hand, wouldn’t even have to think of taking such a decision no matter how miserable their situation is.

It is this very insensitivity hidden under a veil of pride amongst the bhadralok that would never let this batch forget how they passed. Interestingly, as soon as the Class 10 results were out, many Class 12 students took to streets expressing their discontent with the marking and calculation of the results in the event of the exam cancellation. They wanted the state government to pass them as well, just like the Class 10 students.

Let us think for once, beyond the pervasive idea of using ‘merit’ to judge a person’s worth. Let us consciously decide never to treat these two years of time with the fixed frameworks of norms but as exceptions. Let us for once at least try to initiate a preventive measure against a large-scale social abuse waiting to be triggered by a not so ‘casteless’ but ‘bhadralok’ dominated Bengal. And it is better to do so ‘before the bhadralok start to question their merit!’

Debankur Talukder is currently pursuing his post-graduation degree in social work from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty