(Written by Sugandha Nagpal)
Dear Ms Sinha,
Your article on the Khan Market blues, contrary to its stated purpose encapsulates perfectly the sense of entitlement and privilege often associated with people who frequent the Khan Market. You make the argument that civil servants in the Lutyens Delhi area have gotten where they are through merit and hard work and it is unfair to see their interactions with the Khan market as emblematic of elitism and entitlement. This is tantamount to saying that hard work is the benchmark for privilege.
After all, the autorickshaw driver outside Khan market works just as hard if not more but does not have the same access to Khan Market. The very fact that a family can have connections to a market in the heart of Delhi that goes back many generations, speaks to the ways in which privilege is reproduced.
In your article, you draw on a sense of nostalgia and selective past to position the privilege of Khan market as legitimate and something that should not be questioned. Your argument strikes at the fault lines within the liberal discourse in India, which fails to comprehend and question their own sense of privilege.
It also highlights why the statement about the Khan Market gang resonates with many who are quite done with the sense of privilege and entitlement that masquerades as liberalism. To be a liberal is to recognize the shifting and evolving dynamics of disparity that one lives within a developing nation.
Thus, while historically, the Khan Market was set up as space for refugees to do business, in the contemporary context it enacts a form of exclusion, much like any other elite space. In the changed present scenario it is important to acknowledge that Khan Market is a symbol of elitism, with its high-end stores, cafes and many bookstores. While one may choose to engage with it, it is quite something else to celebrate and defend it.
This is not an argument for relinquishing one s privilege or disparaging those that frequent Khan Market but rather a call to acknowledge one s sources of privilege rather than presenting it as normative or worse still a cause for celebration. When one calls themselves a liberal it behoves them to reflect on some of its fundamental tenets.
If we agree that liberalism is about inclusion and tolerance, then any elite space by definition is at odds with it. Places like Khan Market, GK and Southex are able to create an exclusive space for the new and old rich alike by defining strict parameters for entry. In these spaces, the other is relegated to the fringes of its service economy, serving fancy food and clothing with a smile and a hint of resentment.
While the Khan Market Gang may not be a gang it is most definitely an exclusive group of people, who fail to recognize their own privilege but are quick to bemoan the lack of civility, education and sophistication among the other.