Unrecognized Privilege?

Updated: Feb 15, 2020

|Author: Tessa|

Today marks halfway through our second official week working with our respective organizations, and also another new experience. Our organization, Biome, tasked us with mapping out and marking the seventy-three recharge wells located in Cubbon Park., the end goal being to produce an accurate map depicting each well’s location, and to physically paint the associated well number on each well.

Before beginning the task, I had some apprehensions-- would anyone have issues with us painting numbers on the recharge wells? My apprehensions stem from my perception of what would happen back in the United States, should a group of students take to a large green space and begin painting on public property. I imagine what a fuss it would be, and whether or not it would be considered vandalism. That being said, the first day of mapping went off without a hitch-- although we did need to find our rhythm in identifying the wells. In roughly four hours, we covered 7 and half miles worth of ground and identified, mapped, and painted numbers on 20 wells.

We returned to Cubbon Park the following afternoon, this time with the help of a local guide, whom Biome connected us with to continue identifying and mapping. We began the mapping process, which was expedited exponentially by the help of our guide, Manjunath, and were able to cover 9 more wells before being unexpectedly interrupted. As we approached recharge well #29 and began the process of painting the identifying number on the slab, a man sitting nearby called out to us. He wanted to know what we were doing, and if we had permission to be painting public property. Myself, Vero, Kayla, and Eric tried to explain to him that we were working with Biome and had permission to map out the recharge wells in Cubbon Park. This answer was not satisfactory to him and he began to demand we show him our “documents” with approval from the government. Yet again we tried to answer and tell him the nature of our work, and again we received the same agitated response.

I could feel tension rising amongst the group, both from sheer exhaustion and wanting to complete the task at hand without further interruption as well as from the unsettling feeling of the situation at hand escalating into unfamiliar territory. Luckily, we were able to call over Manjunath to further explain to the man what we were doing and were able to remove ourselves from the escalating situation.

Although removed some 45 feet from the situation, we peered onwards as Manjunath spoke to the man in a combination of local tongues, and made several phone calls. The entire encounter lasted approximately 15 minutes, and despite the language barrier it was obvious to myself and the rest of the team that the man was having none of Manjunath’s explanation either.

We then approached and let him Manjunath know that we needed to leave, as we had another meeting that afternoon, and by that time the situation seemed to have de-escalated. We tried to ask what happened, however our Manjunath spoke very little English and as a result we did not find the answers we were looking for.

That situation as a whole was far different than anything I have experienced thus far in Bangalore, in which strangers have often stared at myself and my team in curiosity, but never challenged our intentions or place here. Ruminating on this fact, I had mixed feelings of disappointment and irritation as I struggled to understand why the man in the park did not see the value in the task we were attempting to complete.

Upon further contemplation, I’ve decided that those feelings likely arose from a place of unrecognized privilege. It is well within the community’s rights to question my intentions here. This encounter, while uncomfortable, serves as a reminder to be aware of my privilege and is something that I hope will inform my future time in Bangalore, both as a visitor and as a design thinker.

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