Siddharth Varadarajan

Journalist | Writer | Analyst

Class prejudice in reporting

Reporters and editors make tough decisions about what’s news all the time but this one should have been a no-brainer. A minister uses his clout to get his son upgraded on Air India from Economy to First Class and his maid from Economy to Business. The son’s upgrade is the bigger news point surely? Think again.

The Times of India in Delhi carried a story on June 12, ‘Despite ban, AI lets neta’s help get an upgrade’. The online edition headline is ‘AI flies mantri’s domestic help business class’.

The story tells us how a minister misused his clout to get Air India to violate its no-free-upgrade rule:

“Air India recently banned passenger upgrade [sic] to end that free jump from economy to business class for employees, directors, frequent flyers and the influential. On Wednesday, its chairman and managing director’s office – which issued the ban – had to upgrade a 34-year-old woman who could not read or write English from economy to business class on a Mumbai-London flight.

So why was she upgraded when even directors of the airline fly economy these days? Well, she happened to be a minister’s servant and the orders to upgrade her came from the ministry of civil aviation, officials said on Thursday.”

I read this and thought, fair enough, even though I really didn’t see what her being unable to read or write English had to do with story. So imagine my shock when I get to the end of the story and find the minister also upgraded his son…

For the Times of India tells us, at the very end, that the minister’s son, who was on the same flight, was bumped up from Economy to First Class, a complete and utter violation of airline policy:

“It’s not only economy-to-business class upgrades that are being done. Flight 131 had a minister’s son who was moved from economy to first class, the absolute no-no of upgradation. ‘‘Jumping two classes is not allowed and AI has a policy against it. Many ground staff have been chargesheeted for the double upgrade in the past. But this person was a minister’s son and the order came from the ministry and so it had to be obeyed,’’ an official said.”

Not only was the main news point about such a story relegated to the last para, it was inexplicably deleted from the online version. I had to find the full original story from the epaper archive at the TOI site. I guess the reporter and the newspaper’s editors thought their readers would get more worked about the maid “who doesn’t read or write English” flying Business Class than about a spoilt and undeserving but English-speaking baba making a nuisance of himself in First Class! Another instance of the paper’s class prejudice: the unfortunate domestic help is named but not the minister or his son.

Postscript: When I read the story, I also had a sense of deja vu.

Many years before, when I used to work for the TOI, I overheard a conversation involving somebody whom I will only describe as being part of the upper management of the newspaper. Very upper. The person was upset that on a recent flight to Europe, he had booked himself and his family in Business class and found the person seated next to him was… the maid of Kumaramangalam Birla, who was, of course, flying with his family in First Class!

7 comments on “Class prejudice in reporting

  1. Anonymous
    June 20, 2009

    Mr. Varadarajan, Shah Rukh Khan is in trouble for allegedly insulting Prophet. He may be arrested, FIR has been lodged and protests are going on.

    The usual gang of historians, academics, intellectuals, fake-liberal media, Stalinist mass murderers, 'progressive forces' and the rest that will make a huge song and dance show had he insulted Hinduism and objected to are very quiet.

    Pehaps prejudice is not so rare in India after all!

    Perhaps the most prejudiced, most intellectually dishonest can be found amongst our leftist comrades and their yellow media!

  2. Dinesh
    June 18, 2009

    Absolutely!! I don't understand what the 'English-speaking' ability of the maid had to do with the incident. I wonder if TOI would've published this news if the person in contention was not a maid and another “high-class, english-speaking” assistant of the Minister.

    The news about the Minister's son at the bottom appears to be a deliberate attempt to escape criticism of such an act of prejudice.

  3. Anonymous
    June 14, 2009

    The issue is one of propriety. If the son of the minster defied the procedures, would you suggest AI to follow the same for the maids of the ministers' families so as to balance the class divisions.


  4. Anonymous
    June 14, 2009

    Class bias, where is it? The report suggests that even the servants of the ministers get treated better than the fully paid customers of AI.

  5. I, Me, Myself !
    June 13, 2009


    I was about to write about Dignity of Labour, and saw your comment :). I totally agree with you that children are not taught to respect all forms of labour in our country.

    I was in the US for about 4 years, and the best part I liked about them is they respect the dignity of labour. Most of the students work in the cafeterias while slogging out for exams. Not just students, even in general work places, everybody is treated with the same amount of respect. I think such a culture is imbibed in them from childhood.

    You have given us a nice expose today. The language used in the report was quite shocking – just goes on to prove that sections of the press are also not averse to prejudice based on class.


  6. Anonymous
    June 13, 2009

    The other story you must also have got is that the air hostess in officer's grade were given an salary hike of more than 100%.
    Now the new story is that NACIL is not paying june month salary to all its employees on the end of this month and pay the same on 15th of july and the letter for same is available with me.
    The other thing which has not taken media attentions is that the air india is slowly and slowly selling it sowned aircrafts and bringing them back in lease and thereby making money to feed the polticians office and the manager's themselves.
    It is interesting to note that the polticians are utilizing air india to credit the air india with financial aid and thereby looting in the form of upgrading, cheap tickets and income from internal business matters.
    The management of air india is also in no back foot. Adding to fulfilling the request of civil aviation ministry they take home not less than 5 lakh per month in addition to the various perks given to them for doing the mismanagement within air india and thereby loooting the indian taxpayer's of more than 200 crores every year.
    The fnancial statement i searched for did not result in any useful data and i found a financial statement for year ending 31st march 2000 in their website.
    The salary difference among employees is also very large , the highest getting around 10 lakhs per month and the lowest around 20,000 for working in a losss making psu in india.the ratio being more than 20 can be limited by implementing the psu pay comission report recently released by government instead of paying as per management worker agreement terms which is prevailing as on date.
    I would request you to highlight the issue so that tax payer's money is not just pocketed by corrupt poltician's and management staff on whom i see no watchdog.

  7. Jay
    June 13, 2009

    The ingrained class prejudices is quite clear in the article. How dare that servant has the temerity to accept the upgrade!!.

    I believe dignity of labour should be taught in our schools from an early age to change the socially corrosive poison of class prejudice.

    Thanks for the article.

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This entry was posted on June 13, 2009 by in Media.



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