Bottom of the Pyramid

By Shreya Ramchandran UG22

4 min readDec 27, 2020


India has, in its roots, the omnipresent structure of the pyramid of development, which took various forms over the years. The pyramid came into existence through the use of caste names which distinguished between people and their status — Brahmins at the top of the pyramid, the most privileged and educated; next, the Kshatriyas / warriors; followed by the Vaishyas who were the merchants, landlords etc.; and finally, the Shudras / the workers. Slowly, in most sections of society, these caste names were brushed off so as to prevent solidification of such distinctions, but, sadly, some of the distinctions never faded away, but have just taken on a different name.

Today, it is the pyramid of distinctions in terms of class, where, as the name suggests, the middle class and upper-middle-class seem to have the top spots, and the people from the “lower backgrounds” remain at the bottom, and face a significant struggle to find a place at the top. The main distinction starts with income status, and this flourishes from the type of jobs that the various classes have access to. The people from the “lower backgrounds” normally include the unorganized sector such as farmers, landless agricultural labourers, sharecroppers, fishermen, labeling and packing, building and construction workers, artisans, workers in brick kilns etc.; or people working in the domestic sector of society such as staff working in various households or universities. This distinction stemming from income and job status, I believe, trickles down to the lack of access to basic education that is prevalent among the underprivileged people. Better jobs that are synonymous with better education tend towards the middle class and upper-middle-class who have had the privilege of access to education, and thus more opportunities.

We normally spend fifteen to sixteen years of our lives in education. From our inception where we gain the basic knowledge of “‘A’ for apple, ‘B’ for ball, ‘C’ for cat…”, to the knowledge we garner in middle school of our fundamental rights, and of science and the economy, to finally specializing in a field of our interest in the university. Under the Right to Education Act, at least the basic education that is attained from the age of 6 to 14 years, is a right that every child has access to irrespective or caste or class. This Act, in its execution, has had its challenges, and therefore sadly, more than a right, education is turning out to be a privilege.

Most of the people who fall under the category of “lower background” did not have the chance to educate themselves, and thus do not have access to many opportunities including jobs. Even when some basic opportunities open up, they tend to get exploited. This is because they do not realize their rights and their obligations, and are unable to fight for what is rightly theirs. They face problems such as wage cuts, job loss, poor work environments etc. Many of the young children have to leave school to help sustain their family, and also because of the inability of parents to pay the fees. This results in the creation of a cyclic process where the parents are unable to help their children have access to education and basic health care, and the children then suffer a similar fate to that of their parents.

This was further accentuated during the recent COVID-19 pandemic. With workplaces shutting down, many people were without a job, and this resulted in the creation of a large number of migrant workers from the “lower background” people. Families lost their only source of income, and many of them were left without basic necessities such as food and shelter. This led their families to a state of despair. Workers started walking towards their villages since the opportunities in cities were narrowing down to zero. Thus, young children in those families had to drop out of school.

Tackling the problem of education from inception is the key to reducing inequality and ensuring that all citizens have equal rights and choices in their life. Institutions like Teach for India aim to provide this equality. Teach for India was started by Ms. Shaheen Mistry, Founder & CEO, with the vision that “One day all students will attain an excellent education”. It has become a symbol of hope for many children across India, who just want to learn and be a part of the larger world. Teach for India intervene in government schools that are under-staffed, lack resources, and that are not performing well. They work towards not only educational attainments, but also values, manners, extra-curriculars and more — a long-term plan. Their idea is that children must experience learning. Through education, children can also become aware of their duties as social citizens.

If such incentives and initiatives are taken on with a larger intensity and scale, the pyramid of distinctions will soon disintegrate and there will be equality among all. Education for all will create equality amongst all citizens in terms of opportunities, the standard of living etc. Education has a trickledown effect, where once the parents are educated, there is a higher chance that they will ensure that their children are educated too. Thus, it will benefit the economy in the long run. Workers' welfare schemes should lay stress on education from inception as the main goal to ensure good health and welfare for all workers. The key is not only education, but education from inception, lest it’s too late!