Friday, September 28, 2007

India 'Shining' - my bloomin' arse

Warning: Highly cynical post ahead.

The other day, a friend of mine called me over to this pub where a few new Indian students were meeting up. One of the people at this little gathering was this girl who was, I was informed, a political science graduate from rather a respected university. Though I am no more than a dilettante in affairs political as a Computer Scientist, we got into a discussion.

'India is shining, you know... it's the Indian century and all that. We have reason to be optimistic.', said she, almost shamelessly plagiarising from the Goldman Sachs report.

I decided to ask her why she felt that way. She went on, 'Oh, you know, there are so many malls. Now, even Marks and Spencers has come to India. Brand India has gone global. Tata is one of the world's biggest steelmakers, and an Indian like Mittal is so obscenely rich. I mean, who would have thought we could get a McDonalds burger or chicken wings from KFC in 1991! There's this new breed of Indians; hungry, brash and spending. You should see all the cars in ' .

As she waxed eloquent - perched inside her ivory tower - oblivious and blind to the poverty of the vast majority of our countrymen, I was reminded of another conversation I had with another girl of my acquaintaince a few months earlier, where she spoke with astonishing naivety on how India was almost a developed country because of IT, 'outsourcing', luxury condos, McDonalds, Walmart and malls. Oh, and I almost forgot about how she believed sweatshop owners in Tirupur who cynically exploit their workers in blatant contravention of labour laws and the Geneva convention (let's not talk of their tax evasion) are actually helping the poor.

No, my post is not about the almost criminal ignorance of the middle-class Indian in her glasshouse, but about how anybody can possibly think India is 'shining'.


Just to start with, let's take a look at everything the media (particularly the trashy tabloids) seem to be going on and on about:

1. The economic powerhouse that is India:

Yeah for IT - now us Indians can buy so many different kinds of cars! Oh yes, let's not concern ourselves too much with the fact that inequality levels are 14 percent worse today than they were in 1991.

The fourth and fifth richest men in the world are Indian (Mukesh Ambani and Lakshmi Nivas Mittal). Who cares then that 77% of our population - that's almost 800 million people - leave on less than Rs. 20 a day?

Why do we, as the educated middle class, continue to ignore the poverty that stares us in our face. I wrote a few months ago about a dispossessed vegetable seller called Pandian. Why do we ignore the Pandians of this country?

Before anybody starts talking of the trickle-down effect (the aforementioned girl at the pub did), could somebody please tell me why there's a rise in inequality?! Why is that, sixty years on, 77% of us do not have the means to live a decent life free of want?

2. 'The political climate is changing. Gandhigiri and the Right to Information (RTI) act are revolutionising the way the country is run!'

How desperate (or stupid) must one be to clutch to a straw as weak as Gandhigiri, an inane concept introduced in a Bollywood potboiler starring a man convicted to six years in prison. As for RTI, why hasn't RTI found Rajan's body yet? Why was Rajan killed in the first place?

And Rajan is not alone. Everyday, millions of us face abuse and pain at the hands of our protectors, the police force. For some of us, especially the more economically disadvantaged, it's worse.

3. 'Feel Good'

People who use the phrase 'feel good' should watch this video to see what 'feel good' is all about - a cynical spin put on events!

If things were so good for everybody, where have the Maoists found the groundswell of support for their movement; so much so that Maoists control 28% of India's districts.

Why is it that there are insurgencies in Kashmir and the North-east of the country? A foreign power cannot sustain an insurrection for very long without support from the local populace (as the collapse of the Khalistan movement illustrates).

4. Reservation and all that kind of thing:

Starting with Devraj Urs and the cynically evil Mrs. G (version 1), caste has risen to take its place as the new class, with VP Singh making it all the worse, and Arjun Singh adding the final touches. So much so that as a forward caste Hindu, a person like me is among the most underprivileged in society.

(Of course, if one looks back far enough, one can see where our brown Sahibs have perfected the technique from - Lord Curzon and the division of Bengal, anyone?)

If this wasn't enough division, and the Hindus and Muslims didn't hate each other enough already, the honourable Mr. Sachchar is working towards reservation for Muslims as well. This is such a cynical gambit I'm surprised Muslim leaders don't see through it themselves.

Indian Muslims are poor and under-educated, and they're discriminated against (watch the Channel 4 documentary on India where a security guard in Mumbai proudly proclaims that Muslims are 'not allowed' in a housing development if you want to see what I mean). The solution would be to deal with the roots of the prejudice, and to try heal the scars of an unnecessary partition of the country.

Instead, what Sachchar does is to highlight their grievances, tell them they're ill-treated in this country, and make them feel worse than they already do (with some justification). And then, hand them reservation; so that the Hindus perceive the Muslims as different, even more than they did before. The upshot: an 'us-and-them' mentality, ripe for exploitation in the name of vote-bank politics.

So, is this the kind of society I would like my child to grow up in? Where he is told of his religion and caste every single step of the way? Where he finds, like I did when I was 17, that some doors are closed for Hindus who were unfortunate enough to be born into a forward caste? I would hope not...

To leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth, do read Rajeev Srinivasan's excellent piece!

Does India still shine, or have you managed to get your rose-tinted glasses off?


13 comments:

Jon said...

Political science graduates are inevitably either Marxists or neo-liberal capitalists. Looks like you ran into the latter. Well I’m not a political science graduate, but I’ll try and give you a bit of balance :-p

could somebody please tell me why there's a rise in inequality?! Why is that, sixty years on, 77% of us do not have the means to live a decent life free of want?

The idea behind neo-liberal capitalism is to increase profits by reducing the cost of production (i.e. labour costs) as far as possible. In other words the goal is to reduce the physical size of a company rather than to expand it. This is done by the means of sacking workers, closing factories, cutting wages, increasing working hours and forcing workers to work harder. The extra profits generated during the recent expansion of the Indian economy came directly out of the pockets of the workers, not by expanding production. The rich get richer because the poor get poorer- it’s not an anomaly, its all part of the plan. Your political science graduate acquaintance seems to naively believe that being exploited in such a manner is beneficial to the working people of India. I’ve met other people with similar views to her who are more honest and acknowledge that this sort of capitalism does not benefit the poor, but also say that they don’t see a problem with that.

Another aspect to this is the nature of the economic development, which you characterise as IT, 'outsourcing', luxury condos, McDonalds, Walmart and malls. Service industries, in other words, not manufacturing or resource gathering. Compare that to China, which is strongest in primary and secondary industries such as agriculture, energy production and the manufacture of consumer goods. China has achieved much lower poverty levels by developing such industries and making sure that most of the wealth generated remains in the country itself. India has allowed its country and people to be used as raw materials and labour for foreign multinationals and as a result only a relatively small section of the population has benefited. The Rajeev Srinivasan article you link to is confused and I don’t really agree with it but it does convey some of this feeling of national impotence. I’m not a supporter of the Chinese government at all, and their economic system is far from perfect, but because their economy is based on real development rather than thin air they are bound to become the biggest and most stable economic power in the world during this century. The USA and UK will fall by the wayside, and so will India if it keeps the same course.

One other point- your middle class Indian acquaintance is benefiting from economic liberalisation and is pleased with it. But be careful what you wish for. Once the capitalists have sucked the working class dry they will move onto the middle class. We can already see this happening in America, where the middle class now work longer and harder and for less pay than ever before. (If you need any convincing of that, I encourage you to read Mark Ames’ book Going Postal, which I can’t recommend highly enough.) The fifties ideal of the middle class family with a nice house with a garden and a white picket fence and several happy kids and a stay at home wife and a husband who’s home by six no longer exists. Instead, what we call the middle class are overworked, stressed and barely maintain their lifestyles by the means of easy credit and cheap consumer goods made in near slavery conditions in third world countries. And IT programmers are some of the worst treated of all skilled workers, so don’t think that exploitation is just something which happens to other people. You’ll have to leave academia some day!

Alright, enough economics. This is a good post but I completely disagree with your last point. I’ll write about that later.

Aravind said...

Sidhu, agree with everything that you said. More cars/malls/fast food joints does not a better country make. One of my friends tried to make the same point to me over and over. All I said was, "Go and tell all of this to the 6 year old kid working at the mechanic's shop. ". He shut up.

Jon said...

Right. About your last point:

a forward caste Hindu, a person like me is among the most underprivileged in society

This is the most ludicrous statement I’ve ever read. As a forward caste Hindu you are amongst the most privileged in society, not the least. You’ve acknowledged that Indian Muslims are more likely to be poor and uneducated and are discriminated against. They are discriminated against, not you. I’ve never heard you complain about suffering prejudice from Indian society because you are a forward caste Hindu. The only ‘prejudice’ you experience is from the reservation system, which is primarily a tool for eliminating the caste system. (So I don’t know why you chose to use religion as your example. Actually, I think I do.)

Affirmative action discriminates against you, but by less than society as a whole discriminates against people of other castes of religions. Think of it this way- for every time you’ve been turned down for a post because of positive discrimination (which I bet isn’t many), several more people from other castes and religions have been turned down for a post because of the already existing discrimination in Indian society.


what Sachchar does is to highlight their grievances, tell them they're ill-treated in this country, and make them feel worse than they already do (with some justification). And then, hand them reservation; so that the Hindus perceive the Muslims as different, even more than they did before. The upshot: an 'us-and-them' mentality, ripe for exploitation in the name of vote-bank politics.

You’ve already accepted that discrimination on the basis of religion exists in India. Your argument against using positive discrimination to make the numbers of Muslims in state-funded education and employment reflect more accurately the number of Muslims in Indian society is that the Hindus will feel resentful. Well, tough shit. The problem is with the perspective of people who resent the fact that the privileged status historically accorded to them by the nature of Indian society is being eroded away. I’m afraid you’ll have to get used to it. You’re still more likely to end up in a decent job than someone from a lower caste is, so what’s the problem?

You seem to be arguing that the Sachhar committee report is stirring up resentment amongst Indian Muslims regarding their position in society. My understanding is that the report describes factually the amount of poverty experienced by each section of Indian society based on the national census. In other words it is the truth, and if telling the truth stirs up resentment then so it should. If you really want to eliminate the 'us-and-them' mentality then you need to alter the structure of Indian society so that people of different castes and religions are equally represented in all areas of society. Then such labels will become meaningless. Reservation is a tool for doing that; apart from anything else it provides role models so that when people see someone from the same caste or religion as them in good jobs they realise that they have just as much chance of getting to the top as anyone else. In a generation more people from lower castes will be applying to such jobs and reservation will become less and less necessary. It’s not the only thing which should be done- wealth distribution to the poorer areas of society via progressive taxation and government investment in facilities in poorer areas are also important. But it’s a start, and your resentment to the process of redressing inequalities in India society seems to be based not on principle but the fact that your caste and religion will lose its privileged status. And that’s sectarian, not progressive.

Jormund Elver said...

A brave post, Sidd. There could probably have been a point or two more, or a point or two better explained, but it took someone to say these things. I'd also like to agree with jon's first comment about the middle-class being the next to feel the brunt of this so-called "progress", in fact we already are.
The middle-class Indian does not, even in these heady days of money flowing into IT and Finance, enjoy anything near the kind of life his counterparts elsewhere can hope to. He comes home to a match-box sized home after a 2-hour drive from his place of work, to a wife who's equally tired, to a kid who hardly knows him, is rude as hell and can't speak anything but English. In the midst of all this, he finds that the matchbox-sized home entails a homeloan EMI that he can barely afford after paying his electricity, cellphone, credit-card and Car Loan.
That's the new "Indian Dream". What's heartbreaking is that most of us seem to be happy with it. Isn't that what the survey said? Indian youth are the happiest people in the world!

Mosilager said...

Things are good for a few people and bad for the rest. In most countries this is the case. Good post Sid...

Looking at the GINI index, India fares better than China and the USA, although income disparity has been rising since 1990. Of course one can argue that despite the high disparity in income of the USA, most people get bread, clothing and shelter which is not the case in India.

I would argue that as long as everyone's basic needs are met and they are given opportunities to make the most of themselves we will be successful as a nation. How that is to be done is the question. There's no national consensus on it. There are no studies to gauge if the reservations policy has harmed or helped the country, for example (at least none that I've come across).

So now you have politicians distracting the public by bringing up religion, sports and colonisation by the USA instead of concentrating on getting things done.

'girl you were once acquainted with' said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Siddhu said...

I decided to repost this comment, because its sheer ignorance and stupidity, not to mention the complete half-assed nature of the argument (which is primarily achieved by spewing bile at me for living the west.

I hand the mic over to some girl I was once acquainted with:


Very obviously you are a dilettante in political affairs and economics. Stop using ‘we’ in your blogs. You have no idea about poverty or any such social issues, considering you’re having the conversation in a cozy, comfortable pub.

I am not denying that a vast majority of our country’s population, sorry MY country’s population live below poverty line, but IT has generated tremendous amount of jobs. I don’t see how refusing jobs can help people below poverty line.
So how do you deal with poverty that stares you in your face? Oh yeah… By staying in the UK? By contributing to the MNCs that you loathe so much by spending on your iMacs, iPods, N-series Nokias,Marks & Spencers sweaters, Goldflake Kings cigarettes, Guinness beer and Nike shoes?

Evidently you don’t know about trickle down effect or globalization.. So I would suggest you read up before you decide to blog on these issues.

If only religious problems could be dealt with so easily. Am shocked you’re arrogant enough to give a solution to it. Dealing with “the roots of the prejudice, and to try heal the scars of an unnecessary partition of the country” would solve the problem for sure!!! Please…

India may not be shining but that’s not for guys like you living in the West, contributing zilch to the country, to say.

And as for the 'sweatshop owners in Tirupur' your ignorance on the subject of business & economics is once again highlighted. What is the basis of such crap?

And lets face it, just 'cause someone else has an opinion that strongly opposes yours, it doesn't make them naive or ignorant. It does however reflect on your limitations.

All this huffing and puffing about India from a guy who had no answer when asked, "So are you a patriot or not? 'Cause one minute you're pro India and the next minute you're against the Nation"
And finally do not comment on Gandhi. You choose to hate him to support your arguments at times and then take the exact opposite view when the situation warrants.
Before you try to change the world, work on yourself.

Loser.

Siddhu said...

Okay, I'm going to quite enjoy deconstructing what passes for arguments here. (THe idented paragraphs are the aforementioned commenter's arguments)


Very obviously you are a dilettante in political affairs and economics. Stop using ‘we’ in your blogs. You have no idea about poverty or any such social issues, considering you’re having the conversation in a cozy, comfortable pub.



Oh, the only place to discuss social issues is in a slum. That makes sense, doesn't it?

I am not denying that a vast majority of our country’s population, sorry MY country’s population live below poverty line, but IT has generated tremendous amount of jobs. I don’t see how refusing jobs can help people below poverty line.


This just shows (a) how little you know, and (b) how little you've read of my article. IT has provided, what, 10 million jobs, at most? And where in my post have I asked people to 'refuse' jobs, or stated that it helps people below the poverty line.


So how do you deal with poverty that stares you in your face? Oh yeah… By staying in the UK? By contributing to the MNCs that you loathe so much by spending on your iMacs, iPods, N-series Nokias,Marks & Spencers sweaters, Goldflake Kings cigarettes, Guinness beer and Nike shoes?



To start with, poverty does not stare me in the face in the UK - at least not as obviously as it does in India. iMacs, iPods, Nokias and Nike shoes are made in China; my argument is re. India. As for Guiness beer, it is brewed in Ireland where workers have rights. And as for ITC, it is an Indian company, and has had no association with British-American Tobacco for decades. But then I shouldn't expect logic, I presume.

Evidently you don’t know about trickle down effect or globalization.. So I would suggest you read up before you decide to blog on these issues.


Evidently, you have no idea what this post is about. My entire argument is that the trickle-down effect doesn't seem to work. Which is exemplified by the growth in inequality. Oh, and 'globalisation'! Thank you for giving me a stick to beat you with. I would suggest you go talk about 'globalisation' and the 'trickle-down effect' to cash crop growers in Maharashtra - maybe you would like to see what GM seeds and cheap, subsidised imports from the US and Europe have done to their livelihoods.

If only religious problems could be dealt with so easily. Am shocked you’re arrogant enough to give a solution to it. Dealing with “the roots of the prejudice, and to try heal the scars of an unnecessary partition of the country” would solve the problem for sure!!! Please…


Again, where have I stated it is easy. I haven't provided a mechanism to solve the problem; I merely say that this si the solution, and have, at any point, asserted that I know the steps towards the solution. Again, you display an ignorance that is monstrous.

India may not be shining but that’s not for guys like you living in the West, contributing zilch to the country, to say.


Ah, I knew it would come to this - 'if you don't live in India, don't comment on it.' I am an Indian citizen, and as long as I hold the passport of the Indian republic, I also have the right to comment on India. It is my prerogative given me by my country's constitution which guarantees the freedom of speech.

And as for the 'sweatshop owners in Tirupur' your ignorance on the subject of business & economics is once again highlighted. What is the basis of such crap?


The basis for 'such crap' is quite simple. Maybe you have heard nothing of the child labour, lack of employee rights (guaranteed by not making them permanent employees), and the terrible working conditions in your beloved Tirupur sweatshops. This was what an undercover study by a British media outlet found recently - of course, i shouldn't expect any solid basis for your arguments, must I?


And lets face it, just 'cause someone else has an opinion that strongly opposes yours, it doesn't make them naive or ignorant. It does however reflect on your limitations.


Oh, the fact that somebody has an opinion that differs from mine reflects on my limitations, doesn't it? Ha! Pray tell me how that works. This violates every tenet of democracy and the freedom of speech. This makes you, in my opinion, naive and ignorant - but it's my opinion.

All this huffing and puffing about India from a guy who had no answer when asked, "So are you a patriot or not? 'Cause one minute you're pro India and the next minute you're against the Nation"


Oh, so I have to be a patriot to comment on what happens to be my country, by virtue of my being born there? How does my being 'pro India' or 'anti-India' have anything to do with my right to comment on it? I love arguments which are not based on logic.


And finally do not comment on Gandhi. You choose to hate him to support your arguments at times and then take the exact opposite view when the situation warrants.


There is, darling,a significant difference between Gandhigiri and Gandhi. As for Gandhi the person, I quite disagree with him - but that's not part of this post. I suggest you read it before you make baseless comments. And as for Gandhi's ideology, I don't have to subscribe to it in full to disagree with aspects of it, do I?



Before you try to change the world, work on yourself.

Loser.


Thanks. I won't bother to reply to that; because there is a difference between a personal attack and reasoned argument. You are entitled to your opinion, as always, of course.


Posted by 'girl you were once acquainted with' to The blog of small things at 9:08 PM




--
Ruminations of a twisted mind at http://siddhuw.blogspot.com

Revathi said...

I think this has to be one of the most erudite and funniest (which is a deadly combination coz rarely have i seen blogs which are both)blogs i have read till date. given my compulsive net surfing disorder i am surprised i havent stumbled across this blog.glad to meet another crazy wodehouse fan like me. Keep writing!! your blog makes a great read!! :)

Mirage said...

Sarcasm thy name...

Anyway, you've raised some pretty important issues up there. I agree with most, but not entirely.

India is not exactly shining...but it is kinda getting a lil glow, in some areas.

The thing is, for some people, life's really become a bed of roses- these include the Mittals and Mallyas of the world. And for some it's become worse. The gap between the rich and the poor is just increasing. But it's easy to ignore the 'bad' aspect and just harp on what really is 'shining'.

Ok there are some improvements- lots of FDI, SEZs mushrooming everywhere, our IT companies giving the firangs a run for their money, standard of living (for some) has improved, people have more disposable income...yada yada.

On the other hand, we have deadly diseases, very high crime rates, yellow journalism, red tapism at an all time high...and so on.

I'll say India's improving, it's not really there, but it's on it's way. Your post was good, but I think a teeny bit of positive attitude may help!

Take care! :)

Kirthi said...

I agree with you: why even go down to the rich and poor divide. There is actually a huge divide between the lifestyles of a family with an earning member who is in an IT firm and one without.
Vegetable vendors, Rickshaw drivers and real estate agents quote exhorbitant prices and an IT employee will shell it out without even a meek protest. I still remember an elderly gentleman telling our neighbourhood vegetable vendor to tell him the real price not the "IT" price.
Like you said the divide is only going to get bigger if there is no money reaching the villages where a majority of the country resides. Trickle down never happened and is unlikely to happen given that farmers lose even their lands to "SEZs" and IT industries.
And who said IT employees are socially responsible and abundantly contributing to the "growth" of the country. They go onsite i.e. to foreign lands create bank accounts there and make pots of money for themselves, they eventually switch to a foreign company and then settle down!

-an ex-employee of an IT firm

Anonymous said...

this sort of sentence(india shining) can come only from hypocrites of the first order.
---------- INDIANS....(ye i am one too)

Fenris said...

Hey man,
Echoing my worthy cousin's comments that this is indeed a brave post i may add perhaps that it is also a very cliched complaint, dont you think ? don't mind the bluntness my dear fellow. There is no attempt at one-up-manship here.
Anyways what i wanted to point out was, let's keep aside the veracity of the 'India Shining' claim aside for a while shall we ? And come to the moot point. more important to us than whether we are blowing the trumpet without a cause or not, is the fact that we now have something to boast about in the first place. Now however superficial that might sound. For a change the intermittent and unpredictable bursts of cricket success and the odd Olympic bronze medal is not the only silver lining in our otherwise uninspired lvies, don't you think? Every populace in the world needs their illusion. For the Americans its possibly their claim to being the Universe's saviours, for the nazis t'was their claim to racial superiority. My point being that needing these 'Illusions' is an essential requisite of Human nature. It is not helpful nor possible for our illusions to be educated all ways, see ? Not all of us are as well versed with the economics or the politics or our lives. For most of us it is a simple cry like 'Quit India' that mobilises our conscience. Agreed that 'India Shining' is hardly as epoch making or inspiring as 'Quit India' but you must see for what it is. It may have been a figment of a n election campaigns imagination. But for the less aware folk, t'was an idea that we were on our way to international glory, whatever that meant to the average person on the road, selling pan. you cannot deny the fact that in his/her own limited senses, t'was a claim to glory.Now maybe that claim had only partial foundation in reality, yet nevertheless it was something to live for. I don't want to sound cheesy but may be that is one reason, skeptics like us havn't yet explored. Isn't that possible ? Now i would be the last person to grudge you your comfort coz you decided to go live inthe west. Thats perfectly ok with me man, and i totallyagree that having been brought up in the country gives you the right to feel about it. So comments upon your so-called pub dominated ipod totting life are totally unfair in my opinion and reeks only of the small mentality we Indians seem to exhibit. On the one hand we hail the diaspora as a unique representation of our culture and individuality, while on the other we begrudge their success.
And i also believe in ur facts and that they shoot down the supposed 'India shining' campaign, but think about what i have written.
That perhaps we r missing the entire point of it. And though i do agree to some extent with the serpent about the middle class feeling the brunt soon, i am also sure that the scenario won't be as depressing as he makes it to be. We who have the luxury of rationalizing our existence, will surely find a way to tone down the enormity of our numerically dismal situation.