Swaroop C H

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How to defend India

24 Jan 2008

I've been provoked and I can't stop thinking about it.

Incident 1. It all started on Day 2 of my Singapore trip (Dec 23 Sun) when a hotel owner was too friendly. Maybe he didn't have much work, but anyway, he got pretty chatty with us and was asking about how we like Singapore. All we wanted to do was eat noodles.

He started talking about his visit to India, and like most Singaporeans, he had been on a Buddhist pilgrimage to India. I can still remember the angst in his voice.

He said that the central government in India is good but the state governments are bad. Strike 1. I had to agree.

He said that it's not a safe place for businessmen to invest money. He said one of his close friends made huge investment, but when the government changed, the policies changed and the friend made a huge loss. Strike 2. I don't know much about such things, but I can imagine that it is possible.

He said that India hasn't advanced enough, there's still too much poverty, there's still so much chaos. He said 'take a look at China'. For example, if the parents invest some amount with the government, they'll give back 10 times the amount in 10 years, or something like that, and this is guaranteed by the government to safeguard the child's future. I don't remember the numbers he used but I was impressed with what he said. Strike 3.

I was beaten and didn't know how to fight back.

I'm not a patriotic guy. I don't go around burning boards written in non-state languages, nor do I go around speaking only in Hindi and refusing to speak in English. But I believe in the concept of India as a nation and I instinctively feel that I should defend my country when someone makes says negative about my country.

But I was stumped. I was completely caught off-guard. I didn't know what to say. I just nodded. I desperately looked for things to tell him. But I got nothing. Throughout the trip, I kept thinking of things to go back and tell that hotel guy that India is a great country, but what do we really have?

Specifically, the question is:

Post-independence, does India, as a nation, have achievements to be proud of?

I'm not talking about our ancient history or 'culture'. I'm not talking about what some Indian did when he went to a foreign country, or even someone who went out of his way to achieve something within India (like the paeans being written about Tata Motors and their Nano car).

I'm talking specifically about the 1. post-independence era and the 2. 'as a nation' part.

A week after that incident, I was still trying to forget about it. But the same thing happened again on Day 9 (Dec 30 Sun) with the store owner of a bookstore that Abishek and myself randomly walked into. We had a long conversation about Buddhism and our beliefs of God and how we pray. It's surreal that we randomly started talking our intimate spiritual beliefs with a complete stranger. But such is life. And then she mentioned the same exact things that the hotel owner did. She specifically mentioned that she was appalled at the poverty when she went to Bodh Gaya.

Yes, we are talking about poverty, not just about the beggars on the busy roads of Bangalore, but he fighting-for-food kind, the kind that we saw in 'Swades' movie.

Incident 2. After visiting the Kaala Chakra exhibition, I realized how influential India has really been, especially to most of South East Asia, from language to politics to trade, Indian-related stuff is everywhere in South East Asia. I used to wonder about why Tamil is such a common language here in Singapore, and only after I visited this exhibition, I realized that this goes back to the B.C. ages!

Notice the irony that I got to know more about Indian history and influence when I'm outside India.

Probably because there is such importance given to history and culture in Singapore. But people in India have no time for such things, we are still fighting and struggling for our basic needs.

This immediately reminded me of "Maslow's hierarchy of needs":

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

We are still struggling in Levels 1-3, that's why we are just touching Level 4, and we're a long way from reaching Level 5 of Self Actualization. At least, my point of view.

Incident 3. I know there will be lots of people that say that I'm wrong, and that everything's fine in India. (It reminds me of Rahul Bose in the "Everybody Says I'm Fine" movie.)

The problem is that everything's fine as long as nothing bad happens to you or you witness it, only then you realize how bad the situation is. God forbid, you end up in an accident, only then you realize the problems with the police, the hospital, the insurance, and so on. The situation is the same everywhere, irrespective of the aspect of life.

I don't know how better or worse we are compared to other countries, but that doesn't mean we can't be in a better situation. There is simply no reason to! We have the money, the people, the resources...

Incident 4. I came to know recently that at a premier medical institution in Bangalore, teachers are openly telling students that if they don't "help" the teachers (i.e. pay them money), they will make sure that 30% of the students will fail! I am not kidding you, this is for real. Where's the sanctity of education? Where's the concern for the students' future? Where's the concern for encouraging future doctors (especially because the number of doctors is already dwindling)? Where's the concern about setting precedents for future of medical profession? Even if they don't think long term, how will students afford this? I know many medical student friends who have struggled to pay the hefty fees, what about these students who simply cannot afford to pay bribes to teachers?

Incident 5. Similarly, lecturers in PUC colleges have stopped teaching in college and they tell students that they are anyway going to tuitions. If not, they should join their own tuitions! What happens to all those students who can't afford it?

Incident 6. Abishek's close friend and special effects friend Osmand is a third-generation Indian. When he was about to fly from India to China to visit his relatives, he was abused that he was a Chinese person, and this for a person who's born and brought up in India his entire life! The difference in attitudes was telling when the Indian immigration officer made him wait for 3 hours to prove that he's an Indian compared to when he explained, that he's a third-generation Indian originally hailing from China, to the Chinese immigration officer, he said "Welcome home." Now, Osmand is as Indian as it gets, irrespective of how it looks. Tell me, who's the racist here? Osmand is so fed up of this attitude that he wants to go back to China.

Incident 7. Abishek and myself were sitting by the river in Clarke Quay in Singapore on new year's eve waiting for the clock to strike midnight. The atmosphere was full of revelry with all the Singaporean youth spraying foam on each other or boozing away or chatting. What's amazing is that women freely walk around without any fear. I've seen women in Singapore walk at 2 am freely with clothes that redefine what 'mini skirt' stands for.

On the other hand, Abishek pointed out that in India, at new year's eve, there were incidents of molestation in Mumbai, eveteasing by Railway Minister Lalu Prasad's sons, Patna boys barge into a girls hostel, Kochi revelers molest a 15-year old Swedish girl and so on.

Oh, and this is not just inside India. As churumuri puts it, you can take the Indian out of India, but can you take India out of the Indian?

Incident 8. When I was in PUC, I had many a time seriously considered politics as a career (all that "desh ke liye kuch karna hain" funda) but goondaism isn't my cup of tea, so I dropped the whole idea. Seriously. If you want to survive in politics in India today, you have to know some rowdys or goondas to back you up, or you're gonna end up in pieces in a ditch somewhere. We all know the familiar story of S Manjunath who ratted out on how the Mittal petrol pump in Lakhimpur Kheri, Uttar Pradesh are doing adulteration and he got shot by the owner's son Monu Mittal and his goons.

Politics in India is simply terrible.

On the other hand, Singaporeans may have less press freedom and such, but I am okay with that compared to the circus that we have here.

Incident 9. Another incident I have to come know of is that there was some random old person who was suffering from a High BP attack and was going in an auto to his hospital where he was undergoing treatment. First, the auto guy literally dumps him on the pavement, takes the old man's money and runs away. All this in broad daylight. IIRC, that too in Koramangala, one of the posh areas in Bangalore. Second, there are 10-20 people who surround and watch him and do nothing. Third, nothing happened until Vikram (Abishek's friend) was passing by, shocked at all this, talked to the old man, who somehow was able to convey which hospital he was going to. Vikram took him to the hospital on bike. Fourth, the hospital said they can't admit without some identification! Vikram said "He's your patient, please look up your records and please treat him urgently." They repeated the same statement. Fifth, Vikram who was fed up, says "Maybe Times of India would like to do a story on this." Suddenly, the hospital staff spring into action and look up his records and take the old man in to the doctor. Sixth, Vikram comes out shaken and calls up Abishek and asks "What if this is my father tomorrow? What would happen to him? What kind of city do we live in?" Pop quiz : How many things are wrong/sad in this picture?

These are real incidents, real stories. Seriously.

Incident 10. What can we do in a place where people have to bribe to get death certificates? Aren't the families mourning enough already?

Again, Maslow's hierarchy of needs. We are just struggling for the basics of life, maybe that's why we can't seem to go beyond that.

Sportspersons are fighting for basic equipments, for basic facilities. No wonder they can't move beyond to think of fighting against the competition. Cricket is an exception for exactly this reason - because the cricketers are so well-paid, they move to the next level in Maslow's hierarchy and actually concentrate on the game. This becomes a virtuous cycle and hence the game is flourishing.

Apply the same concepts to the other aspects such as political or economical, and you'll notice that we're still fighting the same everywhere.

Let me repeat, Post-independence, is there anything to be proud of India, the nation?

I can't think of anything. And what's worse, I put this across to a few close friends, and they didn't offer anything too. In a way, I was glad that it's not just me, but many others feel the same way too. The sad part is that many others feel the same way too.

Incident 11. The Press likes to make it a point to hail people of Indian origin like Lakshmi Mittal (Mittal Steel) or Indra Nooyi (Pepsi) or Vikram Pandit (Citibank) and how they have risen to those powerful positions. But why is it that they were able to do it only when they're out of India, not when they are here in India? Isn't this a common refrain? I again trace it back to Maslow's hierarchy. Most talented people I know all want to get out of India so that they can do serious work. Sad, but true. Including Abishek who's now in Singapore making ads for China, Middle East, India, Pakistan, all in Singapore. He would've probably never got an opportunity like this in India. And yes, he's the brains and technical person behind many ads in India you would see from Limca to Airtel to Pepsi.

Again, I see people here in Singapore indulging in running, cycling, shopping and they're seriously into arts, and so on. They are building a culture. Even partying till late into the night at Clarke Quay or shopping 24x7 at Mustafa and so on. And it's completely safe for women as well. How do they do that!?

Imagine that a 42x28 km country like Singapore (one of the 20 smallest countries in the world and at the same time the 2nd most densely populated country in the world) is hosting a Formula 1 race in 2008, is bidding for the 2010 Olympic Youth Games, etc.

A country that is more than 4500 times bigger and has 250 times more population is still struggling for basic needs (numbers derived from Wikipedia's estimates of population and size).

Yes, our problems are bigger and more varied, but the politicians and the press talk about Bangalore becoming something like Singapore in 20 years or so! We are already comparing us vs them.

We can't even get basic water supply or road transit facilities to an upcoming world-class Bangalore International Airport? (And the only reason it's world-class is because we outsourced it). Why are things so bad? It's not the money, we have enough of it. Is it the people? But the capability is there. So what's really wrong? Is it the leadership? I guess we do really need visionaries who execute like Lee Kuan Yew Is it the attitude of the general population? Is it both? Or something else?

I don't know, I am disillusioned.

I bought into the kool-aid and that whole India 8% growth story. I want my money back.

Well, people can say that Singapore has no real freedoms, you're just a puppet and so on. I have an analogy for that. We need a class teacher to maintain discipline (law and order) so that the classes can proceed and progress can be made, otherwise there will be just noise and only people who somehow learn to not get affected by the noise and study on their own (businessmen who succeed). It's not like there is no freedom, you can always raise your hands and talk to the class teacher (citizens representation to the government) or at least approach the teacher after class hours (write to them)... Irrespective of the type of government (democracy or autocracy or whatever), maintaining discipline should be the primary responsibility of the government, which is what is lacking in India today. For example, why is it that the same Indians who go to places like Singapore suddenly start following the rules? Because they know they'll be fined otherwise. And once people start respecting each other, keep the premises clean, and maintain civic behavior, things automatically start looking better.

On the other hand, on Bangalore roads, I face road rage everyday. That's why I prefer to listen to songs on my iPod, so that I can tune out all these unruly people.

Sigh.

I really want to go back to that hotel and argue with the owner. But I have nothing. Nothing.

India is No. 115 out of 157 in the 2008 Index of Economic Freedom. I have no idea what that means, but I'm sure it's not a good thing.

Even in a "forward" state like Karnataka, nearly three-fourths of rural eighth standard students cannot do basic subtraction, fewer than half of the schools have all teachers present, and only 7.4 per cent of students in standards 3 through 5 can read a sentence in English. The report is simply depressing.

Even our IT boom is debatable.

I hope someday I can go back to the hotel owner and defend India.

Someday.

Hope.

Comments

Jagadeesh says:

@ swaroop, pramod

I do not know much of autodrivers etc, but I speak in defense of teachers whom we as a nation respect next to only our parents. Yes, no matter the money, it is nothing without the attitude. This change in attitude is what is being caused by tuitions. Students do not pay attention in class as they believe they will learn it in tuitions or may have already been done with that chapter. With disinterested students, no faculty will be able to show an interest in teaching. One cannot teach to a non-existent audience! Swaroop, I am sure you can recall this attitude of 'Venki boys' back in school. All I am saying is teachers should be given a chance and pay hike is just one of the many incentives we can give them. just would like to sign off by saying that not all will change, but we can hope for the majority and yes, we have a very very long way forward

ashish dantu says:

Input 1 (quotes)

@ kalpesh :


How about changing ourselves, our children to do things which makes us proud?
Who are politicians anyways? They are people like you & me & they reflect a part of us. Isn’t it?
Lets try to do what we can in the best interest of humanity.


@ vikram :


it is not right on our part to expect another Singapore or another US in India. We should all accept India for what it is and make India we what it to be
We should have faith in ourselves and believe that you and I make India.
the guy who helped the old man Abhishek’s friend (his name is Vikram Puttana)… he is an Indian too :) He is getting things done.


@ Rohan:


Respect for each other and the law is still a missing block in our culture.


Input 2

what are yoga and indian culture (not interpretted culture by our religious heads but scripted culture) aimed at ? To my understanding they help one achieving self control and the idea that one can / should "explore-with in". I take this "odd/strange" (if you feel so !! ) foot-hold on "culture" admist this discussion as i sight a reference (which signifies the depth of our culture) - take the subject of " kali yuga dharma" ( http://www.hinduism.co.za/kaliyuga.htm ) :

The Tulasi Ramayana :
In the Kali-Yuga, the hot-bed of sin, men and women are all steeped in unrighteousness and act contrary to the Vedas. In the age of Kali, every virtue had been engulfed by the sins of Kali-Yuga; all good books had disappeared; impostors had promulgated a number of creeds which they had invented out of their own wit. The people had all fallen prey to delusion and all pious acts had been swallowed by greed.

ok, my point here would be - culture /arts/ science have the power/know how/depth where by precisely / scientifically one can derive every aspect of the world, which we find is true.

Output :

from inputs 1, I can identify few "concepts" which i think are derivatives of the statistics, logic and subjective studies above people have done so far. These concepts are :

changing ourselves (see within not out at others)
They are people like you & me (everyone can / should do it)
humanity (value respect each other )
accept India for what it is and make India we what it to be (originality - Indianness - acceptance & contentment )
you and I make India. (unity)
he is an Indian too :) (few bhagat singhs, gandhis and fighters are still around... ) and so (will succeed !!)

and inputs 2, If you will, take that as "tried , tested and practical rules, which have been there since ages in our culture". So these are not just philosophical lectures but we can surely correlate these towards a tangible solution to suite our present day situations. Culture is the collective wisdom every where !! Even forced culture !! for example when we say China / singapore are under "iron hand" pressures or administrations - leads to what kinda results ? does this not make one self desciplined (whether u do it in-fear, respect or for show-off) and habbituate a culture of humanitarian mannerism in them ?

so formula :
(see within, not out at others) + (everyone can / should do it) + (value and respect each other ) + (acceptance & contentment ) + (in unity) = (will succeed !!)

Two important things can be derived:
1) "a change from within" and
2) "if i'm good, all are good !"

so i conclude by saying every indian (these should apply universally to all humans !) needs to start thinking and acting on these lines and bring the required action and desired effect into practicality and we can pave the way towards a better india. As far as myself i 've started to do so and so i speak !

Vikram Sujanani says:

Dear Swaroop,

Good article/post.

= I have felt the same, and have felt the same pain =

And felt so very hurt. Actually we all have realized this pain - some give up, some are clueless and forget, some just become negative and develop hatred, some fight, and some hunt for answers. You have chosen to hunt for answers - that's very good. As they say... correctly asked question is necessary to get to the correct answer.

= I don't know how to defend India =

Yes. I don't have much to say about this. I am not good with current affairs, now do I keep up with news, nor I have attempted to answer such a question ever that I be prepared for this. And even if I could I am unable to recall at this point of time.

So thanks for asking this thought provoking question.

But how can we defend what is incorrect/wrong. We can't. You probably need arguments to show other side of India as well. I hope and believe there probably is, but may be we are not aware of it.

= Preparation for the point =

When I was suffering from similar pain, and probably still are have this pain... I used to accuse, crib, be negative, wanted to runaway (leave India, or just move to some better place).

At one point of time I even was Atheist.

But overtime things happened, because down in my heart I had faith in Almighty, and was somewhat praying... for various things... particularly to just get the right path.

It has taken lots time, and lots of patience, and am not sure if all is through - I believe there is still lots to come. But some reason I have lot more faith now. I feel Almighty or that Supreme Power is somehow answering my queries. May be its just my "Purshartha", but I am sure most is by grace or Almighty.

= To the point =

As I said, just now I don't know how to defend - but I would like to put forth what I understand is the reason for this state of India, or why I believe this is the case...

Somewhere in Veda or Manu Smriti there is a Mantra in Sanskrit that basically means/states
"One who protects/upholds Dharma, is protected by Dharma" and I am sure you know Dharma is a very deep word, and almost no language or civilisation has a parallel to this word/concept.

Let me still continue with Dharma.
In Manu Smriti there is a Mantra to explain Dharma:
"Dhriti Shamaa Damasteyum Shaucham Indriya Nigraha
Dhir Vidya Satyam Akrodho Dhashakam Dharam Lakshanam"

Each of the words in the above Mantra, can be translated into a book. And if most of us could follow this Mantra, India will be supreme, greatest, as it was in Vedic times.

One may ask that not all can follow so strictly nor to such an extent. And what about the negative forces in the society, like anti social elements, and so on --- for this Sanatana/Vedic Dharma, prescribes system of Varana-Ashrama and 16 Sanskaar, and Panch-Maha-Yagya.

Varana as media tells us is Caste-System of India - but the Vedic/Sanatana Dharma system of Varana was classification, for better understanding and management of society on the basis Karma/deeds (and not Janama/Birth).

I could go on explaining what I have come to understand... but I not much of an authority on this - I am just a Saadhak(somewhat student attempting to improve and perfect).

And by the way the Government we have... as per Vedic Dharam is supposed to be Kshatriya (literaly means one protects others from Kshat/hurt) - but it is filled with lots of Asuras(Asura literally means who is concerned for himself, is selfish... whereas Deva literally one who gives...and is selfless)

The Devasura or Deva-Asura sangram/conflict, is not imagination but a reality - it's the conflict of good and bad.

To really succeed in this Devasura sangram we first we need Arsh Bhuddi (mind by which we should be able to identify what is correct and not correct) - that happens by true Gyan/Jyaan/Knowledge.....and this is what is there in our Veda and Shastra.

= There is lot more =

Dear Swaroop

I would like to continue, but my knowledge is limited, and have limited time... so will finish for now (will try to get back)

But would like to conclude... that please have faith, develop faith - do not give up.... India needs good people like you ... like us

Lets us work hard and smart to be better, lets us try to understand things... and also spend time with our great and Sanatana (Eternal) Veda and Shastra... to not reinvent the wheel

Om Shantish, Shantish, Shanti (Almighty please give us peace all around us, externally and internally)

Vikram Sujanani says:

In my last comment I did not give explanation of Manu Smriti mantra regarding Dharma. I was looking for some good English translation, which I could not locate.

However, here is a good and brief article which has brief translation of the mantra, and also the one regarding “One who protects/upholds Dharma, is protected by Dharma”.

http://www.sevamay.com/arya/Some%20aspects%20of%20Vedic%20Dharma%20and%20Culture.doc

I will copy some parts here...

"The Vedas state ‘Dharmo Rakshati Rakshitah’ – Dharma protects us only when we safeguard ‘Dharma’"

"Manu Smriti states, ‘Dhriti Kshama, Damoasteyam, Shaucham Indriyanigraha, Dheervidya, Satyam, Akrodho, dashakam Dharma Lakshanam’ – Courage, forgiveness, austerity, non-stealing, purity, self restraint, intellect, knowledge, truth and non-anger are the ten salient features of ‘Dharma’. By inculcating these qualities in life and practicing them ‘manasa, vachaa, karmana’ – in mind word and deed, human life can be elevated to sublimity"

ashish dantu says:

‘Dharmo Rakshati Rakshitah’ v.v.v.v.true !

i am also on this bandwagon ! but surely what vikram says applies to all walks of life !

but practically one may think Y do this even !! isnt it being smart just to pave ur own way and do the easier way ??

well thats what is unique in our human nature or for that matter in life i guess !! even animals have this in them ! care about their loved ones, lioness hunts and let lions n cubs have their share first, crows gather around the electricuted crow ! etc...

so its really a just a slip of foot ! its either u just want to do this (dharma) way or not ! but its not easy to do so either ! its like how NEMO (finding nemo - movie) struggles to save all the other fish in the net !! he is one among 1000s but he (from his exp) knows if they swim down they can free themselves !! so people like us need to start swimming to free ourselves and the other fish will follow !!

SO "lets keep swimming.. lets keep swimming..lets keep swimming.. !! " (this dialogue also from Finding Nemo movie!" yaay !!

ok, sory, but i really see this as inspiration to make OURSELVES todo something.. ok,guys list out practical ways and things we can start doing, the dharma way and everyone can start the process !!

"Loka samastha sukhino bhavantu".

Sandeep Sulakhe says:

The Mahatma said:

'Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it'

'Be the change you want to see in this world'

The big question is that are we all young,succesful people walking the talk? We want a poverty,chaos and corruption free India.But are we ourselves working towards it? Does the youth, while driving, shows patience to follow the traffic rules,or does he join in the chaos thinking he will be left behind? Does the youth refrains him(her)self from spitting on the road or throw the Lays wrapper on the road if there isnt a dustbin around? Does the youth refrains from giving a bribe of Rs50 to the traffic policeman when caught without helmet and demanded a lawful fine of Rs 400? Is the youth ding this? Or are we only cribbing? The change doesn't happen automatically.And we are educated enough to understand this. Are we?

Sharninder says:

Totally with you Swaroop. I have no clue where we went wrong, but I'm sure the time has come to do something about the situation when citizens like us cannot remember a single good thing about our country !

Regarding Incident 11: The press likes to hail people like indra nooyi and lakshmi mittal and it is true that they made their riches outside india, but I still am not impressed. You know why ? We are a nation of 1+ billion people ! 1/6th of the worlds population lives here ! It is a natural that the probability of having 1 india CEO out of 6 is high ! I don't think that has anything to do with India or anyone else.

Jagadeesh says:

Swaroop,

This is one topic which I subject to a lot of debate. The plain argument is that one has to understand that no one country is perfect. Agreed there are probably more negatives than positives for India, but important to realize that other countries too have their negatives. The best we can do it keep fighting those negatives while strengthening the positives. Of course, given our current mentality it is impossible to achieve either. Based on my experience in the US and interacting with the people here and the Indians here, there is a marked difference in the mindset which I attribute to the society, the upbringing and the education. Believe me, no matter where we reside we tend to resort to the same dirty caste wars, the jealousy of seeing a fellow Indian achieve more than self, while praising Indian culture and heritage and despising the American way of life. I agree with you that as a country we have very little to show for our present but yet go to all lengths to rest on the laurels of the past, which we were never involved in shaping! So in one word, we are hypocrites who take credit for something we have not worked for + tend to criticize others who tend to do better than us.
My biggest issue is with education. We are still stuck in the past when it comes to education. I agree that our education till high-school is among the best, it just falls apart from there on. Students are awarded for memorizing what often, the teacher tells them with no contradiction for fear of losing points on an exam/test. While we learn much, that learning is without meaning. Simply regurgitation does not teach a person to think. Above all an educated person should be able to differentiate between the right and wrong and that is what is missing. Everyone knows Newton's 3 laws of motion, but none will hesitate on cheating someone if it leads to their own gain. We do not mind staying in the posh hotels, eating the priciest food, traveling first class as long as someone else is paying for it (aka the company where one works). When it comes from our own pocket, we shame even Scrooge. The main thing we need right now is education with an emphasis on values. And the main ingredients missing are 'honesty' and 'selfishness', which are the main cause of corruption and the poor state of affairs in the nation. Of course, we are all to blame for it and have to collectively take responsibility.

As an end note, I would like to debate your point on teachers and tuition. As all are aware, the pay scale of a teacher is pretty low and given a metropolitan like Bangalore, it is difficult to make ends meet which makes them resort to tuitions which are more lucrative. One way colleges can generate funds to increase the pay scale is to increase the fees for each student. Even a small increase can be significant revenue. Now here comes the problem. Many parents balk at such increases, complain, raise their voices, but these same parents hypocritically spend exorbitant amounts on tuition fees. Instead of spending that money on tuitions, if they can spend it in fees, then the teachers can be better paid/ colleges can hire more qualified teachers. The high salaries in-turn will give them an incentive to work harder and teach better. In this situation, I blame the parents more than anyone else.

as says:

Lets divide the question into two parts: How has India performed on an absolute scale and how does India compare with other nations?

On an absolute scale , the greatest achievement ( in my opinion) is the rise in life expectancy. An average man expected to live for 32 years in 1947 and now he can hope to live to approx 60-61 years.

The second important achievement would be the Green revolution which brought food security to India , a massive achievement in a country where millions used to starve. This achievement is now fading because of a number of reasons but it stands up in its own right.

A more modern achievement is the cellular phone industry. Today this industry provides some of the lowest calling rates in the entire world and we are well on the way to total coverage.

A revolutionary legislation called the Right to Information Act is certainly something to be immensely proud about. It has arrived late in the game , but its effects will be far reaching and very deep.

Compared to other countries, Singapore is not an apt comparison, China is. This is one place where size does matter. This comparison is again mixed. We see the glory of Shanghai and it is certainly something to learn from . But there is also The great leap forward and The Cultural Revolution and the Tianmen square. The very same forces which allow China to implement a one child policy , to set up SEZs also allow them to let people starve by the millions and not care.

I do recommend a book by Ramachandra Guha called India after Gandhi to get a broad perspective on post independence India.

Rajiv says:

Swaroop: You have sort of summed up all the angst and frustration that a lot of India has. Somehow, you have been able to give a coherent feel to the tons of problems plaguing India.

To your question on is there a single cause - I would think there is one fundamental problem. That the educated youth are just not present in politics. The beauty about Maslow's hierarchy is that it holds true just about everywhere it is applied. And that is true in our politics too - youngsters do not get the money, security etc. if they opt for that as a career.

But think about a solution - an Indian revolution (many may think this can happen only in Utopia, but actually may be very practical) when the same millions of Indians who have done wonders abroad and here can provide funding for the "Indian revolutionary party" consisting of educated Indians across the economic / caste / religious / linguistic spectrum. Pay them a salary that they will get if they join a software company. Some 1000 to 2000 of them. For three years. When they travel to every single home in the country inside their own territories. And with the help of the youngsters, children and the mothers convince one and all to vote for them. It is like funding a software company without any revenues. But if this company wins, the whole nation wins. This is the best way the millions outside our country can help our country...

And then maybe one fine day, we can have an India that has a ten-thousand places better than Singapore. In that it has all the economic freedom... And that people can actually vote "intelligently" for whom they want...

Rohan Vaidyanathan says:

Dats a fine article. You have specifically taken an example of Singapore but let me tell you that this is the same I experienced in countries both in the east and west. Respect for each other and the law is still a missing block in our culture. Religion is very wrongly interpreted and made a platform to develop a culture. Further, we do not look at evolving our culture with time but hold on to what was prescribed a thousand years ago. The change has to be top-down and not bottom-up. Rich brats in NGOs spending time with street children is not the way to development. Providing education and not literacy is the solution to a better society. I totally agree with you. The best way we can improve this apathy is by interacting with people in the right way in our everyday life and sell these kind of ideas to them. I am trying my bit and I hope more and more people start doing it.

Kalpesh says:

Swaroop, Thanks for the reply.

In the google dominated web world, we want results overnight without working for it. We want to start a company & be millionare (sorry - lakhpatis) next day.

Any change takes long time. What would we do, if we were born in British ruled India? I think change comes with people taking responsibility. Everyone of us, day by day improving can help change things.

And change needs reflection into what we are, our shortcomings, how to overcome it. Actually, it is a constant fight with oneself.

I also believe religion can bring about change. And I mean - correct understanding of "dharma"

I don't have a blog. I think, we (people working in IT) should propagate good ideas & share it with other people/friends. So that, a few % of us will change a day by day. And once it reaches significant numbers, there can be a revolution.

for e.g. Lets take a resolution, not to litter, spit, follow traffic signals, not to take/give bribe. be as human as possible when dealing with others.

Some kind of lifehacking in personal way. Anything that changes the status quo with oneself & surroundings.

Your reply is appreciated.

Kalpesh says:

And, it could be small steps.

e.g. lets try to put 1 rupee (whatever is the limit) a day aside for some societal activity.

Defending India | DesiPundit says:

[...] hierarchy of needs to highlight problems in contemporary India. He asks a broad question - how to defend India and do we have achievements to be proud of in order to do so? Defend argumentatively and not militarily, mind [...]

taj says:

I'd count freedom to vote for your own candidate, good or bad, as important. Singapore is well-known as a "grandfather dictatorship." I'd also count being able to openly criticize your government in public and media as an important freedom - I've met students from Singapore overseas who are afraid to say anything bad about Singapore because other students might report back. I'd also consider not having to do compulsory military service as a freedom.

India is no great shakes on any yardstick of human rights and comforts, but we are still a democracy in spite of our social problems, our neighbours and our history. It is tempting to think - oh well a dictatorship would be great as long as the dictator has everyone's best interest in mind, but that way lies fascism - "He may be an arsehole but atleast the trains run on time!"

Swaroop says:

@Taj: I have not and will never advocate dictatorship or any sort of autocracy. Yes, that would be bad.

But please note that is not what I was focusing about. I'm focusing about the state of the society in general. The only reason I commented about the freedom aspect is because a commenter specifically mentioned it.

Let me rephrase what you said: Just because we have democracy and freedom to choose our own candidate, does it make it alright to be in a (hypothetical) lawless unsafe society?

Why can't we have the best of both worlds?

Or are you saying that we have to choose either democracy or a good place to live in, we can't have both?

The question still remains: How to defend India?

So far, nobody has an answer.

Vikram Chadaga says:

I had to reply to this... this is a topic I cant keep quiet. The whole article states a lot of facts... but it need not be negative. Yes I understand India has a lot of problems... but we are getting better every second. Poor people, bad politicians, bad roads... are not the only things that make India... look at you and me... we are a big part of India. We can make a big difference to the future.

It is not right on our part to expect India to be advanced in no time. Just because you and I see some advanced country, we shouldnt expect India to be like that in a day. All this takes time. We all learn how we can be, what makes best sense for all of us and we can bring in that change in India.

Don't be let down by poverty or bad people. It is a fact of life. We should have faith in ourselves and believe that you and I make India.

Just an example to one of the things you have stated in the article.. about the Koramangala incident... the guy who helped the old man Abhishek's friend... he is an Indian too :) He is getting things done.

All I'm trying to say, it is not right on our part to expect another Singapore or another US in India. We should all accept India for what it is and make India we what it to be :)

I think I'm home sick now! :(

Vikram Chadaga says:

Oh forgot about the main question... you dont have to defend India... facts are facts... but the truth is that we are constantly improving :)

Swaroop says:

@Vikram:


"It is not right on our part to expect India to be advanced in no time.


How much time do we need? 10 years? 20 years? 50 years?

To give you an analogy, let's assume that Singapore was in the same condition as India before both got independence. Singapore got independence in 1959-63, and India got independence in 1947. Singapore has taken 45 years to reach its current state. India has had 61 years which means 16 years more.

Yes, it's not a fair comparison because Singapore is so tiny compared to India.

But, again, how long will it take for India? And what will it take?

Kalpesh says:

Swaroop,

All of us are frustrated enough not to do anything & crib about it. And, that gives us some kind of pleasure.

People other than those in cities burn things, do "morcha" & what not. It is going to take ages in a country like ours to reach a stage where we can be really proud.

All great nations have their ups & downs. I am being philosophical here to say that - we are at bottom trying to raise upwards (we might have had hit the highs in past)

All of the above doesn't make the incidents null & void.
However, there is a big mismatch between what we are exposed to & what we are doing.

For e.g. How many of us don't spit on the road? (lets take IT sector only). How many of us obey traffic signals when walking? How many of us are aware with what rights we can exercise?

The law in India is slow than a snail, which makes everyone take it for a ride. I think, the change comes with oneself. Lets not expect things to change in 50 years

How about changing ourselves, our children to do things which makes us proud?

Who are politicians anyways? They are people like you & me & they reflect a part of us. Isn't it?

Lets try to do what we can in the best interest of humanity. That comes ahead of nation.

Swaroop says:

@Vikram: Yes, we are constantly improving. That's why I have hope for our country :)

That's the last word. Always. In our conversations. And in this long outpouring that I've written here.

In fact, this is what we said to the hotel guy and the book shop owner. Things are changing for the better, the new generations are better. And so on.

However, the pessimist in me keeps nagging at me, and what I've written here is a result of that.

Swaroop says:

@Kalpesh: I don't know about others, but it does not give me pleasure. I felt really bad during and after the discussions with the hotel guy and the book shop owner.

And yes, I try to be conscious about not littering and about waiting for the traffic signal to turn green in spite of the honking behind me when the countdown timer reaches 5. But I don't know if these little things add up at all.

In the past, Vikram and I have talked about such topics. Vikram looks at the positive and says things are improving. I look at the negative and say things are too slow, too much bad already, etc.

Eventually, we hope that we are part of the change process for the better.

But today, I'm still a pessimist.

Swaroop says:

@everyone: The Davos Question

Pramod Biligiri says:

Wow that was an awesome post!
Looks like I am late to the party :)

I agree with Kamla Bhatt above. Freedom and democracy are what I cherish most in India. "Progress" is a function of this, and other inexorable laws of economics. I don't agree that a more activist Government can create economic progress - that will have significant social and environmental costs like in China. You can't really compare ourselves to Singapore! as other people have noted above.

I also try to make a distinction b/w the people and the Government. We should try to give as much freedom as possible to the people (and not the Government). Beyond that there's nothing much you can do.

I also don't see why you need to "defend India". It's such a big, diverse country that any generalization will be false. The only things that should remain across the board are civil liberties and rule of law.

I don't have any answer to the question of widespread poverty and illiteracy. Has Progressivism ever worked on a massive scale such as India? I don't think so.

P.S: Get involved in some kind of political process, at least to get a first-hand feel of things.

Varun Prabhakar says:

I was in Meerut, UP to visit a CRY project because I wanted to get a real feel of efforts being made by the organization I volunteer for because being outside India limits one's possibilities to merely fund raising and funds donation. I was told that there are children of commercial sex workers who are being rehabilitated in the mainstream and provided education. When I reached Meerut the scene was ghastly different because around 80% of the 16000 odd sex workers in Meerut are actually minors...there were 13 year olds with babies, 14 year old sweet kids with make up that would be worthy of some bollywood actress, underage girls trying to woo men from the streets...these kids are sold for 50-100 bucks on an average 10 times a night...can you believe it?

the politicians don't recognize this, policewalas are openly involved with pimps, some NGO's are also involved...this was a punch in the gut for me...there's so much hopelessness...who's gonna do anything about this? who's gonna stop it? who?

kamla bhatt says:

Swaroop:

Nice summary and comparison between India, China and Singapore. Oh, your post reminded me of the times I went through the same angst in the 1980s and 1990s when there was no India story! When India's economy was chugging along to a sluggish Hindu rate of growth. But since early 1990s I think things have changed quite a bit.

The one important point you missed out in your argument or framework is the word "freedom" and "democracy." These phrases might not mean a whole lot to us since we take them for granted, but go to Singapore and trying chewing bubble gum in public space or go to China and try writing a critical piece about the government and find out what happens.

Singapore is a city-state that is run with a iron hand and there are rules and regulations on how you need to behave in public places. China or the People's Republic of China is a communist state, where freedom is once again not something every Chinese citizen knows about. What you see in China is what the government lets you see, and you don't hear of the abject poverty, the dispalcement of people and the price that a certain section of the Chinsese society is paying for the rapid economic development of China.

It is not uncommon to visit Singapore and have the kind of conversation you have where folks put you on the defensive about India and what has or has not achieved. India still has a long way to go and you have raised some valid points, but I don't think they are unique to India...these are problems you will encounter in China, Latin America, and Africa.

How do you defend India? Next time ask these folks what kinds of freedom or rights they have available within their country? Ask them whether corruption is completely absent from their country? Singapore pays a nice handsome salary to its ministers and government employees as a deterrent against kickbacks!

Defending India is not an easy task especially since the country is just coming out of a socialist mode of thinking, and was terribly underconfident.Add to this the deep social and economic problmes the nation has...and it is not an easy task. I think what is encouraging and needs to be recognized is the freedom that we have and the choices we have to help in building the country. We consistently exhibit political apathy and have one of the lowest turnouts in elections and the result is reflected in the kinds of people that get voted into power!

And yes, Maslow's hierarchy of needs neatly caputres human needs and the level of satisfaction that you experience. India has a long way to go in this area.

Kamla

Swaroop says:

@Rajiv: Wow, that's very utopian, but I find it hard to believe that it's possible. At some stage,
I believe there will be some degradation to the same level as the government. I think the best way
forward would still be public-private partnership.

@AS: Those are good positive points. Will try to look up that book.

@Rohan: Agree that respect for each other and law is what is really required.

@Kalpesh: Yes, the small steps in lifehacking is what gives me hope.

@Ashish: Very inspirational!

@Vikram Sujanani: It just goes to show how much of wisdom our forefathers had, and very few people
like you are trying to understand it. I hope you do take out the time to extol these concepts more
so that we can all learn.

The words from the Manu Smriti... I have no words to express. I've been reflecting a lot on it, and
every time I see things differently.

@Sandeep: Agreed, we have to be part of the change process. Question is do we feel empowered
to be part of it?

@Sharninder: Agree.

@Jagadeesh: Yes, no country is perfect. But my view is that we're not exactly in a "good" condition
either. Oh, and I definitely agree with you on the "pulling each other down" mentality.

But the rise in pay alone will not solve anything. For example, the recent strike by auto rikshaw
wallas is unwarranted in my opinion. I read somewhere that they already make 80 rupees profit per
litre of LPG. Also, like most of the public have already expressed, we can shell out more if they
started showing improvement in their behavior - like not refusing to take passengers, and not
demanding more money than on the meter, on top of an already-tampered meter! There has to be some
kind of change in attitude.

@Pramod: I agree that freedom and democracy are non-negotiable critical things, but will that
always be our excuse for not improving?

And in general, I'm surprised that most commenters here don't feel the need to defend India. Was
I supposed to say "We are like this only"?

Swaroop says:

@Kamla: No, I have not missed out that important point. I have already mentioned the class teacher analogy specifically for people who bring about the 'freedom' debate.

What freedoms are you talking about?

Freedom to pee on the road?
Freedom to break traffic signals?
Freedom to honk unnecessarily?
Freedom to eve-tease?

What about freedom to study with the assurance of a teacher looking for your best interests and not for bribes?
What about freedom to come home late at night and not worry about getting mugged or attacked?

Are these not freedoms too? Are these not important?

I don't see how the freedom to chew gum in public is important.

Pramod Biligiri says:

Just wanted to add a quick comment on the auto fares. I think they live under an unfair regulation where they can't vary their prices depending on area and time of day (There's a good IEB post on that if you'd like to google for it).

But you are right that pay hike won't solve anything. Prices rise to match pay, as Bangaloreans know by now :P

Stone says:

This may sound juvenile among all this high-funda discussion, I think there is just ONE reason behind all miseries and that is our ever-growing POPULATION.
Be it poverty/illiteracy/unemployment/corruption/pollution.
And no political party or Government will ever come up with any policy to curb that.

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