Wednesday, August 08, 2007

India@60: Sixty arguments at Arguing India

Let us start with a few.... please add, comment, argue as you wish..

1. India is taking over the world

2. Indian democracy is reaching new levels of maturity

3. Inequality is increasing

4. The situation of India's women reflect deep and irresoluble contradictions

5. Life in India for Indians is much better than life abroad...

6. Indians are religious but India is secular (what is secularism is itself a matter of great debate everywhere and certainly in India. One meaning that I find useful is the one in India's constitution: freedom to practice any religion of one's choice; non-discrimination on the basis of religion, ethnicity, caste, creed etc.; and separation of state and religion).


New Jersey Raj said...

From Rajesh – The Princeton Perspective

Hi Ananya

Thx very much for opening up the forum and letting your readers (or members of your fan club) comment (or argue) on the following topics. I would like to give it a shot – here it goes – straight from the heart

India is taking over the world
OMG – it has been 60 years already – jeez. Not sure if I would agree with the concept of “taking over the world” entirely. As a Bengali New Yorker, I would kick it down a notch and say that “India is definitely on the radar screen” – western radar that is. Not a small achievement for a country that was kinda “Stillborn” at independence - notwithstanding Neheru’s euphemistic BS of “Tryst with Destiny” (on hindsight, he was probably referring to his own tryst with Lady Mountbatten – LOL). Seriously though, I think that we have overcome overwhelming odds to become one of the fastest growing economies in the world and a nuclear (or as they say in New York: Nu-kle-ah) power to boot. IMHO – the strength and success of India can be directly linked to the unbelievable talent and chutzpah of the Indian people and our glorious civilization. The Brits left us crippled with a partition (i.e., a nam-ke-vaste independence), refugees, major national defense issues, religious tensions and a slew of other problems but guess what, we kicked some serious butt and here we are negotiating a meaningful nuke treaty with “George Dubya” – not bad at all. We still have a looooooong way to go but the scorecard for the last sixty years – definitely an “A plus” – now we need to maintain the momentum (or mojo) for the next 60 years – let’s follow the marching orders from “Upanishad” – “Choroi Boti”

Indian democracy is reaching new levels of maturity
Yeah – I would concur with that. We finally managed to get rid of the dynastic leadership paradigm of the ‘Neherus” and we are off to a good start. In some ways, Indian democracy can be characterized as a “Start –Up Democracy”. We had our growing pains (which are not atypical) but we are gradually getting our ducks in a row. Mastering the process of governance in a country full of disparate groups is very tough. However, we never came close to totalitarianism (except for the dreaded Emergency period – thanks to Indira Gandhi) as opposed to our neighbors: China, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Is it a perfect scenario – of course not – are we getting there – YES – the most gratifying thing about Indian democracy is that even the most downtrodden and uneducated Indians fully understand (and exercise) the rights of universal suffrage - the Hindi word “Chunao” resoundingly resonates all over India – that’s a very good thing. Now we will have to deport Laloo Prasad Yadav (and all his ilk) to Kazakhstan (so that he can hang out with Borat) in order for our Democracy to reach even higher levels of maturity – kidding guys - Chill

Inequality is increasing
All I can tell ya that this inequality thing is a relative concept. I also think that it’s inevitable in a rapidly growing country – the Indian economic planners need to stay on top of it so that it does not get out of control. In my opinion, the economic paradigm in India has changed for the better. Ushering in market driven economy and global corporations definitely got rid of the corrupt oligopolies (led by Birlas and such – I guess all those years of sucking up to Mohandas Gandhi paid handsome dividends) of the past. The country is bustling with entrepreneurship and we now have world’s largest middle-class with phenomenal buying power. This could not have been possible under Neheru’s cockamamie socialistic scheme of having the government as the largest employer. From this perspective, I think our degree of inequality has gone down because the average Indians are enjoying a better standard of living as opposed to when I left India 27 years ago. Do we have inequality and the digital divide – of course we do – it’s a by-product of capitalism (however nascent it is) – hate to be blunt about it. It’s Laissez-faire baby – survival of the fittest – ok – let me get off my soapbox – we need to EDUCATE (read: HIGH LITERACY RATE) our people - this could bring down the degree of inequality and will give our folks marketable skills in a global economy. Options like creation of micro-credit structures (ref – Mohammad Yunus/Grameen Bank) and promotion of other sustainable economic opportunities in economically disadvantaged areas (similar to Enterprise Zones in the US) should be explored. We should also think about free primary schools, social security (income replacement after retirement) and some modicum of universal health care. Bottomline: though (as Ronald Reagan once said) - we should teach people how to fish as opposed to give them cooked fish on a platter (something similar to this) – self-reliance is key. Realistically, are we going to completely get rid of inequality – NO - it ain’t gonna happen in the foreseeable future – even in Manhattan, people sleep in card box boxes – sad realities of our lives

The situation of India's women reflect deep and irresoluble contradictions
I can’t broach this topic without digressing a little – my life has been defined by three remarkable Bengali women: my paternal grandmother (could recite those long Tagore poems without making a single mistake – she also kicked butt major league and wore the pants in her household), my mother (quiet intellectual type with a steely glare though – graduated with a major in European History from Lady Braboune College in Kolkata) and you guessed it - my wife (grew up in London, educated in England and USA – very high spirited woman). These three “Steel Magnolias” fascinated, enchanted and exasperated me (and continue to do so) in their inimitable, unique and resolute (read Pigheaded - LOL) ways. I learned about women’s rights at the feet of my mother – my wife reiterates it almost every other day. Switching gears a little – I grew up being inspired by Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar and how tirelessly they fought to abolish “Sati Daha” and to promote “Bidhoba Bibaha”. On the other hand, Indian history is full of examples of tremendously remarkable women: Khana, Noor Jahan, Matanagini Hazra (freedom fighter), Phulan Devi and Indira Gandhi (in a perverse way) just to name a few – Kolkata University admitted women before Harvard – I have a hard time juxtaposing this with the fact that Indians tend to abort female fetuses – here is Indra Nooyi leading Pepsi and the professional Indian women making a lot less money than their male counterparts in comparable positions – it’s so paradoxical - its so analogous to the notion of a classic Non sequitur – let’s put it colloquially – it SUX. At this point, let’s put things in perspective for a second – IMHO male chauvinism and misogynistic propensities are not limited to Indians. It exists all over the world – how come, in America, we still debate women’s right to abortion – hello – it’s 2007 – it’s so anachronistic – how come, in America, we don’t have a Female President yet (in India – we do – however titular or symbolic the role may be) - even though I don’t like Hillary Clinton’s politics (she is a presumptuous, sanctimonious, self-righteous busybody) but I think she is also a very bright and courageous person who has the gumption to challenge the status quo in order to break the “Glass Ceiling” and is already a role model for little girls all over the world. Hate to harp on the same string – but I think – we need EDUCATION in India – we also need biz tycoons like Ratan Tata to say that he would pay equal salary to males and females period – as Indians – we should also stop self-flagellating ourselves over this issue – remember this year – yes – it’s 2007 – Wimbledon paid equal prize money to men and women champions FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HISTORY – in America, we still have very much of a “Glass Ceiling” – on the other hand, in India, we have a female president – it’s gonna happen – takes a while

Life in India for Indians is much better than life abroad...
Don’t know about that even though as NRIs (btw I hate this term) we lead dichotomous lives – ideally, I would like to live 6 months in Kolkata and 6 months in NJ. It’s a pipe dream – I know. In America, I miss the gentle rhythm of an Indian lifestyle – but whenever I leave America, I miss the hustle and bustle of New York. I also miss good cheeseburgers, steaks and pasta. Logistically, India is a nightmare – at times I think John Kenneth Galbraith was right when he described India as a ”Functioning Anarchy”. India is a little too maddening for me (I’m getting old) – on the other hand, I can be surrounded by own folks, wear dhuti/Punjabi and have cocktails in Calcutta Club and above all do “ADDA”. But after two weeks in Kolkata, I climb the walls – the humidity kills me. On the other hand, in America – I worry about everything – my job, guns, and terrorists and feel tired about spelling my name. I enjoy the liberty and the freedom and the highways. I also enjoy my bedroom community and the surrounding preserved cornfields. and of course, Starbucks. It’s a trade off – like anything else in life

Indians are religious but India is secular
I would agree with that – even though we have communal flare-ups from time to time but it’s amazing how well all these religious groups get along together. I personally hate the notion of “Hindutva” – it’s a clever ploy to beat up the Muslims. The political leaders like Murli Manohar Joshi (and his “Ratha Yatra” crap) and Bal Thackeray (and his “Shivsena” babble – get a grip Bal Man – Shivaji is DEAD – lay off the WEED) should be thrown in prison for besmirching the notion of a “Secular Indian Democracy” as propounded by Dr Ambedkar.

Awright guys – I know it’s a “Brain Dump” – thx for the opportunity – G2G- and do some cocktails now – that’s my type of “Spiritual Fortification” – LOL - at the end of the day – I hate to sound corny (and na├»ve) but I seriously believe in what Yash Chopra once said “ The Future Belongs to India” - rock n roll

ishani said...

1. The word secular is a problem for me. What does it mean? - Specially in the Indian context?

2. Why should India be 60? India's thousands of years old.

3. India's getting younger, but the young Indians are completely losing out on the quest for knowledge. SO there are less researchers, lower numbers going for humanities, pure sciences and social sciences. Large numbers, on the other hand, are drawn by things like call centres which are about good American accents!

4. Well, so much for the growing middle class and its huge disposable income and purchasing power. I think there's a very big poverty of ideas and knowledge among the middle class youth today.

drift wood said...

I think i have a prob. with the first one - 'taking over the world'. It's largely a product of assorted media & political propaganda that indians r deluded with such bogus claims. I've spend a few yrs in countries like UK, US, Japan & UAE & the sad fact is we just dont register our presence in those places. Sure, outsourcing gurus will say argue that indians have managed to make a dent in the technology sector, but what they conveniently ignore is that india is still the mecca of much work that is routine, uninspiring, lowpaying & which will never lead to anything bigger for which the particular employee/firm will be remembered. We have made no great strides in areas of innovation or r&d.

In none of the above mentioned nations will u find indians in positions of leadership (read political organisatns, sports, heading large companies, etc.) Sure, we hold imp. positions in universities & research labs but as a global force, we aint in the reckoning yet.

Even a film like 'crash' that tackles issues of racism - subtle & unsubtle - ignores us as any noticeable presence as opp. to the chinese or hispanics.

We can celebrate our coming out of nuclear wilderness all we want but this is nothing more than a ploy to ensure a balancing of power in asia - to bring about some parity in answer to china's growing economic & military might.

whew ..i am done. thanks for this nice post. :-)

Ananya Mukherjee Reed said...

Many thanks for the responses, please write more ...

Just one clarification though - I do not necessarily agree with all these positions, they are just the very common ones, so I put them out...

ishani said...

I dont think anything can be more naive and out of tune with reality than the constitutional description of the word secularism. The Indian executive, legislature & judiciary have often faced this issue and have had to grapple with the meaning of the word and its implications. Getting simplistic over complex matters wont get the nation anywhere - reality needs to be faced with courage, I feel.Like saying Indians are religious but India is secular???!! I find that description totally meaningless!

Rajdeep said...

Dear Ishani, would you say india is not secular? I would have a very serious problem with that. Sure, there are terrible problems with discrimination and religious conflict. But the reason that those are fought over, is because the constitution and the law endorses the principle. And of course, all principles must be debated and intepreted in courts and parliaments. nothing is cast in stone. If it were not so, we would have feudalism. There is nothing particularly complex about the definition of secularism in our constitution, but of course in practice things are much more complex.

ishani said...

Hi Rajdeep - exactly. It's practice that's more reality - at least in India's case. In India, racial tensions simmer beneath the surface all the time and burst out ever so often - and when one looks at the terrible racial tensions that have torn our country apart many, many times can you always say that it's the political establishment that is to blame and not people themselves at a much more micro level? Personally, I would go with democracy rather than secularism. I feel that - interpreted properly - democracy covers all sorts of issues including human rights etc. For me (strictly personal view) secularism etc have an aura of hypocrisy around them!

Anonymous said...

Do you mean to say there are problems with the practice of secularism, but no problems with the practice of democracy????????????

Shikha Sen said...

Dear Ananya, there is no debate that inequality is increasing. It is. The debate is by how much and in what ways.

ishani said...

I (PERSONALLY) can't figure out what secularism means. Democracy has it's problems, not just in India but even in the US. But those are easier for me to understand - secularism on the other hand I (PERSONALLY) find very pseudo and meaningless! As for having a belief in religion pitched against secularism - that's completely incomprehensible - as far as I am concerned, that too in the Indian context of diversity!

Anonymous said...

secularism is not atheism, secular is simply a state-guaranteed freedom to worship any god one wishes to worship and not be persecuted for it

ishani said...

For me, democracy should guarantee that! Personally, I'm religious and I believe in the democratic principle of equality! Don't need any secularism. The very fact that religious freedom has to be singled out shows that it's a problem area - not just in India, but globally! Hence, my contention is that secularism is too simplistic!

ishani said...

A question for Anon - why not an uniform civil code?

Anonymous said...

Why not? if it genuinely representative and not the imposition of one view posing as "uniform" and "civil"

Vivek said...


I would like to give my honest opinion below:

1. Income disparity - Sure..But as someone said, this is a consequence of other words - "Eat or be Eaten"..

2. India a superpower - I am not naive enough to believe this BS. Though INdia's achievements are commendable, it is still far from being taken seriously as a power to reckon with (thanks to a spineless administration that cannot protect the country from neighbour-state sponsored terrorism..and always talks of appeasement ...

3. Position of women in urban India is definitely better..bout ideas..