Posts Tagged ‘globalization’

Indian science policy in the globalization era

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on September 29th, 2011 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment

Rajesh Kochhar
(Lecture delivered at Centre for Public Policy, Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, 29 August 2007)

The term science policy does not command immediate recognition the way foreign policy and economic policy do. This is because the public perception of science in India has been fashioned by the Nehruvian era of innocence and idealism. In the years immediately following independence, science ( along with technology and education) was seen as the primary tool of nation building, which in turn was recognized as the chief goal of the state. In foreign and economic affairs there were conflicting ideologies at work and a considered decision had to be taken on the nation’s line of action. But science was taken to be benign in all its peace-time manifestations, and the course of science action obvious.

The days of uni-dimensionality of science are over. Globalization has been made possible by recent advances in information and communication technology. Science has become an important factor in economics, trade and diplomacy. There are no localized events any more. One country’s misfortune or mis-step can be another country’s opportunity (tsunami, SARS, bird-flu). Divisions can have far-reaching political and economic consequences, and yet they must be taken quickly, calling for a high level of preparedness. Demise of internationalism , and abdication of responsibility by the state in the name of globalization accompanied by the rise of the lobbyist increase the risk of wrong action, over-reaction or, more often, plain inaction.

Ironically , while the role of science in the world as a whole has increased, science and science education have lost ground in India. About 60% of Indian GDP now comes from the service sector which is science-less. The much-flaunted IT sector grossly under-employs people creating man-power shortage in all other sectors. Service economy is essentially a servile economy. The country has prematurely got into celebrating what is no more than the wage state in the international work-place, feeding apprehensions that it may never reach the royalty stage.

Be it the predictability of an earthquake; chances of return of tsunami; grounding of an air-bus, probability of bird-flu mutating into human flu; export of heavy-metal rich Ayurvedic preparations; human resource needs of sun-rise sectors ( IT, auto-component , pharmaceutical ),education and the state science; ecological ,environmental and employment issues; or the impact of globalization on Indian agriculture, there is need to formulate a science-related public policy so that firm and quick decisions can be taken which will stand the test of time.

Whenever the term economic policy or foreign policy is mentioned, it is greeted with instant recognition. But the term science policy more often than not draws a blank. The reason probably is this. In foreign and economic affairs, conflicting ideologies are known to be at work. Therefore it is recognized that different options be weighed and a considered decision reached on the actual line of action.

The public perception of science in India has been fashioned by the Nehruvian era of innocence and idealism. Science (along with technology and education) was seen as the primary tool for nation-building which in turn was recognized as the chief goal of the state. In the years immediately after independence it was implicitly believed that all peace-time manifestations of science must necessarily be benevolent. Science itself was the policy; there was no need for a science policy!

The age of romance with science is long over. Science is no longer uni-dimensional. When I was in NISTADS, I was often asked at semi-social gatherings what my Institute did. “We are researching into science policy” was invariably countered with “ What’s science policy?”. Mind you, the question came not from a fashionable socialite, but a professional or an informed layperson. By trial and error I hit upon a short satisfactory answer , mentioning some of the problems we were interested in. Pesticides in cold drinks; pollution in rivers; falling water table, etc. This seemed to satisfy the questioner, So quite obviously, environmental degradation caused by excessive use of technology has become part of common consciousness. This is a rather obvious and global science aspect of policy. There are others which are less obvious and far more complex, because they are related to nation’s economy and trade.

Some years ago, Chinese deputy science minister visited our Institute for discussions. A few days previously, Business Standard had published an essay where the author argued that just as China had emerged as the manufacturing hub, India should become the services hub. I wrote a short rejoinder disputing this prescription. I argued that China is the hub for low-skill requiring manufacture. India should become the centre for high-skilled upper-end manufacture. I gave a copy of this letter to the Chinese minister who read it , frowned and took my permission to keep it. Then he made a significant remark. China knows that it cannot compete with the West on technologies of today. Therefore it is making money from techs of yesterday and investing in the high techs of the future. China is capable of planning for a hundred years or even longer. In the same spirit during an official visit to China, I was asked to spend some time with a researcher who had been deputed to make projections for the Chinese traditional medicine exports, which are currently worth about its 12 billion dollars. ( China will lose this market overnight if US decides to classify traditional medicine as medicine instead of food supplement.) In contrast, India as a nation is incapable of afraid of keeping a long-term focus, and is scared of decision making or advance planning for fear of failure.

There is a basic difference in the approach of India and of China towards the West. China seems to be telling the West : “ This is a beautiful house you are occupying. Get out because I want to live here. India seems to be saying : “ This is a lovely house you are living in. Please permit me to stay in the out-house.

In most countries, public policy is expected to be arrived at following wide-spread and thorough discussions and consultations. Once formulated it is strictly adhered to, like an architect’s approved plan is while constructing a house. The term policy or policy document carries tremendous sanctity. It took me quite some time to put across the point ( in Japan and South Korea) that an Indian policy document should not be read with a legal eye. It always remains fluid, permitting lobbying, negotiations, improvements, improvisations, and retreat. Even when a policy has been enunciated ,it can only indicate the broad direction in which developments are expected to take place. One should look up an Indian policy document for intention rather than promise, supplement it with insights and information from other sources, and test it against the actual happenings.

The context was a report issued by the National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council (NMCC) .It was too general to be of any use, except for the statistical figures it quoted. It is a well-known fact that auto components and pharma are the top priority areas in Indian manufacturing today, except that you will not learn this from this particular official document.

We must of course distinguish between industrial policy and science policy. More specifically , what IS science policy?

Science policy

Science policy can be understood to cover two areas : Policy as related to the pursuit of science itself (covering issues such as funding of basic research, education policy); and public policy issues with a scientific aspect ( climate change, environment, bio-fuels, GM foods, bio-ethics, disaster management, skill development). These two areas are not mutually exclusive. State support for education and scientific research itself is part of public policy. But it is often convenient to distinguish between (i) science policy where science is the output and (ii) science policy where science is an input.

The subject of science policy is very vast. After some general remarks, I would like to dwell on those aspects which are largely ungoogleable, being based on first-hand experience (e.g. economic nationalism by the side door; perceptions of long-range Chinese policy; software triumphalism).

Globalization has been made possible by recent rapid developments in information and communication technology (ICT). Thanks to globalization, markets have become globally competitive; entirely new businesses have opened up; and , most importantly, time scales of change have become extremely short. Countries can no longer conduct their politics, economics and trade in isolation. There are no local events any more. One country’s mis-step or misfortune can be another country’s opportunity.

When tsunami hit Indonesia, tourists shifted to the Indian west coast. Similarly, bird flu in east Asia pushed up Indian poultry exports. For similar reasons, China initially tried to suppress reports of SARS incidence. The world may or may not have become a global village, but it certainly has become a global hospital.

Economic nationalism by the side door

An important aspect of globalization does not seem to have received much attention. Globalization may be thriving, but economic nationalism is not dead. It is in hiding and waiting to sneak in through the side door marked environmental and health considerations. ( This is not to say that these considerations are not valid.) Countries are ready to ban import of poultry , beef or other food items on the slightest suspicion. Growing concern about China’s booming exports is being accompanied by stricter examination of Chinese toys, textiles, tooth-pastes for toxicity. Backlash is developing in the western markets against Chinese goods. China is facing up to the challenge. But, can India profit from the situation while the going is good?

Current high economic growth in India has been made possible by technological developments elsewhere. It is a worrisome irony that while science and technology are today playing a far greater role in trade, economics, diplomacy and international relations than ever before, science and science education have sharply declined in India. This is because globalization has transformed the character of Indian economy. About 60% of Indian GDP now comes from the service sector which is intrinsically science-less. Since Indian economy does not seem to require science any more, science is in decline. This is dangerous. Coping with new developments ( bird flue, GM) is not easy even for better equipped countries .It will be impossible for a scientifically semi-literate country.

A few years ago when there was an accident involving an airbus, India, in a knee-jerk reaction, grounded all its airbuses for a long time , suffering huge losses in the process. This happened because India did not have the confidence to undertake evaluation of even a standard technology. But today there are developments on the scientific and technological frontiers, whichare intrinsically difficult to assess.

Bird flu

Bird flu is a case in point. As is known, domestic poultry can be infected with bird flu virus, which gets transferred to human beings who come into very close contact with poultry as in Vietnam , China , etc.. So far , the virus has not mutated to be able to transfer from humans to humans. At the same time, wild fowl are known to receive infection from domestic fowl and die. How do you respond to news of infection in poultry or the death of a wild turkey? Most countries play safe by over-reacting , although it is not possible to say at what stage the reaction crosses the threshold. Many people would argue that the dangers of bird flu are being exaggerated because vaccines have been prepared. The demise of altruistic international agencies has made the task of technology assessment very difficult and uncertain.

GM crops

Genetic modification of crops is probably the most significant development in agriculture since the domestication of wheat and barley 9000 years ago. The response it has elicited the world over is diverse indeed. It has been a rather easy matter for Europe to take a stand against GM foods because agriculture is not an important part of its economy. US always the boldest is going ahead with it. Australia, which is a big exporter of food grains, is cautiously making a distinction between commercial crops, like Bt cotton (permitted) and GM foods (taboo).China alone is capable of experimenting unmindful of consequences.

India seems to be caught in the cross fire within the country. When green revolution was ushered in , international and national agencies were involved in a big way. Mexican wheat and Manila rice were developed by world bodies. The new varieties were adapted to local conditions by the state agricultural universities, and as the next step in the chain the government acted as a bridge between agricultural scientists and the farmers.

But in the case of genetically modified crops, international agencies are totally absent and the state has far lesser role and credibility as regulator, advisor or facilitator. GM technologies are being developed by multi-national companies with low credibility. There is nobody to adapt these technologies to suit local conditions; educate the farmers on their use; and closely monitor the developments. There are hardly any reliable monitoring agencies. The space vacated by the retreat of the state has been occupied by NGOs which often overstate their case. On top of this there is a tussle between the GM and pesticide lobbies.

An executive decision , or in case of India a decision by the higher judiciary, can be meaningful only if it is backed by a broad agreement among experts. If the expert opinions show a 180 degree spread, the executive decision can go in any direction. Only if the available expertise defines a narrow cone , can one expect the ensuing policy to be broadly in the right direction. State universities , which have the necessary freedom and disinterestedness , must examine the issues rigorously and publish their findings so that policies can be based on firm inputs.

Notwithstanding high growth rates in new economy, India’s political stability and well-being still depend on the health of agricultural sector .The most worrisome part of Indian economy is that agricultural growth has been stagnant for a long period. Although agriculture’s share in GDP has drastically come down , to 20%, as much as 60% of work force still depends on it. As is well-known, agriculture affects other sectors as well. Over-use of agrochemicals and overdrawal of water have posed serious environmental and economic problems. Even without GM, there is scope for increased food production. There is need to revive investment and research in agriculture.

Basic science still needed

Bhuj earthquake

Grounding in fundamentals of science is essential for responding to natural disasters and the public perception thereof. After the Bhuj earthquake, there was a claim by an individual that he had predicted it and conveyed his prediction to the government.. Since the claim was placed before the parliament , the government was asked to explain. I was informally consulted by the then science state minister whose responsibility it was to answer science questions. My reasoning was simple. Even if an individual makes a prediction , the government cannot act on it , because it is only after the event that its truthfulness or otherwise can be ascertained. Government can act only if scientists as a body make a prediction. Science at its current levels is unable to predict earthquakes.

Tsunami

The recent tsunami also raised many questions. There was a phone call from a TV channel reporter . As you know the media gives you the minimum information from its side and wants you to say something. Can another tsunami come? I gave him a class room lecture explaining that an earth quake is always followed by others with increasingly less intensity, and therefore a tsunami cannot be followed by another equally devastating one. It is only then that he revealed that the people had been officially asked to move away because of the incoming ( second ) tsunami. Whenever there is an earthquake, the media adds to the panic by highlighting the news of the ones that follow as if they are as unexpected as the first one was.

There was much discussion on how to deal with tsunamis. A particular stupid and greedy suggestion was to build a wall along the cost. Incidentally , the definition of earthquake according to Geological Survey of India, continuing from the colonial times, recognizes only earthquakes that occur on the mainland , but not on the sea floor. It is noteworthy that there is no term for tsunami in any Indian language. This tells us that tsunamis were so infrequent that they never became a part of living memory. The next tsunami to hit the Indian east coast may not appear for two centuries. Also, we already have a nature-given warning system . The nearest tsunami can originate on the east coast is at the distance of Andaman – Nicobar, from where the waves will need about two hours to reach the shore. Unlike the cyclone, the tsunami waves remain tied to the ocean. By keeping the coast clear will minimize the damage.

Electricity from Himalayan rivers

My purpose here has been to drive home the point that a basic understanding of natural phenomena is very essential. Another example deals with engineering exercises that can lead to man-made disasters. Himalayan rivers are eminently suitable for hydro-power generation. Yet at Nathpa-Jhakri on Satluj in Himachal and Baglihar on Chenab in Kashmir , there have been serious technical problems leading to shut-downs and great financial loss. As is well-known, the Himalayas are kutcha mountains and its rivers carry lot of silt. It appears that while designing the power station, the silt carried by the river has been grossly under-estimated. More generally , when we talk of such grandiose plans as linking of rivers, we tend to view them as water pipes and not dynamic though fragile eco-systems.

Skill requirements in service sector and its impact on others

When the West criticizes India’s nuclear or missile programme , we feel happy. Similarly when the West praises India’s so-called IT prowess , why don’t we become suspicious that there must be a catch somewhere? As a substitute for hard-core long-term thinking, we indulge in tokenism and triumphalism. India’s share in the world IT market is about 2%.It is too small to make India a hub. In contrast, India’s share in dismantling electronic waste and in breaking ships is about 30% each. Properly speaking India is a hub for dealing with obsolete computers than the current ones.

Indian software and BPO sector is expected to earn $41 bn in 2007-08.This figure may appear to be large , but is not when placed in context. In the same period India expects to receive $30 bn as private remittances from Indians living/working abroad ( about two thirds of this comes from the Gulf and USA).In 2005 China earned from US about $60bn from export of low-tech sports goods, toys and the like. Indian IT sector ( with more I than T)is characterized by gross under-employment. It is acting as a brain sink, causing severe problems for all other sectors including manufacturing and government science.

Even within software-driven sector, there is an acute shortage of skilled labour, restricting growth , pushing up costs and preventing move up the value ladder. Software companies seem to be more interested in collaborating with the government in acquiring real estate than in training people.

Difference in perception: GE in US and in India/China

I have downloaded a paper by an American academic, entitled “Globalization and its impact on science , technology and education: A macro analysis”. It lauds “reformation, restructuring and re-definition of existing technological networks” brought about by globalization. “GE’s worldwide R&D system best personifies this new alignment-along with its major global R&D center in Niskayuna, New York (near Albany), GE now has active R&D centers in Shanghai, Bangalore, Munich, and St. Petersburg, Russia.”

This may well be true. It however needs to be driven home that in Indian R&D centres of foreign companies, there is more D than R. Also , all the patents are owned by the parent company , even if the authors of the patents are Indians. If these centres were in the West, the Indians employed would be getting much higher salaries, and bringing home most of the savings. You do not become rich from wages; you become rich from royalties. Of course, training under foreign auspices is a necessary prerequisite, but if we start celebrating the wage-stage, we will never reach the royalty stage.

Let us return to the business model of GE. Its medical division operates at three levels. US centre produces top-end instrumentation for medical research institutions. Japan produces high-end machines for hospitals. GE’s India and China production centres mass-produce simple machines for determining the sex of unborn babies. It is no exaggeration to say that GE’s economy in India and China is driven by the abortion market.

When economies were isolated, it was easy to define national interest and devise ways to protect and advance it. National interest is still important under globalization, although it is easy to lose focus. S & T issues are more important than ever before and require clearer and sharper thinking as a prelude to quick and decisive action.//

Globalization and the de-nationalization of Indian middle class

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on November 17th, 2010 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment

Rajesh Kochhar

CSIR Emeritus Scientist

Indian Institute of Science Education and Research

Sector 26, Chandigarh 160019, India

[email protected]

Paper presented at the 39th annual conference of Mid-Atlantic Region  Association of Asian studies(MAR/AAS) Pennsylvania State University, State College, Pa, 22 October 2010


The most remarkable feature of the Indian middle class (IMC) today is that it has become extremely self-absorbed. There was a time, before and immediately after independence, when the English knowing people in the country saw themselves as a bridge between their less fortunate brethren on the one hand and scientifically and economically ‑­advanced countries on the other. Not anymore. Globalization has provided the IMC with an opportunity and a pretext to decouple itself from the rest of the country. The decoupling however is not complete. The onus of propelling Upper India into a global orbit still rests on the emaciated shoulders of the Lower India. As the irrepressible American film-maker Sam Goldwyn would have put it, IMC has opted to include itself out.

In the early days of the British rule over India, the number of British officers was small and they had a genuine interest in, and desire to interact with, the natives. However, as the British grew in number and power, their attitude changed to that of contempt and aloofness. Evolution of IMC has proceeded along similar lines. In the years immediately after independence, the middle class was still compact, its cultural distance from the elected representatives was small, and there was idealism in the air. The middle class considered itself to be duty bound to use its privileged position for the common good. Over the decades, as the middle class numbers have swelled, it has become more and more self-centred.

Caste constitutes the single most important factor in all aspects of Indian life.Caste situation is far more complex in North India than in South India. There are three major caste ensembles among the Hindus: Upper or forward Castes; Other Backward Classes (OBCs); and Scheduled Castes (SCs). (Use of terms like Upper and Lower is merely indicative; that is why they are written with the initial capital letter) These groupings are not monolithic. Within them there are structures, hierarchies and rivalries. Authentic break-up data in general is not available. The only complete data comes from the 1931 census. In the post-independence censuses so far only SCs (and Scheduled Tribes, STs) have been enumerated. According to the latest (2001) figures, SCs are 16 % of the total population (and STs 8%). Since the Hindus constitute 80% of total population, this means that 20 % of Hindu population is SC. The percentages of Upper Castes and OBCs are anybody’s guess. Figures of 30% for the Upper Castes and 50% for OBCs have been quoted, but many maintain that OBC numbers are not that high.

The British were able to rule over India for close to two centuries with relative ease because they forged an alliance with the Upper Castes, especially the Brahmins. Consequently, the Upper Castes came to occupy dominant position in education and (modern) employment as well as in public life. The spirit of the times is summed up in a popular award-winning 1954 Hindi film Jagriti (Awakening) where a poor (low-caste?) physically handicapped boy lays down his life to reform a rich spoilt boy who is the son of a zamindar (landlord).There has been steady erosion of the Upper Caste dominance in public life and education since then , though through different trajectories.

Normal electoral dynamics has politically empowered castes which though numerically strong were marginalized earlier. It has now become extremely profitable to have a caste vote bank – based political outfit, led by a caste man. Such outfits are not sensitive to issues of governance the way big parties are and therefore enjoy great bargaining power.

India enjoyed a long spell of political stability because Indian National Congress could forge a coalition of three distinct vote banks: BBC (Brahmin-Bania Combine), SCs and Muslims. It was of course led by the Upper castes.

After many elections, the populous North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh again has a single party government. It is a development of historical significance. The recipe is the old Congress one except that the coalition is now led by a Dalit rather than a Brahmin. Adjusting to new realities, the Brahmins have reluctantly joined in a subordinate position to enjoy fruits of power and to protect the interests of their caste brethren who dominate government service.

Political emergence of the OBCs in North India is a new phenomenon. Loss of political clout by the Upper Castes is made the more unpalatable by the deliberately offensive posturing by the OBCs and SCs. To make the situation more complex, the recently aroused OBCs maintain an uneasy relationship with those above and below them in the traditional hierarchy. The dominant castes among the OBCs have a clash of ego with the Upper Castes and conflict of agro-economic interests with the SCs. In fact it is the historical failure of OBCs and SCs to share political power in North India that even now gives the Upper Castes a role bigger than their actual numbers would suggest.

It is easier to tolerate a kick in the posterior than on the stomach. The Upper Castes would have reconciled to the loss of political power had it not been accompanied by shrinkage of educational and employment space for the benefit of the OBCs. This process is known as Mandalization, after the caste surname of Bindeshwari Prasad Mandal who chaired the Second Backward Class Commission, which submitted its report in 1980. The report was precipitously implemented in 1990.

The Constitution of India (1950) provided for 22.5% reservation for SCs (15%) and STs (7.5%). Now, another 27.5% reservation has been added for OBCs. Thus only half the seats are available in the general quota. What makes the matters worse for the Upper castes is that candidates from the reserved categories are eligible for a general merit seat if they qualify, without eating into the quota which others can use.Thus space available to the Upper Caste youth in the class-room has drastically shrunk. While the Upper Castes in the past were rightly made to feel guilty for the maltreatment of the SCs over the millennia and to atone for it to the extent possible, reservation for OBCs is seen as usurpation. An outcome of the OBC onslaught is that the Upper Castes have clubbed all reserved categories together and desensitised themselves to the needs of first-generation learners from among the hitherto marginalised classes. The government has baulked at excluding the creamy layers from both the OBC and SC categories, even though it is a well established fact that within these groups some castes have prospered at the cost of others.

Coincidentally or otherwise, the socially significant process of Mandalization began about the same time as globalization in India. If globalization had not taken place, it is very likely that Mandalization would have eventually produced a new equilibrium state in which the Upper Castes would have willy nilly accepted a diminished role consistent with their actual numbers. Globalization has disrupted this social process in the sense that the Upper-Caste dominated IMC has opted to effectively distance itself from the new mainstream and attach itself to the West. No wonder then that of all the aspects of globalization the ones that have appealed the most to the IMC are a West-inspired life style and education unencumbered by considerations of social justice.

As long as the students and teachers both were drawn from the same social segment, namely Upper Castes, state education was extremely good value for money. The class room today is more representative of the population in general. As a consequence, the state has retreated from education, leaving no hope for first-generation learners of today except fpor the brightest. More seriously, the state has also abandoned agricultural education which does not attract private funding. The consequences of this are all too obvious. Large numbers have made the education system rejectionist rather than enhancing. Good quality education is now in the private sector meaning , more expensive than before, but still the preserve of Upper Castes. As a first step, students can go abroad. The next stage will be to invite foreign universities to set up campuses in India. You often hear talk of Harvard and MIT’s being brought to India are often mentioned. Nobody talks of the success of American state universities and the need to emulate them.

The number of Indian students abroad has increased significantly. In 1998-99, a total of 37842 students enrolled in US. Five years later, in 2002-03, the number stood at 74603, an increase of 100%. The figure for 2008-09 stood at 103260. As the executive director of US educational foundation explained in the pre-meltdown era, “Students who do not gain admission in India’s premier institutions see the US as an alternative”. Unlike the situation a generation ago when students went abroad for post-graduate and doctoral studies on scholarship, Indians are now enrolling in foreign countries for basic degrees and diplomas and are being financed by their parents back home. The economic melt

down and the consequent small dose of protectionism have arrested the trend to an extent.

The number of Indian students in Australia went up from 30,000 in 2004 to 97,000 in 2009. In UK the number doubled in the ten year period 1999-2009, figure for 2009 being 19,205. These countries however stand apart from US. The main attraction for most students going to UK and Australia is not the degree but the possibility of working. Having cheap labour on student visa, rather than on work permit, suited the host country during boom times.

Today’s Indian economy is intrinsically not strong enough to maintain its ever-expanding ambitious middle class at high consumption levels. This can be done only through the services sector, where the money flows in from abroad, mainly USA. While it is a welcome addition to Indian economy, the fact remains that it benefits only the English-knowing young men and women, mostly drawn from the existing middle class. The service sector does not provide a passport to first generation learners to enter middle class the way manufacturing and government service sectors did or the former can still do.

India TV these days is showing an interesting commercial. A girl from a lower middle class aspires to become a cyclist champion and promises her mother a big house. Her kid brother tells her: There is no money in cycling. If you want money , play tennis. The girl does not give up and fulfils her dream. She starts using a skin-whitening cream. Prettier, she is hired by a big company as a brand ambassador!!

Emergence of a de-nationalised middle class

We are witnessing the emergence of a new young people-dominated class, which we may dub Denationalised Middle Class (DMC). If this class were asked to choose between a national award like Padma Shri and a US visa, there can be no doubt that it will opt for the latter.

DMC is carrying out a multi-stage exercise to establish its identity and acquire legitimacy. First, it is setting itself apart by describing the other, contemptuously referring to the general rural background and poor English language skills.A popular cricketer (Sehwag) is dismissed because his father keeps buffaloes in his backyard. Another (Kaif) is condemned because he could not speak a single sentence of English correctly. Contempt for the “Hindi medium types” is matched only by contempt for the language itself. One wonders if there is any other country where such inelegant and ungrammatical language is spoken as the Hindi on our TV and FM radio channels.

In early years, the brown memsahib, in imitation of the White original, deliberately spoke grammatically incorrect Hindi with the ayas, nannies and domestic servants to preclude the possibility of the common language’s acting as asocial leveller. The DMC has devised a clever stratagem to solve its language problem. It has co-opted the Mumbai street slang with its obviously connection with the romanticized underworld. The borrowing is through the Hindi movies. Sanjay Dutt mouths a tougher screen rendering of this slang, while Shahrukh Khan represents the cuter version.

Bombay slang is one of the elements that go into defining DMC as an entity. Additionally, there are global inputs such as SMS and Internet jokes. Earlier one could depend on Bushisms , but unfortunately no new international butt has emerged yet. There is a flourishing local industry churning out bilingual, Hindi-English, jokes and ditties.

The way a culture tells its jokes can provide valuable insights into its mindset. It has been said and rightly so that the number of original jokes in the world is very small. How the joke’s basic idea is contextualised and embellished tells us a lot about the narrators as well as their audience. We have already mentioned that earlier the IMC acted as a bridge between its compatriots and the outside world. In accordance with this role, whenever it came across a Polish, Irish, Scottish or Jewish joke, it would absorb its essence; apply its mind to think of a local context; and retell the joke in a local setting. But now if there is a joke on the Internet about a Texan and a Mexican at the expense of the latter, it will be narrated as such. Their villains are now our villains.

There is a reassessment of old popular cultural elements. Most are being rejected , such as famed film singers of yesteryears, Kundan Lal Sehgal and Muhammad Rafi. There is ridicule (“You may find it laughable that in earlier times, orchestra comprised only tabla and harmonium”), or condescending acceptance “Sachin Dev Burman is an example [of a film music director] that one could be trendy even in a dhoti”); or mutation as represented by catchy old songs, mostly by Asha Bhosle, literally being sexed up for video.

Identity alone is not sufficient; there must be legitimacy also. When sitting in your own country, you are doing work called off-shore, pretending to be somebody else and putting on a false accent, it is not surprising that the legitimacy comes from the Western connection. Since a whole lot of computer-based jobs are being outsourced to us, as a token of our gratitude we are outsourcing to the US the task of providing national heroes.

An India sports-person does moderately well in international events. A person of Indian origin wins recognition or administrative position in their host country. Honours, genuine and dubious, are bestowed on the Indians by the West (beauty titles, Oscar nominations, film jury membership, mention in the Time/Newsweek magazines). Hindi films find non-NRI audience in the West. An Indian slang word enters an English dictionary. All these call for celebration, because they enhance the De-nationalized Middle Class’ sense of worthiness.

Even the uniquely Indian institutions are being redefined as an exercise in reverse off-shoring. Now the Hindi film industry has been given an imitative name (Bollywood), making Hollywood the reference point, and asked to win Oscars. The dynamic and success-oriented Hindi film, with its hand firmly on the peoples’ pulse, has always lived by its own rules.

A successful Hindi film Masoom, made in 1983, borrowed the idea from Man , Woman and Child by Erich Segal, but not the denouement . In the novel, the family shuts its door on the husband’s love child. But the Hindi version very cleverly shows the married couple with two daughters so that the love child, a boy (a cute one at that), can continue the male line. The 1963 Billy Wilder film Irma La Douce (1963) had a fairly successful run in India. But when it was made into a Hindi film ( Manoranjan, 1974), it flopped. While the Indian viewers could enjoy the frolicking of Parisian prostitutes, they do not want their own to have any sense of job satisfaction. Similarly , when the successful Hollywood film The Indecent Proposal (1993) was faithfully made into Hindi as Sauda (1996), the film flopped because the male-oriented Indian audience was not ready to accept the idea of a husband’s renting out his wife. But when the story line was changed in Judaai (1997) to let a woman rent out her husband, the film did very well.

In the Hindi films of the 1960s and 1970s, the foreign-returned young man wore suits, smoked a pipe, wore a hat, acted like a villain and eventually got thrashed by the hero. Alternatively, he wore half-pants, acted like a buffoon and happily became the hero’s sidekick. A foreign-returned young lady did not plait her hair, wore boots, and screamed “shut-up” at everybody. If she remained like this, she died. Only if she redeemed herself by discovering her Indian-ness did she get the hero. Contrast this with the recent blockbuster Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995) in which the custodians of Indian values are the NRI hero and heroine. India as a setting for the film is quite irrelevant except to showcase the Indian young man as a petty crook who wants the virtuous heroin as a visa for settling abroad and having fun.

Where does Slumdog Millionaire fit into this scheme? There is a delicious irony in its commercial and critical success. Here is a movie with Mumbai-based story, Indian  actors and Hindi dialogues which has won as many as eight Oscar awards. And yet Upper India is not happy. That the present- day subjects of Her Majesty have made a movie about the former subjects has been duly noted. If the interest which the West is taking today in India’s underbelly had been taken two hundred years ago, there probably would have been no underbelly.The issue however   is not so much  the West’s  current interest in Lower India as its perceived  betrayal of its former ally, the Upper India. When the globalization-era  Indian upper crust seeks an Oscar for a Hindi movie  it is to  legitimize its own denationalization. If a British film on Mumbai slums is multiply honoured, it is a subtle indictment of the Indian non-slum. It is noteworthy that  in the movie the slum kid knows  about Benjamin Franklin’s image on a hundred- dollar bill but not  about Mahatma Gandhi’s on a  thousand- rupee note. The quiz master (the Anil Kapoor character)  gives an insider tip to the slum kid. It is remarkable that the boy instinctively recognizes the  deception, and succeeds by acting contrarily.

As an astronomer, I have been particularly struck by recent attempts at creating pseudo-mythology (as distinct from pseudo-science). Traditionally, solar eclipse has been considered to be an ill omen. Consistent with its grandeur, its effect has been taken to be large scale; on armies, kings and kingdoms, etc. In recent times, pseudo-scientific basis has been sought to be provided by postulating that the Sun emits harmful radiation during an eclipse (as if it knows it is being eclipsed). And yet, its effect was still very general ( e g on pregnant women). The recent eclipse saw the emergence of a new mythology, that is relating the ill effect of an eclipse to the birth sign. Somehow the eclipse should affect me differently than you! New jobs are paying well, but there is no job security. Consequently worship of the outermost geocentric planet Saturn (Shani) has increased. Construction of new malls and multiplex cinemas is well known; Shani temples are part of the same boom.

As a tribute to the spending capacity of the DMC and a concession to its thoughtlessness, many erstwhile national newspapers are vying with one another to become DMC house magazines, revelling in trivialization of issues, mindless clichés, stupid bilingual puns, wordplay and prurience. The ever-increasing irrelevance of the IMC has been arrested to an extent by two institutions: higher judiciary and the electronic media. Given the abdication of responsibility by the legislature and executive alike, the Supreme Court and High Courts are increasingly taking on extra-judicial responsibilities. Time is in fact ripe for India to to contribute a new term to the world lexicon, judiciocracy, meaning government by the higher judiciary.

Since the middle class has had hardly any role in the installation of democratically elected governments, the politicians had in the past tended to view the print media with disdain, treating it as a mere pinprick. Mrs Indira Gandhi, for instance, was very contemptuous of India’s English language press, which often criticized her but could not impact voting patterns. The emergence of the electronic media however has changed the situation. Television has anointed the middle class as the commentator and the critic. The political class must now hire the cleverness, wit and sophistry of the middle class for coping with the new media. The middle class’ sensitivity to the Western public opinion has had a positive fall out also. India cannot afford to perpetuate or condone aberrations that would give it an international bad-boy image.

Indo-Europeanism

The philosophical basis for the defection of the middle class to the West was created 200 years ago in the colonial context. The British could build an Empire in India and run it with relative ease because they were able to acquire legitimacy for it at the  very outset, thanks to the discovery of Indo-European linguistic commonality. This is a political correct phrase from today’s self-conscious lexicon. In its time the commonality was interpreted in purely racial terms. Indo-Europeanism provided the British with powerful means of “connexion and reconciliation” not with all Indians, not with all Hindus, but with upper-caste Hindus.

That the Kurds and Pathans spoke languages that were related to Sanskrit, Greek and Latin was not mentioned. That most Indian Muslims were converts was ignored. That there was no clear-cut ethnic division between upper and lower castes was glossed over. The legitimacy thesis went like this: Upper-caste Hindus and Europeans came from the same racial stock. Indo-Aryans had had their period of glory in the remote past; it was now the turn of their European brethren to rule and dominate. Needless to say the thesis was enthusiastically accepted by the upper-castes. Even the 19th century Mohandas Gandhi subscribed to this thesis. He became the Mahatma only when he jettisoned this thesis, stopped appealing to the British good sense and instead chose to put the Western civilization on the defensive on moral and ethical grounds

Colonialism may have ended but the thesis was never laid to rest from the Indian side.

Edward Said’s work, though seminal, is area-specific. The first lab for orientalism was India and not the Middle East. I would like to define orientalism more generally as “ideological and operational paradigm consciously created by the West to define and describe the East in such a manner as to facilitate and justify its control”. Orientalism would be confrontational in the Muslim world but was seductive, persuasive and interactive in India, where it took the form of Indo-Europeanism. Whenever an Indian scholar did well, he was described as having overcome the prejudices off his race. His Upper-Caste status was emphasized, which made him one of us. They were all examples of the success of the Western mission to improve the natives. The natives were proud to have been thus improved and praised.

Recently Prof. Chen Ning Yang who won the 1957 Nobel physics prize jointly with a fellow Chinese observed: “Before 1957, only Hideki Yukawa of the eastern world had won the Nobel prize, if scholars from India were excluded as India and Great Britain had a long history of interactions.” Scholars from India was an exaggeration, because only one Indian C.V. Raman had by then won the prize. It is interesting to note that he does not include Raman in the eastern world. Reference to India’s long history of interaction with England is of course to the racial connection.

Thanks to Indo-Europeanism, Indians do not feel competitive towards the West the way the Chinese do. Indeed, the Indians can rejoice at the Western scientific accomplishments by pretending to sense them in their own ancient texts. As the US-backed services sector (as distinct from the manufacturing) expands and as the West-based NRIs grow in numerical and economic strength, India feels more and more comfortable with a peripheral role in the Indo-European-dominated world. //

Denationalised middle class: Global escape from Mandal (2004)

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on December 12th, 2008 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment

Economic and Political Weekly, 3 January 2004

Denationalised middle class: Global escape from Mandal

Rajesh Kochhar

Globalisation has prevented Indian upper castes from accepting a diminished role and

status consistent with their actual numbers. Aspirations of an Indian middle class that

revels in emulating the west are costing India dear and glorifying trivia in an

unprecedented fashion.

Globalisation has allowed the Indian middle class (1MC) to divest itself of any sense of

‘noblesse oblige’ that it may have nurtured earlier, declare autonomy and adopt a lifestyle

that mimics the one in economically advanced countries. In the colourful words of

American movie-maker, Sam Goldwyn, the IMC has opted to include itself out. The

phase is apt because the burden of catapulting the IMC into a global orbit still rests on the

emaciated shoulders of Indian society and economy.

In the early days of British rule over India, number of British officers was small

and they had a genuine interest in, and desire to interact with, the natives. As British

numbers and power increased, their attitude changed to that of contempt and aloofness.

The evolution of the Indian middle class has proceeded along similar lines. In the years

immediately after independence, the middle class was still compact, its cultural distance

from elected representatives was small, and there was idealism in the air. The middle

class considered itself to be duty bound to use its privileged position for common good.

Over the decades, as middle class numbers have swelled, it has become more and more

self-absorbed.

Coincidentally or otherwise, globalisation in India has been accompanied by the

socially more momentous process of Mandalisation, involving transfer of political power

to the numerically strongly but hitherto marginalised (in north India) middling caste

groupings known as other backward castes (OBCs). This transfer of power is made all the

more unpalatable by deliberate offensive posturing by hitherto suppressed or ignored

caste groups. Mandalisation involves reservations in government jobs and more

importantly in professional colleges. Hierarchies of the governmental system, seen as a

worthy substitute for the earlier rigidities of the caste system, have turned topsy turvy;

and the space available to the upper castes in class rooms has also drastically shrunk. If

globalisation had not taken place, it is very likely that Mandalisation would have

eventually produced a new equilibrium state in which the upper castes would have willynilly

accepted a diminished role and status consistent with their actual numbers.

Globalisation has disrupted this social process by providing a way out. Upper-caste

dominated middle classes bave decided to decouple from mainstream India and to attach

themselves to the west. No wonder then, of all the aspects of globalisation, the possibility

of quota-free education in India and abroad and access to foreign consumer brands has

appealed to the IMC the most.

Global aspirations of IMC are costing India dear. In the last seven years, there has

been a tremendous increase in governmental salary and pension bills to the detriment of

national savings and investments. In addition, there are ever increasing levels of

corruption. The number of Indian students abroad has increased significantly. In 1998-99,

a total of 37,482 students enrolled in US. Five years later, in 2002-03, the number stood

Economic and Political Weekly, 3 January 2004

at 74,603, an increase of 100 per cent. As the executive director of US Educational

Foundation explains, “Students who do not gain admission in India’s premier institutions

see the US as an alternative”. There are other countries like Australia which are attracting

more and more Indian students. Unlike the situation a generation ago, when students

went abroad for post-graduate and doctoral studies on scholarship, Indians are now

enrolling in foreign countries for basic degrees and diplomas and are being financed by

their parents at home. Where does the money for education outside the low-cost,

reservation-dominated government sector in India and abroad come from?

We are witnessing the emergence of a new young people-dominated class, which

we may dub as denationalised middle class (DMC). If this class were asked to choose

between a Padma Shri and a US visa, there can be no doubt that it will opt for the latter.

The DMC is carrying out a multi-stage exercise to establish its identity and acquire

legitimacy. First, DMC is setting itself apart by describing the ‘other’. (Sehwag’s father

keeps buffaloes in his backyard. Saif cannot speak a single sentence of English correctly).

Contempt for ‘Hindi medium types’ is matched only by contempt for the language itself.

One wonders if there is any other country where such inelegant and grammatically

incorrect language is spoken as it is on television and radio, especially FM channels.

The next stage involves assembling elements that will go into defining DMC as

an entity. To begin with there are global inputs: short messaging system (SMS)

shorthand, SMS and internet jokes, and invented ‘bossisms’. From the home turf comes

the co-option of Mumbai street slang. (Sanjay Dutt mouths a tougher screen version of

this slang, while Shahrukh Khan represents the ‘cuter’ version). Extant cultural elements

are selectively being rejected (Sehgal and Rafi); ridiculed (“You may find it laughable

that in earlier times orchestra comprised only tabla and harmonium”); adapted (“S D

Burman is an example that one could be trendy even in a dhoti”); or mutated (catchy old

songs, mostly by Asha Bhosle, being ‘sexed’ up for video).

Identity alone is not sufficient. There must be legitimacy also. If you are doing

offshore work while sitting in your own country, or putting on a false accent under an

alias, it is not surprising then that legitimacy for DMC comes from the west. Every time

an NRI wins recognition in his or her host country or honours, genuine and dubious, are

bestowed on the Indians in the west (beauty titles, Oscar nominations, film jury

memberships, Times/ Newsweek cover photo), or Hindi films are patronised by the

general population in the west, DMC’s own sense of worthiness is enhanced. As a tribute

to the spending capacity of the DMC and as a concession to its thoughtlessness, many

erstwhile national newspapers are vying with each other to become DMC house

magazines, revelling in stupid bilingual puns and clever wordplay. Never before, since

the days of the much-maligned Muhammad Shah Rangeela and the Avadh Nawabdom,

has stupidity been so valued and trivia so glorified. Positive trends .in economic

indicators may make one feel good. But in the long run what future can a country have if

it is disowned by its own middle class?