Daily Archives: 01/12/2008

Killing unborn daughter (2007)


The Tribune, Chandigarh,25 May 2007

Killing unborn daughter
Govt should regulate technology
by Rajesh Kochhar

Through a blatant abuse of technology, India is now engaged in systematic annihilation of unborn girls with Punjab and Haryana as the worst offenders.

According to the 2001 census, of the 500-odd districts in India, Punjab’s Fatehgarh Sahib has the lowest child sex-ratio, that is a mere 727 girls in the age group 0-6 years per 1,000 boys. The bottom 10 districts come from Punjab or Haryana, while all 17 Punjab districts figure in the last 34.

India has a long tradition of murderous bias against the girl child. Thus in 1911, Punjab had only 780 females per 1,000 males as against the national average of 964.

Earlier, female infanticide was restricted to certain caste groups in some parts of India, but female foeticide is now cutting across caste and geographical boundaries.

In the past, there might have been some remorse or sense of guilt in murdering a baby after birth, but technology-assisted murder before birth is seen as no more than a procedure. Technology can be as effective in killing the conscience as in killing human beings.

In 1971 as part of its family planning programme, the Indian government bestowed legal status and social sanction on abortion, permitting hospitals to determine and disclose the sex of the foetus.

It soon became clear that for people at large a small family meant a girl-free family, and only female foetuses were aborted.

Accordingly, the arrangement was discontinued in 1978, but now private players were ready to fill the vacuum. India’s first commercial sex-determination clinic opened in Amritsar early 1979. The era of the ethic-less, greed-driven medico had begun.

The development in the West of the ultrasound imaging technique, though primarily meant for detecting genetic disorders, provided a convenient and non-invasive way of sex-determination. In 1990 the American General Electric Medical Systems (GEMS) set up an ultrasound machine production unit in Bangalore in collaboration with Wipro.

In 1996, the government banned the use of ultrasound for determining the sex of the foetus, but the 2001 census data showed that the law had been ineffective.

Finally, responding to public interest litigation, the Supreme Court issued orders for overhauling the earlier Act and ensuring its enforcement.

The modified law, which came into effect in 2003, absolves the pregnant woman of any crime, but seeks to punish the husband or relatives who pressurise the woman. It asks the clinics to maintain proper records and specifically bans sex determination and sex-selective abortion.

Punjab has initiated effective measures to destigmatise itself. A particularly successful effort has been what has come to be recognised the country over as the Nawanshahr model.

It has restored natural sex ratio through a combination of means: monitoring each pregnancy, compilation of computerised databases, involvement of non-governmental organisations, innovative scheme of incentives and disincentives, appeal to the collective social consciousness, personal zeal of the Deputy Commissioner and, above all, the real threat of severe punishment for law-breakers.

Similar success has attended the efforts in Hyderabad city. Laudatory as these initiatives are, they are limited by the fact that they are personality-driven rather than systemic.

Female foeticide is a crime that is socially acceptable. Criminals are not social riff-raff, but respectable members of society whose education, affluence, social and political connectivity and trade unionism make it difficult, if not impossible, to touch them.

Probably only a handful of doctors are indulging in these criminal activities, but the fact remains that there is no sense of outrage at their conduct in their more scrupulous colleagues.

The administration has a difficult task on hand. Sex determinators and foetus exterminators are merrily doing their work, while government officials and social activists have to be on high alert all the time.

The extant laws are based on the assumption that ultrasound technology is sacrosanct and only administrative forces can be marshaled to combat its misuse. This assumption is not valid.

Ultrasound, no doubt, is a powerful diagnostic tool in the hands of a doctor. It is nobody’s case that the technology be banned because it is being misused. At the same time its wide applicability should not be used to condone or divert attention from its abuse as a murder weapon.

It is quite obvious that abortion economy is driving the ultrasound industry in India. The mega-market GE and other companies are targeting in India and China is the sex-determination market and not the health care market. There is need to make a distinction between the two.

A high-powered commission comprising medical scientists and other experts should ascertain India’s need of ultrasound machinery for genuine purposes and suggest steps for regulating and even controlling the machinery’s technical specifications, manufacture and installation.

Sufficiently high minimum academic and professional qualifications should be laid down for opening an ultrasound clinic. It can even be mandated that stand-alone clinics will not be permitted and that they must necessarily be part of a hospital or a poly-clinic.

There is need to continually assess the genuine requirement for and the economics of ultrasound and other medical technologies, especially because rapid technological developments can quickly overtake legal and administrative measures.



The writer is a Professor of Pharmaceutical Heritage, Niper, Mohali


Under Western Eyes: India Seeks Foreign Stamp For Its Heroes(2005)


Times of India 19 March 2005
THE LEADER ARTICLE: Under Western Eyes: India Seeks Foreign Stamp For Its Heroes
Rajesh Kochhar



We are a great nation. And we are despe-rately looking for testimonials from our superiors to prove this. The faking boy from Ballia may not have put it this way, but surely he knows Indian psyche well enough to throw dust in the eyes of the whole nation for the sake of his dozen days of immortality. 

Life imitates great art. Sadly in our case life seems to mimic I S Johar’s film script. Born in a lower middle class family in the backward eastern Uttar Pradesh, the teenager first featured in a local Hindi daily which announced that the boy who left for Kota in Rajasthan to take tuition for IIT entrance examination came first in the so-called international science discovery examination supposedly conducted by US space agency NASA. The daily added for effect that the boy had thus done better than President Kalam who had come seventh and the late Kalpana Chawla who was ranked 21st. 

As it turns out, the certificate was a crude fake, which could not even spell aeronautics. But the holes in the story came later when somebody decided to contact NASA. By that time, however, the news item was picked up by a news agency and splashed by major newspapers and television channels. If the boy showed his ingenuity in inventing the story, the media showed theirs by embellishing it and narrating it in purple prose. The press had hoped that “when he spends next year in Pennsylvania, he will know that back home he himself has become a role model”. 

Things did not turn out that way. The Uttar Pradesh upper house, which had earlier decided to felicitate him, has now decided to wait for the result of a probe by district administration into the fiasco. The significance of the con job is not that it was done, but that the whole nation fell for it. There will always be individuals whose minds work in a devious manner. But when a society suspends its critical faculties, one must look into its ideals, goals, aspirations, frustrations and priorities. 

Ten years ago, we were conned in the name of science, but with a difference. When Ramar Pillai claimed to have devised a way of extracting petroleum from a mixture of secret herbs and ordinary plants, at least his aim was to make a discovery that would help the nation. But now we must salute a hero because someone else declared him so. 

Shortly before and after Independence, there was a strongly articulated desire to build the nation. The middle class saw itself as a bridge between the rest of the country and the West. Over the years and especially with the advent of globalisation, the middle class became large, autonomous and consumerist. It has divested itself of any sense of noblesse oblige; and hitched its wagon to the west. In the colourful words of the American movie-maker, Sam Goldwyn, the Indian middle class has opted to include itself out. The centre of gravity of India has moved outside the country. 

Internet has come as a boon to media journalists and many others. Yet it did not occur to anyone to cross-check the boy’s international claims; to look up on the Net Kalpana Chawla’s biography to see if it mentioned the Balliatic examination or to visit the NASA website for confirmation. Perhaps, we were afraid of looking too closely lest we discovered the truth. Scientific temper and rationality are concepts that fit naturally into a manufacture-based culture. Since the services sector, the last hope of our middle class, is essentially science-less, we seem to be giving up our spirit of inquiry. Since a whole lot of computer-based jobs are being outsourced to us, as a token of our gratitude, we are outsourcing the task of providing national heroes to the US. 

Even the uniquely Indian institutions are being redefined as an exercise in offshoring. The hugely successful Hindi film industry that has made its own rules has been given an imitative name (Bollywood) and asked to prove itself by winning an Oscar. In the Hindi films of the 60s and 70s, the foreign young man wore suits, smoked a pipe, 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 Indianness did she get the hero. Contrast this with the recent blockbuster Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge 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 heroine as a visa for going abroad and having fun. 

Whenever an NRI wins recognition in his or her adopted country, or Indians receive dubious or genuine western honours (film jury membership or a mention in Time or Newsweek), there is widespread excitement in the country. It lends legitimacy to those who have denationalised themselves or are waiting to do so. And it absolves everyone from doing anything for the nation. When there is so little difference between the real and the fake, why blame the poor Ballia boy?


IT, prosperity and equity(2005)

What Bangalore can do for Karnataka
IT, prosperity and equity
By Rajesh Kochhar 
IT firms should catch people young and train them to their own requisites, rather than lose talent to one another 

The demand of Kannada organisations in Karnataka that jobs be reserved for the local people in Bangalore’s booming IT sector should not be taken at face value and ridiculed. Rather it should be seen as an expression of concern that though some of the world’s well-known IT services centres are located in Karnataka, the State seems to have no use for the Kannadigas themselves. 

The annual 2006 World Development Report published by the World Bank has emphasised the complementarity of “equity and prosperity” and has warned that economic development cannot be sustained if a large fraction of the population is excluded from it. 

Although India’s GDP has shown a healthy annual increase of about 6 per cent for the past many years, there has not been a corresponding rise in employment. About 55 per cent of the work force still depends on agriculture, even though its share in the GDP has come down to a mere 25 per cent. The services sector comprising trade, transport, hotels, communications, financing, insurance and real estate accounts for 50 per cent of India’s GDP but employs only 23 per cent of the work force. 

The glamour boy of the services sector is of course the offshore IT and BPO industry, which currently employs about 7,00,000 people. The requirement is expected to double within three years. Many experts believe that if India’s promising IT sector flounders, it will be because of the shortage of trained manpower. Here then is the paradox. People want jobs, IT firms want people. But still both sides are unhappy. 

The problem lies in the poor quality of our education. Although we churn out a large number of graduates and postgraduates, their employability remains low. It is noteworthy that while the whole world has been talking of knowledge-based economy, those in charge of our State’s education system have not been listening. If anything, we have used globalisation as a pretext to lower our education standards still further. 

A serious consequence of this has gone largely unnoticed. IT is acting as a brain sink. Much of the Indian IT manpower is underemployed. That is, a large number of people are working beneath their intellect, training and capabilities for the sake of a pay packet, which though small in dollar terms becomes attractive when translated into rupees. 

This underemployment benefits foreign firms, which outsource petty jobs to India. This may well be the reason for the excessive Wes-tern praise heaped on the so-called Indian IT prowess, much to the delight of the appreciation-hungry India. 

The official and media hype notwithstanding, India’s IT sector has a long way to go. In this context, the figures provided by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) are quite revealing. The earnings from software services, tourism, etc, are all grouped under invisible transactions. 

The net invisibles for 2004-05 stand as $31.7 billion, out of which as much as $20 billion comes from private transfers. The Reserve Bank does not give separate figures for IT, but according to NASSCOM, India’s earnings from IT are about $17 billion. Thus, even the gross revenue from the hi-tech IT sector is smaller than the money sent home by Indian workers employed abroad. This should be a sobering thought. 

India’s current share in the global IT market is 1-2 per cent. Our aim should be to push it to about 15 per cent, close to our share in the world population. 

If the IT sector is to grow globally and remain relevant socially, it must squarely address the manpower problem. So far, the IT firms have focused on building their own workplaces as international showpieces while asking the government to provide airports, roads, electricity, water, etc. Education has been nobody’s baby. 

IT firms should not mop up talent floating around the country, and lose it to one another. They should catch people young and train them to their own requirements. About 150 years ago, when British India was digging canals and building railways, its Public Works Department set up its own civil engineering school (which is now IIT Roorkee). 

In a similar manner, Bangalore-based IT firms should set up in Karnataka (but not in Bangalore) a training institute/university of their own. Students should be admitted after 12 years of schooling and trained for short or long periods to qualify for a certificate, diploma or a degree. Apart from technical subjects, they should be taught social and communication skills. It should be possible for a student to enter the job market and then return after a few years for further education. 

At present, the Indian IT sector is primarily operating at the low skill end. It should become broad-band. It should offer services at various levels of skill requirement so that it can offer jobs to a large number of people, consistent with their intellect and training. This way, while still retaining the low-end of the market, India can expand its presence to include higher and higher rungs on the value ladder. 

If the IT firms collectively start now, no one would be asking them for job reservations in three years’ time. In a democracy, it is good to have the people’s goodwill with you, especially when you are prosperous. 

( The writer is a former director of the National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies (NISTADS) in New Delhi).