Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Merit of Reservations

Is there a merit in reservation?

In fact, as many comments on the previous posts allege, the benefits of reservations are supposed to have been cornered by the "creamy layer" or by those who don’t actually fit into the criteria of being "backward".

On the other hand, a nation cannot develop on a sustainable basis, unless certain radical reforms are implemented to tackle the issues of social disparity and unequal opportunities...

The arguments on both side (pro- and anti-reservations), however, are largely based on ideological and/or anecdotal evidence.

My own mental analogy has been like this: if you spray fertilizer in a field - real life not being 100% perfect - it will not only help some plants to grow and bloom, but will also kill some plants due to overdose, and it will also often facilitate the growth of the weeds for whom it was not meant...

But the effectiveness of the fertilizer is if the aggregate productivity of the field increases.

And so, in this current debate about the reservations, one of question begs the answer:

Is there any empirical evidence to show that quota has really helped?... And if they have not done so far in last 60 years, how can one be sure that they will do so now?

The Southern Four states (Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Andhra) have had 50% or more reservations in higher and profession education for many decades - even before the Mandal Commission in late 70s.

If the distributive justice that the reservations aimed at really worked, then there should be some aggregate positive differences between the Southern and the Northern states.

In one of the earlier postings (pt.10), I had quoted how in Tamil Nadu (which has had 69% reservations since 1960s), in 2004, students belonging to the Backward Class (BC) or Most Backward Classes (MBC) quailified for 952 of the total 1,224 seats in 12 government medical colleges in the State (77.9 per cent), and the first first 14 ranks in the medical admissions went to BC/MBC students.

But, as one would point out, getting into a medical college through reservation, is very different than becoming a good doctor (or as someone cruelly commented: "would you leave your life in the hands of a SC/ST/OBC doctor who got into the profession through reservations?")

Following this line of enquiry, I stumbled upon this report on The Merits of Reservations. It is based on the data from the Planning Commission's National Human Development Report 2001:

As the table below shows, apparently, at an aggregate societal level, reservations in healthcare education have had a positive impact on the society:

  • Merits of Reservation
  • Planning Commission's National Human Development Report, 2001
  • Southern Solitude
  • Reservations/Quota and the Meaning of "Merit"

  • Monday, May 29, 2006

    Who are the OBCs?...

    It is surprising - or perhaps not so, given the "uneducated literacy" in the country - that a large number of people on either side of the reservation debate have little idea about the definition of OBCs.

    This results in, e.g., a false debate on whether the reservations should be based on "economic criteria" or "caste".

    Most people don't know - or care to find out - that the very definition of OBCs, however, was/is not based on genetic heredity. Rather, it is based on multiple criteria which consider not just the social (or caste-based) deprivation, but also on educational and economic deprivation...

    According to Mandal Commission:

    The backward Castes/Classes were defined on the following 11 criteria:


  • Castes/classes considered as socially backward by others.

  • Castes/classes which mainly depend on manual labour for their livelihood.

  • Castes/classes where the percentage of married women below 17 is 25% above the state average in rural areas and 10% in urban areas; and that of married men is 10% and 5% above the state average in rural and urban areas respectively.

  • Castes/classes where participation of females in work is at least 25% above the state average.

  • Castes/classes where the number of children in the age group of 5 to 15 years who never attended school is at least 25% above the state average.

  • Castes/classes where the rate of student drop-out in the age group of 5-15 years is at least 25% above the state average.

  • Castes/classes amongst whom the proportion of matriculates is at least 25% below the state average

  • Castes/classes where the average value of family assets is at least 25% below the state average.

  • Castes/classes where the number of families living in kachcha houses is at least 25 % above the state average.

  • Castes/classes where the source of drinking water is beyond half a kilometer for more than 50% of the households.

  • Castes/classes where the number of the house-holds having taken a consumption loan is at least 25% above the state average.

    According to National Commission for Backward Classes:

    The commission, after studying the criteria/indicators framed by the Mandal commission and the commissions set up in the past by different state Governments and other relevant materials, formulated the following guidelines for considering requests for inclusion in the list of Other Backward Classes:

    1. Castes and communities, generally considered as socially backward.

  • Castes and communities, which mainly depend on agricultural and/or other manual labour for their livelihood and are lacking any significant resource base.

  • Castes and communities, which, for their livelihood, mainly depend on agricultural and/or other manual labour for wage and are lacking any significant base.

  • Castes and communities, the women of which, as a general practice, are for their family’s livelihood, engaged in agricultural and/or other manual labour, for wage.

  • Castes and communities, the children of which, as a general practice, are, for family’s livelihood or for supplementing family’s low income, mainly engaged in agricultural and/or manual labour.

  • Castes and communities, which in terms of caste system, are identified with traditional crafts or traditional or hereditary occupations considered to be lowly or undignified.

  • Castes and communities, which in terms of the caste system, are identified with tradtional or hereditary occupations considered to be ‘unclean’ or stigmatised.

  • Nomadic and semi-nomadic castes and communities.

  • Denotified or Vimukta Jati castes and communities

    3. Castes and communities, having no representation or poor representation in the State Legislative Assembly and/or district-level Panchayati Raj institutions during the ten years preceding the date of the application
    (The term “poor representation” may be taken to refer to a caste or community whose presence in the body is less than 25% of its proportion in the population.)

    1. Castes and communities, whose literacy rate is at least 8% less than the State or district average.

    2. Castes and communities of which the proportion of matriculates is at least 20% less than the State or district average.

    3. Castes and communities, of which the proportion of graduates is at least 20% less than the State or district average.

    1. Castes and communities, a significant proportion of whose members reside only in Kachha houses.

    2. Castes and communities, the share of whose members in number of cases and in extent of agricultural lands surrendered under the Agricultural Land Ceiling Act of the State, is nil or significantly low.

    3. Castes and communities, the share of whose members in State Government posts and services of Groups A & B/Classes I & II, is not equal to the population-equivalent proportion of the caste/community.

    Moral of the Story:
    Intellectual brilliance/moral superiority is not a substitute for ignorance of facts ;0)

  • Friday, May 26, 2006

    Quota/Reservations: More ""Reserved" than Others

    Suddenly, the "OBC reservations" has opened the Pandora's Box.

    The popular view (among the urban middle-class educated people) is that "quota" is bad - and dilutes the "merit"...

    Frankly, I also became aware of the various kinds of "quotas" that exist to access the "temples of higher education" in India across the states. Most have been accepted (er...why???) as a given - and, to my knowledge no candle march or hunger strike ever took place against these!!

    ...that is, till the "OBC quota" came up, and opened a Pandora's Box.... here is a list:

  • All India Quota

  • State Quota: varies upto 25%... that allows one to skip the all India "merit" criteria and get an admission due to domicile status. It is not very difficult to get the domicile certificate, really;0)

  • Management Quota: around 15%.... Govt/ SC has been trying to squash it, but it still does give one an opportunity to get into an un-aided private college - if one can pay the money!

  • NRI Quota: small in number but allows one to slip past the criteria of "merit" if some rich relative abroad can sponsor one's education

  • Sportsman Quota, Army Quota, etc.

    The Quota Trophy, paradoxically, goes to AIIMS:

    While the AIIMS medicos go on hunger photogenic strike against the "reservations" (what with celebrity endorsement from Nafisa Ali and Shiv Khera)... there is no mention that 25% seats in the AIIMS PG course are "reserved" for AIIMS graduates).

    Just quoting from a news item in TOI:

    "25% reservation that AIIMS graduates get in PG admission and the Supreme Court judgment of 2001 that declares the earlier system of 33% reservation for them bad in law...

    The HC had found that "AIIMS students, who had secured as low as 14% or 19% or 22% in the (all-India) entrance examination got admission to PG courses while SC or ST candidates could not secure admission in their 15% or 7% quota in PG courses, in spite of having obtained marks far higher than the in-house candidates of the institute." HC had analysed admission data over five years.

    The apex court also agreed with the HC that the "figure of 33% reservation for in-house candidates was statistically so arrived at as to secure 100% reservation for AIIMS students. There were about 40 AIIMS candidates. The PG seats being 120, 33% thereof worked out to be 40." That meant all 40 AIIMS graduates were assured of PG seats.

    Merit here was clearly being sacrificed, the study showed...

    ....Twelve AIIMS candidates were selected even though they got less marks than the SC candidate who secured 60.33% marks. Similarly, 16 AIIMS students got admission to PG courses even though they got less marks than another ST student who got 62.16%.


  • Monday, May 22, 2006

    Reservations/Quotas and the "Meaning of Merit"

    If you are reading this posting on the blog or on a mail, then perhaps 90% chances are that you are against the "reservations" on the ground that it dilutes the "merit".

    This, perhaps, is less indicative of the popularity of the "merit-cause", and more of the the fact that the Indian blogger community/netizens represents a self-reinforcing socio-politically isolated section on the other side of the digital divide.

    In a democratic set-up, one is naturally entitled to have his/her own viewpoint... So this posting has nothing to do with being "for" or "against" the reservations... To each his own!

    This posting is about some simple facts which somehow are never quoted/known in MSM - and about which few Indian bloggers ever bother to check/find-out...

    ...and to explore that if "merit" is the issue, then what does "merit" mean in the urban-centric visible India.

    So if you happen to be one who is agitated and angered about the additional 27.5%reservations/quota in the "temples of higher education" (e.g., IITs, IIMs) - and how it dilutes the "merit"... Then please be honest - and answer in Yes/No

    Did you know that...

  • 1. The announcement by Minister for HRD, Arjun Singh, that "government is considering reservations in all educational institution" was based on the 104th Constitutional Amendment Bill, passed by the Lower House of Indian Parliament (Lok Sabha) on Dec 21st, 2005, by 379-to-1 votes (381 present, one abstained).
    Yes / No?

  • 2. It was also passed by the Rajya Sabha by 172-to-2 votes.
    Yes / No?

  • 3. The Bill was signed by the President of India, APJ Abdul Kalam, on Jan 20th, 2006 - thereby making it the 93rd Constitution Amendment Act, 2005, to be enacted upon by the incumbent government.
    Yes / No?

  • 4. There is no Mandal-I or II!!! (as projected by the media)... The proposal for this Amendment was based on Indian Consitution, and came from the recommendations of Mandal Commission - which was formed in 1978, during Janta Party regime, and submitted its report in 1978-79.
    Yes / No?

  • 5.According to findings of the Mandal Commission, in India there are (or were at that time) more than 3,000 OBC castes that constitute about 52% population of India (see the figures below)- these are in addition of 16% SCs and 8% STs. Together - SCs, STs & OBCs - constitute 76% of India's population.
    Image and video hosting by TinyPic
    Yes / No?

  • 6. Besides the reservations, the Mandal Commission also recommended a number of other things - about which neither the media nor the "pro-merit" citizens are either aware, or willing to "protest" about, e.g.:
    - radical alteration in production relations through progressive land reforms
    - special educational facilities to upgrade the cultural environment of the students, with special emphasis on vocational training
    - separate coaching facilities for students aspiring to enter technical and professional institutions
    - creation of adequate facilities for improving the skills of village artisans
    - subsidised loans for setting up small-scale industries
    - the setting up of a separate chain of financial and technical bodies to assist OBC enterpreneurs.
    - increasing the seats in institutes of higher education to accommodate the "reserved" candidates", etc...
    Yes / No?

  • 7. According to the Mandal Commision recommendations, the increase in reservations should be only along with the increase in the seats in the institute, i.e., the "reservations" should not have an adverse impact on regular non-reserved category. For instance, IIM-C and IIT-Kharagpur have already decided to increase the seatsYes / No?

  • 8. Notwithstanding the claims that the increase in seats to accommodate the "reserved" candidates, requires enhancement of educational infrastructure (hostels, faculty) - which it is claimed will strech the capabilities of the institutes and impact their "quality" - the professional institutes (IIMs, XLRI, IITs, etc.) have continued to increase their seats over last 4-5 years.
    Yes / No?

  • 9. Large number of Indian Institutes of higher education charge (or used to charge, till the Supreme clamped down) "capitation fee" - i.e., allowing a "quota" for those who can pay. Similarily, there are "reserved" seats for foreign nationals, who pay higher fee in $s, even if they don't meet the criteria of "merit".... But no protest/"candle-march" ever happened against this "dilution of merit".
    Yes / No?

  • 10. The four Southern States - Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra - have had around 50% (or more) reservations for last 2 to 4 decades in their institutes of higher educations (Tamil Nadu adapted 69% reservations even before Mandal Commission; Kerala had 50% reservations since 1970s, etc.). These reservations/quota cover some of the prestigious universities like Anna, Tiruchi, Bharthidasan, Osmania, etc. (This, apparently, has not diluted the "merit" coming out from these "temple of higher learning").
    Yes / No?

  • 11. In 2005, in Tamil Nadu (which has 69% reservations for BC and MBCs since 1960s), the first 14 ranks in the admissions to the 12 state government medical colleges, went to the OBCs... In fact, among the top 400, only 31 were from the "forward class", and the Backward and Most-Backward class students qualifed for 952 out of 1,224 seats (78%).
    Yes / No?

  • 13. In old times, the lower classes (shudras) were not allowed to enter the temples, and were even punished to hear the vedas?
    Yes / No?

    Now, just in case, one did not know these (or most of these) facts - even though one felt angered by the dilution/pollution of "merit" by the "reservations" - then there is a point to consider:

    Does "merit" in modern educated urban India mean being totally oblivious and alienated from the current socio-political reality?... and remains confined to proactive action only under threats to "my job, my merit.... my lollipop!"?

    Or, in other words:

    Is the anti-reservations sentiment among the educated urban Indians merely a morally justifiable "rang-de-basanti" peg on which one can hang one's sulking tantrums about the loss of monopoly on the traditional turf?

    POST-SCRIPT: May 27th, 2006:
    I had never thought that this isolated posting on the "meaning of merit" will bring so many bouquets and brickbats;0) - thanks to all who visited and contributed ... And instead of responding in the comment section (see below), I thought it may be worth adding this postscript as a response.

    So here goes...

    In the present zeitgeist, it is so easy to fall into "for us"/"against us" kind of binary thinking. The issue, at least to me, is far more complex than yes/no kind of classroom quiz. That is why the statement: "this posting has nothing to do with being "for" or "against" the reservations...", and focus was on the unmentioned facts in the MSM (and, unfortunately, also in the popular blogosphere).

    Unfortunately, there are still many pieces of mis-information floating around (as can be seen in the comments). And this post-script is just to further clarify (and to highlight the ignorance about facts in the public domain):

  • Contrary to popular belief/knowledge, the Mandal Commission's definition of OBC was based on 11 criteria, which covered Social, Educational and Economic discrimination. Thus, the debate about "caste-based" vs "economic criteria" is actually a non-issue!!

  • The National Commission for Backward Classes, which was established in 1993 after the Supreme Court judgement about the "Creamy Layer", also uses Social, Educational and Economic criteria to identify backward classes

  • While it is true that that the last caste-based census was held in 1931, the Mandal Commission (and before that, Kaka Kalelkar Commission, 1961), had based their recommendations on their own sample surveys - one may have disagrements about the sample survey methodology, but it is not true that these reocommendations were based on 1931 data!

  • The differences in the estimates of OBCs among different surveys (52% by Mandal Commission, 32% by NSSO, 29% by National Family & Health Survey, etc.) is not because one is more accurate than the other - but because each uses difference criteria to define OBCs.

  • I would agree that any policy (reservations, 'tatkal sewa' in railways, tax-concessions/breaks to certain sections in the society, etc.) would seem unfair if considered only in the context of isolated individual cases ("my job, my merit..."). The real critreia of "merit" lies in the ability to see it in larger context of a society and history.

  • Personally, I can't understand the issue about the "vote-bank politics";0) - In a democratic society, all decisions will be invariably "political" and influenced by the votes of the constituents. This would apply as much to the "reservation" issue, as well government's decision to invest in urban infrastructure, opening of FDI in different sectors, etc.... But I guess, interpretations differ depending one's own stakes.

  • Tuesday, May 09, 2006

    The Benefits (or Unintended Consequences) of "Evil"

    As humans, we have a tendency to judge history in black-and-white terms - and often reduce its actors to cardboard two-dimensional Bollywood characters

    History, however, is remarkably oblivious to such judgements and, in fact, often contradicts them... Almost like a gushing river that makes no distinctions to what comes in the way... and inadvertantly architecting the new topography - in which "good" begets "evil", and vice versa - and in which, we humans live...

    My favourite story of such "Law of Unitended Consequences" is this story of the Great Plague (I developed it from various sources... to make a question for an end-term exam!!! ;0):

    During 1347-1350, Europe was devastated by the Great Plague. The plague had started in 1346, in the central Asian port of Caffa, in what is now known as Ukraine. Many Italians, who were escaping the tartars, carried the germs of the disease with them when they landed back in Messina in Southern Italy. The spread of the disease was so quick that by 1347 it had reached Dublin in Ireland. Between 1347-1350, the plague killed 1 out of every 3 Europeans.

    For all its devastation, the plague was also a catalyst for a huge social change and economic growth in Europe. The death of one third of the workforce led to an accute shortage of workforce - and so, resulted in a dramatic increase in the wages. Till then, the common worker was paid back in basic barter, e.g., food, clothes, etc.

    But with increased wages, this was no longer possible. People had now to be paid in money, leading to more currency in circulation, which was available to more number of ordinary people. Money, on the other hand, also allowed people to become mobile, since currency could be exchanged for food, clothes, shelter, etc., anywhere.

    This freed people/artisans from being confined to one place, and encouraged migration of skills to places where they could earn more. Thus, urbanization increased, and with it, also specialization, since guilds of artisans – tool-makers, weavers, metal-workers, etc. – started getting organised in cities.

    The scarcity, accompanied with high demand, for skills had another unrelated consequence. It increased the demand for eyeglasses (or spectacles)!!!. This was an invention that was made in 1262 by Alessandro di Spina in Pisa (Italy), but had not found much utility till then. Eyeglasses increased the average working life – and productivity - of ordinary tradesmen two-fold.

    By 1450, thousands of eyeglasses were being exported from Italy throughout the Europe. It received further boost when Guttenberg invented the printing press, and thus launched the 1st Information Revolution, ushering a plethora of non-religious functionally useful text (e.g., "how to make pasta") - thus increasing demand to read.

    ...over period of time, eyeglasses facilitated the emergence of precision engineering, which itself led to the spring-driven clock. With clocks, it became possible to measure productivity, which was a major driver for industrialisation... etc., etc.

    Moral of the Story (At an intelectual level):
    Life/history is not linear... There are no "happily lived ever after" or predictable "domino's effect". It is all Yin-&-Yang...

    Moral of the Story (at a personal level):

    There is so much good
    in the worst of us
    And so much bad
    in the best of us
    That it hardly becomes
    any of us
    To talk about
    the rest of us.

    Monday, May 08, 2006

    One More Reason to Believe It's A Crazy World

    Here is a comparison of "two" African countries, both small with a population around 1.6mn.

    Country A:

  • According to CIA World Factbook, this country "has maintained one of the world's highest economic growth rates since independence in 1966. Through fiscal discipline and sound management, (this country) has transformed itself from one of the poorest countries in the world to a middle-income country with a per capita GDP of $10,000 in 2005.

  • It has the world's highest per capita export of $1050.

  • Both Moody's and Standard & Poor's have given his country "A" rating, making it the best credit risk in Africa.

  • The World Economic Forum's Global Competitive Index 2005 ranked this country 48 (out of 117 countries), making it the most competitive in Africa, and even leading the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries.

  • The country was ranked 30 (out of 157 countries) on The Index of Economic Freedom 2006, making it a better investment destination than even countries such as France, China, South Korea, Brazil, India, Italy, etc.

  • Transparency International ranked this country 32 on Corruption Index (out of 159 countries), putting it ahead of countries like India, China, Italy, Hungary, South Korea, all the Latin American countries, most of the middle east, etc.

  • It has a multi-party democracy, with universal suffrage. The voting age is 18yrs.

  • Compared to even some of the advanced countries, the gender disparity is low. Women hold 11.1% of parliamentary seats, and make up 53% of professional and technical workers. 31% of administrators and managers are women.
    etc., etc.

    Country B:

  • This is a poor country which ranks 94 (out of 103 countries) on Human Poverty Index.

  • Around 33% of the population of the country lives below poverty line ($1/day). A total of 61% population lives on an income of less than $2/day.

  • Nearly 50% of its population is employed in informal sector, surviving on subsistance farming and animal husbandry.

  • The life-expectancy at birth is just around 33 years, the second lowest in the world.

  • It has the world's highest rate of HIV/AIDS infection. 37% of its adult population is infected with the disease.

  • On UN Human Development Index 2003 (which is based based on life-expectancy, health, education, literacy and income), this country ranked 131 out of 177 countries.

  • In 2004, its official unemployment rate was 23%. The unemployment rates of the country since 1999 have varied from 20-to-40%.
    etc., etc...

    The irony is that Country A and Country B are the same country - Botswana!

    ...which makes it the 14th Reason to Believe that We Live in A Crazy World!

    Index of Economic Freedom 2006
    Human Development Index 2005: Botswana
    CIA World Factbook 2005 - Botswana
    World Mapper: Valuable Exports (pdf)
    Transparency International's Corrption Index 2005

  • Sunday, May 07, 2006

    Global Illiteracy & the "Global War on Terror"

    The findings of the National Geographic-Roper Survey 2006, conducted by the National Geographic Society, were released on May 1. The survey explored the Geographic Literacy among young Americans (age 18-24).

    Key Findings:

  • 63% percent of Americans aged 18 to 24 failed to correctly locate Iraq on a map of the Middle East.

  • 70% could not find Iran or Israel.

  • 90% couldn't find Afghanistan on a map of Asia.

  • 54% were unaware that Sudan is a country in Africa.

  • 48% of young Americans believe the majority population in India is Muslim.

  • Though they were aware of the devastation caused to Indonesia by tsunami in Dec'04, Three-quarters of respondents failed to find that country on a map. And three-quarters were unaware that a majority of Indonesia's population is Muslim, making it the largest Muslim country in the world.

  • Fewer than 20% young Americans own a world map.

  • Fewer than 30% think it's absolutely necessary to know where countries in the news are located.

  • Only 14% believe speaking another language fluently is a necessary skill.

    The geographic knowledge about US itself was just as much dismal:

  • Half could not find New York State on a map of the United States.

  • A third of the respondents could not find Louisiana, and 48 percent couldn't locate Mississippi on a map of the United States, even though Hurricane Katrina put these southeastern states in the spotlight in 2005.

  • Told they could escape an approaching hurricane by evacuating to the northwest, only two-thirds could indicate which way northwest is on a map.

    ...Which reminds one of the "foreign affairs quiz" to which George W Bush was subjected to during his campaign during 1999. The following is the transcript of Q&A between reporter Andy Hiller, and the then-presidential candidate, George W Bush:

    Hiller asked: "Can you name the president of Chechnya?"

    "No, can you?" Bush replied.

    "Can you name the president of Taiwan?" Hiller asked.

    "Yeah, Lee,'" responded Bush, referring to Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui.

    "Can you name the general who is in charge of Pakistan?" asked Hiller, inquiring about Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf, who took over last month in a military coup.

    "Wait, wait, is this 50 questions?" replied Bush.

    Hiller replied: "No, it's four questions of four leaders in four hot spots."

    Bush said: "The new Pakistani general, he's just been elected – not elected, this guy took over office. It appears this guy is going to bring stability to the country and I think that's good news for the subcontinent."

    Hiller persisted, saying "Can you name him?"

    Bush said: "General. I can name the general. General."

    "And the prime minister of India?" asked Hiller, inquiring about a man who was recently re-elected and who last year tested a nuclear bomb.

    Bush said: "The new prime minister of India is – no."

    At that point, Bush responded in kind to Hiller.

    "Can you name the foreign minister of Mexico?" asked the governor, whose home state borders the Central American nation.

    The reporter replied, "No sir, but I would say to that, I'm not running for president."

    The Roper Survey perhaps explains why he got elected.

    To understand the implications for those not living in US, of this chemistry between the Leader and the Led, one must watch these two video-clips (humorous but also disturbing):

    On the Streets of America (1)

    On the Streets of America (2)

  • Tuesday, May 02, 2006

    Indian History Trivia (4): Legacy of "The Raj"

    The other day, someone pointed out to me how "India's share of global trade" had declined from almost 2.5-3% to less than a percent during 1947 to 1991.

    The obvious conclusion was that during this 'socialist' era, India had become insulated and lost opportunities to "grow" globally.

    One can, however, so easily get decieved by numbers. And so, it took some time to point out the contextual meaning of this decline in numbers... And that, the decline in numbers actually represented a maturing Indian industry and economy, viz.,

  • India hardly had any large-scale industry in 1947, which could process the raw-material into finished usable goods. There were a few industries in the cotton, jute, sugar, matches, and steel sectors, etc. - but they were too few to really service the country's needs. About 65-70% of India's less-than-Rs.600cr export consisted of raw material (cotton, oilseeds, minerals and ores, tobacco, etc.); around the same proportion of its imports were finished goods (ranging from biscuits, sewing needles, cloth etc., to dress-material, medicines to machines-tools). In fact, even in 1950, India was importing 90% of its requirement of machine tools... naturally, India's "share of global trade" was high!!!

    It also occurred to me that apparently many of us look at India-1947 from the lenses we wear in India-21stCentury.

    ...which prompted me to create this random dhobi (laundary) list of the Legacy of the Raj, or what India was like around that time (the data is from various sources from 1940 to 1950)... besides what was mentioned in the earlier post in this series:

  • India had 30crore (300mn) population, with an average longivity of 32 years (with between 17.5 to 19.0% infantile mortality)

  • There were just 360,000 income-tax payers in 1947

  • Only 15% of Indians were literate (literacy rate among women was 9%)

  • 83% of Indians lived in villages, and 70% depended on agriculture... 28% were landless labours (this, as one would notice, has not changed much)

  • 70% of cultivated land was owned by a handful of zamindars and money-lenders.

  • Only 3% of India's workforce (less than 9mn) was employed in manufacturing sector.

  • Jute and cotton industry accounted for 30% of the total industrial employment (and about 55% of value-added to manufacturing)

  • Indian farmers owned 0.9mn iron plough, and 31.3mn wooden plough.

  • Across the total population, even in 1950-51, there were just about 168,000 telephones.

  • Only 27% of cultivated land was irrigated.

  • In 1951, there were just 37,000 towns and villages (out of around 5,000 cities and 500,000 villages) with electricity

  • There were 9 agricultural colleges with around 3,000 students.

  • There were just 10 medical colleges that turned out about 700 doctors every years. In 1951 census, India had about 18,000 doctors... We also had 1,900 hospitals and 6,500 dispensaries, accounting for around 1.2lac (.12mn beds) - for a population of 300mn.

  • There were a total of 7 engineering colleges, with around 2,200 students.

  • In 1950, India produced 7 locomotives, 1mn tons of steel, 99,000 bicycles, 33mn tons of coal, 2.7mn tons of cement, 33,000 sewing machines,

  • India had a total number of 27 universities/colleges in 1950.

  • The total number of enrollment of students from primary to pre-degree education, in 1950-51, was less than 25mn.

  • There were around 6,500 newspapers and periodicals (nationals and vernacular) and 26 radio centers.

  • Even as late as 1955, India had just about 790,000 engineering degree/diploma holders.

  • There were a total of 1125 companies listed on the stock exchange (there were only two of them - Bombay and Calcutta)

    etc., etc...

    ...needless to say, India has come a long way since then...from a country dependent on food-aid (the US PL480 program), we have become a food-surplus country; from an illiterate country, India now has the 2nd or 3rd largest technically qualified manpoer; from a land owned by landlords and princes, there is a greater democratisation of wealth... Etc.

    ...or so we tell ourselves...

    There are certain things that have still not changed, e.g.,:

  • In a food-surplus country, 5-7 farmers commit suicide every day

  • 60% of India's GDP is still created by its 93% "informal sector" - India's most "privatised" workforce (the farmers, slum-dwellers, hawkers, etc.), who slog to "subsidise" the life-styles of the more fortunate ones.

  • The top 10% of the society own 48% of India's assets, while the bottom 10% have access to just 1%.

    etc. etc...

    Perhaps the only way to reconcile these paradoxes is to believe that the history of a nation is not a fairy-tale (with clear-cut good-evil/right-wrong), but an epic across generations which unfolds in various shades of grey...


  • Monday, May 01, 2006

    The Face of Evil

    I know the detention of hundreds of people at Guantanamo Bay, without any proof of their guilt, is an old "story" formost of us... Hardly likely to arouse interest and anger, as it gets tucked away as just one of those oddities of the contemporary world, and its sense of justice...

    So my first reaction to the following recent news item in the New York Times ("U.S. Says It Fears Detainee Abuse in Repatriation") was to treat it as a joke, an irony:

    A long-running effort by the Bush administration to send home many of the terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has been stymied in part because of concern among United States officials that the prisoners may not be treated humanely by their own governments, officials said.

    ...till, I read the graphic narration of My Guantanamo Diary (The Washington Post, written by Mahvish Khan, a US-born Pashtun law student at the Univ of Miami School of Law):

    Highly recommended!

    Some excerpts:

    "I've now been down a total of nine times. And each time, I'm struck by the ordinariness of Guantanamo Bay, the startling disconnect between the beauty of the surroundings and the evil they mask... I expected a stern, forbidding place. Instead I found sunshine and smiling young soldiers, boozy nighttime barbecues and beaches that call to you for a midnight swim. I've also found loss and tears. Over three months, I've interpreted at dozens of meetings with detainees and heard many stories - of betrayal and mistaken identity, of beatings and torture, of loneliness and hopelessness."
    "Ali Shah Mousovi... is a physician from the Afghan city of Gardez, where he was arrested by U.S. troops 2 1/2 years ago. He tells us that he had returned to Afghanistan in August 2003, after 12 years of exile in Iran, to help rebuild his wathan , his homeland. He believes that someone turned him in to U.S. forces just to collect up to $25,000 being offered to anyone who gave up a Talib or al-Qaeda member.... Transported to Bagram air base near Kabul in eastern Afghanistan, he was thrown -- blindfolded, hooded and gagged -- into a 3 1/2 -by-7-foot shed... was beaten regularly by Americans in civilian clothing, deprived of sleep by tape-recordings of sirens that blared day and night. He describes being dragged around by a rope, subjected to extremes of heat and cold.... He doesn't know why he was brought to Guantanamo Bay."

    At 80, Haji Nusrat - detainee No. 1009 - is Guantanamo Bay's oldest prisoner. A stroke 15 years ago left him partly paralyzed. He cannot stand up without assistance and hobbles to the bathroom behind a walker. Despite his paralysis, his swollen legs and feet are tightly cuffed and shackled to the floor. He says that his shoes are too tight and that he needs new ones... He has a long white beard and grayish-brown eyes... He comes from a small mountain village in Afghanistan and cannot read or write. He has 10 children and does not know if his wife is still alive -- he hasn't received any letters.

    U.S. troops arrested Nusrat in 2003, a few days after he went to complain about the arrest of his son Izat, who is also detained at Guantanamo Bay. Nusrat is charged with being a commander of a terrorist organization in Afghanistan with ties to Osama bin Laden, and with possession of a cache of weapons.

    "I've listened to Wali Mohammed protest that he was just a businessman trying to get along in Taliban-run Afghanistan. I've watched Chaman Gul, crouched in his 7-by-8-foot cage, weep for fear that his family will forget him. I've marveled at the pluck and wit of Taj Mohammad, a 27-year-old uneducated goat herder who has taught himself fluent English while in Cuba...

    No matter the age or background of the detainee, our meetings always leave me feeling helpless. These men show me the human face of the war on terrorism. They've been systematically dehumanized, cast as mere numbers in prison-camp fashion..."