Friday, August 18, 2006

...Merely "Irrelevant" Questions !??

...these are some examples of the 14-15 MCQs (out of 100) that were asked in the Gujarat Public Service Commission (GPSC) recruitment examination for Ayurvedic doctors earlier this month:

  • Which date is observed as 'black day' by minorities, but as 'victory day' by the Sangh Parivar?
    (a) September 11
    (b) July 2
    (c) January 26
    (d) December 6

  • Who can destablise the UPA government.
    (a) CPI(M) leaders Jyoti Basu, Prakash Karat
    (b) Tamil Nadu CM M Karunanidhi
    (c) Railways Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav

  • Who has said that Christians have the right to convert others?
    (a) the Pope,
    (b) UPA
    (c) chairperson Sonia Gandhi,
    (d) Sister Nirmala and Father Cedric Prakash

  • After whom has Narendra Modi named India's biggest gas project on the Krishna Godavari basin?
    (a) Maharana Pratap
    (b) Dr Hedgewar
    (c) Syama Prasad Mookerjee
    (d) Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay

    No! I don't think/believe that the Chief Minister of the State would have insisted that these questions be asked for recruitment to a government job...

    ...which is what makes it even more scary!!!

  • ... someone must have formed these questions
  • ... they must have gone though a scrutiny by a committee of educated aware people
  • ... some body/agency must have finally approved them to be included in the paper

    ... as if the cancer has spread far and wide

    It was only after the hue and cry fom the media and activists, that the Gujarat Public Service Commission secretary admitted "that certain questions were 'irrelevant'"

    just "irrelvant"??

    Who's for conversion, Sonia or the Pope?
    It’s a test of beliefs in Modi land

  • Tuesday, August 15, 2006

    One Single Vote!... that's India's Democracy is all about!

    Most of us, born and brought up in the Independent India, take the "democracy" as a part and parcel of living. In fact, there are some, I know of, who even crib that we have "too much of democracy"... (though, I am not sure what that exactly means, since democracy - the right to voice your choice - is either/or; it is not a matter of degree...)

    But the fact that India remained a democratic country - the largest democracy, in fact - is something of a wonder/miracle. The only post-colonial country that could maintain this record in the world...

    ...Back then, there were many who always remained sceptical about India's will to remain a democratic country. In 1960s, Selig Harrison, an American scholor-journalist had predicted:

    "The odds are wholly against suvival of freedom and ... the issue is, in fact, whether the Indian state can survive at all."

    India did!

    In 1967, The Time carried out a series of articles entitled "India's Disintegrating Democracy" authored by one Neville Maxwell. A quote:

    "The great experiment of developing India within a democratic framework has failed."

    And yet, the India, as a democratic country, almost 4 decades on, has trudged along... Perhaps not very efficiently. But in spite of all its complexities, failures (and successes), ups-and-downs. After all it was a democratic process in 1977, that ended a dictatorial era of the "Emergency", - and it was the same process that enabled a party, which got 2 seats in parliament in 1985, to form a government in mid-90s, and then get replaced by the "original incumbent" in 2004...

    All these instance are a homage to the spirit of a people...

    Often, what gets missed in the mind-space of the common man (and the educated intelligentia and the middle-class) is the logistical nightmare that goes into keeping the country "democratic".

    The last national elections in 2004:

  • 675mn eligible voters (er.. that was 10%+ of global population)

  • more than 5000 candidates

  • 40+ political parties + more than 1000 "independent" candidates
    (there were so many "Independent" candidates that the Election Commission ran out of the 128 symbols - those tiny line-drawings of everything from apples, to lanterns, to bangles, boats, pillows, combs, bananas, and computers... - in a country largely populated by people who can't read and write, the "election symbol" - a picture - is the only mode of making a choice)

  • around 850,000 polling booths
    (that spread across more that 640,000 villages, including the 35 in Andaman-Nicobar Islands that spread across some 600 sq miles)

    But this was also the 1st National Election, anywhere in the world, that was

  • at a scale that is staggering - effectively, it was the vote of 10% of global population exercing their enfanchise!!

  • directly representative (not though electoral votes), and

  • done on indeginously electronic voting machines (and without any controversy, unlike the Diebold)

    In its typical modern-primitive ways, this is how the Electronic Voting Machines were transported to different polling booths across the sub-continent:

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic

    But perhaps, the greatest insight I ever got about why and how Indian Democracy survived (and will continue to do so) was this small news item that I picked up from a local newspaper... I scanned it, and cherish it:

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic

    We live in a critical time in history, when the "indigenous" democracy is getting usurped/arm-twisted by the "exported" one..

    But nevertheless...

    A Very Happy Independence Day to All!!!

  • Saturday, August 12, 2006

    Future of Work/ Employment in India

    I have been writing ("trying to write", would be a more accurate description;) a paper on Indian workforce and the interventions required to make it gainfully productive.

    In the process, finally, I was able to compile those odd bits of information that I had been collecting over time from various sources. Just thought that this may be interesting to share the two contrasting scenarios, of "tremendous opportunity" and "hopeless inadequacy" about workforce/employment trends in India:
    [Note: Since this a work-in-progress, I have still not compiled/linked the references... But if you are interested, you will find most of these facts-and-figures on the Net... Just "google"]

    Scenario 1: Tremendous Opportunity:

    During last few years, deregulation and technology have brought many new and fast-growing industries into Indian business scene. The growth of, and investments in, sectors such as ITES-BPO, telecom, and, more recently, retail have radically altered the Indian business landscape, and have created huge opportunities as well as challenges.

    Consider, for instance:

  • In barely 6 years, the Indian ITES-BPO sector has created unique business and employment opportunities, with a turnover of $5.2bn (FY’05) and creating about 415,000 jobs (FY’06).

  • Overall, in 2005, the IT sector achieved a turnover of $28.4bn, and contributed to employment of more than 1.3mn knowledge-professionals. According to NASSCOM, “Indian IT-ITES is estimated to have helped create an additional 3 million job opportunities through indirect and induced employment.”

  • According to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), the boom in the telecom sector resulted in direct employment of almost 430,000 people. In addition, the spillover effect in terms of PCOs and cyber-kiosks, have created more than 600,000 jobs.

  • According to a study by All India Management Association, “remote services” (ITES, e-learning, etc.) and “importing customers” (leisure and medical tourism, educational services, etc.) have the potential of creating between 20mn to 72mn jobs by 2020.

  • The more recently deregulateed retail sector is estimated to create approximately another 8mn jobs - directly, or through the value chain

    The optimism and buoyancy, however, fades if one looks at these opportunities, not merely in the context of the corporate business, but within the perspective of overall economy and state of the work-force. In contrast to these opportunities, the profile and trends of Indian work-force shows a widening gap in the availability of requisite skills to leverage on these opportunities. Consider, for instance:

    Scenario 2: Hopeless Inadequacy:

  • According to the National Sample Survey (2000), only 7-8% of the 401mn strong Indian employed workforce is in the organized sector. That is, 92-93% (or about 370mn) workers are in informal or unorganized sector. A majority, almost 80%, of them are in agricultural sector.

  • The SP Gupta Committee Report (2002) from Planning Commission suggests that the employment creation in organised sector became negative during mid-90s. During 1983-94, the employed workforce increased from 240mn to 316mn, while the unemployment had remained more or less constant at 20-21mn. In comparison, during 1994-2000, Indian economy created 21mn jobs; however during the same period, 27mn more people entered the workforce, thus increasing the unemployment by about 6mn. Moreover, 95% of the 21mn jobs created during this period were in the unorganized sector.

  • A majority of the Indian workforce does not possess marketable skills. According to a report by Ministry of Labour and Employment, in the urban area, only about 19.6% of male and 11.2% of female workers possess marketable skills. In the rural areas, the percentage of workforce with marketable skills was even lower: about 10% for male and 6.3% for female.

  • About 80% of job-seekers in employment exchange are without any professional skill.

  • While India boasts of a large young population, only 5% of the Indian labour force in the age category 20-24 have any vocational skills obtained through formal training (as compared to the industrialized countries, where the figure varies between 60% and 80% - in case of Korea, it is 94%).

  • According to one study, the total stock of graduates and post-graduates (in both general and professional education) was just slightly above 25mn in 2000. Extending the growth trends during 1990s, at present (2006), the most optimistic estimates would be merely around 30-32mn.

    So is this a source of real concern?

    ...well, yes, and no - depending on how one views it.

    Much of our policy, interventions and thrust is focused on the assumption that the "employment/job-creation" solution lies in "big business" (creation of SEZs, FDIs into sectors, incentives to big private sector players, etc.).

    Without underestimating the contribution of the "big" private corporate in the organised sector to growth of economy/GDP, etc., the fact still remains that the big, private players merely contributes to 2.5% of India's employment. Even if this sector grows by 30%/annum over the next 5 years, it will actually contibute to less than 1% growth to the employment!!
    (now before someone pounces on this statement, please let me clarify: "real" people in a society do not eat GDP figures or "feel-good" statistics - they need a gainful employment)

    The fact also remains that this is the trend world-over: the unorganised sector (sometimes overlapping with the SMEs - the small & medium enterprises) contributes to the huge chunk of employment generation, e.g.,:

  • In the USA, nearly half of the private workforce is employed in small firms, of which three-fifth have less than five employees.

  • In Japan, 78 per cent of jobs are generated by small and medium enterprises.

  • The SMEs in Korea account for 99 per cent of all manufacturing enterprises and 69 per cent of employment in this sector.

    Perhaps that is why the Planning Commission's Vision 2020 mentions:
    "Therefore, the unorganised sector, including small and medium enterprises, must play a central role in the country’s employment strategy. This will require modification of policies and programmes to level the playing field, improve availability of credit, increase productivity, raise quality consciousness and competitiveness, and enhance job quality.

    Recent experiences of different countries in the context of globalisation also demonstrate that SMEs are better insulated from the pressures generated by the volatility of world trade and capital markets. They are more resistant to the stresses, and more responsive to the demands of the fast-changing technologies...

    And in India:... The "unorganised/informal sector" contributes to
  • 60% of Net Domestic Product
  • 68% of income
  • 60% of savings
  • 31% of agricultural exports
  • 41% of manufactured exports
  • ...and 92-93% of employment (or, livelihood for the about 2/3rd the population)

    And who constitute the bulk of this "unorganised/informal sector" in India?

    - the vendors and hawkers of vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, snack-foods and a myriad of non-perishable items ranging from locks and keys, soaps and detergents, clothing, vessels to books...

    - the owners of those numerous stalls and kiosks selling various things and services... as the road-side cobblers, barbers, tailors, book-binders, cycle mechanics... as the garbage collectors, rag-pickers... construction workers... Landless labours

    - the head-loaders, cart-pullers, camel/bullock/horse-cart drivers ferrying goods/passengers to other places... and of course, the rickshaw and auto rickshaw drivers... the truck drivers...

    - down the narrow crowded lanes, those who work in/own small workshops that repair bicycles and motorcycles, recycle scrap metal, make furniture and metal parts, tan leather and stitch shoes, weave, dye, and print cloth, polish diamonds and other gems, make and embroider garments, sort and sell cloth, paper, and metal waste... and more.

    - the ones who remain "invisible" and produce and sell from their homes/shanties (mostly women) as garment makers, embroiderers, incense stick rollers, bidi-rollers, paper bag makers, kite makers, hair band makers, pickle and papad-makers, and others.

    - the maids, domestic servants, chauffeurs, gardners... the person who comes to wash the car, to deliver newspaper, milk...

    What are the options?!!

    Nopes! I don't know (not as yet)... I am still writing the paper!

    UPDATE (Sept 28,'06): The paper did finally get complete. Titled "From Corporate-Centric to Socially-Relevant HR: A Concept Note", can be downloaded (right click, save)

  • Thursday, August 10, 2006

    Indian History Trivia (5): When did India become a Socialist country?

    The preamble of Indian Constitution reads:

    "WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC, and to secure to all its citizens:

    JUSTICE, social, economic and political;

    LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;

    EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;

    and to promote among them all

    FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation;


    "Socialism" is a dirty word these days... At least among the upward-mobile, urban, literate (educated?), Indian middle class... And many bemoan the "socialism" (which, by a leap of/across logic, gets automatically equated with dictatorship, corruption, inefficiency, stagnation, etc.), and how it kept the country - notwithstanding its history and point of reference - from miraculously transfoming into something like South Korea, Japan, China (despite its being the highest in terms of income disparities), or even USA (...or at least like the top 5% of that country)!!

    In any case, interestingly, the 1949 Indian Consitution does not proclaim that India is "socialist" country... that the new independent India opted to be a "socialist" country is actually a myth!!!

    The original Constitution of India - as can be seen below - says: "We THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solumnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC.... Nothing about being a "socialist" country

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic

    Nehru, himself, was in favour of a mixed economy. In 1956, he said (I think when the Industrial Policy Resolution was ratified):

    "I think it is advantageous for the public sector to have a competitive private sector to keep it up to the mark... I feel that, if the private sector... is abolished completely, there is a risk of the public sector becoming slow, not having that urge and push behind it."

    So when did India become a "Socialist" country?

    Actually, almost 3 decades later - and more than a decade after Nehru's death!!!

    The two additional words "SOCIALIST" and "SECULAR" were added to the Indian Constitution by the controversial 42nd Amendment, by Indira Gandhi in 1976, during the Emergency, and came into effect on January 3, 1977.

    ...Just a bit of historical trivia!!

    Previous in the series:
    (1) The Story of Junagadh

    (2)The Foundations of "Nehruvian Socialism"

    (3) A "Nation-in-Making", and

    (4) Legacy of "The Raj"

    Monday, August 07, 2006

    The "Other" in Modern Indian "Hindu" Psyche

    My last post on "Another Communal "Us"vs."Them" Divide in India" got me a response from a muslim friend:


      I flew back to London from Bombay today... as usual I was several kilos over the baggage allowance, but being a serial offender I knew how to negotiate my way I was returning to the checking counter after scanning the extra bag, this girl from ground staff asked to confirm my last name... when I said what it was, she went and whispered in the ear of the guy at the desk "iske boarding pass pe star lagaya kya?" (have you put the "star" on his boarding pass?)

      At the desk the guy told me that I would have to go to the "customs facilitation desk" after I complete immigration and before boarding to identify my luggage and answer any questions they might have... I asked "hmm.. why me in particular though, is it some new procedure?" so he got all flustered and mumbled that it was a random check...

    ...but apparently, in India (or rather... in the the urban, educated, middle-class, "Hindu" India), this is not such a "random check" any more. It is reserved for "the Other".
    [the "Hindu" - underlined and bold - is deliberate, since it contrasts with the Hinduism: A Religion that Never Was]

    And who is this "Significant Other" - the enemy?

    A piece by Namita Devidayal describes this "Significant Other" that haunts the Indian "Hindu" (urban, middle-class, and apprently historically clue-less) psyche:

    Excerpts: (do access the original article, if you have time)
      "It would be easy for the optimistic liberal to conclude that Mumbai is still at heart, 'Bombay', a cosmopolitan city devoid of bigotry. The Hindutva parties were relatively muted in their reaction to the train blasts.

      Muslim organisations came out and condemned the attacks. And no one burned any buses. But even if the city opted out of the violent route, there is a growing rhetoric of violence that is silently seeping into people's psyche, like chemical waste into the soil, and no one knows when and how its effects will be felt.

      The rhetoric is evident in drawing-room discussions, over SMS messages, and in unspoken words and glances. Right after the July 11 blasts, a series of creepy SMSes and e-mails started doing the rounds, posing loaded questions like: "We agree that every Muslim is not a terrorist, but why is every terrorist a Muslim?"

      One e-mail bludgeoned its mass-recipients with the same tired cliches about how the minority community is growing exponentially, and will soon out-populate the majority...

      ...The memory is based as much on imagination as on actual events. For instance, stories about the violence of Partition often become fiercer and fiercer as they get orally transmitted from one generation to the next.... Stereotypes about the 'enemy' get reinforced because they are not based on real encounters or experience...

      More and more residential buildings discriminate on the basis of religion, and they can now do so with the sanction of a Supreme Court verdict that permits housing societies to be formed along community lines.

      Contrary to the utopian era of Amar Akbar Anthony, that wonderful allegory for religious amity, today it is less likely that your child will have a neighbour or a 'building friend' who is from another community — someone whom he can identify with purely as a playmate, share snacks with, maybe even take him one day to his place of worship...

      ...Mumbai may not be Ahmedabad, where children from different communities no longer study together, but it is inching its way there... According to Kakar, "In a period of rising social tension, social identity dominates, if it does not entirely replace, personal identity".

      Researchers working on a Gender and Space project at PUKAR, an NGO, were horrified by the findings of a series of focus group discussions it has held recently in Mumbai.

      Women — from the lofty precinct of Malabar Hill to the smelly bylanes of Dharavi to the neon-lit conclaves of Lokhandwala — were asked to describe what they thought were unsafe areas in the city.

      The answers, almost uniformly were: Minority areas. Had they ever been there? No. Did they know anyone who had been there? No. Their reasons for feeling that way? The men have beards and look dangerous and aggressive. Did they think they may be prejudiced? No.

      ...Only recently in Mumbai, a 'dangerous bearded man' was detained for an unjustifiably long period of time at the international airport. The irony is that he had flown in to attend the funeral of his brother who had died in the train blasts.... He was a victim, not a perpetrator. But stereotypes are beyond reason. They are reductive and create 'us' and 'them' cognitive states.

      For instance, cocktail party chatter today raises mind-numbingly simplistic questions: "Why is it that wherever there is conflict, it involves Islam?"

      Hardly anyone takes the time to discuss the complex history... Arguments are devoid of political analysis or historical context...."

    ... A troubling question: Are we - the Indians, not the "Hindus" - losing our Sanjhi Virasat?

    Tuesday, August 01, 2006

    Another Communal "Us" vs. "Them" Divide in India

    Since last decade or so, every time there is a bomb-blast in India (and we had quite a few), the issue of "us" and "them" becomes manifest...

    Mails float on the net, blog postings (and comments on postings) are made, and broad-based insunuations are made about the Hindu India being taken for a ride by the "Muslim 'them'" - and by the government, which "appeases" minority for the "vote bank", etc.

    The same pattern got repeated after the Mumbai blast on July 11th.

    ... In the process, over a time, India has also gained/coined a term, peculiar to its political dictionary - pseudo-secularism, which is used to describe all and sundry who disagree with the "Us/Hindus" vs. "Them/Muslims" thesis.

    ...there is often also the apprehension that such events will lead to communal riots/ethnic tension (In India, "communal riots/ethnic tension" is synonymous with Hindu-Muslim riots)... And there have been more than 2,500 such riots in India since its independence.

    So is this "Hindu vs. Muslim" communal divide really representative of Indian society?

    In 2002, Ashutosh Varshney published his research findings (Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life: Hindu and Muslims in India), based on his analysis of the communal riots during 1950-95...

    His findings:

  • Communal riots are a largely urban phenomenon in India. Rural India, where almost 75% of Indians live, accounted for barely 4% of all riot-related deaths during these years.

  • 70% of Hindu-Muslim violence was concentrated in barely 30 cities across the country.

  • Communal-riots were concentrated in just 4 of India’s 28 states. On a per capita basis, the worst states are Gujarat, Bihar and Maharashtra.

  • 46% of riot-related deaths could be accounted for by just 8 cities - Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Meerut, Aligarh, Vadodara, Delhi and Kolkata.

  • Of the above 8, the first two (Mumbai and Ahmedabad) stand out above the rest in terms of numbers of deaths.

  • These "riot-prone" cities represent a mere 18% of India's urban population and only 5% of the country's total population.

    His findings point to another "Us vs. Them" divide in India:

    ...that 82% of Indian urban population and 95% of India's total population, find this "us/Hindu" vs "them/Muslim" thesis totally alien to their day-to-day experience of being an Indian...