Sunday, August 12, 2007

The World According to "Indian Ants"...

Since this parable (it can be titled: "World According to Ants") has been doing rounds on the net (as chainmails, blog postings, etc.... and one of the avid - and disagreeing - reader of this blog, added this story to his comments on the last post :) - I thought it worth blogging about what this story (propaganda!!?) actually means - (at least to me!)...

but first the story/parable
(if you have already read it, skip it and go to the end of the post):


    The ant works hard in the withering heat all long building his house and laying up supplies for the winter. The grasshopper thinks the ant is a fool and laughs & dances & plays the summer away. Come winter, the ant is warm and well fed. The grasshopper has no food or shelter so he dies out in the cold.

    The ant works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter. The grasshopper thinks the ant's a fool and laughs & dances & plays the summer away. Come winter, the shivering grasshopper calls a press conference and demands to know why the ant should be allowed to be warm and well fed while others are cold and starving.

    NDTV, BBC, CNN show up to provide pictures of the shivering grasshopper next to a video of the ant in his comfortable home with a table filled with food.
    The World is stunned by the sharp contrast. How can this be that this poor grasshopper is allowed to suffer so? Arundhati Roy stages a demonstration in front of the ant's house. Medha Patkar goes on a fast along with other grasshoppers demanding that grasshoppers be relocated to warmer climates during winter. Amnesty International and Koffi Annan criticize the Indian Government for not upholding the fundamental rights of the grasshopper.

    The Internet is flooded with online petitions seeking support to the grasshopper (many promising Heaven and Everlasting Peace for prompt support as against the wrath of God for non-compliance). Opposition MP's stage a walkout. Left parties call for "Bharat Bandh" in West Bengal and Kerala demanding a Judicial Enquiry. CPM in Kerala immediately passes a law preventing Ants from working hard in the heat so as to bring about equality of poverty among ants and grasshoppers. Lalu Prasad allocates one free coach to Grasshoppers on all Indian Railway Trains, aptly named as the 'Grasshopper Rath'.

    Finally, the Judicial Committee drafts the "Prevention of Terrorism Against Grasshoppers Act [POTAGA]", with effect from the beginning of the winter. Arjun Singh makes Special Reservation for Grass Hopper in educational Institutions & in Govt offices.

    The ant is fined for failing to comply with POTAGA and, having nothing left to pay his retroactive taxes, his home is confiscated by the Government and handed over to the grasshopper in a ceremony covered by NDTV.

    Arundhati Roy calls it "a triumph of justice". Lalu calls it 'Socialistic Justice'. CPM calls it the 'revolutionary resurgence of the downtrodden' Koffi Annan invites the grasshopper to address the UN General Assembly.

    Many years later... The ant has since migrated to the US and set up a multi billion dollar company in Silicon Valley. 100s of grasshoppers still die of starvation despite reservation somewhere in India...

    As a result losing lot of hard working ants and feeding the grasshoppers, India is still a developing country.....

    This modern urban-India parable says 2 things:

  • Ants are quite oblivious - and uneducated - about the contribution of the Grasshoppers to the economic ecology. For instance, apparently they have no idea that the Grasshoppers who "laugh & dance and play the summer away" actually contribute to - as mentioned in an earlier posting:

    - 60% of Net Domestic Product
    - 68% of income
    - 60% of savings
    - 31% of agricultural exports
    - 41% of manufactured exports

    (and, therefore, contribute just as much to the "number-driven Self-Esteem" of the "globally emergent"/"shining" Indian Ants :)

  • ... and it does not mention how the Ants "lay up supplies for the winters"!!...

    In nature/ real world, this is how it happens !!!


    bhupinder said...

    Thanks for eloquently taking the ants head on, I have come across variants of this nauseatingly senseless story at n number of places. The picture is most telling!

    How do we know said...

    Your explanation does change the perspective a little. but just that - a little.
    Personally, I am sick of people demanding and expecting that the state is responsible for their livelihood and welfare - a very nehruvian concept.(the small n is intentional)

    It is that outlook that is challenged in the story methinks, and the fact that we support the underdog without thinking of the causes of his condition.

    Supratim said...

    Prof, I never saw that story through your "urban vs rural, rich vs poor" prism, but WHATEVER floats your boat.

    However, please provide the source(s) for your data, along with the population percentages underpinning that data. Like all your previous statistics and "quotes", you only use a favourable slice. But, that's human, I guess!

    Also, wonderful cliche of "rich, urban ants preying on poor, rural, grasshopper"! That just clinches THIS debate.


    Supratim said...

    Oh, and BTW, in your "real" world did the ants kill the grasshopper for supplies? If not, your point being .........?

    Atul said...

    I would just add that some of the examples like "Arundhati Basu" and our "Commie leaders" do not represent ants or grasshoppers.. They would be better classified as "Virus" or "Parasites". They enjoy the lifestyle of rich and famous while occasionally weeping for poor but mostly for "terror ideologies" and also "parliament bombers" and "china interests" on whose payroll they are

    Madhukar said...

    "nonsensical" is the right term.. but then such 'parables" have a emotive content and hook people. Thus, this post... and the picture;)...

    @"how do we know": not sure, if how your comment here and your blogpost about the sorry "state of public transport" in delhi are congruous...

    to each his own - best wishes... hope you will find the arundhati "basu" you so much dislike ;0)

    surprised that you used the term "cliche" to "clinch" the debate!!... it was, after all, your posting of this cliched story which prompted me to make this post.

    as for your need for sources of data, I am afraid that will be useless for you... if you were realy interested, all this data/stats is available on the net (do "google") from reports from GOI and otehr sites. This is the nth time you have asked for the source (and at least a couple of times earlier, I have responded the same)... in most of the posts when I quote a data, the links are there for you to reach the source(s), if you really care to know...

    Supratim said...

    Thanks, Prof.

    Good copout. "Go find your own sources, I can't be bothered". I wonder how far that would get a student of yours on a research paper.

    Anyway, have a good one.


    gaddeswarup said...

    There are some numbers in the reports here:
    I have yet to look through them but some of the highlights are widely reported during the last few days.

    Madhukar said...

    Thanks for original sources, Prof Swarup!
    the reports from the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector have been in the newspapers across the country... this is a useful lead. Thanks!

    @Supratim, students, thankfully, read newspapers and know how to find sources on the net... the source of info you were asking for was very much there in the links given in the post... The link given by Prof Swarup will also lead you to some useful documents

    Supratim said...

    Prof Swarup, thanks for the link. The task force report was very interesting. A number that stood out from the report - 91% of the non-farm labour force is in "unorganised" work. Yet, all our labour issues and laws and whatever else on this topic is shaped by the unions who represent less than 9% of the labour force. Talk about the tail wagging the dog.

    The focus of the report was on getting finance made available to these enterprises at an affordable rate. ICICI bank launched a microfinance initiative about 2 years back and they expect that to become a major line of activity for them in the future. Don't have an update on that, but I see that Nachiket was on the committee that wrote this report.

    Prof Shukla, I went through your old post and found your sources, quoted when some one else asked for it (what's up with THAT?). Let me go through them and revert as to how you have sliced and diced your data.

    However, in your previous post, you make an amazing statement that the hawkers, etc subsidise the richer folks in cities. I don't know about other cities, but I can comment about Mumbai. And, I find your statement laughable. Sure, we would pay a higher "direct" price if we did not have the hawkers, etc around, but have you considered what we pay in "indirect" costs for these folks. (Illegal) Slums, creaking infrastructure, water supply shortages, overcrowded public transport ..... If these folks were paying the market rent for housing, most of them could not afford to be in Mumbai, and our population would be 8mn not 15mn. Sure, we would pay higher costs for our consumables, but I think there would be a net saving to the net population. Please take a vote in Mumbai, ex-illegal slums and find out what people will pay for. Subsidising us, indeed. We do not want this subsidy - so, can you please take your people back, UP and Bihar?

    raven said...

    I may pretty much be a novice in economics and data analysis but something strikes me. If 93% of the population is grasshoppers and they produce 60% of the output while the 7% remaining (ants) produce 40%, there must be some real hard/smart work that the ants must be doing.... or some really lazy singing n dancing that those grass-hoppers must be doing.

    Madhukar said...

    that is an interesting observation... and if one goes only by the numbers (and not the reality behind those numbers), yours is a valid point.

    However, the ability to create value in a society is moderated by the access to resources one has....

    unfortunately, this access
    - to credit
    - to information
    - to societal resources
    - to... anything

    is not equally divided across the segments... and that makes yours observation somewhat out of context to reality.

    @ Supratim:
    hawkers was just one exmples of the touch-point... think about the domestic help, dabbawallas, taxi-drivers... they all live in the (illegal) slums... there are also the not-so-obvious touch-points... e.g., take away the Compound 13 of Dharavi, and Mumbai will choke to death on its own plastic waste (or if taxed by BMC for recycling, will make the cost of living prohibitable)..

    as for who consumes Mumbai resources (land, water, etc), well, 50% of Mumbai (slum) population occupies less than 15% of land, and difference of water usage between slum and non-slum is to proportion of 90ltrs/day/person vs. 250ltrs/day/person

    now, before you ask me (once again)for the source of the data, I would suggest: that dont be an "ant", become a 'grasshopper" - do your own search, and go find it! :0)

    Supratim said...

    You are completely wrong, Prof, in your analysis.

    RE: the ILLEGAL plastic bag manufacturers (and recyclers?) in Dharavi. I say, we shut them down completely and then BAN plastic bags in Mumbai completely. We are already drowning in plastic bags (every monsoon just reinforces the point), and dont need to support an illegal industry to keep getting newer bags. Everyone uses paper bags or gets their bags from home, like they did 15-20 years ago. Why will this increase the cost of living for Mumbai resident? Please explain that one.

    And, you should understand that housing costs account for 70% or more of the total cost of living in Mumbai. Those living in ILLEGAL slums are not paying the cost. So the city is actually subsidising them, and not the other way around. That was my point.

    So, people in slums consume lesser water compared to LEGAL residents. And, your point being? If the 60% of Mumbai's population that lives in ILLEGAL slums were to be relocated, that would free up 0.6x15mx90lts/day, i.e 810 million litres of water per day for the LEGAL residents. Given the taxes that the LEGAL residents pay, don't you think they should have a claim on the additional 810 MILLION LITRES per day as well instead of getting water for four hours a day?

    And, my point remains that the ILLEGAL residents are ILLEGALLY consuming resources that should go towards the legal residents.

    BTW, regarding other "cost of living" factors - let me take the example of my dhobi who comes to the door to collect clothes for ironing. He charges me Rs2/unit for ironing, and so does the Laundry shop, which is about a 10 min walk for me. As a result, the dhobi gets my clothes to iron due to the convenience factor. So, if he were to be "deported" to UP, my cost would not go up, although my time allocations would change.

    So, can we please stop talking this nonsense about how the slum dwellers subsidise the others in Mumbai. It is just utter crap.

    Madhukar said...

    If I understand you correctly, Supratim, you are saying

    - that all 40tons of plastic waste produced daily in Mumbai is in the form of plastic bags

    - that by banning the recycling of plastic, the plastic pollution problem will get solved

    - that all slums are illegal, and slum dwellers (even if they pay taxes - admittedly not all - vote, etc.)

    - that the definition of legality and illegality of space (and the cut-off dates) has remained static and unchanged...

    - that "deporting" people is a legal solution

    Supratim said...

    Yes, Prof (sigh),

    - Majority of plastic waste in Mumbai are plastic bags

    - I said shut down the bag manufacturing plants, and ban plastic bags in the city. Can you tell me where I said that we should ban recycling? You just look foolish when you try to twist my comments to suit your sensibilities

    - YES, I think ALL slums are illegal, because their origin is illegal. Their origin is based upon illegal grabbing of government land. Now, if some shit-faced, vote-grabbing politicians decide to "legalise" illegal slums, that is a curse faced by legal Mumbai residents. If someone came and set up a tent inside your house compound, and you could not evict him and then 10 years later, if the govt said that that land belonged to the squatter, how would you feel? Just because they are squatting on govt land, some people seem to think it is all right.

    - No, the dates for converting an illegality into a legality are not static, thanks to the crumball, slimy, corrupt and inadequate politicians that we have.

    - Deporting illegal immigrants is legal between countries. Unfortunately, we are unable to apply the same measures in Mumbai.

    I can clearly see that Slumbai is the future of Mumbai. Once that happens, the Maharashtra politicos will find they have killed their golden goose. Because, all the professionals will migrate to other cities or even, places like Singapore, KL, etc ...... who wants to pay the kind of taxes we do, and still live in a slum???

    Sometimes, Prof, the poor are not right. And, we should have the guts to acknowledge that.

    Supratim said...

    Another FACT that all you "bleeding hearts" may not beaware of in Mumbai is that these slums do not just spring up. It is organised land sharking by goons, connected with local politicians. Do you think my poor Dhobi from UP has the muscle power to put up a shanty, all by his loneself?

    And, I also notice that you have given up on the cost of living arguments, and descended to your "see how the rich treat the poor" type of statements.

    JC said...

    RE: my dhobi who comes to the door to collect clothes for ironing. He charges me Rs2/unit for ironing, and so does the Laundry shop, which is about a 10 min walk for me. As a result, the dhobi gets my clothes to iron due to the convenience factor. So, if he were to be "deported" to UP, my cost would not go up, although my time allocations would change.
    supratim, your argument is flawed because 1.) The cost does indeed go up, its only that you pay for it with your time and energy if not money directly. 2.) If the supply declines (assuming dobhi is evicted)then the market forces will ensure that the Laundry shop will increase prices 3.) You are assuming that the Laundry shop itself is not benefiting from the illegal slum dwellers either directly or indirectly.
    But I do feel that slums are a real problem in terms of law and order, civic sense and general strain on public space and infrastructure and mostly they do not pay taxes to use them.