Saturday, February 16, 2008

Tittytainment replaces News...

Today I came across these findings of CMS Media Lab at Hardnews [hat-tip: Reader's Words]:

"The research indicates that TV news today is no longer political. It has become abjectly insensitive towards issues concerning health, education, environment and public interest. It has become flooded with sports, entertainment and crime stories... Even a little shift in favour of human interest stories seems to be again trapped in meaningless trivia and selective and obsessive 24-hour coverage of issues like ‘Prince in a hole’ or a ‘naagin’ out to take revenge..."

Tittytainment, it seems, has finally arrived to Indian news media in the form of non-stop trivia...

"Tittytainment" was a term coined by Zbigniew Brzezinski, the National Security advisor of US president Jimmy Carter, essentially to convey the thought that a mixture of "intoxicating entertainment and sufficient nourishment" that can "tranquilize the frustrated minds of the globe's population."

The term gained currency during/ after the famous first State of the World Forum held at San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel in 1995, where this idea was apparently proposed as the solution to the "20-80 society" of the 21st century. This excerpt from The Global Trap (1997) by H.P. Martin and H. Schuhmann describes the proceedings:

"...The pragmatists in the Fairmont Hotel reduce the future to a pair of numbers and a term: "20 to 80" and "tittytainment".

20 percent of the working age population will be enough in the coming century to keep the world economy going. "More workers will not be needed", said magnate Washington SyCip. A fifth of all jobseekers will be enough to produce all the goods and perform all the top-flight services that the world society can afford....

What about the others? Will 80 percent of those willing to work be without a job? "Certainly"... The question in the future will be "to have lunch or be lunch", to eat or be devoured.

....The term "tittytainment" makes the rounds... The frustrated population of the world could be kept happy with as mixture of numbing entertainment and adequate food.

The managers soberly discuss the possible doses and reflect how the wealthy fifth can employ the superfluous remnant.... The organizers of the three memorable days in the Fairmont imagined themselves underway to a new civilization. However the direction envisaged by the assembled experts from the executive floors and science leads directly back into the pre-modern age... The world model of the future follows the formula 20 to 80. The one-fifth society is brewing in which the excluded will be immobilized with "tittytainment"."

The future has arrived!!

Friday, February 08, 2008

Indian History Trivia (8): The "Myth" of "Macaulay's Children"

It was the 3rd or 4th time this mail landed in my mailbox (through chainmail, exhorting one to send to all Indians - or as a plain forward by a friend) during last one week...

Lord Thomas Macaulay was supposed to have made this speech on Feb 2nd, 1835 to the British Parliament:

"I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief, such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such caliber, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than own, they will lose their self esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation."

Apart from the fact that this did not read like something an Englishman will write in 19th century ("break the very backbone", or "caliber" instead of "calibre"), and it was too much of an 'opaque' statement...

... And so, I did some googling to find the original text.

It is here:
Macaulay's Minute on Education, February 2, 1835

...apparently, Lord Macaulay did not ever make any such statement!!!

(though, such is the power of internet on the un-discerning consumers of information, that, as this news-item in The Hindu (Jan 18, 2008) shows, this quote is even displayed in the "Freedom Express" at platform No. 11 at the Chennai Central Railway Station!!!)

Macaulay made his speech when there was a raging controversy about how to use the Rs. 100,000/- that the British Government was spending on "educating the natives" in India.

The issue was: which language to use for this education.

On one side were the Orientalists, who favoured supporting native langauages - Sanskrit, Urdu and Persian. And on the other side were people like Macaulay, who favoured English, because, in his own condescending wisdom, he felt "that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia."

... And that is how the legend/myth of "Macaulay's Children" was born.... A set of Indian elites, educated, indoctrinated and brainwashed through the the British education system... One article has a vivid description of this insidious system:

"His education system was originally designed to create a class of people who would be the intermediaries between the British rulers and the ruled natives. They would be indoctrinated through an education system to be Indians only in appearance - they would have complete belief in the good intentions of British rule and the philosophy of 'the white man's burden', thus making the task of ruling this vast country easier. They would, without question, believe that the British were there for the upliftment of the Indian people from centuries of ignorance and backwardness. Over a period of time, they would associate all things British with superiority - their physical appearance, their attire, their language, their culture, their religion.... The education system was to be a self-perpetuating one. Once indoctrinated, the converts would carry the torch. Incentives were built to ensure that the system spread reasonably far and wide..."

This (mis)understanding about the education system which the British introduced - and which supposedly continues to produce the "Macaulay's Children" - is rooted in this (selective) quote from Macaulay's "Minute":

"... We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern, - a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect...."

Macaulay, of course, wrote/spoke this. But he said something more before and after this statement, which completely changes the meaning of the above quote (Please read the full quotation later in this post)

He was, apparently, a pragmatist in his own dispassionate way, even though his was a mindset of one who believed that he - and the British - represented a more evolved civilisation. His motives to create "a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern" was not aimed to create a submissive populace, but a nation which the British can trade with...

In a speech to the British Parliament on Govt of India Bill (1833), he had said:

"...It would be, on the most selfish view of the case, far better for us that the people of India were well governed and independent of us, than ill governed and subject to us... To trade with civilised men is infinitely more profitable than to govern savages. That would, indeed, be a doting wisdom, which, in order that India might remain a dependency, would make it an useless and costly dependency, which would keep a hundred millions of men from being our customers in order that they might continue to be our slaves.... Are we to keep the people of India ignorant in order that we may keep them submissive? Or do we think that we can give them knowledge without awakening ambition?..."

In the modern business parlance and cliché's, Macaulay was aiming to "create a market" through - one is tempted to say - "inclusive growth"!!

Given India's linguistic and ethnic diversity, his solution was to educate a set of elites - in English - who in turn, will help translating the Western knowledge in local language. And so, whathe said was this:

"I feel... that it is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern, - a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population."

The fact that, 150+yrs later, Macaulay's elite "interpreters" had forgotten/discarded their own native vernacular - and had createda class-system based on "proper" English - is, of course, a different story....

Earlier Posts in the Series:
1. The Story of Junagadh
2. The Foundations of "Nehruvian Socialism"
3. A "Nation-in-Making"
4. Legacy of "The Raj"
5. When Did India Become a Socialist Country?
6. India's 1st 5-Star Hotel
7. The Non-Legend of Cyrill Radcliffe

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Celebrating India's Declining Poverty Levels!

About a year back, there was a flurry of articles celebrating the post-reforms/liberalisation decline of poverty levels in India.

Govt of India's press release concluded based on NSS (National Sample Survey) 61st round that, from a poverty level of 36% in 1993-94, by 2004-05:

  • the poverty levels had fallen to 27.5% (if one goes by Uniform Recall Period (URP) consumption distribution methodology)
  • the poverty levels had fallen to 21.8% (if one goes by Mixed Recall Period (MRP) consumption distribution methodology)

    One news report noted:

    "The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government may have been voted out of office in 2004 as its "India Shining" campaign boomeranged, but official data now available shows that more people moved above the poverty line by 2004-05 compared with the earlier estimates of 1999-2000.

    As per the provisional data of the 61st round of large sample survey on household consumer expenditure, the poverty ratio at the national level was about 22 per cent in 2004-05, down from the roughly comparable data for 1999-2000 which showed a poverty level of 26.1 per cent for that year."

    This, to say the least, is a great achievement!
    (for a country with the population like India, bringing 4-6% of populace above poverty line in such a short period is equivalent to bringing almost the entire population of countries like UK or France above the poverty line)

    ... Till one starts looking at the "definition of poverty" in India:

    The NSS data divides "the poor" into six groups:

    1. Extremely Poor/BPL whose average per capita consumption income is Rs.9/day

    2. Above the Poverty Line, earning is upto Rs.12/ day

    3. The Marginally Poor earning Rs upto Rs.15/day

    4. The Vulnerable, earning above Rs 15 but less than Rs.20/day

    5. The Middle Income earning Rs.37/day, and

    6. The High Income, earning above Rs.93/day.
    ($1 = Rs. 40/- approx)


  • if you earn more than Rs. 13/day, officially, you are above the poverty line

  • india's poverty "declined" when the per capita consumption of 43mn people grew from Rs.9/day to more than Rs.13/day

    Meanwhile... 836 million people in India live on a per capita consumption of less than Rs.20/day!!

  • Saturday, February 02, 2008

    Between Hope and Despair...

    Last one week was an amazing experience... I had the opportunity (in connection of an NGO assessment work I am involved in) of travelling and interacting with the unnoticed entrepreneurs/changemakers in the interiors of the modern India.

    These interactions were simultaneously exhilirating and unsettling. Here is a snapshot of one of those (among many):


    I met Sheetla Devi (and her friend... I could not catch her name) on the outskirts of Hazaribagh.

    “how much loan did you take?”, I asked her (she was one of the beneficiaries of the SIDBI loans through NBJK (Nav Bharat Jagriti Kendra) under the Rural Industries Programme (RIP)).

    Rs.15,000/-“, she told me, and had built a business – livelihood – from that money… She had opened a dhabaa from that money… had paid back the loan, and was self-sufficient now.

    “What about you?”, I asked her friend. “Did you also take a loan?”

    She pointed to the “Beej Bhandaar” (the seeds store) opposite the road. She had taken a loan of Rs. 30,000/-

    “But, do you sit there, yourself ?”, I asked.

    “Yes, I do. But I do not know how to read or write. So I get my son to manage the finances. I only tell them what they should buy for the season.”

    They had both paid back the loans, and were now managing business independently.

    “How was it before you got the loan?”, I asked.

    Miserable, they told me. The day-to-day living was in jeopardy. Mostly, they and the family, used to get some work as construction labours – that too, not regularly. And more often than not, the contractor would not give them wages – or deduct some money for some reasons.

    “Now”, she explained, “we can manage our own lives.”

    “now, my daughter goes to school,” she added with a tinge of pride.


    I made a mental calculation. Only Rs 45k (i.e., Rs. 15k + 30k) – paid as loan and recovered - were enough to bring these two illiterate women (and perhaps 8-10 other lives in their families) out of a precarious existence of a day-to-day survival.

    Why was this interaction "simultaneously exhilirating and unsettling"?

    Well... because, I teach in a Business School, where the expectation of a middle-class graduating youngster is a minimum of around Rs.45-50k per month as the starting salary...!!!