Monday, March 31, 2008

Are You a "Bystander"?

While cleaning my mailbox today, I came across this year-old mail from a "friend" - well, we had communicated on mails, talked a couple of times on phone, and had even met once accidentally. This young MBA from IIM/A was working with Ashoka:Innovators for the Public, and we had got in touch because of my interest in Social Entrepreneurship.

His announcement came out-of-the-blue...

"...I am leaving Ashoka to work in the grassroots in Assam. The situation in my home state is terrible, and I do not wish to remain a mute spectator to this devastation. I am not yet sure what I'll exactly do, but I plan to travel extensively to figure out how best I could contribute to making some positive difference."

Reading his mail again, reminded me of the reverse stance many/most of us get quagmired into.

I had once written about this Logic of Inaction, and his mail stimulated me to make this quiz for myself (you may also like to take it):

  • Am I aware that something seems wrong in a situation around me? YES / NO

  • Do I actively deny taking responsibility - however, remote - of my own part in purpetuating/creating the problem or preventing its resolution? YES / NO

  • Do I claim that, given my "circumstances", I could not have acted otherwise? YES / NO

  • Do I discount my own autonomy and power to influence the situation? YES / NO

    Realising that such a candid and conscious admission to an otherwise unconscious stance of negation is difficult - actually impossible - to make to oneself, I also created a checklist of typical statements that one makes (to oneself and to others) to justify one's Bystander Stance.

  • "Oh, this is none of my business."

  • "The situation is actually far more complex than it seems."

  • "Well, I do not have all the information/am not qualified to deal with this/ make a comment."

  • "I don't want to get burned again."

  • "I want to remain neutral/ am neutral on this issue."

  • "I'm only telling the truth as I see it."

  • "I'm just following orders/ doing my duty."

  • "What difference will my individual contribution/effort make to such a large/complex issue?"

  • "Who is to be blamed? They brought it upon themselves."

  • "I don't want to rock the boat."
    etc. etc....

    So...? Are you a Bystander?

  • Sunday, March 30, 2008

    East is East, and West and West...

    ...and never the twain shall meet !!

    Rudyard Kipling might have written his ballad for modern India.

    Omakar Goswami's CERG Advisory compiled detailed data from Census 2001 on rural India, going down to the level of its around 600 districts, tehsils and villages. The findings were published in Business World about 2 years back

    The data ranked every single Indian district in terms of household ownership of, and access to eleven assets or amenities. These were:

    1. whether a household has a bank or post-office account,
    2. whether it has a permanent or pucca house,
    3. whether it has an electricity connection,
    4. whether it owns a television set,
    5. whether it owns a scooter or motorcycle,
    6. whether it uses LPG for cooking,
    7. whether its drinking water source is either in the homestead or within 500 metres,
    8. whether it has a separate kitchen within the homestead,
    9. whether it has a separate toilet,
    10. whether it has a separate enclosed bathing place and
    11. whether whether it has a telephone.

    Needless to say, if the majority of households have access to these assets and amenities, the region would be more economically prosperous.

    What emerged was this picture:

    Is there a learning in this map?... Think about it!!!

    Update: On second thoughts, here are some indications....

    A Map of Mineral Resources and Forest Cover in India:

    A report Rich Land, Poor People by Center for Science and Environment, noted that:

  • If India's forest, mineral bearing areas, regions of tribal habitation and watershed are all mapped together, they will overlay each other on almost the same areas....

  • The three tribal-dominated states of Orissa, Chattisgarh, and Jharkhand... account for 70% of India's coal reserves, 80% of its high-grade iron ores, 60% of its bauxite and almost all its chromite reserves...

  • Of the top 50 mineral producing districts in the country, almost half are tribal. The average forest coverin these districts is 28%, much more than the national average of 20.9%... etc.

    Earlier in the report, is a paragraph:

    "Minerals, however, are essential for a nation which stands on the threshold of a promising future, and must be extracted. Which means the land, its resources and people must make way for the miners. Enamoured by mining industry's promises of progress, Indian planners and lawmakers have achieved this with clinical and brutal precision. Forests are razed, waterways polluted and clogged, farmland transformed into wasted tracts, and mining dust hangs neavy in the air. As for the people, they are summarily evicted with little prospect or promise of compensation and rehabilitation.... Most mining areas of the nation remain mired in grinding poverty and deprivation."

    ... which perhaps may explain this last map:

  • Wednesday, March 19, 2008

    Democracy: Inside & Outside Iraq

    Five years back, I woke up at 4:30am (IST) - not my usual schedule - just to switch on the TV... with a hope that No! this will, perhaps, not happen!!!.

    It happened!!

    Today is the 5th anniversary, of what one of my friends once described as my "magnificant obsession"...

    ...To me, it is also a time to reflect, refresh our memories, and consolidate our understanding of where the world has been led/dragged to... Some of these unfolding events were covered in AlternativePerspective, e.g.,:

  • Iraq War @ AlternativePerspective (1)

  • Iraq War @ AlternativePerspective (2)

  • Iraq War @ AlternativePerspective (3)

  • Iraq War @ AlternativePerspective (4)

    For the rest, pictures speak better than words:
    [I owe the credits for these to the numerous websites from where I have been downloading them - thanks!]

    Spreading Democracy Inside Iraq:

    ...Meanwhile, there were other Grassroot Democratic Voices (muted, naturally!) Outside Iraq:
    (oh, yes! One knows that the "media" failed to bring us these voices and images)

    New York:





    Bombay (Mumbai):


    Ankara, Turkey:

    San Fransisco:

    etc. etc...
    In conclusion:

  • Sunday, March 09, 2008

    Biharis, Muslims Need Not Apply...

    In an earlier post - Ekalavya Applies for a Job!! - the issue was about Dalits and Muslims...

    ...and now, perhaps we need to add Biharis to the list of those discriminated... this time due to educated corporate India's obsession with "Proper English"...

    Thanks to Yawar's mail, here are excerpts from the news-item in Mumbai Mirror

      ....Even the HR firm was surprised by the pre-condition set by the BPO. "Though we were surprised, the BPO organisation, Netambit, explained that people from UP and Bihar have a problem with their diction, especially with words like insurance where the ‘sh’ sound is pronounced as ‘s’," said Nadeem Faruqi, director, Connect Global, the HR firm. He was unable to get any logical explanation as to why Muslims were also excluded.

      Uma, the HR head for Netambit, said, "We do not prefer people from UP and Bihar because of their strong mother tongue influence." However, she added that the HR firm was trying to malign them. "It is not at all true that we’ve said they are ineligible. In fact, we also do not prefer candidates from the North-East. Even they have a very strong mother tongue influence."

      But Faruqi was firm. "Why should I want to malign them? For me, this is my business. We have been getting them candidates for the past three months. We have been verbally instructed that they don’t want candidates from UP and Bihar. They also do not want Muslims. I myself am a Muslim, but we didn’t probe much because for us this is business. They are our clients, they have specific needs, we service those needs," he said....

      ...Keith Rowe, director, HR Solutions, another consultancy, confirmed this. He said, "This kind of pre-conditioning exists in both big and small BPOs. We had many clients telling us categorically that they did not want candidates from a particular state, belonging to a particular caste or creed. In fact, this caste system works in another way in this sector. Looks and gender can also be qualifiers or disqualifiers. We also get requests for good looking girls because ‘they add to the glam quotient of the office environment’."

      ...Akhilesh Karn from Bihar, who used to work with GE Money in Gurgaon, had a tough time getting his last job. "Due to our accent, it is very difficult to get a job in a BPO. Because the managers know that we have a tough time getting jobs, at times, they even make us work longer shifts without any overtime," he said.

    Coming back to unsolved riddle of "He was unable to get any logical explanation as to why Muslims were also excluded.... may be the reason is:

    The "Other" in Modern Indian "Hindu" Psyche....

    Sunday, March 02, 2008

    Indian Budget'08: When is "sop" Not a "sop"?

    Sop (n.): A piece of food soaked or dipped in a liquid; something yielded to placate or soothe; a concession given to mollify or placate, etc.

    The highlight of the India's Annual Budget yesterday was the waiver of Rs.60,000crore ($15bn approx) debt to the small and marginal farmers.

    Some hailed this as "revolutionary", while others criticised this as a "populist stunt" - a "sop" given with the next year's elections in mind. In either case, both sides agree that this is "whopping" amount.

      [Though this is not the focus of this posting, my own understanding is that this debt relief package will not be able to solve the farmers' debt problems - for two reasons:

    • According to the pre-budget Economic Survey, non-institutional sources (e.g., local moneylender, traders, relatives, etc.) account for more than 40% (or Rs.48,000crores) of farmers' debt, which is taken at exhorbitant interest rates, and

    • The debt relief touches only the symptom, and not the root-cause. Farmers take debt because the production costs have gone up, remuneration for produce has gone down, and state investments in building farm-related infrastructure. Quoting from an earlier post in 2005:

      "...So why are Indian Farmers indebted?

      The decline in agriculture started during 1980's, with the decline of public investment in the sector — in irrigation, marketing infrastructure like warehousing, mandis, etc, and seeds and extension services. From 16.4 per cent in 1979-80, plan outlay in agriculture and allied activities slumped to 4.9 per cent in the Ninth Plan (1997-2002), making farming, always the most privatised, independent business, a totally support-less venture in these liberalised, globalised times (the fact that this coincided with the IMF loan is a different story)

      Meanwhile, the global prices have dropped: from $216/ton in 1995 to $133/ton in 2001 for wheat, $98.2/ton in 1995 to $49.1/ton in 2001 for cotton, $273/ton in 1995 to $178/ton for soyabean, etc.

      The drop in global prices is not because of increased productivity, efficiency and competitiveness of other developed economies, but due to the agricultural subsidies doled out by the rich nations to their agribusiness corporations (e.g., Monsanto, Cargill, Syngenta, etc.).

      For instance, the U.S government pays $193/ton to US Soya farmers; 25000 cotton producers in the U.S are given a subsidy of $4bn annually, etc., leading to a subsidy of $ 230 per acre in the USA. In the process, the Indian peasants are loosing $ 26 billion or Rs.1.2 trillion annually. This is a burden their poverty does not allow them to bear. Hence the epidemic of farmer suicides."

      This debt relief does not address these basic issues...]

    But coming back to the issue of how "whopping" is this "sop"?...

    One concern often mentioned in the mainstream media (and that includes the metropolitan conversations in blogosphere) is about where will this money come from - and that why should the taxes paid by individuals and corporate be used for bestowing this dubious largesse of Rs.60,000crores...

    Here are some benchmarks:

    Where did the honest - even if ignorant - taxpayers' money go during last financial year?:

  • Export related subsidies and exemptions (when given to industry, these are called "incentives") accounted for Rs.58,416cr

  • Individual tax-payers saved Rs.38,107cr on income-tax by investing in tax-exempted options under 80C of IT Act (in case, you want to exercise this option, here is an advice on how to save 88% of your income tax in the coming financial year.

  • The India Inc. got tax concessions worth approximately Rs.58,655cr, based on the analysis of over 3.28 lakh tax returns filed by the corporate bodies, representing over 90% of corporate tax returns... "these companies earned Rs 5,56,190 crore as profits before taxes, but declared taxable income of Rs 3,41,606 crore only during the financial year 2006-07.... Taking advantage of various exemptions and rebates, these companies paid taxes at the rate of 20.60%, substantially lower than the statutory tax rate of 33.66%."

  • Excise duty exemptions accounted for a revenue loss - or loss of taxpayer's money - of Rs 87,992cr

    There are various mechanics and modalities for exploiting the "legal leaks in the corporate tax systems" which is how the tax-consultants earn their living... If interested, check How Much Income Tax Did You Pay This Year?

    In any case, the issue is between:

    Rs. 58,416 + 38,107 + 58,655 +87,992 crores vs. Rs. 60,000 crores

    Needless to say, the marginal and small farmer has neither such tax-saving options - and for that matter, a taxable income!!!