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Sunday, March 07, 2010

Join this debate!

My readers are the young educated elite of India, largely in the age group of 15 to 40. I am sure they have a lot of complaints as well as aspirations about their country. I would like many of them to write in on the theme of Emerging India: failures, problems and hopes’.
Which way do you see this country going? What are the good signs, and which signs bode ill? Restrict your comments to 500 words, and avoid putting all the blame on the usual whipping boys, such as corrupt politicians. Try to be as personal and specific as possible about what ‘development’ or ‘progress’ means to you. Compare with other countries/cultures you have seen.
And in this connection, take a look at this article and this one to give you some ideas…
P.S., March 11: Must admit to a feeling of disappointment. Here I had offered a chance to my readers to vent their opinions, without me imposing anything on them, and it's such a perennially interesting issue too, so naturally I had expected a deluge of comments to pour in. You visitors are really funny...
P.P.S., March 22: Good to see that more responses have been coming in since that last prodding. But I want many more, knowing that so many other people are reading without commenting. Indeed, I think that this mental lethargy (or simply not having anything worthwhile to say on any serious issue) among our so-called educated young is one of the worst things about contemporary India...


devdas said...

Dear Suvro-da,
an apt topic and very important too.
After travelling in USA, Europe and China and most of the leading metros in INDIA for conferences and seminars I have a few views to elaborate.
1) Educated indians must join politics and only then its possible to make a change. Shunning will not help and going by the old dictum "politics is the last resort ...." is of no use.
2) Young indians especially must seriously consider spiritual growth. It has nothing to do with religion and theisms which one may follow. But without this no growth is complete. The "dil mange more" logo created by visual media will create more hollowness in mind and that is very dangerous. It is just like getting addicted to material pleasures and not knowing what if someday we have to do without them?
3) Let us not waste our precious time in finding faults in the system when we know very well that we have to blame ourselves for that. And education in the proper sense is the best answer. Degrees don't, but insight does and abiding by the social responsibilities will make us aware what we should do, hear and say to each other.
A final note to all who may read this. WE ARE SO VERY LUCKY. And do we realize that? We got enrolled in good schools and have cozy lives. Let us think for a moment of those of our age protecting Indian Borders under cruel climatic conditions and pledge for a moment if possible, that we should give back as much we have taken.
debasish das.
(from Geneva)

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Tanmoy has been induced to muse on this issue in his own blog. See:

Rajdeep said...

I have met Indians in Japan who were complaining that it is so inconvenient there!! I never thought so because obviously it isn't barring incidents like you described! Of jumping the queue etc.
We give Bharat Ratna after the big prizes abroad. We realize what great talents are after someone realizes that abroad. Or do we actually?
We criticize the way Sachin Tendulkar or Zinedine Zidane plays while chatting about sports. We even have the temerity to declare how they should have played!
We close our eyes to the world saying that India is so rich a culture that we do not need to learn anything from outside.
We have the longest list of great people who have walked the earth. And we have only put them up on walls and garlanded them with flowers.
And we teach Moral Science in schools for passing exams!
Wonder why!

Rakendu said...

Being an educational activist for a few years now, I believe that lack of good education is the heart of almost any problem prevailing in India.

While teaching many kids in distant villages, i realized that education is the attainment of Enlightment through the 5 human senses, namely vision, hearing, smell , taste, and touch. I wonder how much the children of our country learn from besides Vision.

Rearing of an analytical mind has been converted into training of a mechanical brain. We certainly need more definite yardsticks!!

We are just calling in for a Grand competition amongst incompetent people.

Weed out false education and we would certainly be in a better country to live in!!

[P.S. Hoping to see some light being shred on the educational problems in later debates.]

Anirvan Choudhury said...

Respected Sir,

I would like to put my thoughts as “Emerging India - Utopian Wishlist”

• Green, clean land with food, pure air and safe drinking water for all.
• At least 70% of us becomes accountable to our jobs in all sectors(beyond that is a fantasy in this land of biased democracy). The offenders be punished severely(administrators, technocrats, doctors, lawyers please take note).
• Let there be inclusive growth. Education, Medical Facilities and Housing becomes affordable to every citizen at every level.
• There is no power or water problems under normal conditions.
• People becomes sensitive to public problems and give proper care, time and respect to senior citizens.
• Epidemics and endemic diseases, starvation, famine, unemployment becomes a thing of the past. Victims of natural calamities / disasters be rehabilitated fast and in a humane manner.
• Let there be stringent laws to protect Bahus from Saas and vice versa.
• Criminals of humanity be tried immediately – no terrorist / rapist / food or medicine adulterators should live long at public expense.
• Let there be a uniform civil code. Any politician / person flaring up communal / regional / gender / caste bias be punished severely in a ultra fast track court.
• Right to Information be extended to all organizations - public or private and should have proper safeguard to protect against fakes.
• Voting be made mandatory with option for selecting “none found suitable”. So that nobody can complain about our political circus – we got what we chose.

Everyone of us are aware of the problems. The solution lies in acting and that too acting now. Let everyone of us do our tiny little bit of what we can in our own modest way without complaining.

The silver lining is that lot of us are thinking and acting in a positive manner so the hope still remains.

To sum up “ A drop of love and harmony, a symphony of sensible innovation towards a greener India”

sincere regards,


sanjukta said...

Dear Sir,
I don’t think that India is really developing. It is because 85% of the Indians lack three major things to be called developed: cleanliness, punctuality and a scientific attitude.

• Even very educated Indians spit on the roads. They can’t even keep their bedrooms clean.
• Almost every train in India is regularly late. People do not take appointments seriously which is often inconvenient for others.
• Indians are filled with superstitions. It extends from not eating eggs before examinations to not touching the people of low castes.
It is not that the developed countries always lacked these flaws. They tried to abandon these things to move on. India is a very big country. Even if a man works with all his might to make it better, he might fail. But if every man contributes a percent of his might for India’s development, India will turn out to be a paradise.
Honesty and good behaviour are two things we have forgotten. So many people die on the roads everyday. How many of us really care and do something about it? Development does not mean just to get some Oscars, Olympic medals or Noble Prizes. It means to live as a true Indian with pride. It means to respect and preserve our culture and heritage.
We all are responsible for what India is today. We will also be responsible for its future. ‘Now’ is all the time we have to do something good for India. Will we learn a lesson and mend our ways or will we love to see India as a third world country for ever?
With respect from,
Sanjukta Saha.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thank you, Sanjukta.

My daughter and I picked up a prematurely born, near-dead mongrel puppy from the roadside five days ago. We are having a hard time putting it back on its feet, and have already undergone considerable expense, but it is a most rewarding engagement, I can tell you that: far better than mall-crawling, pub hopping, attending parties and the like.

Prompt will come the rejoinder - "That's just one puppy. What difference will it make?" For an answer, see the story quote in my earlier blogpost, Living Selfishly, part two.

sanjukta said...

Dear Sir,
It is not surprising that you did something like this. Sir I know that what you have done really makes a difference.
I remember as a little girl I loved puppies (though it is true that I feared dogs). I had picked up three stray puppies to protect them from the rain. I treated all their injuries with the help of my grandfather. I really loved them. Unfortunately though, two of them died shortly afterwards. The third one found a mate and ran away. I never kept a pet after that. But Sir let me reassure that I will be there for your little friend if it needs me. Till then it has my best regards.
With respect from,
Sanjukta Saha.

Shilpi said...

Each life makes a difference, Suvro da. Only a completely insensitive imbecile would say otherwise. It's as you've said countless times, and I feel and think the same way - in the time given to us we can but love and hold living beings and living forces close to us, pray, be, and do, and then pass on.

I apologise for not being able to contribute to the debate. I can offer no excuses but having stayed away from India for the last 8 years - I don't think I have the moral right at this point to comment upon the many things that are getting gloomier by the day. I don't have any solutions, and for this - I don't think my thoughts count or matter. If I had and they did - I wouldn't have run away from everything, and kept running. The only thing that I know is that one can't really run away from everything - not away from things that matter at any rate.
My apologies once again for the disconnected comment.
Take care. I did re-read your essay 'My India' though....the hard-copy that I have.
Thank you.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Well, maybe you have an excuse - though I suspect that it is a case of modesty forbidding, Shilpi. What can you say about my hundreds of other readers who do not feel similarly encumbered, and who, I know, in their own circles sermonize at the drop of a hat about all that is wrong with India, along with their personal failsafe panaceas? Why have they all gone coy and tongue-tied?

Aayushee Konar said...


1. Sir you asked us not to blame the politicians for everything but if they fulfilled even 1% of what they promised before the elections wouldn’t India be in a better place today?

2. There are so many laws to stop child marriage, reckless driving etc but are the really followed?

3. We ourselves are so busy criticizing and pointing out others faults that we forget to see our own mistakes.

4.Taking bribes have become a major issue but we forget that we are the ones who give bribe-to get ourselves admitted in schools and colleges, to escape punishment for breaking traffic rules etc.when we ourselves are so corrupted how can we blame others?

5. People are so engrossed in their own selfish interests and benefits that they forget their responsibility towards the nation.E.g.Policemen on duty nodding of to sleep, absence of doctors in hospitals when required etc.

6. We ourselves elect the politicians and make them what they are, then how can we blame them?

7. Most people say we common masses cannot bring about a change by joining politics or any other fields because we don’t have the backing but I think if we try sincerely nothing is impossible.

8. Even the newspapers and news channels elaborate what actually cases are for their commercial benefits.

9. I think we should remember that we are Indians and should work as much as possible with our small efforts to bring about a change because no American or British is going to do it for us. This is our country and we have to change it!

With regards

Suvro Chatterjee said...

How nice, Aayushee! thanks very much indeed for commenting. Very mature for someone of your age...

The reasons why I want to avoid the eternal game of blaming politicians are a) there are a lot of honest and dedicated politicians who have tried very hard to deliver on their promises - you should find out about them; b) politics is much harder than most people (even grown-ups) realise unless they have some direct experience of it, so we should not assign blame too easily (for instance, trying to please any one group often makes many others very angry!), and c) as you have yourself pointed out, we get the kind of politicians who are moulded in our own image. For instance, if we really wanted honest politicians, we would, as a society, put a very hight premium on honesty, but, as even you already know at 15, that is definitely not true about us. Consider how rampant cheating is even in school examinations...

Keep writing, and encourage your friends to do the same. If nothing else, it will give you all some vital writing practice.

Sumitha said...

I think that at the very grassroots level, what's wrong with India is that we Indians are a dishonest lot.

Starting with the white lies we tell our teachers in school about failing to do the homework, or to our parents about low grades, we work our way up the dishonesty ladder as we progress into adulthood. So though we have a rule about not driving a two wheeler without a helmet, we go out without a helmet anyway... why? because we know that if the fine is 200 INR, we can get away by paying 50 or 100 INR to the traffic cop. That's how deeply ingrained our dishonesty is.

Compare this with a country like Singapore or Hong Kong (two places I've been to, and can compare India with). Both have a rule against eating or drinking within any mode of public transport; the fine for non compliance is hefty. People dont break the rule at all, because they know that there is no way around it. Whereas here in India, we are always on the lookout for a loophole -- a way around the rule/law.

And so we have corrupt politicians (who feeds their corrupt bellies?), and we have poor infrastructure (where do all the development funds go?), and a huge population (what about the highly populated developed nations of the world?) to lay the blame on; while we go about living our lives and being selfish (patriotism is only about going gaga about India's victory in a cricket match, didn't you know?) and aiding and abeting dishonesty in its crudest forms and getting a kick out of having cheated the system!

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Exactly, Sumitha. I have seen all my life people in all strata of society, from bus conductors to ministers' sons, actually taking pride in claiming that, being well-connected, they can break laws with impunity. And they all get very angry when it is pointed out that in that case they cannot be called bhadralok! This is one major reason why democracy does not function too well in India.

Uddyam said...

Suvro Sir could not resist the temptation to comment this time. I think most of the comments have highlighted lot of things which are obvious and show the discontent that the “young educated elite of India” have about India. I find it a fair assessment considering that some of the most basic problems that we face are very visual for example poverty, population and basic facilities which facilitate hygienic living (though I recently came across a Sulabh Sauchalaya in Kolkata which lot of people of my age were not utilising because of the stench in the path leading to it, and were only ending up adding to the stench).
However I think we have made considerable progress in many respects. Let us not forget as a Country India is still in its infant stage and is only about sixty years old. We have religious tolerance as a State practice (the Constitution of India guarantees Secularism) unlike most of our neighbours who are as old as we are if not more. The privilege of freedom of speech and expression only with limited curtailment (which has been very largely relaxed by various decisions of the Supreme Court of India over time) is also something enshrined in our Constitution. In India anybody can use Google to search anything unlike China (for all those who use the China example).
We are constantly drawn into the debate of a comparison with the West. TheWest has its own share of problems (for example Barack Obama is struggling to fulfill his promise of free health care to Americans, the reasons for which have dominated every leading newspaper recently, some communities in Europe supporting a ban on Minarets citing reasons that it incites tension due to religious symbolism, and the recent Greece example of a collapsing economy).
I am not trying to advertise India shining, but yes I am trying to say India has its own share of problems which I think will fade away with time and maturity, and more from the participation of the “young educated elite of India” in the process of Nation building. I am optimistic that in another fifty odd years we would have made much progress and not have most reasons to complain that we have now, but newer problems and situations will emerge.

P.S. There are contradictions and some of it is intentional, only with the hope that they will be food for thought and give rise to further debate, a very significant step towards Nation building.

Subhasis Graham Mukherjee said...

Didn't want to distract from this debate, so held back on this a for a bit. The topic had a very interesting ring and I wondered if anyone thought and spoke or wrote on this. Started Googling and found right-away -

India Emerging-Problems and Prospects: A View from Inside

Arun Shourie delivered a speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on July 28th, 2005. Shourie provided an inside perspective—both of an Indian and of one who has served in government—on India’s quest to emerge as a great power.

couldn't keep it below 500 words though. a solid 20 pages, available in down-loadable pdf format.

Nishant said...

My general knowledge is really poor and so there isn’t any way I can comment on social, political and economic issues or suggest anything that can bring changes at the grass root level. But I can put forth some of my observations; things that could improve our lives to a small extent.

First of all is regard: regard for rules, for cleanliness and for other people. Less than a week ago I was in a taxi in Bangalore. It was early in the morning and so hardly any traffic around. The driver didn’t heed a single red-light but just sped past it. I didn’t try to correct him (not sure why). But when I drive, even if the roads are empty for as far as the eyes can see I stop at a red light. In fact I derive pleasure from the honking of horns of impatient drivers in line behind me. This is just an example but I’m sure everyone has seen such rules being broken, something that’s almost unthinkable in most western countries. Rules are there in place for a reason, and spending a few minutes each day following them wouldn’t kill us.
I have often seen people keeping themselves clean by washing their hands (face, nose) on the streets. Keeping clean is a good thing but one can’t really dirty the surroundings doing it! Clean toilets are a necessity in a civilized society and one would find plenty of them in the west. There never is a need to go behind trees or bushes to relieve oneself. I wouldn’t blame the people entirely for this. I had been to a pay and use toilet in Darjeeling once and it stank so much that had I been there for a few minutes more I would have surely passed out. On an Emirates flight, in the toilet, I saw that the instructions to flush were written in Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Bengali, Gujurati and a couple of South Indian languages. There wasn’t English or any European language and it was a long distance flight. I didn’t know if I should be happy at seeing so many Indian languages on a long distance international flight or be embarrassed that instructions on flushing needed to be mentioned in the same. I’m sure keeping chocolate wrappers in pockets or coffee cups in our hands till we come across a garbage-bin isn’t too difficult.
No matter where I go, if there’s a bunch of loud people around, nine times out of ten it turns out to be a group of Indians. How difficult is it not to interrupt when someone else is speaking or saying Thanks to help received or to a shopkeeper? Small things, but can make things way more pleasant.

I have always felt that regard for rules, cleanliness and environment; good libraries and reliable public transport are indicative of progress rather than snazzy buildings and huge malls.

But there’s one thing that I found really weird in the west. They overdo (in my opinion) the need for privacy. While we are at one end of the spectrum, where privacy is not given any thought at all, there privacy is so prioritized that formality exists even between supposed close friends. They open up a bit only after a few drinks but later on are back to being very formal ‘black-boxes’. They feel the need to go out to clubs and pubs just so they can make ‘friends’. They even have websites where group meets are organized for members in a locality. I have heard that suicide rates are quite high in Norway. Apparently the people there lead very secluded lives and having been brought up with all comforts and luxuries conceivable, they run out of ideas when it comes to handling tough situations in life and find suicide as the only way out (having no friends to turn to for counsel or solace). Hopefully things aren’t as bad here and hopefully we will imitate only the good things from the West (if it needs to be done at all).

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Many thanks for the comment, Nishant.

I entirely agree with you about our penchant for littering, not flushing toilets and being loud and coarse in public. My real sorrow is that in my childhood elders used to say that only poor and ignorant people behaved like that: today we can quite clearly see that that is not the case. In fact, when our most privileged citizens by and large act like that, we can no longer blame the poor and illiterate for all our ills, can we?

Regarding the suicide issue, I'm not so sure. I've read again and again that in the south, frantic fans set themselves on fire when they hear their screen idols have died, and this morning itself I read about a newly married groom who has hanged himself in Tamluk, West Bengal on the night after his honeymoon because his friends had taunted him for marrying a thin, dark and 'plain' girl! Low self-esteem, I guess, is not specific to any country...

Nishant said...

That’s true, Sir. I have never understood the need of people for switching on their cell phones as soon as the plane lands and giving instructions for pick-ups or informing their folks that they have landed even though it’s prohibited. The same applies to unfastening seatbelts and removing baggage from overhead compartments as well. I guess it’s the same disregard for rules.
As for the suicides on the death of an actor, I think it’s sheer madness (hysteria perhaps). I’m sure low self esteem cuts across boundaries. But I was specifically referring to their secluded lifestyles. A colleague in the office told me of a neighbour (who was a rather lonely person) in Norway who’d committed suicide because of being laid off. Somehow they seem to be quite rigid and distant. I suppose it is difficult to follow a middle-path.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

That India is in a rather bad way despite the surface glamour has been very well captured in Pritish Nandy's article:

Suvro Chatterjee said...

To goad some people into thinking, here I go again - why is a few dozen or hundred people being killed annually by terrorists such a big issue, and a) lakhs being killed and crippled by reckless drivers and b) millions being malnourished and homeless not big issues in this country?

Shilpi said...

A link...

It's not so much whether UK should fund toilets for Indian slums (although one can comment on that as well) - but wow, more than 1 billion dollars on the space programme over the course of a year. Of course, I'd be called backward and unenlightened if I said that it's more important to take care of the people living within the country than to spend a billion dollars galloping off into outer space.

And while I do have some other polite questions regarding some of the comments that have come in - for the time being I can't help but ask which highly developed country has the bursting-at-the-seams of a population that we do....am I missing something here?

I'll write in again.

Shilpi said...

...and another question: who has promised free health care in the United States? As far as I know, Obama never promised free health-care...

Suvro Chatterjee said...

You got my point exactly, Shilpi. Desmond Doig once wrote half-jokingly about Mother Teresa that she never read the newspapers, so she knew exactly what was going on in the world that deserved to be called important. The older I grow, the more I think it was less than half a joke...

And you are right about Obama's medical insurance policy too: nowhere has he promised free medical aid to all Americans (he'd be kicked out of the Presidency at once, given the kind of country the US is!), he only wants to make med. insurance available to a much wider public, and he's already discovering how strong the social resistance is even to that much!

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Now it is Sreejith's turn to be inspired to write something relevant on his own blog. See


Vaishnavi said...

Dear Sir,

These are my thoughts on this topic:

1. It is very well to talk about corrupt politicians but what about the corrupt beaurocracy? I wonder if people are unaware of just how corrupt government officials are. It is very well to blame the government, but the next time someone actually honours a court summons or something for some traffic law flouting instead of trying to pay off the traffic PC, I will accept that the person is genuinely concerned about bribery and corruption rather than just getting fired up for the moment about a corruption free India.

2. As a country, we should take away much of the stigma that plagues friendships that exist between men and women. There is no use if we argue that that is not the case because it isn't true. The broadmindedness of a particular city or town or just some metros does not predict the trend of the entire country. Perverts are everywhere, but I wonder if these beasts of men who rape and murder would have been at least a little bit different had they grown up with a broad outlook instead of looking at their country women as "the ones they cannot talk to", "the ones they only ogle at", "the ones they have no idea about", how long does it really take for curiosity to become perverted? I will not accept that our country really has developed until moral policing stops, until parents stop saying, "don't speak to boys" or "don't speak to girls" thereby bringing up their children with closed off mindsets (exercising caution in one's child is different from instilling prejudice or worse backwardness of the mind), until people can say what they want to say without being scared of being chased out of their own country.

3. I will not call India secular unless an Indian muslim can walk out without the fear of backlash after an act of terrorism, unless we can be certainly sure that another "Bombay" will not happen. The good and bad are everywhere. Who are we to judge a man and his faith? Beasts will twist faith to suit their needs, beasts across all religions.

4. I will not call this a democracy until schools, colleges and private conglomerates stop asking scheduled caste people to tick a special check box, until scheduled caste people stop depending on reservations, when the last man or woman in India is absolutely free of any prejudice what so ever. A head, a nose, two ears, two eyes, four limbs, one torso, a heart and a brain. What is the difference?

5. We have achieved great heights in science and technology, medicine and so on, but unless these developments are used for the continual benefits of our own people, our country will forever be pulled down two steps for every step it attempts to take. Necessity can also be the mother of some evils, we have to try and at least somewhat bridge the gap between the rich and the poor. Indians as a rule love to blame, just love it. We should learn to take responsibility, I need to think, I have commented so much, now what am I really doing other than talking? We need to give up our goatherd mentality and encourage the growth of spheres of learning and employment other than just medicine or technology. Our country tries really hard but we, her people should not besmirch her, mindless depletion of natural resources should be stopped. Let the government establish SEZs if they must but alternative solutions MUST be speedily found for all the lives they disrupt.

6. Lastly, unless we realize that greater consumerism and spending power alone does not mean improvement, nothing can be really done. Do not exploit and do not get exploited. We should first achieve a greater percentage of literacy, people should think with the future in mind because sometimes to win some you have to lose some.

If only we show a continued zest and spirit for development and growth in all spheres and do whatever little we can, how much better will things be?

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Sad. The blog counter says I have 131 followers at this moment, and I know for a fact that many more people read it than have enlisted as followers. And this - to my mind, at least - was a provocative topic. So for the conversation to have petered out so soon is disappointing, to put it mildly.