Minds Are Like Parachutes, They Only Function When Open

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Get Real, India

On the eve 61st Independence Day, of the many greetings I received, there was one remarkable thing that was common to all the messages. Most of the greetings showered praises to the skies on greatness of India. One message read “1600 languages, 30 states, 6400 castes, 6 religions, 1.2 billion people, 1 great country”. True indeed. The other one extolled Indian achievements and read - “India never invaded a country in 10000 years of history, the value of Pie was calculated in 700 B.C” and so on. Some messages resorted to appeal to authority, one eulogized, “If it were not for India where zero was invented, we would have still been in dark ages said Albert Einstein” and quotes opinions from a number of western thinkers and scientists. It is not uncommon nor unnatural to relish and revisit the Indian achievements on a day of national importance but what I see is a sense of supercilious superiority and unwarranted complacency which in a way reeks of low self-esteem.

If we look back, pacifying our egotistical inner selves and examine our achievements in the last 61 years , one is bound to confront the sad reality that, the post-independence generation is one of a failed one, with few exceptions. Let us look at some of them to get things into perspective:


According to the annual survey by the Berlin-based organization Transparency International(2), Finland, Denmark, and New Zealand are perceived to be the world's least corrupt countries, and Somalia and Myanmar are perceived to be the most corrupt and India ranks a poorly 78. The index defines corruption as the abuse of public office for private gain and measures the degree to which corruption is perceived to exist among a country's public officials and politicians. The scores range from ten (squeaky clean) to zero (highly corrupt). A score of 5.0 is the number Transparency International considers the borderline and India has a score of meagrely 3.5. And for those who think that score is acceptable, these are the list of countries with a better score than India and some of them are African Nations, also like India victims of colonization and apartheid.

Costa Rica

Children’s welfare

According to Unicef's latest State of the World's Children's report, India has the worst indicators of child malnutrition in South Asia: 48% of under fives in India are stunted, compared to 43% in Bangladesh and 37% in Pakistan. Meanwhile 30% of babies in India are born underweight, compared to 22% in Bangladesh and 19% in Pakistan. Unicef calculates that 40% of all underweight babies in the world are Indian. Put all that in hard numbers and the figures are stark. Fifty million Indian under fives are affected by malnutrition. A quarter of all neo-natal deaths in the world, (2.1 million) occurred in India, says UNICEF Report 2007 .

According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, India has the highest number of street children
in the world. There are no exact numbers, but conservative estimates suggest that about 18 million children live and labour in the streets of India’s urban centres. Mumbai, Delhi and Calcutta each have an estimated street-children population of over 100,000. The total number of Child labour in India is estimated to be 60 million, equal to the population of UK.


Although the poverty has declined in the last few decades, one-thirds of population of India still live below the poverty line as shown in the table below.

Poverty Indicators

Number of rural poor - 250 Million (Almost equal to population of USA)
Poor as % of total rural population, 2000 - 30.2 5
Population living below US$1 a day (%), 1990-2002 - 34.7%
Population living below US$2 a day (%), 1990-2002 - 79.9%
Population living below the national poverty line (%), 1990-2001
- 29%

India accounts for 40 % of the world’s poor (more than in the whole of Africa) and its fiscal deficit is one of the highest in the world. India ranks way down at 96 among 119 developing countries included in the Global Hunger Index (GHI). Ref:
IFPRI Country Report on India

Discrimination in Judiciary

India’s subordinate courts have a backlog of over 22 million cases while the 21 high courts and the Supreme Court have 3.5 million pending cases (2006). Every year a million or more cases are added to the arrears. At the current speed, the lower courts may take 124 years for clearing the backlog. There are only 13 judges for every million people.(*)
Dr Jayaprakash Narayan of Loksatta said: "Nobody in India dares to go to a court of law unless one wants to stall some decision by way of a stay order or to harass someone. If you have the misfortune of going to a civil court and if you have the good fortune of getting a verdict delivered during your lifetime, you must be lucky. If you lose the case, you lament in public and if you win the case, you cry in private. It is a tragedy for both, goes the folklore in Andhra Pradesh"

Women Rights

Women to men ratio is feared to reach to dangerous levels by the year 2020 as female foetus killing is rampant. Ten million girls have been killed by their parents in India in the past 20 years, either before they were born or immediately after, according to a report. On an average one Indian woman commits suicide every four hours over a dowry dispute. Rape is the fastest growing crime in India. Every hour Indian women face two rapes, two kidnappings, four molestations and seven incidents of cruelty from husbands and relatives [National Crime Records Bureau Report 2006]

Road Accidents

India accounts for about 10 percent of road accident fatalities worldwide and the figures are the highest in the world. Indian roads are poorly constructed, traffic signals, pedestrian pavements and proper signage almost nonexistent. The other reasons are encroachments, lack of parking facility and ill-equipped and untrained traffic police, corruption and poor traffic culture. According to World Bank forecasts India’s death rate is expected to rise until 2042 if no remedial action being taken. The number of road accidents in China dropped by an annual average 10.8 per cent for four consecutive years from 2003, despite continuous growth in the number of privately owned cars*.


From roads and railways to ports and airports, and from power plants to hydrocarbon infrastructure, India ranks among the lowest in the world in terms of infrastructure availability. With red-tapism and corruption many projects are still on hold and takes considerable amount of time to realize. Recently, a 500m bridge(3) across the Torsha river in West Bengal took 55 years to complete after its first survey in 1953. A report by world bank ranked India 177th in the subcategory of Enforcing Contracts and it added that India's ease of doing business overall rank 120th (out of 178), which, although a substantive improvement over its previous rank of 132nd, still reflects a generally poor business environment. On the infrastructure front, the World bank came down heavily on the country saying "with severe power shortages, congested roads, and poor quality railways and ports, deficient infrastructure is a major binding constraint to trade activity in the country(4)."
One of the prominent Indian industrialist Laxmi Mittal once said that he chose to acquire steel plants abroad than in India as he didn’t want to spend half his life time chasing Babus and Netas.

Social reformers and contributions to science

India, after 1950’s, stopped producing great personalities like Tagore, Tilak, Bose and Gandhi and the social reformers like Rajarammohun Roy, Dayanand Saraswati and Jyotirao Phule are merely confined to high-school history books. Looking back at the Indian Noble laureates , Dr. C.V .Raman and Tagore were the only Indians, who received Noble prizes for their work in pre-independence times. Although, the post-independence India produced four noble laureates, Hargobind Khorana(b.1922),Subramanian Chandrasekhar (b.1910), Amartya Sen(b.1933), all of them born at least a decade before India gained Independence and Mother Teresa(b.1910), was not even born in India. Moreover, all the three post-independent noble laureates were awarded noble prizes for their work predominantly in western universities, unlike Raman and Tagore. In comparison, Hungary, with a population 10 million and after a near devastation in WW II, has produced 8 noble laureates(1) since 1947 compared to 4 that India produced with a population of a billion people.


I am proud of contributions of ancient India and achievements of Charaka, Susrutha, Aryabhatta to the field of science . Our ancient literature especially that of Kalidasa, Bhartruhari is probably one of the best in the world. Our ancient schools of thought, like, Yoga, Samkhya and Vedanta are sophisticated philosophies that captured the imagination of many and Buddha, the most revered personality in the world was Mother India’s proudest son. But we are committing a serious mistake of driving ahead by only looking at the rear mirror – overtly emphasising our historical achievements and blissfully ignoring the present state of affairs by burying our heads in the sand. China is overtaking us in every field not by vainglorious statements but by actions, and the brilliance and exuberance of the Olympics opening ceremony must have hushed even the extremely optimistic loudmouths, who think India will eventually be a superpower. By the way, China currently bagged 44 gold medals and we have one and it is time we showed some humility and restraint. Unlike our father’s generation which failed us, as I have discussed in my previous
blog, our current generation has a greater responsibility than ever, needless to say, ability and the means, to inspire our future generations to work for a better India.

Happy Independence Day to all.


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