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The India we cannot ignore
November 13, 2006
After all, this is the respect that we knew India deserved on America's main street as well as on the world stage. Today, we nod in agreement in a redeeming sort of way as news about the 'new India' becomes ubiquitous.
On weekend calls with a kin, we glow while talking about the long overdue prosperity that is coming to our people. To substantiate our conjecture, we further amplify the success of Indians in India and abroad, citing Fareed Zakaria, Narayana Murthy, Sania Mirza and Indra Nooyi in one breath.
In social gatherings we present our India as a 'progressive, pluralist, prosperous' nation of the 21st century, a country confident of its role in today's geopolitics and global economy.
We are fooling ourselves. Devoid of the day-to-day realities of India, we are taking refuge in a didactic narrative that is far from reality. The euphoria generated by sampled good and positive news about India is starting to create an image that is generalised and at times exaggerated.
Most of us point to and hide behind the success of Indian technologists and industrialists as the cure for all of the country's problems. Studies, as done by Goldman Sachs, provide a further crutch to our optimism that in time to come India will lead the world.
Today, we erringly classify our country of birth as an emerging world power, as we bask in the glow of banners that announce 'India Everywhere' all the way from Delhi to Davos to Detroit.
We are even beginning to believe in the pairing of 'China and India' on the global stage, knowing well that today there is little in common between India and our neighbour to the north.
We ignore that almost a third of India's billion barely live a life, rather an existence that can be classified as a modern day holocaust, devoid of clean water, food and medicine-comparable to, if not, the worst of conditions faced by humans anywhere in the world.
At times when journalists such as Somini Sengupta of the New York Times portray a middle-class India on a 'quest for water,' we call her a naysayer. Half way through her article, we put it down suggesting to ourselves that the Infosys and Wipros will solve it all as the 'trickle down' makes its way. And 'why can't she cover the skyscrapers of Gurgaon more often, after all that is India as well,' we say.
Yes, segments of India and isolated regional pockets thrive due to the industry of some. But, to bottle what is a very potent technological and industrial momentum as the vial that will expeditiously solve the most fundamental problems is a hopeless hope.
It is ignoring the fact that almost 300 million Indians continue to live under the national poverty line. We overlook that middle class life, in spite of the consumer revolution, is a struggle when it comes to quality education and healthcare.
We deserve being proud of everything good happening in India and to Indians. But, we cannot afford to have selective vision. We owe ourselves a more comprehensive view. Indians abroad, and many who live in India and participate in its growing prosperity, have to do more. Problems of a proportion that India faces require nothing short of a revolution.
We need to seek out avenues, governmental or non-governmental alike, that will efficiently channel our time, opinions, or funds towards what seems like an intractable situation -- hundreds of millions struggling for basic needs.
That is the India we cannot afford to ignore. To do so is not only an amoral thing to do, economists as well as common sense tell us that it would be the wrong thing to do from an economic view-point.
Girish Rishi is a Chicago-based writer