Somebody recently asked me, "Where are you from?" I said, "From India". I immediately got a response "Oh, the land of IT"
I was truly elated. After all, we had come a long way from an almost universal perception of a country which had nothing more to offer other than snake charmers, illiterate people and naked tribals.
As our country turns 60, I ponder on the most obvious question: What have we achieved?
Until recently, the west almost always wrote us off as a third world country. It was very difficult for us to explain the goodness in our country to anyone. What did we have to offer? Our 5000 year old culture, our heritage, our awe-inspiring traditions and our breath taking landscapes. Didn't mean much to an average American or Englishman, did it?
I even remember a very "famous" email that used to do the rounds..."Did you know that 40% of Microsoft employees in America are Indians? Did you know that more Silicon Valley companies are headed by Indians that any other nationality? Did you know that 60% of doctors in the UK are Indians? Did you know this and did you know that?
The frustration was truly spectacular. "Poor, poor, poor" they yelled. "No, no, no" we had to shout. We had to prove we were doing "our bit" for the welfare of the world. But then, all our achievements were in an adopted country, where we worked night and day to prove what we wanted to prove.
What has changed now then? A lot...
Today our country stands at the forefront of economic development. We are making a statement from our own cities. Suddenly, that email doesn't seem to be relevant anymore. We are no longer a third world country but an emerging powerhouse which is prophesised to dominate the world economy along with China in the coming decades.
A quick search on Google will show that we are growing everywhere. Information Technology, Telecom, Retail, Bio-technology, Mining, Aviation, Petroleum, Automobiles. You name it, we have it. We are now the 4th largest economy in the world (by PPP) only next to the US, China and Japan. Non Resident Indians are pumping so much foreign exchange that we have now the fifth largest foreign exchange reserves in the world.
Something to be really proud of. And why not? But this is the all too well accepted side of the story. What is the other side then? In all the zeal and exuberance, the other side is what we Indians are forgetting to look at.
Here are a few reality checks:
While we have the most number of IT graduates, we also have the most number of illiterate people.
While our booming middle class is 400 million strong, we also have 240 million people living below the poverty line.
While we are no doubt getting richer, we also have a widening gap between the rich and the poor.
While we have massive foreign investment, we also have a relatively poor infrastructure.
While we have world class medical facilities, we also have 5.1 million cases of HIV.
While we have one of the best investigative journalism in the world, we also have the most corrupt politicians.
While we are a democratic republic, we also have a record for religious and sectarian clashes.
While we have achieved self sufficiency in food with green revolution, we also have farmers committing suicide for not being able to pay off their debts.
We have a long way to go before we realise our dream of a vibrant, truly secular and powerful India. And as the "elite" educated Indians, we have to begin at the grassroots with our most precious resource, our youth. The great Martin Luther once said, "I dream of a day where people are not judged by the colour of the skin, but by the content of their character". We also have to strive hard to cleanse our country of the politics of caste and creed, educate and empower our youth so that they too are able to live the India dream.
I sign off by quoting a verse from the holy Gita (that should inspire us to work for our youth) along with the "I am India" video, showing the changing faces of India.
Karmanye Vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana,
Ma Karma Phala Hetur Bhurmatey Sangostva Akarmani
Do your duty and be detached from its outcome,
do not be driven by the ends, but cherish the process of getting there.
- 2:47 Srimad Bhagavad-Gita