The Myth of the Indian Engineer

Some Years Later

Europe, April 2050: The 'natives' are reduced to living in enclaves and reserves, pampered with the trappings of luxury to prevent open rebellion. 

The countries of Europe, now united politically and economically under one flag, have only nominal sovereignty, most of the continent being a dominion of either India or China. The remaining space is shared by other peoples of Asia and Africa.

The embassies of India and China have become key poles of power. They jockey with each other for supremacy, for gaining influence in the Old World, for the huge market that represents the residual wealth of Europe from its former colonies and industrial expansion. This too will be exhausted eventually, but for now it remains a source to be tapped. 

Europe's foreign policy is decided by Asia and India, while America, paranoid and exhausted by its battle against an enemy that seems to be everywhere and nowhere, has closed its borders and is in no mood to get into another war that it knows it cannot win. 

Europeans wait, helpless, and those who can migrate to other lands where the living is not so hopeless.

Alarmist? Stories of Armageddon? Apocalyptic? 

Perhaps, and perhaps not. 

This is the worst that can happen, but it is certainly not what will never happen. 

The possibility is remote, but not inevitable. But to deny that the possibility exists will only increase the chance that it may eventually come to pass. 

Outsourcing of jobs and industry to other countries, and an increasing immigrant population, are but a few visible signs of a gradual shift in the world order, of a tilting of the balance from the West to the East. 

That this phenomenon is being reduced to banalities by putting it down to ''ing'nieurs tr's qualifi's' from China and India, as if there was something magical about the engineers from these countries, is a measure of how badly the problem is being appreciated. Rejoicing that increasing globalization will lead to 'autant de nouveax march's' and that their development is an 'excellente nouvelle pour la stabilit' de la plan'te', is not only dangerous for the future of Europe, but is missing the point altogether.

Outsourcing and Immigration ' an Indo-centric view

So what is the point? 

Let's talk about India. This is a good choice. It sends out hundreds of thousands of immigrants to other shores each year, and is, of course, the new base for outsourcing of jobs and industry. It is an emerging power, economically and militarily, and its rate of growth is among the highest in the world.

This 'new power' contains within its landmass one-sixth of all humanity on the globe. Put another way, every sixth person that you will meet in your life would be, if the population of the globe was homogenously distributed, an Indian. When you add the one-sixth of humanity that is also present in China, this means that one out of every three people you will meet in your life will be Indian or Chinese. 

This is an enormous figure. This is two billion people. In numbers, two billion is a two, followed by nine zeroes. 


But let's divide that by half, and restrict ourselves to India. 


This is not dollars, or euros, or even worthless Russian currency, but people. Living beings. This is more people in one country than in the entire continent of Europe. 

This number increases every day. There is population clock in the heart of New Delhi, which counts off the increase in India's population. The clock is ticking at the rate of almost one person per second. If you take five minutes to read this, then in that time India's population will have increased by 250 people. 

In one year there will be 20 million more people than the year before. 

That is 20,000,000 people per year. 

This count is not going to slow down very soon. 

It is inevitable that one-sixth of humanity will contain within it some of the world's richest people. There are Indians who have changed the world. They run heavy industries, huge petroleum empires, communication and information companies, media networks with global reach. The Indian film industry is raking in money from all over the world, and the returns are only getting bigger. The information industry is one of the biggest in most rapidly growing in the world, and the automobile industry looks set to take off. The percentage increase of telecom connectivity is amongst the highest in the world. 

All this activity creates a lot of wealth. 

The number of Indians who are very rich is staggering, even if they are only two percent of the population, because once again, two percent of one billion is still a very large number. 

There are Indians who are very well off, because yet again, five percent of one billion is still more than the population of many countries in the world. 

But one and two and five percent still adds up to less than 10 percent. And this leaves the rest, which is 90 percent. Of this 90 percent, only another 20 percent or so have enough to lead a dignified life, which means a home, education for children, food on the table, and only very recently, the basic accessories of luxury ' a television, a telephone, maybe even a small car. 

This still leaves 70 percent. 

70 percent of one billion, that is 700 million people. 


This is the number of Indians who are either struggling to survive, or even worse, desperately poor. To make up these numbers, to reverse this figure from 10 percent who are rich, to 10 percent who are poor, will take India, at its current rate of growth (which is amongst the highest in the world) another fifty years at the minimum. This is assuming all goes well with the current model of development, and that economic growth can be sustained, and that population growth can be checked, and that rampant corruption can somehow miraculously be brought under control, and that the debilitating effects of caste and class can somehow be eliminated, and that India's military ambitions can be checked, and the list goes on and on. 

So, even if this was possible, it would take at the minimum fifty years. 

However, most people, and especially poor people, do not have the luxury of waiting for such a long time, fifty years. Actually very few have even the luxury of waiting for one year, or even one month. And so they will leave India by any means possible, they will sacrifice their life's earnings, they will borrow from their relatives, most of whom have very little themselves, they will take loans they cannot possibly hope to pay back, they may, in extreme cases, even sell their organs or children, and then they will risk leaving illegally, they will pay vast sums to touts and 'travel agents' who will take them clandestinely through overland and sea and air routes, and promise them another world, a better life for them and their children, an escape from the hell that their own country seems to be, to other places. Some will never reach. A ship sank off the coast of Malta two years ago, and 200-odd of its passengers went down with it. These were mostly people of Indian and sub-continental origin. Some are jailed in the countries they pass through, countries that are not as generous as Europe is, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Russia, China. 

The lucky few, after all this, make it through. This is only a trickle from the initial deluge. But a trickle from a billion people is still millions of potential immigrants. 

They do not come to invade, or to disrupt existing culture, or to spread their way of life, but simply to make a better living for themselves, and for their family, and the ones they love. 

And these immigrants are not invisible people who come out at night and live their lives away from you. They are not, for the most part, thieves and robbers and thugs. They do not, for the most part, do drugs, or prostitution, or gamble, or drink, or end up in the street. 

They are the people you see all around you, every day of your life. They are the ones who come and sell you roses in the street, and while you eat. They are the ones who sell little cheap imitation Eiffels under the Eiffel. They are the ones who make caricatures for cheap outside the Pompidou centre. They are the ones who stand motionless for hours as a ridiculous gold pharaoh, they are the ones who roast your chestnuts in the street in the freezing winter. These are the Indians who are all around you, and the Indian quarter in Paris is largely a mirage, with the so-called Indians actually Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka, who are forced to mark the word 'Indian' on their shops, so that what they sell may sell. 

India sells

India is a brand name, a name that represents culture, and learning, and spirituality, and cuisine, but that is a mythical India that never existed, and the reality is very different. In the India of today, as in the India of yesterday, poverty is the universal religion, and pictures of Gods are kept on the table as a hope where no hope is possible. There may or may not be a God of Small Things, but there is no God, even in India, the land where there are Gods of and for everything, there is no God of Poor Things. 

And without God, there is no hope, and the only hope lies in a magical land far away. And since there are so many poor people in India, they will keep on living this hope. The travel agents will get richer, and more ships will sink, but the immigrants will keep on coming to the shores of the Old World, and there will be no stopping them. It is the universal law of entropy, every system tends to homogenize its components. In a world divided between rich and poor, the system is trying to homogenize, and populations are moving from the poor world to the rich world. To understand the staggering magnitude, the unstoppable energy of this movement, it is necessary to live for one year in the poorest villages of India, in the slums in the richest cities, in places where there is no water and each day is a struggle to survive. 

You will do anything to leave. Even if the price to pay may be your life. 

(Another statistic, just to put things in perspective. In India, a human being is often worth more after death, than when he was alive. The sale of body organs from cadavers can add up to more than this individual earned throughout his entire life.)

Indian engineers are, of course, very skilled. But so are American engineers, and British engineers, and French engineers. Engineers are, after all, engineers.

What Indian engineers have, and what gives them an edge, is the fact that they remember where they come from, and where they want to go, and how their life and that of those they love can change. The desperate poverty of their country is all around them, it stares them in the face everyday. They are one step removed from it, as are most Indians, but they have had the chance, and the good fortune, to have an education, something that puts them automatically in the five percent bracket, the five percent who may have the chance to leave their country for the other land. 

They leave, and they come to Europe, and they go to America, but they do not forget their own land. They do not forget how fortunate they are. They do not forget the thinness of the line that separates them from here, and there. And remembering all these things, an Indian engineer works harder, faster, and longer than his European counterparts. He pays no attention to 35 hours, or 40, or even 50, because he has worked 70 in India, and this is a minimum, just to earn enough money to survive. 

This is their strength, and not any magical skills, or special ability in numbers and mathematics, or some hidden Indian genius for these things. This is a myth.

Legislations may change, and so may laws, but while Europe needs people to perform tasks that it is running out of people to perform, there will be more immigrants, and then still more. Europe has become a giant magnet for people of underdeveloped, populous countries, who export, one way or the other, the only capital that they have in abundance ' human beings.

A Trojan Horse called D'localisation

So what do all these things have to do with d'localisation anyway? 

D'localisation, from the Indian perspective, is just people who have seen a better world, on television, in the media, in films, trying to get it for themselves. In this they are like any other people in the world. 

Modern technology has made working for Europe possible without going to Europe. It is true that labor can be had for cheap in India, but what is also true is that India will remain far more competitive than most countries in the world, only because there will be poor people for a very long time. How can Europe hope to compete? 

People in India are willing to work harder for longer times with lesser pay, not because they are inherently robots or mindless automatons, but because this harder-longer-lesser is still easier-shorter-more than the other 70 percent, than the rest, and no one wants to be this rest. Is this unnatural? 

No, its not. It's the most basic of human desires. 

In this sense, there is no philosophical difference between outsourcing (d'localisation) and immigration. Both try to satisfy a very basic human need, the need to lead a better life than was possible before. 

But since the resources of the planet are limited, and we can only produce so much, it follows logically that if someone is getting richer, then somebody else will get poorer. 

The immigrants and their home countries will get richer, and the Western world will get poorer, unless another system, a better system, is found. So lets cheer ford'localisation, or let us not. It doesn't really matter. If its d'localisationtoday, it will be something else tomorrow. IT DOESN'T MATTER. The issue is not d'localisation, or immigration, or something else, the issue is that of the gradual shift in power from the West to the East, and these are only the symptoms. 

Europe ignores them at her own peril, and of that of her way of life. The reality is staring us in the face, and we banalise it each day. When European industry sets up shop in India, as it inevitably will, then Europe will lose its economic sovereignty, much as America is losing its own to the Chinese. When Europeans are equalled, or outnumbered, as they eventually might be, by immigrants, then Europe will lose its political sovereignty. How does Europe propose to keep immigrants from their legal rights, which will eventually also include the right to vote? 

Tout peut 'tre mythe, said Barthes, and the myth of the Indian engineers will be demasked one day, in the New World of 2050.


More by :  Ashish Nangia

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