Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Economic prosperity vs social disparity- dictates quality of life

I was born and brought up in a village in India. Before I came out of India, life was just fine there. I had no problem to accept the reality of life. But now after living in some West-European countries and then US for some years, my views about life have changed. My perception about law and order has changed. Which used to be a natural phenomenon during my teens and early adulthood is not so now.

I like to give one example. When I was in Mumbai, I learned that school fee in one of the famous primary cum high schools there is about 5 lakhs (INR) per annum! There is another international school in Navi Mumbai that charges about 7 lakhs (INR) per annum as fees. Then I started gathering information about the quality of education, salaries of teachers, facilities etc which can justify that high tuition fee. I was wondering how many Indians can afford that fee and what social impact it has. Then I realized that such schools only train young Indian (not so proud to be an Indian though) kids to learn western culture (wearing ties, well ironed dresses, polished shoes, using knives and forks while eating, American or British slangs etc). Education is not the most important in their agenda. Parents of such kids are mostly businessmen / industrialists / bureaucrats / executives in private companies and so on. They perceive "education" just as another commodity- buy it, use it, and throw it as and when needed.

Of course, you can get your kids admitted to a less expensive schools or free government schools. But you will not like that idea much. Kids from such poor, vernacular schools have less chance of success as these high profile, private schools have great and seemingly mysterious power to influence test scoring ability and success rate in many different competitive exams, as well as in selling themselves in the job market. No, parents do not ask where so many 'successful' young talents get lost in subsequent years. We do not see them in any novel research or technology development or any creative art. We also know such kids do great in earning money as a technician (not technocrat though), by successfully performing routine management or engineering or medical practitioner or 'research' duties. Their main success lies in doing the jobs that require good inter-personal, soft skills more than independent and analytical thinking. This is just the beginning of a mediocre, hierarchical society where the difference between haves and have-nots will increase in subsequent years.

Now changing the gear a bit. How much you need to earn to spend about 5 lakhs per annum for your kid’s schooling (that too only tuition fee), leave alone other educational activities like games and sports, creative art, routine excursions etc? A decent apartment (3 bedroom, hall, kitchen) in a decent locality in Navi Mumbai will cost you around 60 lakhs (with a EMI of ~ 60,000/- per month), a decent car (Honda City) will have an monthly EMI of ~ 20,000/-. So how much monthly take home salary you need to have to afford a 'decent' (in western standard) life there? Now you can easily understand what type of people you, your family and kid will be surrounded with (in your kid's school, in your apartment, neighborhood etc.)? Surely your neighbors will be rich enough but not necessarily the desirable one from whom your kid or you might expect some deeds and lessons of honesty and morality.

One government data, published recently, showed that about 34% of Indians earn less than Rs 450/- per month. About 80% of Indians live below a monthly income of Rs 2000/-. There is no doubt that India is doing great, so far GDP is concerned with about 9% annual increase in GDP. But as one Indian cabinet minister told, “this development is limited to only 0.2% of population”. Just check the data for India's financial capital, Mumbai. Financial activities in that city is not sufficient to sustain itself, leave alone supporting other smaller cities and villages, as happened in more productive egalitarian societies. It's reported that less than 1% people in Mumbai earn more than Rs 10 lakhs per annum. Informed people would acknowledge that Rs 10 lakh/year income is not sufficient to have a decent life in that city. It'll not be unfair to say that wealth from all over the country is accumulating in few isolated islands of prosperity in such big cities, leaving rest of India in worse economic woes. 

This is a very frightening- so far social development and national well-being is concerned. The growth rate in terms of GDP or FDI is helping increasing the social disparity. As a result, people are now chasing a dream of economic prosperity without having supporting infrastructure (law and order, good governance, basic services for all the citizens etc).

Nowadays internal terrorism and extremist communist (naxal) movement is more of an alternative profession than a fight for great ideology or social justice. Such extremism is raising its head almost all over the country. An Indian teen of about 12 years did not hesitate to throw a grenade in a crowded marketplace for only Rs. 120/-. He was not part of any terrorist group though, as published in Indian Express. This, in turn, is bound to affect our day-to-day lives in India. Nandigram/Singur is and will not be any isolated incident in near future. In fact, West Bengal Govt gave more support price for unit land to the concerned farmers than many MNCs and other state Govt (mainly for SEZ and some big projects) in many places in India.

The development in India is generating more social disparity as a 'drag force' that can not be overcome by economic prosperity of a small section of the population. You surely can buy a great car but will not have a great road to drive that, you can buy a great apartment but you need to keep its windows almost always closed. You can never roam in a forest infested with antisocial/terrorists,  you can never enjoy fishing or a boat ride through the river- fully polluted and smelly. Natural resources are disappearing at a very alarming rate. It will be more frustrating if you try to do something to improve the situation there. Then you/your family will be marginalized and/or even (physically) threatened. 

In short, economic prosperity will not lead to have a better quality of life due to social disparity. It is not so surprising that young Indians are now too much obsessed with money, only money. That’s the main reason they are the most optimistic people in the world, as per Forbes survey. It says, “But even though Indians are the happiest, the numbers of those satisfied aren't very high. In Europe, most young people seek a good living environment above all and work-related aspects in life are relatively less important. But the priorities of Indian youth and young people in other 'new economies' are different- for them, work, a good career and a position with high status are what matters”. 

I am not going into the subject of happiness quotient that western leaders have started appreciating to evaluate the wellbeing of their country and efficacy of their policies.

Despite of all these, I still feel that the smile of a kid, the serene beauty of a few remaining natural masterpieces there, worth taking the risk. Initially I thought that it would be better to try to change the system being a part of the system. But after my recent experiences there, I do feel that it makes more practical sense to do something if I am not part of that corrupt system. At least I am not accountable to that system and (mostly) beyond the reach of the custodians of the system there (who have their own interests to maintain the status-quo). I can insulate me and my family from the criminals and crimes ruling my country today, while contributing towards betterment of the society there.

1 lakh= 0.1 million; 1 crore= 10 million; 1 USD ($)= ~ 47 Indian rupees (INR )

Short URL: http://goo.gl/f1ahLk 

Friday, May 11, 2007

God created man or man created God?

During early days of human civilization, we felt very insecure and helpless in front of natural calamities and search for food. We gradually tried to adjust, understand and sometimes overcome such problems. The main stratagy to do that was to organize people and act as a group. That gave rise to group activities like hunting, cultivation etc. It increased their chance of success and survival. During this process men gradually understood its own limitation. So they conceived the existence of supernatural power, which they thought are behind all those forces. They also started believing that such supernatural forces strike when they are not happy. They tried to keep them happy. They developed a set of rituals, “warship”, as the means to keep these “Gods” or “spirits” happy. 

Each group of people tried to conceive the supernatural powers according to their own experience. If they liked particular meat or drink, they used to offer those to their “Gods”. “Gods” also started looking like them, physically. So the same “God” is not exactly the same in southern India as compared to that of northern India. Even definition of “God” varies from region to region. Ravana may be a demon in most of India but many people in Sri Lanka and southern India consider him as “God”. As most of the natural calamities used to be the same e.g. rain, flood, storm-wind, draught-sun, wild beasts etc, many of such supernatural powers had high similarities (though not identical) world over. Gradually all such activities and concepts gave rise to religion. 

Basically religion was evolved mainly to make societies more organized and to involve everybody to participate in different activities or "rituals", for betterment of the society. “Religion” made implementing the rules much easier, as punishment was stipulated to be high. This gave rise to the concept of virtue and vice. Breaking the rules were equated to sin or vice while obeying those were termed as virtues. Here we should keep in mind that all such rules were made by human, most probably the pack leaders of concerned groups. 

During early phase of human evolution and the initial days of “religion”, all were busy to ensure their own survival. So they all were interested to search the reason, in other words, the truth (mainly behind natural calamities, food supply and reproduction). Later life became a bit easier due to many innovations and inventions. Then the main evolution of religion started (as we see it today).

Ancient religions are more inclined to have idol worshipping and have many Gods/Goddesses to take care of natural causes like wind, rain, flood, life threatening animals, birth, death etc. Example of such religion is Hinduism, religions from ancient Egypt, Greece etc. Many tribes in India and abroad practice such type of “religion” with many Gods. More recent religions like Islam, Christianity etc are more like an "ideology". Almost all of such recent religions conceive a single "God" and the person who introduced that “ideology” became a “prophet”; as compared to many "Gods" in ancient religions. Such difference indicates the ultimate motive behind the introduction of such religions. It's like establishing an "ideology" mainly to prove one's supremacy than to motivate survival of a group of people. It’s the same psychology with which a king rules his subject. Evolution of such recent religions was possible as life became easier. Creation and spread of such recent religions also affected ancient religions. Leaders of those who were practicing “ancient” religions tried to invent some new “rituals” (which was not originally there) to strengthen their own grip over wealth and power. “Satidaha” (burning of brides), no beef eating, many marriages by men but not by women etc by Hindus are some of this type of “rituals”. As people and their leaders from different religions came in contact of each other, competition to prove ones’ supremacy became more intense.

To maintian the social order and their own supremacy, group-leaders did not encourage asking question. They started implementing their own version of “truth” in the name of religion. It became the norm. Gradually every religion started demanding un-questionable faith. “Search for truth” soon became the fight to establish one’s own version of “truth”. Now we see the fight among human beings to prove that their version of “truth” is more “true” than that of others! This deformed version of “religion” allegedly is the single most important reason for human sufferings, conflicts and death in the past and remains so even today.