The Kashmir Conundrum

Apologies for being away for almost a week. I have missed you, hope you have too.

I had no realization of what significant events my brief interlude from blogging would bring. But while I have been away, Jammu and Kashmir as a state of India don’t exist the way it used to. It’s now a Union Territory with a Legislature. The state was also bifurcated to create an independent UT of Ladakh with no legislature. This also meant article 370 of the Indian Consitution, which conferred special status to the state of J&K, was modified. Before this, this special status allowed J&K to have its own constitution, its own flag and its own laws independent of the same in the union of India. Now, people from all over India can buy land in Kashmir, set up businesses and invest; Indian government’s welfare schemes, rules, and regulations will now be applicable in the state.

Before the bill to this effect was passed in Parliament, Indian Army troops moved into J&K, clamped down on the Internet and detained local politicians and separatists. There have been apprehensions of violence and unrest over the development. As we speak, this continues with an eerie silence from the international community with the exception of Pakistan and China. What’s evident is that most countries in the world seem to be viewing this exercise by the Indian government as an internal matter of India, recognizing its sovereignty in dealing with its internal affairs. Pakistan, however, thinks otherwise and has already reached out to the UN and a host of other countries to offer their support in condemning India.

A Contested Past

Unlike the differing viewpoints on Kashmir, there are thankfully no conflicting opinions on how J&K acceded to India. I particularly liked this academic EPW piece on the history of the troubled state. The main points in the piece can be summarised as below:

  • At the time of independence of India, Hari Singh, the then king of J&K was ambiguous about acceding to India or Pakistan. He brokered a deal with the British govt to stay independent. This state was not to be, as an attack by Pakistani pastuns compelled Hari Singh to reach out to India for help. India, in turn, sought J&K accession to India.
  • At the time of accession, India adopted the policy that in case of dispute over J&K’s status, the matter should be settled in accordance with the wishes of people. However, India also considered the accession a purely temporary and provisional arrangement, as stated in the Government of India’s White Paper on J&K in 1948.
  • J&K was conferred the special status via Article 370; you could read all about the provision in detail here. Briefly, this article limited the Union government’s legislative power over Kashmir to just three subjects- foreign affairs, defense, and communications. This in effect ensured J&K’s autonomy.
  • Further, to strengthen this arrangement, certain riders were put in place: the central government couldn’t make any changes in the article without issuing a presidential order, with approval of the state legislature, and only after the changes were incorporated in the state constitution.

Why The Scrapping of 370 Was Welcomed:

  • Home Minister Amit Shah, in his speech in Lok Sabha, said article 370 had for years separated J&K from India, with the provision misused by separatists and sympathizers of separatists in the state. Shah’s argument was in line with the BJP’s historic stand on article 370, which has also been on their poll manifesto for years.
  • Another argument highlighted the lack of development in the state because of the special status of J&K. Shah said because of the article, many of the central government’s schemes and benefits didn’t reach the people of Kashmir.Manish Sabharwal wrote in The Indian Express:

Historians warn against “presentism” and Kashmir’s history is too long and complex to belong to any party, community, individual or religion. But it would be foolish to deny that Kashmir’s last few maharajas were distracted and disinterested in development. Monarchies or hereditary leadership are ineffective because they think of citizens or voters as a necessary evil that must be tolerated, possibly patronised, but certainly ignored. Naya Kashmir — a memorandum that Sheikh Abdullah submitted to Maharaja Hari Singh in 1944 — outlined a plan to convert J&K from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional democracy, called for universal franchise, freedom of expression and press, ability of women to work in all trades and professions, and a detailed economic plan. Much of what he sought is enshrined in our Constitution but his vision of social justice, economic progress and poverty reduction — which he couldn’t achieve in his lifetime — is highly relevant for Kashmir today….

India and J&K are tremendously and permanently intertwined. When one does well, the other does well. And when we both do well, we are unstoppable.

  • An overwhelming number of Kashmiri pundits rejoiced the scrapping of 370, arguing that with the provision gone, they would return to their homes in J&K from where they had to flee at the peak of separatist violence in the state.
  • Article 370 was acted as a shield for terrorists in J&K, who brainwashed Kashmiri youth against India and took undue advantage of their economic situation arising out of the poor development in the state.

Why The Scrapping of 370 Was Condemned:

  • Scrapping of 370 hits at the autonomy of J&K, many argued.
  • With the special status gone, outsiders can buy and in J&K. Many viewed this as a vicious attempt to engineer a demographic transition in the Muslim-dominate d state.
  • The move attacked the “Idea of India” and diluted Kashimiriyat. 

    Economist Haseeb Drabu, in this piece for Mint, argued:

For the people of J&K, the biggest benefit of the state having greater legislative latitude under Article 370 has been the radical restructuring of agrarian relations. It was the first state in India, much before the communist government in Kerala, to carry out non-compensatory land reforms.

… These land reforms along with a massive debt write-off undertaken over 20 years, from 1951 to 1973, transformed the lives of rural masses and underlie J&K’s better-than national average human development indicators.

Samar Halarnkar in this piece for Scroll, argues that the move marks the slow un-democratization of India:

Aided and approved by vast swathes of the media, the Opposition, the administration and the Indian people, the Kashmir deception is the most impressive feat yet achieved in the slow, gradual process of dimming the lights of India’s democracy.

India has been set on course towards the darkness for some time. Successive Congress governments deliberately allowed India’s democracy to be clouded by the continuation and deployment of laws – old and new – meant to be used by a ruler against the ruled.

We did not complain enough when thousands suffered the wrongful use of vaguely worded laws: against terrorism, criminal defamation, information-technology misuse and sedition, the last of which has been freely used over the years against sloganeering students, villagers protesting power plants and cartoonists.

What Now?

I can not help but talk about the continued media clampdown in J&K. It’s been a week and news from the state has been a trickle, not a storm, as one would expect. The manner in which the move was hurried through, raises these legitimate concerns:

1. Future of media freedom in India – because even as we speak, reports suggest that people in and outside of Kashmir can’t still reach their families, and journalists aren’t moving freely in the state to be able to send regular reports.

2. State of democracy in India – because, firstly, the state assembly had no role to play in this move, and the parliament didn’t discuss a sensitive provision such as this enough before the bill was rushed to voting.

3. Position of courts on the government move – National Conference party has already challenged the government move in Supreme Court, but legal experts say this may not be a cakewalk. Here is The Print report that explored instances in the past when Indian courts have ruled on Article 370.

4. Role and future of political parties in J&K 

5. Will this bring about peace or conflict in the region?

6. Implications for India’s federal structure – Louise Tillin wrote in The Hindu:

 This is not the first time that a Central government has used its powers to bifurcate a State in the absence of local consensus. This was also seen with the creation of Telangana in 2014. As in the case of Telangana, the creation of the Union Territory of Ladakh does respond to a long-run demand in this region with a substantial Buddhist population. However, the decision to transform the remainder of J&K State into a Union Territory, at the same time as annulling Article 370, is a departure with profound and as yet unknown consequences in Kashmir, and wider implications for Indian federalism.

There are undeniably worrying aspects to the latest development in J&K. While there are no clear answers to this now, it’s important to say that the manner in which the government went ahead with scrapping of article 370, it should not keep us in any illusion about the state of the democratic process in India. We could only hope that good sense prevails and there is no repeat.

Much Fuss Over GDP But How Do We Measure Happiness?

The debate over India’s GDP numbers (economists are still locking horns over the truth and objectivity in these figures) was back into currency with this Arvind Subramanian piece published in June this year. He said that India may have overstated its GDP figures by 2.5 percentage points every year since 2011. Another insightful piece said the figures may have been overstated by 1-1.5 percentage points. This is significant, and while there may be a difference in figures quoted, inaccurate reporting of GDP is now an elephant in the room, too big to ignore.

GDP is an important economic tool. It measures the production of all goods and services bought and sold in an economy each year, by this very fact, has been of utmost importance to economists trying to measure economic growth. But of late, there have been concerns that GDP my not be a perfect tool to measure growth. Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand PM took it a step further when she said her government is going to look at fresh ways to measure happiness and wellbeing of the people of her country.

So, what are we going to do when we fix our GDP numbers back home? May be, join the global efforts on finding means to measure happiness, because number-driven GDP is already being punched for being an ineffective tool.

Courtney Goldsmith, in this piece, argues why GDP as a measure of economic growth may not be effective:

In an independent review of the UK’s economic statistics published in 2016, Sir Charles Bean wrote that GDP is often viewed as a “summary statistic” for the health of the economy. This means it is frequently conflated with wealth or welfare, though it only measures income. “Importantly, GDP… does not reflect economic inequality or sustainability (environmental, financial or [otherwise]),” Bean wrote. What’s more, GDP is not the precise and flawless figure that many believe it to be – it is merely an estimate. “This uncertainty surrounding official measures of GDP is inadequately recognised in public discourse, with commentators frequently attributing spurious precision to the estimates,” Bean continued.

Sarah Arnold, Senior Economist at the New Economics Foundation (NEF), told World Finance that GDP as a measure of economic activity is simply a means to an end: “It has become so synonymous with national success that the rationale for pursuing economic growth in the first place seems to have been long forgotten.”

Putting the flaws highlighted by Bean and Arnold aside, GDP is still an inaccurate measure of prosperity, as it fails to convey much of the value created in the modern world. GDP was developed during the manufacturing age and, as David Pilling, Africa Editor of the Financial Times, wrote in his book The Growth Delusion: Wealth, Poverty and the Wellbeing of Nations: “[GDP] is not bad at accounting for production of bricks, steel bars and bicycles.” Where it struggles, though, is with the service economy, a segment that accounts for a growing proportion of high-income countries’ economies. “[Try GDP] out on haircuts, psychoanalysis sessions or music downloads and it becomes distinctly fuzzy,” Pilling wrote.

GDP’s preference for tangible goods also means it is insufficient at capturing the value of technology.

Of course, the number-focussed measure of GDP may not be equipped to assess job quality, wellbeing, carbon emissions, inequality, and physical health, key indicators of happiness and wellbeing that development economists have been focussing on.

Goldsmith, in her piece, further argues:

For GDP, which does not distinguish between good and bad production, bigger is always better. …Wars and natural disasters, too, can be a boon to GDP as a result of the associated increase in spending. Comprehensive wealth, on the other hand, accounts for all of a country’s assets, including: produced capital, such as factories and machinery; natural capital, like forests and fossil fuels; human capital, including the value of future earnings for the labour force; and net foreign assets.

GDP’s neglect of natural capital in particular has received more attention in recent years. Natural assets, such as forests, fisheries and the atmosphere, are often regarded as self-sustaining, fixed assets. In actual fact, all of these resources can be – and are being – depleted by humans. Since the 1990s, economists have looked into the possibility of putting a price tag on natural resources to ensure their value is taken seriously. Ecological economist Robert Costanza published a paper entitled ‘The Value of the World’s Ecosystem Services and Natural Capital in Nature’ in 1997 that valued the whole of the natural world at $33trn. While Costanza’s research was highly controversial, the idea of accounting for natural depletion within the landscape of economic growth is becoming more common.

This McKinsey report says:

GDP as a unit of measure has not kept pace with the changing nature of economic activity. Designed to measure the physical production of goods in the market economy, GDP is not well suited to accounting for private- and public-sector services with no output that can be measured easily by counting the number of units produced. Nor does GDP lend itself to assessing improvements in the quality and diversity of goods and services or to estimating the depletion of resources or the degradation of the environment associated with production. Transformative change in technology is not easy to measure using GDP because so much of the benefit accrues to consumers.

World Bank too has touched upon the subject with its own concept of “comprehensive wealth“, covering in its sweep all produced capital such as factories and roads; natural capital like forests and water; human capital, which leads to earnings; and net foreign assets, to project a fuller picture of economic wellbeing and growth. Experts today are also working out ways to measure intangible qualities of happiness and knowledge but we have a long way to go.

There are interesting cues here, in this Econlife piece published today, which questions if money could indeed buy happiness, by comparing GDP, social support, life expectancy et al of the top 10 happiest countries (according to the UN Happiness Report) in the world.

I think happiness couldn’t ever be measured except in smiles and those trying to chase happiness are the unhappiest lot. Think of this at a national level and tell me: is it possible to make everyone happy? I like it when they say, happiness is a state of mind. Of course, this is because this happiness question weighs heavy on my soul so escapist statements best resolve the moral dilemma. However, honestly, GDP and happiness do not always go together, that’s very much true. 

India and US Trade War Isn’t Unreal

United States–India trade ties have been in news for all the wrong reasons, of late. There may be optimism that it’s just a mini conflict that can be resolved easily, but the road ahead is nothing short of thorny. It’s a crisis that can snowball into a big rift if not managed properly. The institutional arrangements that currently exist between US and India are unable to manage this conflict, as is clear from the continued tone of President Trump’s tweets and statements on India. What makes worse is the protectionist nature of the governments in both countries.

Let’s look at what both sides have built in trade over the years which will be all exposed to risks if the trade ties continue to be volatile:

  • Bilateral trade in goods and services grew at an average annual rate of 7.59 percent between 2008 and 2018. This was double the value from $68.4 billion to $142.1 billion.
  • US was India’s second-largest trading partner in goods in 2018, and the single largest export destination with $54.5 billion worth of goods shipped to the US in 2017.
  • India was the ninth-largest trading partner of the United States in 2018 with US exports to India accounting for 2 percent of overall US exports in 2018, valued at an estimated $33.1 billion, up 87.3 percent from 2008.
  • US service exports to India were an estimated $25.8 billion in 2018, up 157 percent from 2008.
  • US arms exports to India touched $15 billion in the past decade.
  • Exports to India supported an estimated one hundred and ninety-seven thousand US jobs in 2015.
  • Bilateral FDI more than doubled from $24.3 billion in 2009 to $54.3 billion in 2017.

These numbers are enough to understand how important the US-India trade ties are. But as things stand, the disagreements are chronic and deep.  While Indian government’s efforts to engage in trade talks with the US have increased since 2018, the scope for existing Trade Policy Forum and the Indian Ministry for Commerce and Industry for talks between both countries remains limited. It doesn’t help that for bilateral talks, neither of the two countries has figured out an institutional mechanism to engage with each other beyond the Free Trade Agreements (but the recent conflict over FTAs negates even the possibility of any more FTAs in the near future). AT the WTO, they have sparred constantly with no concrete results.

A report released this month by the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center recommends that both US and Indian governments take steps to manage short-term disagreements and establish a more constructive relationship in the medium and long runs. This would clearly mean reviewing the existing institutional frameworks for reform, brainstorm on creating avenues for market opening agreements and draw a roadmap for the FTAs. It’s indeed a difficult ropewalk but much-needed. Read the detailed report here.

Democracy versus Growth?

CapturevIs democracy dying?

This question seems to be back on the mind of economists this week. I live in the world’s largest democracy but it often confounds me. It confounds me when I see people voting for leaders who don’t do justice to their roles. It distresses me when politicians make policies that are in conflict with basic economic reasoning, but they do because they want votes from certain sections of voters. I get worried when, in the name of democracy, parties appease certain sections of people with regressive, anti-development policies. I have said enough but economists have been arguing for long if democracy is good for development, development being a difficult word here and much debated as well on its intent and purpose. Anyway, let us focus on democracy and growth for today, which seems to be the focus on this February 2019 publication by  Acemoglu, Naidu, Restrepo, and Robinson in which they argue that there is substantial evidence that democracy impacts GDP per capita positively with as much as 20% increase in GDP per capita of democratizing nations.  They add that the positive effects are driven by greater investments in capital, schooling, and health.

Yet, in his critique Alex Tabarrok argues that the academic literature has at best weakly established the causal effects of democracy on growth. Examples beyond academics to question Acemoglu et al’s research exist and the biggest one is non-democratic China’s rise as an economic superpower. Tabarrok argues the recent research’s contention of 20% growth may not be attractive enough for non-democracies to want to switch to demoracies and that there must be something more to democracy than the GDP per capita link. Read more of his thoughts here.

However, for the first time in three years, the decline of democracy stopped in 2018 according to The Economist’s Democracy Index. According to this index, Norway, Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand, and Denmark are the top five democratic countries in the world, whereas Chad, Central African Republic, Dem. Republic of Congo, Syria and North Korea are the bottom five. India is on number 45. Hmm!

Here is another interesting piece which talks about the queer contradiction that even as freedom the world over is in decline, the appeal of democracy endures! Yet, a conflicting report from Freedom House suggests otherwise primarily because of the rise of autocratic leaders such as Donald Trump.

Plan panel mulls ways to spur Dalit capitalism

The government has begun discussions with Dalit entrepreneurs on what can be done to promote business ventures set up by members of their community.

As a part of its discussions with various groups before it finalizes the 12th Plan for 2012-17, the Planning Commission has sought suggestions from the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Dicci), a business group, on what can be done to spur Dalit capitalism, how these business ventures can be funded, and how Dalit voices can be heard while charting out policies.

Narendra Jadhav, a member of the panel, said a proposal to introduce executive development programmes for Dalit entrepreneurs at some of the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) is also being considered. “(We are) very seriously contemplating the idea to have some kind of formal executive development programme for Dalit entrepreneurs. It can be outsourced to some of the IIMs. Most Dalit entrepreneurs have business skills, but they need polishing, particularly the younger ones. This will be considered, examined and polished in the 12th Plan. We will make a policy in this regard,” Jadhav said.

In a meeting held earlier this week, the planning body has also suggested that the chamber set up a venture capital fund to finance projects promoted by entrepreneurs born at the bottom of the caste pyramid and indicated that the government could consider picking up a stake in this fund, officials said.

The chamber will soon appoint a committee to formulate concrete suggestions. This is the first time that a Dalit business forum has been invited to make suggestions to the Plan panel.

“There are two things: one is promoting entrepreneurship that’s an end objective in itself. If there are difficulties faced by some communities, then you may need special interventions,” said Pronab Sen, principal adviser to the panel.

Jadhav said encouraging or creating situations for expansion of Dalit entrepreneurship also has an employment angle. “If there is a policy in this regard, it will also give fillip to employment of Dalits (by Dalit entrepreneurs). It is also about taking cognizance of the fact that there is a greater change taking place in society, and also about being open to voices from the ground while formulating the 12th Plan to make it more focused on the real issues from the ground,” he added.

Raising the funding limit for Dalit enterprises through the National Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Finance and Development Corporation (NSFDC), the apex government body for finance of small-scale businesses run by the weaker sections, is one of the suggestions Dicci made to the panel. The finance body grants a maximum loan of 7 lakh for Dalit businesses while its state wings mostly offer composite loans of a maximum amount of 50,000.

“Most government schemes for financing Dalit businesses expect them to be small-scale, such as buying cattle to set up a milking unit, or an autorickshaw. In the meeting between Dicci and the Plan panel, just one out of 35 Dalit entrepreneurs with businesses worth crores had availed of a loan from NSFDC and that 7 lakh loan took three years! Sadly, the government finds it difficult to believe that Dalits also could need a loan of 80 crore or so,” says Chandra Bhan Prasad, an independent Dalit activist and writer, who was a part of the Dicci delegation that met the Plan panel earlier this week.

The Plan panel’s deliberations with the Dalit business group seem to be guided by the changing socio-economic realities of India, and the steady rise of Dalit capitalism in particular. Considered the most underprivileged community in India, a section of Dalits are now engaging in large-scale businesses for the creation of wealth and employment that allow them an escape both from the demeaning tasks assigned to them by the caste system and the stigma of being branded as non-meritorious beneficiaries of reservations in education and employment.

“There are Dalit entrepreneurs who are into large-scale manufacturing and are also suppliers for government-run bodies such as the Indian Railways and the Delhi Metro, which proves that Dalit businesses are no less competitive and efficient than others,” said Milind Kamble, chairman of Dicci, who also attended the meeting.

The key demands that the chamber made to the Plan panel were to include Dalit entrepreneurs in priority-sector lending at special rates through institutions such as the Small Industries Development Bank of India and the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development. “We also asked for appointment of Dicci members on government panels, ministries and committees engaged in policymaking, just the way members from Ficci (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry) and CII (Confederation of Indian Industry) are appointed,” Kamble said.

D. Shyam Babu, a fellow of the Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies in New Delhi whose research on Dalits and the new economic order has highlighted the social advance of the community in the wake of globalization, said government measures to promote Dalit capitalism will help create a Dalit bourgeoisie. “Most Dalit entrepreneurs face problems varying from difficulty in getting enough supplies on credit, lack of social networks, absence of kin groups in the business, and control of traditionally dominant business-caste groups. These, along with other social variables such as lack of social capital, make the Dalit situation more complicated and vulnerable to homogeneous categorization,” says Surinder S. Jodhka, a professor at the Centre for the Study of Social Systems at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

Jodhka’s paper, Dalits in Business: Self-Employed Scheduled Castes in Northwest India, drew insights on the expansion of private capital in India during the post-1991 period and highlighted the discrimination faced by Dalit businesses.

Prasad said the government should also formulate policies that favour grant of a certain number of tenders to Dalits. “Once Dalits are put in the supply chain, since the government is the biggest employer, discrimination in labour markets would also end,” he said.

First published in Mint.

85% quota seats going empty as candidates fail to make the grade

With barely a month to go before they begin their new academic session, the six new Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), launched by the government this year, are struggling to fill their incoming classes.

Against the backdrop of the government wanting to implement 27% quota for other backward classes (OBCs) in higher educational institutions, the new IITs have been unable to fill seats reserved for tribal students, who, along with scheduled castes (SCs) and OBCs, now add up to more than 50% of caste-based reservations of all available seats.

While all IITs — there are seven in operation — have had this problem of finding enough students who qualify for their reserved seats, this will be the first time that these slots will actually go waste.

That is because any unfilled seats at the older IITs were then filled by students, who had failed to qualify, but had then been admitted to a year-long preparatory course.

Surendra Prasad, director of IIT Delhi, says the six existing IITs that are mentoring the new IITs had recommended the preparatory course be skipped because of lack of infrastructure.

“We are launching six new IITs, many of which do not even have campuses,” he says. “Students admitted for three of the new IITs will attend classes at the mentor IITs, which means extra load on their faculty and infrastructure. So, directors of all the IITs in a meeting decided to not admit any students for preparatory course at the new IITs.”

The result: Out of the 54 seats reserved for students belonging to the scheduled tribes (STs) category in the six new IITs, only seven, or 12%, have been filled.

In IITs at Patna, Gandhinagar and Orissa, at current fill rates, there will be no tribal students in the class that begins in August. The proposed IITs in Punjab and Rajasthan (the respective state governments have not come up with specific sites for the campus, either temporary, or permanent) have admitted one student each, whereas IIT Hyderabad has five.

The three IITs at Rajasthan, Punjab and Orissa are going to commence their classes in August on the campuses of their mentor IITs at Kanpur, Delhi and Kharagpur, respectively.

The new IITs have done better with SC students, with 89 of the 108 slots available filled.

The OBC quota is full across all the IITs, according to N.M. Bhandari, an IIT-JEE (joint entrance examination) official at IIT Roorkee, which coordinated the entrance exam this year. “Effectively, this means as many as 47 seats reserved for tribal students remain vacant across the six new IITs this year, which is more than 85% of seats available in the category,” says Bhandari.

In the seven older IITs, 152 ST students have been admitted this year against 469 seats reserved for the category.

But the problem is less acute as the vacant seats have been filled by students admitted for the year-long preparatory course, an initiative by IITs to include quota-based students who remained below the eligibility cut-offs in the entrance examination, noted Bhandari.

Some 690 seats have been filled in the SC category out of 1,050 seats, with the rest occupied by admissions from the preparatory course students.

IIT officials ascribe the current loss of seats at the institutes this year to the continuing trend of poor performance by ST students at JEE.

“We have plenty of applications from the category, but only a small percentage qualify,” says Gautam Barua, director of IIT Guwahati, which is mentoring IIT, Patna.

In 2007, 20,892 SC candidates appeared for JEE, of which 594 qualified. Of the 5,909 ST candidates who wrote the exam, 109 candidates qualified.

This year, out of 28,393 SC candidates (36% more than those who took the test the year before), 690 qualified. For the ST seats, 8,514 took the exam and 159 cleared it.

Mentor’s role: IIT Delhi will play host to the new IIT Punjab when its classes start in August as the latter doesn’t have a campus yet. Photograph: Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint

The IITs at Rajasthan, Punjab and Orissa still don’t have a physical campus, while classes at the IITs in Hyderabad, Patna and Gandhinagar, will be held from temporary locations provided by the state.

Meanwhile, at the IITs where cases of discrimination against the quota students are being hotly debated, especially after the recent case of the National Commission for Backward Castes directing IIT Delhi to review the expulsion of 12 students from the SC/ST category because they were underperforming, some say fewer numbers of quota students in the incoming class could result in even greater discrimination.

“The quota students face discrimination everywhere, starting from the canteens, laboratories and classes to the toilets. Such limited numbers in a class would make the students even more vulnerable as they are most often viewed as dumb heads who have made it to IITs because of the quotas,” says Narendra Kumar, general secretary of the SC/ST Welfare Union at IIT Delhi.

“It’s not about the numbers,” insists Prasad of IIT Delhi. “It’s a bigger issue that needs to be addressed to the core. The IITs strive to give access to quality education to as many students as possible. We need to bring the education system to a level where the students from the category can benefit from the seats reserved instead of the sheer wastage that can happen if they don’t qualify.”

Published in Mint.

Indian campuses get a foreign flavour

Opportunity brought Tatiana Alejandra Cardona to Phagwara, 335km north of New Delhi. This past summer, during her arduous search for a job, Cardona, who hails from Colombia, stumbled upon an online advertisement for faculty positions at Lovely Professional University (LPU), a private institution.

Cardona, who is 23, recalls that “the university appeared very big”, and since it was new, she thought, it might offer teaching opportunities. Teaching excited her, but so did the prospect of travelling to India. “Its job openings were so, so, so important to me,” she says. A year after she graduated in industrial engineering from Universidad Tecnologica de Pereira in Colombia, she joined LPU in July to teach microeconomics and quantitative techniques to management students.

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At LPU, in this small Punjab town, Cardona met somebody unlikely—a fellow Colombian. Diego Armando Hernandez had joined the previous month; he too, had been looking for a job back home, but couldn’t find one that allowed him to teach.

Adding diversity: Sharda University faculty member Peter Waugh (right). He arrived in India earlier this month from Britain to pursue his interest in silicon photonics. Photographs by Pradeep Gaur/Mint

“We realized there were two issues which were causing institutions, especially business schools, to hire white faculty on campus: lack of credibility and a limited faculty pool, since 10% of institutes in India have 90% of the best faculty available,” says Jagmohan Bhanver, chief executive officer of the Indian Institute of Financial Management (IIFM), a business school with seven campuses in India. IIFM hired five foreign teachers this year.

At the year-old Manav Rachna International University (MRIU) in Faridabad, the import of foreign teachers has been institutionalized. Yulia Doctor of Russia, who dresses in smart business suits, is MRIU’s window to its “international” appeal. A 23-year-old graduate in linguistics and languages from Moscow—and the first and only foreign faculty member at MRIU—Doctor teaches German and Russian to students. But that’s not her only brief.

As manager (protocol), Doctor, barely into a month of employment at MRIU, was also asked to receive delegates from Germany. She knows the importance of this work all too well. “I speak German, and when people from the West visit the university, I make them feel at home. My being here makes the university international.”

Similarly, many universities have hired consultants to help bring foreigners into the institution. Sharda University, in Greater Noida, has a team of consultants to help attract foreigners; at LPU, a “Division of International Affairs” formulates the university’s strategy, which includes collaborations with foreign universities, international student exchanges and faculty recruitments.

International edge: Mansi El Mansi taking a class at Sharda University in Greater Noida.

“The fact is, they are quite excited about teaching in India, and we are very serious about faculty acquisition,” says Aman Mittal, chief executive of LPU. “In fact, last year we were very aggressive about it. I myself have studied in the United Kingdom and we want to give our students a different classroom experience.”

There are some who criticize this new trend, and who read into it an exploitation of a certain colonial mindset. “According to the Indian common psychology, the words ‘white’ (or) ‘foreign’…represent intellectual superiority,” says Srinivasa Rao, assistant professor in history at Tiruchirapalli’s Bharathidasan University. “Secondly, it (the import of foreign faculty) could also amount to the arresting of the brain drain, money drain and removing the colonial ‘brand’ over the colonized.”

Rao thinks that foreign teachers now find India to be “a good destination for exploiting the colonial cultural construct… Getting a job in higher educational institutions is a time-consuming process in Europe and America. Here, if they are willing and if the government allows, they could stay forever, get respect for being foreigners, and also get higher salaries compared to Indians.”

The employment of white professionals is not singular to India, though. In 2004, a study on race in the US labour market by Harvard University professors Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan concluded that white-sounding names receive 50% more callbacks for interviews than African-American ones. This gap was found to be uniform across occupation, industry and employer size.

To explain his choices, Prem Kumar Gupta, chancellor of Sharda University, refers to an in-house study conducted to find out why India hadn’t yet emerged as a global education hub. “One of the reasons we found was that we didn’t have ethnic diversity on our campuses. We don’t promote colours and cultures,” he says. “Second, we realized we hadn’t yet graduated from our fixed, rigid academic curricula.”

Thus, when Sharda University opened last year, one of its priorities was hiring foreigners to teach and also to train Indian faculty in international classroom practices. “Foreign faculty today are not just setting the quality benchmark for us; they are also helping us collaborate with foreign universities abroad,” Gupta says, explaining how pedagogy at the university is now more interactive than passive spoon feeding.

One Sharda University faculty member from overseas is Peter Waugh, who arrived earlier this month from Britain to pursue his interest in silicon photonics. Waugh jokes that he landed in India because he “didn’t fit into the UK education system”. He received his PhD only in 2008, after 11 years in the electronics trade, and is at pains to explain how there were few teaching positions in British universities.

At Sharda, though, Waugh is looking forward to setting up a photonics lab. His colleague Mansi El Mansi, with 17 years of teaching experience in Britain, joined Sharda University last year and has now decided to extend his contract with the university by another year.

Anshuman Singh, a first-year B.Tech student at Sharda, admits that he was attracted to the presence of foreign faculty, but he also bears testimony to the quality of classroom experience. “They ask many questions in class and encourage you to speak,” he says. “They make you feel that you are not at just any other university.”

Gupta admits that roughly a dozen foreign faculty members last year were sent back because they didn’t meet the teaching quality expected of them. “One can’t come here thinking that one is British or American and it will work for him,” he says. “(C)olour of skin won’t ensure quality. Last year, we hired 25 people; this year, we could hire only 10.”

The argument finds an echo in the general faculty crisis in India, which has deepened with the growth of the education sector. While the 472 universities, 22,000 colleges and thousands of other technical institutions in India represent a growth of 25% over the last five years, the country needs 803 more universities and 31,830 more college-level institutions in the next 10 years. The number of students is expected to rise to 42 million by 2020, which would require 4.2 million teachers, according to estimates available with the ministry of human resource development.

At IIFM, Bhanver says what is more challenging, after the recruitment of good faculty, is retaining them. “We provide time for quality research” and “a curriculum that constantly evolves,” he says, while admitting that most foreigners like to come as part-time faculty to deliver a course module or two.

William Byrnes, one of the five foreign faculty members hired by IIFM this year, is in demand not just in India but also in his home country. Taking time out of his work as associate dean of the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in California, Byrnes teaches compliance and ethics at IIFM. “The advantages we bring to the table for students is cross-disciplinary studies, and they also have the option of an American experience,” Byrnes says. “For students who can’t go to America for a year, we create opportunities here.”

 

Earlier published in Mint.