Mint opinion: India’s descent into stepwells of growth

Important long read by Kaushik Basu. How India started out as a promise and is now fast deteriorating into decline.

Debuted with Opinion in Moneycontrol today

I will be writing op-eds for moneycontrol, India’s number 1 financial news website, and today was my debut. Do read.

Moneycontrol Link:

Fiscal measures and global debt

Here is the latest on fiscal measures (courtesy: IMF) deployed by different countries:

Source: IMF blog

This stimulus collectively amounts $11 trillion worldwide. Yet, the state of global public debt is worrying too.

Source: IMF Blog

Authors Vitor Gaspar and Gita Gopinath write:

In the face of a sharp decline in global output, a massive fiscal response has been necessary to increase health capacity, replace lost household income and prevent large-scale bankruptcies. But the policy response has also contributed to global public debt reaching its highest level in recorded history, at over 100 percent of global GDP, in excess of post-World War II peaks.

Read more here.

Recommended: An April 2020 Bloomberg piece by Andy Mukherjee and another June 2020 piece by Somnath Mukherjee on public debt in India.

7 Things Govt Could Have Done To Stop the Delhi Riots

The law, judgments and precedents are unanimous: the police are empowered, can and must take urgent action to curb rioting. As former police chiefs tell us, the Delhi riots could have been stopped at many levels and stages. They were not. First published in Article-14.


New Delhi: The toll in the deadliest communal riots—doctors reported gunshot wounds, crushed skulls and torn genitals—in India’s capital since Independence is now up to 46 with hundreds injured, the majority of those Muslims.

Over three days from 24 February 2020, violent mobs shot, bludgeoned and stabbed people and burnt houses, shops, marketplaces and mosques. Journalists covering the riot were heckled, threatened and beaten.

Many Muslim and Hindu residents agreed on one characteristic: even as truckloads of unidentified masked men poured in, the Delhi police either stood by or went missing. One account said Hindus praised the police for saving lives, while Muslims said their calls for help went unanswered.

Did the Delhi police and the home ministry, which controls the city police, do enough? Could they have stopped the riots from escalating in northeast Delhi, one of India’s most densely populated districts, amongst the poorest of the capital’s districts and one with the largest Muslim population?

Yes, they could and should have, former police officers told Article-14. The result, according to Ashutosh Varhsney, professor of Political Science at Brown University, who studied communal violence in India during the 1990s, was a “pogrom”.

A number of guidelines and statutes governing police action during communal riots, including specific sections under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), various Supreme Court judgements and observations (here, here and here), the Delhi Police Manual and government guidelines (here, here and here) on communal violence, are unanimous: the police must take urgent and immediate action to prevent and curb the riots and minimise damage.

Here is what the police and government could and should have done.

1) Act On Intelligence, Deploy Forces

The manner in which clashes began on 24 February 2020 had all the makings of a riot: urban, evidence of being stoked by “outsiders”, and engineered. Experts said conditions for a riot were taking shape, and the Delhi Police were best placed to track the contours.

“The month-long anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) protests in northeast Delhi, however peaceful, were the reason why the police should have been extra vigilant,” said Yashovardhan Azad, former Central Information Commissioner and Indian Police Service (IPS) officer. “Sudden eruptions do occur but all communal disturbances, by and large, develop over a period of time. So, solid steps must be taken right in the beginning.”

Local police stations have demographic profiles, records of past violence and disputes, helping them identify riot-prone areas and foresee potential conflicts, according to the Delhi Police Manual. Regular patrolling, deployment of personnel, contingency plans and regular and independent intelligence gathering from sources cultivated within local communities are other commonly followed measures.

Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) guidelines to district administrations on managing communal riots are clear about what the police must do with “prior knowledge”.

“With reference to the sensitive/hyper-sensitive areas as mentioned above, the district administration should anticipate possible development that can happen on certain occasions…so that escalated situation/riots etc. could be preempted/prevented,” say MHA guidelines.

2) Act Against Hate Speeches, Make Arrests

On the day Kapil Mishra of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) delivered an incendiary speech, threatening to clear out anti-CAA protestors, once US President Donald Trump left on the night of 25 February after his two-day visit to India, the intelligence wing and special branch of the Delhi police sent six warnings to deploy security forces.

“Northeast Delhi has a history of communal tension,” Maxwell Pereira, former joint commissioner of Delhi Police and retired IPS officer, told Article-14. “The police needed to act at the first sign of provocation…The first sign of provocation in the area came from Kapil Mishra. The police had ample time till this provocation erupted into a riot on the third day thereafter.”

The police could have immediately identified and detained people accused of provocative speeches, such as Mishra, or before him Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur, who urged people at an election rally in January 2020 to “shoot the traitors”. Neither the local police, the commissioner of police, the Lieutenant General or the Home Minister “took cognizance because the hate speech was against a minority community”, said Pereira.

“Police should have acted when these speeches were being made,” Ajay Raj Sharma, Delhi Police Commissioner from 1999 to 2002 told The Wire. “A person should have recorded these speeches and action should have been taken after the speech is completed.”

Under the law, Delhi Police are required to also act against hate speech under provisions 153C and 505A of the CrPC, which call for prohibition of incitement to hatred and fear, alarm, or provocation of violence in certain cases. More provisions under the IPC such as section 153A, 295A and 298 penalise “promotion of enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony” and “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs”.

“The hate speech was recorded which makes it an admissible evidence in a court,” said Prakash Singh, retired IPS officer, who in 2006 Prakash Singh versus Union of India case in the Supreme Court (SC), pioneered a set of rules—most were never implemented—for police reform. “Hate speeches prepared the ground for the Delhi riot and they shouldn’t have been ignored by the police.”

The Delhi High Court slammed the police inaction and directed it to file FIRs against people for making hate speeches but the government counsel representing the police sought more time from the court saying the time was not “conducive to file FIRs”.

“Basic principle of criminal law is, any delay in filing of FIR is suspect, questionable and that much more vulnerable in its efficacy,” Pereira says. “The solicitor only bought time for the partisan government to evolve a strategy to save the individuals (their own party leaders) concerned.”

3) Detain Local Goons, Stop Unlawful Assembly

“Preventing a riot is far more important than containing it,” read MHA guidelines on communal violence.

When violence appears imminent, the police usually detain “history-sheeters”, commonly listed in police surveillance records and databases. History-sheeters are repeat offenders, put on a list by police stations for regular monitoring.

The Unlawful Activities (Prevention Act) 1967 or UAPA, gives police additional powers to act against communal activities of organisations or individuals by declaring them “unlawful”, where “unlawful” refers to any action, spoken or written words, which support or incite violence, or disrupt public safety and law and order.

The police were too slow to respond, accused of either inaction or complicity. In images emerging out of Northeast Delhi, police watched as rioters gathered iron rods and bricks, drove into residential areas, and attacked places of work and worship. Emboldened by police inaction, mobs ran riot.

In New Delhi’s Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, a 19-year-old man nearly lost his life because one of the rioters had pierced his skull with a drill. Nearly 21 died of gunshot injuries. A 26-year-old Intelligence Bureau officer was stabbed to death. In a video shot by a journalist, a group of agitated young men unleashed violence with sticks and bricks.

Each of these deaths and violent acts involved the use of harmful objects. These could have been prohibited by the police under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), CrPC, the UAPA and, specifically, section 30 of the Delhi Police Act, 1978, to prevent disorder and physical violence.

But, the rioters’ grip over Northeast Delhi’s public places of work, worship and community appeared tighter than that of the police, sparking criticism that the police were acting under political influence.

If implemented in time, the prohibition on arms and other dangerous objects could have minimised the death toll and the damage to public property.

Before the mobs arrived in riot-affected areas, various Police Acts and section 129 of the CrPC say that the police “may command any unlawful assembly, or any assembly of five or more persons likely to cause a disturbance of the public peace, to disperse” or “may proceed to disperse such assembly by force” to maintain public order.

Instead, policemen in riot gear stood next to political leaders and watched them speak. “Not only were they (Delhi Police) mere bystanders, they acted partisanly when they did,” Pereira said.

4) File FIRs Against Mobs Destroying Public And Private Property

When violent mobs unleashed destruction, a man in Jafrabad fired shots at policemen, while masked men armed themselves with bricks and stones in the background. In the ensuing fury, a scrap market in neighboring Gokulpuri was charred to ashes; numerous shops, cars and residential buildings met similar fates.

This loss or destruction of public or private property is punishable under different sections of the IPC, more importantly, Sections 141 to 153, which specifically relate to communal violence and breach of communal peace, and under the Right of Private Defence (IPC sections 96 to 106).

“Most of the violent acts have been captured on camera. A video is a good enough start for the police to register FIRs,” said Singh, referring to visual evidence of a mosque being burnedverified by the fact checking website Alt News as genuine—a saffron flag hoisted atop another.

This was one of the offences relating to disturbance created towards the practice of any religious worship or assembly under IPC sections 295 to 298. Till the evening of 27 February, no more than 18 FIRs 18 had been filed and 108 people detained.

5) Act Tough, Impose Curfew On Day 1

No curfews were imposed until the third day of the Delhi riots. “If the situation is spinning out of control, violence should be nipped in the bud instead of letting it fester. Timing is critical here,” said Singh.

Experts also referred to the image problem of the police: they needed to be seen to be tough and unsparing of any curfew violations, dressed “ideally” in riot gear and look like they mean business.

“The police must not just act but also look like a determined, swift and effective force right in the beginning,” said Azad. “Delay in tough measures often gives the mobs the impression that the police are either weak or indecisive, and that emboldens them and demoralises the police.”

Over 6,000 police men and women were on duty during the riots, an inadequate number to control the streets of one of Delhi’s largest constituencies, Azad said. One eyewitness accounts found some police terrified of a rioting mob.

6) Act Against Police Who Support Rioters (Which Is Not Easy)

Many policemen were seen taking sides during the Delhi riots, according to many accounts, joining the chorus of Jai Shri Ram, pelted stones with mobs, and where they did not, watched rioters, as they screened people by religion. In one video recorded by a journalist, policemen beat a group of inured Muslim men (one later died), asking them to sing the national anthem. To some reporters covering the riots, rioters said the police were “on our side”.

“The police must remain absolutely impartial in the handling of communal disturbances. …. Competent and selected officers should be posted to sensitive areas having a history of communal disturbances,” says the Delhi Police Manual Chapter 13.

Siding with rioters or standing by amounts to dereliction of duty, subjecting them to administrative measures, such as suspension or dismissal from service and criminal charges under the IPC for engaging in violent acts.

“Section 197 of CrPC, in fact, says on the prosecution of public servants that they are protected against offences only when they commit them during the discharge of their official duties,” said Suroor Mandar, a Delhi High Court lawyer and member of the legal collective, Lawyers for Detainees. The law requires prior sanction from the government for prosecution of such public servants.

“When any person who is or was a Judge or Magistrate or a public servant not removable from his office save by or with the sanction of the Government is accused of any offence alleged to have been committed by him while acting or purporting to act in the discharge of his official duty, no Court shall take cognizance of such offence except with the previous sanction,” says Section 197 of the CrPC.

Mandar added that the liability of the police for failing to ensure peace and security must also be established.

7) Encourage Dialogue Between Communities Through Their Leaders Religious polarization was at the core of the Delhi riots: it showed in hate speeches, sloganeering rioters and actions of mobs. In communal-charged situations where neighbors turn against each other in the name of religion, the Delhi Police Manual prescribes involvement of peace committees to defuse tense situations through dialogue and mediation.

“Such provisions involve the local communities and the state government, which doesn’t govern the police machinery in Delhi but is entrusted with initiating peacekeeping measures, as part of its civil administration duties,” said Mandar.

Yet, representatives of the state government, run by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), were accused of staying away from the scene of rioting. Represented by seven members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) and one member of Parliament, Northeast Delhi saw only one visit by an MLA on the fourth day of the riots: BJP MLA Ajay Mahawar met the family of the slain IB officer.

No peace committees were involved and none met during or after the riots.

(Pallavi Singh is a journalist and researcher in international political economy.)

Share from Mostlyeconomics: Three development paradigms of Indian economy

Vijay Kelkar Convocation Address at BHU: Three development paradigms of Indian economy

Vijay Kelkar Convocation Address at BHU: Three development paradigms of Indian economy
— Read on

Neighbourhood B-schools: can they deliver?

First published in Mint:–High-on-promise-but-can-they-deli.html

25 years on, what’s next for Mayawati?

First published in Mint:

High on education

First published in Mint:

Bihar’s IIT dream

Patna: Along the busy Rajendra Nagar flyover in Patna, the skyline is dotted with huge, irregularly placed hoardings. More than a hundred in number, they congregate with a purpose: to help every child in the city enter the Indian Institute of Technology (IITs), the country’s premier technical institutes.

This dream caught Navneet Rajan’s fancy when he was struggling to balance his aspirations and limited means at the Patna Muslim High School. He enjoyed chemistry and mathematics; and the slogan in the neighbourhood only helped concretize an idea: “Do not be a chemist; become an IITian.”

To make things easier, he, like thousands in previous years, did not have to set out for Kota, the city in Rajasthan which has become synonymous with the IITs for the sheer number of coaching institutes. All of them train students for the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE), conducted for admission to the IITs.

Rajan signed up with JEE Classes, a newly launched coaching institute that caters to Patna’s IIT aspirants. The coaching institute says it delivers on Kota’s promise—but with cheaper fees that can range from Rs25,000 to Rs60,000 a year. Coaching in Kota can cost a student on an average Rs15,000-20,000 more, excluding travel and accommodation expenses.

Rajan is one of 700 in his batch, where several batches add up to a student strength of 1,500. In a class resembling a downtown garage, the students make several rows of intent listeners as their teacher writes equations on the blackboard and addresses the class through a microphone. In a peculiar gender divide, girls occupy the front benches; boys sit in the back rows. Yet, as ambitions go, they all think equal. Everyone here hopes to get into the IITs; an average one of 5,000 aspirants qualifies for the JEE every year.

Elsewhere, too, this dream has triggered a deluge. The city of the working class and small-time traders is now waking to a smart new set of coaching institutes that promise a seat in the IITs. Coaching class owners recall that about a decade ago, there were around 300 such institutes, that helped students get admission to both medical and engineering colleges. Today, an estimated 1,000 such coaching institutes are run here, positioning IITs as tickets to a dream job and promising to make Patna “the next Kota”.

More than a hundred new classes have been set up in the last couple of years, thanks to several coaching institutes from Delhi and Kota setting up branches.

Here, success stories from the big cities are seeping into the psyche of the middle class and fuelling ambitions. Just last year, Shitikanth, who uses his first name only, from a school in Patna secured the top spot in the JEE. That was 27 years after another student from the state hit the merit list with a second position in 1981.

In recent years, at least a thousand students from the state have made it to the IITs, with more than half the number coached at the home-grown training institutes. Super 30, a tent house coaching institute for the state’s underprivileged, is now the best fable in town.

As local tales go, one doesn’t just need to make way through littered alleys and roughshod roads to reach the institute, also known as the Ramanujan Mathematical Academy. There is a stringent entrance test to qualify for admission and for 30 seats, about 5,000 apply every year.

For the deserving, boarding and food are provided at two small student lodges in the midst of the cacophonous town, at a meagre Rs6,000 a year.

Poring over a thick book in one of the barely furnished lodges, Kumod Ranjan, 18, is unconcerned about the lack of a ceiling fan in his room. “Sweat keeps us burning. What if we sleep during study hours?’’ he says.

In less than three months, he along with 29 other promising mathematicians, picked from economically weaker sections, will appear for the JEE.

According to house tradition, each one of them has to qualify because they are what make the Super 30, an initiative launched by founder Anand Kumar along with top cop Abhyanand.

Six years ago, 18 of the Super 30 students cracked the IIT entrance. The number rose to 22 in 2004 and 26 in 2005. Last year, it recorded 100% success.

Then, for the lesser equals, there are various options: Genius Forty, Fantastic Fifty and Stupendous Sixty, styled after Anand’s Super 30.

Bhupesh Kumar, founder of Genius Forty, says it’s not about aping anyone, however. “We are into welfare initiatives. We are doing some good work,” he says, adding that his institute picks up 40 students to coach for the IITs every year at heavily subsidized fees.

At Vision Classes, however, ex-IITian and founder K. Singh’s slogan for the institute—“Let’s make Patna the next hub for IIT coaching”—also makes profound business sense. After 11 years at a coaching institute in Kota, Singh returned to his hometown last year to arrest the flow of students to the Rajasthan town.

“Our dream is to set up a system which stops the brain drain from here. Bihar loses approximately 30,000-40,000 students to coaching centres in Delhi and Kota every year,” he says.

Singh’s vision is already seeing results. Sujata Kumari, 18, who coached for a year at Kota’s famed Bansal classes, along with two others, joined his institute as soon as it was set up. “My parents didn’t have enough money to pay for another year. Here, teachers have experience from Kota and the classes match that quality,” she says.

But competition for the likes of Vision Classes has grown tougher. While institutes such as Delhi-based FIIT-JEE and Kota-based Daswani Classes and Resonance have already made deep inroads in the flourishing business, several others like Sahil Study Circle and Vidhyamandir Classes have also stepped in with glossy brochures and air-conditioned classrooms over the last couple of years and are offering attractive discounts. “We have kept our fees 30% lower than the fees being charged at our Delhi centres. This offer is open only to students from Bihar,” says Amit Singh, administrator at Sahil Study Centre in Patna, which is headquartered in Delhi.

Many of the locally set up institutes, therefore, including Singh’s, have aggressive marketing strategies in place to meet the competition including launch of websites to attract outstation students also, free T-shirts with the institute’s slogans and coffee mugs and tie-ups with local schools to tap the IITs aspirants at a young age.

At JEE Classes, administration head Balaji, 30, with an engineering degree from IIT Bombay and a management course from Xavier Labour Relations Institute in Jamshedpur, is using his four-year stint in the corporate sector to hard sell JEE as the city’s premier coaching institute. “The education sector in Patna is booming and this is the time to erect good infrastructure and teaching facilities for students here,” he points out, adding that in the last one year, JEE Classes has grown to four centres in the city. “We hope to enrol 4,000 students this year.”

But as with any thriving business in Bihar, there are challenges too. Kumar, whose Super 30 now holds a near-iconic status and has featured in international media regularly, has survived two fatal attacks in the last five years. He blames it on bitter professional rivalry. “There are coaching institutes who do not want us to grow,” he says.

Today, most prominent coaching centres in the city have hired private security guards, from Vision Classes to JEE Classes, though few admit that deepening rivalry is now posing grave dangers.

In Kumar’s case, this perhaps means living life dangerously. He has a posse of security guards provided by the state police to accompany him each time he steps out of home.

This story was first published in Mint:

Should rich people pay more tax?

Second Richest Man Spouts Nonsense

In the job market, Caste role reversal

I am absolutely thrilled to share another story on caste. This one again has gone missing from Mint’s website. I found this story’s draft on my drive and googled with the first four lines. Guess what, this blog had shared the story with the Mint link that does not work anymore. Thanks to the blog, I now have a full version of my published article. This article talks about the reversal of caste in the labour market with globalization.

Here you go:

In job market, caste role reversal Wed, Nov 10 2010. 1:00 AM IST

Rapid globalization has altered the historical structure that allotted
well-paying jobs to the upper castes

Pallavi Singh

Anil Kumar Mishra wears a sacred yellow thread around his torso,
effectively covered by his ash-blue uniform. While ushering in
visitors’ vehicles in the basement parking of V3S shopping mall in New
Delhi’s Nirman Vihar, he always hopes not to run into any acquaintance
from his village Shahabad in Bihar.

The yellow thread, he insists, can embarrassingly give him away.

Back home, this relic of religiosity is what shapes his identity—he is
the privileged Brahmin, the upper-caste Hindu whose primary role in
the Varna system is to worship the gods. In fact, this is what his
father Badrinarayan Mishra did all his life and survived on regular
doles from Hindu devotees during festivals.

Two of his younger brothers in Shahabad continue the family tradition,
but Anil says the vocation assigned to him by virtue of his caste
brought his family little money.

At 45, the college dropout is in a line of work which is considered a
lowly occupation for Maithil Brahmins—one of the highest ranking
Brahmins—in his village. He is a parking attendant, and by his own
admission, if he had enough education, he would be doing something
else. “Respect is very important in a job and everyone respects
priests. Position of a parking attendant is still better than that of
a security guard. No one gives him any respect, you know, and people
often address him lousily. I would never tolerate that. After all, I
am a Brahmin,” he says, adding that people seldom violate his
instructions in the parking lot, which is at least not disrespectful
for his upper-caste lineage.

For thousands of years, caste has remained a superior marker and an
important identity in India for upper-caste Hindus such as Anil, but
rapid globalization and economic reforms in its wake may now be
reversing the historical structure that allotted the well-paying jobs
only to the upper castes and forbade them from taking up menial jobs.
“In India, one doesn’t have a caste without any occupational identity.
But in a globalized world, much of the caste order has begun to
reverse itself primarily because of movement of low-caste Dalits from
farm to non-farm sectors such as industry, entry of multinational
firms with caste-neutral jobs and the subsequent race for money,
clearing the space for unemployed upper castes to step in,” says
Chandra Bhan Prasad, Dalit writer, activist and author of Dalit
Phobia: Why do they hate us? Prasad is currently researching the
emerging trend of this role reversal in collaboration with the
University of Pennsylvania in the US.

A recent study by Prasad, Devesh Kapur, Lant Pritchett and Shyam Babu,
excerpted last month in the Economic and Political Weekly and reported
by Mint, reflected two significant changes in economic activity of low
caste community in Uttar Pradesh: More and more Dalits are working as
sharecroppers on farm land rather than as labourers, and fewer among
them are handling animal corpses, traditionally an occupation limited
to the community.

Prasad argues that such changes, reflective of a higher social status
for Dalits, have diluted the upper caste arrogance of Hindus
significantly. “Upper-caste Hindus are going through a great amount of
distress. For centuries, they have owned land, but in the post-reform
period, they suddenly realize that owning a television set or a mobile
phone is a much bigger social status than their caste superiority.
They feel threatened when they can’t achieve them,” he adds.

The growing importance of money in a free-market era is also
undermining the importance of caste by allotting more value to
material possessions instead of social status, Prasad says. “This
money-making phase is very similar to the wave of materialism in the
US in 1960s when the growing importance of money resulted in more
democratic relations between the whites and blacks. Even the upper
caste Hindus such as Brahmins and Rajputs are willingly taking up jobs
that they vehemently detest,” argues Prasad.

Saroj Kumar Chaudhary, 18, perfectly understands the situation. He was
brought to Delhi from Madhubani in Bihar a year ago by a relative
after his father, a small-time farmer, began chiding him for his
constant demands for a mobile. A high-school dropout, Saroj landed a
scavenging job with the Centrestage Mall in Noida.

During the ten-hour shift at the mall, Chaudhary’s primary task is to
keep its toilets clean for which he is paid Rs.4,800 a month. However,
in the slums of Loni in Ghaziabad where he now lives, he is known as
an attendant in a television showroom, a lie he deliberately sells.
“Everyone knows I am a Bhumihar Brahmin and no one expects me to do
such a dirty job,” he says, admitting to his upper-caste identity
after repeated queries.

To Saroj’s rescue are the modern tools of scavenging—a steel wiper,
toilet cleaning solutions and tissue papers—and for the “new-age
look”, he also has a dark blue uniform with a cap similar to that of
his colleagues; even the work he does has what Chandra Bhan Prasad
calls a “caste-neutral name for a caste-loaded occupation”:
housekeeping. “Multinationals have been instruments of change in this
regard; they have made scavenging appear caste-neutral. Brooms have
vanished and these men in the toilets look like professionals,” Prasad

But it was neither the euphemistic name nor the modern tools for
scavenging that led Asha Devi to join the housekeeping staff at
Pacific Mall in Ghaziabad. Since migrating to Delhi from Etah district
in Uttar Pradesh seven years ago, Asha who is a Rajput, the warrior
caste, took up the housekeeping job a month ago, without telling her
husband, for the sheer shield of anonymity it offers. “I was working
as a maid in the bungalows of Noida before this. I would earn about
the same amount of money then too, but then, everyone around us would
know that I was washing utensils and sweeping floors in bungalows. My
husband wouldn’t like that either, so how could I tell him I am
cleaning toilets now?” she says.

Asha’s husband, who is an autorickshaw driver, picks her up after work
and she says she takes special care about what she wears after her
10-hour shift is over. “I take a bath and use a deodorant. Even
make-up. And, I almost every day remind my supervisor that he should
not tell my husband anything except that I dust off files in an
office,” she says.

Alak N. Sharma, director of Institute of Human Development in New
Delhi, says the upper-caste migration from villages to bigger cities
and metros is growing at an exponential rate, especially in states
such as Bihar where individual landholding has shrunk over the years.

“Upper-castes who have traditionally held land over the years are now
finding it difficult to feed themselves. Earnings from agriculture
aren’t enough anymore even as property partition in families keeps
reducing individual landholding. In fact, upper castes are migrating
more now than the lower castes are,” Sharma says.

Many Dalits and even upper-caste Brahmins, especially in rural areas,
don’t have a shot at a decent education—a must for the fastest-growing
areas of India’s economy such as software development, medicine and
engineering. India’s reservation policy, which reserves seats for the
scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward classes in
institutions of higher education, haven’t benefited the community
much, argues its critics.

Yet, reservations helped OBCs such as Naresh Yadav, who runs an auto
agency in Haryana’s Faridabad, get college education and employment.
“After graduation, I worked in a call centre and saved money to start
this agency. Without education, would you expect me to come this far?”

Yadav’s small-scale Yadu Auto today employs six drivers, out of which
two are Kayasthas, the merchant caste several ranks higher than the
Yadavs in Hindu caste order.

For a number of migrants, moving outside the state for work also works
as a symbol of upward social mobility and freedom from the repressive
caste hierarchy in the state. Only 42% of migrants working in rural
areas of Bihar would appreciate having a job in their native state,
notes a recent study on migration from the state by the Delhi-based
Indian Institute of Public Administration. “Out-migration for
employment sake has now become a craze. So much so that now staying at
village is equated with laziness among fellow villagers,” says Girish
Kumar, co-author of the study.

Gore Lal Singh, a Rajput, owns five bighas of land (two hectares) in
his village in Allahabad district, dominated by members of his caste,
but he would continue with his job as a security guard at the Pacific
Mall in Ghaziabad than go back and till his land.

“I can’t afford hiring (agricultural) labour for my land and if I work
myself, it will be looked down upon. So, I had to come here… But there
are many here who do even worse, you see, many who work as servants,
many who sell newspapers, many who do work they wouldn’t go back home
and talk about,” he says.

Many, like him.

Dalit Capitalism

I covered Dalit capitalism for Mint in its early days when DICCI as a chamber of commerce for the Dalit community had just come up. My boss at Mint, who is an economist, always felt proud of my work, especially on Dalit capitalism. Today, I spoke to Milind Kamble, founder and chairman of DICCI, in a decade and learned of the advances made by the community. This also prompted me to search for my stories on Dalit capitalism on the Mint website but a majority of them are missing! I am told that Mint had a website revamp which might have interfered with the articles. However, I found my report on a blog.

Anyway, I found this one (unedited) on my drive today. This report is a minefield for researchers (so proud to have written this story):

The rise of Dalit Entrepreneurship
Posted: Mon, Dec 27 2010. 1:00 AM IST

The community has found 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 India
Pallavi Singh,

Around 40 years ago, huddled among a group of hungry children in his
native village of Vadgaon Budruk in Maharashtra, Rajendra Gaikwad had
an epiphany about how there was discrimination in a simple seating

It was a mass lunch thrown by upper-caste Marathas and the
nine-year-old was seated along with his mother in a corner of the
temple where Dalits of the village ate. “We were segregated from the
upper-caste Hindus, which was very humiliating. Even as a child, I
felt insulted and would cry each time my parents would talk of
visiting the village. I didn’t return after that,” he says.

Gaikwad is today based in Pune and runs a pest-control firm with
operations in India and Singapore. He is also a member of a growing
band of Dalit entrepreneurs who have eagerly grabbed the opportunities
offered by a booming Indian economy to break the occupational shackles
imposed on their community for centuries.

Atin Kamble is a third-generation Dalit entrepreneur from Mumbai who
has none of Gaikwad’s bitter childhood tales to tell. After eight
years in the business of marketing edible goods in Mumbai shops
through his venture Arti Enterprises, 36-year-old Kamble is
ambitiously pitching for two power-generation projects in Arunanchal
Pradesh, which would need an investment of a minimum of Rs.15 crore

His grandfather began with a modest business of leather goods, a
vocation traditionally allocated to Dalits, in Mumbai’s crowded Dadar
area; his father expanded the family business but Kamble chose to
strike out on his own.

“I somehow found sitting in my grandfather’s leather business shop
infra dig. I mean, it’s a peon’s job, if you are ambitious. I wanted
to do something that would give our business the status of industry,”
he says. And adds: “Today I am dealing with distributors and local
shopkeepers in the food business. When my children take over, they
will be dealing with super stockists.”

As opposed to Kamble’s pedigree and Gaikwad’s fortunes, Dashrath
Singh, who uses a surname mostly used by upper-caste Rajputs in India,
is still struggling in the garments business he runs from a rundown
garage in the congested Om Nagar slum in Delhi. Yet, from where he
stands today, it isn’t just a matter of miles covered, but it’s a
significant leap from his native village of Vari in Uttar Pradesh’s
Bulandshahar district to Delhi.

Singh’s work over a decade has included a series of humble vocations,
among them a helper at a grocery shop, an autorickshaw driver, a
door-to-door salesman of clothes, and a conductor in private buses,
before the idea of entrepreneurship struck him. Three years into his
business, he sometimes “earns lakhs in a month and sometimes just a
paltry sum”. But he insists things couldn’t get better. “Whatever it
is, I am on my own. I seek no favours,” he explains.

Gaikwad, Kamble and Singh are three faces of an emerging Dalit
capitalism that allows 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

D. Shyam Babu, a fellow of the Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary
Studies (RGICS) in New Delhi, says Dalit capitalism is still at a
nascent stage, but adds that it will help create a Dalit bourgeoisie.
“It has the seeds of transformation for Dalits—from the lower class to
the middle class and beyond,” says Babu, whose research on Dalits and
the new economic order has highlighted the social advance of the
community in the wake of globalization.

“I know Dalit entrepreneurs who manufacture copper wires and cables
for use by the Indian Railways and the Delhi Metro, which proves that
these businesses are competitive, quality-oriented and efficient. This
is what Dalits in business want to prove today: they are good as
everyone else,” says author and activist Chandra Bhan Prasad, who is
currently compiling a database of entrepreneurs in the community.

Though the rise of the market economy has helped break many old social
barriers, Dalit businessmen still have to deal with several hurdles on
their chosen road.

“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 in India 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 insight on the expansion of private capital in
India during the post-1991 period and highlighted the discrimination
faced by Dalit businesses. The marginal status of Dalits and their
continued discrimination in the urban labour market also find
recognition in the 11th Five Year Plan released in October 2008. The
paper notes that “in urban areas, too, there is prevalence of
discrimination by caste, particularly discrimination in employment,
which operates at least in part through traditional mechanisms; SCs
(scheduled castes) are disproportionately represented in poorly paid,
dead-end jobs. Further, there is a flawed preconceived notion that
they lack merit and are unsuitable for formal employment”.

A poor economic and social background thus makes the beginning
difficult—only to be eased by outside help, mostly from the community
or well-off upper-caste individuals. “Forty years ago, when I began, I
would go on a cycle in rain and sun to various places—from a poultry
farm to an army cantonment, to kill rats and do odd jobs. I slowly
learnt that businesses need hard work and professionalism,” Gaikwad
says. In almost an afterthought, he adds: “A gentlemen called Mr.
Deshpande helped me get a loan from a bank by agreeing to be a
guarantor. The fact that he was an upper-caste man did help in making
my application appear serious.”

S. Galab, a professor at the Centre for Economic and Social Studies in
Hyderabad, who carried out research on the role and effectiveness of
self-help groups run by Dalit women in Andhra Pradesh, says most Dalit
enterprises suffer because of social isolation and the lack of
cooperation, and get over the initial hiccups only with help from
upper-caste individuals, since Dalits haven’t had a strong footing in
the social and economic sphere for centuries. “However, the upper
caste help also, kind of, co-opts the Dalits into the overall existing
structures, which is why they find it difficult to think about giving
back to their community later,” he cautions.

Various economic fora have also emerged over the years to help Dalits
overcome initial hurdles in setting up businesses. At the Pune-based
Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, formed three years ago,
its chairman Milind Kamble not just works on a database of Dalit
businessmen, but also helps them find linkages in industry.

And yet, argues author and activist Prasad, the emerging
entrepreneurship will need government help to thrive. “The government
ought to constitute a body, say, the ‘National Scheduled Caste and
Scheduled Tribes Supplier Development Council’, which should identify
Dalit/tribal entrepreneurs who are already supplying goods and
services to the government through middlemen, and connecting them
directly to procurement departments,” he says, citing examples from
the US, where a national body connects minority entrepreneurs with
large American firms.

To those who say that such a practice goes against the spirit of a
free market, Prasad argues that the Indian bourgeoisie itself would
not have thrived without state support and protection till 1991.
“Dalit businesses particularly need help since most of these are
small-scale operations,” he adds.

Explaining that economic standing is the only way Dalits can redefine
themselves, RGICS’ Babu likens the trend to the wave of Black
Capitalism in the US in the 1970s and 1980s. “There are strong
similarities. Like the black capitalists of America, most of the Dalit
entrepreneurs are first-generation entrepreneurs, people who were
never into businesses but mostly relying on agricultural labour. To
get into serious business from agriculture is a paradigm shift. And,
in both cases, here as in the United States, even though there have
been state interventions to promote entrepreneurship, individual
motivation and community help have come first,” Babu says.

Photo credit:


‘Good research is vital’

This very interesting interview with Alpa Shah is a must-read for anyone aspiring to write narrative non-fiction. Shah, a professor of anthropology at my alma mater London School of Economics, speaks beautifully and honestly about her writing process while working on ‘Nightmarch’ and has great messages for both academics as well as writers of the non-fiction genre. Her photo is taken from her website,

Here is the piece on this blog as well:

Literature in narrative non-fiction is undergoing an academic shift, lending to works in the genre richness of ethnographic research and multi-layered narratives. From Pulitzer-winning author and academic Matthew Desmond to more recently, Alpa Shah, works of narrative non-fiction by academics in recent years have contributed remarkably to our understanding of the most critical challenges facing the world. Embedded research, which often accompanies work in the genre, creates an intimate view of communities caught in the midst of unfolding complexities, offering a rare and empathetic understanding of not just compelling issues but also the people at the crux of it all through masterful storytelling.

Alpa Shah, author of Nightmarch: Among India’s Revolutionary Guerrillas, spent 18 months in the forests of Jharkhand and Bihar between 2008 and 2010, living among the tribals in huts without electricity and water. Shah, who was raised in Nairobi, read Geography at Cambridge and is currently a professor of anthropology in London at the London School of Economics, sought to understand how and why the tribals—mostly belonging to the Scheduled Tribes, often neglected by the local administration and the state and central governments—were picking up arms to create a “different world”.

The book’s lucid prose sensitively straddles the world of Naxals to tell stories of conflict, hierarchies, inequality and inherent contradictions in the movement with compelling takeaways for everyone. Nightmarch is an insightful exploration of conflict and its origins, and how the understanding of both eludes politics and policies for tribals in India. The book has been shortlisted for the 2019 Orwell Prize for Political Writing and the New India Foundation Book Prize. It was also on the longlist for the Tata Literature Live Nonfiction Award. Shah spent four and a half years doing anthropological fieldwork among Adivasis – one stint in 2008 to 2010 but also a longer one earlier – and draws on all of this experience for Nightmarch.

She is also the author of In the Shadows of the State’ and co-author of Ground Down by Growth.

In an email interview, Shah discusses her thoughts on writing non-fiction as an academic and whether she thinks the trend is going to catch on:

Pallavi Singh (PS): Your book has been acclaimed for its superlative craft in political writing. What are the key elements in your writing style that you think makes the book so immersive?

Alpa Shah (AS): Thank you. I’m not sure I have a style as such. I think most important (to the process) was a feeling, a compulsion if you like, of the need to share widely the knowledge I have been fortunate to attain. What was happening in the guerrilla strongholds had been silenced for the world outside. Meanwhile, a lot was being written on the Naxalites, which was either falling one way into those who radically opposed them, or the other, into those who tried to counter that position. This created polarising views. Adivasis were shown to be joining the rebels because they were forced to, because they were gaining utilitarian benefits, or because the insurgents addressed their grievances. My fieldwork had shown that the reality was more complex and that it was important for the world to understand that because so many lives were at stake. Many of the people I knew – those who lived in the jungles and those in the cities who could have brought light to their stories – were incarcerated if not killed. The responsibility of the uniqueness and significance of the stories I carried with me weighed heavily and I realised that I could not let the unexpected insights that I discovered through them be confined to the ivory towers of the university. I had to touch the hearts of people who read the book – as many as possible – in the way that the people I met, during the course of my research, had touched mine. I had to try to reach as wide an audience as I could, but without simplifying the analysis or dumbing down my scholarship. How to do this was the next question. I think a lot of my inspiration came from George Orwell, for whom the initial motivation for writing was similarly to get a hearing because there were lies to expose, facts to draw attention to, but to also make that process into an aesthetic experience. Writing, then, must be thought of as art.

PS: How different do you find narrative non-fiction from academic writing and in what ways?

AS: Academics these days are mainly trained to write for each other and not the general reader. It wasn’t always like this but over the years, there has been a kind of scholarly enclosure, especially in the West. It is partly to do with how neoliberalism has materialised itself in the university context. Austerity narratives have brought pervasive marketisation and the ethos of business into universities, determining how we monitor ourselves, bringing crude evaluation criterias of promotions rankings and research evaluation frameworks to bear on our writing. A kind of scholarly enclosure has advanced as academics are encouraged to address whatever conversation seems to be in vogue in a particular moment, and this is often the one that others can’t understand, and all of this becomes further validated through the inwardly looking practices we perpetuate of recognition, citation and promotion. Our writing is sapped off its vigour. Indeed, academics have increasingly ceased to be public intellectuals, the spaces of which are claimed mainly by people outside of the academy. So really, today, academics have a lot to learn from writers of narrative non-fiction, in finding ways of communicating the complexity of their scholarship to reach beyond elite audiences. I hope Nightmarch can create greater space for other scholars who want to make the wealth of their scholarship accessible to people outside the academy.

PS: How long did you take to write Nightmarch? What were the key challenges before you as an academic as you set out to write a book focused on narrative non-fiction?

AS: A very long time! The fieldwork for Nightmarch ended in 2010 and the book was published eight years later. It took me all that time to figure out what the significance of the stories I carried were and then what to do with them. I had to rework much that I had learned, the habits I was trained into, the traps of mystification common in academic writing. New concerns filled my imagination. Character, dialogue, journey, cliff hangers, audience and how to show and not always tell. But at the same time, it wasn’t all just about telling a story but also about drawing out the complexities of the analyses, the contradictions and tensions, thinking through the lessons for different kinds of audiences, including the Naxalites themselves.

PS: Do you foresee possible shifts in academic writing so it could be made more approachable for the masses? A number of academics – right from Matthew Desmond to yourself – have now written award-winning books in narrative non-fiction.

AS: Yes, I do.

Change is enabled partly through continuity. Despite the overwhelming insularity of so much of academic writing, there have always been those who bucked the trend, tried to reach beyond to a wider audience. Change is also enabled by the fact that serious conversations about writing itself were kept alive in academia. And then, there are contradictions in the way the pressures from above work that can be utilized as a force for change. Today, top university presses are feeling the financial crunch; books need to sell. Editors are encouraging us to move beyond academic prose in favour of compelling, clear writing. Bringing about change is also helped by the fact that those who have taken the risks to write jargon free books engaging broad publics are being rewarded with prizes.

But also, change is coming from ‘below’. Perhaps, it is the very pressure of decades of professionalism, the knowledge that years of tenure criteria and academic ranking have dumbed potential brilliance into mediocrity in writing, that we feel the need to push back. Perhaps it is because in this era of rising inequality and authoritarianism, we feel Orwell’s sense of political and artistic purpose in writing more than ever to keep alive the spaces of democracy, hope of justice, and demands for a more equal world. I think a collective will, across generations, will be a force for overall change for giving more room for writing that matters, and matters beyond the academy.

PS: Nightmarch was not just a book of engaging narratives, it was also the result of years of research on the field. What is your advice to researchers and academics aspiring to write narrative non-fiction in future?

AS: I think there are no blueprints, no models, no prefigured ideals. But one question we should all ask ourselves, is the simple one, ‘Why Write?’

What is at stake? Who is our audience? What is our intent? What makes us tear up our pages and rebuild? What is our political purpose? Our historical impulse? Are we aware of it? Why, if at all, does it matter that we are writing as scholars and researchers? What are the consequences?

Another important issue to bear in mind is to first and foremost be committed to good research itself. Don’t go about the research just in order to write a good story, or with preconceived ideas of what you may find. Always challenge your own ideas, seek hidden truths and unexpected insights. Never forget to be critical, including, of yourself.

In terms of writing, I think it is important to be committed to the insights you have gained from the people you have been lucky to study. There’s also something very special about doing deep immersive field research in communities, which allow researchers to draw upon the affective resonances that are born of intimacy with the people we meet to make our writing more engaging and effective. Keeping the lives of those we have studied close to us at all times, including when we are back at our desks, will help us make our analysis in writing more compelling.

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.

Not enough teachers to educate India

Roop Singh Taroke, huddled in the back rows of a damp and congested classroom, drew a blank at the mention of a geometry box and looked to his teacher for help.

At the upper primary school in Amazhir village, only 30 students out of the 180 enrolled in classes I to VIII had turned up the morning after Raksha Bandhan, along with a guruji, or guest teacher.

Blackboard blues: A classroom at the government primary school in Amazhir village, Sehore, Madhya Pradesh. Madhu Kapparath / Mint

The lanky Roop Singh Kharte, all of 20 and the lone guruji present, smiled nervously at Taroke. “I teach only Hindi,” he told the 15-year-old, before turning to a group of class II students clamouring in a corner.

Taroke, son of a farm labourer and a class VII student, had never seen an instrument box in his life although the math textbook has a chapter on geometry. Still, a student not having geometry box doesn’t seem like such a big deal. What’s more important is that there aren’t enough teachers.

One of the cornerstones of the Union government’s social welfare agenda, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) aims to put every Indian child in school. On 26 February, SSA will find prominent mention in finance minister Pranab Mukherjee’s Budget, given the Manmohan Singh government’s focus on inclusiveness.

In Amazhir, the challenges involved in implementing the programme are starkly apparent. In four bare rooms, a teacher conducts two classes at a time. Two of the four teachers have been hired on a year’s contract, including Kharte.

An undergraduate student at a college in Bhopal, the state capital about 80km away, Kharte teaches at the school during vacations for Rs150 per class.

Not the kind of remuneration that makes for regular attendance. Contract teachers, also known as “para” teachers, don’t turn up when the village gets cut off by heavy rain or at festival time, say parents.

Meanwhile, the state government has no clue how many such contract teachers are in the system. Madhya Pradesh was the only state not to provide data on contract teachers when the information was sought in 2003 by the National Council for Educational Research and Training.

“Perhaps, because this is the state to have employed the maximum number of para teachers,” said Anil Sadgopal, Bhopal–based educationist and member of a government-appointed committee that drafted the recently adopted Right to Education Bill, which ensures education for all between 6 and 14 years of age.

According to a 2000 report by the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP), India’s states have more than 220,000 para teachers, of which 53.7%, or about 118,000, are in Madhya Pradesh.

Not surprisingly, 48 out of 374 government schools in Sehore’s Nasrullaganj block, of which Amazhir is a part, have no teachers, according to the Madhya Pradesh government website. Mint’s email and phone queries on the subject to the state’s primary education secretary Snehlata Srivastava remained unanswered.

Fifty-two schools have one teacher each, in violation of SSA norms. Only about 37 schools have more than four teachers each. “In 1997, when the government found the teaching vacancies were too many and they had scant resources, they adopted a recruitment policy which favoured para teachers,” Sadgopal said. “The number of such teachers has increased alarmingly over the last few years. It’s making the whole education system unstable.”

The instability that Sadgopal refers to has been caused by underqualified and untrained teachers who have no job security.

In most states including MP, the minimum educational qualification for para teachers has been lowered to class XII (and class X for women), thus doing away with the minimum qualification of a bachelor of education degree.

At the Shiksha Guarantee Shala (Education Guarantee School, or EGS) in Palaspani village— 30km from Amazhir—Radheshyam Barkhare is one of the para teachers at the primary school, set up by the state government to provide elementary education.

Palaspani’s vital connect to the world outside remains unchanged: a 4km-long kutcha road through the fields, the route Barkhare takes everyday from his village, Amirganj, for Rs2,000 a month. “If I were a regular teacher, I would be earning at least four times more,” he says. But then, he has only studied up to class XII.

Under the PAISA (Planning, Allocations and Expenditures, Institutions: Studies in Accountability) project run by Pratham, the largest non-governmental organization in the education sector, in collaboration with the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), a think tank in New Delhi—parents monitor teacher absenteeism, which shows that the school had to shut because no one turned up to hold classes on two days this month. The project, being run in six villages in Sehore, sensitizes parents towards making government schools accountable. “When it pours, the schools remain shut for days because none of the teachers turn up,” said Sobha Kalausia, whose son Atul is a class V student at the school.

Barkhare puts up a robust defence. “The roads sink in rainwater and there are snakes in the fields. Which route do we take?” he asks.

Salaries are irregular and incentives have dwindled to zero, he said. “These are times of financial famine for teachers. The government says it has no money to pay us. Our festivals have no colour,” Barkhare said.

School officials, however say, the system ensures lower absenteeism and better quality since the para teachers risk being fired for neglecting work.

“With permanent jobs, teachers slacken a bit,” said Kedar Singh, principal of the Sarvodaya Government School in Bhopal.

However, various studies on para teachers including a 2006 report released jointly by the World Bank and National Institute of Educational Planning and Research, describe the system as a cost-cutting measure. Each para teacher deployment costs the state one-fifth that of a regular teacher in Madhya Pradesh. Notably, teachers’ salaries are not covered under SSA, but left to the state governments to fund.

The report also points out that contract teachers are now the norm, especially in new schools.

First introduced in Rajasthan in the 1980s as Shiksha Karmis, the concept was lapped up by various states after the World Bank adopted it in the early 1990s, beginning with Uttar Pradesh, under DPEP, now a part of SSA.

The contract teacher arrangement does serve a purpose though.

“Para teachers have come up in response to the challenge of providing universal access to primary education under different situations,” said Yamini Aiyar of the accountability initiative, CPR. “Sometimes, they help in remote and tribal areas, which do not qualify for formal primary schools within the state government norms. They also meet the teacher requirement in regular schools.”

But Sadgopal says the system is discriminatory. “It doesn’t exist in the Navodayas or the Central schools and will not exist in the 6,000 model schools being set up by the government across the country because everyone knows, to run good schools, one can’t rely on para teachers who are paid even less than contract labourers,” he says.

This first appeared in Mint.