When the cocoon of childhood encased Indians of my generation, the world around us was a different experience. Growing up in the 90’s in India meant really slow internet, Tinkle, and gully cricket. Projects had to be done using World Books, and the television played really cute English soaps dubbed in Hindi. The telecom revolution was a distant miracle, which meant you used a landline to make phone calls. You still needed courage, or put more curtly, guts, to call a girl you liked on her landline and ask for her, knowing full well that her father may be at the other end!
Why do I harp on these distant memories of simpler times and reminisce about the innocence of those memories? Well, as the first generation of children born in an India of economic liberalization have grown up and entered their office cubicles, certain socio-economic questions of our experience with reform need to be raised and chronicled. At the outset, I’d like to mention that this is not an article that looks at the necessity of the process of Liberalization, Privatization, and Globalization. Neither is this article an academic work drawn from a secondary resource that analyzes the fine print of statistics - both social and economic - to draw up an inference that fits the dogma of an ideology. This is an honest effort to look back, and see what has come of economic liberalization from a prism that is personal, yet reflective of a truth that has been hazed out in the pell-mell of India as an economic superpower.
The economic reform of the 90’s has created an economic world that is flat. For the India that speaks English, and holds education as a passport to a future of economic security, our tryst with neo-liberalism has been an unprecedented success. I am from this India. And for me too, this process of economic liberalization has created unprecedented opportunities and I have derived many benefits from the same. But here comes my problem with the economics of the present world order. In the last 20 years in India, we have successfully replaced every form of human value to exchange value. Further, we have let the economic health of our country masquerade as its social health. The greatest success of the economics of our time is that we’ve divorced how people are doing from how markets are doing. The pop philosophers of Facebook and Twitter will let us know that poverty, exploitation and suffering are adjectives used to describe a world they do not inhabit. Never have disparities within societies expressed themselves so starkly. How ironic? We live in an age where information is fast, easy and accessible. Yet, we have chosen to obfuscate the realities of India that don’t fit into our respective timelines!
When the political system of democracy preaches the gospel of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, the economic system along with other social dynamics ought to work towards attaining these high ideals of democracy. However, both common observation and empirical evidence shows that the alignment of our economic and political systems isn’t linear. Economics works towards undermining the democratic virtue of equality. We have 53 dollar billionaires in our country. They control a third of our economic output. To go with this statistic, the Indian economy has been growing at 8 percent or above till the first quarter of this fiscal year. This is said to be the second fastest growing economy of the world. However, in the latest Human Development Index, India ranks a dismal 134. The shame is amplified when we observe Iraq and the occupied regions of Palestine ranked above India. These are territories that haven’t seen a day of peace in the longest time. Yet, their people live in a more developed society than the Indian people. What does being a superpower mean to the 77% of Indians who live on Rs 20 (less than 50 cents) a day?
Capitalism as an economic order ascribes the responsibility of interactions to markets. When markets interact with societies, they create consumers not citizen. They build malls, not societies. And markets have chosen to negate and ignore all of the individuals they cannot commodify and package.
I’ll draw up my conclusion with a small anecdote I chanced upon recently. The latest Indian Human Development Report has been published by the Government of India. And the findings of this report probably best articulate what this article is trying to say. We live in an India where more people have access to mobile phones than to toilets, and food! It probably was the same in the 80’s and before that as well. But, if we are to consider the educated youth of a society as its primary agent of social change. Then never in the history of India have the agents of change been so disconnected from the realities of societies they inhabit.
-- Akshath Jitendranath studies Economics at the Symbiosis School of Economics, Pune. When he isn't listening to grasshoppers, he volunteers at Open Space.