Dec 2, 2006

Shining (a light on) India

Found this article by Siddartha Deb via Amitava Kumar's blog.

It's a very good, very concise assessment of India's economic progress that doesn't suffer from the usual black or white view of either "India shining" rhetoric that continues to dream of India's complete "awakening" from the quasi-socialist agenda of Nehru, or the far left critique of a nation that's done nothing but oppressed the masses and struck out into the moral abyss of capitalism and nuclear chauvinism with reckless abandon.

Deb somehow finds the balance, without wasting pages to get there. I am fascinated and terrified of India's economic and social explosion, especially in light of the many things that the nation, much like the United States, still has to deal with in its cultural past, present, and future. The current leadership and broad population in the United States is ignoring the legacies of genocide, oppression, and imperialism that have brought us to this "American century," and the dismantling of programs like affirmative action and public benefits that were meant, at least in part, to address history has escalated after the brief self-assessment period during the Brennan court.

Set-asides and perceived privileges by the underclasses in India have caused much resentment in the middle class, who as always and everywhere, continue to claim the most oppression. Certain relatives complained a lot about the push on the middle class, and I guess I could see some of their points. Schools are overcrowded and with a youth population that is huge, the only way a student can distinguish himself is through extensive after school tutoring and achieving the highest marks, all of which cost a lot of money. When they see woman and some scheduled tribes/castes getting set-aside seats, and apparently, also able to compete for the seats that are "merit-based," there is bound to be mistrust, anger, and resentment. I don't know if my cousins have it right - and if that's how the system works. I do know that it's more affirmative than American systems, and I don't know if I find it better or worse.

But that resentment, at least in India, gets violent very fast. And how do you "take away" what's been given to groups in the name of reform, even if it's progressive reform? I mean, though the Michigan and California votes removed affirmative action, what if they were replacing it with a different system, which the designers truly believed would be more equitable and serve the ultimate purpose of affirmative action - to level the playing field and balance privileges based on gender and race that pervade higher education and employment arenas? Would the general public, especially those with the most to lose, understand the nuances and trust that the wonks are trying to "fix it, not nix it"?

I'm not very confident. Politicians and the lobbyists who feed them are sustained by the stupor in which the general population lives concerning important policy decisions. Better to give them more cable stations (or another Hindu epic on television) than to make sure they are making informed decisions - and demands - about the direction that the country is taking. Representative, republican (small r) government is not about the voice of the people. Anyway, so we'll have to see what happens.

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