Write your Column at iVarta
India, Asia and Global
Breaking Stories, Latest News Headlines, Opinion, Analysis
Columns and Discussions Business, Social and Community Networking.
Collection of India News, Articles, Columns, Analysis and Research Papers.
Facts about India, Indian History, Culture, Yoga, Meditation & Ayurveda and
Views expressed here are author"s own and not of this website. Full disclaimer is
at the bottom.
Feedback to author
My wife Kiran and I thank all organizers, speakers and participants for conducting a very informative, audience participatory 2-day meeting. We were attending for the first time a conference on sustainable development in rural India. Development of India with emphasis on Gandhian thought was the focal point.
The reflections in three parts describe what I learned at the conference (Part I). I compare it (Part II) to my understanding of technology’s impact on social engineering and the economy (Part III) in my pursuit of rural India learning journeys.
Part I of III
Audience and Speakers
The conference was attended by more than 80 highly motivated NRIs. The NRI age ranged from 30 to 70+. In my estimation each had 10 to 50 years experience in various fields. As a group they represented an estimated 2000+ years of cumulative experience in humanities, business, engineering, medical and scientific fields. Most were seeking clues: how to help solve India’s problems?
There were twelve distinguished speakers with a depth of knowledge and several members of the audience presented information about their projects. Each of 7+ senior speakers had up to 50 years work experience and the rest had 15+ years experience. All speakers and attendees revered Gandhiji. In my estimation many suffered from a lack of critical understanding of Gandhiji’s thought and how and when to apply it to solve many problems of India.
The meeting provided initial input for planning my next visit (see Part III) starting January 2008 to learn from three NGOs: Barefoot College (Tilonia, Rajasthan), Sehgal Foundation (Gurgaon, Haryana), and Deen Dayal Research Institute (Chitrakoot, MP). I was inspired by Roy, Sondhi, and Rohatgi with presentations on developments of affordable products related to Solar Energy. Mathur impressed us with scientific data related to improving milk production and crop yields using natural organic products from trees. I developed a thirst for learning more of rain water harvesting methods used by the Barefoot College and Sehgal Foundation.
Madhu Suri Prakash elegantly elaborated Gandhiji’s experiment with cleaning toilets by all from every caste and religious faiths. She visits a village during her break from teaching at an American University. In her adopted village in Mexico she used a dry toilet that separated urine from feces, which upon mixing with a cup of soil allowed for an environmentally friendly waterless solid waste. She did not provide details of methods for disposal of soil mixed solid and liquid urine wastes and to that extent the process for environmentally friendly human waste management was not defined. Nothing was said about malodor control associated with storage of human waste. The storage and disposal methods for the solid human waste mixed soil and urine produced in urban environments such as high rise buildings were left to the imagination.
The management of soil/solid-waste requires every individual and/or the family unit to perform an unappealing dirty job. Madhu added dry toilet eliminates environmentally unfriendly toxic human waste management systems for flush toilets.
Indians (800 million) in rural communities and slums lack indoor toilets and 300 million urbanites use flush toilets. Globally (2007) flush toilets are used by 2+ billion urbanites. Obviously, those lacking flush toilets use natural habitat for disposal and management of, I quote Madhu, “our shit.” Lacking knowledge of disposal methods for solid and liquid wastes and malodor control, I was not convinced that the use of dry toilets or equivalent offers an environmentally friendly management of human toxic wastes.
I conducted a Google search for information on ecological dry toilets. For ecological dry toilets using lime, ash or soil mentioned by Madhu see http://www.laneta.apc.org/esac/drytoilet.htm and http://www.blacksheepinn.com/CompostingToilet.htm for composting dry toilets. Septic tank for outhouses is another technology for environmentally friendly management of toxic human waste in rural communities. For environmentally friendly management of human waste improved dry toilets are used at the Sehgal Foundation and Vigyan Ashram (Pabal, near Pune).
To solve the problems of environmental pollution and global warming Satish Kumar proposed adoption of Satvic or environmentally friendly and self-reliant practices. He discussed several points and some arguments presented were not taken to its logical conclusions presumably because doing so would have negated the point. The presentation emphasized environmental pollution and global warming to demonize industrialization and technology.
Sam Pitroda a technologist respected for bringing telecom revolution to India now heads a knowledge commission. Knowledge commission is another top down Government of India programs many of which have produced questionable results. Asked to comment on relevance of the knowledge commission to prevailing social, cultural, political and religious problems he performed a famous Texas sidestep dance!
Some panelists were not prepared to address tough questions from audiences related to caste and applications of sound economic principles to solve Indian problems. Their pronouncements sugar coated with Gandhian thoughts were inconsistent with a mantra, for India the cure is economic, headaches are social. Some comments deserved a label - freakonomics. I suggest three books for those interested in information to solve many problems of India:
1. In Spite of Gods by Edward Luce (Doubleday/Random House, NY 2007) – Access to political power is providing mobility to India’s disadvantaged population (65%) with 50+% lower castes (shudras or Gandhiji’s Harijans, Mahars of Ambedkar, SC or Dalits, etc) Hindus and 15% minorities - Muslim, Christians, Sikhs, etc.
2. Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations by David Warsh (Norton, NY, 2006) – Knowledge is a tool for wealth generation and value added services for global economy.
3. Eat the Rich by P. J. O’Rourke (Grove/Atlantic, 1998) – a hilarious book for understanding economics 101, why communism failed and socialists are limping.
Part II of III
Technology’s Impact on Social Engineering
Gandhian thoughts are nice ideas and good P.R. Reality is another story. For nearly sixty years after Gandhiji’s death skilled elite traditionalists have exploited the information asymmetry to demonize industrialization and technology. Lip-service and hypocrisy by average upper middle-class Indian to Gandhian thought is humorously exposed as a subplot in a movie, Chini Kum, (less sugar) a May-September romance story.
During a discussion session I introduced a population growth chart. I tried and failed to get panelists to relate on-going technology’s impact on social engineering. Several additional tough questions from audience were answered by panelist but most of what follows are my rebuttals of comments by panelists. For details of many questions asked and answered interested readers are advised to seek reviews from other audience members.
Ignoring positive contributions of industrialization and technological practices two speakers focused on environmental ill-effects, global warming and flush toilets, suggesting that problems may disappear if Satvic or environmentally friendly and self-reliant practices of development are adopted. In a 1949 speech President Truman was first to propose division of world into developed and underdeveloped nations. Leaving aside political rhetoric by any reasonable definition, relative to developed nations, India is economically poor judging from hardships faced by those with less than Rs. 100 per day to provide for basic necessities any where in India.
Conflicting social engineering or changes are associated with on one hand technology-industrialization driven development and on other with reverting to past glory associated with self-sufficient community development models. Technology is needed to relieve pressures associated with demographics and global economic growth patterns. India needs traditional knowledge supplemented by modern technology empowered workforce to generate wealth, both personal and national, to maintain a high economic growth rate to accelerate development. Gandhiji’s sustainable self-sufficient community model assumes low expectations, both economic and other demands for modern consumer products.
Listening to several participants and panelists it felt that they were either naïve or ignorant of impacts of demographics on development. My view is for 1.1+ billion Indians the Gandhian concept of self sufficient communities comparable to that existed during and prior to the British Raj for 330 million Indians is untenable.
India is on a way to become a major global economy in spite of constrains by international political shifts and threats posed by terrorism. Principles and practices of ahimsa or non-violence did not prevent colonization of South Asia from 10th to 18th centuries by the loot and plunder brand Turkic invaders from Central and North Eurasia. Wars including proxy war or terrorism by political opportunists and other International wars such as those in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan by technologically empowered America and NATO can’t be wished away in 21st century and beyond. Truly few hells are worst than those paved by technologically powerful nations and by political opportunists using terrorism for territorial expansion!
Gandhian thought and Population Growth
India is home to 25+% poor of world. A serious understanding of social and political problems associated with global demographics was not reflected by speakers or discussions that followed. For some interesting observations see my blogs, “Enabling Rural India’s Economic Growth” and “Technologies Impacts on Social Engineering at http://kishanbhatia.sulekha.com/blog/posts.htm.
For present discussions the following data are relevant:
Year Global Population, Billions
Global population growth from 500CE to 2150 using UN 2004 projections and US Census Bureau historical estimates provided a revealing insight (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demography). The data for 1920 to present are reliable counts, not estimates or projections like the rest. It took 1800+ years for population to grow to a billion; two hundred more to reach 6.6 billion and projections are in next 100 years it may stabilize at 10 billion.
Historically, the cream of societies ruled masses for 1800 years and lived a mythical good life that elite traditionalists including proponents of Gandhian thought never stop talking about. Traditional production methods satisfied low economic and consumption demands of masses. Prior to 1800 life expectancy was low, 50 or less, primarily because population was repeatedly ravaged by poor healthcare and persistent tribal and religious wars. For masses life was hard.
The absolute centrality based religious beliefs provided relief to masses from hardships of life and spirituality provided an escape from hardship. Lacking proper scientific understanding of common contagious diseases masses took to superstition to soothe pains caused by constant devastations. Political opportunists routinely exploited misinterpretations of religion and absolute centric tribals for personal gains and power through territorial expansions.
With medical discoveries for control of contagious diseases (malaria, TB, small pox, cholera, plague, etc) and spread of European colonization for hundreds of years to 1940, the death tolls due to epidemics and wars were precipitously reduced creating conditions for unprecedented population growth.
The proponents were promoting Gandhiji’s model of self reliant communities that was sustainable prior to 19th century. Gandhiji lived in a period of low life expectancy and population so he had no idea of uncertainties that dominate 21st century. For Gandhiji solutions for non-existent demographic problems were not required. The speakers ignored that with improved healthcare and technology life expectancy is now between 60 and 80 for most of 6.6 billion people, creating high expectations and demands for consumer products advertised through electronic and print media in rural and urban communities.
They also ignored that technology has created plenty of economic opportunities for functional literates empowered to provide value added services to meet global demands. With technology and information asymmetry entrepreneurs generate fabulous wealth, both personal and national.
Technology and Development
The elite traditionalist talked as if the Gandhian thought was absolute for freeing world of deleterious effects. In my opinion they should remember that scientific discoveries of 20th century and advances in technology have challenged credibility of absolute centric beliefs. The uncertainty principle, relativity and quantum mechanics stands directly opposed to absolute centric philosophy. Philosophically life is indeterminate uncertainties.
Problems and solutions are found in societies that are in darkness due to a lack of functional literacy. Modern sciences and technologies offer knowledge and tools. But it is for us to supplement traditional knowledge with technology tools for developing appropriate solutions for problems we face. Challenges are to discard absolute certainties, face uncertainty, and learn from Gandhian wisdom and action plans to find solutions where problems exist.
Rural communities’ traditional knowledge should be complimented with modern technologies – telecom, internet, healthcare, dry toilets for rural communities not for replacing flush toilets, modern methods of rain water harvesting, renewable green energy, etc – using action plans, not rhetoric to meet expectations of masses for improved standards of living. The NRIs attending the meeting are very well qualified to help make it happen.
Technology stealthly promotes social engineering impacting quality of life with improvements and some deleterious effects. Solutions in areas of transportation, healthcare, improved agricultural productivity, advanced communications, rain water harvesting and rural sewerages systems, and production and distribution of consumer products to masses at affordable prices are offered by inventions of 20th century for problems created by population explosion.
Technology is influencing social engineering of three dominant religions and non-religious people. Indians, Chinese, American, Japanese, Koreans and Europeans have an open mind to scientific discoveries. The global populations have 20% Vedic (Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh), 20% Muslims (Sunni, Shia, Sufi, etc), 31.5% Christians (more than ten sects) and 13% of 17% nonreligious population are communist Chinese and Russians. China, India, Europe, North, Central and Latin America, and other Pacific region nations together represent 75+% global populations.
The desire for improved quality of life pervades people of all societies and religious beliefs. Coping with social changes associated with modern products doesn’t have to be but can be a torturous experience for those who are unable to reconcile conflict between modern discoveries of uncertainty and beliefs associated with absolute certainties. Not all societies are functionally literate and receptive of modern sciences, but all love using modern consumer products available at affordable prices.
Part III of III
Rural India Learning Journeys
Our goals for attending the conference included networking and identifying new projects that we can associate with by learning from achievements and on-going activities of NGOs operated by Bunker Roy (Barefoot College), Manoj Dubas (ATREE = Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment), Jay Sehgal (Sehgal Foundation), Balbir Mathur (Trees for Life), Umesh Rohatgi (social worker) and Jiwan Prakash Sondhi (People to Support People Foundation).
The learning journey should determine if any programs are consistent with our vision and interests and if they merit support of the INDUSA Endowments, an unregistered family trust to help empower rural youth with marketable skills. INDUSA sponsors the Y4D (Youth for Development) at V.I.L.D., Mysore and IBT (Introduction to Basic Rural Technology) at Vigyan Ashram, Pabal, both programs for empowering rural high school dropouts – 7th to 10th grade. We also offer books for library programs to undergraduate colleges that are willing to host Dr. Bhamy Shenoy’s True Education Seminar series – 20 lessons for critical thinking.
I am also involved in development of IRCHI (India Rural Communities Healthcare Initiative) for the IRCPI (www.ircpi.org). The IRCHI is working on a cutting edge Lab on Chip technology using one-minute diagnostic tests or equivalent for five common diseases – TB, malaria, diabetes, HIV/AIDS and chicken pox. We invite input from doctors to collaborate with us. Viveka Hospitals, Saragur, Karnataka has agreed to conduct pilot studies.
INDUSA practice is to do as much as possible and deliver results as fast as we can. For India’s rural development the cure is economic and headaches are social. We invest in education of rural youth to empower them for creating a socially just environment for all community members and for sharing it with our children and grand children.
Each of past 5+ years I have visited India to learn why rural India’s economic growth is not keeping pace with rapidly developing India. According to literature during British Raj for fifty years prior to 1947 annual economic growth rate was 1%. The socialism dominated policies (1950-80s) of the Nehru-Gandhi administrations helped it to grow to 3.5% and with gradual liberalization since 1991 it is now growing at 9+%. The improvements of growth rates since 1991 were attributable to the manufacturing and IT sectors of urban India with about 30% of 1.1 billion populations; unfortunately rural or agricultural sectors grew at 3% or less during the same period.
Indian Express reported that during British Raj annual per capita income was less than Rs. 300 ($60 at $ = Rs. 4.75 in 1950) and it is now (2006) less than Rs. 28,000 (about $600 at $ = Rs 45). The future growth of a trillion dollar economy (2007) faces uncertainty if daily income (Rs. 100 = $2) of 800 million Indians continue to stagnate.
The statistical data ignores the PPP value of rupee vs. dollar, presenting a distorted picture of economy. As a rule of thumb the PPP value of rupee for buying daily necessities in rural India is $ = Rs. 4 to 7, not about 40.
A part of income generated by the unregulated sectors is black money and it also distorts the true economic picture. The official data are for the organized sector only. The level of black money may be estimated from indicators such as Indians annual purchase up to 900 of 1200 tons of gold produced globally, not to mention up to 50% of diamonds. Yet, persistent claims are 800 million Indians live on Rs 100 per day or less!
Indian workforce in 2007 was at 470 million, with 35 million employed in organized sectors and balance (200 million families) operates farming, small businesses and real estate activities. Twenty-one million are government employees, 13 million works for private corporations and balance for IT industry. Income taxes are paid by less than 10% Indians. Statistically reliable data for black money are not available.
The challenges for technologically savvy NRIs are to help rural communities supplement India’s traditional knowledge with modern technology by improving functional literacy of rural masses. Forget the absolute centrality of one or other kind used by skilled elite traditionalists that allude to reverting to pre-20th century for the imaginary past glory. We need to develop:
1. A practical sustainable model of high rural economic growth through increased agricultural productivity and sound business practices,
2. More income for farmers to minimize up to 40% spoilage of agricultural products by developing cold storage and transportation infrastructure and utilizing supply chain management practices to keep costs low; and
3. Use of principles of mass scale production of consumer produce at affordable prices; ever expanding array of quality products at affordable prices are needed to raise quality of life for masses living under substandard conditions.
Feedback to author
References & Notes: