WHY INDIA MATTERS

It is the end of our third week in India.  I have a personal mission to put into words why “India matters,” for those at home who can’t be here to witness it.  Imagine a country bursting at the seams, rushing full speed into modernization with youthful exuberance and optimism.  In contrast to the economic doldrums of the US, India’s economy is booming: new cars on the road, front loading washers on the balconies, the furniture, electronics, two-wheeler showrooms garlanded like wedding palaces with strings of lights. 

India is a land of contrasts.  For every observation I make, the opposing condition is revealed: those with wealth secure themselves behind gated clubs and communities while the very poor beg at stoplights; newspapers publish accusations of government corruption in a society where taking personal responsibility is highly regarded; the TV in the breakfast room broadcasts bikini-clad women dancing Bollywood style above women, modestly swathed in sarees, drinking their morning steamed milk; and rivers held to be most holy are threatened by garbage, chemical waste, and sewage. 

For those who think that India is of no consequence to the US, consider this:

  • Tens of billions of dollars are traded each year between the US and India.  This trade is in part what creates wealth and fuels consumer economies in both countries.
  • India is the second most populous country in the world, where more than 50 percent of the population is under the age of 25 and 65 percent of the population is under the age of 35. 
  •  The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of India is increasing, a reflection of an increased standard of living.  In 2010 the GDP growth rate is projected to be 9%, representing a 55 percent increase in the rate over 2009, making India the 6th fastest growing economy in the world.  Compare this figure with an expected 2010 growth in GDP of 2.5% for the US. 

With all of this bustling change at hand, what does this mean?

I have to admit that macroeconomics is baffling to me.  It must be to the economists as well.  Otherwise, we would all be rich, right?  So, perhaps we can look at what is happening here in Bangalore.

In the Bangalore Mirror today, there was an article headline that states: “Tech corridor is squatters’ favourite address.” The article goes on to point out that there are an estimated 2,858 squatters in Bangalore and of those, over half (1,612) are located in Mahadevapura, which houses the International Tech Park Bangalore.  As we all know, counting the homeless is a difficult task, and some estimates put the actual number of squatters in Bangalore as much higher: 18,000. 

Bangalore is known as the “Silicon Valley of India,” and it shares many of the growth pangs that the original Silicon Valley in California experienced during the 1980s.  In simple terms, the burgeoning growth of Bangalore far outstrips the ability of its infrastructure to accommodate it.  It is natural that such growth will attract daily-wage workers looking for economic opportunity.  However, construction workers who earn $0.20-$2.00 a day can’t afford decent accommodations.  Therefore, wherever growth is occurring, so are the make-shift shelters; constructed out of scavenged materials on footpaths, in bus shelters, and other public areas.  And so it goes.

Bangalore has more than 300 multinational companies: SAP, IBM, Siemens, Sharp, Samsung, Texas Instruments, Intel, Microsoft, Kelly Services, Fidelity Financial, MacAfee, Ericsson, Alcon, Coca Cola, Walt Disney, Cisco, ESPN, Honda, Franklin-Templeton, and Hitachi, to name a few.   These companies move here because it is economically advantageous to do so.  On the one hand, they are contributing to the increase in the standard of living for the average Indian here, on the other, they place demands on already stressed infrastructure.  One doesn’t have to understand the details of macroeconomics to see that these companies are realizing an economic advantage that is built upon the backs of laborers making temporary living quarters under the windows of the rich.  In the rush to build, the local resources and infrastructure face many challenges.  Water is in short supply and roads are inadequate to handle the growing population. 

Why should you care?  Perhaps I am tilting at windmills here, but given there is a system that allows large companies to externalize their real social and environmental costs, where does personal responsibility lie?  Perhaps there is good reason for you as an individual consumer to take a second look at how you spend your money.  If you use products or services from one or more of the above companies, you could be supporting a system that prevents people from having even basic access to water, clean sanitation, and shelter.  Where is the mechanism for holding corporations responsible for their economic, social and environmental impacts? And, as I sit here at my Dell computer, powered by Microsoft, drinking a Coca Cola, while reviewing the latest financial report from Fidelity, I too am part of the problem.  So think about it.  Where does our social and environmental responsibility start or stop?  Is it in our home town, our country, or does it now extend to the other side of the world?

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4 Comments

  1. Mary
    Posted December 11, 2010 at 4:49 am | Permalink

    Thanks for your insight. I look forward to future posts.

  2. Marcia Kelley
    Posted December 11, 2010 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Like your blog and will look forward to future posts. Recently watched a HGTV show of a couple relocating to Bangalore. They were looking at housing…lots of street shots and was fascinating. One house they considered was beautiful but came with a “gardener” and his family whose abode looked like a shed in the backyard. Locals used the vacant lot next door to graze their milk cow kept on a long rope. They led the cow around from spot to spot throughout the neighborhood.

  3. Doreen Kelsey
    Posted December 11, 2010 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Adriane. I’m impressed by how well you articulate this complex and important issue. I wonder how many people will take the time to reflect and actually be willing to reconsider their economic choices. One can only hope.

  4. gaeyia
    Posted December 13, 2010 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    Your blog looks great! Good work 🙂

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