India's super economy tag is clearly a laugh

The BRIC report is over five years old. During this time our economy has grown healthily and our GDP today is a great advertisement for the power of compounding growth.
But all these years our ranking on the Human Development Index (HDI) has only worsened and this year has slid down to 134. Stated clearly in that report is the caveat that unless India addresses its education and social inequities, the projections of a sustainable super economy will be untenable. 

Firstly, in the context of the BRIC report, let us do a snap shot comparison of Brazil and India. Next, let us lay out the premise that urban India’s elite and middle class should do more to set standards in everyday life because that will have a huge ripple effect in building empathy for India’s disadvantaged. The third point is that India must address the all pervasive ‘retailing of corruption’ in order to fulfil its potential and not fritter away the gains made elsewhere.

Brazil vs India
People of Brazil are as warm and effusive as Indians. Brazil too has huge inequities. The chasm between prosperous south Brazil and struggling north Brazil is striking. Wealth is heavily skewed and 20 per cent of population controls 88 per cent of land.
Brazil spends  6 per cent of its GDP on education. India spends less than 4 per cent. Brazil’s schools have excellent infrastructure. Teacher absence is not an issue as it is in India. There is a teacher for every grade in 70 per cent of Brazil’s schools, something that you can say about less than 30 per cent of India’s schools.
Brazil is untouched by terrorism of the kind that has ravaged India. Brazil is 64 places ahead of India on the HDI ranking.
For the 80 per cent of India’s children who study in rural schools, quality education has remained elusive. For the other 20 per cent who study in India’s urban schools, it is a mind numbing routine of rote learning and a stampede to score the highest marks in exams.
Most damaging for India’s hugely iniquitous social fabric, the urban elite and middle class children have grown up cocooned comfortably as though in a planet different from that inhabited by 42 per cent of India’s population that lives below the poverty line. A good six months of compulsory internship in India’s villages for all our youth would perhaps do a world of good!

There are numerous opportunities in our everyday life to demonstrate empathy. Empathy is something that is so contagious that it can become a way of life. Social scientists can then study how the HDI of a country can be correlated with the degree of empathy that citizens exhibit in daily life!

Strange as it may seem I believe that if on aircrafts we did not violate the rule that prohibits use of mobile phones for safety reasons; if we allowed the elderly lady to board the bus first; if the ‘educated’ executive in his car will wait for the slow moving traffic to dissolve instead of driving on the wrong side, these will have a profound impact on our country’s chances of fulfiling the BRIC prophecy.

At a recent discussion, one of the speakers in a moment of great clarity mentioned that a country that has corruption at an organisational level can correct itself out of this spiral but India — where retailing of corruption has been established — has created a quagmire for itself. So we have situations where there is a price for jobs or even school admissions.

We have created a boa constrictor coil of corruption that entwines every single strand of our country’s existence. If we as individual citizens respect the law of the land we will in our own way starve the boa constrictor. Eight per cent GDP or 20,000 on the Sensex sounds heady but a growing economy will be meaningful and sustainable only if it helps reduce social inequities significantly.

(The writer is with Azim Premji Foundation)

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