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Saturday, April 17, 1999

Regional Vignettes


Chalo America, or anywhere else...

APROPOS of the article "Chalo America, or anywhere else...." (April 3) by Nonika Singh, Indians living abroad as immigrants are a very successful community. The search for greater opportunities and a better quality of life has always attracted Indians to explore far-off lands like America and Europe. Indians, have achieved great success in the USA, Canada and the UK. In the USA alone, there are more than a million Indians, many of whom have got US citizenship. In Canada too cities like Vancouver and Toronto have been Indianised due to the presence of a large number of Indian immigrants. In the United Kingdom also, the Indian community forms a progressive, politically aware and a vibrant community lending a multi-ethnic touch to the English culture.

Indian professionals working in the USA are very highly educated, many of whom have obtained the MS/postgraduate degrees from the USA after graduating from India.An average Indian professional working in the USA holds a degree of engineering, technology, management of medicine. Indian software engineers form the backbone of the software industry in the USA. The US Senate accordingly raised the annual quota of IT professionals willing to serve in the USA. The Silicon Valley, San Jose in the USA, is dominated by Indian computer/electronics engineers. The American software companies are likely to collapse if Indians withdraw from it. Indian professionals are quite intelligent, hardworking and diligent people and they carve a niche for themselves by quickly adapting themselves to the competitive environment. Many Indians in the USA have become "Fortune stories" like Sabeer Bhatia who launched the e-mail company called hotmail and later sold it to Microsoft for $ 400 million. Similarly, there is another success story of Reuben Singh, who at the age of 24 years has become one of the richest persons in the UK and is called "Bill Gates of Europe". Reuben’s parents migrated from India to the UK.Among the old success stories of the Indians living abroad are that of Lord Swraj Paul and L.N. Mittal, both of whom live in the UK. It is a testimony to the economic prosperity of the Indians settled abroad that the recently launched ‘Resurgent India Bonds’ fetched a handsome sum of $ 4.2 billion to the Indian Government from the Indians living abroad.

Apart from the monetary success, Indians abroad have also distinguished themselves in academics. A number of Indians abroad are serving as professors in the British and American universities. Kalpana Chawla became the first Indian woman to fly into space with NASA. Indian Nobel laureates like Dr Hargobind Khurana and Dr Subramaniam Chandrashekhar could win the Nobel Prizes and international acclaim only because they migrated to the USA to avail themselves of better infrastructure research and scientific facilities and a competitive environment. Dr Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize winner in Economics for the year 1998, won international acclaim by being the first Asian to be appointed Master of Trinity college in the UK.

Be it the hardworking Punjabi farmers who have harvested wonders out of the lands of Canada, USA and Australia or the Indians running restaurants in the UK or the Cab-drivers who zoom past smartly on the roads of New York and elsewhere or the professionals like the engineers, managers and doctors, it goes without saying that the Indians abroad have been able to establish themselves successfully in spite of facing adversities. May God bestow even greater success on the Indian community abroad.



Our ruling masters handed over to us virtually a dead nation. From 18.33 per cent literacy in 1951, we had 52.11 per cent literacy in 1991 (census figures) Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Mizoram, and Kerala have near total literacy. Schools have been opened in large numbers. Village India has been linked with roads.

Our professionals, particularly engineers compare India with America. But what they see in the USA is a result of America’s continuous and honest efforts for 210 years (1789 to 1999), while ours is a nascent democracy beset with problems and plagued with Laloos, Mulayams, Jayalalithas, Ashok Singhals, and others of their ilk drowned in corruption, self aggrandisement etc.

Our professionals must have patience to get what their counterparts get in the developed world. "The key to everything is patience. You get the chick by hatching the egg, not by smashing it".

Durga Bhardwaj

What is poverty?

On the basis of some stray citations fromRamachandra Guha’s Savaging the Civilized: Verrier Elwin, His Tribals and India, Khushwant Singh made in "This above all" (March 27) a rather feeble attempt to define poverty. As the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) puts it: "Poverty like beauty cannot be defined."

According to the NCAER survey, the all-Indian annual income in village India is Rs 4,485. In Orissa and West Bengal, the annual per capita is Rs 3,028 and 3,175, respectively. It is lower than Bihar’s Rs 3,169, UP’s Rs 4,185, MP’s Rs 4,166 and Rajasthan’s Rs 4229. According to the Government, "People earning less than Rs 11,000 a year are said to be below the poverty line".

The survey shows that 55 per cent and 51 per cent of the rural population of Orissa and West Bengal, respectively, is living below the poverty line.Dr Abusalef Shariff, economist and head of the Human Development Programme Area, says: "The poor are everywhere, even behind palaces. They are frightened, ignorant, insecure and lack direction. They survive without the knowledge where the next meal will come from."

The highest per capita income in rural India is in Punjab (Rs 6,380) followed by Haryana (Rs 6,368). But even these affluent states have pockets of rural poverty. Poverty can also be measured by the poor’s access to piped water, electricity, kutcha or pucca houses and the public distribution system (PDS).

A staggering 55 per cent of the country’s rural population still lives in kutcha houses. Despite the government’s much touted schemes for electrification, barely 16 per cent of the rural homes in West Bengal and 19 per cent in Orissa have electricity. Though nearly 50 per cent of the rural homes in the backward states have potable water, piped water is still like manna from heaven for most villagers.

Lakhs of licensed prostitutes work in Mumbai, Calcutta and Delhi. This is poverty. Wives and children are sold in Orissa for paltry sums. This is poverty. And this is 50 years after Independence.Alas!


Reel life

This refers to Abhilaksh Likhi’s write-up "Looking at life differently" (March 27). There is no doubt that viewed from technological standards, Indian cinema has travelled miles ahead. But from social, moral and cultural standards, it has registered a general decline which, according to critics, does not augur well for its entry into the new millennium.

Of course, the fate of cinema has changed radically in the ‘90s. The protest against violence and onscene scenes has begin, but not yet gathered momentum. The extreme forms of brutality shown in the cinema is exaggerated. But film producers insist that it is a reflection of the ground reality; the films only show what is going on around us. In small and large degrees, violence has entered our lives along with its attendants — fear, hostility, cynicism, unbearable tension. The crimes against women are committed with impunity, and the perpetrators are let off lightly or go scot-free.

It is a strange logic, producers and the directors contend, that expects films to depict an ideal where kindness, helpfulness and compassion rule. The protest against cinema — and by extension-- television has to be seen as a complaint against the sharp erosion of the quality of life today.

All this is not to suggest that film cannot be a creative medium. The unprecedented overwhelming public response to Ham Apke Hai Koun has to be seen in this context. The film provides conclusive evidence that audience have reached a saturation point with the heavy doses of violence. The one without conflict or drama, could be seen as an answer to audience nostalgic for a more ordered world-in the cinema as in reality.

The cinema can evoke strong feelings, sometimes insightful and sometimes unexplainable. It can stimulate the imagination and challenge our world view. A social and aesthetic intervention is possible when cinema is used this way. Left to the market forces, this is never likely to happen.

K.M. Vashisht

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