Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The Post-Colonial Hangover: Our Colonial Heritage Part - 2

The dawn of the early 1950s saw the recession of colonialism as a workable model of growth across the world; by the end of this decade, Colonialism was a dead word in the world at large, with only a few sporadic colonies remaining. 50 years and more have passed since that day (67 for India); and the development and growth, while present in India, has done little to solve the crippling problems facing the Indian nation. We are undoubtedly much, much better off - with world class amenities in the cities, a tremendously improved amenity profile in the villages, a bustling economy, stupendous success in high-tech sectors - where we are one among the top 6-7 nations in the world, much better infrastructure, improved - in fact, highly improved health facilities in towns and villages with world-rated medical centers in the cities, a multitude of renowned growth successes in various sectors of the economy spanning information technology to pharmaceuticals, no famine deaths, absence of repression, personal and political freedom, a vibrant and assured democracy, freedom of speech, expression and movement, and a life of honour. These are no small achievements - take a look around you and compare with other colonies (especially those who have undergone what we did; consider we were raped for 200 straight years, and looted for 300-plus).

And yet, despite the sizeable achievements listed above, we remain a nation beset with problems. The bottom 40% of our population is in dire straits; growth is skewed, with only a trickle reaching the lowermost sections of our society, while famines are now a thing of the past - people still struggle for 2 meals, farmer suicides still do happen, marginal farmers still operate at a loss-  and there are around 80 -  90 million small holdings in India. Infrastructure is in dire need of massive upgradation, we are surrounded by enemies on the strategic front etc. The question that occurs is - how many of our current problems are of our own creation, and how many are a colonial hangover? 

This is an important quest, as there is a disturbing trend among the youth - that of blaming ourselves for everything that is wrong. Nothing could be farther from the truth; while we have undoubtedly made mistakes- the fact remains that our colonial history lies at the root of most of our problems - if not all. Poverty, for one. The per capita earning chart reveals the story: 

Graph of Purchasing Power Parity Converted GDP Per Capita, G-K method, at current prices for India

The charts above tell the story; note the flat trajectory from 1880s to  around 1950 - and note the uptick after independence.In 1947, we had nearly 80% plus citizens below the poverty line; we had an infant mortality rate of more than 140 per 1000; a life expectancy of around 31; literacy rates were around 12%, and no industrial base of note. These numbers tell the tale; this is the colonial heritage; this is the price we are still paying for our colonial past. And our achievements, seen in the light of these numbers, are a matter of considerable pride - just 2 figures will be enough to convince people. We now have a life expectancy of 67, and a literacy rate of 74.

Rather than disparage the nation for its failures, let us all celebrate its tremendous achievements, as being one of the few to have bridged this massive gap in an atmosphere of relative internal peace and democracy. It would not be too far-fetched a statement if I were to state that we are among the few countries to have done this - and begin to be counted as among the nations that can become regional, if not superpowers. By no stretch of imagination is this a small feat, considering where we started - a total lack of electricity in the interiors, nearly absent medical care facilities, food shortages, destroyed infrastructure except rail networks (and roads to an extent), no industrial base to speak of, no schools in large tracts, destroyed morale... truly, a tremendous feat by any yardstick. We have managed to overcome the Colonial Hangover in this field...

To do this, we had to build huge numbers of schools, primary and secondary health centers, open new colleges and universities, build roads in the interiors, build electricity generation facilities, build and modernise our armed forces, build agricultural research and extension networks, introduce new crop varieties and scientific agriculture, build crop storages, improve market access, improve awareness, build a functional administration, build various and sundry industries spanning every imaginable product, build high-tech capabilities, build a world-class set of industrial capabilities, skill-sets and industries. Just pause a moment and think of the scale of challenges that we overcame- think of the number of plants, schools, colleges, industries opened; how we made a famine-hit nation into a food-surplus nation.., it boggles the mind - and we did it across a land-span of 3287590 square kms encompassing more than a 100 languages and dialects, dozens of cultures and sub-cultures, and every imaginable religion.

We can be justifiably proud of what we have achieved - in an environment where we were by-and-large alone, in a post-colonial world dominated by the Cold War politics and big-business-driven economic policies of the West married not to economic or humanitarian principles, but to cold hard profit and/or primarily strategic motives; an environment where a secondary strategic motive frequently became the determinant factor over-ruling business, economic and humanitarian principles. This was the post-colonial world; where the big guns focussed on their rivalries and tensions, to the exclusion of all else. A world where the same realities continue in a hidden and seemingly softer form, as we shall see in the next post wherein I look at the remaining aspects of the Post Colonial Hangover... 

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