In Its Match With China, India Penalizes Its Own Team

April 24, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist


India is stirring after many centuries of torpor, and it has a chance of ending this century as the capital of the world, the most important nation on earth. You see up-and-coming cities like Hyderabad or Ahmedabad, and it’s easy to believe that India will eventually surpass China.

But here in rural Bihar state in northern India, there’s no economic miracle to be seen. And it’s difficult to see how India can emerge on top unless it takes advantage of its greatest untapped resource: its rural population.

The village of Khawaspur has no electricity. It has a school with 600 students, but — as is common in Indian state schools — many teachers show up only rarely. “We go to school, but the teachers don’t,” explained Doli, a second-grade girl.

On a typical day there will be just one or two teachers in the whole school, and the students learn next to nothing. “You have to bribe your way to be a teacher there,” explained Yogender Singh, who tutors children for payment.

No child I met in Khawaspur had ever been vaccinated for anything. And the local government hospital exists only in theory.

“There is a hospital,” said a villager named Muhammad Shaukat. “But there’s not even a door or a window. Forget about a doctor.”

That’s a common problem: the government pays for schools, clinics or vaccinations, but someone pockets the money and no education or health care materializes.

In a village in Gujarat that I visited on this trip, all the children were out of school because the teachers had decided to take a monthlong vacation. One sixth-grade student, Ramila, could not write her name, not even in Gujarati.

Another sixth grader, Janah, said that when it came time for exams, the teachers wrote the answers on the blackboard for students to copy so the exam results wouldn’t embarrass the school.

Then there’s the toll of malnutrition. India has more malnourished children than any country in the world and one of the highest rates of malnutrition, 30 to 47 percent, depending on who does the estimating.

Those malnourished children suffer permanent losses in I.Q. and cognition, and are easy prey for diseases. There is some evidence that widespread malnutrition lowers economic growth in affected countries by two to four percentage points a year.

So in the middle of this century, India will still be held back by its failure to educate, feed and vaccinate its children today. This failure will haunt India for many decades to come. Sure, China has many similar problems, with growing gaps between rich and poor and an interior that is being left far behind. But rural Chinese schools provide a basic education, including solid math and science skills.

India’s boom is real, and its overall growth rate puts India right at China’s heels. Its middle class is expanding, governance is improving, and the transformation is one of the most exciting things going on in the world today. The 21st century will belong to Asia, and young Americans need to study Asia, live in it and learn its languages.

But Indians refer to the “Bimaru” states — a play on the word “bimar,” which means “sick” in Hindi. The Bimaru states are Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, and Orissa deserves a spot as well.

In the Bimaru states, there is no boom. “We see nothing here,” said Vidya Sagar Gupta, a businessman who once operated many factories in northern Bihar. Now he has closed most of them down and is trying to sell his properties.

Electricity is unreliable, crime is growing, corruption is endless, the agricultural sector is in crisis, supplies are difficult to get, and criminal gangs and politics are so interwoven that it is difficult to foresee improvements, he says.

For anyone who wants to see this country succeed, a visit to rural India is a bitter disappointment. Ela Bhatt, who founded the Self-Employed Women’s Association, a union of poor women that now has nearly one million members, told me that India’s economy is profoundly limited: “It is like a car having one motorized tire, and the others are cart wheels.”

So in the great race of this century, the race to see which country will lead the world in 2100, I’m still betting on China for now. I’m having my kids learn Chinese, not Hindi (or Indian English, a remarkable language in its own right).

Until India’s economic boom becomes much more broadly based, and until Indian schools manage to teach their students, this country will continue to waste its precious brainpower and won’t achieve a fraction of what it should.
Please post your comments on this column on my blog. In particular, tell me which country you think will dominate the world in 2100, and why.

Published in: on April 23, 2007 at 10:51 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Dear Nikolas,

    Your observations wrt India are accurate. Unless the 4 major, inter-connected maladies of any society, viz. over population, poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, are addressed hollistically, the progress of that society and its eventual transformation into a leader will surely be in doubt.

    Both China and India were the biggest and most successful manufacturing centers in the world in the 13/14th centuries, I am sure they will re-emerge as leading centers of commerce and innovations in the future. While China has the lead, I shall still believe that India can emerge as the leader if its rural communities are provisioned for and if it does not loose the agricultural strengths it has built up over the centuries.

    For India to really succeed it needs a political transformation with more educated and far thinking leaders leading the way, rather than the politico-religious-marxist tendencies of many administrators of the past and the present.


  2. In Its Match With China, India Penalizes Its Own Team –
    Which country you think will dominate the world in 2100, and why?

    Dear Mr.Nicholas

    1. By 2100, that is 93 years from now, China and India both are not going to dominate the World. It is going to be an african nation.

    Today entire Africa is ruined because of AIDS. That means for next 25 years, there is no generation which can contribute to growth or dominate. So, what next…New generation after 25 years (2040) and 50 years of prime time after that (2090), untapped resources, wealth and huge land, less polluted, bubbly, enthusiastic, more learning, more productivity, more vibrant, more grabbing…

    2. But, By 2030, India will dominate because

    a/ Largest English speaking nation with world recognised science, technical, management & leaders pool. China worries for our inherent mileage.

    b/ We train our modern minds with “integrated learning” methods, by default. We derive skills, systems, values, ethics and ethos from Vedas, mahabharatha epics, taught by elders, neighbours in their own style, in their own tid-bit way. This is in addition to formal education against which some poor light is thrown in the given article. But our governance is getting stronger and effective, day by day. We are more of learning nation than working nation (china). So we are going to have massive comparative advantage than aging China because learning will be put to use as opprtunities are knocking doors till we open them.

    c/ Our history speaks about invasion and migration. We gave advantage to invaders and migrators. Now, its our turn. Migration is root of prosperity. We have modern minds and ever-ready attitude for migration than chinese. So we are bound to be better.

    d/ Strongest rowers don’t necessarily form the best team. That is present India. But future is very bright and promising. India’s average age is 26, where as china average age is 49. Their rowing abilities are exhausted. By default, China has to focus on old age homes etc..and we can afford to focus on prime movers including modern temples of infrastructure.

    We, Indians are lucky that we are in this generation. Let each one of us do wonders.

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