Indian testosterone: the next tsunami!
"people eating, people washing, people sleeping....people visiting, arguing and screaming....people clinging to buses....people, people, people". Paul Ehrlich: The Population Bomb.
India is on the rise. No doubt about it. Call centres, outsourcing, Tata's Nano car, the new investments in manufacturing, and Mital buying up British Steel! Yes, India is on the move...in most places. Nicholas D. Kristof, of the New York Times (NYT) predicts that, by the end of this century, it will be the most important nation on earth (NYT April 24, 2007). That's the good news we hear each day from the media.
India's backwater: What we don't hear so much of is the bad news. Like in rural Bihar in northern India, where there's no economic miracle so far. India potentially has huge people resources, and it is growing, like no other country (China is coming to the end of its population boom). Yet it's still not certain that India will be able to take advantage of this population spurt. Kristof writes about Khawaspur, a typical village in Bihar that lacks electricity, like most other villages. It's school of 600 students has a building: yet many of its teachers just fail to show up each school day. Usually just one or two teachers will be there, and the students learn next to nothing. ''You have to bribe your way to be a teacher there,'' explained Yogender Singh, a children's tutor, trying to explain the cushy life of teaching. The health service, as with most rural villages in India, is almost non-existent. Children in Khawaspur don't get vaccinated. A hospital? Yes, there is one. ''But there's not even a door or a window on it. And you can forget about a doctor.'' said a villager named Muhammad Shaukat. Although the government pays, someone else pockets the money.
Then there's malnutrition. India has sixty percent of the world's malnourished children. Not having enough to eat affects up to fifty percent of its children. Malnourished children suffer permanent I.Q. losses, and are easy prey for diseases. Malnutrition also lowers economic growth by two to four percentage points a year. So rural India will still be held back by its failure to educate, feed and vaccinate its children today. Given that there is plenty of food in India to feed everyone, this is an outrage: and a failure that will haunt India for many decades to come.
The sick states: Indians refer to these four ''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 these 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. Pretty damning words. Ela Bhatt, founder of the Self-Employed Women's Association, a union of a million poor Indian women members claims: ''It is like a car having one motorized tire, and the others are cart wheels.'' Nicholas Kristof could have chosen any number of villages in these four states. It would not have mattered.. He could also have added a few other issues into this melting pot of deterioration and despair. Like the quarter of all Indian villages that have no road out to the rest of the country and hence no way to market their produce. This leaves farmers in the states with almost no critical feedback on what they are doing. Or the huge lack of investment over the years in Indian small farm investment. Or the miniscule average size of family farms that have been subdivided for far too long and cannot really support the mouths that want to feed from them. Or the lack of a decent agricultural advisory service, centred on the specific problems that farmers themselves bring up and want help in solving. Or the huge corruption. The list is endless!
A complete fiasco:
"Extreme poverty is concentrated in rural areas of the northern poverty-belt states including Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal", says UNDP's Human Development Report for 2005. The Report says: "while rural poverty has fallen rapidly in some states such as Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, less progress has been made in the northern states. While rural employment is rising, farm growth is just two percent". It adds: "India may be a world leader in computer software, but when it comes to basic immunisation services for children in poor rural areas, the record is less than impressive". It also points out: "The deeper problem facing India is its human development legacy. In particular, pervasive gender inequalities, interacting with rural poverty and inequalities among states, are undermining the potential for growth into human development".
India continues to languish at 127th position among 177 nations in the 2009 Human Development Index, even as it has been hailed as a major success story on globalisation, (see Indo-Asian News Service Hindustan News May 5th 2009). When you think of India's huge resources, this is a complete disgrace (my comments).
In a study in 2001, UN demographer Ashish Bose offered insights into how Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh were blocking India's progress. While rural poverty has fallen rapidly in states like Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, farm growth in the BIMARU states is miniscule. "The services for children in these poor rural areas is less than impressive," he adds. "Some of India's southern cities may be in the midst of a technology boom, but one in every 11 Indian children dies in the first five years of life for lack of low-technology, low-cost interventions". BIMARU states are among the most backward in the world, comparable to sub-Saharan Africa. The literacy rate is around 50%, with Bihar at the bottom at 47%. Bihar is also at the bottom of the Human Development Index. The states' income per person is as low as Rs 25 a day. They grew at 3% the last decade compared to 8% for India as a whole. The blog: www.dailysalty - 24 Jan 2009:
"mainly is because of the venality of the politicians of all stripes. Corruption is rife, illiteracy rampant, health is poor, economics horrible, generally a sad old reflection of what India's missed opportunities are..... One would expect that every state would be hell bent in trying to improve its investment climate so that jobs are produced and better quality of life is achieved. But no, most of the leaders of these states are too busy being corrupt and feathering their own nests. By and large, they are a venal lot, seriously".
A population explosion: India accounts for 17.5% of the world's population yet has only 2.2% of the world's space. So it's a pretty tight fit for the people there. And it's scheduled to get far worse over the next few years. India is going through the second of what demographers call the demographic dividend, when population increases hugely as death rates fall and birth rates are still up there. These changes brought the first dividend in South India in the 70s. And the southern states made quite a lot of those (labour resource) benefits. Now the second demographic dividend is beginning in Bihar, Madhya, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh. Together, they make up 367 million of India's population: that's forty percent of the total. That is bigger than the population of the USA. Indeed, Uttar Pradesh (with its 160 million people) is the sixth largest country in the world. Nandan Nilekani, in his newly published book, Imagining India: Ideas for the New Century, is at pains to point out how significant demography is for the future of India today.
Demography is the central factor, he says, far more important than any of these other political factors I've already catalogued! The increasing economic divide between states will depend on their fertility rates. By 1995, fertility rates (average live births per woman) in in south India's Kerala and Tamil Nadu had dropped below 2.1. But the BIMARU states had rates above 4. So, while the southern states face an aging population, these four states' population will still be very young, with an average age of twentysix. This could be either good news or bad news! The good news is that this young population will be supporting a smaller number of (non-working) dependents.
In the next few years, according to Professor Tim Dyson, there will be about two and a half times as many young employable people as there are non-employed dependents. This gives the people the possibility of saving more and the states the choice of providing better services (especially health and education) with more workers to pay for them. In Europe, by contrast our dependency ratios will be down to less than one worker supporting the each dependent. Nilekani estimates that, between 1980 and 2035, India will have added 270 million new people. The BIMARU states will be adding some 14 million people every year in this period. Between 2001 and 2025, that will amount to fifty per cent of India's total growth, compared with only 12 per cent in the south. That's an awful lot of potential earners.
But....and here is the bad news: these states are currently creating only a million new jobs each year (see Nilekani). That then equates to a huge number of unemployed young (mainly) men, sitting around, twiddling their thumbs. But young men don't normally just passively twiddle their thumbs. They get frustrated, thanks to all that testosterone throbbing along inside of them, and start fights with each other. This is what they have always done in the BIMARU states (see the Naxalites, below).
Thuggery: Three years before the NYT produced the story I began with, David Rohde, also of the New York Times posted another BIMARU story, this time from a village called Manhempur. He also described the picture of poverty and neglect similar to the picture of Khawaspur. He added another component: violence.
"But the country's political hooligans appear to be modernizing too. In less than 30 minutes on Monday morning, workers from a local political party, which political analysts say has kept Bihar's 100 million people mired in poverty, seized control of the voting machine. An old India abruptly reappeared, one that shows that the country still faces pitfalls as it pursues its dream of becoming a global economic and political power". "In what appeared to be a carefully planned series of events, two small bombs exploded near the polling place and party workers threatened the five policemen guarding the booth and then brazenly took control of it. As poll workers and policemen averted their eyes, young party workers pushed the button for their party on the electronic voting machine over and over again, casting vote after fraudulent vote".
Testosterone and violence:
Other commentators have pointed to the big explosion of young men in the populations of the Middle East as an explanation for the rise of extremism. Here is just one example, drawn from www.abytheliberal.com .
"Sexual frustration of unmarried young boys in their late teens and twenties did help Mao Zedong organise a ruthless, agressive and brutal thug army….. It also helped Mahmoud Ghazni ….gain power; by enticing young, sexually deprived warriors with the promise of ‘booty women’, if lands were conquered or 72 houris (virgin women) in paradise if they perished in the attempt. Sexual frustration was one factor, if not the main driving force behind the nationalist Blackshirts of Imperial Japan….where Japanese invading soldiers predated on women in the captured countries. The … connection between sexual deprivation and violent instincts in men can be explained as the effects of the hormone testosterone…... A high testosterone level in the body expresses itself in undesirably aggressive ways if sexual … outlets are not available. The methods of expression depends on the social system and taboos at the place the person lives ….Testosterone explains why wars are almost always initiated and fuelled by men which gives birth to the phrase “testosterone fuelled wars pleasures in paradise".
I'm not really interested in debating whether this is the case or not. My point is merely that sexual and economic frustration is an explosive cocktail. I say this from my own experience in Sri Lanka. I witnessed this in the south of the island in the late 80s.
The Janatha Vimkthi Peramuna (JVP), then a 'revolutionary force', mainly in the south of Sri Lanka, brought the country to a standstill a few times in 1988/9 through a series of hartals (Sinhalese strikes) run by Rohanna Wijeweera until he was captured in 1990. These hartals very nearly brought down the government of the day. The army was called in to ride on all buses to and from Colombo because of the dangers. Eventually the JVP uprising got brutally put down by the security services. The uprising was sparked off by the huge unemployment of men especially in the south. There were jobs for young women in the new textile factories but all the jobs open to men were fishing, farming or the armed forces.
An estimated 7,000 suspects (including friends of mine) were just 'disappeared'. People tried to forget the terrible experiences they had been forced to go through. I was living in Tangalla, the epicentre, at the time. I used to see many bodies burning at the roadside each morning: the work of a secret army brigade, the 'Black Cats' who used to go out on night killings without any identifying markings (see the Wikipedia description of the JVP uprising 1987-89). Very, very nasty it was. Both sides resorted to extreme violence, too nasty for me to specify here; a violence far beyond what most people can even imagine.
Naxalites: This could easily become the future of this new population in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. After all, it's happened before in this region. In the 1970s and 1980s, unemployment and lack of income mobility fed into criminality and the extreme Maoist movement known as the Naxalites. The Naxalites are still in the area and remain well organised. The violence still bubbles along just under the surface. India now has two choices facing it, as this current national election is clearly testifying: listen to and respond to the needs of its young, vibrant and increasingly assertive population, or carry on, as before, by electing tired old men who are too blind to see and then to mobilise this new life force in its midst.
Let's hope that, amid all the clamour, someone sees some sense in what to do next.
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