A Message to My Fellow Young Indians


My Dear Fellow Young Indians,

We are the most privileged generation in the history of Independent India. If you are reading this message it means that you are educated and empowered with technology to en extent which was unimaginable even a few years back. The fact that I can reach out to hundreds of people through this blog at the click of a button, is a matter of great priviledge. And I get this privilege at no cost.

In the age we are living in, it is no more a question of can we reach out to people. There are hundreds of ways by which we can. But as Seth Godin asks in his blog, the more important question to ask right now is do we deserve to reach out to people, to be heard? Are we saying something important enough to be heard?

So I thought I will take a break from whatever I was doing and try to say something that really matters, that deserves to be heard.

Today, I will talk about numbers. Rather, the tyranny of numbers. Actually, I wanted to talk about the 63 years of Independent India. But every time I do that, numbers defeat my purpose. So I decided to talk about numbers instead.

Numbers would want you to believe that the standard of living of Indians is thirty or forty times, worse off than that of Americans. Numbers would make you believe this because you can measure standard of living by dollars and rupees. But how do you measure happiness that the standard of living provides? I have seen happiness even in the slums of Bombay, even though the standard of living of people who live there is nothing compared to the people who live on the many hills of South Bombay. I am aware of the enormous power that is wielded by numbers. But sometimes, like dictators, numbers also misuse their power and become tyrannical. At such times we need to search for the truth beyond the numbers.

Numbers would want you to believe that India as a nation, has achieved great many successes because of the manifold increase in the GDP and the GNP, the supply of calories per person, the male and female life expectancy, the literacy rate or because of the decrease in the mortality rate. It will tell you that we are becoming one of the superpowers of the world. That we are “shining”. But what these numbers won’t show you is the sad reality that this shine is limited to the privileged ones like you and me. That a poor boy working in your neighborhood tea shop could have an exceptional high IQ and could have taken this country further ahead as a scientist or engineer or doctor if only he was given the right opportunities. What these numbers would not show you is that there was a possibility of performing even better, much better than what we have. The numbers don’t show our potential as a nation, or even as an individual. They wouldn’t show you what India could have been in the past 63 years.

Numbers, again, would want you to believe that more than sixty percent of Indian population is literate. But what these numbers wouldn’t tell you is that many of these literate citizens of India can do no more than write their own name. That forces me to ask a very fundamental question: what is education? Is it the ability to write a few alphabets or the ability to take informed decisions when faced with a choice? If the answer is latter then forget about the poor and the underprivileged, even the privileged ones amongst us are not really educated. Isn’t it a matter of shame that majority of our countrymen still can’t read or write?

Numbers would also want you to believe that India’s wealth is increasing. There are more Indians now in the list of “top hundred richest men on earth” than they were in 1947. But what they would show you as clearly is the fact that most of this wealth is not being distributed evenly amongst our countrymen, but being concentrated in the hands of a few. The rich is getting richer and the poor is getting poorer.

1947 is also a number. So is 15/8. We are told that these two numbers signify our birth as a nation. But these numbers will not tell you the story behind this birth. Numbers will tell you that it was just a million people killed during partition. Or maybe, one and half million. It doesn’t make much of a difference because both are just numbers. But what the numbers wouldn’t tell you is that partition wasn’t just about the relocation of fifteen million people or the lynching of a million more. It was about tearing the soul of a nation in two parts.

At the stroke of midnight hour on 14th August, 1947, Pundit Nehru revealed grandly that long years ago India had made a tryst with destiny. But if I can go back in History, I would ask him did that destiny also involve murder and rape of millions? Did that destiny also involve two nations built on the foundations of religious hatred? Did that destiny also involve three wars, religious and political extremism, and terrorism? Was he in such a hurry to grab a slice of glory for himself that he didn’t care about the innocent people of this nation? Once again, a nation was cheated by the personal hubris of its leaders. Our leaders never learn from History.

And then I would ask the great Mahatma, The Father of The Nation, what happened to his strength, his moral strength, when this treachery against peace and humanity was being carried out? The moral strength that had fallen the mighty British Empire and whose echo was heard as far away as Washington DC, years later when an Afro American told millions of his fellow men that he had a dream. Too much faith in your own beliefs can sometimes cause more harm than good.

But before asking anything to Nehru and Gandhi, I would ask a question to Mr. Jinnah, the elitist Muslim who had no idea what the poor people of his own religion went through every day. Was he so stupid and naïve that he actually thought that he could create a separate homeland for Muslims, when there were Muslims in every city, every town, every village of India? Didn’t he realize that Hindus and Muslims were living together peacefully for centuries even before he arrived to rescue them? But then, he was also a victim of the tyranny of numbers. It was the tyranny of numbers that convinced him that Muslims in a free India would not be safe because Hindus would outnumber them many times over. And yet today, the homeland that he created for Muslims is struggling to stand on its own feet after the separation of Bangladesh and India, the country that has far greater number of Muslims than what it had in 1947, is thriving along with its minority Muslims. A nation cannot be built on religion. Religion is not a national concern. It is an individual concern.

I would reserve the last question for the princely, Lord Mountbatten. For all his gentlemanly characteristics, why he still couldn’t stop himself from acting like his predecessors? His predecessors had followed the policy of ‘divide and rule’. He followed the policy of ‘divide and leave’. But then, why blame a foreigner when our own people betray us.

Numbers wouldn’t certainly tell you about the horrors of partition. It wouldn’t tell you anything about how mothers and sisters and daughters were raped and their bodies mutilated, about how living people were torched in trains, about the extent to which the partition created a rift between Hindus and Muslims. A rift that cannot be measured by the number of miles that separates Indians and Pakistanis.

To me 15th August is no more just a day of just celebration. It is also a day of mourning, because when I look at the Tricolor, I see splashes of blood all over it. And I can’t distinguish between the Hindu and the Muslim blood.

Numbers, friends, would also want you to believe that India and Pakistan are neighbors because they share a common boundary of some 2900 kilometers. But are we really neighbours? I know what a neighbour means. Ashok uncle used to be my neighbour in Calcutta. He was fifty years old, his wife was forty five, when I left the city. They have a son and a daughter. Ashok uncle has a peculiar habit of collecting magazines and newspapers and then cutting out articles and pictures and anything from them that catches his imagination. His son did his studies in my school and I know him well. His daughter is married to a fine young man. We helped each other whenever we could. Ashok uncle kept our keys when no one was at home. The point being, we know our neighbours. Between us, we share more than just a wall. Sometimes I think our real neighbour is US even though we are at two different ends of the world. We think like them, we dress like them, we watch their TV shows, we admire and worship their movies (at least I do) and film stars, and we keep looking for the smallest opportunity to go there. We have even started to have sex like them! The fact that even after fifty years we haven’t been able to figure out who our real neighbour is, has been a resounding failure for us. For both of us.

Nehru’s Socialism and his utmost faith in central planning and bureaucratic control may have done more harm than we could possibly fathom. Rampant corruption and administrative inefficiency were two of the lesser evils that resulted out of those faulty policies. The bigger evil was the stagnation of economic growth. For three decades India showed average growth, while it could have seen a growth miracle akin to that of the East Asian countries. If only Pundit Nehru had not mistrusted the entrepreneur and not seen foreign capital as imperialism in disguise. If only his daughter, Indira Gandhi had undertaken economic reforms to remove poverty rather than mouthing empty and politically motivated slogans like ‘garibi hatao’.

Now I am not a cynic or a pessimist. I am as much an optimist as any of you. I, too, believe in the potential of this great nation. But I also believe in accepting the truth. And the truth is that the past 63 years of independent India has been anything but glorious, largely because of the inefficiencies of the political leadership and faulty policies, but to some extent also because of our own ignorance and inability to bring about a change. The past 63 years have been a missed opportunity for India. And only when we accept this truth would we be able to forge a new way ahead.

India has seen rapid economic growth since the liberalization of 1991. Things are looking up. There is a general sense of optimism. And this optimism is not misplaced. India is indeed shining, but in patches. We have to make these patches grow bigger and bigger until they cover the whole of the nation. We cannot afford to sit back and relax. Our political leaders need to realize that their impotency is not taking us anywhere. The need of the hour is tough measures and not mass appeasing policies, social consolidation and not religious extremism. We have a long way to go before we can call ourselves a free and developed nation. A very long way to go. The first step in this direction would be the acceptance of the truth.

Let no one misconstrue the conclusions that I have drawn and declare me an enemy of India. I am a nationalist. I am proud to be an Indian. But before being a nationalist I am a humanist. I believe in individual greatness. And only great individuals make for a great nation. A nation is as good as its citizens.

So, friends, let us not fritter away the privilege our generation is bestowed with. Let us not fall prey to the tyranny of numbers. The whole world is ready to hear us right now. Are we, as Young Indians, the most privileged Indians ever, saying things that will show the world our potential? Are we saying something important? Something that deserves to be heard?

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7 Comments to “A Message to My Fellow Young Indians”

  1. An excellent post which very comprehensively covers the harsh realities of the “Shining India”.
    Keep writing such great posts and keep inspiring people.

    • Thanks Rushin! I had written this piece more than a year ago, during one of my disgruntled moments. In the days to come, my blog will undergo a slight shift, in terms of the nature of write ups I post here.

      By the way, haven’t seen any activity on your blog recently? Busy with work? 🙂

  2. Dear Shiv,

    First congratulation to you, to become such an inspirational writer, I think this might be the influence of born and brought in Bengal. The questions you rose is very much true as true is the sun rises in the east. But Shiv tell me truly, other asking such questions what you (read we) have done. Still Indian politics is ruled by people who think being a political leader is not a service but a proffesion to earn money. We always have criticised this from outside but never been into the situation. it is our nation and we have to pull it out from the “Kichad”. You know the place very well where my office is. It is Dalhouisie. I everyday see kids from age 10-15 are working in any of the food stalls. But the age is of study not work. We fight for child labour but never realise that in many of our house we keep little children as servants. It is we who have to realise, it is we who have to come forward to stop this. When more than 605% of my country is youth then why people more than 65 will run my country, why only 10-15% of MP’s are young. So the time has come for us not to write a or criticise but wake and break the rules. Every body of us always think I will follow let him start first (even I also). But we need someone who will lead us and can name that movement like ” Youth India Shinning Movement”. truly then we can say “India is Shinning”

    • Dear Sugata,

      Thanks for the compliment! I like ur theory of the bong connection!!

      I don’t know how to explain this to you but i will try. To bring about a change, not everybody needs to join politics. Different people have different capabilities. All that is required right now is, whatever profession you r in, just keep on doing whatever u r supposed to do with Pride, honor and integrity. Every day. Day after day. If you do that you will contribute your share of nation building.

      I am a writer. The best thing for me is to write about things that matter and thats how I am contributing. I can’t be a politician because thats not my forte. Similarly, a doctor’s job is to do his bit by serving ppl honestly. He can’t do the job of an engineer. Big changes happen by taking small steps, one at a time.

      If all of us just do our jobs properly we won’t need a revolution. Everything will happen by itself. It’s that simple. There is no rocket science in it. Hope u r getting my point.

  3. Hi,

    Badiya hain..:) will not say anything else..

    Regards,

  4. I’m not Indian, but this piece brought tears to my eyes. I pray that for the sake of the poor the world over, that my novel will be published and have enough sales worldwide that I can at least do what my heart has always desired – be in a position financially to contribute to the agencies that work to end poverty. It may not be much, but it is something I can do.

    You can read Ch1 of ‘Lethal Inheritance’ (YA fantasy) at
    http://publishersearch.wordpress.com/lethal-inheritance/

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