Sunday, August 14, 2011

How it feels like to be a minority?

Life in India has been somewhere between a dream and a nightmare for me. Just like anything else in the world, life in India also has two sides to it – the better and the worse. I have lived the first 24 years of my life (I’m just over 26) in different parts of India and have travelled a lot to see how it looks like in different corners. No prize for guessing what was common in all the corners of India – Hinduism. Wait, wait, wait. If you think I’m one of those ‘Policing’ types who want to gain TRP by criticizing India and Hinduism, I’m not. I just want to share my experiences with you.

So, as I said, I’ve spent 24 years in India and then moved to Dubai for MBA and then job. That’s where I learnt that people can be discriminated against within the purview of law. Anyways, first few months passed by overwhelmed with the grandeur of Dubai – the city of superlatives. Every road was a miracle, every building an epitome of expertise. For some time, I went to Singapore to complete my MBA, but couldn’t forget the extravaganza of Dubai. I always wanted to come back and settle here in a chilled out environment (though artificially so).

Now when I’m here and especially during the month of Ramadan, a strange thought stuck my mind. I realized that I am a minority in this country of Moslems, ironically categorized among the most metropolitan cities of the world. I realized that no matter what religion you belonged to, the food courts in the malls won’t open for you before 6:30pm. You can’t smoke a cigar in open even if your building is a No Smoking building and you are a chain smoker. Nice way of forcing people to quit smoking, isn’t it? The utmost paradox that I faced was when I went to watch Bridesmaids and found out that the food outlets were not open for anyone. I was confused whether Moslems were allowed to watch movies during Ramadan. And if not, then what’s the harm of opening the outlets for those who want to watch the movies.

The most amazing thing is about the language. I never thought that language can be so much intertwined with religion. I found this out while trying to learn Arabic. Almost every salutation, with only rare exceptions, has the name of almighty Allah in it in one or the other forms. I don’t know if we have it in Hindi as well, but it’s not there in English for sure. But Arabic has it and you are expected to learn and use it with your clients, colleagues and friends.

While I come across these things everyday in Dubai, I think about the Moslems and other minorities in India. Would they be in a similar situation? Do the Indian Moslems also feel left out when the PM goes and conducts Bhumi Poojan for a power plant? Do they also feel awkward to be the only odd name in the office? What do they think about when people look at them with a feeling of vengeance when they do not appear to be respecting the local customs of the land, which, most of the times mean the Hindu customs? I’m still looking for answers.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Kisi Ne kuchh banaya tha, kisi ne kuchh banaya hai...

Apologies for posting something that's not mine, but it's indeed one of the best things I've read in recent times. Prasoon Joshi wrote this on the occasion on Ayodhya decision declared by Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court on 30th September 2010. Please read and appreciate.

Kisi ne kuchh banaya tha, kisi ne kuchh banaya hai
Kahin mandir ki parchhayi, kahin masjid ka saaya hai
Na tab poochha tha hamse, aur na ab poochhne aaye
Hamesha faisle karke, hamein yu nhi sunaya hai.

Hamein fursat kahan roti ki golayi k chakkar se,
Na jaane kiska mandir hai, na jaane kiski masjid hai,
Na jaane kaun uljhaata hai in seedhe sachche dhaagon ko,
Na jaane kiski saazish hai, na jaane kiske ye zid hai.
Ajab sa silsila hai ye, na jaane kisne chalaya hai,
Kisi ne kuchh banaya tha, kisi ne kuchh banaya hai.

Vo kehte hain tumhara hai, zara tum ik nazar daalo,
Vo kehte hain badho, mango, zaruri hai, na tum taalo,
Magar apni zarurat to hai bilkul hi alag isse,
Zara thehro, zara socho, hamein saanchon mein mat dhaalo,
Batao kaun ye shola mere aangan mein laaya hai,
Kisi ne kuchh banaya tha, kisi ne kuchh banaya hai.

Agar hindu mein aandhi hai, agar toofaan musalmaan hai,
To aao aandhi toofaan yaar banke kuchh naya kar dein,
To aao ik nazar daalein ahem se kuchh sawalon par,
Kayi kone andhere hain, mashalon ko diya kar dein,
Ab asli dard bolenge jo seeno mein chhupaya hai,
Kisi ne kuchh banaya tha, kisi ne kuchh banaya hai...

Friday, February 5, 2010

Bihar – The Paradigm Shift

The strategy professor at the one of the oldest universities in the world – Takshashila University, Prof Chanakya started his Neetishastra by saying the phrase “Sukhasya moolam dharma, Dharmasya moolam artha”. What he meant was that happiness for a person or a corporate or a kingdom lies in ethical deeds of the entity, but ethical deeds can be expected only if the entity has enough resources to support itself and feed itself to survive. This observation of the chief strategist of the Mauryan empire, headquartered at Patliputra, today’s Patna, is as true today as it was in 4th century B.C. when he penned it down.

Bihar, after losing all its glory deep in the past, was regarded as one of the worst performing states in India. It has been long since someone heard about the word Progress in Bihar. The per capita income of a Bihar resident was dismally low at Rs 6,610 compared with the national average of Rs. 20,734 per person in 2007, according to a report by Bihar Times.[1] The Hindu reported that the literacy levels in rural Bihar for the year 2006-07 stood at slightly over 52% whereas the national average stood at over 65%. With over 1000 (reported) rape cases and over 3200 murders in a year, Bihar faired quiet high on the list of crime heavens in India in 2006.[2] This was the situation when Nitish Kumar was elected as the Chief Minister of Bihar in November 2005, ending a 15-year run by Laloo Prasad Yadav and Rabri Devi in power. Since then, the entire perspective of Bihar has changed to a very large extent. A friend of mine, Sanjeev Sharma from Ranchi pointed out that a few years back, they locked themselves up in their homes as soon as it stuck 9 on the clock. But now, he says, the situation has changed and he often has dinner with his parents in some restaurant in Patna, even till 11 at night, without any fear. Such is the visible impact of the change that has come in Bihar in such a short duration of time. Bihar became the 2nd fastest growing state, just behind Gujarat, after it recorded a GDP growth of 11.4% in 2008-09.

The important thing to notice in the entire discussion is what brought about this change in Bihar’s administration and Bihar’s mentality. Was it just the attitude of the political honchos that changed in this period or was it more about the play of socio-economic developments that forced Bihar to mend its traditional ways of governance? One of the many initiatives by Bihar government was to promote the traditional handloom industry once again by organizing expo for showcasing the talent in 2008 which was attended by traders from various countries. On healthcare front, organizations to the likes of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), Institute for One World Health and pain-based agency Medicine-Sans-Frontier are working alongside the Bihar government to improve the healthcare condition of Bihar, especially on issues like kala-azar, polio, routine immunization, and maternal and new-born care and nutrition. No wonder that the efforts were appreciated by Bill Gates himself. Since the state is primarily a agriculture based state, a major emphasis has been laid down on the development of agro-based industries in Bihar. Confidence building policies like additional employment guarantee plan of 80 days of work, in addition to the 100 days mandated by NREGA, are some of the ones that are creating a feel-good factor in the Bihar residents. But as the government has realized, only agriculture cannot help it achieve the aim of being a developed state by 2015, it is imperative to encourage industry as well. A new Industry Policy of 2006 and reimbursement of 80% of deposited VAT are just some of the measures that are beginning to show positive results in attracting industry in the state. Growth of connectivity in terms of mobile phone growth rate is 88.2% in the current financial year. Industrial projects worth Rs 71,000 crores have been approved by the government that are expected to create jobs for over 100,000 people in Bihar. And amazingly, the World Bank ranked Patna next only to New Delhi in terms of ease of starting business in India, ahead of Mumbai and Bangalore[3].

Looking in a perspective, it appears that the growth of Bihar is clearly a result of the shift in the intent of the political masters whose consensus scolded them for what had happened to the intellectual Magadha kingdom. It doesn’t come as a surprise that Nitish Kumar was called upon by London School of Economics to participate in the Growth Week 2009 and was invited to participate in the research and policy session on developing rural areas. I seriously feel that India has pockets of high development, but atleast equal, if not more pockets of ultra-low development. If the policy makers take the initiative to change this disparity in wealth allocation, the citizens will support the ideas and fulfill the dream of a Developed and Unified India.

[2] CRIME OF BIHAR, From 2004 To 2008”, Bihar Police,

[3]New Delhi, Patna best cities to start business: World Bank”, By PTI, The Times of India, 30 June 2009

(Originally Written for and published on Youth Ki Awaaz,

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Rural Development: Creating A Better India

According to the 2001 census, 72.2% of the Indian population resides in the rural areas constituting about 638,000 villages. The CIA database says that atleast 22% of the entire Indian population is living under poverty line. Though the social scientists and the businesses interpret the entire rural population as a BPL population and try to target them as their potential customers for low cost products, these statistics refute the argument. For all practical purposes, it is safe to assume that the rural economy is an agrarian economy. And since rural population constitutes 72% of our population, it becomes imperative for the government to ensure the development of the rural sector for the overall growth of India.

In the Union Budget 2009, the Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee laid immense emphasis on this issue and revealed the plans to build infrastructure across length and breadth of the country. Various schemes like NREGA, JNNRUM and Rashtriya Vidyutikaran Yojna are ambitious enough to ensure that the government is willing to promote infrastructure development in the rural India, fondly known as Bharat. This is something known as inclusive growth where the growth is targeted not only at the urban India or the business world, but also at the other members of the Indian population.

But more important than the role of the government, is the role of private organizations in the process. India has grown to be the IT hub for the world and that has opened new ventures for its citizens. But there was a minimal involvement of the government in the growth and development of IT sector or what I prefer to call as Bangalorization. A similar revolution is required once again in India to ensure the development of the rural community.

All said and done, the only way the private sector or the profit-sector can be attracted to this world is by showing them the market size and the market potential. Many organizations have already realized it and have started expanding their horizons to the rural markets through various innovative routes. Microsoft conducted a research in the villages to know why acceptability of computers was low in rural areas even when government had provided computers in every school for the students to access. It came to understand that only one student, usually a boy from upper class, used the mouse and nobody else was allowed to touch that. So, Microsoft came up with the solution in the form of multiple mouses connected to the same screen giving equal access to each student. This new research is being commercialized now. Similarly, Google tried to find out the reason for low internet penetration in India and particularly in villages and realized that people in villages did not understand English. So, it developed an Indic Transliteration Technology that helps the person use the Roman alphabet keyboard but the display comes in the local languages.

Many more similar examples like these and Unilever’s Shakti Amma are available to illustrate that the development of the rural India cannot be ignored if India wants to grow. And since we have ignored it for so long, we can start with the learnings from the mistakes that we made in the past. Instead of taking electricity to the villages from thermal power plants, we should plan sustainable energy sources like Solar or Wind Energy for them. Rather than taking products in polythene bags to villages, let’s encourage the use of jute bags from the beginning itself. Instead of building roads from petroleum byproducts, we should use the plastics and polythene to make roads that last longer and better.

We must realize that the growth of the Indian rural sector can prove to be instrumental in bringing up the pace of growth of India Inc. The unexplored markets and the moral obligations are both a financial and social justification for the corporate to participate in this growth story.

(Originally written for and published on Youth Ki Awaaz,

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The new face of Social Enterprise in India (III of IV)

Continuing with our journey through some of the most admired social entrepreneurial ventures across India and Pakistan, this last part of this series once again visits some of the ventures in India that have decided to take the unusual route to redefine the Social Enterprise.

Barefoot College:

Established by Bunker Roy, this unique set-up in Tilonia, Rajasthan, has become an example for the world. This Doon School passout is a very humble, down-to-earth man who loves the village and wants to transform it into a model for the entire world to emulate. When we were at TIlonia, the village people were very excited to greet us with the beats of dhol at the station. In this land, where scarcity of water is a major problem, a 5th grade passout, middle aged woman handles the water management for about 200 villages through her computer. This was shocking enough for us to create enthusiasm and excitement to know more about the college. Bunker Roy introduced us to the various facets of his venture whose major focus is to train the locals in various fields of specialization for which we thought that professional degrees were a must. These trained villagers are the youth and the women who would otherwise have had no choice but move to the cities to earn a livelihood. The trained villagers are not awarded any degree or certificate, but they are trained to live in the village and practice. We met several Barefoot Engineers, Barefoot Doctors and Barefoot Architects during our visit. It was heartening to see two women who have been trained on welding skills, earn more than their husbands by making Solar Dishes and selling them out for about Rs. 25,000 each. No wonder that the Barefoot College has been recognized as Social Work and Research Center and has won numerous awards across the world. Besides equipping its own citizens, Barefoot College has been assigned the task of training women from African region as well. Women from the remotest parts of the world who do not understand the language of the villagers (just like the villagers don’t understand theirs) are sponsored by the government of India to visit, stay and learn the skills to earn a livelihood for themselves, back in their native countries.

I must say that to make India a super-power, more of Barefoot Colleges need to set up to give a confidence boost to the villages and reduce the wealth disparity that is always seen as a hindrance for India to achieve that goal. (Visit:

Jaipur Foot:

Jaipur Foot is a live example of the level of motivation that can be provided by a cause. Mr. Ram Chander Sharma revolutionized the limb technology through his development of the artificial legs that have been categorized as good as the original ones except that they do not have blood. But the idea was put into the venture form by Mr D.R. Mehta who has recently been awarded the Padma Bhushan by the Govt. of India. Jaipur Foot, with technical assistance from Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) developed these limbs from very cheap but sustainable material that wasn’t used elsewhere in the limb industry. The major motive for the development of Jaipur Foot was to help the people in the war affected areas or border areas where the land mines were not removed and hundreds of innocent people turned handicapped because of them. This technology helps them regain not only their legs, but also their confidence and their ability to stand on their feet – literally and metamorphically. As compared to the cost of below the knee prosthesis in US which stands at around $2,500, this technology has reduced it to a drastically lower price of $30. At this cost, the Bhagwan Mahavir Viklang Sahayata Samiti is fitting about 20,000 artificial limbs every year besides 30,000 Polio Calipers and the other appliances fitted through their camps. The vision of Mr. Mehta is changing the way people walk and helping India to walk on the path of success and self-dependence. (Visit:

The Social Entrepreneurial ventures discussed in this series are, by no measure, the only or the best performing enterprises in India and Pakistan. But they represent a broad sense of changing preferences for the residents of these countries. Given the levels of poverty, corruption, illiteracy, lack of self-confidence, non-resourcefulness and healthcare, we need many such motivated organizations and role models to lead the sub-continent to the role of leadership on the world map. We salute the spirit of the patrons who have given up the luxuries of life to serve the people of the nation through whatever means they had.

(Article originally written for Youth Ki Awaaz, published at

Monday, January 11, 2010

The new face of Social Enterprise in India (I of IV)

In an earlier post (Emergence and Growth of Social Entrepreneurship in India), I highlighted the way in which the social enterprises evolved over time in India and the world. This evolution was majorly driven by the causes of social justice, poverty, female upliftment and illiteracy which were also used as measures of political success by the critics of the governments. But over time, with the empowerment and awareness among the Indian citizens, the social enterprise grew in size, scale and scope. As a part of the Tata Jagriti Yatra 2008, I got a unique opportunity to visit and witness the work done by some of the social entrepreneurs who are working on some unorthodox social issues in different parts of India.


Founded by Anshu Gupta, a student of journalism, this Delhi-based NGO has targeted a very niche area to work and impact the society – clothing. As pointed out by Anshu in his session at SMU, Singapore, clothing is one of the three basic needs of mankind and still no policymaker in the world gives any importance to it. He was moved by the story of a rickshaw puller in Delhi who used to carry stray dead-bodies to the police station only to be given 2 yards of clothes and Rs 20 in return. And this rickshaw puller told Anshu that his “business” grew so much in winters that he had to keep some dead bodies at home for the night to deliver them in the morning. Such was the impact that Anshu started to champion the issue. But he also realised that for a poor person, his dignity is everything and he decided to combine the two. So, Anshu, along with his friend started this program of “Cloth for Work” where they went to villages and urged the villagers to “earn” their clothes for building up schools, roads, wells etc for their own village. Goonj collects “waste” clothes from cities across India through various campaigns like “Joy of Giving” and then segregated into various categories according to the usage. In times of need, these clothes are sent to places like Tamil Nadu at time of Tsunami, Bihar in times of floods and Kashmir in time of earthquake. In peace times, these clothes are used for promoting the infrastructure build up among the urban poor and the downtrodden villages of UP, Orissa, Bihar and other similar parts of India. Besides clothes, it also teaches the poor women about the importance of the hygiene of sanitary pads and how to make them at home. This initiative is targeted to reduce the incidents of pregnancy problems and basic hygienic problems leading to death of women in some extreme cases. (Visit

Naandi Foundation:

With Dr K Anji Reddy of Dr Reddy’s and Anand Mahindra of Mahindra & Mahindra on its Board of Trustees, Naandi Foundation is growing fast as a social sector organization. On meeting Manoj Kumar, the CEO, in Hyderabad, we immediately realized that he did not want Naandi Foundation to be called an NGO because of the simple reason that he did not want his organization to be looked with sympathy. Founded in 1998, this organization has a three-point agenda of Child Rights, Safe Drinking Water and Sustainable Livelihoods. In the words of Manoj Kumar, “Naandi Foundation doesn’t believe in doing anything small because it’s wastage of resources.” With operations spanned over nine states (Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Nagaland and Andhra Pradesh), Naandi Foundation provides midday meal to lakhs of students everyday that have high nutritional value and are prepared with benchmark levels of hygiene. It is also involved in Organic Farming and Lift irrigation or coffee through which it provides livelihood for small and marginal farmers who otherwise could not sell their product in the international market. On Child Rights front, Naandi Foundation runs the programs like Early Childhood Care and Education, Schoolchild Healthcare Plan and Nanhi Kali covering thousands of schools in various states. With its clear focus on and proven success in creating a sustainable and scalable social enterprise, I believe that it can be a role model for other social entrepreneurs in coming times. (Visit:

Aravind Eye Care:

An eye surgeon, retired from his government service, had the dream of eradicating the “needless blindness” from the world and decided to give up all his resources to the cause to establish a unique eye care facility by the name of Aravind Eye Care in 1976. The surgeon, fondly known as Dr. V dreamt of create a McDonald’s of eye care where everyone involved in the process, does only the part of it, enabling the system to increase the efficiency. Dr. V had the vision of creating an organization that will treat the needy with equal expertise and precision irrespective of whether he or she can afford the surgery or not. Those who can’t afford the treatment need not pay for it and those who can, compensate more than the free component. The uniqueness about Aravind Eye Care lies in this uniqueness of its Operational and Financial models which are very unorthodox. Today, Aravind Eye Care is the largest eye care facility in the world in terms of the number of surgeries and the number of patients treated. With the principals and values enforced by Dr. V himself till date, this eye care facility has grown from an 11 bed hospital to a facility that treats 1.4 million patients in a year. It is associated with many international groups like Clinton Global Initiative, World Health Organisation and Seva Foundation. In the last financial year itself, the AEC conducted more than 3 million surgeries, half of which were free of cost. This was in addition to around 373,000 free OPD patients and 2.75 million check-ups through camps for the entire year. This makes AEC a unique epitome of sustainable and scalable social organization whose fundamentals can be emulated by other social entrepreneurs in their future endeavors. (Visit:


(Part I and Part III, written by me for Youth Ki Awaaz

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Alternative Energy Sector: The new source of energy

The world just witnessed one of the biggest summits on one of the most important issues faced by the mankind – climate change. Just a few days back I talked to my parents back in Punjab, India who told me that it’s just mildly cold out there when it used to be chilling cold just 6-7 years back when I was a teenager. July showers were observed in late August and winter peak is expected only after mid-January and that too for a very short period.

Working on a project on the financing of renewable energy sources with a major bank here in Singapore, I realized that the nations are yet to understand the urgency of this issue. It was correctly pointed out in the latest Hollywood flick, Avatar that “there’s no green in our world. They kill their own mothers.” Industrialization of the nations and a race to get ahead of everyone else spoiled the sons of the land who never cared about clearing the forests for setting up industries that further polluted and depleted the environment. From my childhood, whenever I’ve been asked to draw a factory, it always had a smoke chimney releasing black smoke at the top of that factory and a water pipe releasing waste acidified water at the bottom.

Thankfully, we are much more aware about the consequences of our actions now. Environment ministries world-over have sprung into action and given confidence to the people that it’s in their own interest to help in putting a barrier to this climate erosion. One of the most important steps in this context is the encouragement being given to Renewable Energy projects that has got an equally overwhelming response from the private sector. There are various kinds of tax benefits that are being provided to the renewable energy projects in different forms by respective countries. In US, it is the Investment Tax Credit and Production Tax Credit that is the form of tax benefits to RE projects. India and China also have similar tax credit schemes along with power purchase agreements (PPA) for the RE projects. Today, India is one of the leaders in Solar Power in the world and is catching up fast in Wind Power.

Companies like GE Energy, Vestas, Suzlon and Mitsubishi have come up in the forefront to invest heavily in R&D to develop efficient wind turbines for the world. Since the largest damage was done by the industrialized countries like US and European nations, they were the ones who had to take the lead to reverse the trends, and they rightly did so. Today, Germany and US are the largest wind power producing nations in the world. But the developing world, as mentioned earlier, has not remained far behind in the league.

Besides wind and solar energies, another source of alternative energy that has become popular recently is the nuclear energy. Though India isn’t in a very good position in terms of nuclear energy, China already has planned to construct atleast 100 nuclear reactors by 2020. The US also has a considerable number of nuclear reactors under construction and even countries like Pakistan are working towards the same. Nuclear energy, as is obvious, has a very high upfront capital cost. But the new parameter that has evolved to measure the relative performance of power projects is Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) which is an indicator of the per unit electricity cost from a project over its lifetime. On this measure, Nuclear energy projects are just as economically viable as any other source of energy. This has given a boost to the investments in this sector with many private players entering this arena as well.

Another major milestone in the journey of alternative energy development or the clean energy initiative was the carbon trading that was conceptualized and legalized in the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. The major constraint of this carbon trading is that US, the largest emitter of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, is not a signatory to Kyoto Protocol and hence, is not a participant in the carbon trading. If Copenhagen would’ve been successful in persuading US, under the regime of Obama, the carbon trading would’ve become stronger and encouraging factor for the world markets. Though the risk of speculations and exotic derivatives is attached with this form of trading, but returns are much higher than the risks. A major chunk of the revenues of RE projects is being provided by the carbon credits earned, that earns somewhere in the range of $15 to $25 per ton of CO2 avoided.

There are supporters and critics to the carbon trading in the market, but then there’s no technology, no innovation, no celebration in the world that doesn’t attract criticism. I believe that the road that we have chosen is correct but the destination is moving at a faster speed away from us than the rate at which we are moving towards it. We have an obligation to prove it to our future generations that there is a green world out there, out here, out everywhere.

(Originally published at Youth Ki Awaaz: