Two weeks ago I stated the reasons I wouldn’t visit India again. Within a day over 12,000 people had read it, 600 had shared it on facebook, and dozens felt compelled to leave a comment. These reactions reflected the strong and diverse views of India, both for and against the things I had written. Reviewing and responding to comments made me realize there was a lot of things brought up worth discussing: Is India responsible for itself, or is it a victim of the British? Are India’s problems unique?
First and foremost, the comments made me realize I failed to specifically state what bothered me so much about India. It is that India has every resource needed to eliminate corruption, provide clean water, waste treatment and garbage collection. India is not a typical poor country lacking funds and education, no, it has skilled professionals to design solutions for itself, capital to fund projects, and labor to get it done. It’s educated citizens are world-class, leaders of almost every field, yet it lacks the most basic of infrastructure.
Had the billions of dollars spent on developing a nuclear bomb and funding a space program ($1.2 billion/year) been directed towards basic infrastructure Indians of all classes would be drinking clean water, human waste wouldn’t flow down river ways, and streets would be clean. These are not just feel-good programs, rather they would employ millions of Indians, thereby improving lives more than “just” providing safe drinking water. I was disturbed by India not because it isn’t modern or Western, but because it was lacking basic infrastructure when it has the capability to provide such things.
Before diving into the big questions, let me start by addressing this comment, which references a point that many commenters made:
The article “Why I won’t visit India Again” is about exactly what the title states. It is neither a comprehensive summary about our time in India nor is it 100% of my Indian experience. In fact, we have published 57 articles about India including a travel guide to assist people who want to travel there. Here are some highlighted articles about India that serve to inform future visitors, share the country’s beauty, and demonstrate the positives about our visit:
-India’s Holy Cities: Where to Experience India’s Religious Diversity explains to foreigners India’s major religions, their holy places, and what makes them special.
-Free Lunch, harmony and diversity in Amritsar describes the welcoming culture of Sihkism at the Golden Temple.
-Why Visiting Leh is Better than Tibet details how cultural tourists can experience traditional Tibetan culture without having to go through the hassel in China.
These are just four of the 57 articles referencing India. If you would like to read more about our time in India please click here. Be sure to hit the “more” link on the bottom left-hand corner as only 10 articles are displayed per page.
IS INDIA ABOUT THE HEARTS AND MINDS MORE THAN MATERIALISM?
What represents the “heart and mind” more: thoughts or actions? Would people full of heart demand that the poor make a payment to receive medical care that they are paid to provide for free? Would policemen demand bribes to provide protection for the underprivileged? Would hearts fund nuclear bombs over safe drinking water?
I want this argument to be true, I really do, but I believe that the hearts and minds’ intention is exhibited through action. The results of these actions are the material things, not the quality of day-dreams. For example, India is home to the world’s largest gold jewelry stores, dealing volumes of jewelry that are the envy of jewelers the world over. Step outside though, and it’s a different scene, impoverished children are sifting through piles of rubbish instead of at school. Know who else isn’t at school? The teachers. A survey found that 25% of teachers, paid to teach, are absent. What happens when teachers don’t show up? Only 1 in 3000 has been terminated due to repeated absence (Wikipedia). To me nothing illustrates the hearts and minds more than people spending tens-of-thousands of dollars on gold while those paid to assist the poor aren’t held accountable. This leads to malnutrition in India that is worse than in Sub-Saharan Africa (UNICEF). Hearts and minds that aren’t taking action live in a fantasy land not representative of the real-world statistics.
IS INDIA A VICTIM OF THE BRITISH?
Almost everyone that argued against what I wrote commented on the idea that India is victim of outside forces. This is the most insidious reason given to justify India’s development, but one that is clearly held by many of it’s people. While it’s easy to wallow in self-pity, the reality is that most countries of the world were colonized at some point. The British can’t be blamed for how India has chosen to rule itself since independence, there are just too many templates for development that India could apply to provide basic services.
Did the British make India build a nuclear bomb? Did the British make India fund a moon mission? These massively expensive projects were the choice of a sovereign India. The argument that India cannot have clean water, waste treatment and garbage disposal because of the British is hard for me to believe. A country with the brains and focus to go explore the moon and build weapons of mass destruction can provide safe drinking water to its people.
Many of the world’s countries became independent after WWII. Claiming that the short history of independence justifies where the country is today. Let’s explore if a country that was poor 60 years ago can be rich today by comparing growth rates for a few large countries (sources: 1950 GDP/Capita; 2010 GDP/Capita; Population).
Throwing in the USA for a comparison, this chart shows how in 1950 the wealth of China, Korea and India were similar. Due to prioritization and economic policies both China and Korea grew much more than India. Shockingly, the period includes China’s horrific Cultural Revolution and the Korean War, both setbacks which were substantially more challenging than anything India faced during this time.
For people who make the population argument I included population statistics. The most important comparision is the population growth rate because for each additional citizen, resources and employment are spread thinner. It should be noted that Brazil’s population grew faster than India’s, yet it’s economy substantially outperformed India’s.
Commenters making the argument that India is suffering because of the British and a short history of independence are failing to recognize that other countries have overcome the same issues.
The Asian Tigers and China proved that countries can skip development stages by utilizing the best practices of the world. The simplest example is that a country needn’t produce horse carriages to develop cars as the old world did, rather they can buy a modern car, study it, and produce their own version (even India’s Tata figured this out). The same goes for public infrastructure, governing and even fighting corruption. There isn’t the need to take the time to follow in the footsteps of others who had no blueprint (i.e. the USA for democracy), rather you can study the world to learn. Better yet, Indians are already doing this, a visit to schools globally will reveal thousands of Indians are learning the world’s best practices which can be applied to India.
ARE INDIA’S PROBLEMS UNIQUE?
Many commenters said that India’s problems are “complex” and “nuanced”. Further it was implied that India’s problems are unique. None of India’s problems (basic infrastructure and corruption) haven’t existed and been solved somewhere else. Does corruption only exist in India? Of course not. Have other countries had to commit themselves to building infrastructure? Yep. Does only India struggle to prioritize government expenditure? Nope, look at silliness of governments in Europe and the USA.
The thing is that none of these problems are more complex or nuanced than they have been anywhere else. The countries that tackled these problems and solved them only did one thing: committed themselves to solving problems. Energy was expended on solutions not excuses. As I said in the introduction, there is nothing India lacks to make their country great for all it’s citizens.
INDIANS ABROAD RESPOND
In closing, let me share with you some interesting points brought up by bright Indians who have become discouraged by their own system, the same system that my article provoked so much defense of.