Economic mantras, media and technological change


Vijayanka Nair

Across the length and breadth of India, the word ‘Aadhaar’  which means ‘foundation’ or ‘support’ in many Indian languages – is now arguably synonymous with a government-issued twelve-digit unique biometric ID. In under a decade, the central government has issued an Aadhaar number to nearly every resident of India. Aadhaars are linked to individual iris scans, fingerprints, facial photographs and select demographics in a Central Identities Data Repository (CIDR). Instituted in 2009, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) now presides over the world’s largest biometrics-based identity verification system. Its unparalleled experiment is being watched closely across the world; indeed, Aadhaar is setting a global precedent for the possibilities and limits of national biometrics-enabled governance.

Aadhaar was heralded as a solution to a plethora of socio-economic problems. In postcolonial India, people have used a slew of papers to prove identity – common among them were ration cards, voter ID cards, driving licences, passports and Permanent Account Number (PAN) cards. Even as there were several IDs to choose from, not everyone had equal access to them. IDs beget IDs. Those who had none to begin with were thus continually denied recognition. The government’s ‘pro-poor’ identification scheme would, most notably, make known to the government those who needed benefits, subsidies and services the most.

By allowing for ‘anytime, anywhere’ identification, the Aadhaar scheme also promised to staunch leakages in the government welfare delivery mechanisms and stymie corruption. The ‘who are you?’ question was thus also closely linked to the question ‘are you who you say you are?’ The UIDAI database would insure the weeding out of ghost, fake and duplicate identities from databases that the government already possessed.

What would unlock ‘unique’ identity would be a person’s biological features. The UIDAI would collect minimal demographic information and rely on biometrics to verify the person’s identity. After creating a total archive of the population, the only thing that the UIDAI would do would be to prove that you are who you say you are. This it would do in a Yes/No format, by connecting to the CIDR. The UIDAI’s prerogative was to provide basic but universal identity verification across the country. It steered clear of guaranteeing rights, benefits or subsidies. Aadhaar would, however, supposedly ease the path to access all of these.

Early on, the UIDAI decided that it would need to draft government institutions to work on this massive national programme. Many government bodies served as ‘registrars’ for the programme. Both public and private players were enlisted to gather biometric and demographic data. The UIDAI was at the helm of affairs and succeeded in issuing IDs to nearly a billion people with extraordinary alacrity. By any yardstick, issuing the ID was a logistical success. The avowed central tenet of the UIDAI is that technology has the potential to empower the citizen. The UIDAI would mend ailing government structures through its ‘scalable’ open-source technologies. That was its promise.

Presented as a mere ‘technical’ intervention, however, Aadhaar soon descended into a contentious national landscape. Some have argued that the bullish pursuit of this programme meant ignoring, in many instances, the legal, economic and sociopolitical implications of the programme. The biggest question that Aadhaar raises relates to privacy and national security. Aadhaar is seen by its opponents as a tool to build a surveillance state and a means to destabilize the current hard-won balance of power between the state and the citizen. In turn, concerns are also being raised about malevolent actors compromising the database.

Aadhaar is founded on the principle that a technologically powered identity database can help ‘leapfrog’ India’s development. It offers speed, efficiency and transparency. The making of Aadhaar is also a remaking of the idea of the citizen, then. Aadhaar is envisioned as the ubiquitous signifier of individual identity, with applications in healthcare, banking, education and, more broadly, as the basis of consumption. The all-consuming citizen and the all-seeing state appear to come together in the ‘unique’ Indian experiment that is Aadhaar.


Khera, R., ed. Dissent on Aadhaar: Big Data Meets Big Brother. Orient BlackSwan, 2019.

Nilekani, N., Viral Shah and Aparna Ranjan , Rebooting India: Realizing a Billion Aspirations. New Delhi: Penguin Books India, 2015.

Rao, Ursula and Vijayanka Nair , eds. ‘Aadhaar: Governing with Biometrics, Special Section, South Asia.’ Journal of South Asian Studies 42, no. 3 (2019): 469–611.


Kavery Nambisan

‘When is the aspatre open?’ is a question I’m often asked.

An enclosed passage measuring nine paces in length and three in width is a rough and ready portion of our home where I treat our village folk. There is an examination couch, a table and chair and two grey stone shelves built into the wall for the tablets, salves, splints and injections.

Aspatre is the South Indian equivalent of the haspatal or aspatāl in Hindi-speaking regions. They are lingual variations of the word ‘hospital’ which came to us through our British colonizers. The ‘hospice’ which cares for the terminally or chronically ill has been in existence since the eleventh century CE. The word itself is derived from the Latin hospes, which is the etymological root of ‘host’ and ‘hospitality’.

Old age, injury and disease lie in wait for every healthy one of us. Places of refuge for the sick perhaps predate history. We have the dharmshalaashramchaori or a temple courtyard where travellers and pilgrims take shelter, and an ailing destitute will be offered safety and food. In South Indian languages, such shelters are known as the chavadichatra or satram. The meaning is derived from chatra or umbrella, meaning a place of shelter; or it may be a place where four roads meet.

In ancient Greece, Aesculapius, the God of Healing, resided in an oracle that spoke through the temple priest and advised the sick about diet, abstinence and penance. Patient details were inscribed on temple walls and were some of the earliest case records. From early Christian era till well after the Middle Ages, disease and suffering were attributed to a sinful life. The monks and priests had as much authority over this business as a doctor. In rural areas such as ours, it is still common to seek out the ‘voice of god’ that will speak to the sufferer through an exorcist or priest who then might incite the caring family to beat the evil spirits of disease away with sticks and brooms.

The hospital as we know it now, in its coldly professional, regimented form, offers the cure of disease. Cure has relegated care to the backseat and with that, the hospice and its corollaries more or less bowed out.

My idea of a hospital, haspatal, aspatre is a place where care and cure combine to heal the patient. The treatment corner of our home being called an aspatre is somewhat apt. My personal and professional zones have jostled for at least nine-tenths of my career. From single-room hospital accommodation to double-room, bedsit, flat or bungalow, I am never far from the sounds of stretcher, wheel chair, ambulance sirens, the shouting ayah or the wailing mourners. Ejected from slumber by an ever-conscientious husband, I curse, slip some clothes over my nightwear, grab the hide-all white coat and tear out of home and in through a side entrance of the hospital to a waiting patient. In Bihar, if the intercom did not jangle me out of slumber, it was an AK 47 which has an eerie resemblance to crackers.

If Susruta operated under a tree, as we are told to believe, it was good thinking: sanitary, well-lit, peaceful. The only spectators permitted to see the supersurgeon at work were potential patients. The barber-surgeons of Europe worked from cubby-hole chambers, showing off their expertise to curious passers-by. In 1834, Dr Ephraim McDowell of Kentucky operated on a woman for an ovarian tumour on the kitchen table, with her reading the Bible and the neighbours outside the door ready to lynch him if he failed. Surgery is very different now, but there is a lot that can be done outside the comforting space of a hospital.

Suffering cries for love. The gentle word, the soft touch, the preserving of dignity. Some of us will leave this world within the impersonal confines of a medical ward or an intensive care unit (ICU). As I wind down professionally, I do more and more of less and less. I try to erase the creases of suffering a tiny little bit, in my aspatre.


Kapoor, Bimla. ‘Model of Holistic Care in Hospice Set Up in India’. Nursing Journal of India, October 2003. Available at: (accessed December 2018).

Saunders, Dame Cicely M. and Robert Kastenbaum . Hospice Care on the International Scene. New York City: Springer Publishing Company, 1997.


Paranjoy Guha Thakurta

The word ‘benami’ is of Urdu origin, which literally translates as ‘without a name’. In contemporary India, the word has been most frequently used to signify ownership and transfer of property (usually immovable) in the names of those who are not the real owners of the property but acting on behalf of, or at the behest of, others who are the real owners of the property – in legal parlance, the ‘beneficial owners’.

Thus, typically, wealthy individuals transfer ownership of land and real estate in the names of their faithful retainers to avoid and evade payment of taxes. For example, the infamous Hyderabad-based Byrraju Ramalinga Raju, who set up the Satyam group of companies which was embroiled in a major financial scandal, made vehicle drivers and gardeners directors of companies that owned valuable properties although they were paid low salaries. The ‘real’ owners of these firms were Raju and his associates.

In 1973, the Law Commission of India recommended the enactment of a law to check benami transactions. In May 1988, the Indian parliament enacted the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act. The act defined a benami transaction as one in which property is transferred from one person for a consideration that is paid for by another person. Curiously, the rules that were required to make the law operational were not framed for nearly twenty-three years!

In 2011, the United Progressive Alliance government led by Manmohan Singh introduced a bill to amend the law ostensibly to make it more effective. But no offender was prosecuted. In July 2016, a little over a year after Narendra Modi became prime minister, the law was amended yet again. In its current avatar, the act gives the government the right to confiscate and recover the benami property without paying any compensation to its ‘owner’. The new law has put in place mechanisms for appeals and an adjudicating authority.

The benamidar (in whose name the property is shown as standing), the beneficiary (who has actually paid the consideration) and the persons who are found to be ‘abetting and inducing’ benami transactions are prosecutable and may face rigorous imprisonment up to seven years besides being liable to pay a fine up to 25 per cent of the ‘fair market value’ of the property. Those furnishing false information to the law-enforcing authorities are also liable to be prosecuted, imprisoned and fined.

The amended law has been projected as a means to put the fear of prison in those who are rich and corrupt. But it has not been effective in the least thus far.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an independent journalist, author, publisher, documentary film-maker and consultant.


‘The Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Amendment Act, 2016’. (Retrieved 6 November 2019).


Arun Kumar

The black economy is the key problem confronting Indian society today. It impacts every aspect of the nation’s life, yet few analysts incorporate it in their analysis. There are many misunderstandings about it, such as it is all cash, or it is a parallel or an informal activity, or that all the black money is held abroad. The problem is black income generation and not black money held as cash; the distinction is between flows and stocks. By definition, the black economy is linked to illegality in society and it originates in both legal and illegal activities. While the entire income from the illegalities is black, the generation of black income from legal activities can be done by over- and under-invoicing.

Black economy is measured relative to the white economy. It has grown from 4–5 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 1955–56 to 62 per cent in 2012–13. While this adds to the measured GDP, it has been shown that the black economy lowers the rate of growth below the potential due to the inefficiencies it creates. Further, it leads to the failure of macro and micro policies, higher levels of inflation, higher deficit in the budget due to taxes not being collected and lower investment rates due to flight of capital. It leads to shortage of foreign exchange due to manipulation of exports and imports, failure of policies for education and health, aggravated poverty and inequality, environmental damage and lop-sided urbanization. It also impacts work ethic and leads to higher levels of criminalization. Justice is greatly delayed, and the corrupt take advantage of it to escape. The sense of social injustice in society increases leading to greater alienation. Politics and elections are closely linked to the black economy.

India has taken many steps to control the black economy over the past seventy years, but with little success, because it is a political problem and not a technical or an economic one. Tax rates have been lowered from 97.5 per cent in 1971 to the present level of 30 per cent, but the black economy has only grown. A large number of controls were removed from the statue books (e.g. Monopolistic and Restrictive Trade Practice [MRTP] and Foreign Exchange Regulation Act [FERA]) after 1991, but that did not impede the growth of the black economy. At 62 per cent, illegality is widespread and that is only possible if the instrumentality of the state is involved in its generation. It has been argued that the black economy is run by the triad of corrupt businessmen, the political class and the executive. Unless the triad is dismantled, the black economy cannot be checked. The need is for political movements to bring about accountability at all levels. There are no short-term solutions to the problem. Demonetization was a technical step which failed to curb the black economy, because it did not impact the triad at all.


Kumar, A. The Black Economy in India. New Delhi: Penguin India, 1999.

National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP). Aspects of Black Economy in India. New Delhi: NIPFP, 1985.


Pamela Philipose

The phrase ‘Breaking News’ holds up a mirror to the mediatization of contemporary Indian society and although it may be made up of two English words, they have made a seamless transition into local patois. While the term has an older provenance in the West, in India it began to be deployed widely only after the arrival of commercial television news production in the country, following the economic liberalization in 1991. Among the various media transformations that the post-liberalization era witnessed was the ending of the near monopoly on the generation of news that had been exercised by the state-owned broadcaster, Doordarshan. What followed was a sustained proliferation of news channels in a scenario that the media academic Nalin Mehta memorably described as ‘an epidemic of fraud’.

Sunetra Sen Narayan notes that currently there are around four hundred channels in the country which ‘do news’ in some form of the other. The battle to gain and, more important, retain eyeballs amidst a volatile viewership and an intense competition for the advertising rupee led to television channels resorting to an assortment of strategies in their bid to survive. The use of the ‘Breaking News’ device is one such strategy. It is meant to function as a hook to keep that fickle viewer with a remote in hand constantly interested in the fare being offered so that the channel can gain those crucial brownie points, known in industry jargon as television rating points (TRPs)

The device is particularly important for twenty-four-hour news channels that have now become a distinctly significant part of the country’s social and political landscape. If the first twenty-four-hour news channel in India made its appearance only in 1998, courtesy Rupert Murdoch and his Hong Kong-based Satellite TV Asian Region (Star TV network), over the next fifteen years there were to be over a hundred of such entities, all of them broadcasting news in a dozen languages around the clock.

What has complicated this avalanche of news unleashed by news channels is the arrival of social media and the smartphone. Social media sites have now emerged as important cogs in the machinery of news creation, both in terms of creating and breaking news. In fact, they have changed the way the newsroom functions. In an earlier era, the life of the story ended when the last edition of the newspaper went to bed or after the final television news bulletin of the day was broadcast. Social media has disrupted this pattern, making news generation an unending cycle of disparate events. Earlier, attention was focused on getting a complete and exclusive story ready by the end of the day; today, the emphasis is more on providing details of stories as they unravel. In such a fluid context, a device such as ‘Breaking News’, even as it keeps the interest of audiences alive, also provides a thread of connectivity between discrete parts of the story.

A recent blurb put out by the Hindi news channel, that defines itself as sabse tez (‘fastest of all’), tells this story well: ‘Aaj Tak, India’s most watched news channel, is available as an app. The app brings to you Live TV, latest Hindi news, breaking news alerts (taaza Hindi khabar) … Download the Aaj Tak app on your Smartphone and watch Aaj Tak news channel Live.’ But the very success of this device could be its undoing. The diminishing returns of crying wolf could mean that its inherent promise of delivering information of paramount public interest could become exposed for what, ultimately, it sometimes is: mere advertisement without substance, a purveyor of fake tidings and even sleaze. Often, breaking news is neither ‘breaking’ nor, strictly speaking, ‘news’, just the illusion of a busy news scenario. Despite this, the prospect of the veil being lifted from over the magic words ‘Breaking News’ is not upon us any time soon. There is still a lot of juice in this lemon, as most television news editors would maintain, and they will continue to squeeze it for some time yet.

The attractiveness of this peg for both news producers and viewers alike testifies ultimately to its compelling nature, catering as it does to inordinate appetite for news among ordinary Indians who are still prepared to spare time and attention for the electric lure of being ‘in the loop’; that magical possibility of gaining a ‘sneak peek’ into what lies in the womb of the future.


Mehta, Nalin. Behind a Billion Screens: What Television Tells Us about Modern India, 14. New Delhi: Harper Collins, 2015.

Narayan, Sunetra Sen. Globalization and Television: A Study of the Indian Experience 1900–2019, 89. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2014.


Navroz K. Dubash

‘Climate change’ is a thoroughly un-Indian word. It originates in international discourse around a global-scale physical phenomenon. Indeed, there is little any single country can do alone to address climate change, other than prepare to bear its impacts. In many ways, climate change only makes sense as a global construct. However, because the sources of many of these gases – the burning of fossil fuels – are so essential to economic activity, each country has had to craft a narrative, political and policy response appropriate to its own context. Climate change, therefore, also takes on a national sheen. In this process, over the years, a distinctly Indian, if nascent, narrative around climate change has emerged.

For close to a quarter century, from the start of global negotiations in 1990 to about 2005, the use of climate change in India has been closely paired with the diplomatic challenge of ‘negotiations’. Constructed as a problem created by the industrialized world, due to their profligate consumption and consequent high emissions, the issue was one of ensuring adequate consideration of ‘equity’ in climate discussions. Influenced by a distinctively Indian ‘environmentalism of the poor’ focused on access to and control over resources, equity applied across countries included consideration of a country’s past emissions and its standard of development as the basis for a fair allocation of responsibility for action. Legally, the convoluted but evocative phrase ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ enshrined in the United Nations (UN) Framework Convention on Climate Change effectively signalled the need to treat the Global North and South differently with regard to climate obligations. India’s diplomatic aim, successfully managed for two decades, was to avoid contamination of India’s development discourse by climate change considerations.

Global political shifts have played an important role in dissolving this barrier. In geopolitical terms, by the late 2000s, the developing world, led by China, had experienced a decade of high growth, while the industrialized world struggled with low growth rates and a major financial crisis. Due to this, developing countries, including India, were accounting for an increasing share of annual emissions, even though these emissions remained low in per capita terms. Developing countries, it was argued, needed to step up and do more to address climate change. India, with one eye on a seat at the global high table, could not afford to refuse outright.

Formulating a domestic response in terms of ‘co-benefits’ provided one way to square the circle. The technocratic, yet surprisingly subversive term, ‘co-benefits’, crystallizes an understanding that the pursuit of developmental objectives could also simultaneously lead to global climate mitigation benefits. For example, better urban public transport makes for livable cities but also reduces emissions; climate and development need not always be in conflict.

Used as a framing concept in India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change, ‘co-benefits’ was intended as a defensive measure to allow India to continue to prioritize development. But puncturing the strict binary between climate and development also complicated matters. If India gained developmentally from some climate actions, then why should rich countries always have to take the lead, and why should they pay entirely for India’s mitigation efforts, as India had demanded? This discussion settled into a useful decision rule for policy: India should prioritize areas with co-benefits but also be alert to areas where climate mitigation and development are at odds.

Building on this understanding, climate change took on a new meaning as a policy construct, spawning a proliferating apparatus of policies and bureaucratic appendages. The National Action Plan seeded eight National Missions in areas as diverse as renewable energy and Himalayan states. A further extension to action plans in each state followed. On occasion, linkage to the high-profile climate issue enabled enterprising bureaucrats to strategically advance agendas, with substantial results, as in the case of accelerating adoption of energy-efficiency measures. More frequently, formal institutionalization driven by a pressure to demonstrate action to a global audience preceded adequate conceptualization, and many of these efforts struggled with the idea of how to ‘mainstream’ climate change into development.

Consequently, climate policy in India has been driven rather more by global imperatives than by citizen concerns about actual impacts, despite India’s exposure to monsoon instability, declining crop yields, more violent weather and the like. Thus, a rare 2009 parliamentary debate on climate change focused almost exclusively on whether India risked surrendering its right to development under global pressure, with little mention of climate impacts. However, this may be gradually changing. A survey of (English-language) Indian newspaper articles on the subject in 2009–10 found that only 10 per cent of the articles were focused on science or impacts, while global and Indian climate politics dominated coverage; a larger survey spanning 2010–17 found that impacts occupied 25 per cent of the coverage.

Given the ample causes for concern, why are Indians not more alarmed about climate impacts? In the west, climate concerns are increasingly driven by the prospect of catastrophic climate change. In India, existential climate concerns may simply be crowded out by others that are more immediate and apparent, such as malnutrition, air and water pollution, and urban liveability. Under these conditions, climate change is unlikely to successfully seize a large share of an already overtaxed public imagination. Instead, it may receive indirect attention for its multiplying effects on immediate development challenges, such as food and water security.

Indeed, even the somewhat clumsy terminology for climate change in Hindi, jal-vaayu parivartan (water-air changes) invites an attention to a more localized and immediate perspective on the problem, one focused on lived experiences. Apple cultivators in Himachal Pradesh, for example, note changes in growing and ripening seasons for their fruit, with entire regions turning barren. But, even while the implications of climate change in the aggregate are existential, attributing any particular impact to climate change is scientifically challenging. Thus, while floods in Uttarakhand are emblematic of the sorts of damage climate change could cause through high rainfall events, the specific impacts are also likely driven by flawed local land-use policies. It is hard to develop a popular imagination around such heavily caveated narratives.

For all these reasons, climate change remains an arms-length concept in India. The idea and the language have been embraced rather more by the bureaucratic than the public imagination, driven by global conversations. The pathway to deeper Indian public engagement with climate change is less likely to pass through alarm about a future existential crisis and more likely to rest in deeper exercises in translation that tie the global more firmly to local experiences and concerns.


Dubash, Navroz K., ed. India in a Warming World: Integrating Climate Change and Development. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2019.

Dubash, Navroz K., Radhika Khosla , Ulka Kelkar and Sharachchandra Lele . ‘India and Climate Change: Evolving Ideas and Increasing Policy Engagement’. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 43 (2018): 395–424.


Souvik Mukherjee

Computers may not have arrived in colonial India but the Indian Statistical Institute built the first analog computer in the 1950s, and this was followed by an indigenously built digital computer by Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). Despite the relatively early beginnings of computing technology, the word ‘computer’ took its time to appear in common parlance in Indian society. As late as 1984, with the New Computer Policy and the liberalization of telecom services, the scenario saw a sea change in the rapid spread of both computing and mobile technology. The word ‘computer’ does not appear in Hindi–English dictionaries, such as The Practical Hindi–English Dictionary (1970) or even the Siksarthi Hindi–Angrejhi Sabdakosa (1989). The Bengali dictionary Samsad Bengali–English dictionary (2000) lists the Bengali equivalent of the word as pariganaka, which it translates to ‘a reckoner, a computer, an enumerator’. This connects to the meaning of computing as enumerating or counting and not so much to the current meaning associated with the computer.

Although portable computers (now called ‘laptops’) date back to 1984, the appearance of laptops in the lives of Indians took over a decade. The case today is very different. Mobile phones are an integral part of the communications systems in India today. From banking, governance, finance, rural development to the swankiest fashion advertisements, ‘mobile’ is an integral part of the vocabulary of the major Indian languages. As Dinesh Sharma notes, ‘Computers are no more the preserve of scientists, academicians, and businesses … [Mobile phones] are empowering citizens in many ways and even boosting the incomes of the poor. … enabling them to access agriculture-related information to supporting their fight against corruption in government departments.’

Associated with computers, laptops and mobile phones, there are a host of new entrants to the vocabulary of Indian languages and to the general culture of information and communication. For example, computer-related terms such as ‘hard disk’, ‘hard/soft copy’, ‘router’, ‘PC’, ‘desktop/laptop’, ‘Windows’, ‘Office’, ‘cybercafe’, ‘hacking’ and ‘crash’ are some of the words that are part of the common usage in urban India – their usage corresponding to their global connotations. To these, one can add local words that have now been appropriated into computerese: the Hindi word ju’gāṛa is a case in point. Padmini Ray Murray and Chris Hand define the concept of ju’gāṛa as ‘an indigenous form of hacking that differs from its Western counterpart in its ubiquity, precipitated by economic constraints and lack of resources’. Other less common, but arguably equally interesting, appropriations are words like the compound construction cybermohalla, defined by ‘Sarai’ as follows: ‘the Cybermohalla (Cyber Neighbourhood) Project is a community of young practitioners who share each other’s thoughts, ideas and creative energies in media labs located in working class areas of Delhi.’ There are other such compound constructions in academic circles – such as digi-naka (digital crossroads) – that are less permanent in public memory. Another local modification, perhaps region-specific and temporary, is lappie for laptop.

Unlike the German handi, Indian languages have retained ‘mobile phone’ in the original English. Together with the technology, the terms such as ‘smartphone’, ‘selfie’, ‘SIM card’ and ‘3G/4G’ have become part of the common parlance. A rather peculiar pan-Indian usage is ‘missed call’, which denotes someone making a blank call and disconnecting before the call is received, expecting the person on the other side to call back. For both computers and mobile phones, ‘social media’ is one key inclusion in the vocabulary of Indian languages as well as Indian English. ‘Twitter’ and its verb form ‘tweeting’ is now to be found in newspapers, political discourses and general conversations. Likewise, ‘Facebook’, ‘blog’, ‘Skype’ and ‘WhatsApp’ have also entered the dictionaries as verbs. Similarly, ‘gamer’ is another such inclusion that has entered the vocabulary recently from the videogame-playing subculture into mainstream discourse. We note that videogame scholar Adrienne Shaw, during a visit to India on a research project, asked the question, ‘How do you say gamer in Hindi? How do you say it in Urdu, for that matter, in Gujarati, in Marathi, or in Punjabi?’ And, she concluded that although Indian languages have multiple words for ‘play’, ‘gamer’ in its videogaming connotation has become a new word in the Indian lexicons. Another borrowing from computer games, particularly, the massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPGs), is the word ‘troll’. Trolls are those who bully others on social media and disrupt conversations. Here, one mustn’t forget related words from other sectors, such as industry and finance. ‘IT’ is perhaps the commonest acronym today to denote a profession in India; ‘outsourcing’, ‘start-ups’, ‘BPOs’, etc., are other common entrants into the vocabulary.

From the virtual absence of the computer in public discourse in the 1970s to the current IT-centric urban scenario, there has been a huge leap in computing discourse. Computer- and mobile-related words have entered the vocabulary of the Indian populace and are now fundamental parts of Indian culture and society.


Sarai. ‘Cybermohalla Book Box: SaraI’, 2003. Available at: (accessed December 2018).

Sharma, Dinesh C., The Outsourcer: The Story of India’s IT Revolution. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2015.


Arun M. Kumar

No serious business leader would contest the contention that corporations have responsibilities to society that go well beyond the goods or services they provide to their customers and clients, the welfare of their employees and the returns they deliver to their shareholders. Indeed, it is now well accepted that a company’s long-term success is indeed impacted by its record on social responsibility, stewardship of the environment and ethical behaviour. This was not always the case. In the early years of industrialization, enterprise owners restricted their concerns to their own profits. Their engagement with society more broadly was left to their charitable impulses based on personal preferences.

Today, companies often establish organizational units and specific initiatives to address their ‘corporate social responsibility’, often abbreviated as CSR. These efforts seek to assert and fulfil the responsibilities a company feels towards advancing social well-being. In recent years, spurred by increasing consciousness of environmental sustainability, CSR efforts have particularly embraced a responsibility towards the environment.

CSR is a manifestation of ‘corporate citizenship’. A citizen has responsibilities to fellow citizens, often realized through obligations to her or his city, state and country. In much the same way, corporations, which are indeed ‘legal persons’ in most jurisdictions, are expected to shoulder the responsibilities of citizenship. Visionary corporate leaders had taken on the mantle of such responsibilities long before CSR became a trend or was seen as an imperative. In India, Jamsetji Tata and his successors, as early as the end of the nineteenth century, envisioned regulated working hours for workers and a well laid-out city with facilities for healthcare, education and other amenities for workers and their families.

Around the world, CSR is seen as an important activity. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) refines CSR as ‘a management concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and interactions with their stakeholders’. Inherent in CSR is the concept of a ‘triple bottom line’, a balance of economic, environmental and social imperatives. This balance is often seen, for instance by the European Commission, as critical for competitiveness, sustainability and innovation. CSR is seen to bring benefits in terms of cost savings, access to capital, customer relationships and human resource management.

The CSR movement is transitioning from its reliance on purely voluntary activity to the greater use of laws. India has emerged as one of the leading countries to make CSR mandatory by the passage of the Companies Act, 2013. This law mandates a CSR expenditure of 2 per cent of the average net profits for companies of a certain size and profitability. KPMG’s India CSR Reporting Survey 2017 noted that overall CSR spending in India was rising with education and health attracting most of the funding.

Beyond CSR is the millennials-inspired view that a corporation must have a higher purpose that captures the value it adds to society. People today want to be engaged in work that contributes to societal advancement and want to see the direct link their work has to social good. Laying bricks may be tedious, but constructing a cathedral makes the same work inspiring.


Gupta, Radha and Dil Pazir . ‘Emerging Trends of Corporate Social Responsibility in India: An Overview’. The Journal of Rural and Agricultural Research (2012): 49.

Mitra, Rahul. ‘Framing the Corporate Responsibility-Reputation Linkage: The Case of Tata Motors in India’. Public Relations Review 37, no. 4 (2011): 392–398.


Thomas Abraham

Cyberbhakt is a portmanteau word linking bhakt (devotee) and cyberspace. The term has both an earlier and a current meaning. Its current usage, dating to the period during and after the 2014 LōkaSabhā elections, describes ardent followers of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and like-minded Hindu nationalist groups, which have taken to social media to aggressively promote their cause and attack their perceived ideological foes. The author of popular fiction Chetan Bhagat was an early popularizer of the term, and in a Times of India article in 2015 he had described the word as ‘a cyber species often referred to as “bhakts”. The term is used to refer to owners of right wing user accounts who tend to be aggressive fans of all things Hindu.’

For around two decades prior to that, the term was largely used to describe devotees who visited Hindu temple websites and participated in rituals online. One of the earliest reported media usages of this term was in an article in India Today in 1998, which commented, ‘Gods have always been in heaven; now they are in cyberspace too.’ Another study described the phenomenon of cyberbhakti and cyberseva as new internet-mediated forms of religiosity. These earlier forms of cyberbhakti had no overt political edge but created the context for the birth of online Hindu nationalism. The journalist Sagarika Ghose is credited with coining the term ‘Internet Hindus’ to describe the growth of a new, more militant avatar of the cyberbhakt. The coinage was made, appropriately enough, in a tweet in 2010, where Ghose commented, ‘Internet Hindus are like swarms of bees. They come swarming after you at any mention of Modi, Muslims or Pakistan!’

Ghose’s description captures some of the issues dear to the cyberbhakt’s heart: a devotion to the BJP, Narendra Modi and Hindu nationalism, combined with a deep animosity to Pakistan and Muslims in general. The phenomenon of the political cyberbhakt is linked to the growth of the BJP’s information technology (IT) cell, which guides the party’s social media operations by feeding supporters a steady stream of tweets and WhatsApp messages to rebroadcast. However, these online activists are not just retweeters and forwarders of messages, they are also often influential professionals who juggle their day-to-day lives with bouts of online cyber activism in support of the BJP, Narendra Modi and other Hindu nationalist causes.

Cyberbhakts tend not to use the term to describe themselves. Also, Pakistan and Muslims are not the only target of the cyberbhakt’s ire. Equally prominent in the bhakt’s pantheon of enemies are ‘anti-nationals’, ‘liberals’ and ‘secularists’, the Congress Party, ‘leftists’, ‘naxalites’ and journalists who are seen as insufficiently supportive of the BJP and right-wing causes. Liberal voices on the internet, particularly women, can get bombarded with abusive messages from nationalist cyberbhakts. Often, the cyberbhakt’s chosen terms of abuse are corruptions of regular words. Thus, secular becomes ‘sickular’, ‘Lutyens’ (referring to the New Delhi that Edward Lutyens designed and seen as home to an entrenched liberal elite) becomes ‘Lootyens’. Certain terms combine two or more cyberbhakt themes: thus, the anger against Muslims and the anger against the Congress for supposedly supporting Muslims more than Hindus in India has produced the term ‘Khangress’ (substituting the Muslim Khan for the first syllable of Congress). Other terms of invective such as ‘pressitute’ (an amalgam of press and prostitute) and ‘libtard’ (liberal and retard) are borrowed from global, particularly US, right-wing discourse.

The style of argument of the cyberbhakt is largely based on ad hominem attacks. Another form of argument that figures prominently in the cyberbhakt’s rhetorical arsenal is commonly known as ‘whataboutery’ or deflecting attacks on an issue by pointing to similar acts by other parties. This form of argument is both logically and ethically untenable, since a wrong by one party does not justify a wrong by another party.

The cyberbhakts of the Hindu nationalist right are, of course, not the only Indian political voices in cyberspace. The Congress and other parties opposed to right-wing Hindu nationalism, as well as journalists and public intellectuals opposed to the BJP’s vision of India, are active on Twitter and other social media platforms and have coined terms such as ‘feku’ to describe Narendra Modi and ‘andh bhakt’ to describe what they see as the cyberbhakts’ blind devotion to their chosen cause. However, these other political forces do not seem to have the ability to relentlessly attack their opponents in the way the BJP and its supporters can.


Bhagat, Chetan. ‘Anatomy of an Internet Troll: How Social Media Birthed a Strange New Phenomenon in India, the Bhakts’. Times of India, 11 July 2015. Available at: (accessed December 2018).

Zavos, J., P. Kanungo , D. S. Reddy , M. Warrier and R. Williams , Public Hinduisms. New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2012.


C. Rammanohar Reddy

Until late 2016, ‘demonetization’ was a term almost completely unknown in India outside a small circle of economists and economic policymakers. This changed on 8 November 2016, when the Government of India decided to withdraw all 500 and 1000 rupees currency notes from circulation and replace them with a new series of 500 rupees and a new currency of 2000 rupees. The word ‘demonetization’ then became a permanent fixture in the Indian lexicon. In English, the term was ‘demonetization’, in Hindi the more direct notebandi. There was also the development of short forms and alliterations such as ‘DeMo’ and ‘NaMo’s DeMo’ (Mr Narendra Modi’s demonetization).

According to the dictionary, ‘demonetization’ comes from the French word ‘demonetizer’, which has its roots in the Latin moneta (for money) combined with the prefix de (reversal). In plain language, it means depriving a currency of its value as legal tender.

Demonetization is not a common occurrence, but it is also not a rare one. It is an extreme measure used in extreme situations. A well-known example is the demonetization of the German Mark in the 1930s due to hyperinflation. More recently, Brazil did the same in the 1990s, when its Real was replaced by the New Real, also during a time of high inflation. Yet another kind of demonetization was in the early 2000s when the Euro replaced the national currencies of the member states of the European Union.

The Indian experience with demonetization, however, is different. It is of the kind that has been used now and then to fight black money, black marketing, smuggling and other illegal activities. This it does by delegalizing high-value denomination notes, which are seen as the preferred form of holding illegal cash. A few countries – Myanmar, North Korea and Russia – have gone this route in the past couple of decades, though with mixed success. In the case of India in 2016, demonetization was a decision taken to achieve two main objectives: destroy ‘black money’ and end counterfeiting. Later, other objectives were formally and informally added: improving tax compliance, the promotion of digital payments and the ‘formalization’ of the economy.

Demonetization was not new to India in 2016. It had been carried out before twice – in 1946 and 1978. What was different in 2016 was the scale of demonetization, which explains the huge impact the process had on people’s lives and which was also why it entered everyday language. In the earlier two demonetization events, the high-value notes that were demonetized accounted for less than 10 per cent of the cash in circulation. The impact on commerce and on people’s ability to conduct daily transactions was therefore negligible. In 2016, the two currency notes that were demonetized accounted for as much as 86 per cent of the value of the currency in circulation. The impact was immediate and huge on production, trade and the everyday lives of households. The daily routine of production, distribution and consumption was severely disrupted at all levels, most of all among the disadvantaged.

The demonetized currency notes could be deposited in banks or exchanged for new notes and there were weekly limits on the transactions. But, since the scale of replacement was huge and adequate preparations had not been made to stock new currency notes, citizens faced many difficulties. They were denied complete access to their bank deposits. Everyone had to wait for hours in long lines for rationed amounts of cash. To make matters worse, the rules and regulations were frequently changed, sometimes reversing existing rules, and this caused both confusion and more dislocation.

It was not only the media which debated the pros and cons of demonetization. No public or private conversation could avoid speaking about the nitty-gritty of demonetization, its objectives, outcomes and many outlandish rumours. The suddenness, the lack of preparation, the ambiguity about whether its objectives could be met and the fact that its impact was felt every day for weeks on end naturally made it the subject of intense public discussion. Many of these conversations would be held when people stood in long lines to deposit or withdraw money from banks and at ATMs.

The upheaval, confusion and (until then) the unknown nature of the process of demonetization had another kind of impact as well. On social media, in particular, it became the subject of satire and saw immense humour as people found this to be one way of coping with the bewilderment. A large volume of jokes, puns and cartoons cropped up, all poking fun at everyone from the prime minister and the governor of the Reserve Bank of India downwards.

While it was a process that was carried out in the months of November and December in 2016, its short-term impact continued to be felt till early 2017. There was medium-term impact as well, experienced in the form of a slowdown in economic growth that has contunied into 2019–20. There was the promise of a beneficial impact in the long term through better tax compliance, less generation of black money and a less cash-intensive economy. If that does happen, it would be ascribed to that process whose name was difficult to roll over the tongue and yet had become permanently implanted in public consciousness.


Ghosh, Jayati, C. P. Chandrasekhar and Prabhat Patnaik . Demonetisation Decoded: A Critique of India’s Currency Experiment. New Delhi: Routledge, 2017.

Reddy, Rammanohar C. Demonetisation and Black Money. Hyderabad: Orient BlackSwan, 2017.


Pulapre Balakrishnan

The term ‘development’ has come to mean different things to different people. After close to four decades of uncritical usage, including by the United Nations Organization (UNO), it was to be upended by the Colombian anthropologist Arturo Escobar, who used the historical experience of Latin America to reveal some of the outcomes in areas where public policy was pursued in the name of development. A feature of this was the decimation of the natural environment and thus an assault on the lives of the people whose lives depended upon it. Overall, it represented a subjugation to the interests of metropolitan capital of the native Americans. The title of Escobar’s book, Encountering Development, suggests that development was not a happy experience for Latin America’s subalterns.

In some ways, the Indian experience has features close to that subcontinent’s. India’s own indigenous populations have been driven to the margins of their own land. Dams and highways, pylons and mines have been eating into their homelands from the 1950s, when a concerted effort had been launched by the government of a newly independent India. Unlike in Latin America, however, it was not loaded against all of India’s subalterns. Very likely, the life of the Indian peasantry improved in this period, though far too slowly, as agriculture benefitted from early economic planning in the country. However, this was not the experience of the tribals, whose exclusion may not have remained unchanged, but their lives may have worsened as the pace of denudation of the forests and extraction of minerals quickened. It is indeed a measure of ‘progressive’ politics in India that the lives of the tribals seldom figure in the discourse on Indian democracy.

Explicit use of the term ‘development’ in public policy in India is relatively more recent. Scepticism about the justification given to the policies of the Government of India in the name of development peaked with the ‘Narmada Bachao Andolan’, an agitation to prevent the construction of a gigantic dam which would drown whole villages. The agitation received worldwide attention and led to the cancellation of World Bank aid for the project. The project was not called off, however.

Is the idea of development flawed in its very conception as some appear to suggest? Certainly not. Amartya Sen has conceived of development as the ‘expansion of freedom’, a scheme in which an individual considers herself free if she is able to undertake the functionings she values. This formulation ensures that we don’t use planners’ preferences when designing development but go only by the aspirations of individuals. The central task of development now becomes one of building the capabilities of individuals.

Though advance, Sen’s idea of development is anthropocentric. It must yet deal with the fact that, in the Anthropocene, human activity has depleted the earth’s endowments, affecting its regenerative processes. This threatens the conditions of life for humans. While political agencies such as the UNO have identified the importance of sustainable development, the challenge is to devise an acceptable scheme that reconciles the goal of equitable human development across generations with the constraint of a finite natural resource endowment.


Escobar, A. Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995.

Sen, A. Development as Freedom. New York: Anchor Books, 2000.


Sandeep Mertia

If we search for contenders for global buzzwords and grand narratives of the twenty-first century, we will find the digital revolution somewhere near the top of the stack. Between old and new powerful claims, such as the world becoming flat and robots taking over humanity, the digital has transformed almost all spheres of contemporary life in materially, historically and culturally specific ways. Moving away from the charismatic dissonance of simultaneous constructions of utopias and dystopias of the digital revolution(s), this entry hopes to touch upon some possibilities for studying the many meanings of the digital in India’s sociotechnical context.

India’s relationship with the digital is constitutive of our contemporary social imaginaries of development, governance, entrepreneurship, entertainment, philanthropy and even academic discourse. We can perhaps begin to understand the confluence of performative and substantive complexity of this relationship through Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Digital India’ programme that was launched in 2014 to ‘transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy’.

What is so transformative and impactful about the phrase ‘Digital India’? A few years ago, ‘Digital India’ was the name of something as seemingly mundane as a central ministerial board constituted to legislate the digitization of cable television systems in India. There has been a fundamental shift in the political and social currency of the word ‘digital’ in India in the last decade or so. Most commentators try to explain this shift through the growing ubiquity of the internet. While there is some value in this explanation, as of 2019, more than half the Indian population still does not have access to broadband internet. E-governance programmes have been a talking point for at least two decades now. ‘Digital India’, though charged with familiar pursuits of modernization and technocratic efficiency in its official use, is now enmeshed with internet cultures and digitally connected life worlds of social media (Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, etc.): Bollywood, pornography, politics, sports, business and e-commerce and what have you. From the evolution of National Informatics Centre’s (NIC’s) quaint web-design templates to the Twitter handles of government agencies tweeting communal bile – the boundaries of official work/affective labour, authentic/virtual, public/private, etc., which have never been perfectly stable, are now blurred beyond recognition.

Interestingly, the vast majority of the population that is yet to ‘use’ the internet on an everyday basis also experience and participate in this transformation. We do not need working internet connections in every village or a smartphone with every citizen to have a dominant imagination of Digital India. When people regularly see full-page newspaper ads about free 4G internet, receive audio-recorded calls and messages asking them to vote for a political party or observe the infrastructural changes due to cell phone towers and their signal problems, among other things, they experience fragments of the sociotechnical change that the phrase ‘Digital India’ promises. Mobile repair shops selling pirate media through SD memory cards and USB sticks, middle-class couples sharing an iPad device, rural youth using one Facebook account as a group, the now world-famous ‘good morning’ deluge from Indians on WhatsApp, etc., are all markers of differences and generative potentials that are often missed in the big picture views of technological development.

Needless to say, this picture of Digital India is far from stable. India has consistently been one of the fastest-growing internet and mobile markets in the world, and the non/usage statistics and patterns are undergoing rapid change. However, neither history nor technology move in a linear fashion. Today’s seemingly draconian technocracy of Aadhaar and IndiaStack, blanket internet shutdowns, toxic masculinity and bigoted trolling online and fantastic imaginaries of cashlessness and smart cities, among other things, are far from expressions of a homogenous digital culture or politics.

Digital India cannot be summed up by counting the existing or predicting the future number of internet users and the emerging markets for the next billion users. Nor can we explain collective desires for digital media by rational rhetoric of infrastructural modernization. The fact that global internet companies refuse to host their servers in India, suspending the sovereign control of the state over media content, or the irony that so-called unicorn start-ups that make claims of contributing to Digital India are actually registered as companies in places like Singapore or funded by businesses based in China, demand fresh ethnographic attention. At a different level, the subalterns who can’t speak are not simply equivalent with the digital subalterns who get excluded from welfare services by a poorly designed, leaky biometric database system. The collisions of long-standing social and political tensions of speech, claim-making, identity and governance, with digital technologies, open new questions not only about the emergent database society but also about the historical evolution of myriad paper-based systems and governmentality.

Like most things Indian, Digital India also comes with some amnesias. India’s tryst with the digital, technically speaking, dates back to at least the late colonial era, when the need for electronic computers to calculate large-scale sample survey data was first expressed by the statistician P. C. Mahalanobis. Over the next few decades, institutions like the Indian Statistical Institute, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and Indian Institutes of Technology imported the first modern computers. This strand of the history of statistics and computing along with most of the pre-liberalization developments in electronics and telecom, though loaded with bold assertions of national planning and techno-scientific progress, seems to have little bearing on the contemporary imagination of the digital in India.

It is largely the post-liberalization boom in information technology (IT) and business process outsourcing (BPO) that is seen as a marker of India’s emergence as a software superpower and inauguration of all things digital in the popular political and business discourse. The dominant narrative of IT outsourcing, amplified by the lack of academic focus on the history of technology in India, has led to conceptual and empirical silences around open-source software and open data, Right to Information (RTI) and hacker movements, which are all sites of creative debates on social relations of technology.

Understanding ‘Digital India’, thus, is not just about exploring or measuring the effects of digital media and technologies on Indian society. The substantive questions concerning Digital India, as this entry has tried to outline, are distributed across multiple disciplines, histories and materialiaties and can only be approached with non-essentialist ways of inquiry. At a time when many leading theorists in the world are absorbed in re/thinking what it means to be human in an increasingly technologized world, paying attention to Digital India – its flickering screens and circuits of transformation – is key for alterity and entropy in networks obsessed with predictability and autopoiesis.


Saith, Ashwini, M. Vijayabaskar and V. Gayathri , eds. ICTs and Indian Social Change: Diffusion, Poverty, Governance. New Delhi: SAGE Publications, 2008.

Thomas, Pradip N. Digital India: Understanding Information, Communication and Social Change. New Delhi: SAGE Publications, 2012.


Aditya Dasgupta

The phrase ‘green revolution’ refers to a period of global agricultural transformation due to the spread of high-yielding variety (HYV) crops. HYV crops were highly productive cultivars first developed by Norman Borlaug and scientists working in Mexico during the 1950s. Under irrigated conditions, the new HYV crops could achieve yields more than double that of traditional varieties. HYV crops swept across the developing world between the 1960s and 1980s, ending food shortages.

The green revolution, or harit kranti, as it is known in Hindi, reached India in 1966–67, when HYV crops first saw widespread dissemination. HYV crops were disseminated by the Indian government as part of ‘new agricultural strategy’ designed to boost food production, against a backdrop of droughts, food shortages and growing tensions with the United States (upon which India depended for food aid). Aided by a network of domestic agricultural research centres, well-known scientists, such as M. S. Swaminathan, international foundations and agricultural extension bureaucracy, the green revolution was tremendously successful in boosting agricultural productivity between the 1960s and 1980s, ended the threat of famines and made India food self-sufficient.

However, as a form of technological change or ‘creative destruction’, the green revolution had several disruptive economic, political and ecological consequences which continue to shape India even today. In districts impacted by the green revolution, agricultural productivity increased rapidly, producing an increasingly wealthy class of land-owning farmers. However, the economic benefits of the green revolution were distributed extremely unevenly, amplifying inequality. Because the cultivation of HYV crops depended on controlled irrigation, the green revolution was concentrated in regions with potential for irrigation, such as Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, while the arid regions of the country were left out. Within villages, the green revolution benefitted farmers with larger landholdings, who possessed the economies of scale needed to cultivate the input-intensive crops, while those with smaller landholdings as well as landless labourers were excluded.

Early observers feared that the growing rural inequality due to the green revolution could fuel support for left-wing extremism among the rural poor. In fact, the primary political effect of the green revolution was to mobilize the prospering middle peasantry and cultivating caste groups, who began to seek greater political power as well as subsidies and price supports for the agricultural sector. Opposition movements, such as the Janata Party, found great success in catering to these rising rural groups. In this way, the green revolution played a key role in the long-run decline of the Congress Party and the rise of agrarian and regional opposition parties supported by rural and cultivating caste groups.

By increasing the political power of rural groups, the green revolution also gave rise to a regime of extensive subsidization of the agricultural sector. Over the long run, this has contributed to an ecological crisis. Heavily subsidized electricity, along with extensive reliance on groundwater irrigation, has led to rapid depletion of aquifers. Heavily subsidized and extensive application of toxic pesticides has had detrimental impacts on biodiversity and human health. Moreover, excess reliance on a few varieties of crops has, some argue, increased susceptibility to weather shocks.


Dasgupta, Aditya. ‘Technological Change and Political Turnover: The Democratizing Effects of the Green Revolution in India’. American Political Science Review 112, no. 4 (2018): 918–938.

Shiva, Vandana. The Violence of the Green Revolution: Third World Agriculture, Ecology, and Politics. Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2016.


A. K. Shiva Kumar

The origins of the term ‘human development’ can be traced to the writings of the Indian economist, philosopher and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, who conceptualizes development as an enhancement of human capabilities rather than, narrowly, as an expansion of incomes or growth in gross domestic product (GDP) per capita. A person’s capability translates into a set of valuable ‘beings and doings’ including the capability to lead a long and healthy life, to be educated and to enjoy a decent standard of living. Sen’s approach has strong conceptual connections with Aristotle’s understanding of human flourishing and with Karl Marx’s foundational concern with ‘replacing the domination of circumstances and chance over individuals by the domination of individuals over chance and circumstances’. Human development is about overcoming the sense of helplessness and powerlessness that characterizes the lives of many ordinary people.

Human development is a process of enlarging people’s choices, which include political freedoms, guaranteed human rights and self-respect. Of what use is wealth to a woman married to the richest landlord if she cannot access healthcare facilities in the village in case of a medical emergency or if there is no decent school for her children. In other words, income and wealth have no intrinsic value. They are means which have only instrumental significance. And the conversion of income into well-being is not automatic and is often mediated by several factors, including the public provision of social services and by considerations of class, caste and gender.

There is an important policy lesson: countries need not become rich first before improving the lives of people. It is indeed possible to improve the lives of people even at relatively low levels of income.

Human development is a concern with the poverty of opportunities, not merely with the poverty of incomes. Just as life is multidimensional, poverty too has many faces. Poverty is much more than just earning low and insufficient incomes. It also about poor health and education, deprivation in knowledge and communication, inability to exercise human and political rights and the absence of dignity, confidence and self-respect. It follows that human development is a concern with equality of opportunities, not merely with equality of incomes. In the ultimate analysis, human development is a concern with social justice and the dignity of human lives.


Sen, Amartya. ‘Development as Capability Expansion’. In Handbook of Human Development: Concepts, Measures, and Policies, edited by S. Fukuda-Parr and A. K. Shiva Kumar . New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1989, reprint, 2009.

Sen, Amartya. Development as Freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.


Vijaya Singh

Bhartiya Rail or the Indian Railways, owned by the Ministry of Railways, is the fourth largest rail network in the world. It first became operational on 16 April 1853 between Bombay and Thane. Since then, the rail network in India has grown from a mere 33 kilometres to 67,368 kilometres in 2017. It is divided into 17 zones, has 7,349 stations and runs a total of 11,000 trains every day, 7,000 of these are passenger trains carrying 13 million passengers per day.

This massive technological force has played an important role in shaping the destiny of the subcontinent as a geographical, social and cultural entity right from 1848, when the Marquis of Dalhousie, then governor general, first undertook the project of introducing the railways. Promoted and celebrated by the British as the harbinger of social change, the railways were to usher in nothing short of a sociocultural revolution in India. Caste and religion, it was assumed, would crumble and dissipate in the face of railway travel as would social taboos and superstitions. Paradoxically, the railways ended up reinforcing the strict divisions of race, caste and gender. Indians were not allowed to travel with the British, and upper-caste men made sure that purdah carriages were introduced for ‘respectable’ women travellers. Not to mention the class structure visible in the hierarchy of rail coaches arranged as first class, second class, third class and unreserved.

Indian nationalist leaders like Dadabhai Naroji, R. C. Dutt and M. K. Gandhi, on the other hand, viewed the railways as an exploitative force consolidating the hold of the British over the subcontinent. To that extent, they opposed the railways as an extravagant adventure at the cost of the Indian people and their resources.

Framed within this binary of social change, industrial progress and colonial thuggery, the railways played an ambiguous role in the development of India as a modern nation. If development is measured in terms of connectivity, volume of freight conveyed and passengers transported, then the Indian Railways has indeed played a consequential role in connecting people and places. Viewed from the other end, however, development also meant a violent tearing away at the socio-economic fabric of a vastly diverse society, whose forests, land, resources and manpower the railways made use of in propelling its engine of progress.

As the traditional forms of travel by foot, by horse, by bullock cart and palkis (palanquins) gave way to railway travel, railway stations, rail tracks and trains rumbling past villages, towns and cities became a familiar site across the subcontinent. Railways created a new pattern of social and geographical movement, leading to urbanization, creation of national markets and integrated labour markets. All this movement of people and goods across the length and breadth of the subcontinent naturally created a field of popular culture, literature and cinema around it. Writers, poets, folk singers, artists and film-makers started incorporating the railways as a site of artistic creation. Similarly, in the Bombay film industry of the early twentieth century, film-makers such as Homi Wadia, Himanshu Rai, C. M. Luhar, Ramesh Saigal and others used the railways to underscore themes of speed, displacement, encounters with technology, new people, new worlds, new ways of being and perception.

As the railways steadily became a greater part of everyday life in the twentieth century, they became sites for articulating aspirations, disappointments and struggles of a generation coming to terms with a rapidly changing world. Songs were created around the image of the moving train, which had already become a metaphor for a range of sentiments, emotions and feelings The train was especially conducive to staging desires that could not be accommodated openly. In the hit film Solva Saala (1958), Dev Anand sings the now-classic song Hai apna dil toh awara, na jane kis pe aayega for Waheeda Rehman, making it the anthem of love for young people all over the country. Not to mention the latest song, from the comparatively recent Hindi film Masaan (2015), Tu kisi rail si guzarti hai, mein kisi pul sa thartharata hun, coupling the terror and desire of inter-caste love in a neoliberal regime.


Bear, Laura, Lines of the Nation: Indian Railway Workers, Bureaucracy, and the Intimate Historical Self. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.

Kerr, Ian J. 27 Down: New Departures in Indian Railway Studies. New Delhi: Orient Longman, 2007.


Dipak Dasgupta

When prices rise for common consumer articles, it is known as inflation. Originally, in the nineteenth century, inflation was a term applied by economists to an increase in the general price level, suggesting ‘too much supply of paper money chasing too few goods’. Nowadays, it is more commonly defined as an increase in prices of a basket of representative consumer goods and suggestive that such price increase can happen for more than monetary reasons alone. The translation of this term in Hindi/Bengali is mudrasphiti, with the more popular Hindi equivalent being mhangai.

In India, inflation is most commonly associated with increases in prices of food and other essential items such as fuel, bus and train fares, clothing, housing, schooling and health, all of which make living expenses a higher burden for households and the poor and reduces their purchasing power. Inflation is, therefore, a dreaded economic phenomenon for most households in India. Double-digit inflation in India is viewed as a crisis.

Governments in India are highly sensitive to inflation, because voters frequently punish incumbent political parties in power in times of high inflation, as it is perceived as a sign of their economic mismanagement. Onions and tomatoes, seasonal items with high volatility in prices, are particularly sensitive in the Indian context given their ubiquitous use in cooking; onion price spikes are thought to have contributed to the fall of at least two central governments. Persistent inflation above threshold levels is also commonly associated with resulting bouts of tighter monetary and credit policies by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), in order to reduce the ‘excess demand’ and inflationary expectations thought to be the root causes. The result is a cycle of high-inflation episodes, followed by tighter demand management policies and subsequent slower growth and loss of jobs.

However, it is not clear if ‘excess demand’ is the main cause of periodically high and persistent inflation. Episodes of food inflation in India are frequently caused by fairly regular, if unexpected, monsoon failures in India that are tied to the global El Niño weather phenomenon. Transmission of speculative bouts of global commodity price cycles and spikes in global food and oil price rises – when all commodity prices shoot up – are also common. In addition, the effort of governments to raise minimum statutory prices (MSPs) of food grains and pro-cyclical public procurement to benefit farmers also unwittingly lead to sharply higher inflation. A fall in the exchange rate of the rupee can also cause pressures on domestic prices. When these factors happen to unfortunately coincide, as it did in the 1970s and more recently in 2009–13, persistent double-digit inflation is the result.

Traders (and futures markets) are also often blamed for hoarding and speculating in times of sudden food price spikes – a long-standing charge against the general class/caste of wholesale food traders (Aratdars and Mahajans) in India since the time of famines, which is deeply etched in the social memory of all Indians. However, there have been no famines since the last one in 1965 in Bihar and Eastern India, and this is thought to be because of the key ameliorative role played by large-scale public procurement, storage and distribution of food and the long-standing food ration public distribution system (PDS). Although disputed, evidence suggests that pro-cyclical speculative behaviour and futures markets activity have indeed been associated with sudden food price spikes in a India and globally, suggestive of collusive behaviour. State governments frequently invoke the Essential Commodities Act in an attempt to stop hoarding of stocks by food traders. Raids are conducted in full public view and traders are sometimes pictured arrested to convey the message of an active government working for the welfare of their citizens against food inflation, although these are just cosmetic measures. Another similar ineffective and inconsistent approach has been the sporadic use of sudden export and import bans, typically after the horse of inflation has already bolted.

Clearly, managing inflation remains an Achilles heel of economic management in India, as is true in much of the world. Indeed, given the many factors at work, and the usual inconsistencies in government policymaking, it is something of a miracle that inflation has nevertheless, on the whole, been held in check in India – not deviating too far, for too long, above a safe ‘comfort’ level of about 5 per cent annually. That speaks generally well of the institutions charged with economic management in India, such as the RBI and the Finance Ministry, of eventually getting things right – even if they blunder a bit – or, more accurately, the underlying power of competitive democratic pressures by citizens on elected governments, and the supply responsiveness of Indian farmers.


Dasgupta, D., R. N. Dubey and R. Satish . ‘Domestic Wheat Price Formation and Food Inflation in India’, Working Paper, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance, Government of India, 2011.

Sharma, Naresh Kumar and Motilal Bicchal . ‘The Properties of Inflation Expectations: Evidence for India’. EconomiA 19, no. 1 (January–April 2018): 74–89.


Bina Agarwal

Inheritance systems embody mechanisms for the transmission of private property. They identify which class of heirs are entitled to a person’s property and the basis of that entitlement.

In most countries, all citizens are governed by a single inheritance system. In India, however, inheritance systems differ not only by religion but also by type of property and region. Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Parsis are governed by different ‘personal laws’. Hindu inheritance systems also distinguish between ‘separate property’ and ‘joint family property’. The latter is principally ancestral property in which a community of interests and rights are recognized, held jointly by a group of members who become ‘coparceners’ by birth. Historically, as defined by the twelfth-century legal treatises – Mitaksara and Dayabhaga – coparcenary rights could be held only by males, up to a maximum depth of four generations. In separate property, an individual had absolute rights of ownership and disposal, but coparcenary property was subject to strong restrictions.

Over time, Hindu law has evolved, moving away from earlier systems which recognized only men as primary heirs to systems incorporating modern ideas which recognize the rights of women. The Hindu Succession Act of 1956 was a major, albeit partial, step in this direction but the 2005 Hindu Succession Amendment Act (HSAA) brought full equality, giving daughters the same rights as sons in both separate and joint family property, including agricultural land, a key property for rural livelihoods. Daughters are now recognized as coparceners on birth and can ask for partition of joint family property.

Christians and Parsis in India are governed by inheritance systems that are built on the secular Indian Succession Act of 1925, and sons and daughters enjoy equal rights. Muslims are still governed by the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act of 1937. Under this law, women get smaller shares than men, but contrary to the Shariat, women are also discriminated against in relation to agricultural land, which was excluded from the purview of the Act. Post-1947, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh amended the Shariat Act to include agricultural land, but an all-India amendment is still awaited. Similarly, tribal communities are governed by discriminatory customs and need gender-equal codification of inheritance rights.

There is a long-standing debate on whether a single personal law – a uniform civil code – should apply to all Indian citizens, irrespective of religion. However, the debate has focused largely on marriage rather than inheritance. It is doubtful that a uniform gender-equal inheritance law, applicable to all, is even feasible. Such a convergence would require changes in all the personal laws and would need consensus on at least five substantive points of difference. First, Hindu law retains the concept of coparcenary joint family property. No other personal law has an equivalent. Second, Muslim personal law under the Shariat has very specific rules of succession. Women’s shares are less than men’s generically, and these shares can change in the presence or absence of particular categories of other heirs. No other inheritance law has such a complex architecture of rules. And this is spelt out in the Quran, leaving little room for interpretation in a gender-equal direction. Third, personal laws differ on the right to will. Hindus, Christians and Parsis face no restrictions, but Muslim law restricts wills to one-third of property, with Sunni and Shia differences on who can get such property and with whose consent. Fourth, Hindu law itself varies by state: for example, in 1976, Kerala abolished joint family property altogether, while the HSAA retained it, and matrilineal Hindus have their own rules. Fifth, cultural ideas differ about who deserves to inherit: Hindus emphasize sapinda (‘shared body particles’ in Mitakshara; ‘religious efficacy’ in Dayabhaga); other communities focus on blood and marital ties, proximity of residence, being looked after in old age, and so on. Given such divergence, the idea that we can amalgamate different personal laws into a new uniform law is unrealistic. An alternative would be to create a separate secular law, based on constitutional principles of gender equality, which either supersedes existing inheritance laws or which people can ‘opt for’ on reaching adulthood.

Laws, however, are only one determinant of inheritance. Their implementation is mediated by social norms and perceptions. For example, rural women rarely inherit agricultural land. Pressure from families and the absence of a national social security system compel many women to give up their claims in favour of brothers, for maintaining family harmony and ensuring future support. The ongoing digitization of land records could formally entrench the inequalities that result from these social pressures. In urban areas, where the family home is usually the main immovable property, women’s claims are even less recognized, and unlike land, which is divisible, it is also difficult to divide a house.

There are, however, important regional differences in how women’s inheritance claims are perceived and implemented. There is less resistance to women’s rights in immovable property in South India than in North India. An important factor underlying these regional differences are social norms defining marriage patterns and post-marital relationships with daughters. In South India, marriages within the village and with extended kin are allowed. In such cases, land inherited by daughters can remain within the effective oversight of the extended family. Moreover, parents in need can seek financial help from married daughters. Property given to daughters can thus bring future benefits. In Northern India, however, in-village and within-kin marriages are banned, as is accepting financial help from married daughters. Here, land given to a daughter is seen as benefiting only her marital family, with no possible advantage to the parents. Resistance to daughters’ claims are, therefore, greatest here and least in South India. Other regions have a mixed pattern. It is not surprising then that even in terms of law, the first states to partially reform inheritance systems in favour of women – among both Hindus and Muslims – were all located in South and West India, and none in North India.


Agarwal, Bina. ‘Bargaining, Gender Equality and Legal Change’. In Redefining Family Law in India, edited by A. Parashar and A. Dhande 306–54. London: Routledge, 2008.

Agarwal, Bina. A Filed of One’s Own: Gender and Land Rights in South Asia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.


Darryl D’Monte

To describe a jhuggi-jhopdi, single or hyphenated, as a hut or rudimentary dwelling, made of mud and corrugated iron sheets or other scavenged materials and located in a poor area of city, does not do justice to the panoply of meanings that it evokes.

It earlier referred to the abode of fakirs, sadhus and others of their ilk – very tiny dwellings. The building materials have changed, with the widespread use of blue plastic sheets to ward off the monsoons, especially in Mumbai, which has the world’s largest urban population living in jhopdis.

Mumbai figures prominently when it comes to such housing, with around 60 per cent, the majority, of its 14 million population living in jhopdis. Among Marathi speakers, no one calls them jhuggis. The collective term is a slum, a word that originated in the depressed East End of London in the nineteenth century to denote a humble dwelling in a back alley. It is widely used today in India, even in official parlance, as in Mumbai’s Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA). There are also squatter settlements, implying illegality.

The Marathi for a slum cluster is jhopadpatti. Dharavi, with seven hundred thousand people, is reckoned to be the third largest slum in the world. In North India, the term used is basti or even ‘colony’. The term ‘colony’ is not inappropriate: colonial powers promoted city centres, isolating migrants who left their villages in search of work. Colonialists treated these as temporary workers, but later their families joined them and they could only live in slums away from the city centres. Dharavi used to be a village, referred to as a Koliwada or fisherfolks’ colony. In 1887, the British expelled all tanneries, other polluting industries and the poor natives to what was then the northern fringe of the city. This settlement did not receive any investment in terms of roads, sanitation, public services or housing.

The existence of slums of this kind is a highly politicized issue. The middle class treats these informal settlements as an eyesore, even though they benefit from the services – such as maids and drivers – that these colonies provide. There have been periodic drives to evict such slum dwellers, which reached a climax during the national emergency in the mid-1970s. Near Turkman Gate in Delhi, Sanjay Gandhi ordered a demolition of slums in 1976 and when dwellers resisted, the police opened fire, killing an estimated six people and injuring many more. These drives also often included forced sterilization of slum dwellers. An estimated seventy thousand people were displaced from slums and commercial properties in large tracts of old Delhi in the twenty-one months of the emergency. In 1981, Chief Minister A. R. Antulay evicted pavement dwellers – the lowest rung in the ‘housing’ ladder – in Mumbai, and this action eventually went up to the Supreme Court, which ruled that housing wasn’t a fundamental right, but slum dwellers had to be given alternate accommodation if their land was to be acquired for public purposes.

Slums continue to loom large in planners’ lexicon. Thus, there are Orwellian ‘resettlement colonies’, ‘unauthorized colonies’ or – even more creatively – ‘regularized-unauthorized colonies’. The earlier policy of removing or relocating slums has now ceded ground to in situ upgradation. This has found full fruition in the Maharashtra government’s highly controversial Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA), under which, if a majority of slum dwellers at a particular site agree, a builder rehouses them in a separate tenement building there. In return, he earns building rights for a swanky high-rise cheek by jowl, which he uses to cross-subsidize their rehabilitation. Needless to add, the slum dwellers are given a raw deal with shabby tenements, cannot cope with monthly maintenance charges and often sell off their property and return to their shanties.

The world was introduced to Mumbai’s jhopdis through the Oscar-winning film, Slumdog Millionaire (2008). At the very opening, the lead character, 5-year-old Jamal, dives through excrement in a makeshift pit latrine in his slum to get the autograph of Amitabh Bachchan. When riots between Hindus and Muslims break out in the slum, Jamal and his brother flee and eventually Jamal, now 18, lands up in Dharavi. He competes, improbably, for the quiz show Kaun Banega Crorepati (Who Wants to be a Millionaire) and when he has one question left, is tortured by the police, who don’t believe that a ‘slumdog’ can answer such tough questions.

cāla, a corruption of chal in Marathi, is an early form of working-class collective housing typical of Mumbai, with kholis (single rooms) along a balcony with a shared toilet at the end. A cāla is several steps up the social ladder from the humble jhopdi. These were five-storeyed elongated structures first built to house mill workers who migrated en masse around 1900 to Mumbai from their villages down the Konkan coast. Chawls were affordable and provided security to mill hands who shared the same social background. While chawls are no longer being built, they still survive as an anachronism in Mumbai, with its burgeoning skyscraper apartment complexes.

This unique form of housing has also bred crime. ‘Dons’ like Rama Naik and Arun Gawli both came from chawls in Byculla. Chawls flourished after the notorious Dawood Ibrahim fled from India, infiltrated the official mill union and engaged in fierce internecine warfare. One victim was the millowner Sunit Khatau, who wanted to ‘persuade’ his workers to sell his lucrative Byculla mill land and was shot dead by a rival criminal gang.

Chawls loom large in Mumbai’s popular culture. Perhaps the most memorable of literary works that features the cāla is the one by the bilingual novelist Kiran Nagarkar. His Ravan & Eddie begins with the eponymous Hindu baby falling out of his cāla balcony and being saved from certain death by his Catholic neighbour’s family below. As the New York Review of Books put it, ‘If you grow up in the crowded Mumbai chawls, you get to participate in your neighbours’ lives, whether you like it or not.’


Bhan, Gautam. In the Public’s Interest: Evictions, Citizenship and Inequality in Contemporary Delhi. New Delhi: Orient BlackSwan, 2016.

Soofi, Mayank Austen. ‘Life in an Illegal Colony’, LiveMint, 26 November 2016. Available at: (accessed May 2018).


Montek S. Ahluwalia

Jobless growth is a relatively recent phrase, coined in the 1990s by Nick Perna to describe the then unusual phenomenon of the US economy recovering from the output recession of 1991 but with no increase in employment. Until then, recoveries had been accompanied by rehiring of labour in the trough of the recession, as employers began to anticipate that the economy was set to turn around. That this did not happen in 1991 led to a lively discussion of what factors might have been at work, with most economists focussing on the role of productivity increases and some on globalization and the relocation of labour-intensive industries to low-wage economies. The phrase gained wider currency in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008. This time, much of the blame was put, at least in the public discourse, on the effect of globalization.

Jobless growth was not much talked about in India until relatively recently. There were doubts about whether growth leads to an improvement in welfare, but the focus was primarily on whether it reduced poverty. GDP growth accelerated sharply in India in the mid-2000s, but sceptics argued that it did not help the poor because there were structural reasons why the benefits were inequitably distributed so that they did not ‘trickle down’. This issue was finally settled only in 2013, when data from the National Sample Survey (NSS) household consumer survey for 2011–12 finally became available and established that between 2004–5 (when the last household survey was carried out) and 2011–12, the percentage of the population below the official poverty line fell from 37.2 per cent to 21.9 per cent and for the first time the absolute numbers below the poverty line declined from 407.1 million in 2004–5 to 269.3 million in 2011–12. Earlier, the percentages in poverty had fallen, but because of the growth in total population the absolute numbers below the poverty line had actually risen.

More recently, the criticism has shifted from whether growth reduced poverty to asking if it was creating enough jobs, and complaints about ‘jobless growth’ began entering the politico-economic debate. The only official data on employment comes from the NSS household surveys on employment which are conducted every five years. The last such survey was in 2011–12, and the next one, for 2017–18, is currently in the field and data will become available only by 2019. These surveys have consistently shown that open unemployment in India is relatively low. The NSS survey for 2011–12, for example, shows open unemployment to be only 3.2 per cent on the conventional definition. If a stricter definition is adopted, which allows for underemployment, the figure goes up to 7 per cent.

Whatever definition we choose, the surveys do not suggest that the rate of unemployment is increasing. However, it would be wrong to conclude from this that unemployment is not a problem. The fact is that the poor in India are too poor to stay out of employment, especially since there is no unemployment insurance payment on which they can rely. Therefore, they take any job they can find, usually in the informal sector, at low wages and with almost no social security benefits. They show up in the surveys as being ‘employed’, but a large proportion of those employed are dissatisfied with the jobs they are engaged in.

The problem of jobless growth in India is, therefore, best described not just as the insufficient number of jobs created – that may be true – but also as the low quality of jobs being created. The quality of jobs falls greatly below what the young, and increasingly better educated and more aspirational, new entrants to the labour force have come to expect. Just as the demand for quality jobs is rising, the supply of these jobs is shrinking.

The latest data shows that between 2004–5 and 2011–12, the organized sector created 58 million jobs, but almost 80 per cent of these new jobs were ‘informal jobs’, that is, contractual jobs which have much less job security and are often also lower paid than permanent employees in the same company doing the same work. The reasons for this phenomenon may have something to do with the rigidity of our labour laws. Economists have long argued that it is not easy to lay off workers in the organized sector, and for that reason, employers tend to: (a) adopt more labour-saving technology to reduce the need to hire labour than is economically justified; and (b) resort to ‘contract labour’ which can be hired and laid off more easily. These employees are technically employees of the labour contractor but are not eligible for full benefits.

Technology also contributes to an anti-employment bias. One reason is that new technology is evolved largely in industrialized countries, where wage costs are high and there is a natural incentive to develop technologies that replace labour. Furthermore, companies engaged in a global value chain often cannot avoid the new technology because they have to meet certain product quality standards, which can only be met if the new technology is adopted.

There is today a global concern that new technologies, especially artificial intelligence, 3D printing, etc., are set to produce massive job losses as many existing jobs will no longer be needed. It is difficult to separate hype from reality. In any case, the processes will unfold only slowly. However, it is important to recognize that while technological change often disrupts existing ways of doing businesses, leading to layoffs in the sector directly affected, these job losses are offset by job gains elsewhere.

To summarize, whether growth is indeed jobless requires going beyond the effect it has on a particular sector and calls for a careful measurement of other direct and indirect effects. Some growth processes may be more job creating than others, but locking production processes into outdated technology that makes it difficult for us to join global value streams is not in our interest. Equally, globalization is blamed for shifting jobs out of industrialized countries to developing countries. For the same reason, we should welcome it and not join the anti-globalization campaigns of luddites and protectionists in industrialized countries. However, we have to be cognizant of the fact that rapidly changing technology will create some disruption. We need to manage the transition better, and this calls for three measures that need to be taken up. First, we must do what we can to help the individuals affected by programmes of reskilling and encouraging them to get into other self-employed businesses. Second, we need to build in as much flexibility as needed in the economy to allow it to adjust and adopt new technology. Third, we need to reshape our systems of education and skilling to give the economy the skills it needs to function in the ever-changing world. It is well known that employers regard almost 40 per cent of those ostensibly graduating from relevant skilled courses as unemployable, and this situation has to change.


Bhattacharya, B. B. and S. Sakthivel . ‘Economic Reforms and Jobless Growth in India in the 1990s’, 2007. (Retrieved 6 November 2019).

Planning Commission. Press Note on Poverty Estimates2011-12. No. id: 5421, 2013.


Varsha Bhagat-Ganguly

Land grabbing, which refers to large-scale land acquisitions and land transformations, is a global phenomenon. Maria Cristina Rulli points out that as a term, land grabbing has been used more intensely only after 2008, initially in response to increase in food prices across the globe and gradually as a way/form, process and an outcome that has created challenges for the land users. The trend of land grabbing is studied mainly from the perspective of development paradigm and land governance. In the case of India, a shift in landownership from Adivasis or traditional landholders to private enterprises, mainly to bolster economic growth in the neoliberal era has been discussed in the literature with respect to role of the state. The direct involvement of the state and its agencies in evicting individuals and entire communities from territories targeted for economic development has made the state a land grabber, Pedlowski argues. In many countries, the issue of land grabbing is highly sensitive because of the perceived threat to national sovereignty and the impression that it represents a new wave of imperialism.

The following are some of the ways of land grabbing: owning the land, land on lease for a long period (from the government or otherwise), possession of the land. It can occur legally or illegally, as it is a way of control. As such, there is no exclusive land law that controls/curbs land grabbing nor is there any law under which land grabbing is punishable. In fact, in many cases, land grabbing is legitimate, for example, land on long-term lease based on contract and facilitation by the state for purchasing land on a large scale vis-à-vis land acquisition by the state and paying compensation for the same. While understanding land grabbing as a phenomenon, the size, people involved, control, legality and eventual usage need to be taken into consideration. Having a systematic database or precise information on the extent of land grabbing is one of the major constraints in problematizing the concept of land grabbing. Rapid pace of the phenomenon, lack of transparency with data and standard criterion for classifying land acquisitions make land grabbing data imprecise, Maria Cristina Rulli notes, leading to its authenticity being questioned.

Land grabbing is in a way a control, that is, a group of land users need to obey a specific set of rules for land use and the purpose of land use cannot be changed. The perspective from which a land deal is viewed plays an important role in how the benefits of those land deals are defined and whether they have been realized. As Kyle F. Davis observes, land deals are more likely to result in some economic and political benefits; however, losing access to land can carry with it a variety of economic, social, nutritional and cultural consequences. Sometimes land grabbing can lead to grave consequences, such as monoculture plantation or cash crops, which threatens human health, food security and national sovereignty. Land grabbing could also be a control in terms of land as a resource and a property, which is directly linked to finance and land valuation. Large-scale land acquisitions for economic ventures imply large-scale capital; this has higher likelihood of controlling resource-use orientation/purpose and is instrumental in climate change. In economic terms, capital is closely linked to land valuation, speculation, financial crisis and commodification at the expense of small and marginal land users/farmers.

Another aspect of land grabbing is that it is closely linked to water grabbing across the globe. In some cases, private enterprises are in search of water sources and land is a medium to acquire water; for agriculture, irrigation is directly linked with water grabbing. Maria Cristina Rulli observes that a few major environmental and social issues are emerging due to land and water grabbing, such as high levels of malnourishment and increase in biofuel production in countries where land grabbing is on large scale.

In India, the term ‘land grabber’ was used in early 1970s in the context of misuse of power by a sitting minister in the state of Punjab. In the case of the state of Haryana, the term land grabber was used when the state began launching its development projects in urban areas. In 1979, ‘riots as a cover for land grabbing’ was mentioned in the context of organized gangsterism of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in Jamshedpur. Influx of industries had led to phenomenal pressure on land as well as land speculation, especially on the fringe areas of the city. Riots began occurring and persons involved in land disputes began to be killed in these riots. Thus, the term land grabbing has also been used to denote criminal activity or misuse of power for legitimizing land possession or ownership.

D. Roy has studied land grabbing from the perspective of development as well as citizenship in democratic developmental state, based on case studies of resistance by peasants – Tata Nano project, Singur and Sanand and Nirma Cement Factory, Mahuva. This brings out the state’s role as a facilitator in large-scale land acquisitions, peasants’ resistance and dealing with resistance, that is, repression of peasants in Singur, inviting Tata Industries in Sanand, while as a facilitator for Nirma Cement Company in Mahuva. The peasants have expressed their resistance on streets, engagements with the administrative machinery and in the courts. The judicial interpretations and actions in these cases have been with regard to public purpose, technical expertise and environmental concerns; however, they have not yet examined in any detail the interconnections between the various ways in which land grabbing occurs and the role of the state.


Cristina Rulli, Maria. ‘Global Land and Water Grabbing’. In Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 892–897, January 2013.

Davis, Kyle F. Paolo, D’Odorico and Maria Cristina Rulli, ‘Land Grabbing: A Preliminary Quantification of Economic Impacts on Rural Livelihoods’. Population and Environment 36, no. 2 (2014): 180–92.

Roy, D. ‘Resistance to Land Grabs and Peasants’ Practices of Citizenship in Democratic Development States: Case Studies from India’. Future Agriculture, 17–19 October 2012. Available at: (accessed 25 August 2017).


Pulapre Balakrishnan

The widely recognized initials ‘LPG’, which stands for ‘Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization’, describes the economic policy regime launched in India in 1991. Used mainly by critics of the move, the abbreviation was not meant as praise! Enthusiasts of the economic policy shift would rather use the term ‘reforms’ to describe it. The policy changes launched in 1991 and continued over the next quarter century have very likely not seen their culmination yet.

Liberalization refers to the move towards an economy with less governmental control. It is central to the dismantling of a state-controlled economic model based on the proposition that market forces should be given the lead in determining the course of the economy. In India, its support comes from sections who feel that the country has not progressed much in the years since 1947, due to the suppression of the private sector through regulation. The collapse of the former Soviet Union in the 1990s gave this view a fillip. Even though India did not share much of the features of that country, the collapse made it difficult to continue with any form of state control. It is altogether a different matter that a tiny constituency for less control had been present in the economy for close to four decades by then, most prominently represented by the writings of the economist B. R. Shenoy, who had penned a note of dissent on the Second Five-Year Plan document in the mid-1950s. Liberalization itself had two aspects, according to whether it had been focused on the internal economy or the external sector, even though such a strict demarcation is not always conceptually appropriate. In 1991, the principal reform of the policy regime, aimed at the domestic economy, was de-licencing or elimination of the requirement for a licence to invest. On the external front, it had taken the form of lowering of import tariff, albeit in phases. For an idea of how radical the change has been, it may be noted that by now the average tariff is lower than that of South Korea. Together, these moves constituted the trade and industrial policy reforms. They were intended to leave India an open economy. Thus, liberalization was the culmination of a movement initiated in the 1950s by a small section of India’s business and intellectual circles.

Privatization strictly refers to the sale of assets in government-owned entities. In any case, privatization in the strict sense outlined above was not so central to the Indian agenda. The extent of privatization in India since 1991 has been negligible, sales of assets being confined to a glorified bakery and a second-rung hotel. However, now after twenty-five years, the movement has quickened a bit with the government signalling its openness to some big-ticket privatization, such as that of Air India, a public sector undertaking that shows little sign of improvement of its finances. However, while privatization in the sense of sale of public assets has not proceeded on anything like the scale claimed by critics of the changing policy regime, privatization in the sense of dismantling government monopoly has proceeded apace. The action has been particularly strong in the social sectors, such as health and education, and in the services, where telecom and airlines are the most prominent examples. While in the case of health provision it has often taken the form of very high fees, in higher education it has mostly taken the form of high fees without great improvement in quality. The latter has also been accompanied by an authoritarian culture in the new educational institutions, which has led one long-time observer to term the outcome as ‘liberalisation without liberalism’.

Finally, globalization. Globalization itself has been deconstructed as both a trend and a project. The trend, it is pointed out, has been in existence for at least half a millennium. But the project, it is said, is quite recent and can be seen as an opportunity for global capital to secure for itself a free access to both the world market and profitable sites of production. The collapse of the Soviet Union was leveraged politically to clinch the argument for globalization, the implication invariably drawn from the event being, that closed economies were no longer a credible arrangement. It is not clear how the architects of the economic reforms launched in 1991 viewed globalization, though they appeared to have taken the pragmatic view that India is best not kept out of global trading arrangements, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO). Now twenty-five years later, two developments since India’s greater integration with the world economy may be seen, both somewhat unexpected. First, the fears of a collapse of the Indian economy due to the greater prowess of Western economies has not materialized. Second, and entirely unexpectedly, the West has not come out much stronger. Not only has the global financial crisis left the United States insecure, there has also occurred within its polity a serious backlash triggered by the loss of manufacturing jobs. The election of Donald Trump and the uncertainty that it presages is a reflection of this. Global corporations are now hesitant to push for globalization it seems, and India’s position appears stronger today than it did when the debate over accession to WTO rules had spilled out into the streets.


Ahluwalia, Montek S., Deepak Nayyar , Prabhat Patnaik , Anjan Chakrabarti , T. Sabri Öncü , Atul Sood , Rajiv Kumar , Pulapre Balakrishnan , Chirashree Das Gupta , Surajit Mazumdar , R. Nagaraj , Shantanu De Roy , A. V. Rajwade and Aseem Shrivastava , Quarter Century of Liberalisation in India: Essays from Economic & Political Weekly. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2018.

Chandra, Ramesh. Globalisation, Liberalisation, Privatisation and Indian Polity: Trade and Commerce, vol. 5. Gyan Publishing House, 2004.


Parikshit Ghosh and Debraj Ray

The term mai baap literally means ‘mother–father’, and the term sarakāra means ‘government’. In its modern use, the term sarkār has Persian roots: sar (meaning ‘chief’) and kar (an agent or doer). A sarkār was also a high official in the colonial or Mughal administrations, such as a landlord or a rent collector. Interchangeable with such feudal gems as huzoor (lord) or malik (master), this usage connotes servility and submission – on the part of the governed. Stir in the mai baap, and you might be forgiven for perceiving the Indian government not as an accountable and elected institution but as a divinely ordained body that disburses patronage on the basis of loyalty and whimsy. In 1947, newly independent India became a ‘sovereign, democratic republic’. The Preamble of the Indian Constitution strongly echoes Lincoln’s idea of a government ‘of the people, for the people, and by the people’. And yet the whiff of paternalistic hauteur has never entirely left Indian government. It is reflected in the electoral success of dynastic families, the notion of hereditary rather than competitive leadership in political parties and the condescending attitude of many government officials.

There are other senses in which the term ‘mai baap’ may be deployed. Libertarians use mai baap to assail state meddling in free markets and private enterprise. Such meddling is presumasly to be traced back to Nehru’s Soviet-style planning to control production which took a more stultifying form under his daughter Indira, whose licence raj was eventually dismantled by the Narasimha Rao government in 1991. Indira also coined the phrase garibi hatao – or ‘banish poverty’ – which served as a rhetorical springboard for a plethora of welfare schemes, including subsidies for food, fuel, fertilizer, electricity, transportation and housing. Meanwhile, garibi hatao is not infrequently confused with garib hatao (‘banish the poor’), especially when politicians or visiting heads of state need to be shown a shiny clean city. Mai bap sarkaar carries a darker and more insidious charge, sometimes levelled by the economic Right. Perhaps political parties, especially the Centre-Left Congress, have developed a vested interest in preserving mass poverty since it allows them to win votes with the promise of handouts. Mai bap sarkaar allegedly suffers from the Munchausen syndrome by proxy; the premarket journalist Shekhar Gupta called it ‘povertarianism’. So it is that economists such as Jagdish Bhagwati advocate the business-friendly Gujarat model over the welfare-focused Kerala model favoured by Amartya Sen. The ultimate liberation from mai baap, according to this viewpoint, is a restriction of scarce government resources to growth-friendly expenditures, such as infrastructure and fiscal breaks, and an eschewal of directly redistributive policies. On the other hand, Sen would consider such steps to be the actions of a deadbeat dad. When it comes to the basics – health, education, infrastructure, employment and insurance – we cannot but agree.

More recently, Arun Shourie labelled the supposedly fiscally conservative Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi as ‘Congress plus cow’. Various subsidies on fertilizer, electricity, food and transportation will still take you up to 4 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), while ‘foregone revenues’ accruing from tax exemptions and the like will hit you up for another 6 per cent. With the Union budget hovering around 13 per cent of GDP, these are remarkable numbers. In addition, much of this expenditure is regressive and whimsical. The rich consume more of many subsidized goods and use political connections or ju’gāṛa to corner benefits like land allotments and tax breaks.

Quick and visible benefits do proliferate in government policy. But, where mai baap negligence truly manifests itself is in the long and arduous task of human capacity building. The government reserves half of its jobs for disadvantaged groups and spends nearly one-eighth of its budget on food subsidies. Yet direct public expenditure on health and education is around 1.2 per cent and 3.8 per cent of GDP, respectively, well below the international average. Just under 40 per cent of our children are stunted, and about half the children in Class V cannot function at the Class II level. All in all, mai-baap largesse is far from transparent, programmatic, progressive policy. One might argue that apart from the basic rights to education, health, old-age security and gainful employment, the poor are best served by transparent, unconditional transfers. Indeed, the government’s own Economic Survey of 2017–18 proposed replacing many of the myriad schemes with a Universal Basic Income. Perhaps the best notion of a mai bap sarkaar is one that doesn’t exist yet: do what good parents do – provide an allowance. And provide strong foundations for education, health, fundamental insurance and the vagaries of old age. And keep your hands off the rest: that’s like handing out candy and toys to make up for lack of parental engagement.

What we have now is speed parenting at best. That makes for an unhappy family whose tragedy, as Tolstoy said, is interestingly unique. It is wise to remember that in contrast to trends in the US and other Western democracies, electoral data from India generally shows an anti-incumbency bias. And thus, the excesses of mai baap – as practiced today – are fortunately tempered by the occasional tantrums of their betas (sons) and betis (daughters).


C. Ramachandraiah

The mall is a ubiquitous part of urban vocabulary in Indian metros. It has become a symbol of aspiration and success today. Malls have encapsulated the imagination of the nation as a gateway to first-world experience in a developing country.

A mall can be understood as ‘a large enclosed shopping area from which traffic is excluded’. Also known as shopping centres or shopping arcade, the mall is a complex of shops housed in one or more buildings that are connected using walkways for easy convenience. Charles Durant and J. W. Spencer built the first shopping mall of India, Spencer Plaza, in late nineteenth century in Anna Salai, Chennai. The current model of the mall owes its origin to Victor Green, who promoted the concept in the United States in the 1950s. Today, a shopping mall is made up of one or multiple buildings that house various retail stores. The retails sector in India has been dominated by unorganized traders, primarily in the form of kirana (grocer) and small shops. With the advent of globalization and foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail, there has been a growth in organized retail, giving rise to their presence in malls.

Until 2002, only three shopping malls existed in India – Ansal’s Plaza in Delhi, Crossroads in Mumbai and Spencer Plaza in Chennai. After 2003, India saw phenomenal growth in the number of malls. By 2008, there were 225 operational malls which more than doubled to 570 by May 2013. Chains of multiplexes like PVR, Carnival Cinemas, Cinepolis and Inox have been linked to malls to provide entertainment. Similarly, eating joints like McDonalds, Subway and Ohris have found their way into malls. The presence of such varied stores lends the mall the feel of a composite place providing ‘wholesome’ experience.

Malls attract people from the middle and upper classes of the urban society. In rural India and small towns, traditionally, bazaars or haats (markets) in India occupy the same position. Bazaars offer a wide variety of goods and services. It was a space of shopping as well as a melting pot for socialization. While some bazaars were permanent, some would be set up on a weekly basis. Festive seasons would bring out the colours and flavours, while adding to the merriment of occasion. Over a period of time, bazaars catering to specific clientele/purposes have also emerged. ‘Market Yard’ is a place in towns/cities where transactions of farm produce (from chillies to onions to fruits) take place in large quantities. In a way, then, bazaars in villages and towns encapsulate much of what the air-conditioned mall offers the urban dweller.

Malls also offer a safe space for musing. It offers scope for ‘limitless imagination’. From high-end brands to world-class entertainment experience, malls offer respite from mundane hassles by catering to shopping and entertainment needs under one roof. Some of the reasons for the success of the mall culture in India are the ease of access to global brands, glamorous setting, promise of good quality, good infrastructure and public utilities and safety for women from harassment, as compared to traditional shopping areas.


Freidberg, Susanne. ‘Supermarkets and Imperial Knowledge’. Cultural Geographies 14, no. 3 (2007): 321–342.

Voyce, M. ‘Shopping Malls in India: New Social “Dividing Practices”’. Economic and Political Weekly 42, no. 22 (2–8 June 2007): 2055–2062.


Jeemol Unni

The word mandi in Hindi refers to the marketplace. Mandis are named after the products they sell. So, a market selling vegetables (sabzi) is referred to as a sabzi mandi. The mandi often gets extended into a local fair with other sellers occupying nearby spaces and selling street food, trinkets and setting up entertainment stalls for children. Such mandis or fairs are also called haat or bazaar in rural areas in India.

I often visited the sabzi and fish mandi in South Kolkata, Calcutta, as a child. My father sat in the car, while my mother and I went into the sabzi mandi. It was always exciting to see and feel the brisk activity, the colours and the smells of the mandi. We visited various vegetable stalls where my mother chose vegetables as per her South Indian taste. When we reached the fish mandi, she would not let me enter because it was wet and messy, always a lot noisier and more confused than the rest of the mandi. She did not want me hanging on to her saree pallu while she negotiated the mess and confusion. I was asked to stand at the entrance and watch the activities from a distance.

A classic Urdu short story titled ‘Aanandi’ by Ghulam Abbas became more famous when it was made into a Bollywood movie titled Mandi (1983). The film told the story of a Madame of a brothel and her flourishing industry, frequently visited by politicians and elite, situated in the central hub of the city of Hyderabad. The film depicts a flourishing market, mandi. Various trades around the brothel do brisk business, such as flower sellers, ‘paan’ (betel leaf) sellers, tea and snack stalls, pimps, ‘dalals’ or brokers of various hues. The Madame is ousted by another younger stronger woman; she moves out with an old trusted helper. As she leaves the city, the helper notices a Shiv Lingam on the ground and the Madame notices a young sex worker running towards her. Madame soon sets up another brothel on the outskirts of the city and a mandi grows and flourishes around it. This film depicts the embeddedness of economy around the mandi and the holding within it of so many invisibilized lives.

However, it has to be noted that the mandi is seeing a decline today. Not due to any crackdown on illegalities but due to the establishment and spread of large grocery stores, such as Reliance Fresh, that offer the same fare in air-conditioned spaces and advertise attractive discounts. Mandis are likely to disappear from urban cities, though they may continue to flourish in rural areas. Another modern predator of the sabzi mandi is the swell of online retail stores that provide fruits and vegetables at the door step, such as Big Basket.

However, technological advancement and the internet are also playing their part in modernizing the mandi. This brings us to the second keyword in this context, ‘E-chaupal’. This word is an extension of a market that is technology-driven. The Hindi word chaupal refers to a meeting place in the village. It generally depicts the central square with a large tree under which the village elders meet in the evening and children play all day. It does not necessarily mean a marketplace. The E-chaupal was invented by ITC Limited to integrate agricultural markets through the internet. It allows farmers to procure agricultural products and get access to information via the internet. The company has installed computers with internet facility in villages to facilitate agricultural marketing and dissemination of information to the farmers.

E-chaupal or other versions of this innovation portend a great future for the sabzi mandi in this era of digital technology. The Government of India has started the E-National Agricultural Market, which is an electronic trading portal. The idea was to create an integrated market throughout the country for agricultural products. Of course, it will no longer be called E-chaupal. The hope only is that it does not lose its relevance and become yet another digital tool in the long line of tools being so successfully marketed across the country.


Annamalai, K. and S. Rao . ITC’s E-Choupal and Profitable Rural Transformation. Washington DC: World Resources Institute, 2003.

Kumar, Richa. ‘Mandi Traders and the Dabba: Online Commodity Futures Markets in India’. Economic and Political Weekly 45, no. 31 (2010): 63–70.


H. S. Shylendra

No phenomenon in the recent past has, perhaps, gained such unprecedented fame and infamy at the same time as microfinance. What has been its defining feature? The women’s movement? Poverty lending? Social banking? Or the non-profit sector gone adrift? The answer may lie partly in all these factors without an aggregate picture emerging with ease.

The Indian microfinance movement, which shares several commonalities with its global counterpart, still stands out for its uniqueness reflected in its sheer size and diversity among other things. The movement, which began gaining prominence as an innovative attempt extending credit to the poor since the 1990s, is estimated to have reached more than 130 million members by 2017. The diversity of the base catered to reflects two distinct delivery models: (a) the MFI (Microfinance Institution) model and (b) the SHG (self-help group) and bank linkage model. The latter is a home-grown innovation supported by the state.

Microfinance, which currently focuses on purveying diverse financial services to the poor, owes its emergence to several local and external factors coming together in an opportune manner. Civil society, too, made some sporadic attempts by way of forming a women’s bank and experimenting with informal groups. A major boost came from global advocacy led by many donors and multilateral agencies like the World Bank and the United Nations Organization (UNO) which projected microfinance as a panacea for poverty eradication and women’s empowerment. The growing role of NGOs and the attempted withdrawal of banks from rural lending, under the guise of reforms, gave a further fillip to microfinance. The groups’ working, based on the principles of peer monitoring and joint liability, was conceptualized as being a perfect substitute for physical collateral capable of reducing transaction costs in disbursing small risky loans.

The terms ‘microfinance’ and ‘microcredit’, often used interchangeably, are imports from the Western narrative. Though both terms have essentially come to mean provision of small credit without traditional collateral to the poor, especially women, certain implicit differences regarding the nature and approach of delivery are also conveyed by these terms. Those who prefer the term microfinance emphasize offering diverse financial services like credit, savings and insurance as an improved strategy. Microfinance even tends to get associated with a certain approach that advocates commercial orientation by microfinance agencies with links to the larger financial system. Incidentally, at the grass roots the members largely tend to use words of local parlance like karza, saala, bachat, mandal and sangha to refer to microfinance and its groups. Such a gap in terminology is reflective, in a way, of certain fissures that exist over microfinance practices between the community and the elite in the sector.

What have been the major outcomes of microfinance promoted with so much hope and hype? Anyone reviewing the available assessments on microfinance in India is bound to encounter rather mixed results, ranging from the dramatic to the dismal, constraining any sweeping conclusions. No doubt there have been some spectacular results, at least with regard to outreach and institutional changes. The SHG-bank linkage model alone reached close to 100 million households through 8.5 million SHGs spread across the country by 2017. SHGs have become ubiquitous with their presence felt while conducting regular meetings and pursuing a wide range of activities besides savings and credit in almost all villages. The humongous growth of SHGs has, in turn, spawned another layer of institutions called SHG federations or collectives owned by SHG women. Achievements of the MFI model are no less impressive. Initiated by civil society, the model now has diverse players, including NGOs, cooperatives, for-profit companies and small finance banks. At one point, over 1,500 NGOs were involved in microlending in India with the help of donor and borrowed funds. Faced with severe fund crunch and regulatory constraints, the model has since seen a great churning and transformation, especially involving NGOs. Many NGOs have metamorphosed into for-profit commercial companies and banks over the years. With fund flow easing, as a result of the change, the for-profit entities have seen massive growth both in rural and urban areas with the total client base reaching nearly 40 million borrowers.

But, with profits and self-sustainability becoming their main goal, many MFIs almost went berserk in terms of charging very high interest rates and adopting coercive recovery methods. The result was widespread resentment and even protests against MFIs in many quarters. The culmination was the allegation of borrower suicides and a clampdown on MFIs by the Andhra Pradesh state government in 2010 which branded them as moneylenders practising usury. What ensued was a crisis wherein almost the entire MFI sector came to a halt in the country before slowly recovering itself, though losing some of its sheen. Restoring credibility has meant new norms of regulation for MFIs with a clear thrust on consumer protection and social performance.

As regards the socio-economic impact of microfinance, results are mixed at best. Micro-level studies indicate several positive impacts, including the unleashing of women’s agencies. This has allowed women members to access savings and credit, undergo training, interact with outsiders, become office-bearers and explore collective ventures. Some of them have even managed to become local political leaders, raising their own and their group’s profiles. The negatives reported include exclusion of very poor from the groups and increased burden on women owing to group norms and expectations. Microfinance groups seem to have replicated existing social and cultural hierarchies in their practices, including in their names, and precluding any radical changes in status.

Although macro results are scarce, the available proxy indicators indicate that microfinance impacts have not been transformational. Moneylenders and informal agencies continue to thrive as per official surveys. Microfinance loans, despite their huge numbers, account for less than 2 per cent of the total bank credit in the country; so much for the claim of the movement as having proved the poor as bankable! Boasting the largest presence of microfinance, India does not figure high in human development and gender empowerment indices. Unless other viable alternatives emerge, microfinancing is likely to continue under some name or form.


Basu, Priya and Pradeep Srivastava . ‘Exploring Possibilities: Microfinance and Rural Credit Access for the Poor in India’. Economic and Political Weekly (2005): 1747–156.

Taylor, Marcus. ‘“Freedom from Poverty Is Not for Free”: Rural Development and the Microfinance Crisis in Andhra Pradesh, India’. Journal of Agrarian Change 11, no. 4 (2011): 484–504.


Pavan K. Varma

The Indian middle class consists of an entire swathe of people who are above the poor and below the very rich. In the Indian context, anybody who has a home to live in and can afford three meals a day for the family, with access to basic healthcare, public transport and schooling, and some disposable income to buy such basics as a fan or watch or cycle, has already climbed on to the lowest level of the middle-class bandwagon. By these parameters, the middle class could well be more than half of our total population of nearly 1.3 billion, below the 2 per cent of the very rich and above those below the poverty line or those not destitute but still very poor.

Even by an economic criterion, the size of the growing middle class is very large today. If we define a middle-class person as anyone who belongs to a household whose monthly income is between 20,000 and 100,000 rupees a month, the middle class would be, as per estimates, anywhere in the vicinity of over 300 million people. According to a recent study done by the McKinsey Global Institute, by 2025, the middle class would have expanded to 583 million, with incomes increasing by eleven times over what they are today.

This middle class will play an increasingly important role in the further evolution of India. There are several reasons for this. First, for the first time, the middle class has reached a numerical size which constitutes a significant critical mass in the electoral arithmetic of the nation. Second, this growth in numbers has reinforced the incipient homogeneity of this class to a point where, more than ever before in our history, it constitutes a distinct class with an identity that significantly transcends class loyalties. Third, this numerically sizeable class has for the first time acquired a footprint which is pan-Indian in scope, meaning that it is represented in all parts of India. Fourth, this middle class has never been younger, with the bulk of its members being around the age of 25. Fifth, the powers of this class have undergone a verifiable revolution with respect to information and communication, and consequently of influence, due to mobile telephony, social media and 24 × 7 news.

However, in spite of some occasions where it has come out of its behavioural insularity, the middle class is still far too self-obsessed, with little improvement in regard to its social insensitivity to the travails of the vast numbers of those who are below it, and lives in visible poverty and deprivation. The middle class still believes that its interests constitute the interests of the nation and has little time for the larger issues of poverty, illiteracy and malnutrition that plague our country. This is a weakness the middle class will need to overcome, in its own interest, because no class can secede to form its own Republic, and a nation has to grow holistically in order to benefit all its constituents. The challenge thus, before this powerful and emerging class, is to become ‘modern’ in the sense of values such as civic sensitivity, citizen responsibility and the imperatives of public welfare.


Beinhocker, Eric D., Diana Farrell and Adil S. Zainulbhai . ‘Tracking the Growth of India’s Middle Class’. McKinsey Quarterly 3 (2007): 50.

Saxena, Rachna, et al., ‘The Middle Class in India’, Frankfurt February, 2010.


Poonam Muttreja

The Hindi term nasbandi refers to ‘getting your tubes tied’ – a surgical procedure for sterilization in which a woman’s fallopian tubes are clamped and sealed. Nasbandi gained notoriety in the mid-1970s, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi introduced forced sterilization of women and men as part of India’s ‘population control’ programme. This happened during the state of ‘national emergency’ that was declared between 1975 and 1977, a dark era that saw the suspension of civil liberties. Forty years later, India’s family planning programme is still to fully recover from the forced sterilization experience of the 1970s.

Many rational explanations are offered for why poor families in particular end up having more children than they desire. When child mortality is high, families tend to have more children than they would ideally like so that at least a few survive and there are more ‘free’ hands to work. Sadly, such explanations have compromised, if not ignored, the consequences of frequent and unwanted pregnancies on women’s health.

Though nasbandi refers to both female and male sterilization, the onus of family planning has always been on Indian women. In 2015–16, female sterilization accounted for 75 per cent of contraceptive use in India – among the highest in the world. In stark contrast, male sterilization accounted for just over half a per cent of modern methods of contraceptive use. Most Indian men do not seem to care about the reproductive health of their wives, a sad reflection in women of the stranglehold of patriarchy, the resultant subjugation of women and women being denied their rights to fertility decisions.

As a transformative move, in 2017 the Government of India introduced two new free contraceptives, in its bid to promote temporary methods of contraception and widen the basket of choice to meet the population’s family planning needs. Also, every once in a while, positive-deviant stories emerge from unexpected quarters. Chedi Mandal or ‘Nasbandi Baba’ as he is called, a respected, fearless and active educator of health issues, has motivated twenty men in his village in Bihar to opt for vasectomy. After watching Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon [MKBKSH]: I, A Woman, Can Achieve Anything, a behaviour-change-communication-oriented television soap opera, a group of men from Chhatarpur district in Madhya Pradesh, who were habitual wife beaters, have become empathetic partners and undergone vasectomy.

Inspired by Chedi Mandal and others like him, MKBKSH celebrates male vasectomy, while simultaneously shattering myths surrounding its impact on virility by referring to nasbandi as ‘mastbandi’. In Hindi, the word mast means fun. When messaging in entertainment education programmes are modelled on markers like ‘nasbandi–mastbandi’, the audience observes and imbibes them. As we continue to stir up conversations around family planning and educate people on spacing methods, it is equally important to understand that we are fighting a mindset which cannot be changed until social norms change. The expansion of the digital media offers an opportunity. Entertainment education-oriented communication strategies can cause digital disruption. Mass-mediated storytelling can reach the unreached and inform the uninformed, to make a significant difference to people’s lives.


International Institute for Population Sciences. National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), 2015–16.

Wang, H. and A. Singhal , Unfurling the Voicebook of Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon: Real-Time Audience Engagement, Rising Fandom, and Spurring of Prosocial Actions. New Delhi: Population Foundation of India, 2017.


Reetika Khera

In the early days of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), when we participated in awareness drives in rural India, we were greeted with bewilderment. That there could be a law guaranteeing one hundred days of employment to anyone who applies for it was beyond people’s imagination and dreams. ‘If the government fails to provide work, you are entitled to an unemployment allowance.’ We thought that perhaps mentioning this provision would get them excited. It mostly made matters worse: being paid for sitting at home came across as a cruel joke. 1 Within five years of those days of awareness drives, narega in North India and nooru naal vaele (hundred days’ work) in Tamil Nadu had become household words. Every year, about 50 million women and men are employed under NREGA, according to official data.

Beyond the promise of employment, NREGA has other noteworthy features: there is a mandatory minimum share (one-third) of employment for women; work is to be provided within five kilometres of one’s residence; at least half of NREGA funds are to be spent by elected local councils; village assemblies select and prioritize NREGA projects; there are strict norms for transparency and accountability; workers are entitled to basic worksite facilities. Further, people are to be employed for the creation of productive assets, such as approach roads, water-harvesting structures, contour trenches and various works on private land (e.g. levelling or construction of wells). There have been some achievements thus far, but many hurdles still remain in realizing its full potential for rural transformation. Women participate in large numbers and, especially in North India, they appreciate the opportunity to earn the minimum wage in their own village. Though NREGA is primarily perceived as a social security programme, it can also play an important role in the creation of productive assets in rural areas.

However, NREGA has been a battle from the word go. To have such a law enacted was in itself a battle in the prevailing political and economic climate. While that battle was won, it opened up a bigger battle: the implementation. Even creating awareness of rights under the Act, the very first requirement of successful implementation of the law is a challenge – not just because the people concerned are often unable to read or write but also because they tend to have little faith in the state.

Another major challenge is to develop a sense of accountability, which is sorely lacking, among functionaries responsible for the implementation of NREGA. For over a decade now, we have found that those in charge of implementing the Act do not necessarily empathize with the labourers or share the vision of the Act. Often, they are part of the corrupt nexus that sees the programme primarily as an opportunity to milk the system. Breaking this nexus has been an important part of the employment guarantee battle.

It was expected that in its second term (2009–14), the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government would build on the foundations laid earlier and address what had thus far been termed ‘second-generation’ issues. These included improving technical inputs for the programme, ensuring the provision of basic worksite facilities and streamlining wage-related issues, among others. Instead, one witnessed an unhealthy trend towards centralization of the NREGA. An ill-conceived ‘re-engineering’ of the NREGA began at the behest of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which issues a unique identification number to every resident, with biometric authentication called the Aadhaar. Aadhaar began to be imposed in NREGA processes, such as distribution of job cards and payment of wages. The advantages of this are negligible; there is mounting evidence of considerable damage.

Further, the real wages of NREGA workers have declined or stagnated for a few years. Though the demand to index NREGA wages to the price level was agreed to in early 2011, the revisions are often tokenistic. The scale of employment has also more or less stagnated since 2010–11 (even though there is still a large unmet demand for NREGA work). Delays in wage payments cause fatigue among rural labourers and push them towards lower-paid, more exploitative forms of employment in the private sector. These adverse developments indicate that even as hostility towards NREGA appears to have subsided, the Act’s modest achievements are in danger of being reversed.

An encounter in Surguja District (Chhattisgarh) with seven men belonging to the Pahari Korwa community provided a glimpse of the promise of NREGA. Pahari Korwas (earlier classified as a ‘primitive tribal group’) are forest dwellers and live on the margins on society. A group of researchers and myself met with these men, who lived in the hills of one of the remotest village of Lakhanpur Block. Yet we found that they were all familiar with NREGA, proudly showed their job cards and bank passbooks, and had all worked on NREGA worksites. We asked them how they had spent their wages. Often, people elsewhere would report that their wages are spent on subsistence needs. Instead, in this case, one said that he had invested his earnings in a bicycle, another to buy a bullock, the third man said he had repaid a debt incurred when his brother was sick. Yet another had set them aside to buy textbooks for his child’s education. And, finally, one used it to meet social obligations. Next, we asked what work had been undertaken in that area. It turned out that the main activity was levelling their fields. They were pleased about this too as they felt that it could double their crop yields. It is experiences such as these that make the battle for employment guarantee seem worth fighting.


Khera, Reetika, ed. The Battle for Employment Guarantee. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Sankaran, Kamala. ‘NREGA Wages: Ensuring Decent Work’. Economic and Political Weekly (2011): 23–25.


Souvik Mukherjee

In 2005, Thomas Friedman conceptualized the world as ‘flat’, a concept that emphasized the powers of outsourcing. Imagining himself embarking on a journey for India like Columbus, he nevertheless concluded that the world, as traversed via his Lufthansa flight to Bangalore, is flat. As proof of his conclusion, he has the following example: ‘The Infosys C.E.O., was showing me his global video-conference room, pointing with pride to a wall-size flat-screen TV, which he said was the biggest in Asia. Infosys, he explained, could hold a virtual meeting of the key players from its entire global supply chain for any project at any time on that supersize screen. So, its American designers could be on the screen speaking with their Indian software writers and their Asian manufacturers all at once. That’s what globalization is all about today […] Above the screen there were eight clocks that pretty well summed up the Infosys workday: 24/7/365.’

In the grand vision of Globalization 3.0, Friedman sees the Indian entrepreneur and her or his American counterpart vying equally for business for ‘when the world is flat, and anyone with smarts, access to Google and a cheap wireless laptop can join the innovation fray’. Friedman goes on to provide many other examples from India and indeed claims that the idea of the flattened world occurred to him from something the Infosys CEO had said about levelling the playing field. No wonder ‘outsourcing’ is now part of the common parlance in Indian languages and is even used as a ‘verb’ quite often. Together with it, the associated words ‘offshore’ and ‘onshore’ are often heard.

Put simply, ‘outsourcing’ is the way that work can be digitally transferred to people across different countries and continents, often at cheaper rates, thus significantly reducing production costs and maximizing profits. This is also informed by what Manuel Castells calls the ‘network society’ or ‘a society whose social structure is made up of networks powered by micro-electronics-based information and communications technologies’. For example, the Paris-based videogame developer Ubisoft has sections of the same game being constructed separately in Montreal, Sofia and Pune. In fact, the concept itself affects language: for example, websites such as ‘Outsourcing Translation’ provide a specially constructed basic vocabulary of languages such as Hindi, Kannada and Telugu meant for communications by those in the BPO (business process outsourcing) system. The ‘flatness’, however, is easily challenged. Pradip Ninan Thomas, charting the digital growth of India, cautions, ‘Even as it is right to celebrate the success of the IT industry in India […] while one can certainly argue that the industry and the BPO sectors have resulted in spillover effects and […] transcend barriers that have hitherto acted as a break on information access and use, the benefits of this revolution have accrued, on most occasions to the already privileged segments of the Indian population.’

Outsourcing, once the favourite buzzword in US industry, is now much less popular as it is viewed as a threat to local employment. In India too, the word has begun to metamorphose into intriguing synonyms. Rajesh Rao, of the videogame company Dhruva, calls it ‘co-development’, as reported in a CasualConnect video, signalling the changing perceptions of the word in the Indian context as well. In a 2017 report in the Hindustan Times, it is stated that NASSCOM (National Association of Software and Services Companies) estimates that more than one million people work in the Indian BPO industry and more than five hundred companies offer outsourcing services in India. The word itself and its cultural connotations have a far wider reach, despite its recent vicissitudes. ‘Outsourcing’ vies for a top position with other loan words from English into Indian languages.


Castells, Manuel, ed. The Network Society: A Cross-Cultural Perspective. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2005.

Friedman, Thomas L. ‘It’s a Flat World, After All’. The New York Times, 3 April 2005. Available at: (accessed December 2018).


Vipul Mudgal

The term ‘policy paralysis’ has been around for a while but it found a new ascendency and context sometime around 2011–12. The immediate context was that economic reforms had slowed down around the second half of the United Progressive Alliance II (UPA II) government, led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of the Congress Party. By the middle of the year, there was huge rise in the usage of this phrase, along with its occasional variants ‘policy inaction’ or ‘policy gridlock’. In Hindi-language papers, the term appeared in variants of nitigat jadta (roughly, ‘policy deadlock’), and over time a number of parallel terms were coined by India’s vibrant regional press in more than twenty-two languages, spread over the length and breadth of India.

It is difficult to pin down the origin of this phrase, but it can be safely said that it has a strong Indo-US connection. One of the earliest stories in this period, published by the Economic Times on 13 May 2012, talked about the influential US–India Business Council (USIBC), the apex body of American corporates doing business in India, which had written a ‘secret’ letter to US president Barack Obama and told the White House that there was a ‘vacuum’ at the central government in India. The USIBC story and the quote, which made a mockery of the letter’s claimed secrecy, was carried by dozens of papers and channels, not to mention hundreds of websites and videos in the same week.

Policy paralysis was used in the context of the government’s failure to implement pro-industry labour laws and lower the cost of capital, besides accelerating key economic reforms such as allowing foreign direct investment (FDI) in sectors like the insurance, airlines and the retail business. News stories blamed policy paralysis for slowing down the gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate and a downgrade of the country’s ranking by global rating agencies. Never mind if the economic growth was slowing down in 2012 not just in India but all over the world. Also, jobless growth, as witnessed simultaneously, then was, it seems, a non-issue for the media.

Most reports in which the phrase policy paralysis was used as a keyword quoted important people advising or warning the government to immediately address the ‘reforms’. An Economic Times report quoted steel tycoon L. N. Mittal as saying that policy paralysis is condemning millions to remain poor, with a useful hint that Mittal’s whopping US$ 30 billion projects were awaiting clearance. This serves as an example of a highly selective use of a term loaded with political and ideological meanings, clearly aimed at policy modification in favour of corporate India. It is equally important, therefore, to point out what the phrase does not mean.

It is interesting that except in stories about slowdown of economic growth or delay in reforms, the term policy paralysis was hardly ever applied to India’s perennial policy-related problems, such as hunger, agrarian crises or farmers’ suicides. Around the same period when its usage was growing exponentially, a meticulous search failed to find a single story in the mainstream press that put the blame for the country’s chronic hunger on policy paralysis. For instance, policy paralysis was never used to describe India’s broad failure in meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) such as targeting poverty, providing safe drinking water and toilets to the poor or reducing gender discrimination.

In the middle of a media blitzkrieg of ‘policy paralysis’ attacks, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh released a report on chronic hunger called The HUNGaMA Survey Report 2011, brought out by the NGO Nandi Foundation. Singh called hunger and malnutrition India’s national shame. Dozens of news stories and comments in the mainstream papers chastised successive governments for their failures, but it never occurred to any reporter or commentator to apply the term ‘policy paralysis’ to chronic hunger which, as the report brought out, was a result of faulty or misplaced policies followed by the successive governments.

The usage ‘policy paralysis’ was rampant in India just before the 2014 elections. From January to March 2011, the mention of policy paralysis in mainstream Indian media was around ten a month, which jumped tenfold to between 100 and 150 from June to October that year, according to a Reuters Report. In November and December, it crossed 400 and 450, respectively, and rose almost steadily to touch 600 in June 2012. The Reuters report and graphic ‘Indian Rupee and Policy Paralysis’, based on media monitoring by Factiva, reveals that the usage surged across all (English) media with the fall of the Indian Rupee. The report noted that ‘the references have surged just as the rupee tumbled to a record low of 57.32 against the dollar on June 22’. 2 By the middle of 2012, the term policy paralysis had entered thousands of economic/financial websites, blogs and YouTube videos and the government was clearly on the defensive. It was probably among the two most important ideas and expressions (the other being Lokpal or anti-corruption ombudsman) which may have had a role in bringing down the UPA government.

A meticulous tracking of the term or its variants in the entire Indian media would require enormous time and resources, but it is safe to assume that the usage continued to grow until the next elections in 2014 in which the Congress-led UPA was trounced by the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The phrase continues to be used in India but its currency has declined significantly after Congress Party lost to BJP, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is seen as market-friendly and pro economic reforms. The usage of policy paralysis is particularly conspicuous in its absence in TV debates after 2014, but it will be interesting to track its journey in the future. Its future connotations will be most eagerly watched because sooner or later all governments face populist compulsions and are forced to ignore free-market prescriptions.


The Economic Times. ‘Policy Paralysis: India “Condemning” Millions to Remain Poor, Says L N Mittal’, 21 June 2012.

Nandi Foundation. HUNGaMAFighting Hunger & Malnutrition, The HUNGaMA Survey Report – 2011. Hyderabad: Nandi Foundation, 2012. Available at: (accessed 31 March 2018).


Shahzad Gani and Pallavi Pant

The word ‘pollution’ is derived from the Latin verb polluere. Synonyms include contamination, adulteration and impurity. However, for a long time, the word was used in reference to human beliefs and was commonly used to describe instances with moral judgements. By mid-1800s, there was some use of the word with respect to the environment, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that the word began to be used extensively with the natural environment.

In the Oxford English Dictionary, and in contemporary discourse, the word pollution is described as ‘the presence in or introduction into the environment of a substance which has harmful or poisonous effects’. In India, it is also used when discussing social norms, with reference to ‘purity’ of caste. But, it is more commonly used in the environmental context and can refer to soil, water, air and noise pollution. In common parlance, it is common to hear phrases such as gaadi ka pollution check (‘Get your car’s emissions checked’), sarkār pollution ka kuch karti kyun nahin (‘Why doesn’t the government do something about pollution!’) and kitna pollution ho gaya hai (‘It has become so polluted’). The use of the word pollution is most often associated with ‘air pollution’ in the media.

Pollution is one of the biggest health risks in India and is becoming an increasingly mainstream topic of discussion, both in the media and among the masses. Sridhar and Kumar observe that nearly 75 per cent of all surface water is contaminated with biological or chemical contaminants including chemicals, disease agents and other waste. In terms of air pollution, most districts in the country have levels higher than the guidelines stipulated by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Exposure to pollution, either through ingestion of contaminated food/water or through inhalation of polluted air, is linked to a variety of health effects. Common ailments associated with unsafe water include cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A, jaundice and so on. On the other hand, air pollution is related to several respiratory illnesses, such as shortness of breath, asthma, bronchitis as well as cardiovascular diseases. A report by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) states that unsafe water and sanitation, closely linked to water pollution, contributes to 5 per cent of the country’s disease burden, while air pollution is responsible for 10 per cent of the country’s disease burden.

In terms of governance, India has a wide range of environmental laws and regulations that restrict discharge of pollutants into the environment, including the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1974, the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act of 1977 and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1981. Central and state pollution control boards are responsible for monitoring and controlling pollution. One of the biggest legal cases on air pollution has been fought in the city of Agra in Uttar Pradesh where the impact of air pollution on the Tājamahala has led to long-term action on air pollution, albeit with limited results. Several dedicated projects focused on polluted rivers have resulted in limited improvements, and despite the sacred status of many Indian rivers, pollution continues unabated.

In the last few decades, ‘pollution’ has also come to be used in the environment versus development debate. In many cases, pollution is considered a necessary evil for the country to grow and expand. However, in recent years, there has been a growing demand for clean air and water from the general public, and the issue has gained media attention as well. In fact, Article 21 of the Indian constitution has been interpreted by the courts of the land to include the right to clean environment for Indian citizens.


Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). India: Health of the Nation’s States: The India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative, New Delhi: ICMR, PHFI, and IHME, 2017. Available at: (accessed December 2018).

Sridhar, Kala S. and Surender Kumar . ‘India’s Urban Environment: Air and Water Pollution and Pollution Abatement’, MPRA Paper No. 43810 (December 2012). Available at: (accessed December 2018).


Bibek Debroy

Public private partnership (PPP) is an expression widely used, often for disparate projects. Therefore, it is best to have an official definition. There is a PPP Cell (set up in 2006) in the Infrastructure Division of the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA), and this keeps tabs on all PPPs of the union government. India is a union of states, and the state governments are also vital partners in PPPs. The DEA’s general and formal definition states, ‘PPP means an arrangement between a government or statutory entity or government owned entity on one side and a private sector entity on the other, for the provision of public assets and/or related services for public benefit, through investments being made by and/or management undertaken by the private sector entity for a specified time period, where there is a substantial risk sharing with the private sector and the private sector receives performance linked payments that conform (or are benchmarked) to specified, pre-determined and measurable performance standards.’

This definition makes three points clear. First, PPP isn’t only about greenfield development, as is sometimes assumed. There can be management or maintenance contracts as well. Second, it isn’t only about physical infrastructure (transport is the most obvious). There can be, and are, PPP projects in skills, education, healthcare and water supply too. Third, many states have PPP projects. In the broad area of infrastructure, at the moment, there are 1,529 projects in various stages of implementation.

Why PPP? The broad reasons are superior management compared to the public sector, better technology and incremental resources. There are detailed guidelines and there is the Public Partnership Appraisal Committee (PPPAC) of the union government. The level at which approval is granted is a function of the project cost. The current thresholds are below 100 crore rupees, 100–250 crore rupees and above 250 crore rupees. If the PPP project is for infrastructure, one should mention the Viability Gap Funding Scheme (this proves a capital subsidy) and India Infrastructure Finance Company Limited (for long-term debt).

There were indeed some problems with PPPs and, in 2015, a committee under the chairmanship of Vijay Kelkar was set up to examine these problems for the infrastructure sector. The Kelkar Committee stated, ‘The sectoral spread of PPPs has been fairly diverse in hard infrastructure sectors such as transport (roads, airports and ports), which has seen the largest share in terms of numbers and success. The new airports at Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad and the large dimension of highway projects are part of the programmatic success of PPPs in the country.’ It has also convincingly addressed some myths that are widely prevalent, such as the following: (a) profit motive of private sector is incompatible with the service motive of public sector; (b) PPPs increase user tariffs; (c) money for PPPs comes from private ‘pockets’; (d) once a private sector partner is brought in, there is little or no role for the public sector; (e) PPPs do not provide value for eventual cost to the public sector; and (f) private operators are not committed to protecting the environment.

There must have been some problems. Otherwise, there would have been no reason to set up this committee. Those problems concern global issues, judicial/statutory authority orders, legal and regulatory frameworks, financing issues, multiplicity of institutions and overlap, problems internal to the private sector and contractual frameworks. For the PPP performance to be better, these problems will have to be addressed.


Planning Commission . ‘Chapter 3: Financing the Plan’. In Twelfth Five Year Plan 2012-2017: Faster, More Inclusive and Sustainable Growth. New Delhi: Government of India, 2013.

Vijay Kelkar Committee. Report of the Committee on Revisiting and Revitalizing Public Private Partnership Model on Infrastructure, submitted to the Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance in November 2015.


Poonam Muttreja

The term ‘public health’, although self-explanatory, often leaves lingering questions on what it really means even among those working in this field. Regardless of whether one is a community activist, a number-crunching analyst, a serious scientist and researcher or a policy adviser, the goal of public health is fairly obvious. Public health has people and their well-being as its only focus. Seventy years ago, in 1948, the World Health Organization (WHO) defined the health of an individual as ‘the state of complete physical mental and social well-being’ and not merely the absence of disease. The promotive intent is to stay fit, and the preventive intent is to avoid getting sick or hospitalized.

The significance of public health has declined over the centuries with the remarkable ascendance of allopathic medicine that has found treatments and cures for deadly diseases. Nevertheless, it is important to underscore that the largest gains in child survival in the United Kingdom and other countries in Europe during the nineteenth century came from promoting personal hygiene and public sanitation and not by building hospitals or producing gynaecologists and paediatricians. Over the years, the field of public health has evolved to embrace different disciplines to assure holistic well-being: by promoting critical medical interventions, such as the immunization of children to personal hygiene, and addressing the social determinants of health – which refers to addressing issues of caste, class and gender – that deny people equal opportunities when it comes to accessing health services, basic education and even livelihood opportunities.

In 1977, the 30th World Health Assembly coined the slogan ‘Health for All by the Year 2000 A.D.’ This meant that primary healthcare would be made universally accessible. In 1978, the famous Alma-Ata World Conference acknowledged primary healthcare as the mainstay of ‘Health for all by 2000 A.D’, In May 1979, the World Health Assembly endorsed the Declaration of Alma-Ata and, in order to achieve its goals, invited member states to formulate a National Health Policy (NHP), as Singh and Singh have detailed. Strong political will, community participation and intersectoral coordination were required to lay the foundation of primary healthcare and ‘Health for All’ – if at all the public was to be brought into public health and every individual was mobilized. The responsibility of the state to provide comprehensive primary healthcare as per the declaration led to the formulation of India’s first NHP in 1983, revised again in 2002 and 2017. Despite India’s commitment to the Alma-Ata Declaration, preventive community-based primary healthcare wasn’t given priority.

Over these decades, India has witnessed a significant shift in the role of the public within public health from being a passive recipient of public health services to becoming an active participant. The introduction of communization processes under the National Health Mission, such as Community Action for Health (CAH), has placed people at the centre of its processes to ensure that the health needs and rights of the community are being met. The inclusion of CAH exemplifies a paradigm shift and is an acknowledgement of the fact that equitable and universal healthcare cannot be achieved in isolation. However, it is still a work in progress and we have a long way to go.

Speaking of equality, Michelle Obama said, ‘Communities and countries and ultimately the world are only as strong as the health of their women.’ Sadly, we are far from imbibing the true essence of these words in our society. Women are still discriminated against and violence against women, recognized globally as a fundamental human rights violation, still finds wide prevalence in India. A 2013 World Bank report by Duvvury et al. estimates that one in three women across the globe has experienced physical and/or sexual assault at some point in their lifetime. The report also demonstrates the significant health and economic impacts and states that every form of violence, including physical and sexual violence, against women is undoubtedly as much a public health concern as any other disease.

Within the realm of global commitments such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it is the need of the hour for public health systems to realign and redefine their priorities. It is imperative to understand that public health is and will remain a cross-sectoral concern – it is a concern with domestic violence as much as with environmental pollution, food contamination, non-communicable diseases, like cancer or diabetes, or, for that matter, a concern with the failure of the state to regulate the private sector and protect its people from market failures that adversely affect their health. It is time to bring back the public into public health and look for long-term sustainable health solutions. In the words of Thomas Carlyle, ‘For he who has health has hope; and he who has hope, has everything.’


Duvvury, Nata, Aoife Callan , Patrick Carney and Srinivas Raghavendra . Intimate Partner Violence: Economic Costs and Implications for Growth and Development. Women’s voice, agency, and participation research series no. 3, Washington DC: World Bank, 2013. Available at: (accessed December 2018).

Singh, A. R. and S. A. Singh . ‘The Goal: Health for All; The Commitment: All for Health’. Mens Sana Monographs 2, no. 1 (2004): 97–110.


Paula Banerjee

There is a common misunderstanding that all forced migrants are refugees. A refugee is a forced migrant but so are many others such as the internally displaced, trafficked and the stateless who are forced out of their homes and habitat. A refugee is a legal and official entity as opposed to the forced migrant, and the definition of a refugee, as given by the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951, says that a refugee is a person who: ‘As a result of events occurring before 1 January 1951 and owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.’

The UN mandated that the status of refugee could only be offered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or by a sovereign state. UNHR notes three traditional durable solutions to the refugee problem. These are the following: (a) resettlement in third countries, (b) local integration and (c) voluntary repatriation. The 1951 Convention was seriously criticized by many, as B. S. Chimni notes, because it was thought to be too soft on countries from the global North and who, even after being signatories, did not follow the letter and spirit of the convention. It did not take into account either the major causes of conflict-related displacements in Asia and Africa or the exigencies of the borders of countries in these regions, as observed by Myron Weiner.

The Organization of African Unity (OAU) Convention of 1969 expanded the definition of refugees. Apart from the reasons given in the 1951 Convention, it added that refugee status should be given to ‘every person who, owing to external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or events seriously disturbing public order in either part or the whole of his country of origin or nationality, is compelled to leave his place of habitual residence in order to seek refuge in another place outside his country of origin or nationality’. Thus, for the first time, colonial persecution began to be counted as a ground for seeking asylum. But, sadly, the 1969 OAU Convention was focused on members of the African Union only. People from other regions, such as Asia and Latin America, were deprived from its benefits.

In 1984, representatives of South America put forth the Cartagena Declaration, which further expanded the definition of refugees by adding that ‘persons who have fled their country because their lives, safety or freedom have been threatened by generalized violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violation of human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order’ should be eligible for asylum. In the post-1989 period, the situation of poor and vulnerable populations has become even more precarious. Massive groups of people began to be displaced as a result of local conflicts, development projects, climate-related reasons, genocide, statelessness and many other reasons.

In the new millennium, concern arose over the protection of extra-Convention refugees, who were called in such terms as ‘de facto refugees’, ‘OAU and Cartagena-type refugees’ and ‘humanitarian refugees’. They were actually seeking ‘complementary protection’ but were totally absent from international treaties. An EXCOM conclusion adopted in October 2005 specifically referred to ‘complementary protection’ but did not define it, Jane McAdam has observed. But after 2005 they became part of the discourse. The other groups that appeared in discussions on refugees were ‘climate refugees’. They were also outside the 1951 Convention. By 2016, the number of displaced population worldwide rose to over 65 million, of whom 22.5 million were refugees. In the second decade of the new millennium, a majority of the refugee population is made up of children and less than 1 per cent of these are beneficiaries of third-country resettlement. It is a myth that refugees flood the countries of the global North as most often they are accommodated in the same region where they were displaced. Most people are resettled through kith-kin networks and only a minority get to stay in camps.


B. S. ‘Status of Refugees in India: Strategic Ambiguities’. In The Refugees and the State, 444–445, edited by Ranabir Samaddar , 2nd edn. New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2008.

Organisation of African Unity (OAU). ‘OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa’, adopted on 10 September 1969 by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government, entered into force on June 1974. Available at: (accessed 22 March 2018).


Raghavendra Lal Das

Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is the central bank of the Republic of India (not to be confused with the Central Bank of India, a state-owned commercial bank). A central bank is tasked with the onerous responsibility of regulating the money supply as per the needs of the economy, not a penny more and not a penny less. It has monopoly over currency and it usually oversees the markets and commercial banking of the country.

The RBI started functioning from 1 April 1935 by terms of the Reserve Bank of India Act of 1934. The preamble to the Act enjoins the RBI ‘to regulate the issue of Bank notes and keeping of reserves with a view to securing monetary stability in India and generally to operate the currency and credit system of the country to its advantage; to have a modern monetary policy framework to meet the challenge of an increasingly complex economy, to price stability while keeping in mind the objective of growth’. RBI is one of the few full-service central banks in the world. Its activities range from currency management, formulation of monetary policies, acting as banker to the government and banks, supervision of the banking system, overseeing the different segments of the financial market and management of forex and development activities including rural credit and development.

Like any other central bank, the RBI has its own lexicon. The daily pink broadsheets and economic journals use those words like jargon without explaining what they mean. This entry will therefore make an attempt to explain some of such oft-quoted words in the context of the RBI.

• Mint street: An alternative name given to the RBI by the paparazzi. The location of RBI’s headquarters is on a street in Mumbai which was known as Mint Street decades ago.

• Legal tender: Banknotes (currency notes) and coins which have to be accepted by all as mode of exchange.

∘ Demonetization: Bank notes or coins of any denomination which ceases to be legal tender as per the decision of the RBI. Such notes and coins are withdrawn from circulation.

∘ Essential features of a currency note: These make a piece of paper to be a currency note. These are number series, issuing authority, promissory clause, signature of the RBI governor and the guarantee by the Government of India.

• Currency chest: Storehouse for currency notes and coins owned by the RBI but operated by the agency (commercial banks).

• Lender of the last resort (LOLR): Provider of the cash support to the eligible financial entities when they are faced with liquidity crunch or financial insolvency.

• Monetary policy: Deciding the cost of very short-term funds from the RBI with the objective of price stability.

• Policy rate: The rate at which RBI lends to the eligible borrower on the strength of collateral.

• Repo rate: The rate at which RBI lends to eligible borrowers on the strength of the security. The date of liquidation of the loan is prefixed.

• Reverse repo rate: The rate at which RBI borrows from eligible entities while parting with government securities. This rate is always less than the repo rate.

• Cash reserve ratio (CRR): A portion of specified deposits of the bank to be parked in their current account maintained with the RBI.

• Statutory liquidity ratio (SLR): The portion of specified deposits of the bank to be kept in the form of cash, gold and unencumbered approved government securities.

• Open market operations (OMO): A mechanism to contract or expand the volume of cash or liquidity in the system by sale/purchase of government securities.

• Public debt: Borrowing by the government from the public and the institutions. This does not include liabilities arising out of small savings.

• Risk: Exposure to loss.

• Credit risk: Risk arising out of the inability of the counter party to honour the commitment.

• Market risk: Risk emanating from the movement in market prices or rates away from the contracted price or rate.

• Operational risk: Risk of loss on account of disruption in the business.

• Risk-weighted asset: Every asset is assigned a risk weight as per the risk perception.

• Capital to risk-weighted assets ratio (CRAR): It is calculated by dividing the capital of the bank with the aggregated risk-weighted assets. It is an indicator of the level of capitalization of the bank.

• Non-performing asset (NPA): Any asset not generating income for the bank is dubbed as non-performing. Non-performing assets are categorized in three brackets, depending on the nature and the length of irregularity in repayment. These are substandard, doubtful and loss.

• Exchange rate: Rate at which foreign currency is converted into local currency and vice versa.

• Spot: Sale and purchase of currency, commodity and security on the current price and immediate delivery.

Forward contract: Sale and purchase of currency, commodity and security at contracted price and delivery at a future date.


Kisch, Cecil ‘The Monetary Policy of the Reserve Bank of India’. The Economic Journal 59, no. 235 (1 September 1949): 436–438.

Warrier, M. India’s Decade of Reforms: Reserve Bank of India at Central Stage, Notion Press, Incorporated, 2018.


Hoshang Netarwala

‘Sensex’ is a term familiar to every person in Mumbai, India’s financial capital. Its daily gyrations can cause considerable angst and exuberance all in the space of a few hours. New kids on the block dabble in the market daily to make a quick buck, but more often than not end up burning up the stash they started with. The Bombay Sensitive Index, or its popular short form, the ‘Sensex’, is a conglomeration of thirty of the most actively traded shares listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE), the oldest exchange in Asia with over 5,400 companies listed on it. The Exchange was established in 1875 by Premchand Roychand. Word has it that the initial broker meetings were held outside the city’s town hall. As the number of brokers increased, they shifted from place to place, before finally moving to Dalal Street, where the exchange now has its headquarters, at Jeejeebhoy Towers, named after one of the longest serving members of the exchange. Earlier, trades were done through an outcry system on the floor of the exchange where brokers indulged in high energy physical trading involving a combination of gesticulation and lung power creating an ambience not unlike that of a fish market. The exchange transitioned to screen-based trading in 1995. Today, the online trading platform of BSE, known as BOLT, lays claim to be the fastest in the world.

In the mid-1980s, the BSE decided to set up a mechanism to monitor the performance of the major stocks traded on the exchange, to give investors an insight into the markets and the Indian economy as reflected by the performance of these actively traded stocks. With this idea, the Sensex was born. The thirty stocks comprised in the Sensex account for 50 per cent of the exchange’s market capitalization. Different weightages were assigned to the thirty stocks that comprised the index, based on their market capitalization, with the total weightage of the index at 100. In the early days of the index, unscrupulous elements would manipulate the Sensex stocks and mislead people on how the scrips and the economy were performing. Fortunes were made and lost by punters hitching their wagons to the brokerage calls farmed out by market manipulators. The most famous of these scams was probably the Harshad Mehta scam of 1992, where the stock broker manipulated the markets using worthless bank receipts and swindled close to 5,000 crores rupees. The scam exposed loopholes both in the Indian banking system and the stock exchange. However, with the introduction of stringent controls by the Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI) and the staggering growth of the stock market, manipulations of such a large magnitude by an individual are a rarity, though the odd scamster still gets away. The Sensex first pipped the 1000 points benchmark in July 1990. In May 2009, in reaction to the United Progressive Alliances win, the Sensex vaulted over 17 per cent, the single largest day gain in its history and trading had to be halted for an hour. Today, the Sensex stands at 38,000 – a towering reflection of how the Indian economy has grown over the last couple of decades. Succinctly stated, an investment of 100 rupees in the Sensex stocks when the index was introduced would now be worth 38,000 rupees – a good hedge against inflation.

The Sensex itself has metamorphosed over time. Its composition is periodically changed to reflect current market conditions. Laggards are dropped and new companies with large market capitalizations are introduced to keep it relevant. The index is calculated on a free-float capitalization method. While initially the Sensex was dominated by manufacturing companies, a number of these companies have now been discarded and replaced by new-age market icons. A majority of the stocks in the original Sensex don’t exist in its new avatar today having either been discarded or wound up. Today, the stock with the largest weight in the Sensex is the petroleum behemoth Reliance Industries, closely followed by infotech giants Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) and HDFC Bank. Over time with the growth of the stock market, the Sensex has spawned a number of new indices, most notably the Nifty 50 index. With that the Sensex has lost some of its sheen and competes for the numero uno benchmark with other pretenders to the throne. Market mavens who wish to invest in specific sectors have a host of indices to fall back on. With globalization of the world economy, the Sensex is no longer insulated from international crises which can impact its performance. But despite the introduction of multiple indices to track various segments of the market, the Sensex is no slouch – it still remains the gold standard for old hands of the trade who want a snapshot of how the markets are shaping up.


Ignatius, Roger. ‘The Bombay Stock Exchange: Seasonalities and Investment Opportunities’. Indian Economic Review (1992): 223–227.

Yalawar, Yalaguresh B. ‘Bombay Stock Exchange: Rates of Return and Efficiency’. Indian Economic Journal 35, no. 4 (1988): 68.


P. Vigneswara Ilavarasan

Social media is an electronic platform where two or more people communicate with each other either directly or indirectly. The use of social media is dependent on the internet and electronic devices whose access or ownership cost is fast declining. The communication can be through any form – text, images, audio, video or just emoticons – and can be both synchronous and asynchronous. Piskorski notes that the platforms are successful as they cater to the unmet social needs of the people by reducing social and economic costs. For instance, if I am looking for a casual physical relationship, ‘single’ status in Facebook or having a profile on Tinder will help me avoid spending in local bars and possible social rejection while asking multiple people if they are also seeking partners. Given this, unmet social needs are multiple and diverse for India, due to its plurality. The extant research on social media platforms in India is mostly in information systems and related management disciplines, and insights from cultural studies and other social sciences are limited.

There are more non-users of social media in India, since only 33 per cent of its 1.3 billion population have access to the internet as of 2018. There are more urban users than rural ones with differential preferences for content and language. However, there is the saying, ‘Whatever you say is true in India, the opposite is also true.’ This applies to the internet, especially social media, as well. Narayan and Narayanan note that Shubhpuja and OnlinePrasad are e-commerce firms that offer religious services, such as priests, live broadcast of rituals and astrology consultation. Most of the popular temples in India also live broadcast important festivals. On the other hand, India repeatedly figures in the top ten consumers of porn. When Google offered free Wi-Fi at the railway stations, pornography topped the list of domains accessed.

There are home-grown social media platforms, some of them imitate their counterparts. For instance, Zomato is a restaurant-review platform which is similar to Yelp in the West. Sharechat is similar to WhatsApp. When these platforms evolve in India, there are customizations to meet the Indian demands. Zomato has added more restaurants than Yelp, with detailed menu and timings. Sharechat claims to be a ‘no-English-network’ and focuses on local languages. There are some India-centric platforms which thrive on Indian cultural traits. has all possible content related to business school admissions in India. Shadow education or dependency on coaching centres is common in India. Pagalguy is an extension of the same. Indian consumers expect high quality at a lower price and like to argue and complain. populates its platform with complaints and reviews about consumer products and reviews uploaded by the users. There are platforms where Indians dominate usage and participation. India was the greatest source of traffic on Quora, a question-and-answer community platform, in February 2018. The number of Indian users on that platform is only next to the United States, and India is the only developing country among its top ten users.

More males use Facebook than females in India. Hence, Facebook is a masculine space in India, with more likes for electronic products, female celebrities, politics and sports. In the mid-2010s, it was noticed that Indian men tended to use fake names and profile pictures to defraud people from foreign locations. This is not much different from the mid-2000s when a person was called as ‘Orkutiya’ when he relentlessly solicits romantic relationships through ‘Orkut’, a popular social media platform back then. Sometimes Indian men go to extremes, as in a case from South India, where a young man stabbed a woman who he befriended on Facebook to death because she rejected his proposal for love. Also, Facebook and WhatsApp messages have been used as evidence in an increasing number of divorce cases in Bangalore from the mid-2010s onwards.

Citizen activism for social changes, in the lines of neo-social movements, is on the rise. Either coming together against corruption (Indiaagainstcorruption), gender violence (Nibhaya), upholding ethnocentric practices (Jallīkaṭṭū) and others, social media users have been busy in the last decade. Most of them are reactions to the non-responsiveness of the government. The common people also compensate the inability of the government to execute its responsibilities. For instance, in 2015, during the Chennai floods, disaster management efforts were led by the public mostly through social media. People were uploading and authenticating information related to water levels, missing people, food demand, medicine supply and relocation efforts.

The 2014 general elections were hailed as social media elections by the media due to the heavy use of social media platforms by the political parties and their leaders. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also recognized as one of the top thirty influential persons on the internet in 2016 by Time. Presently, the Indian government is making efforts to bring more people online either through its capacity-building activities under Digital India and is attempting to deliver public services online. The election commission is engaging Facebook to bring more voters to the roll list and voting. Though there are mixed results, a future wherein most of the citizens are online and be part of policy contemplations cannot be ruled out.

There are other consequences of social media platforms as well. YouTube is slowly becoming a part of learning resources in Indian classrooms. Premier educational engineering institutions are using YouTube to even out the quality differences in learning experiences by uploading class lectures for entire courses. New careers in the domain of content creation are emerging. Freelancing YouTube stars and travel bloggers can garner a significant number of followers and generate revenues. Microentrepreneurs and self-employed artists can expand their market opportunities by low-cost social media marketing. Social media is a major part of leisure practices and will pave the way for learning for the urban poor.

At the same time, it has also to be noted that social media has been occasionally banned by the state, ostensibly for reasons of internal security. In some parts of rural India, local elders ban mobile phone usage by younger women as access to social media is perceived as spoiling them. There is also the concern that the young population is spending too much time on social media platforms and is likely to spend less time with real friends and runs the risk of developing an addiction.


Ilavarasan, P. V. ‘Social Media Research in and of India: A Snapshot’. In Emerging Markets from a Multidisciplinary Perspective, edited by Y. K. Dwivedi , N. P. Rana , E. L. Slade , M. A. Shareef , M. Clement , A. Simintiras and B. Lal . New York: Springer International Publishing, 2018.

Piskorski, M. J. ‘Social Strategies that Work’. Harvard Business Review 89, no. 11 (2011): 116–122.


Souvik Mukherjee

The Indian government now has a dedicated website ( for start-ups and with that a detailed definition that covers the Indian context:

• ‘Start-up means an entity, incorporated or registered in India:

• Upto a period of seven years from the date of incorporation/registration or upto ten years in case of Start-ups in Biotechnology sector

• As a private limited company or registered as a partnership firm or a limited liability partnership

• With an annual turnover not exceeding Rs. 25 crore for any of the financial years since incorporation/registration

• Working towards innovation, development or improvement of products or processes or services, or if it is a scalable business model with a high potential of employment generation or wealth creation.’

The attention paid to start-ups by the government shows that they are viewed as an important part of the country’s economic and political systems. In the networked world, start-ups are easier to float and they can often address niche requirements that other less flexible corporate structures cannot. A couple of other terms are associated with start-ups, such as ‘incubator’ and ‘indie’. Incubators are collaborative programmes aimed to help start-ups succeed. They provide workspace, seed funding, mentorship and training. One such incubator is NASSCOM (National Association of Software and Services Companies), which started its ‘10,000 Startups’ initiative in 2013. The other word often connected to start-ups is ‘indie’. Indie or ‘independent’ probably originates from the independent rock music scene, where the music produced would not be connected to big labels or brands. In the context of the start-up ecosystem, indie would mean any business or designer not associated with a large corporate and can also define the consumer who chooses to support small business, independent record labels and handmade items rather than shopping at big chain stores. Start-ups need not necessarily be connected to indie but this can often be the case.

Often, in the digitally connected world, start-ups make use of crowdfunding initiatives whereby many people the world over can contribute varying amounts ranging from a token US$ 1 contribution to large denominations using online payment portals and credit cards. One of the most famous crowdfunding portals used by start-ups is Start-ups are also often associated with open-source software and with code-sharing, such as on portals like GitHub. The concept of the start-up is still quite niche and urban, although some of these like the eco-friendly clay-based Mitticool refrigerator attempt to address the needs of the rural and underprivileged populace. Start-ups are becoming significantly popular in the IT-driven global ecosystem. This is also a term (and a concept) that is here to stay as more entrepreneurs start following the start-ups model.


‘NASSCOM 10,000 Startups Serves up Inspiration and Innovation with the Startup Product Series’, YourStory, 6 February 2018. Available at: (accessed December 2018).

‘Startupindia, Department of Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India’, Available at: (accessed 20 April 2018).


Saba Sharma

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word ‘tax’ evolved from the Latin taxare, meaning ‘to estimate or assess’, and its early fourteenth-century Anglo-French use as tax. Given its wider contemporary usage in India as a contribution levied by a sovereign power, such as a government, it is interesting to see that in much of Northeast India, particularly areas that have known insurgency and/or separatist movements within or against the Indian state, the word ‘tax’ is commonly used to mean an amount of money levied by militant groups and/or students’ unions.

These taxes are levied on businesses, government officials, villages or communities and individuals, as well as toll tax on the highways, and on state-funded development projects. Different insurgent groups levy different ‘rates’ of tax, sometimes depending on the economic status of the person or business being taxed, and rates can also be negotiated. Alternative words like ‘donation’ and ‘extortion’ are also used, often highlighting the degree of acceptance of the practice from the point of view of the speaker. Government officials or the police, for instance, would use the word ‘extortion’ instead (as Sarita Santoshini notes in a report), as might some academics (for instance, Rakhee Bhattacharya) and locals (as Patricia Mukhim observes). Interestingly, the official (government) tax base in Northeast India is not very wide, as they do not have much industry, and scheduled tribes (STs) in the region (who constitute most of its population) are exempt from income tax.

Usage of the word tax to denote what is essentially considered an illegal practice by the formal state apparatus brings up questions of what constitutes legitimate governance in Northeast India. One strand of argument, seen in Rakhee Bhattacharya’s work, is that insurgency is entirely driven by economic incentives, with insurgent groups collecting money through tax/extortion, which is then spent on lavish lifestyles and accumulation of personal wealth for leaders. Subir Bhaumik’s analysis of the budget of one such group, ULFA (United Liberation Front of Assam), shows, however, that much of the money is used in cadre salaries, arms deals and operational costs as well as investments in stocks and companies to secure the future of the organization. Another strand of thought, suggested by Sanjib Baruah, is that ethnic militias such as the ones that levy taxes in fact fill a vacuum that the state leaves in these neglected areas, where state institutions are not able to guarantee security, and thus it is in these groups that people’s loyalties are vested.

People’s experiences of this taxation system are also complex. In Nagaland, for instance, a citizen’s group called Against Corruption and Unabated Taxation (ACAUT) has challenged rampant taxation by several militant groups, including the largest and most powerful National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) (NSCN [I-M]). The NSCN(I-M) responded to this demand by reiterating the importance of tax collection to further the cause of Naga nationalism and positioning itself as the sole legitimate authority to collect taxes in Nagaland. The same group (ACAUT), however, does not uniformly condemn tax collection but engages and lobbies with them as civil society do with governments elsewhere. So, for instance, when the ‘one-nation-one-tax’ regime (GST, as it is popularly now known) was rolled out across India, ACAUT appealed to Naga insurgent groups to do the same. Here, the legitimacy of their political authority is not just gained through their official status but also by these performances of governance, as also reflected in many insurgent groups handing out receipts after collecting tax.

Differing usages of the word ‘tax’ in Northeast India, as opposed to the rest of India, highlight already prevalent difference between these regions of India and the disparity in experiences of state and governance. Tax collection by rebels is but one illustration of this wider phenomenon.


Baruah, Sanjib, Durable Disorder: Understanding the Politics of Northeast India, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Bhaumik, Subir, Troubled Periphery: Crisis of India’s North East, New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2009.

Santoshini, Sarita, ‘In India’s Nagaland, a Tale of Taxes and Corruption’, Al Jazeera, 14 April 2016. Available at: (accessed 15 September 2017).


In the second term of the United Progressive Alliance government, ‘Mahatma Gandhi’ prefixed to it NREGA (making it MGNREGA), an attempt by the Congress Party to earn political capital through superficial measures.

See graphic in on 6 December 2019

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