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Explaining the Poverty of India to IITians

by Krishna Dhir
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Introduction

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When India attained its independence, Bhagwati Charan Verma wrote a poem, भैंसागाड़ी, using the metaphor of a slow-moving, creaking bullock-cart to describe the impact of India’s economic progress on the poor, debt-ridden, village-dwelling farmer. The poem is strikingly visual! One can almost see and hear the bullock-cart trembling and creaking as it creeps along [1]:

हिलती-डुलती, हँफती-कंपती, कुछरुक-रुककर, कुछसिहर-सिहर
चरमर- चरमर- चूँ- चरर- मररजारहीचलीभैंसागाड़ी

Trembling, panting, stopping and moving, shaking unsteadily,
Creaking, groaning and moaning, crawls along the bullock cart [2].

The purpose of this article is two-fold: (1) it is to make IITians aware of the need to invent and design technologies that benefit rural India and lift the most vulnerable cohort of India’s population, the small-scale farmers, out of poverty; and (2) for IITians to be schooled in the liberal arts that focus on Indian literature as a basis for intellectual development, with keen awareness of the needs of their countrymen, especially in rural India.

This article is organised as follows: first, it describes the impressive scale of India’s developmental challenges, both, in the rural-agrarian sector and the urban-industrial sector. Then, it describes how India has adopted large-scale technological projects to address these challenges. Among these projects is the building of dams. This is no accident. Water is the most valuable resource for socio-economic development in any society. India’s thirst for water is enormous.

The article moves on to acknowledge the difficulty of assessing the impact of development on the poor, partly because poverty is a relative concept. Nevertheless, India’s developmental planners have placed engineering and technology at the centre of its large-scale solutions. The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) were developed to bring the best technical aptitudes to bear on such development.

The challenge for those who educate the IITians, then, is this: how to instil in their charges an appreciation for the problems of the poor? The article at hand explores the effect of large, industrial scale projects on the small-scale rural farmers. The dams that are designed to bring prosperity to the farmers, and the rest of India, exact a heavy price from the poorer rural cohorts. Dams displace the most vulnerable of them, destroy their cashless economy through inundation, and force them to compete in a cash-based economy with no skills, just their labour. Industrial scale projects are not always suitable for the improvement of their lot.

It is very difficult to design technologies for a group of people, unless one feels their pain.

In our times, India is experiencing the heart-wrenching phenomenon of farmers committing suicides across the entire country, despite the progress being made across Indian cities. It is amazing how relevant Bhagwati Charan Verma’s poem, भैंसागाड़ी, remains today, in light of the shocking persistence of farmer-suicides. The poem captures the plight of a farmer, devoid of hope, in haunting detail [3]:

भैंसागाड़ी पर लदा हुआ, जा रहा चला मानव जर्जर
है उसे चुकाना सूद, कर्ज है उसे चुकाना अपना कर
जितना खाली है उसका घर उतना खाली उसका अंतर
औ’ कठिन भूख की जलन लिये नर बैठा है बनकर पत्थर

Aboard the bullock cart, a ruined man, bankrupt,
Rides.Indebted, his earnings are short of owed interest.
His soul is empty as much as the emptiness of his home.
With flames of trying hunger, the man burns like stone.

It is very difficult to design technologies for a group of people, unless one feels their pain. This article suggests that literature is the window through which to see and feel that pain. It suggests that the education of IITians should include familiarity with the works of such literary titans who have grasped and understood the plight and suffering of India’s poor. Such literature exists in every language of India. In this article, the example of Godaan, the work of Munshi Premchand, is offered as an illustration of this possibility.

Finally, this article suggests certain modifications in the curriculum of IITians to better orient the students to the challenges of poverty eradication.

The Scale of the Challenge and Available Resources

The challenge that confronted Indian engineers was articulated with remarkable clarity at the very eve of India’s independence. In his ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech, Jawaharlal Nehru told the new nation, “The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity” [4]. He went on to state, “The ambition of the greatest man of our generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye. That may be beyond us, but as long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over.” To comprehend the scope of this challenge, it is essential that we understand the scale of India.

Today India has 1.28 billion citizens, accounting for more than one-sixth of the world’s population. According to the 2011 census of India, 27.8% of Indian population is spread across more than 5,100 towns and over 380 urban communities. The remaining 72.2% lives in rural areas in 641,000 villages and is engaged in agriculture and related sectors. In 2011, India had 53 urban communities with a population of over 1 million, accounting for 43% of all urban population [5]. According to the World Bank, as of 2010, only 36.3% of India’s total agricultural land was reliably irrigated [6]. Soil erosion, water-logging and salinity affect about 60 percent of the cultivated land in India. Although well-endowed with a system of rivers, India’s need for water outstrips its availability: 92 million people do not have access to safe drinking water; 304 million Indians do not have access to electricity. The southwest monsoon accounts for 70% of India’s rainfall. Its disruption threatens the livelihood of 600 million people [7]. India has enormous need of building and other materials such as steel, cement, chemicals. Correspondingly, it needs sources of energy. Production of all these requires water, lots of water. In 2008, India was the 6th largest producer of hydroelectric power in the world, accounting for 3.5% of the world’s total production. However, its current installed capacity of about 42,000 megawatts is only 15.22% of the total electricity generation in India [8]. The scale of India is a global scale that requires not only vast amounts of natural resources, such as water, but also human resources that will creatively solve the needs of the country.

It is remarkable that with all its ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity, India has managed to develop and consolidate a deep-rooted democratic structure that guarantees peaceful transfer of political power, professional armed and paramilitary forces that are loyal to the people and the government they elect, a judiciary that proactively safeguards the rights of the people, and a deep sense of national identity that pervades its citizens.

Fortunately, India is not devoid of both, human and natural resources. The nature of human resources needed by India is rooted in the nature of India’s society. It is remarkable that with all its ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity, India has managed to develop and consolidate a deep-rooted democratic structure that guarantees peaceful transfer of political power, professional armed and paramilitary forces that are loyal to the people and the government they elect, a judiciary that proactively safeguards the rights of the people, and a deep sense of national identity that pervades its citizens. In certain respects, India has favourable natural resources as well. India accounts for only 2.4 % of the world’s land area. Yet, it is endowed with about 1.7 million sq km of arable land, which is more than what is available to any other country except the United States. It has over half a million sq km of irrigated land. India’s water area, too, exceeds what is available to any other country with the exception of Canada and the United States.

Heroic Solutions

When the western world brought about the industrial revolution, a colonised India was ill-positioned to exploit it. If anything, in India the industrial revolution was exploited for the benefit of its colonial rulers, the British. For instance, India’s railway system was first designed to facilitate movement of goods to be shipped to Britain. Once India attained independence, it embarked enthusiastically and optimistically on large scale developmental projects, such as building of dams, mining of coal, and production of building materials such as steel and cement. It sought heroic, industrial scale solutions to its developmental challenges, sweeping aside Gandhian approach of development based on cottage industries. Nehru listened to Keynes.

Major Rivers of IndiaThe longest rivers associated with India are the Brahmaputra and Indus, which are both 2,896 km long, although neither is entirely within India. Other major rivers are the Ganga (Ganges, 2,525 km), Godavari (1,465 km), Kaveri (Cauvery, 800 km), Krishna (1,401 km), Mahanadi (851 km), Narmada (1,312 km), and Yamuna (1,370 km). India quickly and aggressively proceeded on a policy of developing hydroelectric power derived from dams across the country. Dams built across these rivers would bring enormous benefits to the farmers; they would conserve water for drinking, provide much-needed irrigation to the farmlands, produce energy, control floods, and increase farm production. Industries, too, would benefit and so would urban centres. In mid-2015, India already had about 42,000 megawatts of installed capacity, accounting for over 15% of its total electricity generation [9].

Among the earliest river valley development schemes undertaken by India was the construction of Bhakra-Nangal multipurpose dams, spanning the Sutlej. It consists of the Bhakra dam, and Nangal dam downstream from it. The work on the Bhakra-Nangal dams started in 1946, before India became independent, and was completed in 1963. Jawaharlal Nehru, who acknowledged India’s abject poverty in his Discovery of India, published in 1946, famously described the completed Bhakra-Nangal dams as “new temple of resurgent India.”At 741 ft, the Bhakra dam is among the highest gravity dams in the world, comparable to the 743 ft tall Hoover Dam in the United States.  With the flow control by the Nangal dam downstream, irrigation is provided to 40,000 sq km of farms in Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan [10]. The system provides 1478.72 megawatts of electric power to these states and to Chandigarh and Delhi as well [11]. The construction of the Bhakra-Nangal dam relied on both, advanced technologies of mechanised precision, and manual labour of vast numbers of erstwhile farmers and other men and women who were accustomed to working in the fields.

The definition of poverty continues to be controversial in India. In 2005, India adopted Suresh Tendulkar methodology for computation of poverty. This method moved away from computing poverty in terms of calories needed for survival to a basket of goods used in rural and urban regions that is minimally essential for such existence.

A major hydroelectric project underway today is development of the Narmada as a major water and power resource. The 40.96 cubic km of water that flows through this river annually exceeds the cumulative flows of Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej, that feed the Indus basin [12]! Narmada River flows from east of Jabalpur in the heart of Madhya Pradesh, meandering westward through Maharashtra and Gujarat, emptying into the Gulf of Khambhat. Its journey of 1,312 km makes it the largest westward flowing river in India and the fifth largest in the country. To exploit the developmental potential of the Narmada River, the Government of India has instituted the Narmada Valley Dam Project that seeks to build a series of 30 large dams along the river. Additionally, there will be 135 medium sized dams and about 3,000 smaller dams. This system of dams could provide water to as many as 40 million people, irrigate nearly 6 million hectares of land and produce 1450 megawatts of power [13,14].

The assessment of the benefits derived from these projects in alleviating the poverty of the farmer requires a benchmark for the measurement of poverty. Defining poverty in India has remained a challenge. It is easy to recognise its existence. But, it is difficult to measure, especially when those doing the measuring are bureaucrats or technocrats, not themselves poor.

Defining Poverty Remains a Challenge

Defining poverty in India has been a contentious exercise. In 1943, while India was still ruled by the British, the Bengal Famine resulted in deaths of three million of Indians due to starvation and disease [15]. Such was the severity of destitution in northeast and east India that entire villages became extinct! This happened despite increased agricultural output in southern India. Prior to 1943, too, India experienced famines every 5 to 8 years through the late 19th and early 20th century. Until 2005, poverty continued to be thought of in terms of food security. Computations were made on the basis of calories required for survival and corresponding income needed to purchase those calories. In 1970s and 80s, poverty was used to create political slogans during election seasons. As per India’s official poverty line in 1970s, the country’s rural poverty rate exceeded 50%. By 1990s, there was little reliability of poverty estimates, partly due to differences in the methodology being deployed. For instance, one source reported that in 1994 35% Indians lived below poverty line, while another source reported the figure to be 77% in late 1990s [16].

The definition of poverty continues to be controversial in India. In 2005, India adopted Suresh Tendulkar methodology for computation of poverty. This method moved away from computing poverty in terms of calories needed for survival to a basket of goods used in rural and urban regions that is minimally essential for such existence. Based on this, the Tendulkar Panel recommended in 2011-12 that India’s poverty line be fixed at Rs 27 in rural areas and Rs 33 in urban areas. These were the levels at which obtaining two meals a day could be a challenge. According to the Tendulkar method of computation, 25.7% of rural India and 13.7% of urban India was below the poverty line, with 21.92% of India’s total population, or 270 million citizens, being poor. In 2014, a new panel, headed by Chakravarthi Rangarajan, revised Tendulkar Panel’s poverty lines from Rs.27 to Rs.32 in rural areas and from Rs 33 to Rs 47 in urban areas. This resulted in 363 million Indians, or 29.5% of the total population, being classified as poor, an increase of 35% over Tendulkar Panel’s estimates. According to the revision, the number of urban Indians below the poverty line is 102.5 million, not 53 million estimated by the earlier panel [17]. In 1990, the World Bank, too, revised its definition of poverty. It set a benchmark of US$1.00 per day income, based on the purchasing power parity. This figure was changed to US$1.25 per day as the international poverty line for 2005 through 2013 [18]. Based on this benchmark, the World Bank estimated that in 2011 India had 276 million living below the international poverty line [19].

The Cult of the IITians

In 1946, Nehru wrote of the appalling poverty of undivided India, “… there was lack of food, of clothing, of housing and of every other essential requirement of human existence …” [20]. He believed that technology would be critical to solving India’s poverty. Jawaharlal Nehru was convinced that engineering and technology were essential to India’s advancement. Also, he had no doubt that Indians would advance in science and technology. Recognising the need for high quality technical human resources, Indian leaders such as Humayun Kabir, Sir Jogendra Singh and Dr.Bidhan Chandra Roy responded to Sir Ardeshir Dalal’s pre-independence vision, and formed the Sir Nalini Ranjan Sarkar Committee to prepare a proposal for technical education in India [21]. Their work led to the establishment of the first Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Kharagpur in 1951. Subsequently, the second IIT was established in Bombay in 1958, followed by the third in Kanpur and the fourth in Madras, both in 1959. Already there are 16 IITs in the country. The establishment of these institutions, along with a host of other engineering and technical institutions, anticipated the enormous need for technical human resources for the development of the country.

Educators entrusted with determination of content, design, and delivery of the curriculum that prepared technical professionals face enormous challenges. They are responsible for the development of individuals, whose works affect humanity no less than the practice of professionals whose fields are based on life and social sciences, such as medicine and psychology. The works of engineers, management scientists and decision makers have life and death implications for members of society no less than the work of medical doctors and others. The curriculum designers and teachers of various engineering fields seek to impart a vast range of competencies to students, within the limited period of time the students spend at their institute or university. These competencies include the ability to apply functional knowledge of mathematics, sciences, and engineering; design and implement controlled experiments in addition to making natural observations, from which to collect and analyse meaningful data; and, design systems and processes with functional capacities, within economic, environmental, social, political, health and safety, manufacturability, sustainability, and ethical constraints. Additionally, the graduate professionals are expected to understand the histories, aspirations, and human condition of the people affected by their works and creation.

Whether the displaced leave the area or stay, they are forced to give up their cashless society and made to compete in cash-based economic systems, generally ill-suited for survival in resulting industrial centres, with inadequate capacities and skills, and lost social status.

Students are subjected to a highly demanding screening process for admission to the IITs and other exceptional technical institutions and universities of India, to guarantee a high degree of scientific, technical and engineering aptitude. IITs admit less than two percent of aspiring students. How are these students to be sensitised to the impact that heroic engineering and technical solutions might have on the most vulnerable segments of the society? Nehru worried whether Indian engineers would remain focused on the task of advancing the country towards prosperity for all. In 1959, he fretted and wondered, “Gaining power through industrial processes, will they lose themselves in the quest of individual wealth and soft living? [22]” The implication for education of engineers was clear. Nehru wanted to link “the scientific approach” of engineering with “the urge for creation, the urge to make and produce new things for the common good.” Engineering and technical curriculum in India needed to be rooted in liberal arts and humanities. The need was for there to be a balance in the professional, the personal, and the practical sense of engineering solutions. As they set out to seek creative solutions to India’s challenges, Indian engineers needed to be reflective practitioners, who had a positive attitude and personal relationships with those affected.

It is often acknowledged that in their mission and design, IITs took inspiration from the finest institutions in the West, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, Cornell University, Georgia Institute of Technology, and such. While we have tended to emulate western, mostly American, institutions in the designing of India’s technical education, need we do the same to educate our engineers in liberal arts and humanities disciplines? While the short history of the United States and the British colonies in North America can reasonably be stretched out to about four centuries, the experience of the civilization of the Indian subcontinent can be traced back at least about 5,000 years! The earliest remains of ancient India show a highly advanced form of culture, great trading communities, coinage, huge walled cities, strategically designed functional and defensive fortifications, and well-developed social structures [23]. In 321-296 BC, Kautilya had already discussed public administration strategies to manage a wide range of human conditions in his work on the science of polity called the Arthashastra. Liberal arts education of Indian engineers should take full benefit of the literature of the West, but not at the cost of neglecting India’s own rich experience. Let us first consider what impact India’s modern industrial scale development has on the poor.

Understanding the Burden of the Poor

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Much of the progress that impacts the farmer comes from building of dams. Hundreds of dams have been built in India since it became independent. However, dam building has a dark side. In the process of providing irrigation to vast areas of land, producing much needed energy to fuel the growing industrial appetite of the country, providing much needed drinking water, controlling devastating floods, and bringing about India’s green revolution, dams inundate land and displace people, and destroy their cultures and way of life. Besides being immensely expensive, dams destroy ecosystems, social structures, economic systems and so on [24]. The Bhakra-Nangal project submerged 17,800 hectares of land drowning 371 villages including Bhakra itself. These displaced 36,000 people in 7,206 families. Of these, 5,027 families took cash compensation and left the area, their lives changed forever. The remaining population was resettled within the area.Additional 4,000 were displaced when the township of Bilaspur was submerged [25]. Whether the displaced leave the area or stay, they are forced to give up their cashless society and made to compete in cash-based economic systems, generally ill-suited for survival in resulting industrial centres, with inadequate capacities and skills, and lost social status. To them it does not matter how the policy makers compute how many in India are poor.

The Narmada River basin is home to nearly 21 million people. Its largest dam, the Sardar Sarovar dam, will submerge 37,000 hectares of land in Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh. According to unofficial estimates, the Sardar Sarovar dam alone has displaced 320,000 people [26]. As with all dams, these, too, will displace the most vulnerable population, the small-scale farmers, whose lands will be submerged and traditional, often cashless, lifestyles will be destroyed. In the name of “national interest,” “public interest” and “greater good,” these poor become poorer. The consequences of dam-building are usually unjust to the displaced. Once again, Bhagwati Charan Verma effectively describes the hardship of a poor farmer struggling to survive and support his family [27]:

पशु बनकर नर पिस रहे जहाँ, नारियाँ जन रहीं हैं गुलाम ,
पैदा होना फिर मर जाना, बस यह लोगों का एक काम !
था वहीं कटा दो दिन पहले गेंहूँ का छोटा एक खेत !
… … …
… … …
वह था उसका ही खेत, जिसे उसने उन पिछले चार माह,
अपने शोणित को सुखा-सुखा, भर-भरकर अपनी विवश आह,
तैयार किया था और घर में थी रही रुग्ण पत्नी कराह !

Where men in labour grind, women are bonded slaves,
Where the cycle of birth and death persistently prevail,
There, just two days ago, was a tiny wheatfield harvested
… … …
… … …
It was that very farmer’s field, who, for these past four months
Had nurtured it with his blood, and countless futile sighs,
Worked the field, while at home, his ill wife groaned in pain.

Devoid of hope, farmers consider terminating their lives. In 2014, 5650 farmers in India committed suicide. In 2012, however, the rate was higher. While 60% of India depended on the agricultural sector, farmer suicides accounted for 11.2% of all those who chose to terminate their own lives in India. That amounted to 13,755 farmers out of a total of 135,445 people who committed suicide. Various factors have been cited as contributing to incidences of suicides, including debt, alcohol addiction, low produce prices, stress, apathy, poor irrigation, cost of cultivation, crop failures, and others. Indebtedness and loss of economic status are major risk factors for farmers opting to kill themselves [28].

To understand the human condition of India’s poor, IITians would do well to become familiar with the works of Indian literary titans, who have observed and effectively captured the needs, aspirations, struggles, and pain of India’s poor. One such great writer is Dhanpat Rai Srivastav, better known to many as Munshi Premchand. He was born in 1880, nine years before Jawaharlal Nehru. Premchand died in 1936, merely 56 years old, just a couple of months before Edward VIII abdicated as King of the United Kingdom and Emperor of India. Indians regarded Munshi Premchand as Upanyas Samrat, or the “Emperor of Novels.” He authored over a dozen of novels, about 250 short stories, several essays and translations of foreign works into Hindi. His political awareness was influenced by Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and Mahatma Gandhi.The social experiences that shaped his life came through living in Kanpur, Gorakhpur, Benaras, and very briefly in Mumbai. He passed away just as he was being recognised as one of the greatest writers of Hindi literature. The year he died, he was elected as the first President of the Progressive Writers’ Association in Lucknow. The same year he published his most celebrated work, गोदान (Godaan), or ‘The Gift of the Cow,’ a novel that explores the socio-economic deprivation and exploitation of a poor farmer. Regarded by many as one of the finest examples of Hindi literature, this book was published mere three years before John Steinbeck published another classic, The Grapes of Wrath, a powerful work about the poverty of a tenant farmer fighting deprivation and exploitation, and searching for dignity on the other side of the globe, during the period of the Great Depression in the United States.

The story of Godaan revolves around acquisition of a cow by a poor farmer, Hori, who is motivated by his desire to satisfy his devoted wife’s dream of owning one, just as other respectable farmers do. To make the acquisition, Hori takes on a debt. Thus begins a chain of events affecting interactions between him and his relatives, affected by greed, jealousy, suspicion, and the ongoing effort to live an upright life in dignity. Hori’s younger brother, in a fit of jealousy, poisons the cow. It dies. The poor farmer takes an additional loan to bribe the police to save his brother from the law. Then, his son impregnates and elopes with a child-widow of another caste. Another loan is taken to pay off the penalties imposed by village elders. Other challenges follow, such as the payment to the priest at the wedding of his daughter. His debts multiply. His health deteriorates due to overwork, stress, and worry. As he finally dies, his goals and desires are partially met. The novel takes on a number of social issues. These include caste segregation and exploitation, interpersonal relationships complicated by external social trends, exploitation of women, adverse impact of industrialisation, and the impact of the urban population on the rural farmer [29].

A Suggestion for the Education of IITians

Recently, Jairam Ramesh, a graduate of IIT Bombay, who was the Minister of Environment in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government, stated that India must continue to grow at 7.5 to 8% a year for the next 15 years. Already, India’s electricity consumption accounts for over half of its greenhouse gas emissions. Nuclear energy is unlikely to provide the extra power needed. In an interview, Mr Ramesh told the New York Times reporter Eduardo Porter that, “By 2030 India’s coal consumption could triple or quadruple.” India hopes to produce 40% of its electricity from non-fossil fuels by 2030. It would also like to increase its forest cover substantially. These are highly ambitious goals. Mr Ramesh exhorts the country to be aggressive, stating, “India must view the era of the green economy not as a threat to its developmental plans … Instead, it must be viewed as an opportunity to build and demonstrate technological capability to the world [30].” The burden of bringing such ambitions to reality will fall on IITians and their contemporary engineers.

There exists an excellent opportunity in the IIT curriculum to effectively familiarise the students with the needs of India’s poor. Each student at IIT Bombay must develop a thesis toward partial fulfilment of the respective degree requirements. This thesis plays a critical role in the education of an IITian by forcing the student to reflect on the acquired knowledge. It has been said that we do not learn from an experience per se, but rather from our reflecting on that experience. Commonly a technical or design problem is assigned to the student. Usually, this problem describes an industrial challenge. For instance, a student aspiring to a BTech in chemical engineering might design a plant and process of manufacture of some chemical product needed by the society. As an alternative, the problems assigned to the students for such purposes should demand reflection not only on the acquired technical knowledge but also on their liberal arts and humanities education. Assignments could be drawn from a range of issues confronting the small-scale farmer and other village dwellers. A student hoping to be awarded a BTech in civil engineering could be asked to design a series of small-scale, local or regional dams to replace a single colossal structure that would flood numerous communities in one go; or design localised renewable energy sources based on, say, solar or bio-gas technologies to work the farms. Students working toward their BTech in electrical engineering might be assigned the task of developing solar-energy based robotic-technologies applied to control infestation by pests, such as rodents. To encourage buy-in from the farmers, the students should be exhorted to come up with cost-effective and simple solutions to the assigned problems. Simplicity would enhance understanding by the farmers and would produce solutions that are deemed elegant by them! Additionally, students could be encouraged to fulfil their summer training requirements through practical experiences in India’s villages. This would bring them into direct contact with the population cohort that needs their attention. Motivating students through competitions and awards to develop technologies for rural India might even lead to start of lucrative ventures!

India can meet the 21st century as a modern developed country with a healthy economy only if it lifts the living standard of all its citizens, including the poor in the rural areas. IITs are central to finding working technical solutions that meet the needs of rural India. These solutions must be based on the immediate as well as long-term needs of those living in rural communities. It is imperative that the education of IITians expands to include India-centred liberal arts that can enrich and give direction to their technical studies and point technical solutions to the urgent needs of the rural poor in India, today. At the heart of their efforts, IITians must remember both, Nida Fazli’s admonition, alluding to Nehru’s Discovery of India [31], in reference to his own discovery at a railway station [32]:

स्टेशनपरख़त्मकीभारततेरीखोज
नेहरूनेलिखानहींकुलीकेसरकाबोझ

At the station, O India,
Your search I did end!
Nehru did not write about
The burden on the coolie’s head!

And Munnawwar Rana’s reminder that one is not poor by choice [33]

बोझउठानाशौककहाँहै, मजबूरीकासौदाहै
रहते-रहतेइस्टेशनपरलोगकुलीहोजातेहैं

Burdens are carried not for sport,
Not for pleasure, but coerced.
At the station persistently
Subsisting men become coolies.


[1] Bhagwati Charan Verma, भैंसागाड़ी, Kavitakosh. http://www.kavitakosh.org//kk/भैंसागाड़ी_/_भगवतीचरण_वर्मा. Seen on November 10, 2015.
[2] All Hindi to English translations are by the author.
[3] BhagwatiCharanVerma, भैंसागाड़ी, Kavitakosh. http://www.kavitakosh.org//kk/भैंसागाड़ी_/_भगवतीचरण_वर्मा. Seen on November 10, 2015.
[4] “Great speeches of the 20th century”. The Guardian. 8 February 2008; http://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/series/greatspeeches. Seen on November 10, 2015.
[5] List of million-plus urban agglomerations in India, Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_million-plus_urban_agglomerations_in_India. Seen on November 10, 2015.
[6] Agricultural irrigated land (% of total agricultural land), The World Bank. http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/AG.LND.IRIG.AG.ZS/countries. Seen on November 10, 2015.
[7] Eduardo Porter, “India is caught in a climate change quandary,” The New York Times, November 10, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/11/business/economy/india-is-caught-in-a-climate-change-quandary.html?_r=0. Seen on November 10, 2015.
[8] Hydroelectric power in India, Wikipedia. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydroelectric_power_in_India. Seen on November 10, 2015.
[9] Hydroelectric power in India, Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydroelectric_power_in_India. Seen on November 10, 2015.
[10] Bhakra Dam, Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhakra_Dam. Seen on November 10, 2015.
[11] Bhakra Nangal Dam. http://bhakranangaldam.com/. Seen on November 10, 2015.
[12] Narmada River, Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narmada_River. Seen on November 11, 2015.
[13] Nisha Kapadia (2004). “India’s Greatest Planned Environemntal Disaster: The Narmada Valley Dam Projects”. Environmental Justice Case Studies Series. Ann Arbor, Michigan: School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan. Seen on September 20, 2010 at: http://www.umich.edu/~snre492/Jones/narmada.html.
[14] SmitaNarula (2008). The Story of Narmada BachaoAndolan: Human Rights in the Global Economy and Struggle against the World Bank. Working Paper No. 08-62, Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper Series. New York, NY: School of Law, New York University. Seen on September 20, 2010 at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1315459/.
[15] Madhushree Mukherjee (2010). Churchill’s Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India during World War II. New York: Basic Books.
[16] Poverty in India, Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poverty_in_India. Seen on November 12, 2015
[17] Mahendra K. Singh (2014) “New poverty line: Rs 32 in villages, Rs 47 in cities’” The Times of India, July 7, 2014. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/New-poverty-line-Rs-32-in-villages-Rs-47-in-cities/articleshow/37920441.cms. Seen on November 12, 2015
[18] Martin Ravallion, Shaohua Chen and PremSangraula (2008). “Dollar a Day Revisited.” The World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/4499/wber_23_2_163.pdf?sequence=1. Seen on November 12, 2015.
[19] The World Bank (2015). A measured approach to ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity. World Bank Group. p. 50.https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/20384/9781464803611.pdf. Seen on November 12, 2015.
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[22] Lord Blackett of Chelsea (1971). Aspects of India’s Development. Fourth in a series of Lectures in memory of Jawaharlal Nehru. Delivered at the Royal Society on 7th December 1971. https://www.cambridgetrust.org/assets/documents/Lecture_4.pdf. Seen on November 11, 2015.
[23] Basham, A. L. (2004). The Wonder That was India. London: Picador.
[24] Ravi Hemadri (1999). “Dams, Displacement, Policy and Law in India.” Prepared for Thematic Review 1.3: Displacement, Resettlement, Rehabilitation, Reparation and Development.Cape Town: South Africa: World Commission on Dams.
[25] Ramesh Bhatia and R.P.S. Malik (2008). “Bhakra multipurpose dam system, India,” In Ramesh Bhatia, Rita Cestti, Monica Scatasta and R.P.S. Malik (eds), Indirect Economic Impacts of Dams: Case Studies from India, Egypt, and Brazil. New Delhi: Academic Foundation.
[26] Narmada Valley Project, http://coe.mse.ac.in/nm.htm
[27] Bhagwati Charan Verma, भैंसागाड़ी, Kavitakosh. http://www.kavitakosh.org//kk/भैंसागाड़ी_/_भगवतीचरण_वर्मा. Seen on November 10, 2015.
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[31] Jawaharlal Nehru (1946). The Discovery of India. Oxford University Press.
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3 comments

ZIA May 15, 2017 - 2:32 pm

Wonderful work. Such people should be made advisor to Govt of India.

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इंसान December 6, 2018 - 12:07 am

Home sick, Dr. Krishna Dhir almost forgot to mention how did Nehru visualize the graduates of his educational factories would help build India that to this day runs like Bhagwati Charan Verma’s भैंसागाड़ी for two third of its population obliged to receive food grains under the National Food Security Act of 2013. Although Nehru’s Indian National Congress did not make particular mention of his कमाऊ पूत abroad yet one can easily sense their export quality in “The IIT Bombay Job Board is a free job posting site offered by the IIT Bombay Heritage Fund (IITBHF) and the IIT Bombay Alumni Association (IITBAA) to give employers access to thousands of our alumni located across the world!”

Come help India without indulging in the politics of yesteryears. In those days no one dared to complain except in poetry or political cartoons mostly said or illustrated in lighter vein. Most of all, give them a common native language so that they can communicate among themselves as a nation and work for each other. Nevertheless, I understand and appreciate Dr. krishna Dhir’s concern for the poor Indians and his advise to those who can help.

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इंसान December 7, 2018 - 9:30 pm

Progressive Writers’ Association along with Congress Socialist Party and Kisan Sabha may have dominated Indian psyche and later even gained support of Indian masses but they were devised to keep India in the shackles of poverty so as to allow a select group of Indians educated in English medium schools, colleges, universities, and other institutions of learning in India to help perpetuate the Raj under the proxy rule by Nehru’s Indian National Congress.

When early graduates from the so-called institutions of higher learning first submitted their research papers for publication in foreign journals in the Western world, and later themselves followed a destiny for पापी पेट पालने के लिए (borrowed from the editorial team with care not to kill देवनागरी, the soul of the Hindi language by Roman transliteration.) their knowledge failed to provide any benefits to poor Indians.

Over the years, the situation has become so bad that it can best be illustrated by a simple phrase, “paapi pet paalnekeliye” neither an average Indian can read nor a foreigner understand! But, then, who benefits? The answer, if at all sought, can help understand the poverty in India.

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