Jul 30 2014

Does India need a single textbook?

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Meeta Sengupta argues that while the single government texbook is a useful (or simply unavoidable) tool for learning, there are dangers to having one narrative and dependence on textbooks must reduce beyond primary education.

This article originally appeared in the Daily Pioneer.

Giving one author or publisher of books authority over knowledge dissemination for an entire generation does sound dangerous when put like that. But this is exactly what designated textbooks do, especially when organised by a national authority. India is not alone in having standardised textbooks, nor is it the only one to have controversies about the content of its textbooks. Yet, it does seem to be one of the few countries where teachers accept the changes without expressing their professional opinion on them. In countries such as England the changes to the history textbooks were received with much protest against the “Stalinisation” of the curriculum.

Textbooks are one clear way of sharing a single narrative across thousands, nay, millions of classrooms in one sweep. They are also — for the very same reason — a great tool to ensure that all children get the same level of education, regardless of location or economic capacity of the school. But here lies the catch: The best schools do not rely only on textbooks to deliver learning; they have access to great libraries, excellent teachers, Internet-based resources, school tours and exchanges and so much more to add to the perspective that the textbooks provide. Again, it is those with fewer resources who are trapped in the single narrative provided by a national authority.

There is a great deal of good in having a basic low-cost textbook at especially in the younger years. The NCERT textbooks provide vast amounts of knowledge at the cost of a basic roadside meal or the daily wage at the poverty line designated by the government. But in trying to create a low-cost ecosystem there have been compromises on quality. The rate for editing a government agency textbook is five-to-10 per cent of a commercial editor’s rate. Peanuts and monkeys come to mind.

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Jul 29 2014

Short essays from LSE students in India

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This post originally appeared on LSE Careers

Every year a number of LSE students are selected for Daphne Giacherothe Tata ISES scheme and spend several months in India working on a range of development and social enterprise related projects. Many of them take part in an essay writing competition where they share some Darceyof their insights and observations about the projects they are working on and their cultural experiences.

Essays are by the Tata ISES interns from LSE, Cambridge and UC Santa Cruz who are working on sustainability projects at Tata companies. You can read and rate the essays online here.

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Jul 28 2014

Building the future? For whom?: Migrant female construction workers and the capacity to aspire in Bangalore

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Becky Bowers discusses her research, which will seek to address the darker and often unheard counter narratives to ‘Bangalore rising’ by exploring the experiences of female construction workers in India’s tech capital.

Lauded as India’s ‘city of the future’, Bangalore is being remade according to technocratic vision. However, with its frequent water and electricity shortages, diminishing green spaces and traffic jams that have become the stuff of legend, the city has become enmeshed within a series of competing public discourses. These often paradoxical narratives incorporate both nostalgia for the ‘garden city’ of the past, and aspirations for a futuristic technopolis. What are the implications of these debates for those unable to participate in them? Who is responsible for building the city of the future and to whom does this vision belong?

The hierarchal nature of the global knowledge economy means that informal and manual workers are often overlooked as co-contributors. This obfuscation has considerable socioeconomic implications for the non-elite citizens of Bangalore as various sources (see, for example, Gopalan 2011, Narayanareddy 2011 or Nair 2005) have illustrated. Subaltern citizens are often discounted from the design, accessibility and democracy of the city. The demand for IT parks, shopping malls, and gated developments create off-limit areas for the urban poor, whilst simultaneously encroaching on their living space.

Through their acts of consumption, engagement with civic authorities and the very buildings they live and work in, migrant IT workers have a highly visible presence and impact upon the landscape and evolution of contemporary Bangalore. However, the presence of thousands of migrant construction workers who are physically building the hi-tech city largely goes unnoticed. The fact that only 25,000 of Bangalore’s 600,000 construction workers are officially registered within Karnataka state highlights this invisibility.

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Jul 25 2014

Book Review: Forged in Crisis: India and the United States Since 1947 by Rudra Chaudhuri

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Rudra Chaudhuri’s book aims to examine a series of crises that led to far-reaching changes in India’s approach to the United States, defining the contours of what is arguably the imperative relationship between America and the global South. Ram Mashru finds this a richly detailed history of Indo-US ties, one that is enriched by providing an “Indian reading” of the relationship and that presents a nuanced but optimistic forecast for its future.

This posts first appeared on LSE Review of Books.

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Rudra Chaudhuri’s Forged in Crisis, a history of India-US relations, is remarkably prescient. Its publication at the end of 2013 coincided with a bitter spat between New Delhi and Washington over the arrest of Devyani Khobragade, an Indian consular official working in New York, for the alleged underpayment of a domestic worker. Since then the book has gained fresh topicality: last month India elected a new government headed by Narendra Modi – leader of the nationalistic Bharatiya Janata Party – whose views towards the US and his approach to foreign policy more generally remain largely unknown.

In response to the Khobragade debacle, then Indian cabinet minister Shashi Tharoor asked if “an era of steadily improving ties between the two countries has come to an end?” This anxiousness is certainly not new. “Estranged democracies” was how Dennis Kux chose to describe the relationship in the title of his seminal 1993 book on the subject, and for plausible reasons: during the Cold War India was understood to be a Soviet sympathiser, the presentation of India in the American press has long been unfavourable and, historically, India has been hostile towards what it considers to be American intervention in its neighbourhood through, for example, the sale of arms to Pakistan.

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Jul 23 2014

India’s silence over the conflicts in the Middle East points to the prioritisation of economics over politics

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Deepanshu Mohan argues the (lack of) response to the current situation in the Arab world highlights that economics is too often given priority over politics. He calls for the emerging powers of the developing world to start taking a more active diplomatic role in clashes such as the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The art of diplomacy is traditionally defined as the practice of conducting negotiations between representatives of recognised states. The practice involves the conduct of  international relations through the arbitration of professional diplomats with regard to issues of peace-making, trade, wareconomicsculture, the environment and human rights. In practice, diplomacy involves the successful use of tact to gain strategic advantage or to find mutually acceptable solutions to a common challenge.

The Camp David Accord and the Treaty of Portsmouth are examples of such successful negotiation: processes that were convened by nations to settle a dispute between specific parties. However, if we look at the current state of the Arab world, it would seem that negotiation processes have failed or have been consciously allowed to fail. Hundreds and thousands have died in Syria, Iraq and Gaza, concurrently endangering lives of many more fleeing or living at the edge of the chaos. This raises questions about the nature of diplomacy today.

The safe return of 46 nurses from the ISIS in Iraq back to India might be seen as a victory for India’s diplomatic negotiations but is that all a nation’s responsibility towards its migrant residents is about? The diplomatic success of sovereign authorities should not be measured merely by the ability to successfully combat hostage situations within conflict zones or ensure backchannel arrangements for the same. For example, the security of the million Indian migrant workers working in Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Oman is the responsibility of the same Indian authorities. It is also their duty to take a diplomatic stand against what is transpiring in Israel-Gaza conflict. Unfortunately, in the case of India and many other nations, being “diplomatic” has become synonymous mistakenly with taking a neutral side or being politically dormant when it comes to international affairs.

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Jul 21 2014

Can film offer an(other) authoritative source of development knowledge?

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David Lewis, Dennis Rodgers, and Michael Woolcock discuss the depiction of development in film and outline some of the potential pitfalls associated with film as a representational medium for development concerns.

In recent years, relatively popular films such as Blood Diamond (2006) and The Constant Gardener (2005) have told stories that attempt both to entertain and to engage audiences with important global development issues. What is distinctive about how development issues are rendered in such films, as compared to scholarly publications and policy reports?

Our recent chapter aims to introduce the subject of cinema and development as a potentially fruitful area for future research. We draw on a range of personally selected historical and contemporary examples of dramatic (rather than documentary) forms of film in order to explore the power and limitations of cinematographic representation as an(other) authoritative source of development knowledge.

Film and development

Few feature films have been concerned directly with development interventions or projects led by NGOs. More common are films that engage tangentially with a variety of broader development issues – war, conflict and violence, humanitarianism, commerce, poverty, politics and more – as part of their setting or plot. One trope that emerges frequently, however, is contentious interaction between people from rich and poor countries. Indeed, the divide between rich and poor – or more precisely, between Westerners and “locals”, as most of the films we discuss tell their stories from a Western point of view – is arguably the key concern in most films that can be categorised as “development films”. Recent films such Blood Diamond (2006), The Constant Gardener (2005), The Hurt Locker (2008), or even Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace (2008), fall into this category. In addition to focusing on the divide between rich and poor and outsiders and locals, their narratives are soon complicated by additional storylines that centre on exposing and exploring the tensions within certain key groups – such as pharmaceutical companies, the military, the media, aid organisations, governments or citizen groups.

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Jul 18 2014

India fights for a pension: a campaigning success story

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Penny Vera-Sanso explores the successes that the Right to Food Campaign and others have achieved in pushing for pensions and greater security for older people.

India is home to around 104 million people aged over 60. Despite producing at least 50% of India’s GDP and despite contributing to the 4.5% growth rate – 90% of workers in India are trapped in low paid, insecure and pension-less work.

Pensions

Image credit: Penny Vera-Sanso

So, it is good news that, after many years of side-lining, social pensions returned to the political agenda; appearing on the manifestos of several national and regional parties during the 2014 election campaign.  This is a giant step forward but not one that is widely publicised.

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Jul 16 2014

Photo-notes from Varanasi: Reflections on youth engagement in the 2014 elections

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Tommaso Amico di Meane looks back on his experiences in Varanasi and reflects on the involvement of young people in the Lok Sabha elections.

Walking along the Ganges River for the first time was like visiting an outdoor cathedral hundreds of meters long. The people lining the banks interacted with the sacred waterway in their own manner: some meditated on the banks, others used it for washing and purification purposes while children played and enjoyed themselves with the vivacity typical of their age. The Ganga is not static as other sanctuaries or religious symbols, rather, it is alive, changing colour and even mood as it flows.

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Young playing cricket on a rooftop by the Ganges river, May 11 2014

I was in Varanasi (or Benares) to follow the last phase of India’s great elections. Chance decided that the city “older than history” (Mark Twain) would be the site of the last duel of the 2014 Indian Lok Sabha elections. On the Ganges rivers “David”, Arvind Kejriwal (Aam Aadmi Party) contested the seat of “Goliath”, Narendra Modi (Bharatiya Janata Party). The temperature – already around 45°C – further climbed after the unexpected Rahul Gandhi (Congress Party) “revenge” roadshow in Varanasi. This was launched after Modi broke the unwritten agreement of not campaigning directly within a rival’s constituency and staged a rally in the historical Nehru-Gandhi seat of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh. The atmosphere was vibrant as the eyes of India turned to focus on Varanasi once more.

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Jul 14 2014

Assessing India Inc.’s next target destination: Central Europe

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It is a stated fact that Indian private companies on their own are making great inroads in not only developed markets (UK, USA, Canada etc.) but also across emerging economies in Central Europe. Deepanshu Mohan explores the detail of India’s involvement in the region.

The Deloitte-CII report on Doing Business in Central Europe & India provides some great futuristic insight into the potential market strategies for the leading Indian businesses looking to expand their base in Europe through Central Europe. Which European countries have been considered as priority countries/covered in the expansion plans of these Indian businesses? What are the parameters largely influencing the decisions of these firms? These are some pertinent questions that I would be looking into here.

Source: Deloitte-CII Report p.25 (NB In the study done by Deloitte and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), only the 10 major Central European economies have been considered).

Source: Deloitte-CII Report p.25 (NB In the study done by Deloitte and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), only the 10 major Central European economies have been considered).

As evident from Figure 10 above, Switzerland, Poland and Czech Republic are considered as the top three priority markets by the Indian businesses looking at exploring this region for business development or by the companies already having some establishments in this area. Not surprisingly, these economies top the GDP figures among the Central European economies along with Austria and have fairly good growth prospects in the near future.

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Jul 11 2014

Regional distrust is fuelling water conflicts in South Asia

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The lack of a domestic vision for water in South Asia reinforces the zero-sum nature of international water disputes, argues Chatham House’s Gareth Price.

This post first appeared on The Third Pole blog.

Disputes over water threaten to aggravate tensions between countries in South Asia. Large parts of India and Pakistan already suffer from water stress and these pressures are likely to increase in the future.

A new report from Chatham House based on interviews of over 500 policymakers and senior representatives from the media, academia and the private sector across South Asia provides a snapshot of elite attitudes towards both domestic water management and international rivers. Chatham House worked with local research institutes in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan to establish how debates about water are framed in each country, and attitudes towards other countries sharing the same rivers.

Image Credit: flickr/Gary Denham

Image Credit: flickr/Gary Denham

Most of the people interviewed were downbeat about the current state of water management, and many were fearful for the future. Some of the challenges – such as pollution – are worsening because of industrialisation; others – declining per capita water availability, for instance – stem from population growth. Neither trend is easily reversible. With seasonal water availability already more variable, the human impact of climate change in the region could be momentous.

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