ARTICLES : Gandhian view on Economics

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Economic Reform and Social Degradation

By Balamurali Balaji


Over the last two decades, India has witnessed series of economic reforms through various policies and promotional efforts from the government. Private industries, corporate and traders have seen a drastic changes in the way they operate their business and dramatic effects so long been considered as dreams. The nation’s economy has witnessed gradual growth in terms of increased GDP and PCI with the lowering of inflation. The produces in the agricultural and industrial sector has reached the top levels with more of exporting prospects and higher prices in the domestic market. Globalization facilitated people to connect and work beyond their reaches improving their economy and standard of life. They could have access to internationally acclaimed products and services, processes and technologies allowing them to replicate the same in their domestic manufacturing and processing. The execution of reform policies and plans gets enveloped with shape and character, form and figure through proper training and methodologies as the younger generation at the proletariat levels effectively put them in use. Today, villages have access to satellite communication, wireless, Internet technologies, world-class schools, colleges and educational facilities besides playing an important role in hosting their large vacant lands for setting up of multi-national companies and factories. The economic reforms have boosted the wages and salaries at the local level with a special consideration to the earning potential and income of the farmers and agriculture-based workers. Even the middle-class, hitherto deemed as an all-time thorny class however creamy it is, sees this economic development as much-awaited boon that brings various fortunes in the form of enriched jobs and diversified business opportunities. As a whole, an average citizen of India has little to worry about what has happened at the economic front and to the money he has pocketed out of same, yet sophisticated work he has been doing all these years.
Believe it or not, economy has nothing to do with society, as many perceive. The commercial aspect of economy has little to do with the customer’s life as many economists believe that it generally has its implications only on their purchasing behavior and capacity. At the superficial point of view, one may not immediately distinguish the serious damage that has been caused at the social level due to economic restructuring. Indeed, people have no time to assess the situation as defiantly as in the days of closed economies and tighter jurisdictions for conducting day-to-day business. It is neither noticed how the society oversees these reforms nor the impact on social connections that were so long held morally and traditionally. One has to think over the increasing concern over the role of economic reforms, which had been enjoyed over the last few years, in social deformity and erosion of cultural values? Not that this apprehension be discussed in the perception of westernization factor that has involved in these economic reforms but the alterations occurred in the inherent social structure, values and belief existing in the society. This article is to discuss the modernization and transformation of ethics which had a tremendous impact on human relations and values in the society.
India in the past, even as a poor country and without any major reform activities, has withstood the economic recessions and financial deficits. It relied on its home productions which could fetch a high yield despite various external pressures. Not so long ago but only before a decade, it sees a sound economy, with global economic terms and trade balances showing positive numbers meeting our internal expectations. There is no scale to weigh the gains of such sudden twist in the economic activities which boosts the affluent image of the nation and the people as well. India and its people have entered in to top of the charts in the world’s leading destination for trade with newly budding multi-billionaires. However, the critical analysis from social activists pointing the declining of ethical values and social principles has put a blockade on developing such an image. They are more bothered about the impact of economic activities on the conventional morality of the people.
For instance, when Tatas wanted to establish their plant in Singur, West Bengal, a remote village off 300 kilometers from Calcutta, it was the traditional value of the land that came into controversy. The benefits such as economic growth, standard of life, job opportunities and modernization of the area were taken least for consideration by the local people. It is not the value of the land in rupees that mattered but the moralistic worth and cultural heritage of the land that stood with the sons of the soil which came in the middle of that economic reform. Industrialization in remote villages, so long been left as arid land used for nothing, is considered as a reformation and renovation of economy. But the society that is carved in and out of that industrialization merely reflects a large gathering of lives settled for work, food and enjoyment in spiteful ways. In real terms, it is not a society at all. It is a way of life newly created which might have no value of civilization, culture, tradition or ethnicity.
Today we see in our country many such “settlements”, not societies with social order. These “settlements” exist out of the need of those settled and who drove the people to settle on a temporary basis. The cultural and moral part of the society comes in to their homes as just winds blow in through one window and go out of another window. The business and economic conditions in such areas are far too pitiable to describe by any norms. It is much more dismal that these settlements are taken as examples to study and evaluate socio-economic progress.
Roads are becoming more important in deciding country’s economic progress. As a part of economic rebuilding, around 5000 Kilometers of Indian roads have been widened, re-laid with the use of modern technologies to meet international standards. New inter-connecting roads have been laid to support the high ways. Bridges and flyovers came over in and around the cities in support of this reformation of road system. The Department of Highways established toll booths to collect fees from the users of these roads to maintain them. Such a complete over-hauling and restructuring of roadways is seemed to be the most important reform India has done ever since her independence in 1947. Commuting and travel has become a larger by-product business as a result of such massive road constructions. Does anyone ever care of the underlying social impact these roads and bridges have made in people’s lives?
At the least one out of hundred road workers die out of injuries for every hundred kilometer length of road construction. At the least one construction worker dies for every five bridges and flyovers. As minimal as ten workers, get injured for every hundred kilometer of construction. These statistics are just approximation. But, if we come to know about the cause of such damages and deaths, we could measure the actual amount of loss in such incidents. The main reason is the ignorance, indifference and inadequate training in handling of modern machines and technologies used for construction purposes. Many unskilled workers are engaged into construction work, showing indifferent attitude towards the intricacies of work. They are not given proper training in the specified job skill and for the efficiency. Lack of adequate knowledge in the underlying minds that involve in such construction works is never considered as a prerequisite by the government and the builders as well. Had they, the killings due to collapse of bridges and flyovers in major cities such as New Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Chennai would have been prevented. Unfortunately, no social welfare organizations have seen these catastrophes as a social damage and degradation in spite of many protests been launched for seeking compensation for the health and safety of the workers. The associations and unions meant for road workers too work for commercial purposes rather than social causes of the unfortunate road workers. The poor workers do live a normal life; they travel long distances, from one state to another leaving their families and children causing a kind of social turmoil. Some of them, who take their entire family with them for work live on the roads, settle down even after completing their term of work thus becoming road-side dwellers. We could see such families living on the roadsides of India’s major cities. One could think of this condition as a simple example for how economic reforms degrade the social environment.
Economies built on the code of ethics alone can serve the society. As Mahatma Gandhi emphatically noted, “Commerce without morality” is a sin. The economy that resulted out of such unfair trade and commerce practices might surely be considered as a social evil rather than been acclaimed as a social upliftment. Free schemes announced by the governments are no less than such a sinful practice which creates a social disorder. Things like bi-cycles for school children, bus pass, kitchen utensils including stove and gas, computers and laptops, medical assistance etc. are some of the items and services which are offered free of cost or at subsidized prices to the public. Such schemes are announced by the governments whenever it feels that the state’s economic condition is marginally better. It is a known fact that not all the hundred percent of the downtrodden is addressed by any free or non-priced commodities offered through such plans. Again, it must be comprehended that it abets “social inequality” in terms of “have’s” and “have not’s” between those who “gained” and “not gained.” This bitter divide among the public is a direct outcome of a free offer for improving or ushering economic conditions of a common man. The social divide can also be perceived as a hidden political agenda of a ruling party which gather votes according to those who benefited.
Many researchers and political observers remark on such phenomenon as a political pest instead a trend that gradually degrades the social equality and harmony. The whole nuisance happening in ration shops, government offices and Panchayat or Municipality outlets in acquiring a scheme of things has so long been considered as a symbol of poverty but only very few observe it as a barrier for social equality. It also raises their eyebrows whether the economic reforms have really reached the masses at the grassroots. There is no relation between such social inequality and enmity cause due to the “forced divide” and the issues of social disparity, suppression of low caste and class etc. argued at various platforms. It is a micro-level menace being triggered out of economic compulsions and economic restructuring to certain extent.
Electronization is another by-product meted out as a means for economic growth and globalizing our economy. As a part of economic reforms, Information Technology has become a relevant means for performing our business processes and commercial activities in an efficient manner. IT enabled industries and sectors have mushroomed changing the way people live and work. Yet, it is not the concern. The underlying social structure, family values and individual conduct have largely been transformed into a neo-cultural, complicated façade of social web which could not be classified as under any known formulation or folklore. The beliefs are slowly withering away as the values are disregarded in the process of mechanization of life and work. Machines do all the work and social minds get occupied with the superfluous manipulations on money, mankind and markets. Social gatherings and person to person contacts have diminished to become a more simple form of networking through computers. Citizens have become Netizens. The touch, feel and sensual relationships have become twittering and chatting, merely reflecting a war of words most of the times. Literally, mankind’s’ century old, civilized socialization have become a illusory and intellectual warfare exchanging missiles of text, images, photos and videos over the net causing a social enigma among the classical thinkers and social reformers. Fairly enough, a reform needs to adhere to the principles of social ethics with a modern approach. But, the psychological and social alterations caused due to economic reforms through e-revolutionizing the society has barely been appreciated at large. Its despicable effect has started emerging slowly at certain quarters in the fields of economics, commerce and computers.
Jobs are getting scattered every where. People are relocating and moving hither and thither chasing the pertinent jobs they could sustain. The close bonding within the close relations and families are getting withered away, so as the reputation and status one upheld for years. People learn new habits and lifestyle leaving their routine way of life. New places and strange connections startle them shortly yet get to be ignored due to lack of time for thinking about it. People get used to the new environment embracing new social atmosphere. Altogether, it is all a new beginning. A beginning for building a new economy for their own, forgetting their social conscientiousness!
If there is any scheme that hinders the social harmony in multiple ways, it must be FDI. Remote controlling the business environment in multi-national companies by foreign companies and investments have laid a basis for bringing FDI into small scale sectors. The success rate seen by the MNCs may not repeat in SSIs. Unlike MNCs, Foreign Direct Investments in small scale industrial sector deprive the rights and pride of an average Indian businessman. It leads them into a den of all sorts of illegitimate, unethical actions if not he is prepared or equipped to direct the investments in a moralistic manner. The argument that only 49% of the stake is owned by foreign parties might be economically or financially right. But in practice, such an arrangement would not be ideally running without bothering the social ethics of both the business and its environment. FDIs might build economy at micro-levels, but there is no guarantee that monetary transactions would happen only in legal ways. Produces out of FDIs still need to come to local market only, not the International market. Above all, indigenous capital for any business alone can determine the sales, profit and stability of the business. That is the basic business mantra.
Economic development has hit the educational institutions as well. Ever since the British occupied India, education in this country is semi-modern and stereo-typed as many modern educationists believe. The economic power attained by radical reforms allows us to see education through modern eyes filled with lots of dreams and exuberance. Education has increasingly become smart and internationalized. Globalized education allows us to learn what is required to “do” rather than what is required to “live”. The new system claims to be covering all forms of child education, spiritual, physical, mental and psychological. The attractive schooling and gorgeous class rooms continue woo the people to experience the new methodologies but it hardly fit in to our socio-cultural patterns. Not many people have looked this modern education as a plus as they began to wonder how and where it would lead their children when it grows. Some of us have already become stranded within our society due to transcendental shuttling of work and education under various, contrasting conditions. Society and Education were intermingled and complementary to each other in those days. Today, schools are established out side the town, external to the social environment in remote lands. Every student travels at least 5 to 10 kilometers per trip a day to get his school education. We are lost in our own world. We don’t see the “Indian” brand among the school children. We are engulfed with the enhanced hunger for economic power that frantically drives us all around such rationalized, neo-modern educational institutions and workplaces, with no honest awareness on the un-societal smoke engulfing around the individuals and families. As a result, education has slowly become a demoralized trade compelled upon every child from its very nascent age.
Gandhi’s economic vision was aimed at the removal of exploitation, economic inequality and a world order based on war. He conceptualized the ideas of cooperation and sharing, universal participation in physical labour, voluntary limitation of wants, decentralization of economic activities, a new technology called “Swadeshi” in consonance with the new goals, and the transformation of private ownership into trusteeship. Our economic reforms are no inferior to these tenets put forth by Gandhiji. Yet, there exists a huge difference between those in terms of social contribution. While Gandhiji was criticized for wanting the people in the state of perpetual poverty and demanding self-disciplined austerity from them, today’s economic reforms put us in a state of spurious prosperity and communal disorderliness. His economic policies were in line with the social desire for freedom from the British Raj and were part of the freedom struggle movement. Today’s economic policies are at the behest of international pressures and the common man finds no need for them. Gandhiji wanted to build social justice and welfare amalgamated with economy where as today’s economic policies dictates terms on its own, not evolving out of any social means but for political pragmatism.
Economic restructuring is a welcome process, which forms a part of globalization. It demands us to relinquish our age-old practices and faiths. It can’t be defied at its very beginning. Every individual has got their own hard times in facing this new economic order. One needs to sacrifice something to see a positive change in their lives. This common belief runs into the lives of billions of Indians who experience the economic reforms in practice. It is the collective impact and the magnitude of damage it generates in the society as a whole must be appraised. It would be more appropriate in all aspects to judge and weigh the effect of economic reforms during the current, post-globalization era. A decade of shift in our economic activities is an ample period for assessing the social perspective of the economy. With all the ups and pros, society has still hold a discontent and frustrated living in certain quarters. The “common man” might have shut his voice while muddling through changing economic strides as gentle as before but with a dubious conviction. The success of the economic reforms is challenged thus. And, the society defies it strongly in terms of sustaining its integrity and values.

Founder & Primary Consultant, The Centre for Information Technology and Gandhian Philosophy of Nonviolence and Peace, Mettur Dam – 636 402 Salem District, Tamilnadu,India