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Of Casteism, Hinduism, Hi-tech Jobs and Cricket

with 9 comments

What does caste, Hinduism, IT jobs and cricket (all with reference to India) have in common ? They feature in two recent examples of rank poor journalism and grossly ignorant (perhaps deliberate) misinterpretation of India by western journalists. Therefore, opportunities to rant !

In brief, exhibit A: according to Paul Beckett of Wall Street Journal, India’s corporate ladder has for years followed the strict Hindu caste systems, which has only been relaxed recently due to India’s economic resurgence (helped of course, by ‘international companies’) and the need to look beyond ‘traditional sources of employees’; and, exhibit B: Scyld Berry in the Sunday Telegraph makes the even more jaw-dropping contention that India’s cricket failure abroad stems from the Hindu fear of traveling overseas!!

Sigh ! How quickly can you say ‘colonial hangover’ ? Anyone ?

Now if you have stopped banging your head against the table or the wall nearest you, read on.

It gets hackneyed, but every once in a while you have to shake your head and marvel at how the mainstream media can resort to astoundingly low, scraping the barrel levels of journalism. Sadly, this is not the TOI or the Rediff comments section, its the supposedly venerable Wall Street Journal and the Telegraph of UK.

Take Beckett first He says:

But India’s rapid economic expansion — and its booming high-tech sector — are beginning to chip away at the historical system that reserved well-paying jobs for upper castes and menial jobs for Dalits. With annual gross-domestic-product growth exceeding 9%, companies that have hired tens of thousands of workers in recent years are looking beyond their traditional sources of employees. High-tech firms, both foreign and domestically based, are at the forefront of that search. As a result, some Dalits are rising into India’s middle class.
……..
Technology giant Infosys Technologies Ltd. now recruits from 700 colleges around India, many of them in semi-rural areas where lower-caste people often live, up from about 50 urban colleges 10 years ago, says T.V. Mohandas Pai, the company’s director in charge of human resources. “Today, a great number of the people whom we hire come from poorer backgrounds both economically and socially,” he says. “It is changing the ground rules in India.”

International companies are also having an impact. “We don’t give a damn about any of these differences in caste or religion,” says Ravi Venkatesan, chairman of Microsoft Corp.’s India unit. “It has made talent the number one issue for all companies.”

(emphasis mine)

Nothing wrong with the primary assertion mind you. With an improving economy, more people will get jobs, become richer and less will be any perceived differences (as pointed out by Amit Varma in this article). The problem is that Beckett insinuates quite wrongly, perhaps for the ‘gasp-factor’ from his American audience, that India’s corporations have actively discriminated against non-Brahminical castes. If that had been the case, none of my non-Brahminical parents and relatives, or grandparents for that matter, would have amounted to anything. If there has been bias, it has been with respect to the poorer sections of the society with little access to good education – both primary and higher (The failure to provide equitable education to all surely lies with the government).

Beckett provides no statistics to back his claims – his central thesis relies on are a couple of juicy anecdotes. And the only piece of hard information used (“An August 2006 study of technology workers at multinationals or sizeable Indian tech companies found that 86% came “from upper castes and/or economically better-off communities.”[see update below]) actually tosses out his hypotheses. There is an altogether total failure to account for economic inequities irrespective of castes in the article.

Perhaps it is stronger elsewhere, but neither in Kolkata, nor in the economically rising Hyderabad-Secunderabad twin cities or the bustling Mumbai (places where I have spent considerable time), have I ever observed caste-based discrimination in job sectors. The only places I have observed its effects is where it has been enforced by the government – in the colleges I attended. Of course, my version is completely anecdotal, that is to say, no different from Mr Beckett’s.

Even while I am a fan of capitalism and free-market economy, the single-minded conservative rhetoric of the WSJ often irritates me. But considering their target audience, I figure that’s how it should be. Additionally, their reporting on India/China etc is much better than the usual, ‘oh look at the poor third world’ New York Times’ condescension. Unfortunately, Paul Beckett’s article goes the NYT way and lacks any kind of serious credibility.

(For additional humor, do check out the helpful cartoons on the side of the article that serves as a ‘Castes for Dummies’ guide.)

[UPDATE]: Rohit pointed me in the direction of the actual study mentioned in the WSJ article . Two points emerge from it. Firstly, the study was conducted with a sample size of 132 software professionals, and in Bangalore only ! And secondly, even the authors of that study acknowledge:

It is no one’s case that the industry deliberately practices discrimination on the basis of regional, community or other such ‘ascriptive’ identities. But it should be recognised that the requirements of a ‘global’ offshore or outsourcing business tend to exclude those from non-urban and less privileged backgrounds, who lack the social and cultural capital required to work in a ‘global’ environment. Industry leaders themselves acknowledge that there is such a filtering process, in that they have repeatedly urged that appropriate ‘soft skills’ be taught in schools and colleges.

Which goes against Beckett’s hypotheses of active discrimination in the work-place. Additionally, before others jump on this, I am not saying that casteism does not exist or is not a problem in India, but pointing out that Beckett grossly exaggerates its effect in the Indian corporate and does not take into account economic conditions or the failure of the government in providing basic education. And all his assertions seem to be based on hearsay.

——————-

The next rant is against this article by Scyld Berry ahead of the India’s cricket tour to England. Berry points out that Indians have been poor tourists with an abysmal away record and that before the arrival of John Wright as the coach, senior players were a pampered lot and got away with bad fitness etc. Sadly, all that is quite true. Where Berry starts going loony is with this insane assertion:

Then there is the attitude to playing away from home, away from their comfort zone of porters and waiters. Wright does not say so, but the Hindu belief that one lost caste when crossing the sea may have helped to set Indian cricket abroad off on the wrong foot, where it has more or less remained ever since.

(via)

Heh ! One wonders if that belief rubs off the Muslim players that accompany the team as well. Also Pakistan is not really ‘overseas’ – but we have a dismal record against them!

But wait, it gets better – apparently India has been ‘saved’ by one Rahul Dravid, who is…

….an urbane south Indian who has played for Kent and Scotland and become a cricketer of the world as well as India’s captain.

Now, pray explain who/what is (a) an ‘urbane south Indian’ – as far as I know the majority of Indian cricketers are from urban areas, with only recently players emerging from non-metropolitan cities; and (b) how does one become a ‘cricketer of the world’ ? Just because that person has played in England (and Scotland) – he gets blessed with the title ? (as Rohit suggested, perhaps playing in England has made him overcome the Hindu fear of overseas).

Apart from the factual inaccuracies in the article, Berry goes overboard in trying to justify Dravid as the savior of Indian cricket. No one is doubting Dravid’s credentials and his immense contributions to the batting line-up and his presence on the field, but to say that he single handedly won the Headingly Test in 2002 is an exaggeration, in a match where Sachin and Sourav lead a savage assault on the English bowlers in the darkness of Day 2 evening (no doubt though about Dravid anchoring the innings early).

Btw, if you read the full report, you will be stuck by Mr Berry’s amazing powers of clairvoyance. He reads the minds of both John Wright (“Wright does not say so, but…”) and Rahul Dravid (“his reply was perfectly correct in what he said, but even more remarkable in what was unsaid…”). One wishes Mr Berry would use such superpowers to better uses.

What bothers me is how the theme in both articles are eerily similar – ah those poor Hindus with their entrenched caste systems and irrational superstitious beliefs etc. Further, how ironical is it that the opinions come from an American, in a country with a track record of slavery and discrimination till very recent times; and from an Englishman, because one wonder which tenets of Christianity makes the English cricket team such poor tourists to India and Pakistan ?

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Written by BongoP'o'ndit

June 25, 2007 at 9:14 pm

Posted in Cricket, Economics, India, MSM, Rants

9 Responses

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  1. […] Quite a mouthful, no? Bongop’o’ndit fisks as a couple of articles which sought to establish casteism in the Indian IT sector and even more weirdly; how Hinduism was preventing India from winning Cricket matches overseas!!! […]

  2. It is just fortunate that he did not latch on to the fact that most of the established stars like Dravid, Kumble, Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad, Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar, are all brahmins. If he had done that then the casteism argument would have stuck home!

    Raman

    June 25, 2007 at 11:52 pm

  3. Maybe Sunil Gavaskar will come up with an article on how England got off on the wrong foot with one day cricket. The gentlemen in the British team has never been comfortable with the idea of slam banging in the one day version of the game. This was epitomised during the coaching of Fletcher when the English cricket team had a spectacular Ashes (how many more times will we hear that? India beat Aussies in India in 2001. You dont hear us talking about it everytime we play a new test series.) and just couldn’t get bat on ball in one day cricket.

    Born a Libran

    June 25, 2007 at 11:54 pm

  4. Dude, It’s still possible that Dalits (not OBC’s) get a rough deal. Two issues I see:

    1. The moment I hear SC/ST, I would add a discount factor.
    2. English language skills (this is not Dalit specific; but rather urban/rural divide);

    The discount factor in point 1. approaches 1 with increasing familiarity with the person concerned. Point 2 is probbly becoming less severe an issue as well …

    Now, in the wsj article (havent read the other one yet), it does not strike me that any outlandish statements were made there, particularly regarding the condition of Dalits.

    Corporate Serf

    June 26, 2007 at 1:51 am

  5. @Raman: Yeah – we should have Beckett and Berry write an article together.

    @Born a Libran: Not only England keeps talking about that Ashes (even after the 0-5 drubbing), they actually gave some OBE or something to all the team members !

    @Corporate Serf: Like I mention in the article, Dalits could be getting a bad deal – but my problem with the article is that it is drawing a conclusion based on the stories on one or two people. There is no doubt that a rural/urban, English-speaking/non-English-speaking divide exists. Personal appearances, manner of talking and other such soft skills make a big difference. But that does not mean it is done intentionally on the basis of Brahminical superiority. But the latter is what the article is trying to imply.

    BongoP'o'ndit

    June 26, 2007 at 2:09 am

  6. Dude, I reread the article and still don’t get any clear implication that “Brahmanical superirority” is the cause of the Dalit/non-Dalit divide in modern corporate India.

    Lets chalk it up to differing perceptions and call it quits.

    Corporate Serf

    June 26, 2007 at 8:48 am

  7. and grossly ignorant (perhaps deliberate)

    Yes. It is usually prudent not to ascribe to malice that can be explained by ignorance, BUT western mainstream media coverage of non-white-land is quite often a tool in that not-so-subtle and all-important psyop — “Look how stupid and backward they are and here you are having another white guilt trip about killing them, invading their countries and forcing them to hoard our currencies, bonds and stocks. Don’t be silly.”

    dipanjan

    June 27, 2007 at 6:45 pm

  8. […] on India in the Western press have tended to highlight shortcomings or negatove aspect e.g. this earlier WSJ article I had talked about (and one could find more in Times, The Economist etc). Ironically, Mishra forgets that it was an […]

  9. […] bit fair perhaps, more accurately the caste-obsession of its writer Paul Beckett. I have ranted his earlier  inane WSJ article. This latest one is pretty terrible as well (H/T: Rohit). Doesn’t add anything new – India is […]


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