The government can encourage the companies to spend some of their CSR initiatives on nurturing local artisans and regional arts and crafts.
By Ahmed Kamal Khusro
It is a fact that the current models of development in Asian countries, especially India, are borrowed from the West. It has to be kept in mind that conditions differ from country to country. In some of the Western countries, the population is meager compared to India, and joblessness is not a major issue, although it persists. There capital formation is easier and so their track of growth usually follows the model of capital intensive industry.
In India the conditions that obtain are markedly different. We have a pluralistic ethos, with the different tectonic plates of cultures, religions and castes, rubbing each other, sometimes leading to communal and caste eruptions.
So while celebrating diversity we should also make sufficient provision for the growing bulge of the middle class, currently estimated at 300 million, and their aspirations for a better life. The government should get out of the current cultural smog and “banneristan” to focus on an enabling environment for the poor and the middle classes. The rich have enough facilities through wealth, entitlement and pulling of strings, to be able to look after themselves.
So as referred to earlier, we should look at those models of development that are specially suited to our country and its political, social and cultural environment. We always keep in view the fact that thousands of youths knock at the doors of the job market, fresh from school, college or university, and unless there are broad-based measures to provide placements to these job-hungry millions, we may face a social crisis of major proportions in the next decade.
Writing in the HT on “An Indian Idea for Development” Shiv Vishvanathan tellingly lays bare the real issues, lost in the cloud of social and political habit:
“India can be open to the world, display a hospitality to ideas and yet create some of its own, beyond the jugaad models it puts up for display. Originality need not be in English because the world will find a way to access it. India can be a centre for world thought if it becomes the home for dissent, marginality, eccentricity, for defeated knowledge to be recreated. India should be the home of all disappearing languages, and knowledge, for crafts which now die through indifference. India as translator and philosophical interpreter to the world can help rethink the cities we need.
I think where India has dulled is in the act of middle class leadership. We still inflate ourselves on old ideas of patriarchy, masculinity, of hawkishness, of rhetorical patriotism, while our heritage and our informal economy are what attract people. An India of ideas is an India of the informal economy where new notions of citizenship and survival are invented every day.”
The takeaways from his article are two important points. One is that “defeated knowledge” can be recreated. Let me explain. This means incentivizing the growth of rural arts and crafts.
The growth in science and technology ushered in the IT revolution with all the treasure-trove of computers, gadgets and gizmos as well as smart phones. Along with this revolution in the avenues of communication, certain other ideas also began to be heard and so they claimed to be ruling the roost such as consumerism and globalization. These are hanging on to the coattails of the IT and information revolution. They are necessary concomitants of the IT wave, but their bad effects should be minimized.
The second important point is the avoidance of byproducts of modernization. Just because we have given in to the lure of computers and smartphones, it does not mean the other byproducts of this information revolution are also as good.
After computerization, it is the turn of artificial intelligence and nanotechnology. Both the later two developments have their uses, in certain respects. But as it is, automation in certain key industries in the last decade have resulted in massive layoffs. The downturn began about a decade and a half ago. It came to be called “downsizing”, and then euphemistically “rightsizing”. Companies are naturally interested in reducing their workforce to cut down on costs and increase their profitability. But with greater automation in the next decade or so there may be massive layoff in companies, that can have disastrous consequences.
Except for the very few with a social conscience such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerburg, who, after earning billions, gave away most of it to charity, most companies are only interested in profit maximization. While this is good for the bottom line, it sounds the death knell for social justice. What will be the impact on the families of those who are retrenched, and are unable to find other decent jobs?
Another important point is the trend of hiring newcomers and incentivizing early retirement for the older employees who draw high salaries.
All these are, in a way justified, as companies cannot survive and compete without a measure of profitability, but taken cumulatively, and in the long run, they can give rise to social turmoil, owing of loss of jobs and the acute distress caused to their families.
The way out for an alternative model is concentration on labour intensive industries. The government should encourage such industries, especially, in the informal sector, so that more and more of skilled, and semi-skilled workers can be employed in a network of small industries.
They could also be employed profitably in the informal sector of the economy. Incentives could be provided to those industries that afford the most employment opportunities.
These industries may be set up in rural hubs to generate employment. If along with employment, basic facilities of roads, electricity, schools and health centres can be set up, it can to some extent, stop the unremitting migration of people from the rural hinterlands to the cities.
Handicrafts such as bidri work, carpet weaving as also training people to manage beehives, are some of the areas where the government, the NGOs and the private sector can participate. They can provide the funding, arrange for land and hold training programmes for the uninitiated.
This should open the door for more people to engage in small businesses rather than looking for jobs. In this way, they can not only be independent, but also provide employment for 10 to 15 or, if they grow bigger, to 50 and 100 persons.
The government can encourage the companies to spend some of their CSR initiatives on nurturing local artisans and regional arts and crafts. These arts and crafts differ from region to region and about 90 per cent of them are dying out.
It has been found that the children of local artisans and folk artists do not want to continue in the same profession as their elders because they feel the returns are not encouraging and there is also no social recognition for their arts and crafts as was the case in the past.
About 70 years ago, there used to be guilds of artists and the best works of such workers was displayed in the public and even awards were given for their work by the government, and private organizations and top-of-the-pyramid scions such as the nawabs and rajas of yore. Although now awards are given but only to those in the charmed circle, and even these are few and far between.
But now let alone artistic recognition, some of the older masters of such crafts are unable to even get two square meals a day. By nurturing such dying arts and providing them with inputs for marketing and reaching a wider audience, not only will such artists gain financially, but it will also boost their confidence. They will also attract others to join such centres of craftsmanship, and the products can not only be sold to high-end buyers in the cities, where the payments are more, but such products can also be exported to foreign countries.
With the reduced pressure on the municipal and government services in the cities, when such local businesses and arts and crafts centres are set up in the villages, the money saved may be ploughed back into rural hubs so as to make small towns and villagers more attractive to the rural population. As an upside to this, it may take away in some small measure, a little of the social stresses that make our metropolises like pressure cookers.