When we speak proudly of a highly successful and prosperous diaspora, the underlying truth of an unfortunate brain-drain in India stares us in the face. Not that the entire phenomenon should be perceived in a pessimistic light. But it cannot be denied that there is a need to bring about changes so that the ability and talent generated in India benefit the country to a greater extent. We are proud of the same abilities that our own systems turned a blind eye to, the same talent which our own environment prevented from flourishing. We look up to the same things we looked down upon earlier, the moment they earn respect and get a stamp of Western approval.
We can dismiss this as mere human nature of taking one’s riches for granted and recognizing their real value only through the eyes of another. But that would be only partially true. There was a time when India, or what is today the Indian subcontinent, flourished like no other. The region was a seat of learning, a hotbed of ideas and innovations in every field. Universities like Nalanda and Takshashila were not only local but global centers of knowledge. However after reaching a high-point, a decline started and this was further hastened by the invasions which began in the eleventh century. New rulers who were essentially outsiders, brought with them their own culture and systematically suppressed the native one. That’s how the exchange of knowledge and ideas, which was the backbone of India’s original culture, came to a halt. It survived but in a crystallized nature, in little pockets. There came a time when the Europeans replaced the Mughals as our rulers. Those who are credited with getting India its freedom and were the first ones to be the helm of affairs in independent India, were ironically educated mostly in Europe. To be fair to them, their attempts to emulate the West religiously were made with the belief that they had India’s best interests in mind. They had the West’s prosperity and progress, and India’s abject poverty and backwardness to choose from; they made the obvious choice.
But at the same time as this environment of inferiority complex was being created, some of the knowledge that had unassumingly remained in certain pockets made its way to the West. So as the new Indian mainstream emulated Western ideals of materialism, sought Western approval and denied India’s rich heritage, things like Yogasanas and traditional Indian medicine gained popularity in the West. The Indian mainstream’s emulation was so blind that soon a peculiar situation arose. The remnants of our knowledge stored in certain pockets made their way into the Indian mainstream once again, but via the West this time.
What is unfortunate is that this blindness of the Indian mainstream remains even today, almost seventy years after our independence. Because of this, the losses that we have incurred as a country are massive. The biggest eye-opener from the prime minister’s trip to the U.S. in September, was the fact that Indians practically run Silicon Valley. They are all products of India, but they found greener pastures because there existed far too many hurdles to create our own tech valley. These hurdles are not restricted to the tech world, these are entrepreneurial hurdles. Big multinationals like Pepsi and Berkshire Hathaway are run by Indians, yet the number of Indian multinationals is clearly disproportionate to the available talent.
One of the pillars upholding this blind mainstream is the Indian media. Often preoccupied with ulterior motives and eyeball courting, they fail to bring about awareness on positive phenomena in the country. However the moment these very phenomenon are recognized by the West, they go to any length in covering them. Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi is the most prominent example. He protected the rights of eighty-three thousand children from over a hundred and forty countries and is responsible for Convention 182 at the ILO, which has become a principle guideline for governments around the world. However, most people in India didn’t even know who he was until he received the Nobel Prize. The Indian media which couldn’t care less two years ago now runs behind him and reports his every move. Kiran Bedi is another example. She took on a corrupt political class and was hounded by the system for it. After she received the Magsaysay Award, our mainstream has accepted her as an eminent one of their own.
Unlike the West, India hasn’t really created an entrepreneurial environment or supported research and creativity at the grassroots. Inventor Pranav Agarwal and his classmate Shubhankar Bhattacharya were the runners up at the Valeo Innovation Challenge this year for an advance collision warning system to prevent accidents. This challenge is among the biggest and most prestigious global contests for engineering students and 1325 teams participated. Agarwal writes, “We initially searched for an Indian platform to echo our idea and found hardly any, and those we found were far from attractive. In stark contrast, Valeo welcomed us with open arms. Despite our being runners up and how beneficial this technology can be to the country, it received no attention whatsoever in India.” Earlier, Agarwal had created an affordable device run on solar energy to kill mosquito larvae in stagnant water. Though he received generous praise from Bill Gates and an award for it from a leading university abroad, he regrets the device not coming into use to help rural India.
Today, with a fast moving world and upcoming challenges, India cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the Satyarthis and the Agarwals. We cannot afford to deny our Pichais and Nadellas the heights they reach thousands of miles away. We need to create an environment in which innovation, creativity and other faculties are encouraged. Furthermore, these should be immediately recognized and tapped into. Talent, effort and intelligence shouldn’t go in vain. There is plenty of it around, and plenty of potential to apply them usefully; the two must be brought together. Our education system, instead of being a hub of student mass production should celebrate originality. Larger chunks of our GDP need to flow into education, research and development. Our policies should expedite good ideas. Our media should look at positive developments more often instead of projecting gloom and inferiority perpetually. What we require essentially is the confidence to self-attest our achievements.
To be fair to ourselves, there has been a marked difference lately. Homegrown startups like Flipkart and Ola, though not original ideas themselves, have a huge lead here over their international rivals. The government’s schemes such as Startup India and Mudra Bank, though yet to take off in a full-fledged way, are steps in the right direction. Our space program is advancing in leaps and bounds and we can expect a lot of research and development to take place in India if Make In India is a success. Certain successes in IT and pharma, which have been largely despite a hostile environment, are worth emulating in other sectors. But we must realize that though the prevalent mentality after independence might have been the right one then, it is time for it to be flung aside. India’s fate can change overnight if that were to happen.