Lessons for Punjab from Oz attacks
Chandigarh: Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal's Cabinet-rank advisor Daljit Singh Cheema was recently in a TV studio to participate in a panel discussion programme on racist attacks against Indian students in Australia. It seemed to be a cakewalk of a discussion, and there seemed to be little for which the poor Badals can be held accountable for. After all, the attacks were happening in distant Australia, were the work of either xenophobic bunch of individuals or rank criminals out to loot hapless hard-working Indian students.
Unfortunately for Cheema, talk TV is not always so mundane and meaningless. As soon as Kesar Singh Barwali of Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID) brought up the point that neo-liberal economics leaves behind in its wake some socially excluded groups that indulge in crime, Cheema was quietly fielded a query: "So what lessons about development has the Punjab government learnt since it too is pushing a neo-liberal agenda; so where's the guarantee that we will not leave behind socially excluded groups?"
As he fumbled and tried to fall back on his trademark soberness, the well known Dalitism scholar and author Gian Singh Bal was soon stressing how governments thrive on divisive issues and how there is a class angle to the entire racism debate. Soon the talk turned towards the bigger caste issue and Cheema was asked whether the castism divisions were not as bad as racism and whether casteism is not a sort of racism? Soon, the anchor also threw in the Jat versus non-Jat debates in Punjab, the Punjabi versus migrant labourers' treatment and the debate was wide open.
This is the problem with serious debate. Nothing happens in isolation, and nothing can be discussed in isolation. In an intricately intertwined and inter-dependent world, the problems too are multifaceted and soon the anchor was underlining with amusement the fate of the representative of the government and the ruling party about how does it fee to answer questions about government accountability in a debate about crime happening thousands of miles away.
The gracious Daljit Singh Cheema agreed to most points raised and scored some brownie points because he did not seem to be hell bent on defending the government but was rather more interested in understanding and acknowledging the linkages. But what really came about was the fact that the way Punjab was following a peculiar model of growth and development, we may be headed for big trouble.
What do the attacks in Australia have to do with neo-liberal models of development? And what lessons are we learning about development in Punjab from where a lot of Sikh students are going to Australia?
It is no different for the rest of India.
One question posed on most debates about the racism issue in Australia was why the hell so many Indian students choose to go to Australia at all?
In 2008, there were 543,898 full-fee paying international students in Australia. International students and their families spend $14.1 billion in Australia per year. Last year, $4.3 billion alone was spent on food and accommodation. International student numbers included 97,035 Indian students. More than 10,000 of these are from Punjab.
Here's why they go to Australia, or to any other country for studies:
India's seemingly tough to crack IIT-JEE system now provides 8000 seats. In 1988, this figure was 2,000 and Indians crow a lot about this marked four times improvement. Just compare this to UCLA (25,000 undergrad and 11,000 postgrad), MIT (4,172 undergrad, 6048 PG), Harvard (6,714 undergrad and 12,442 PG) and a total student strength of 11,250 at Yale. There is so much hue and cry about Lovely Professional University in Punjab. In the US, Kellogs runs three varsities.
India produces only 70 nephrology MDs in a year. Only 63 neurologists. Only 88 cardiologists and only 15 oncologists. New Delhi is little bothered that this country of a billion produces about 7,500 MDs a year compared to United States' 16,000!
So will you ever wonder why Indian kids go to Australia? It will matter little who will treat our children in what ways abroad; they hardly have options.
17 June 2009