Posted by: odzer | July 5, 2008

What is wrong with India?

National Flag of India

National Flag of India

When I was young my mother often told me the story about a Pigeon that closes its eyes whenever a Cat is on the prowl. The Pigeon would imagine that the Cat disappears if it closes its eyes. Alas the Pigeon would get eaten up. Sometimes I find that Indian nationalism takes the form of a Pigeon. As Indians we often will ignore the mess we are in and harp on a few achievements that the country makes. The sad fact is that 60 years from independence we remain in a very grim situation. Poverty in India whether Urban or Rural is the one factor that defines the country and hits you in the face as soon as you leave any airport. What also strikes you is the disparity among the Rich and the Poor. As a writer I often focus on writing on personal finance, economy and other aspects for some customers. What confounds me is how the progress has not yet translated in to basic infrastructure in the country.

Most of us have become quite oblivious to the state of the nation. We are just used to things not working. If the roads are broken we do not care. If our neighbour decides to throw garbage on the street it is just fine. However what surprises me is if someone does mention something wrong with the country or a state all hell breaks lose and people tend to attack you. Enough is published about the growing economy and the miracle growth. However we can not keep harping about how many Indian doctors have left the country and migrated to the United States or how many FOREIGN CITIZENS OF INDIAN ORIGIN have made it once they have left the country. I live in India, I am only concerned about the quality of life issues in India.

So here are some FACTS about India that you won’t read in all is well and good print media of India :-

1. India contributes to 25% of all Child deaths in the world alone!


2. India has the largest amount of hungry people in the world, over 200 Million people.


3. 70 million people in 20 Indian States do not have access to safe drinking water.


4. India still fares pretty low on the HDI Index, at 128 according to the UNDP. China weighs in around 81, Pakistan at 136, Nepal at 141, Bangladesh at 142, Maldives at 100, Myanmar at 132 and Sri Lanka at 99.


5. India ranks No. 70 in Corruption Perceptions Index, China ranks 70, Tiny Bhutan ranks 32, Nepal ranks 121, Sri Lanka ranks 84, Myanmar ranks 160, Pakistan ranks 142, Bangladesh ranks No. 156, No figures are available for Maldives.


6. 270 people die everyday in road deaths in India. An increase of 5% per year is predicted for this figure.



7. 160 Million people in India are threatened by caste based violence and discrimination. This includes violence against low caste women, discrimination especially in rural areas and systematic human rights abuses.


8. According to the UNFPA, based on a report that they published 70% of Indian women have suffered domestic violence. This includes rapes, beatings and forced sex.


I expect a lot of comments now on how I have just focussed on the negatives etc etc. Truth being told, yes there are positives certainly. However they are far outweighed by what is fundamentally wrong with India and Indians. We need dramatic, drastic and fast change. We can not wait another 60 years and in the meanwhile keep waiting for things to work themselves out. In the meanwhile for all measures India remains a third world country with third world living conditions. I do indeed wish a turnaround in the next 10 years not in the next 40. This can only happen when we realise what is wrong with the country, compare ourselves with the best and most importantly do not stop  people from publishing what is fundamentally the condition of our country. The world already knows the truth about India, most of the countries have embassies here and they can observe what the conditions are and most of the world’s media has enough representation as well. So the only people we are fooling is ourselves.


  1. You are so right and also so wrong…. Sounds contradictory, but the fact is that there is nothing wrong with India. Its us Indians who do everything wrong… and that’s why we get
    what we deserve.
    A case in point is the quality of politicians we choose….

  2. Deepak, it is sort of obvious. The politicians however are a reflection of the society. They did not rise out of nothingness. I can hardly blame them for India’s problems since they are just a small segment of the wider issue.

  3. Dramatic, drastic change …. hmmm … I dont think that can work in a country as large and populated as India is. What might be good change for you might be terrible news for others. I personally dont know what you mean by Indians kidding themselves, for me , reading the news everyday seems to be a torture, everyday the news only gets worse and more bleak.

  4. Vikram I wrote this blog during the phase when the bubble was just bursting. Perhaps terrible news is what will spurn some action. However time to act is certainly now, or it may be never. There is always resistance to change and the change may or may not be for the better but if the status quo has not been working for some thousand years its better to give up on it and risk the change.

  5. odzer, when you say status quo, do you mean the caste system and other social problems (like status of women) ? I meant to say that these issues take generations to resolve, they have been present for so long.

    But I would agree with you that quick action is needed in the areas of law-enforcement and provision of basic amenities.

  6. Well as long as they fix the roads, fix the power, fix the schools its quite okay as a beginning. However they can’t even seem to fix the traffic. So basically everything here is quite broken. I spent the entire day today without doing anything because we had no power for 8 hours. I also mean just some very strange things like people squatting to mop floors, I mean it is just not very effective. In thousands of years we should have at least figured out that we can attach a handle to the mop! There are towns and cities with still open drains that need manual cleaning. As for the wider social issues I think they are fixable in less time. The question is of will. There will be resistance and such resistance must be overcome. I often go to Bhutan and I suggest you should as well. In the last 10 years they have managed to change a lot. I know people often cite that its a small country etc etc. However the fact is that it is clean, people are well dressed and fed even in the countryside and there are no cows on the streets of Thimphu. Police do not ask for bribes (at least not openly). No fat cops and there is a website ( run by the government where you can complain about corruption. It is that easy.

  7. Based on my readings of papers by academics, I have come to understand that India’s political process has meant an emphasis of representation (however corrupt or inefficient) of all its ethnic groups. It is perhaps easy to criticize this in hindsight, but 30 years ago you wouldnt have said that authoritarian East Asian nations would have such a rapid economic ascent.

    You also have to consider where exactly we started from, 9% literacy rate, life expectancy of 28 years, absolutely NO rural electrification, millions dying due to starvation, RAMPANT caste oppression. A significant chunk (Dalits) of India’s populace want things to get fixed, but they have other priorities, like getting their land back from the upper castes and so forth. And this is why Mayawati is in power in UP.

  8. I just want to mention your point about the mop…if one attaches a handle it becomes unaffordable for many people, the poor and the middle class too. Even though I am reasonably well off, I admit I thought twice before spending Rs 200/- for a mop with a handle and guess what those mops which can be bought to replace the worn out mop, are as expensive as the brand new ones with rods! They said the rod doesn’t cost, the type of mop (a more sophisticated version) is what costs. So every month one has to pay Rs 150/- to rs 200/- to replace the worn-out mop. I have it at home but my maid hates it! She says one can’t clean properly with it! 🙂 She is a really very sincere sort and likes to press down hard with the mop which she says is difficult to do with the rod.

  9. Vikram: So?

  10. Nita, I can imagine that people have a preference over one or the other mop.

  11. Well, odzer, I hope you read that NYT article. The last paragraph explains why someone like Mayawati is a powerful politician. She and the BSP werent even around 20 years ago, but every election her party has gotten more and more seats (see Wikipedia article on UP). Now why has this happened ? Because the vast mass of the UP populace doesnt care abt power, roads etc right now, they are more worried abt harassment from the upper castes and police excesses among other things. And in their minds this will not stop till a Dalit is made chief minister, no matter what that chief minister thinks abt power, roads etc.

  12. One State. If India is a federal republic which I suppose it is every state should clean up their own mess. People get what they deserve and if they are going to vote only because they want to see a particular type of community lead them they will get that and have troubles. The caste system is a function of religion and in India people are overly religious and in fact most are just following things without any deep set understanding. Economic progress however will change that with time. People will have less time to spend on these type of things. Right now perhaps people leave roads, power etc on to a multitude of gods.

  13. I got here from Prerna’s blog. ‘What is wrong with India?’ caught my eye. You have written a good analysis although I doubt we can ever analyse fully what is indeed wrong with India.

    I do however agree unequivocally with that “As Indians we often will ignore the mess we are in and harp on a few achievements that the country makes.”. From a psychological point of view, one could argue that focusing on the positive keeps people ticking over. But from a problem-solving point of view, indeed from a view not to worsen already-terrible things, the head-buried-in-sand mentality helps nobody.

    The solution does not lie in changing the structure of administration but altering the incentives, esp the perverse incentives in the system. Good examples would be the 5th and 6th Pay Commissions that have helped reduce the prevalence of corruption in the civil service and consequently helped prosecute the egregious cases of violation very publicly.

    I also do think that the economic prosperity is beginning to trickle down which emboldens the electorate just that little bit.

    Good post. Needs a lot more debate and more importantly, action at grassroots level.

  14. I am glad that it did catch your eye. However I am still surprised you decided to comment on such and old post! I do not know if giving a pay rise to already lazy, inefficient and corrupt bureaucrats will help us. Corruption in India does not rise from the fact that people are not paid well. It just runs in our veins, we are corrupt because we have simply stopped caring. At this point perhaps its too late to fight corruption but perhaps we should start an education campaign about what not to be corrupt about something like “Do not take bribes while building a bridge, may be your own family might use it one day….”.

    As for economic prosperity I doubt that the trickle down will work as it has in other places because of the just huge amount of people we have.

  15. @ Odzer: A vast majority of civil servants is not lazy, inefficient and corrupt – which is why the country still continues to function.

    People are corrupt due to the confluence of need and opportunity. Some see opportunities and do not take them; some do. Many in my friends and family are civil servants and if I did not know them to be honest, their simple and ordinary lifestyles, and difficult lives are proof enough. They shun gifts sent to their homes and receive abuse and death threats but live by their own standards. We need to recognise the honest as much as we revile the dishonest.

    I also attended school with the daughter of a civil servant who has since been sent to prison for corruption. Having seen how she lived compared to the rest of us proles, I know what day-to-day lives fuelled by corruption look like.

    I have never had to bribe anybody in India and I propose to you that bribery survives as much because of those who readily pay bribes as those who take them.

    The trickle-down of prosperity is evident to me mainly because I take ‘samples’ of several A, B and C towns once a year. In one year, one can see remarkable changes – in economic prosperity, affordability of things and how people’s living standards have changed.

    I am sorry you feel so pessimistic about the country. I am a vocal critic, but I also appreciate the good things about India such as people willing to work (as opposed to sitting on their behinds, as happens in welfare economies).

    PS: The post appears on the sidebar which is how I got to it. Thanks 🙂

  16. Shefaly I do not agree that India is functional, but it is barely functional. Regarding the rest well yeah there are honest people in India! However we are by nature not “honest”. An honest Indian person is the odd one out, not the norm.

    Does that sound bad? Yes it does. How can I say such things without verifying it, its just an opinion. Am I pessimistic about India, No. Lets just say this honesty is a trait that is not much appreciated in the India of today.

    The trickle down thing, well. I am not an expert but I am just thinking it will have to trickle down way faster and way more if we are ever to become a “developed” country. As for welfare, its the inability of the government to provide it that is the point here. People have no choice. In India people who really do need welfare are invisible anyway, for example disabled people have no ways even to access government buildings or public areas.

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