Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Growing Divide

I just got back from lunch at the Terminal. Today being Saturday, it’s normal to see campus teeming with people but of a different kind. Today you’ll find older men and women and really young children too. Saturday is the day that employees bring their families to visit this beautiful and sprawling campus with its seven food courts, lush green lawns and towering innovatively-designed buildings, the software development blocks or SDBs. It’s a pleasant sight. Children run ahead of their parents, making full use of the vast open space free of traffic, while the parents amble behind, taking in the sights and sounds of the place that their other halves call home for most part of the week.

This campus being the signature office and global headquarters of the company, there is constant construction activity here. Although the construction and the people working there are seldom seen on the main parts of the campus, every once in a while they are seen enjoying a walk on the campus in the evenings. Like today. As I was returning from Terminal, I witnessed something that pierced right through my day dream, and creating this urge to let out my thoughts here. I saw the family of an employee, well dressed and all made up, little son bounding back and forth on the walking track. And watching them, were a father and son, sitting in the corner, near where the construction site is cordoned off with green net. The man was obviously a construction worker, the boy his son. They watched as the young family stood to admire the Terminal, the front-loading-washing-machine building, the Coffee Day… The boy would have been no older than the little kid running around his parents on the walkway, in his new tee shirt and shoes. The other boy, in stark contrast, wore old and dirty clothes and was barefoot.

As the two families, in sharp contrast with each other, came within the same line of my vision, I was reminded painfully of the increasing social divide in this country. I was wishing just moments ago, that I had thought to invite my own family over for the weekend to visit the campus, and that one picture brought me jerkily out of my reverie. To me, this company is a reminder of what India has become today, of the growing economic power and the waves that it is creating in the global playground. It is an edifice of India’s favorite success story, of what dreams can achieve and of how ordinary mortals can affect a change so drastic. But today it became a reminder of how companies like these are doing little to bridge the gap between the two extremes of Indian society. As IT makes more money, the techies are raking in the cash, and cities like Bangalore become more expensive to live in. The poor pay the price for this. As our standard of living goes up, their standard of living does not see a commensurate increase and as a result they remain where they are, what little money they have losing its value with each passing day. India’s greatest employer is IT and ITES, both fields requiring an educated workforce. They compensate for their increasing demand for resources by recruiting large numbers of people from campuses across the country.

Unfortunately, rural India is not seeing an increase in primary or secondary education and therefore the IT success story bypasses that stratum of society completely. The few who do manage to make it to BPOs in the cities do so with immense hardships and sacrifices. Young parents of rural India hope for a better future for their offspring, one that is different from their own and does not involve doing menial labour to earn a living. How long will it be before their dreams turn to reality? Consider even the poor living in India’s metros. Most of them still do not go to school. The few who do, cannot afford the fees to study beyond class 10 or 12 and therefore drop out, joining their parents at their jobs as house-cleaners and cooks. I am not denigrating labour here, but I wish every child had access to education so that he could at least have a chance at a better future, one that a lot of urban Indians are enjoying today.

I wish corporate India could take the onus of education in villages, at least as an investment for their future workforce. With CSR gaining the kind of importance it has, I wish each company could “adopt” a village and take responsibility of primary and secondary education there by building schools or sponsoring education for families or helping schools build facilities that would keep children engaged. I read somewhere that the biggest issue plaguing rural schools is the lack of teachers because of poor wages. If companies could pump in funds to schools so that they may pay their staff better, it could help make the functioning of these schools a lot better. In Chennai, Sneham, the CSR arm of the Chennai office works in these areas by helping schools with infrastructure such as toilets and furniture. I am sure there are other such organizations. Perhaps giving them more publicity through the media would make people aware of ways in which they can help bridge the social divide.

1 comment:

'Smee! said...

Great job! Btw, some good news is that the CBSE board will now allow corporations to start and manage schools. Call me an optimist, but I'm hoping this will make some difference. I like your adopt-a-village thing too.
P.S.: what happened to all those long winding sentences in the essays?


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