Now I use the hashtag Incredible India to describe a lot of things I see here , all of which really are incredible to a westerner. It just doesn’t get old seeing things that simply wouldn’t be allowed or against the law in the west; or simply an ingenious way of dealing with everyday challenges here. That’s a blogpost for another day. This blogpost details some of the facts of India and living here. I am sure there are plenty more that will feature in future blogposts.
Why is India so Incredible?
India is the second largest country in Asia, seventh largest country in the world and the second most populated country in the world. It is the world’s largest democracy and has had a thriving civilisation since 2500BC. There are over 15000 species of flowering plants in India which accounts for 6% of the world’s total. There are 3,000 documented plants with medicinal potential. Nearly 80% of the population are practicing Hindus, 14% adheres to Islam and the remainder is made up of Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jainism and other various “indigenous ethnically bound” faiths. India has 22 official languages and 1652 languages. Most people speak at least two languages (our housekeeper speaks four- Telegu, Kannada, Hindi and English). That does put the English to shame – most of whom can’t speak a different language at all.
Population and growth
India is expected to become the world’s youngest country by 2020 with 64% of the population, roughly 800 million people, of working age. However the country cannot become a global powerhouse until they resolve the contradictions and bridge the gaps that distort their society. The challenge is to allow the 1.2 billion citizens to realise their potential. Now that is a big challenge. India needs to fix its problems quickly and with high quality. Not a match made in Heaven here.
India’s mobile telecoms network is the second largest in the world with over 900 million users with call rates amongst the lowest in the world (it is incredibly cheap!). India boasts the world’s third largest internet user base with over 190 million users. (Stats from 2012 Telecom Regulator of India) However travel outside of your state e.g Karnataka into Andra Pradesh and your mobile provider alerts you to a new network, with new charges. In the UK it would be unthinkable that as you cross county lines a new charge rotate would apply. Peoples pension payments can only be collected from specific bank branches. It’s astonishing how far behind ten western world Inida is and yet Bangalore is hailed the ‘Silicon Valley of India’ !
Aadhaar (meaning ‘foundation’) is a 12 digit individual identification number issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India on behalf of the Government of India. This number will serve as a proof of identity and address, anywhere in India. It is universal and meant to replace the various documents citizens had to produce to prove identity; this sole number is all that is now required. The forms of ID available in India are as follows:
- Driver’s Licence – over 18s only and limited validity
- PAN card – taxpayers only (expats working here have to have these too)
- Voter ID – citizens over 18 only
- Ration card – citizens who qualify for subsidies only
- BPL card – citizens in a low income level only
- NREGA card – rural employment scheme only
- Aadhaar card – universal KYC ID card
India’s Invisible citizens
UNICEF statistics state that 59% born in India are unsure of their own age as their birth has never been regsitered and they do not have a birth certificate. Without proof of age people cannot get a driver’s licence, voter ID, travel outside of India, get a SIM card or mobile phone or open a bank account etc. Their birth, life and death is literally invisible to the state. They cannot get jobs in the formal business or labour market and as a consequence are restricted to physically demanding poorly paid jobs in the chaotic manual labour market.
Alcohol is banned in certain states in India including Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, Lakshwadeep and Gujarat. Kerala is aiming to become a dry state by 2024. The ban has been in place since 1960 so alcohol is bootlegged instead. ‘Local’ alcohol as it is colloquially called is dangerous and can cause blindness in the drinkers. The states with the ban lose a lot of money in excise duty which it has to raise elsewhere. Prohibition didn’t work in the 1920s US and it doesn’t work in modern day India. Yet rather than repealing the law and reaping the financial benefits of the excise duty the states prefer to make criminals out of those consuming alcohol.
The diversity of India is apparent in the names of its citizens. There are no standardised naming conventions that apply nationwide. People in the south often do not have surnames – something we found perplexing when we arrived. Sometimes the name will be proceeded by an initial, incorporate the village name or even a diety but generally they one name. Some people include their father’s name as the middle name but others don’t. As a result a person’s name may have an initial, name, village, diety or father’s name as part of it.mit can be quite confusing to a westerner.
Addresses in Bangalore are ridiculous. The stree names are often referred to a X cross, X main, X stage, area, landmark, Taluk, etc. It is ridiculously confusing and everyone has difficulty finding specific addresses. It is understandable that local landmarks like cinemas, schools and shopping malls are used to guide any delivery driver to the vicinity of where you live to give them a fighting chance of finding the correct address. I assume the confusing and chaotic addresses come from city planning and regulation (or lack of it?). In villages though, where everybody knows everybody else, and address can refer to a specific tree ie the house behind the Mango tree or deliver to Mr X son of Y.
So a small insight into what makes India so incredible. There’s a whole other blogpost to come at a future point which will just contain pictures of the incredulous things we have seen here which are just part of everyday life. This weekend has been full of vehicles hugely overloaded with cargo and / or people – incredulous to a westerner and yet normal here. More to follow in future blogposts!
* KYC – Know your client / customer. Used in anti money laundering mainly.