Tomorrow, August 15, India celebrates her 72nd anniversary since independence in 1947. It is important to note the suffering that Indians experienced before independence (as indeed we in Guyana did) and the economic strides the country has made during the post-independence period – from a destroyed economy, widespread illiteracy, and shocking mal-nourishment to growth, industrialisation and development.
As in Guyana during colonial rule, India was kept in underdevelopment and abysmal poverty. As the scholar Dr. Shashi Tharoor noted in a lecture at Oxford University, when Britain conquered India as a colony, India’s share of world GDP was around 25%. And when Britain left, India’s share of world GDP was a mere 3%. So India grew negatively.
At the time of independence, as was also the case in Guyana, farming largely used primitive technology like wooden cultivators, bulls, buffaloes, carts, and manual labour. Today, machinery drives agriculture. Almost all houses in rural areas were made of mud, cow dung, and thatch. Today, one can observe large numbers of concrete houses in rural areas. Animal dung and wood were the fuel of cooking; today, almost every home has access to cooking gas.
Rural schools were in open areas or under trees or thatched structures. Today, everywhere has proper indoor schools. Education was a luxury during colonial rule; today, primary and some secondary school education is mandatory. In addition, university education is virtually free. There were virtually no public toilets and houses hardly had toilets; there was open defecation. Today, there are public toilets and bathrooms almost everywhere.
During colonial rule, very few had access to electricity. Today, India is almost self-sufficient in electrical power generation. Every village is electrified.
There was hardly running water not only in villages but in urban areas as well during colonial rule. Today, every village has access to running water and most homes have water indoors in addition to sinks and bathrooms.
There were few passable roads during colonial rule. Today, India has one of the largest road networks. At the time of independence, the rail network was limited and served British interests. Today, every part of India is accessible by road and the country boosts the largest rail network in the world. Few air flights were available at the time of independence and only one carrier. Today, there are a dozen domestic carriers with thousands of flights that land and take off in every city – from the smallest to the largest. Dozens of foreign airlines and countless countries have air service to India.
India used to depend on other countries for telecommunication and TV services. Telephone service was almost unseen or unheard of even in urban areas at the time of independence. Today, India boosts the second largest number of phones. Today, India sends satellites into space and major companies and other countries (including India, Germany, Japan, UK, etc.) contract India for satellite link-up.
India is the only country to launch over 100 satellites into space at one launch. It is only the third country to send space vehicles to the moon and the second to send a vehicle to probe Mars.
India is a nuclear power that has developed its own bombs and missiles for protection against neighbourly threats. India boosts the second largest number of university engineering and medical grads. India supplies the world with engineers, doctors, nurses, and IT (computer) specialists. Indian doctors experimented with the first in vitro baby and cloned animals.
India boasts of some of the best technology universities in the world; many of those rejected at Indian tech universities are recruited with scholarships and grants at universities in the US, Canada, UK, Japan, and Australia; the highest number of PhDs in STEM in America are foreign students from India. Graduates of Indian tech schools are recruited for employment by multinational corporations in the West.
India is the sixth most industrialised nation in the world with an increasing service-oriented economy. At independence, one percent worked in the service sector. Today, a third of those employed in India work in the service sector. Employment dependence on agriculture has been halved since independence.
From about the 25th largest economy in 1947, India has the fourth largest economy today. India was asked to attend the G-8 meeting this year. It was an aid recipient country during decades after independence; today it is among the largest aid donor countries. India gives more aid (as a percentage of its budget) to poor countries than any wealthy country.
Guyana is among the recipient of India’s financial assistance, including dozens of scholarships annually for tech training. India was not a democracy during colonial rule; India is among a handful of a hundred countries where democracy has survived post-independence. India experienced negative growth during colonial rule to around 7% today, and an average of about 3% post-independence. India has been taking its time to catch up with the developed world. It may take another twenty-five years to reach developed status.
No doubt, India has made tremendous progress since its break from colonial rule moving from negative growth and widespread poverty and hunger to rapid economic growth and self sufficiency in food production and about ten times in national income. The country has been transformed from almost complete agriculture to industrialisation, from largely traditional to significantly modern, and from rural to increased urbanisation.
Dr. Vishnu Bisram
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