on the World Today
IN THE lobby of New Delhi’s luxurious Imperial Hotel is an almost life-sized picture of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru which in a way is a symbol of India today. There he sits, a serious, pale, lonely man dressed in the white leggings, black jacket, and white headgear of the Congress Party. Chin in fist, he seems to ponder his nation’s fate. And in the background of the picture the ghost of Mohandas Gandhi smiles benevolently upon his disciple and successor.
Nehru’s task is colossal. Neither India’s own resources and raw materials nor Western dollars and ideas can make India a modern, prosperous nation. With a population of 380 million people, India produces in a year roughly as much steel as the United States, with 160 million people, produces in a little over a week. Half a dozen American corporations have greater revenues than the Indian treasury collects in taxes.
But statistics do not tell the story of India. What that vast subcontinent needs and what it is going through right now is a complete transformation of life, of social, economic, and political structure, plus a thoroughgoing physical reconstruction. To accomplish all this, Nehru must tap the magic powers which lie in the hearts and imagination of his people. He cannot use logic, reason, persuasion, or even coercion alone: he needs also the electrifying force of mysticism which plays such a part in Asia. He has been able to do what he has accomplished so far largely because he carries the mantle of Gandhi.
Nehru and his people have performed almost a miracle in their first five-year plan. And yet they have barely left the valley for a long, arduous ascent on a steep and dangerous trail. This month they are setting out on their second five-year plan, which is supposed to increase the national income by one fourth and create some 12 million new jobs.
Almost half the population of India is either unemployed or underemployed several months a year. Production methods are antiquated. Mechanization is not only restricted to a minimum but vehemently opposed by millions of religious and philosophical fanatics. Wages are so low that manpower is cheaper than the machine’s horsepower. There are enormous losses to the national economy because of the reliance on poorly trained and even more poorly equipped people, and output is also reduced by the undernourishment or illness of the workers. Tuberculosis and respiratory diseases, for example, cost the nation one billion days of lost labor every year. The second five-year plan marks a new and decisive chapter. But the changes must come in stages if they are to bring progress, not chaos.
Starting from scratch
A few examples will illustrate the magnitude of the task ahead. Take the case of Dr. A. He is head of a department of a hospital and professor at the medical school connected with it. He earns the equivalent of $140 a month. He and two of his neighbors share a gardener who works for them a total of nine hours a day. For this the gardener receives the equivalent of $2.50 a month. His employers built him a one-room mud hut. He himself added another room and lives there with wife, son, and daughter-in-law.
The gardener’s son is an orderly at the hospital; and since the institution is supported by an American Protestant mission, wages are much higher than they would be in an Indian institution. The son makes $7.50 a month, of which he regularly puts 50 cents into a postal savings account every month.
How does he do it? Breakfast consists of porridge, lunch of rice and pepper, dinner of rice and water. He, like millions of others in India, munches leaves or betel nuts all the time — they add a few calories to the total daily intake, which is between 1400 and 1600. Like the majority of his countrymen, he sleeps when he finishes work and sleeps again after dinner. Indians must have from twelve to fourteen hours of sleep or they could not work at all. Under normal conditions they can get by. But a study made by Dr. A. showed how vulnerable the Indians are to disease.
To this, one must add the utterly unbelievable lack of hygiene in the vast slum areas of cities and in villages, where sanitary installations are practically unknown. Only 6 per cent of the population have adequately piped water; dipping a cup into canals that also carry human wastes is nothing unusual. No wonder the disease rate is high: 80 million people have malaria every year and about one million die from it; 2.5 million people have tuberculosis and half a million die from it; 200,000 women die in childbirth, and 4 million more die from causes associated with childbearing.
Medical facilities are equally appalling. There is one doctor for every 6000 people, one nurse for every 43,000, one dentist for 300,000, one pharmacist for 4,000,000! Even if hospitals, medical schools, and sanitary installations could be provided and the needed personnel trained, it would not solve India’s problem because there is one other tremendous obstacle in the way of progress: ancient traditions that are not easily changed. The hospital orderly who lives on the brink of starvation was offered a household job for his childless wife. He refused to let her take it; women are not supposed to work. You will see only a few of them, young ones as salesgirls or secretaries. Men wait on table in restaurants; men do the cleaning in hotels; they work as chambermaids and cooks.
The sacred cows
To overcome these ancient traditions and prejudices is a task no less formidable than the physical reconstruction of the country. Oftentimes the original causes of such customs have been forgotten or are no longer valid, but the emotional power still holds people tightly.
Take the case of the proverbial sacred cow. There are about 200 million cows in the country competing with men for living space and food. They roam through the main streets of the cities, lie on sidewalks, rest in the parks, block the highways. You can drive for miles and miles and see hundreds or thousands of them but scarcely one with a full udder. Most of them are old, scraggy-looking, and not worth their keep. They are a burden on the national economy, ruining the crops in the fields. But the government’s attempts at reducing their numbers meet with strong resistance among the masses of the people. Why?
The answer given is that the cow is the great life-giving force. For many hundreds of years there has not been enough food to go around. The man, as the breadwinner, had to be fed first; the children, as the future of the nation, had second call on what was available. The wife came last. In fact even today a Hindu woman will rarely eat with the family. She receives the leftovers. She is expendable; her mission in life is fulfilled with the birth of the children. Severely undernourished, she rarely can nurse her children and depends on cows’ milk.
So the cow became the dispenser of life in the family. No matter how deplorable the housing of the family may be, the barn is scraped and cleaned every Friday and the animal itself is washed. If there is no barn, the cow is brought into the house during a rainstorm. Even when old or ill-suited for breeding, the cows must not be disposed of; they go on and on, overgrazing the meadows, cutting down on the feed of those which could provide milk. As a result India has the lowest milk production per head of cattle in the world. The average Indian cow gives about 500 pounds, the average American cow 7000 pounds per year, with top liners providing up to 20,000 pounds.
Unfortunately the cow is not the only problem of Indian agriculture. The average hen in India lays 50 eggs a year, compared with 150 or more in the United States. Field crops are equally poor. The present yield provides on a per capita basis 1.5 ounces of fruit a day, 1.3 ounces of vegetables, under one ounce of fish and meat.
Gigantic efforts will be required to bring production to a point where it can cover the minimum needs of the population. And it will take more than just the physical effort of production; it will also mean the overcoming of ancient traditions such as permitting cows, crows, and monkeys to devastate fields and orchards. It will mean persuading the people that cattle bred just for draft purposes are a burden on the national economy, and that it is expensive in the long run to burn cow dung instead of putting it back into the ground as fertilizer. Today dung is practically the only fuel available for cooking and heating in millions of homes, while the soil is being depleted and starved — which in turn cuts down its yield and the nation’s food supply. This calls for a revolution not only in production methods but also in the thinking and the emotions of hundreds of millions of people. It cannot be achieved overnight.
In the meantime a great deal has been accomplished in the five short years since Nehru set out to make India over into a modern, prosperous country and give her people health and happiness. During this period India has become practically selfsupporting in cereals. In 1951, rice imports were about 800,000 tons; today they are insignificantly small. Wheat and flour imports were more than 3 million tons; today this has dwindled to less than 50 tons. The same is true for other cereals.
Production has improved in other food items, but not quite so strikingly. The new five-year plan expects to add another 15 per cent to agricultural production, and although this is far from being enough, it will be a step forward toward the eventual goal of normal, decent living.
Hundreds of millions of trees have been planted. True, two out of every three trees died, but more are being added every year. India must about double her timberland in order to cover her minimum needs. Today she has roughly 40 pounds of firewood per capita a year — not much more than a good armful.
Remodeling the villages
Perhaps the most dramatic changes are being brought about by the socalled community projects. They are really remodeling the country and its people, transforming villages, customs, and ways of working and living from an ancient primitive level into a pattern of our times. They are jumping from a civilization of Biblical days into the twentieth century, while still preserving the characteristics of Indian heritage.
When this crusade began on Gandhi’s birthday in 1952, there were millions of Indians in the backwoods, so primitive that they still engaged in head-hunting. The number is still considerable but it is declining. There were even more millions of people who had no contact with the government except through policeman or tax collector. And yet the 300 million men, women, and children in India’s villages make up about 75 per cent of the nation.
These villagers are the bulk and the hope of the country. It depends on them whether the revolutionary transformation from yesterday into tomorrow will become a reality. It depends on them whether India will be swamped by Communist Russia and China or whether she will save herself and the rest of Asia by proving that the undeveloped nations can enter the twentieth century as free men carrying out that gigantic task of their own will, in their own way.
The job ranges from teaching women how to cook a simple meal to building streamlined modern factories, from teaching grammar school to creating the governmental machinery for a nation the size of the United States. The way it is being done may seem almost trivial; one wonders whether the individual steps being taken are not just a drop in the bucket. But what counts in the long run is that the new India is growing organically, that the changes are coming from the grass roots; they are not imposed from the top.
With American help
It is a thrilling thing to witness, made more exciting to us because the United States has a hand in it, and a small band of enthusiastic American men and women are making a vital contribution. A dramatic Soviet promise to help India build a steel mill or the decision of the Kremlin to send some technical experts and propagandists to one place in India may make big headlines. But in the meantime the quiet work of Americans behind the scene is helping to remodel the entire subcontinent and its 380 million people.
Here is how it is being done. A young American agricultural extension worker went to a village far off in the backwoods. He gathered the men about him in order to lecture them on the importance of fertilizer. They listened politely but without response. Then a twelve-year-old boy — who, it turned out, was the patel, or hereditary leader of the village — got up and said that though the talk about fertilizers might all be true, he was not so much interested in it as he would be in getting a school. Couldn’t the U.S. give them one? he asked. He had never been to a school, nor had any of the other children of the village. (There are schools for only four children out of ten between the ages of 6 and 11, and for only one child out of ten between the ages of 11 and 17.)
A few weeks later ground was broken for the school; today the building is finished. But it did not come with Uncle Sam’s compliments The American extension worker made it clear that it was their school and the villagers would have to build it What would each of them contribute? he asked. One gave the land, another lumber; workers donated their labor at half price, and the Indian government chipped in some of the cost.
In another instance, an American extension worker persuaded the people in a forlorn village in the Khasi hills that they needed a bridge. For centuries they had walked through the river, and year after year some of them drowned as they made their way across. But they would have no bridge — because with it would come strange new ideas, customs, influences. Was it better to have friends and relatives perish every year? Was it better to let what little food they could take to the market spoil? the American asked them. (Twenty-five per cent of India’s meager food supply is being wasted every year for lack of transportation, refrigeration, and conservation.) Eventually, the villagers saw the importance of the bridge and built it.
Thus it goes day after day. In one place it is fertilizer, in another a bridge, in a third the planting of trees, or improved methods of seeding or breeding. A number of American colleges and universities have sent their best men as teachers, and Indian instructors are being trained by the thousands. Well over 100,000 villages and almost 100 million villagers have been drawn into this new world of community projects.
They come to realize that it is their world; they must build and run it. Self-government starts with the community project, and then reaches out into county, state, and national government. This is how a new India is being reared the democratic way.