A few years ago, at a party, some of my family friends working with various United Nations (UN) organizations in Beirut were discussing the plan of going back to their native countries in case they lost their jobs. Many of my friends in Germany, Sweden, USA, Netherlands, and Canada did not have any concern about relocating to their native places, however, many Indians have general concerns.
I was curious to understand the reason in a social context and found the main concern about Indians on relocating is the international standard and good quality education of their children, which is very expensive in India. Whereas in Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Canada, they are satisfied with the quality of education they get in public/government schools. Children of the unemployed person or a UN employee have access to the same international standard and quality of free education in those countries.
Incidentally, many of our friends under deputation from India to various UN organizations in Beirut, despite having top senior positions in Indian Civil Services (IAS and IPS) later on left their positions in India to continue in the UN. One of them had a top-ranked powerful position in a major state in India. During personal interaction with them, they told me good quality education of their children is one of the reasons to work for the UN even though the positions in India are very powerful and respectful in public life.
Similarly, going back to my village in Kalahandi, Odisha, where most of my primary schoolmates are either barbers, mechanics, daily laborers, jewelry makers, etc. I found that most of them didnot send their children to the same primary school where we studied. Some of them are even paying rupees 100,000 or so per annum and putting their children in a private boarding school.
Somehow this makes me happy that these parents are more concerned about giving good education to their children than the previous generations. However, what worries me is that the amount these people are paying to educate their children is 40 to 70 % of their annual income. Some families even take personal loans for the benefit of their child’s education.
The Indian middle class itself consists of many different economic classes contained within it. The average and upper level of the middle class looked at education as a means of employment in the future. Privatisation of education in India and competition among the average middle class to succeed to get good employment has created so much euphoria, especially after the Information Technology (IT) revolution in India. So much so, that the average middle class takes education as a business rather than a learning process.
These effects trickle down systematically from the rich to upper to average and the lower middle class. 50 years ago, rich people, royal families, and top politicians sent their children to the best expensive private boarding schools in India or Europe/USAso that after returning these children would occupy the highest administrative, editorial and political positions in the country, loosely pointed out as the Lutyens’ Delhi gang in India. Often these children know each other very well to help each other while serving in different political parties, leading newspapers, top institutions, or bureaucratic positions.
Opening private education in India somehow assisted to break this affluent culture iceberg. The IT revolution in the 1990s also created lots of opportunities for the lower and average middle-class families, boosting their economic condition and reach to private education and health.
The above aspects look promising and good until socialist republic values are not considered. In the trickle-down model, the ones that are really losing now are the average and lower middle class. The education burden is becoming so much for these families that parents are almost spending everything without thinking of their own social security in terms of old agesecurity and health insurance.
Unluckily, if something goes wrong in the health department the poor health infrastructure in government hospitals further encourages them to depend on private facilities making them bankrupt. Case by case when children chose to live independently on their own, the same parents are suffering due to lack of resources in old age.
In a socialist republic like India, health, education, and social security is the responsibility of the nation. The division and competition among the middle class themselves are adding more to the problem. In a democratic structure like India, people have the power to motivate and change the priority of any government.
Instead of comparing our children with the grade, employment, position, achievement, etc. of children of our neighbors, if the various classes of middle class unitedly come as a team to demand improving education, health, and social security infrastructure without depending on private education, hospitals, and insurance companies, the government will be forced to act on as well as address it.
If things improve like in Sweden, Canada or Finland then our children and our neighbor’s children do not need to compare their grades, rather both will be equally successful in their own field and lead a happy life. My Indian friend in the UN or my daily laborer friend in my village will have access to the same quality of international standard of education, health, and social security.
Neither relocating to India nor taking a loan in my village would be of any concern. Spiritually, it will also take out some of our jealousy, arrogance, stress, and ego generated out of competition and success, necessary for a happy mind and healthy life.
(The views expressed are the writer’s own)
Digambara Patra, M.Phil, PhD
Professor Department of Chemistry
American University of Beirut
( Images from the net )