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OpinionsIndia can’t afford to lose its skilled workers

India can’t afford to lose its skilled workers


can't afford to lose its skilled workers

— By Sunanda K Datta-Ray

INSTEAD of giving an impetus to India's economic regeneration, our best graduates go to the rescue of America's information . In that respect, they are no different from the domestic maids India exports to the Persian Gulf or the building workers sent to Singapore and Malaysia.

The picture may have changed somewhat by Saturday when this appears in print. But no matter what the new focus, one cardinal fact will remain constant. Outrages like the murder of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, a 32-year-old aviation engineer from Hyderabad, in a bar in Olathe, Kansas City, USA, and the wounding of his companion, Alok Madasani, will continue to occur so long as India cannot provide for its sons and daughters.

Just as India exports raw material to China because it is lacking in adequate manufacturing capacity, India also exports manpower wherever labour is needed because it hasn't developed the necessary employment facilities to absorb their skills. This applies as much to domestic maids who are brutalised in Saudi Arabia as to unskilled construction workers in Singapore and Malaysia or to highly skilled technicians in Silicon Valley in the United States. The last category is especially shameful because it represents the future that might have been India's. Most of these technical experts are alumni of the Indian Institutes of Technology that were supposed to propel India into the age of scientific progress. Nalini Ranjan Sarkar, the pioneering Bengali businessman, industrialist and entrepreneur, responsible for them was a member of the Viceroy's executive council before independence when he was appointed chairman of a 22-member committee that recommended in 1946 the establishment of “higher technical institutions in the Eastern, Western, Northern, and Southern regions of the country along the model of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology”. Humayun Kabir and Dr B.C. Roy, then chief minister of West Bengal, persuaded Jawaharlal Nehru to push through a special law to establish the Kharagpur IIT in 1951.

Sarkar was not an ideologue. He was a pragmatist who made a fortune for himself and wanted to do the same for his country. The IITs he pioneered were expected to provide the skilled manpower for the industries that would open up as a result of Nehru's five-year plans. Sadly, the new temples of modern India did not create the expected . Lacking opportunities at home, the graduates who emerged from the IITs jumped at the chance of bettering their prospects by going abroad, especially to the United States where science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the so-called STEM disciplines, need a constant supply of trained manpower. A recent Brookings Institution report predicts a shortfall of 2.4 million jobs in the STEM field in the US. So, instead of giving an impetus to India's economic regeneration, our best graduates go to the rescue of America's information technology. In that respect, they are no different from the domestic maids India exports to the Persian Gulf or the building workers sent to Singapore and Malaysia. In the past, indentured plantation workers were similarly sent to Fiji, Mauritius, South Africa, the West Indies and other British colonies. At the higher end, Indian technologists may be paid less than their American colleagues but even a reduced dollar salary is more than they would get in rupees. In any case, to put it bluntly, beggars can't be choosers.

They are also at the mercy of racists, eccentrics and drunks like the 51-year-old Adam Purinton who reportedly yelled “Get out of my country” as he shot Kuchibhotla and Mr Madasani, mistaking them for West Asian Muslims. Such fatal mistakes have occurred before. Americans are often abysmally ignorant about foreign cultures, and even a turbaned Sikh has been taken for a Muslim, possibly because of his beard. Apparently, the American news media played down the shooting, at least to start with. While Donald Trump himself uttered no word of regret (at least in the first few days after the tragedy), his press secretary, Sean Spicer, indulged  in specious sophistry to declare it would be “absurd” to link Kuchibhotla's killing to the president's position on immigration.

As it happens, it has been widely reported that the Southern Poverty Law Centre, a non-profit United States organisation that monitors hate groups, does see evidence of a connection between what Mr Trump says and what happens on the ground. Over the past year and half, the Centre has pointed to a “dramatic jump” in the incidence of violence, harassment, and intimidation of minorities, especially of Jews and blacks, during Trump's campaign and after his election which spiked in the aftermath of the November 9 vote. In the first 10 days after Mr Trump was elected, the Southern Poverty Law Centre counted 867 hate incidents, spread across the country. The largest number of such incidents took place the day after the election. Importantly, 37 per cent of them “directly referenced President Trump or his campaign slogans,” according to the Centre. Anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim incidents were particularly virulent.

However, these are largely matters of internal American dynamics. It serves no purpose for Indians to debate whether or not the Kansas City shooting was a hate crime and therefore a Federal offence or just an ordinary murder. But Mr Purinton's reported question to his victims before he fired his shots about the kind of visas they had and whether or not they were “staying here illegally” does seem to have been directly inspired by the bogeys Mr Trump's rhetoric has raised. His ban on emigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, his call for a wall along the border with Mexico, and his February 21 executive order – the day before the shooting occurred – to intensify crackdowns on undocumented migrants may have helped to stoke Mr Purinton's apparent fears. It's not for us to debate whether these fears were justified or not or whether the presidential actions are legal or illegal, just or unjust, fair or unfair. Every nation gets the government it deserves. We are concerned with only the impact on Indians and how to minimise the damage.

That brings one to Sunayana Kuchibhotla's haunting question: “Do we belong here?” Many would reply with a resounding “Yes!” They would take their cue from the legend on the Statue of Liberty in New York which inspired the US charge d'affairs in Delhi, MaryKay Loss Carlson, to call her country “a nation of immigrants”, and to claim that Americans “welcome people from across the to visit, study and live.” But it is open to question whether her generosity is shared by voters in the so-called Rust Belt who enthusiastically voted for Mr Trump and who are equally fervent supporters of his “America for Americans” slogan. They might once have been immigrants (as, indeed, was the Trump family) but statistics show that old immigrants are often the most dogged in rejecting new ones. Singapore's Chinese bear this out.

The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.


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