Last fortnight, I wrote about India’s retention problem. Our problem, i.e., of educated and skilled talent leaving India for countries like Canada and Australia. This is unlike the past migration of Indian workers to, say, the Middle East. A lot of that migration was of low-skilled workers. More importantly, that migration was temporary. Many of their families stayed back in India, which resulted in large amounts of remittances flowing back. But the recent migration is mostly of highly skilled workers. They are migrating with their families and are seeking permanent residence in other countries. They are cutting off their ties with their motherland, possibly forever.
Many readers of my last article had commented on what they believed were the reasons for this talent exodus. Many compared the quality of life in India with that in developed countries. Some spoke of government policies like reservations that make many people feel stymied in India. Corruption in all walks of life was cited as another reason. But I wonder if these are the real reasons why young Indians are leaving in droves.
There was a time, not so far back, when Indians struggled to make a phone call. Roads even between major towns in India were in pathetic condition. But today, India has 5G services along with or even ahead of most other countries. Local charges for world-class communication facilities are among the lowest in the world. The quality of our roads has dramatically improved. There was a time when corruption-related stories filled headlines. It has been a while since we have heard of serious corruption issues. A few decades ago, almost everything that I found in retail shops abroad, I wanted to buy, because those products were not available in India. Today, when I go abroad, I do not feel like buying anything from those shops because almost all those brands are available back home.
Just a few decades back, most graduates wanted to join one of the country’s leading public-sector companies. These employers had a portion of their job vacancies reserved for various categories. This quota policy irked those students who felt they were being discriminated against and that their merit was not getting due respect. No wonder the Mandal Commission quota-related agitation of the early 1990s happened. Today, the job scenario has drastically changed. It is private-sector jobs that many bright students are looking for. So the issue of reservations is not as significant a factor as it was a few decades earlier.
As an observer of human behaviour, I know that humans will always give few rational, conscious reasons for why they behave in a particular way. However, on deeper analysis, we realize that these conscious reasons are hardly the real drivers of those behaviours. There are always deeply emotional, non-conscious reasons for human behaviour. If so, what are the implicit explanations for India’s current retention problem? India is not only improving, but doing so at an impressive pace on most fronts. But the crucial question is this: Is India deteriorating on any front?
For long, it was believed that the real strength of India was its unity in diversity. People of various religions, speaking different languages and belonging to varied cultures, lived together as one united community. But, in recent years, many Indians are getting an eerie feeling deep inside. Even though India’s telecommunication facilities have dramatically improved, our communication with various segments of society is not as smooth as it was before. Although the quality of our roads has become better, there are far too many pot-holes in relationships across different religious communities in our society.
Religion is today playing a greater role in the lives of Indian citizens than ever before. Unfortunately, many of today’s discussions and debates in India hover around religious identity. Religion, however, can never be a unifying force. Because, at a fundamental level, no religion accepts what other faiths have to say. So any discussion involving religious identities and belief systems can only lead to divisions and never cohesion. Of course, religious leaders are enjoying this new-found importance of religion in India. Such leaders now have a point of view to express publicly not just on religious matters, but even on economic matters. They are interpreting all societal matters from their own religion’s perspective. This makes it impossible to have a real dialogue on any contentious issue, because every religion interprets the issue based on its holy books that were written long before the modern age. There cannot be a meeting point between these books. So more divisions are turning out to be the way of life in India.
The majority of Indians are believers in one religion or another. But many are uncomfortable with their religion being used to create a divide with their neighbours. At a rational level, Indians are worried about pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels and agricultural waste. But at an emotional level, many citizens can be observed to be getting increasingly uncomfortable with an environment of animosity and intolerance that various religious agents are creating in this country. This form of ‘pollution’ caused by religious strife is reducing trust levels in the country. A reduction in societal trust is much like a drop in oxygen levels in the environment. And this increasing reduction of trust in society is a significant cause of India’s retention problem.
Biju Dominic is CEO of Final Mile Consulting, a behaviour architecture firm
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