Digital India and The Poor examines how the poor are evoked in contemporary Indian political discourse. It studies the w
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Table of contents :
List of tables
1 Introduction: theme, method, terms, structure
Part I Topdown
2 Experiments in slums, 1999–2006
3 From ‘informal sector’ to ‘financial inclusion’, 2004–14
4 ‘Financial inclusion’ initiatives, 2014–17
Part II On the ground
5 Domestic workers and the performance of hierarchy
6 Domestic workers and technology
7 Conclusion: slippages
Digital India and the Poor
Digital India and the Poor examines how the poor are evoked in contemporary Indian political discourse. It studies the ways in which the disadvantaged are accounted for in the increasingly digitised political economy, commercial and public policy, media, and academic research. This book: • Investigates the category of the poor in India and how they have come to be classified in economic and policy documents over the past few decades • Explores the influential digital education technology ‘experiments’ conducted in Indian slums in the early 2000s, now popularly known as the ‘hole-in-the-wall experiments’ • Discusses financial inclusion initiatives, predominantly as they converged between 2014 and 2017, such as the Jan Dhan Yojana, the Aadhaar Project, and the banknote demonetisation • Presents an in-depth study of the bearing of technology on domestic employment in India The book will be of great interest to scholars and researchers of South Asian studies, politics, political science and sociology, technology studies, linguistics, and development studies. Suman Gupta is Professor of Literature and Cultural History at the Open University, UK. He has held visiting positions at Delhi University, India; Peking University, China; University of Texas Austin, USA; Federal University of Campinas, Brazil, among others. He is Honorary Senior Research Fellow at Roehampton University, UK. He has authored various publications including Usurping Suicide: The Political Resonances of Individual Deaths (2017, co-author), Consumable Texts in Contemporary India: Uncultured Books and Bibliographical Sociology (2015), Globalization and Literature (2009), and The Theory and Reality of Democracy: A Case Study in Iraq (2006).
Digital India and the Poor Policy, Technology and Society
First published 2020 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN and by Routledge 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2020 Suman Gupta The right of Suman Gupta to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record for this book has been requested ISBN: 978-0-367-43894-4 (hbk) ISBN: 978-1-003-01024-1 (ebk) Typeset in Sabon by Apex CoVantage, LLC
For Bhola, Dhiren and Fuleshwar
List of tablesviii Acknowledgementsix 1 Introduction: theme, method, terms, structure
Top-down17 2 Experiments in slums, 1999–2006
3 From ‘informal sector’ to ‘financial inclusion’, 2004–14
4 ‘Financial inclusion’ initiatives, 2014–17
On the ground119 5 Domestic workers and the performance of hierarchy
6 Domestic workers and technology
7 Conclusion: slippages
3.1 Main workers, marginal workers, non-workers and seeking work, age 15–59 66 3.2 Literate and illiterate, age 15–59 66 3.3 Education-level, without education level/below primary/ primary, age 15–59 67 3.4 Number of MSMEs and numbers employed, 2012–13 and 2013–1468 3.5 Income tax returns, all taxpayers, 2014–15 68 4.1 Network underpinning ‘financial inclusion’ initiatives in India, especially 2014–17 108 6.1 Work conditions for placement-agency and non-placement- agency domestic workers 165
For a project such as this, the researcher needs space and time, amenable facilities and access to sources. The Open University, where I am employed, has generously provided all these and more. I am extremely fortunate in my colleagues. They have developed the excellent habit of overlooking my shortcomings and evincing interest in my pursuits. I have come to regard the campus of Roehampton University, where I have been an honorary fellow for a considerable period, as an extension of my home. None there have let me feel otherwise than at home. Frequent visits to Delhi have played their part in the writing of this book. I have plied strangers and acquaintances with questions, filled the (sometimes reluctant) ears of friends and relatives, been an interloper at various events and conferences, pestered librarians and bookshop keepers. To name a few would be to do a disservice to the others; that I still don’t know the names of some or have just about crossed paths with others doesn’t mean that I am any less indebted to them. Thanks are due to Aakash Chakrabarty of Routledge India for taking this book towards publication. Cheng’s scepticism and Ayan-Yue’s doubts about my ideas keep my research moving. For any errors found in this book, I am to blame. Suman Gupta September 2019
1 Introduction Theme, method, terms, structure
The theme The phrase ‘Digital India’ in the title of this study refers to an aspiration for progressive social development through technological means, particularly post-2000. This aspiration has been espoused variously by the political state of India, that is, by the central government, state governments and their agencies. The phrase appears as a brand name for bullish schemes, most ambitiously in the campaign launched by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government in July 2015, ratified by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet in August 2014 (PIB 2014). The campaign incorporated a series of programmes ‘with the vision to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy’ (Digital India Website/ ‘About’ 2015), including setting up comprehensive e-governance structures, upgrading the digital infrastructure (broadband speeds, access to internet, etc.) to the highest global standards, and fostering universal digital literacy. This imperious ambition gave the phrase renewed verve. Numerous reports have been published about those aims, both upbeat and circumspect. This study is, however, not contextualised by that campaign. The phrase ‘Digital India’ is of wider import here. Despite the strong claims made in the government’s campaign, it would be inaccurate to consider aspirations pinned on the phrase as merely driven by government. Numerous commercial and non- governmental organisations (NGOs) are involved in the programmes, both Indian and international (the distinction is now an extremely fluid one, often no more than nomenclatural). To facilitate those involvements, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology set up the Digital India Corporation as a non-governmental non-profit company in 2017 (PIB 2017). Though seemingly new, this was effectively a renaming of the research body Media Lab Asia, which had been set up in 2001 by the same ministry in association with, initially, the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Media Lab. In fact, through its career the phrase ‘Digital India’ has united governments, corporations, NGOs and academia behind such aspirations. As a
2 Introduction brand name ‘Digital India’ used to be owned by the Indian subsidiary of the US-based Digital Equipment Corporation from 1987, and went out of circulation as such around 2003, when Digital merged with Compaq and that in turn merged with Hewlett-Packard. Having started life as a commercial brand name, the phrase then passed into the vocabulary of various governmental initiatives on e-governance from 2006 onwards (notably the Digital India Land Records Modernisation Programme from 2008), and of NGOs trying to bring information technology resources to the marginalised (such as the Digital Empowerment Foundation established in 2002). The phrase has also been popular among academics surveying Indian digital systems and prospects (such as Ghosh 2006; Thomas 2012; Athique 2012, Chapter 5). All of these accruals of connotations and associations of the phrase are relevant for this study. This study focuses on a broad but delimited area on which the aspirations of Digital India are frequently pinned: the poor. I have deliberately foregrounded the relative informality of the term ‘poor’ rather than the comparatively formal ‘poverty’. In academic circles, the term ‘poverty’ under the rubric of Poverty Studies is strongly associated with particular socio-economic methods, which are usually referred to as a canon of key specialists and theories (for accessible overviews see Lister 2004; Haughton and Khandker 2009; Ravallion 2016). As such, ‘poverty’ is understood immediately as a cohesive phenomenon or condition which calls for precise definition, numerate methods of measurement, data collection in specific contexts, and ultimately the determination thereby of the causes of and strategies for alleviating poverty. The obviously distinct connotations of ‘inequality’ are subject to a similar scholarly approach, and often feature alongside or at least within the ambit of Poverty Studies. Particular social factors – inadequate nutrition, housing, income, education, etc. – and the attendant distresses appear as symptoms of a precedent malaise, ‘poverty’ or ‘inequality’, which needs to be tracked to its roots. Differing definitions and methods for studying both ‘poverty’ and ‘inequality’ are subscribed, all of which are variously contested or championed. Amidst differences, however, the disciplinary territory is fairly rigidly structured and territorialised. Analytical methods associated with anthropology, media studies, linguistics, philosophy, politics, history and so on have a conditional purchase in the academic study of ‘poverty’, and appear as ancillary to this core structure of Poverty Studies. In writing this, and choosing to foreground the loose signification ‘poor’ here, I do not mean to disregard that valuable academic approach to ‘poverty’, only to clarify the distinct perspective taken here. The materials of Poverty Studies are often and necessarily referred to in the following chapters, but this study is not a contribution in quite that mould. The term ‘poor’ – and with that definite article ‘the poor’ – belongs to the area of ordinary communications rather than the scholarly. It is often loosely or suggestively used instead of being sharply defined, and works by descriptive association instead of denoting a measured understanding
Introduction 3 of the condition of poverty. In this sense, contemplating poor people may revolve predominantly around one of the social factors associated with poverty: living in congested and unsanitary conditions, doing informal work and earning beneath the income-tax threshold, having indifferent access to education, and so on. And yet, being ‘poor’ has a readily accepted bearing on the nuances of ‘poverty’ (as a well-defined condition) and vice versa, and may well be meaningfully used as such in formal applied contexts, for instance in legal and policy documents. In the next section I pause on the linguistic distinction between ‘poor’ and ‘poverty’ further. By foregrounding ‘the poor’ I intend to draw attention to what this study is about: the ways in which poor people and the condition of being poor are discussed, represented and persuasively or purposively used in public discourses related to the aspirations of Digital India – that is, in political and policy, legal, commercial, media, and relevant academic contexts. Naturally, rigorous definitions, corollary measurements and statistical analyses have a salient, and often determinative, place within the spectrum of discursive contexts in question. Those are within the purview of this study, but in relation to a larger discursive circuit which includes popular discourses, publicity and propaganda. A necessary aspect of the theme of this study is: who talks of poor people or the condition of being poor and why? The who in this study is generally an institution or other collective alignment rather than specific persons; considering the why is where the political thrust of this study lies. In particular, the specific junctures discussed in the following chapters concern complex intertwining of governmental and commercial objectives, public and private interests, which clarify the expectations contained in the phrase ‘Digital India’. I do not begin with an ideological agenda, but hope to bring out the ideological agendas implicit in Digital India – inferences of critical political import may follow from that.
Method and words The theme of this study stated thus, along with the attention to words and phrases already evident, suggests that the method followed here is that of social (or sociolinguistic) discourse analysis. With a bit more political edge, perhaps ‘critical discourse analysis’ (CDA) would be more apt, where the term ‘critical’ is weighted with some interrogative and emancipative commitment. In academic circles, recourse to a received discipline-defined method is usually reassuring, and this study may plausibly be regarded as such. However, instead of referring to the usual sources describing CDA methods (the numerous publications by Norman Fairclough, Teun Van Dijk, Ruth Wodak, Theo van Leeuwen and others), a more immediate, brief and comparatively limited description of the method followed here is expedient. I think of the following as involving the analysis of social texts which converge on specific junctures (or case studies or situated contexts) relevant to the theme and question stated previously. The phrase ‘social text’ is meant
4 Introduction to bring together records and documents which may otherwise be dispersed among different disciplinary and professional areas, and to analyse them in a combined fashion. Social texts incorporate diverse kinds of records and documents that converge on those specific junctures. Thus, legal and policy documents, news reports and documentaries, tabulations of ‘raw data’ and statistical analyses, popular-culture performances and narratives, everyday- life images and records, scholarly papers from various disciplines could all be considered social texts in bearing upon and informing a specific juncture – in constructing, so to speak, the ‘socialness’ of that juncture. Where pertinent, I try to be cognisant of the different communicative modalities (print, digital, audio/visual) involved in texts, and the mechanics of their production, reception and institutionalisation (or archived oblivion). So, the ‘social’ is understood as structured by as well as structuring communication, which is traceable through ‘texts’. The production of the ‘social’ in communication and vice versa accrues as ‘social texts’ in repositories/archives as a collective memory. The mutual bind of communication and the ‘social’ is explored here with regard to what I dub as ‘specific junctures’. I understand the latter as involving an attribution of social relevance to particular themes or occurrences across a wide range of communications. Analysing social texts so as to both clarify particular junctures and understand their social relevance may take different directions. Such analysis may call for recovering such texts from habitual and everyday transience or dislocating them from their preconceived place in practical, expert and scholarly precincts. Here, this analytical process follows the question raised previously, and consists in tracking who, so to speak, voices the social texts – that is, not so much as individual signatories but in terms of collective positions – and why. Between the who and the why every social text presents a rationale, the intent of which may or may not be realised in the actual reception and circulation of such texts. The point of each of the following chapters is to trace the interlocking or slipping rationales for a specific juncture, from which larger patterns and overarching modes of rationalising may become apparent. Together, the chapters would effectively convey the social and political disposition of Digital India articulated around the poor. As noted already, the contextually specific nuances and deployment of words and phrases in social texts is central to the method followed here. It is therefore expedient to pause, at this introductory stage, on the term which is the impetus for this study and gives it coherence – ‘poor’ – and related terms – obviously ‘poverty’, but also a number of others (‘proletariat’, ‘underclass’, etc.). Here, these terms are not merely neutral signifiers in syntactical relationships with other signifiers; in social texts these come with received ideological overtones, or are loaded with normative ideas and rhetorical possibilities. Some notes follow underlining the ideological content of the terms ‘poor’ and relatedly ‘poverty’, and a range of associated terms – arranged under three subheadings.
Introduction 5 ‘Poor’ and ‘Poverty’ The word ‘poor’ seldom calls for analytical pause, and the word ‘poverty’, though more grounded in analytical registers, has also received sparse linguistic attention. They often appear together and are considered to be immediately meaningful in everyday usage, evoking certain kinds of material suffering, deprivation and privation. Both dictionary and academic definitions generally conform to their everyday connotations while qualifying or accentuating those. Put otherwise, these words appear to be transparent and instrumental: words to consensually name a condition before examining or acting upon it. However, when contemplated as words they appear to concentrate various calculations in usage. Here’s an instance of a sociolinguist pausing briefly on the grammatical nuances of the words (in English, of course) before analysing how they featured on a single page of a British tabloid newspaper in 1991: Poverty is something that you are in; this makes it unlike measles, for instance, or luck or hunger, which are things you can have. The place you are in when you are in poverty is an abstract place, like despair (which you are also in), a kind of mental place, an emotional state of affairs. Poverty is not active; it is something with which you have been affected, like hunger. Poverty is a state, not an event. To say ‘I am (living) in poverty’ is to say ‘I am poor’. It is a quality, a characteristic which acts as a description of a person, a classification. This grammar is at once an explanation – not an overt, explicit explanation, but one which, being covert, is all the more potent in its effects. It tells us that poverty is something that you can be in, or get yourself into; that it is a classification of the person to whom it attaches: ‘I am poor’ is like ‘I am tall’ in that respect. (Kress 1994, pp. 28–9) The general point is that even the grammatical positioning of words like ‘poverty’ or ‘poor’ has social import, and already gestures towards explanations. However, ‘poor’ and ‘poverty’ seem to me even less coterminous than Kress suggests. To declare ‘I am living in poverty’ (as a declaration, ‘I am in poverty’ is rare) is not quite the same as saying ‘I am poor’. The former suggests a condition that I find myself in, ‘poverty’ is larger than me and I am within it; the latter suggests a quality which I have internalised, the quality of being ‘poor’ describes me. It is a slight difference, but perhaps a significant one. Thereby different contexts of enunciation are indicated. ‘I am living in poverty’ has an edge of considered formality in it; it comes in the voice of someone who is, despite being poor, contemplating the condition of ‘poverty’ from a distance. The condition is looked at while being owned. Appropriately, ‘poverty’ is the word that slides easily into official and analytical discourse, inviting definition and disaggregation. ‘I am poor’
6 Introduction is a comparatively informal and immediate declaration. It comes in the voice of one who owns to a condition in everyday intercourse. The word ‘poor’ seems a bit too informal for definition and theorising. This slight difference is also emphasised when the words are used as collective nouns with a definite article: ‘the poor’, ‘the poverty-stricken’. ‘The poor’ are simply described as being such; ‘the poverty-stricken’ are understood as afflicted with something. The explanative thrust of the latter is stronger: a call for definitions and remedies is contained in it, and the word is tilted towards formalised discourse. There’s also a matter of tone: ‘poverty’ sounds serious, where ‘poor’ is lighter. The word ‘poor’ may, for instance, be tinged by epithets of endearment for the small suffering of children, or casual expressions of sympathy. Similarly, the word ‘poverty’ might recall more abstract and highbrow (especially academic) metaphoric usage – as in, the ‘poverty of spirit/mind/philosophy/historicism/theory’. Obviously, these slight differences between ‘poor’ and ‘poverty’ are specific to English, but may be found to not dissimilar effect with different grammatical inflections in other languages. The difference between ‘being poor’ and ‘being in poverty’ could, for instance, be conveyed in Hindi by a word-form change which emphasises the general condition (as also in German, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic): garib गरीब (poor) to garibi गरीबी (poverty), and similarly daridr दरिद्र or nirdhan निर्धन (literally, ‘without wealth’) to daridrta दरिद्रता or nirdhanta निर्धनता (literally, ‘wealthlessness’). However, the different tilts towards informality and formality in ‘poor’ and ‘poverty’ are nuanced in distinctive ways in Hindi. Garib and garibi, from Arabic/Persian origins, are the most commonly used, across informal and formal registers. In political slogans, for instance, which link official usage to everyday usage, both may be used in the way ‘poor’ and ‘poverty’ are in English without seeming particularly formal or informal (Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s 1971 election slogan garibi hatāo गरीबी हटाओ or ‘remove poverty’ is the familiar example). But words like daridr/daridrta and nirdhan/nirdhanta, from their Prakrit/Pali origins, sound comparatively formal – or appear to belong to a more erudite register. The complex history and politics of modern language formations in Northern India underpin these distinctions, which are not immediately relevant here. So, Kress’s point in the previous quotation is not language-specific but works distinctively in different languages. At any rate, words like ‘poor’ and ‘poverty’ implicate social mediations within themselves, by their syntactical implications and in their very enunciations. That is to say, these words anticipate their linguistic and communicative contexts and carry their relations to other words, to histories of usage, and are grounded in situations and types of interlocutors. Indeed, focusing on specific words thus might seem suspect to linguists and cultural theorists, putting an unjustified emphasis on one level of language and communication at the expense of others (syntax, discourse, cognitive fields, historical shifts). It might seem more immediately productive to consider words like ‘poor’ or ‘poverty’ in terms of the broad structures of
Introduction 7 language and communication, rather than in themselves. However, the kinds of mediations noted previously for these specific terms are often overlooked. Historians occasionally offer analytical accounts of the fluidity of overly familiar terms like ‘poor’ and ‘poverty’. Tracing the careers of these terms, as Gertrude Himmelfarb’s The Idea of Poverty (1984) did for the period 1750–1850 in England, naturally calls for attention to shifting nuances. The terms do not simply ground the idea of being poor or in poverty, the idea is often shaped and reshaped by interrogating and defamiliarising the terms. Himmelfarb describes various such junctures: Edmund Burke’s objections to the phrase ‘labouring poor’, arguing that the ‘poor’ are those who are unable to work (pp. 68–9); the distinction between ‘pauper’ and ‘poor’ debated around the 1834 Royal Commission report on the Operation of Poor Laws, which complained about the ‘mischievous ambiguity of the word poor’ (quoted p. 159; debates outlined pp. 159–63); the epithets that acquired currency when poverty and affluence came to be described in class terms, as in the newspaper The Poor Man’s Guardian in the early 1830s (p. 241); the deployment of the words ‘proletariat’ and ‘pauperization’ by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (more on this later), and their relation to the terms ‘poverty’ and ‘working class’ (pp. 283–7); Henry Mayhew’s use of anthropological terms – ‘race’, ‘tribe’ – to describe different occupations of ‘the poor’ in London (pp. 324–32). These junctures at which the terms ‘poor’ and ‘poverty’ became opaque, in Himmelfarb’s Adam Smith-centred history (all junctures are understood as departures from Smith’s inclusive wisdom), were effectively moments when liberal principles were clarified, redefined or contested. Interrogating the words were pathways to elucidating their usually tacit ideological content. While the phenomenal experience and visibility of poverty were powerfully accounted around most such junctures, the spur for interrogation and clarification did not quite derive from that accounting, and certainly weren’t prompted by the poor themselves. Each questioning and realignment of terms was offered to articulate immediate political commitments, whether to argue for the direction of poor laws or to present an indictment of the political establishment. Each juncture enabled the elite cognoscenti – legislators, scholars, ideologues, reporters – to take a position relative to each other within their political context simply by registering and emphasising these terms distinctively. That is to say, the terms ‘poor’, ‘poverty’ and the like bear a varied political charge. This political charge describes the discourse of the cognoscenti in their period, and, at the same time, links their discourse to the everydayness of their political life. It is possible that the historian’s source material would foreground a particular nuance of these terms: the policy statements and reports, the treatises of political economy, the statistical accounts and analyses, the media reportage that they consult. The salience of source material in historicising poverty as a concept is foregrounded explicitly in another account, as ambitious in scope as Himmelfarb’s, Alice O’Connor’s Poverty Knowledge (2001). Reversing Himmelfarb’s (neoconservative) celebration of the path of
8 Introduction classical liberal engagement with poverty, O’Connor tracked the twentieth- century path followed in the USA towards neoliberal disengagement from poverty in government policy. The trajectory of academic discourses (‘poverty knowledge’), wherein O’Connor sought an explanation for this turn, usually did not depart from the formal term ‘poverty’. As a focal word, ‘poverty’ remained fairly stable – albeit uneasily, since, ‘Ever aware of its negative connotations, research bureaucrats continually struggled with ways to keep the word “poverty” out of their initiatives’ (p. 13). By way of historical tracing, O’Connor worked through academic concepts and investigative methods that grounded poverty in politico-economic structures, in social prejudice, in class and community stratifications, in behavioural and psychological factors, in ethnographic or cultural determinants, in graded measurements and econometric modelling to inform scientific policy making. In each of these scholarly turns, the term both maintained its semantic integrity and yet accommodated different – even contrary – ideological nuances. Between Himmelfarb’s and O’Connor’s historical accounts a reasonable sense of both the fluidity and the political potency of ‘poor’ and ‘poverty’ is conveyed, as contextually resonant terms that invariably implicate concepts and commitments, especially in liberal thinking. In fact, in considered senses, both terms are now especially embedded in liberal worldviews. Since the liberal worldview dominates at present, much of this study reflects upon and is addressed to it. Within this liberal worldview, the terms ‘poor’ and ‘poverty’ carry a range of ideological emphases which revolve around one principal consideration: the responsibilities of the political state towards, or the degree to which the protection of the state extends to, vulnerable persons within its jurisdiction. This general statement of the ideological remit of these terms seems consistent with the liberal histories outlined previously, but is nevertheless a bit fuzzy. The idea of the political state and its jurisdiction are open to questions and need clarifying, and are considered further as this study progresses – usually by contextually determinate application rather than by prescription. The socialist register The terms ‘poor’ and ‘poverty’ resonate somewhat differently for ideological worldviews other than the liberal, and could, for instance, be elaborated to question the legitimacy of the liberal political state. These terms might thus be productively considered via socialist registers and discourses (or, less productively, monarchic or theocratic). The experience and visibility of poverty has often been the impetus for revolutionary socialist formations, in industrial and agrarian societies as in coloniser and colonised contexts. Engels’s The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845; English trans. 1887) presents a formative juncture in the development of revolutionary socialist commitment, memorable for its sensitive description of poverty both as a lived experience and as a visible phenomenon in industrial towns. Powerful denunciations of these
Introduction 9 conditions occupy significant sections of Marx’s Capital, volume 1 (1887, especially Ch. 25). However, while the condition is named as one of being poor or poverty-stricken, the terms work less to articulate the mere presence of the condition (a problem to be acted upon and alleviated) and more to identify the symptoms of a system (the problem is larger than the symptom). Where in the liberal worldview the persistence of the poor is an unfortunate and eradicable glitch, in the revolutionary socialist worldview it is an inevitable by-product of capitalist production. The poor are then not a social aberration to be brought into focus and managed, if not cured; the poor are understood as actively produced by the system of capitalist production and by the social relations which structure that system. And the cure then is to move towards a different mode of production so as to configure different social relations. From this perspective, the liberal naming of ‘the poor’ as a passive population (suffering, visible) that can be cured, or ‘poverty’ as a condition that can be alleviated, is a mode of distracting from the capitalist logic which in fact constantly produces that population and condition. The emphasis in using the terms ‘poverty’ or ‘poor’ with revolutionary socialist verve is therefore to highlight a process – with regard to a population, but a population exploited, and a condition, but a condition that’s manufactured. The revolutionary socialist register consequently activates terms that underline the process which is evinced in poverty: ‘impoverishment’, ‘pauperisation’, ‘expropriation’, ‘evisceration’, etc. More importantly, whereas in the liberal register terms like ‘the poor’ are ways of naming vulnerable and unwanted collectives, in the revolutionary socialist register that passivising option is largely refused. The naming of collective entities is instead directed towards terms which emphasise the mutual relations between collectives within the capitalist system, their mutually moulded class character: ‘bourgeoisie’ and ‘proletariat’, ‘capitalist’ and ‘working class’, haves and have-nots. The production of the condition of poverty, the experience and visibility of the poor, are absorbed within the formations of the ‘proletariat’, and, more uneasily, the ‘working class’ as they play their parts in the capitalist cycle. The very terms, especially ‘proletariat’, become badges of socialist revolutionary subscriptions. And yet, ‘the proletariat’ are not ‘the poor’, and even less so is ‘the working class’. ‘The proletariat’ – and to some degree ‘the working class’ – are poor insofar as being so arouses and confirms a revolutionary socialist commitment; i.e. they refuse their passive containment in poverty. So, the naming of a collective social entity, a proportion of the polity, as ‘the poor’ in the liberal register does not coincide with ‘the proletariat’ in the revolutionary socialist register. To suggest even an approximate overlap opens up a troubling split within the fold of ‘the proletariat’, and Marx’s naming of the ‘lumpenproletariat’ needs to be brought in: a part of ‘the proletariat’ which cannot become revolutionary socialist, quite the contrary. This part of the ‘proletariat’ could be bought out and used by conservative forces at a potentially insurrectionary moment. In Marx’s account of Louis-Napoleon’s self-coup
10 Introduction in 1851, he found the following amongst the lumpenproletariat who could be thus co-opted to the monarchist strategy: Alongside the decayed roués of doubtful origin and uncertain means of subsistence, alongside ruined and adventurous scions of the bourgeoisie, there were vagabonds, discharged soldiers, discharged criminals, escaped galley slaves, swindlers, confidence tricksters, lazzaroni, pickpockets, sleight-of-hand experts, gamblers, masquereaux, brothel- keepers, porters, pen-pushers, organ-grinders, rag-and-bone merchants, knife-grinders, tinkers, and beggars. (Marx 1973 , p. 197) Even beyond its immediate context, the list conveys the moral opprobrium that attaches to the ‘lumpenproletariat’ irrespective of their straitened circumstances. Later Marxists of liberal bent (or liberals with a penchant for Marx) have occasionally found this moral bitterness troubling, and interestingly their disquiet is sometimes expressed as a matter of terminology, of the political mediations in naming or in using words. Therefore Peter Stallybrass (1990) finds his way into the complexities of Marx’s conception of the lumpenproletariat thus: Lumpen means ‘rags and tatters’; lumpig means ‘shabby, paltry’; and then there are derivatives like lumpen-gesindel, ‘rabble,’ and lumpen- wolle, ‘shabby.’ The name lumpenproletariat thus suggests less the political emergence of a class than a sartorial category. . . . Marx and Engels, indeed, sometimes used lumpenproletariat as a racial category, and in this they simply repeated one of the commonplaces of bourgeois social analysis in the nineteenth century: the depiction of the poor as a nomadic tribe, innately depraved. (p. 70) Others have found more general conundrums in the mutual bind and mutual slipperiness of revolutionary socialist (Marxist) terminology, especially when approached with a liberal conception of ‘the poor’ in view. This is not just in moments such as the discomfiting appearance of ‘lumpenproletariat’, but simply in the fundamental practice of designating classes so as to express their social relation to each other. In Jacques Ranciere’s attempt in The Philosopher and His Poor (2004 ) to pin down a philosophy apprehending ‘the poor’ within the Marxist oeuvre, it is unsurprising that key socialist revolutionary words slip against each other to elide the poor. Words lead Ranciere into a meditation on the crisis of Marxism in his time: Thus the proletarian is nothing else than the negation of the worker. He is the anti-ideologue precisely insofar as he is the anti-worker. By the same token, the worker who is not yet a proletarian can be baptized
Introduction 11 with a variety of names that are all equivalent: artisan, lumpen, petty bourgeois, ideologue. . . . Supposed to interject itself between the worker and the consciousness of his state, this baleful third party has no consistency. . . . If it amuses them, some may indulge in the grave recital of the ‘objective conditions’ delaying the development of proletarian consciousness, but delay is not a historical category. The ‘consciousness’ in question does not belong to the development of ‘objective conditions.’ Artisan, petty bourgeois, lumpen: these sociohistoric categories are merely comic masks disguising the distance between worker and proletarian, the noncoincidence of the time of development and the time of revolution. (p. 80) The schism between ‘proletarian’ and ‘worker’ is pertinent but over-stated by Ranciere; some sort of liberal conception of ‘the poor’ as a stable outer horizon is required to present ‘the worker’ and ‘the proletarian’ as so utterly at odds. Naming The previous observations on revolutionary socialist terms serve here to clarify the thrust of the liberal register. Insofar as this study goes, ‘poor’ and ‘poverty’ are terms which signify in the liberal register. Liberal formations, institutions, policies and politics predominantly structure the present. My argument here builds upon the notion that how a condition, state of affairs, collective idea is named – for example, as being ‘poor’ or ‘in poverty’ – emits a political charge and announces an ideological stance: in this instance, of liberal hue. Such naming recruits the phenomenon of material suffering and privation to a political purpose, and equally politics infuses our grasp of that phenomenon through such naming. I am using naming here in the way Sylvain Lazarus used it in Anthropology of the Name (2015 ); ‘poor’ and ‘poverty’ are in his scheme, ‘simple names’: ‘The simple name is a word that opens up a field of thought – for example, politics’ (p. 66). They appear as words that structure an area of social life; in Lazarus’s terms, as signifiers of ‘the thought of people’, which are immediately also ‘a relation of the real’. Naming ‘the poor’ in this sense precedes approaching them as an object of study from which politics and policy would follow. Perhaps the thrust of ‘poor’ as a simple name is best understood in relation to a cluster of associated terms (or associated namings, Lazarus might call them ‘categories’). The use of ‘poor’, and correlatively ‘poverty’, has signified a type of condition, person, group, place, idea, policy, etc., in a relatively stable manner since around 1800. But, within the period since 1800, the associated terms have shifted in indicative ways, tracing the dynamic relationship of language to social transitions. A set of terms that used to be commonly associated with ‘poor’ through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries has been overtaken in common usage by another set through and
12 Introduction since the later twentieth century. The earlier set includes words like ‘pauper’, ‘indigent’, ‘destitute’, ‘penury’, ‘vagrant’, ‘vagabond’; and the latter such terms as ‘disadvantaged’, ‘underprivileged’, ‘deprived’, ‘homeless’. The former terms are directly denotative, whereas the latter connote the negation of a standard (of being ‘advantaged’, ‘privileged’, ‘affluent’, ‘housed’). Such standard-negating terms gesture implicitly towards a party responsible for maintaining standards, typically thought of as the liberal state (government). I am confining this observation to words in English which have some kind of formal place, which are apt to appear in legal and policy research papers, in the headings of bills and statutes, in the titles of institutions and commissions, in academic and journalistic reports, and in political communications and therefore in everyday communication. A large number of colloquial and informal words are relevant but not germane here, which have surfaced and drowned in a continuous informal flow: ‘bum’, ‘dosser’, ‘tramp’, ‘hobo’, ‘drifter’, ‘bagman’/‘bagwoman’, ‘skint’, ‘broke’, ‘penniless’, ‘bust’, ‘strapped’, ‘down-and-out’ and so on. The terms now associated with ‘the poor’ in liberal discourse are obviously of more importance for this study than the relatively archaic or uncommon. Such terms, in fact, have occasionally been tracked, questioned, analysed, and deconstructed productively. At times such questioning has served to reflect upon scholarly and social mediations of poverty themselves. Ideas of ‘social class’, discussed previously with reference to the socialist register, play their part in contemporary liberal terminology with reference to the poor in distinctive ways. This is usually in relational terms (such as, upper/middle/lower classes), but occasionally has an independent dynamic when class is used to categorise ‘the poor’. Notably, ‘underclass’ has had a troubled but productive career since Gunnar Myrdal (1962) coined the term to refer to the unemployed and unemployable, by way of explaining the economic conditions which give rise to their presence. In subsequent decades the word was called upon to characterise neighbourhoods and ethnicities, to chart the behavioural characteristics of the poor, and to develop various measurements of poverty (Aponte 1990 gave a useful account of various definitions) – so that the ambiguities of the term led to a heated debate. Herbert Gans (1990), in arguing that the term itself had come to pose some dangers for research and policy, observed: In the past five years the term’s diverse definitions have remained basically unchanged, although the defining attempt itself has occasioned a very lively, often angry, debate among scholars. Many researchers have accepted much or all of the now-dominant behavioral definition; some have argued for a purely economic one, like Myrdal’s; and some – this author included – have felt that the term has taken on so many connotations of undeservingness and blameworthiness that it has become hopelessly polluted in meaning, ideological overtone and implications,
Introduction 13 and should be dropped – with the issues involved studied via other concepts. (Gans 1990, p. 272) However, Gans’s call to drop the word had little effect. Instead, researchers found the debate around it to be revealing; and historicising the use of ‘underclass’ itself offered a way of structuring various approaches to poverty (starting with Katz 1993, 1995, Chapter 2). In a related manner, the word ‘slum’ to refer to the living conditions of the poor has been exposed to searching interrogation. Alan Gilbert’s (2007) objections to its uncritical use are, as he says, reminiscent of Gans’s objections to ‘underclass’: What makes the word ‘slum’ dangerous is the series of negative associations that the term conjures up, the false hopes that a campaign against slums raises and the mischief that unscrupulous politicians, developers and planners may do with the term. Since writing the first draft of this article I have discovered that Gans (1990) makes a similar complaint about the dangers inherent in using the term ‘underclass’. The difference is that he is complaining about the dangers that are inherent in using a new, somewhat euphemistic, term. I am complaining about resuscitating an old, never euphemistic, stereotype; one that was long ago denounced as dangerous and yet has now resurfaced in the policy arena. (Gilbert 2007, p. 701) A debate about the use of the word has followed and will probably continue. On a related note, in Britain the ideological manoeuvers involved in Tony Blair’s New Labour government policies on tackling ‘social exclusion’ after 1997, led to numerous critical explorations into the nuances of the phrase. Ruth Levitas (1998, Chapter 1) observed that the phrase seems to homogenise the socially ‘included’ and seeks to gloss over the complexities of social stratification and power so as to make ‘exclusion’ a peripheral singularity; Norman Fairclough (2000, Chapter 2) found that by making a distinction between ‘social exclusion’ and ‘material poverty’, and by focusing government policy on the former, New Labour language seemed to render the poor passive; David Byrne (1999) had by then already considered the history of the phrase (and concept), to suggest that its deployment was a tactful way of blaming the poor and diluting welfare provisions. Historicising and redefining ‘social exclusion’ with reference to British and European Union policies has since formed a voluminous scholarly enterprise, as revealing of the language of policy making and of scholarship itself as of the condition referred by the phrase. Comparatively less analysed, phrases which call explicitly on the standard of welfare benefits to refer to the poor (usually pejoratively or with suspicion) are ripe for similar critical engagement: such as, ‘on benefits’, ‘benefit claimant’, ‘benefit cheat’, ‘benefit fraud’. These could
14 Introduction be considered standard-policing phrases as opposed to standard-negating terms like ‘socially excluded’, ‘marginalised’ or ‘disadvantaged’. As such, the former seem to hold the poor who receive benefits accountable or culpable in contrast to considering that they are owed obligations by standard- maintaining authorities (the government). Words and phrases in this area are never free of ideological inflection.
Structure With these initial notes on the theme of this study, and on the relevant methods and terms, let me move towards its main business. Two Parts follow, ‘Top-down’ (Part 1) and ‘On the Ground’ (Part 2), each with chapters paying close attention to social texts relevant to specific junctures. The top-down perspectives discussed in Part 1 are found in social texts relevant to academic and policy discourses of a large scale, such as those that bear upon poor people across the country (and the world). The junctures in question here, to which such social texts were anchored, foregrounded a top-down view of poor people in relation to technological development. Three chapters feature in Part 1. The first (Chapter 2) explores influential education-technology ‘experiments’ conducted in Indian slums (here, the focus is on Delhi) from the late 1990s to around 2006, now popularly known as the ‘hole-in-the-wall experiments’. Two subsequent chapters (3 and 4) are devoted to ‘financial inclusion’ initiatives, predominantly as they converged between 2014 and 2017. Chapter 3 examines the backstory leading into this period, describing a policy shift from the ‘informal sector’ to ‘financial inclusion’ and proposing an analytical framework to consider the initiatives in a cohesive fashion. Chapter 4 then discusses the initiatives in question by turn, but so as to discern cross-connections and overlapping rationales: the Jan Dhan Yojana, the Aadhaar Project (underpinned by the Aadhaar Act 2016), and the banknote demonetisation move. Thus, in Part 1, ‘Top-down’, principles of general social import (such as, the role of digital technology in primary education in Chapter 2) and policies for large-scale social engineering (such as, instituting systems for financial management in Chapters 3 and 4) are at stake, with progressive claims and commercial interests threaded through them. Those formulating such principles and policies tried variously to obtain an overview of the poor. The poor were gauged according to definitions of their characteristics and needs, consumptions and habits, etc. These overviews enabled the principles to ostensibly include them and policies to be putatively extended to them. The poor were seemingly accommodated within social development enabled by technology, in particular by networked digital apparatuses and infrastructures. Or, at any rate, benefits to the poor were foregrounded as the main reason for promoting adoption of the latter. However, despite appearances, the developmental initiatives that followed were seldom directed specifically towards poor people. The technological applications and commercial drives were generally wider and targeted all consumers, affluent and poor
Introduction 15 alike. But in every case the poor were particularly invoked, appeals were made in their name, their custom courted, their cooperation and compliance demanded. The poor in India thus appeared within the purview of national and transnational visions and programmes. They became stepping stones in projects for universal education, all-inclusive governance, global enterprise. The poor flickered and came into focus and blurred and at times disappeared in such top-down views. In turning to on-the-ground perspectives in Part 2, I do not really offer a bottom-up view or try to present the perspective of poor people themselves on such technological development. A bottom-up perspective would naturally be of interest here, but I am uncertain whether it can be meaningfully obtained. Various means for obtaining bottom-up social perspectives, or at the least getting close to such perspectives, have been attempted by researchers. In almost all of those it has proved difficult to determine where the investigator’s preconceptions end and untrammelled access to the poor research-subjects’ perspective begins. Instead, in Part 2 an attempt is made to look closely at the nitty gritty of work and life among the informally employed, or, more precisely, a segment of that population which is ordinarily considered poor. Social texts relevant to a particular close-to-the-ground social relation are examined here: that of domestic workers and their employers in contemporary India, mainly as that relationship has evolved over the period covered in Part 1. The domestic worker-employer relationship is considered here, somewhat unusually for the Indian context, in terms of concepts of and social arrangements grounded in technology. In that respect, both parts cohere with the backdrop of aspirations pinned on Digital India. Two chapters belong in Part 2 (‘On the Ground’). Chapter 5 does some preparatory work prior to focusing on the bearing of technology on the domestic worker-employer relationship in the subsequent chapter. Existing scholarship on domestic worker-employer relations is surveyed, and one particular feature of this relationship highlighted: dubbed ‘the habitual interpersonal performance of hierarchy’ here. Chapter 6 then examines the bearing of technological development on the domestic worker-employer relationship at two levels. First, this relationship is considered in terms of the technology that is used in employers’ homes (mainly appliances); and second, technology that is not directly relevant to domestic work but may mediate the worker-employer relationship is considered. A brief Conclusion draws together strands of arguments that cut across both parts.
References (All weblinks cited in this chapter were last accessed on 20 August 2019) Aponte, Robert (1990). “Definitions of the Underclass: A Critical Analysis”. In Herbert J. Gans ed. Sociology in America. Newbury Park, CA: Sage. 117–37. Athique, Adrian (2012). Indian Media: Global Approaches. Cambridge: Polity.
16 Introduction Byrne, David (1999). Social Exclusion. Buckingham: Open University Press. Digital India Website/ ‘About’ (2015). www.digitalindia.gov.in/content/about-programme Engels, Friedrich (1987). The Condition of the Working Class in England. London: Penguin. Fairclough, Norman (2000). New Labour: New Language. London: Routledge. Gans, Herbert J. (1990). “Deconstructing the Underclass: The Term’s Dangers as a Planning Concept”. Journal of the American Planning Association 56:3, Summer. 271–7. Ghosh, D.K. (2006). Digital India: Rural Empowerment and Transformation. New Delhi: UBS. Gilbert, Alen (2007). “The Return of the Slum: Does Language Matter?” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 31:4. 697–713. Haughton, Jonathan and Shahidur R. Khandker (2009). Handbook on Poverty and Inequality. Washington: World Bank. Himmelfarb, Gertrude (1984). The Idea of Poverty: England in the Early Industrial Age. London: Faber and Faber. Katz, Michael B. ed. (1993). The ‘Underclass’ Debate: Views from History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Katz, Michael B. (1995). Improving Poor People: The Welfare State, the ‘Underclass’, and Urban Schools as History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Kress, Gunther (1994). “Text and Grammar as Explanation”. In Ulrike Meinhof and Kay Richardson eds. Text, Discourse and Context: Representations of Poverty in Britain. London: Longman. 24–46. Lazarus, Sylvain (2015 ). Anthropology of the Name. Trans. Gila Walker. London: Seagull. Levitas, Ruth (1998). The Inclusive Society: Social Exclusion and New Labour. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Lister, Ruth (2004). Poverty. Cambridge: Polity. Marx, Karl (1972 ). Capital: A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production, Volume 1. London: Lawrence and Wishart. Marx, Karl (1973 ). “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”. In Surveys from Exile: Political Writings, Volume 2. London: Penguin. 143–249. Myrdal, Gunnar (1962). Challenge to Affluence. New York: Pantheon. O’Connor, Alice (2001). Poverty Knowledge: Social Science, Social Policy, and the Poor in Twentieth-Century U.S. History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. PIB (Press Information Bureau) (2014). “Digital India–A Programme to Transform India into Digital Empowered Society and Knowledge Economy”, 20 August. http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=108926 PIB (2017). “Digital India Corporation”, 23 May. http://pib.nic.in/newsite/Print Release.aspx?relid=162044 Ranciere, Jacques (2004 ). The Philosopher and His Poor. Trans. John Drury, Corinne Oster, and Andrew Parker. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Ravallion, Martin (2016). The Economics of Poverty: History, Measurement, and Policy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Stallybrass, Peter (1990). “Marx and Heterogeneity: Thinking the Lumpenproletariat”. Representations 31, Summer. 69–95. Thomas, Pradip Ninan (2012). Digital India: Understanding Information, Communication and Social Change. New Delhi: Sage.
2 Experiments in slums, 1999–2006
Hole in the wall The so-called ‘hole-in-the-wall experiments’ offer a revealing case study for a relatively early stage of considering the use of technology for bettering the lot of poor people in India. In many ways, they enabled the formulation and clarification of strategies found in the subsequent larger-scale initiatives discussed in later chapters here. These ‘experiments’ were initiated in 1999 by a team of researchers under Sugata Mitra, head of research and development at the National Institute of Information Technology (NIIT), Delhi, which initially provided funding. The NIIT is now described on its website as: a market-leading learning outsourcing company that provides managed training services including custom content development and curriculum design, learning administration, learning delivery, strategic sourcing, and learning technology. In the late 1990s NIIT was predominantly known in India through its countrywide network of centres providing commercial IT and IT- based pedagogic courses. It was already developing educational software and was moving into online education products and services, and was on the verge of becoming a global corporation. The first ‘hole-in-the-wall experiment’ consisted in placing freely accessible computers on a NIIT centre wall facing a slum in Kalkaji, Delhi, and observing how the slum children dealt with them without any instruction, simply by encountering the machines. In the previous chapter I noted some disquiet about the use of the word ‘slum’, to which I return later; for the ‘experiments’ in question, that was a term foregrounded and I stay with it for much of this chapter. Since the slum children were raised in impoverished circumstances, it was understood that they had received indifferent or no formal education and were not proficient in English. Mitra’s research team found that the children soon became reasonably competent in using the computers, operating some software, and accessing information from the internet. They were seemingly able to do this quickly to standards
20 Top-down equivalent to particular stages of formal education. The hypothesis this putatively proved was stated thus: The acquisition of basic computing skills by any set of children can be achieved through incidental learning provided the learners are given access to a suitable computing facility, with entertaining and motivating content and some minimal (human) guidance. (Mitra 2000, p. 3) In this first instance, the minimal human guidance meant programming constraints on the computers and peer consultation among the children. Insofar as that hypothesis went, it seems incidental that the children being observed were from a slum. Similar ‘experiments’ were repeated with reportedly similar results in other urban slums, and later in deprived rural areas, and then in slums in other countries. The ‘hole-in-the-wall experiments’ soon became a media event, aided by enthusiastic interviews and optimistic (visionary) prognostications by Mitra. In fact, somewhat unusually, media notice preceded academic publications arising from the ‘experiments’ (the first significant academic paper was published in 2001). Moreover, reports appeared to be more fervent and numerous in the international media than the Indian: between 1999 and 2002, reports appeared frequently in British news outlets (e.g. Popham 1999; Cohen 2000; BBC 2001; Harvey 2001), but also in the USA, Australia, Canada, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Nigeria and Singapore. Though the hypothesis stated previously didn’t in itself seem limited to the slum context, media notice and consequent public interest was overwhelmingly focused on that context, and Mitra duly encouraged attention to it. From the beginning, his prognostications included the possibility of gradual and wide-scale poverty alleviation through access to computers and a comprehensive re-hauling (reduction) of the formal education system. The project expanded and developed into other projects with generous grants and awards from various bodies. Mitra himself received a number of prestigious awards (the 2013 TED Prize was widely reported). In 2006, he moved to Britain to take up a professorship at the University of Newcastle. The ‘hole-in-the-wall experiments’ seemed important and a matter of public interest because they were done in slums, with poor ‘human subjects’; at the same time, the results of these ‘experiments’ seemed to be of universal import and not particularly indicative for the slum context. At the nexus of academic, media, corporate, policy and political discourses where the ‘experiments’ featured, the condition of slums in India seemed to be, simultaneously, both significant and irrelevant. This paradoxical circumstance, it is argued later, makes these ‘experiments’ a useful point of reference to understand how slums and their residents are conceived and discursively mediated. The question that is pursued in the following sections is: what is the significance of the slum context for these ‘experiments’, especially at the juncture in which they were undertaken and reported? Attention is limited here to the initial phase of the ‘experiments’, roughly from the year in which
Experiments in slums, 1999–2006 21 they were initiated, 1999, to the year of Mitra’s departure from NIIT, 2006. In this interim, the ‘experiments’ had a reasonably continuous trajectory, a scholarly and media terminology developed coherently around them, and their reception displayed some consistent features. This was also a significant juncture for policy making and political developments with a bearing on slums, in India and more broadly. To keep this argument firmly grounded, the ‘experiments’ are not presented here as indicative for Indian slums in a broad way; rather, the focus here is on slums in Delhi, where the project began. Slums in India – or anywhere – are far from being homogeneous formations. Given that India is a federation of regional states with distinct cultural and linguistic characteristics, and with well-defined degrees of political autonomy, mediations of slums have both common denominators and significant differences across the country. The capital city of New Delhi and surrounding areas, the National Capital Territory (NCT), possess a complex but coherent governance structure and economy that bear upon slums. Indeed, a careful consideration of these nuances complicates the idea of ‘slums’ itself. The next two sections of this chapter examine Mitra and his research team’s work in some detail, with the first focusing on the methods and the second on the circumstances in which they were undertaken. A further section considers some of the business interests that played with these ‘experiments’. The final section registers the specific conditions prevalent in and policies relevant to Delhi slums – or, rather, informal settlements – during the initial period of these ‘experiments’.
Hypothesis/Inference Once the hypothesis previously quoted was proffered and received as a confirmed inference following the ‘experiments’ in Delhi (Mitra 2000; Mitra and Rana 2001), further investigations followed accordingly. They appeared to reiteratively reconfirm the inference and increasingly to take it for granted. On the one hand, further ‘experiments’ were seemingly undertaken to corroborate previous observations (Mitra 2003), much as natural science experiments are repeatedly checked. Despite occasional scepticism (e.g. Arora 2010), they reportedly did so. On the other hand, further ‘experiments’ were nudged and adjusted to tease out further implications from the hypothesis/inference. Therefore, by 2003 a consequent hypothesis was also putatively being tested: If given appropriate access, connectivity and content, groups of children can learn to operate and use computers and the Internet to achieve a specified set of the objectives of primary education, with none or minimal intervention from adults. (Mitra 2003, p. 370) The ‘experiment’ had evidently moved on from being simply demonstrative of slum children’s – and therefore putatively all children’s – capacity
22 Top-down to acquire computer skills without instruction, to, moreover, being able to do so to standards equivalent to formal education. In other words, the emphasis of these ‘experiments’ had shifted to suggesting that formal education could be replaced to some degree by the mere provision of a networked computer to children. That is, the role of formal education and direct teaching (schooling) could be reduced or made redundant in parts by simply putting children before computers. By 2005, the ‘experiments’ had firmed up that direction of inference by comparing ‘the computer literacy of self-taught children to students who gained formal computer education by conventional and structured classroom, teacher-centric instruction delivery systems’ (Mitra et al. 2005, p. 408). Tests were devised to compare the learning progression and knowledge of different cohorts of the formally educated and the ‘self-taught’ – the term in use was ‘minimally invasive education’ (MIE), on which more later – and the conclusion stated thus: The unstructured, open and flexible environment of the MIE learning station seems to produce comparable levels of computer literacy amongst learners as compared to formal methods. It does so at a considerably lower cost. (Mitra et al. 2005, p. 424) The sentence on ‘cost’ is an interesting one: it was suggested that not only is formal schooling not necessary, it is not cost-effective – it is cheaper simply to make computers accessible. A project report on these ‘experiments’ in the same year with Mitra as co-author (Dangwal et al. 2005), administered similar tests to show that, after a given period, the self-taught cohorts performed better than students of indifferently resourced government schools and only marginally worse than those of well-resourced private schools. It may be inferred then that publicly funded education, catering to children from poor backgrounds, can be done away with rather than improved, and privately funded education, for children whose guardians can pay, could also be minimised. Or, stated in generalised terms: So far, the successful results showing that computer literacy can be acquired without formal instruction already call for new ways of applying this principle for children’s learning, especially for those in disadvantaged communities. Foremost among these applications is primary education; here MIE can supplement the traditional education system. (Dangwal et al. 2005, p. 56) Later experiments along these lines underlined the redundancy of teachers by introducing ‘local or online mediators’ in the ‘experiments’, including: friendly mediators such as parents, grandparents or other adults in remote areas. Such mediators are not likely to be trained to teach, nor
Experiments in slums, 1999–2006 23 are they likely to have any specific subject knowledge. Indeed, in India and many other countries, they may even be illiterate. (Mitra and Dangwal 2010, p. 674) The role of the ‘mediators’ would be simply to make encouraging and congratulatory noises and not otherwise participate in the learning process. Mitra’s ‘experiments’ since delved further into the possibilities of using technology to minimise formal education and do without teachers, but I don’t go into them here. The emphasis on slums as context has steadily diminished in these later projects, and nothing new has been added with regard to poor people. As a logo, the phrase ‘hole-in-the-wall’ appeared here with the knowing wink of being both descriptively meaningful (the computer is placed on a wall) and wittily suggestive (against the grain of its conventional idiomatic sense) – similar in inspiration to Barclay Bank labelling its UK cash machines (ATMs) ‘holes-in-the-wall’ in 2006. The logo suggested that the walls separating privileged spaces and slums were being broken, that the ‘digital divide’ was being bridged, that dispossession and possession were being merged. Much media reportage took it at face value (e.g. Cohen 2000 for The Guardian was taken by the phrase, and Rickards 2005 for the BBC dwelled upon it). However, as observed previously, the ‘experiments’ in question were interpreted as being relevant to all children rather than particularly slum children, and as being indicative for formal education in general. The generalised hypotheses/inferences were couched in terms redolent of scientific authority. Nevertheless, the popular thrust of ‘hole in the wall’ was retained and oft reiterated, suggesting a move towards breaking walls and bridging divides. NIIT’s corporate backing and investments were kept in the background; they were not played down, simply rendered unobtrusively pervasive. The ownership of the project became mainly Mitra’s, regarded now as an individual visionary scientist, and his academic credentials as a physicist were played up accordingly. The project’s institutional base became the impressively named Centre for Research in Cognitive Systems (CRCS) of NIIT. Perhaps most suggestive of scientific authority were two phrases which became, so to speak, the ‘academic brand’ of the project, featuring constantly in scholarly journal papers and as shorthand for the project in serious discussion: ‘minimally invasive education’ and ‘self-organised learning’ (with ‘environment’ tagged to the end of that, enabling the resonant acronym SOLE in due course). ‘Minimally invasive education’ was half way between suggesting scientific rigour and having brand appeal; it worked, after all, simply as an analogy from medical terminology. In a Businessweek interview Mitra (2002 , p. 78) observed disarmingly that, ‘It started out as a joke but I’ve kept using the term’. The analogy was to ‘minimally invasive surgery’, or procedures where surgical incisions and correspondingly after-effects are minimised. Even in medical circles the term had
24 Top-down appeared as a canny way of courting consumer demand against academic authority. The director of the Department of Minimally Invasive Surgery at London’s Institute of Urology had introduced the term thus: ‘Surgeons applaud large incisions and denigrate “keyhole surgery.” Patients, in contrast, want the smallest wound possible, and we at Britain’s first department of minimally invasive surgery are convinced that patients are right’ (Wickham 1987, p. 1581). Perhaps Mitra kept using the term not merely because of its consumer appeal but also because it could be read as a metaphor: ‘education’ as ‘surgery’ and an ‘invasion’, all the more painful insofar as it was ‘formal’ or undertaken by teachers; ‘minimally invasive education’ was the painless and equally beneficial replacement of formal education by technological devices and infrastructures. ‘Self-organised learning’ and ‘self-organised learning environment’ are the terms that directly signify the rationale that these experiments were based on, and, in an indicative way, clarify the purpose to which slums and slum children featured there. Though Mitra’s publications do not give the originating references, the phrase in this context harks back to 1950s– 60s cybernetics. It particularly recalls Heinz von Foerster’s work on ‘self- organisation’, and research at his Biological Computer Laboratory (BCL), set up in 1958 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (a useful retrospective account was given by Gordon Pask , a similarly influential contemporary; for a range of retrospective reflections see Müller and Müller 2007). In brief, ‘self-organisation’ was defined in terms of changes in the ratio of observed entropy to maximum possible entropy within a given system against time. The research focused on identifying factors (such as adaptability) which enable change towards decreasing observable entropy to take place. This research was mainly driven by a desire to design artificial systems that emulate human systems (biological and social). That necessarily involved exploring human individuals and collectives as self-organising systems and investigating the interactions between human and artificial systems. Naturally, the possibilities for understanding and enhancing learning and training were contemplated in this vein, since these seemed to be areas where findings might have immediate applications (Pask 1975 laid out the theoretical considerations). This line of research wasn’t too distant from suggesting that the interaction of humans as self-organising systems and computers as programmed systems could enhance the reduction of entropy in the former (help them to become educated). That amounts to seeing humans as biological computers organising themselves according to the programmed options of artificial computers; in a way, humans thus programme themselves through a heuristic process of engaging with artificial computers. This rationale of ‘self-organised learning’ evidently underpinned the ‘hole- in-the-wall experiments’. In the ‘experiments’, the slum children encountering networked computers were assumed to be biological computers with some basic programming (to the extent that any child of that age group would naturally have) but with negligible interfering programming (formal education).
Experiments in slums, 1999–2006 25 So, networked computers could have direct and untrammelled interaction with their basic programming. Given that assumption, it followed that the slum children’s ability to learn by simply playing with computers is a universal human ability for that age group. In other words, it was assumed that slum children are a kind of human tabula rasa in the Lockean sense for the purposes of this ‘experiment’. The slum children were understood in terms of what they do not have (formal education) – which seems to gel with the poverty of not having – and not in terms of what they distinctively might have because they are brought up in a slum environment. It was assumed that the slum environment makes them empty vessels for learning purposes; their disadvantage was an advantage for this ‘experiment’. That is the only extent to which the slum environment needed to be considered as a factor in this ‘experiment’, as a mechanism for removing the interference of formal educational input: that is, the slum empties children of content, and in a way the slum is a conceptual emptiness itself. So, while there was much talk about alleviating poverty and raising people out of slums around the ‘experiments’, and consequently a kind of virtuousness accrued to the project, the inferences did not quite see or recognise slums and their inhabitants in substantive terms. Unsurprisingly, Mitra’s and his researchers’ academic publications devoted little effort to analysing slums, which were presented with sympathetic platitudes and cursory gestures towards lacks. The totality of the information on the slum context found in the first significant published academic paper from this project was: The slum contains a large number of children of all ages (0–18), most of whom do not go to school. The few who do go to government schools of very poor quality (that is, low resources, low teacher or student motivation, poor curriculum and general lack of interest). None are particularly familiar with the English language. (Mitra and Rana 2001, p. 225) The summative book about the project which Mitra (2006a) eventually produced spoke of numerous impoverished locations where the ‘experiments’ were carried out, within India and finally in Cambodia, without saying much about the lifestyles, practices, cultures, work, economies, etc. of these locations. This account consisted predominantly in upbeat notes by and on his team and their findings. The impoverished locales were seemingly mentioned so as to be erased in the statement of the findings, even while those findings were promoted and publicised on the back of concern about poverty.
Slum children If one were looking for investigations and publications on slums in, for instance, Delhi over the initial period of the ‘hole-in-the-wall experiments’, from 1999 to 2006, there were plenty to be found. Though research into
26 Top-down poverty in India has traditionally focused on the rural sector, this was in fact a period when urban poverty was addressed squarely. Researchers on the urban sector carefully analysed the large-scale data that governmental statistical surveys provide. Since that often offers only cursory insights into local levels, researchers also conducted different scales of questionnaire-based surveys and interviews. Very few of the obvious factors which characterise slum life escaped such attention, and each took the relevant local policies and demographic patterns into account. Instead of seeing slums as passive and stable formations, researchers saw them as fluid (significantly structured by ongoing country-to-city migrations), internally variegated (segmented by class, caste, kinship, source of migration, kind of employment, etc.), and, though invariably poor, differentiated by infrastructural provision. These features apply both within particular slums (with more or less salubrious, convenient, builtup arrangements) and across different slum areas. In short, there isn’t one kind of area that can be labelled a ‘slum’ – I return to this point later. Most researchers adopted a view of slum dwellers that is succinctly put thus by one: Slum dwellers should not be considered merely the victims of dire poverty, but should also be seen as dynamic agents capable of implementing their own economic strategies and of finding appropriate responses to the challenges posed by specific urban environments. (Mitra A. 2003, p. 11) In this strain, and within this period, the lives of slum inhabitants were investigated in terms of migrant inflows, employment and networks, income and consumption patterns and savings (Gupta and Mitra A. 2002; Mitra A. 2003; Kumar and Aggarwal 2003; Mitra A. 2004a, 2004b). The pressures of environmental stress, nutrition and health naturally attracted interest (Misra et al. 2001; Ruback and Pandey 2002; Siddiqui and Pandey 2003). Political influences on and the political participation of slum inhabitants were explored (Ramachandran 2002; Harriss 2005). The particular pressures faced by women in slums were a constant concern: in terms of health and education (Thapan 1997; Garg et al. 2001; Thapan 2003), gender violence (Magar 2003), and, of course, employment and domestic work (those cited previously offering statistical breakdowns and explanations). All these research studies took the regional and national governments’ policies, provisions, limitations and ideological inclinations as a framework for analysis. The notion of the Indian political state’s responsibility towards and protection of the poor were consistently strongly held in this period. The fine grain of children’s lives in slums largely fell through these careful reckonings. It is principally in terms of the provisions and failures of the schooling system (that is, the government-funded schooling system) that children featured. In this respect, considerable research was produced in this period for the Delhi region (e.g. Banerji 1997; Bhatty 1998; Banerji 2000; Aggarwal and Chugh 2003). The picture presented was fairly consistent: a
Experiments in slums, 1999–2006 27 not insignificant number of slum children had not attended school at all; among those who had, dropout rates were high and performance poor. The factors cited were largely predictable: inadequate parental support (though not necessarily for lack of aspiration), the expense of schooling (not actually free even if government schools didn’t charge fees), children being put to work, linguistic disadvantages, children feeling discriminated against. For all the cited researchers, however, the superseding factor was the indifferent provisions of government schools accessible to slum inhabitants: uninspiring teaching, poorly qualified staff, deteriorating buildings, lack of basic equipment, a discouraging environment. Some researchers argued persuasively against the prevailing tendency to blame the slum dwellers themselves, to simply accuse parents of obstructive attitudes or to hold child labour as the debilitating factor. Thus, one study found: The role of child labour as an obstacle to schooling has been consistently overestimated. Exaggeration of this problem is particularly common (for understandable reasons) among organisations working for the abolition of child labour. Kailash Satyarthi, chairperson for the South Asian Coalition of Child Servitude (SACCS), sums up the problem as follows: ‘How can we make our country fully literate when 60 million of our children are engaged in full time jobs as child labourers?’ . . . As against these distorted perceptions of the roots of educational deprivation, the present review highlights the crucial role of (1) the direct costs of schooling and (2) the low quality of schooling facilities. (Bhatty 1998, p. 1863) And another observed: The evidence from household surveys in urban slums shows that the common explanation – children are not in school because they are working – is not sufficient. The analysis suggests that the inadequate [sic] of the school system to attract and keep children is more crucial than households [sic] economic circumstances for explaining why so many children are not in school. . . . The data indicate that rather than household economic forces ‘pulling’ children out of school, school factors may be more important in ‘pushing’ children from school. (Banerji 2000, p. 795) Such studies argued that more public investment was needed to improve the dysfunctional schools that are accessible to slum children. However, inferences made from the ‘hole-in-the-wall experiments’ recommended disinvestment from such dysfunctional schools and instead making a considerably lower investment in providing networked computers for slum children to engage in ‘self-organised learning’.
28 Top-down Had the ‘hole-in-the-wall’ researchers factored in distinctive features of the slum environment, their leading hypothesis/inference might have been different from the one they foregrounded. That is to say, the observations and findings they presented in publications were consistent with another hypothesis/inference. The one they fixed on, quoted at the beginning of this chapter, stated: The acquisition of basic computing skills by any set of children can be achieved through incidental learning provided the learners are given access to a suitable computing facility, with entertaining and motivating content and some minimal (human) guidance. (Mitra 2000, p. 3) The hypothesis that is arguably more suited to their methodology and just as aptly inferred from their results could instead have been stated thus: Children from slums and other similarly depressed environments acquire basic computing skills through incidental learning more efficiently than children from relatively affluent backgrounds and environments, provided the learners are given access to a suitable computing facility, with entertaining and motivating content and some minimal (human) guidance. In brief, the hypothesis could have been that slum children are not any set of children; their particular circumstances enable particular skills. The nuances of research methodology are significant here, especially the distinction between hypothesis (which precedes and is tested by experiments) and inference (which follows from the results obtained from experiments). If the former hypothesis was being putatively tested by the ‘hole-in-the-wall experiments’, it could be argued that the ‘experiments’ had a design flaw in that they weren’t set up to negate the latter hypothesis. If the former is actually an inference made from the results and observations of the experiment, it could be argued that this inference was preconceived (perhaps ideologically driven) since the other equally plausible inference was not considered or was suppressed. The latter hypothesis/inference, that slum children have particular abilities, naturally needs a different mode of testing. Nevertheless, the results that these ‘hole-in-the-wall experiments’ offered seemed to gesture towards its plausibility. To develop this alternative line of argument further, how slum children are thought of calls for reconsideration. Instead of assuming that the deprivations they face leave them with only the basic abilities of all children, it could be considered that deprivations enable particular abilities which may not apply to children from relatively affluent backgrounds. It is possible, for instance, that the relative lack of domestic stability and school support would engender greater degrees of independence and
Experiments in slums, 1999–2006 29 resourcefulness – stronger survival abilities to counter greater circumstantial vulnerability. One of the researchers working on education provision for slum children observed: Out-of-school children living in the poorest localities tend to lead very independent lives. In contrast to children from middle-class families these children, especially boys even as young as eight, often go where they wish and do what they want. The prospect of going to school, sitting in a crowded room and listening to a boring teacher does not appeal to such boys and girls. In Rafiq Nagar boys aged 10 to 12 sort garbage in the dumping ground in order to earn just enough money to go and see a movie. Innovative and joyful methods are needed to capture the imagination of such free children. As most of the large urban municipal school systems are not flexible or fun, it is hard to keep such children motivated to learn. (Banerji 2000, p. 798) In fact, it is suggested here that the school system is pegged to the norms of middle-class dependence and compliance. All the publications by Mitra and his team took particular note of the extent to which slum children encountering the computers helped each other. Their first significant publication observed that, ‘Children formed impromptu classes to teach one another’ (Mitra and Rana 2001, p. 230). It is possible that these ‘impromptu classes’ represent a kind of informal network with a cooperative structure (with distinctive group features) which slum children are more acclimatised to than their middle-class counterparts. The latter are, after all, socialised from very early stages, kindergarten onwards, to compete against each other in institutionalised ‘formal classes’. It is, at any rate, a possibility that could have been tested in the ‘hole-in-the-wall experiments’. Among adults in slums, as Arup Mitra, another researcher cited previously observed, informal networks are critically important. Various social factors underpin the importance of informal networks: the mode of entry of inhabitants into slums, the prevailing local organisation within a slum, larger social and cultural stratifications, the paucity of formal support systems and infrastructure, the dynamics of employment and relatedly domestic arrangements, etc.: Physical proximity to one’s caste members, co-villagers, relatives and friends cushions the initial shocks of city life and eases their transition [i.e. of the new entrants migrating from villages to urban slums]. In India, the multilingual and multi-ethnic identities of its citizens make such adaptations even more important. . . . Besides, . . . since the activities of the contact persons (early entrants) and the late entrants are mostly similar, the sharing of family or personal resources in their pursuit of economic goals becomes almost inevitable. (Mitra A. 2003, p. 25)
30 Top-down Such informal networks are, no doubt, significant in all lives, of whatever social class, but they understandably offer a particularly significant recourse for slum inhabitants. What pertains to adults in slums may well be reflected in the lives of their children. Moreover, given that these children are often born and brought up in slums, they are likely to have other modalities of peer support and group allegiances. It seems likely that children in a slum would collectively crack the possibilities of a networked computer without instruction more efficiently than children accustomed to their own rooms and to stable domestic or institutional support. Collectively, the slum children do not present a blank slate for education; they have already learned something from their impoverished shared environment. However, that does not mean that the slum children’s ability to do so would give them any longer-term advantage relative to their middle-class counterparts. Though it might appear that facilitating this ability (simply by more exposure to networked computers) should reduce disadvantages, observations made in the ‘hole-in-the-wall experiments’ actually showed quite clearly why poverty is debilitating despite the slum children’s abilities. An unhurried consideration of some of Mitra’s observations could sharpen their import in this regard. For instance, Mitra and his team repeatedly noted that linguistic mediation played a crucial role in the slum children’s attempts to use the machines. To successfully engage with networked computers without being given instructions, after forming ‘impromptu classes’, ‘Children invented their own vocabulary to define terms on the computer, for example, “sui” (needle) for the cursor, “channels” for websites and “damru” (Shiva’s drum) for the hourglass (busy) symbol’ (Mitra and Rana 2001, p. 231). With a bit more detail: These children had developed their own vocabulary to describe icons in the Microsoft Windows environment. For example, they referred to the mouse cursor as “teer” or “sui”, Hindi words for arrow and needle, respectively. The folder symbol was described as a cupboard for keeping other objects. While the words used to describe the icons were chosen from their own language and experience, their descriptions of the functionality of the icons were accurate. (Mitra et al. 2005, p. 413) The inference that Mitra made from this was that the time spent on learning elementary computer terminology in formal education is not really relevant to the purpose of being ‘computer literate’. In his words from the Business Week interview cited previously: If they’ve got the idea of how a mouse works and that the Internet is [like a wall they can paint on], who cares if they know that a computer is called a computer and a mouse is called a mouse? In most of our
Experiments in slums, 1999–2006 31 classes here at NIIT, we spend time teaching people the terminology and such. That seems irrelevant to me with these children. (Mitra 2000 , p. 77) In other words, according to Mitra the vocabulary collectively developed by the slum children on their own is expressive of and enables ‘computer literacy’. What Mitra and his team observed was, however, somewhat more complex than they suggested. There were several interwoven levels of translation involved. First, the icons (pictograms) needed to be given names by which the children could collectively refer to them in conversation. Naturally, they chose names from the language they habitually use, Hindi, in which some degree of code-switching with English is common (so, in Hindi, the English word ‘channel’ is commonly used for television channels, and it is understandable that the children would use it for websites). Second, the functions of the named icons needed to be decoded so that the children could use the computer. In this, the associations involved in naming from Hindi are useful because the icons are designed to suggest relevant terms from ordinary language usage. Third, the researchers (Mitra and others) needed to recognise that the children were using this double level of translation – pictogram to Hindi to functionality. Here Mitra and team employed another level of translation: from the Hindi words used by the children to their standard English equivalents (such as, ‘cursor’, ‘website’, ‘folder’, ‘loading’/ hourglass). This was a critical step in Mitra’s attempt to make sense of the children’s engagement with the computers. The very idea of ‘computer literacy’ is ultimately grounded more in that set of standardised terms than in merely functionalising some features. These terms are predominantly in English (globally the language of information technology and the internet), and at times in other languages within established user communities (Chinese in China, Portuguese in Brazil, etc.). These terms are grounded in formal and professional systems for learning about and working with computers, at both user and programmer levels. That is why time is devoted to teaching the formal terminology in the NIIT, and that is the terminology any instruction manual would have used. Therein lies a fourth factor: Mitra and his team were observing the slum children collectively working out the computer’s usable features colloquially, through verbal communication with shaky habitual terms; but, for Mitra and his team the relevant register is not only standardised but stabilised in writing – learnt from manuals and textbooks and reproduced in their own writing. Underpinning Mitra’s and his researchers’ ‘computer literacy’ was actual literacy certified by formal educational qualifications. Underpinning the kind of potential ‘computer literacy’ Mitra observed in the slum children was uncertain functional literacy, perhaps illiteracy, with shaky formal educational input and prospects. The four levels of linguistic mediation involved suggest a quite different inference from that reached by Mitra: the disadvantage that slum children
32 Top-down suffer from compared to children from more affluent backgrounds, or children accessing competent formal education, is not that of lesser ability. Similar ability is demonstrated in being able to collectively functionalise their unmediated engagement with computers. The disadvantage is in being excluded from the standardised terminology of ‘computer literacy’ and therefore formal and professional circuits grounded in that terminology. In fact, such disadvantage is aptly understood as co-extensive with a wider linguistic disadvantage that slum children, indeed slum inhabitants generally, are likely to suffer from. This is carefully studied ground, already so when the ‘hole-in-the-wall experiments’ were underway. To begin with, there is the social dynamics of language policy and politics in India to take into account, which work to marginalise the poor (Mohanty 2000 gave a succinct account of this). On the one hand, the middle classes have kept their privileges by maintaining English-medium schooling and, more importantly, a higher education system dominated by English-language instruction. So, competence in English is recognised as the key to social mobility. This is particularly evident to those from poor backgrounds, who have to make extraordinary efforts to educate their children accordingly (on this, see Advani 2009, and on taking recourse to private education for that end, see Desai et al. 2008, esp. pp. 18–20). On the other hand, even within vernacular medium schools, the preferred standard of Indian languages adopted has been according to Sanskritised forms, traditionally the domain of the upper castes to the exclusion of impoverished lower castes. In the mainstream, this means that the non-standard ‘minority mother tongues’ become – or are structured into being seen as – ‘impoverished languages, languages of poverty and disadvantage’ (Mohanty 2000, p. 105). The pattern of linguistic disadvantage in question is far from being specific to India; within English- speaking contexts, the same dynamic of social privilege and marginalisation can be found in the relationship of an educated English standard to the regional, and even more tellingly to the so-called ‘pidgins’ and ‘creoles’ (as Mufwene 1994, 1997 influentially observed). Further, insofar as the language policy and politics of India bears particularly upon slums and children therein, linguistic disadvantages could well be significant factors in poor performance in or exclusion/dropouts from school. Researchers very occasionally mention this, as here: The implications of the medium of instruction have not been adequately examined especially from the viewpoint of learning styles of slum children. Since most of the people living in the slums are first-or second- generation migrants, their mother tongue is generally different from the medium of instruction (Hindi in case of Delhi government schools, English in unrecognised schools). The specific educational problems of the slum children as enunciated above needs to be addressed through appropriate interventions and strategies. (Aggarwal and Chugh 2003, p. 11)
Experiments in slums, 1999–2006 33 Well over a decade after that was noted, this remains to be systematically explored and addressed. It is of some interest that while the ‘hole-in-the-wall experiments’ were underway, Mitra did publish a paper on English learning (Mitra et al. 2003). This reported on testing software for improving English pronunciation and enunciation. It was administered again to children near a slum, but in this instance they were in an ‘English medium school; the entire curriculum is taught in English [and they] could already read and speak English at variable standards of competency’ (p. 77). Though the results were ambiguous, and the bearing of the slum context even fuzzier than in the ‘hole-in-the-wall experiments’, the ‘hypothesis’ was again stated so as to cohere with the direction of those ‘experiments’. Interestingly, the thrust of this is most unambiguously stated in the paper’s abstract: ‘that groups of children can operate a computer and improve their pronunciation and clarity of speech, on their own, with no intervention from teachers. The results of the experiment are positive and point to a possible new pedagogy’ (p. 75). This appeared to support the notion that the mere provision of a networked computer with suitable programming could replace formal education and the support of teachers in slums – though contradictorily both formal schooling and teachers were directly involved before the tests were administered here. Simply mentioning ‘slums’ seemed to have the effect, as far as Mitra’s hypotheses/ inferences went, of paradoxically both promising a salutary effect on them and at the same time erasing them as meaningful social context. Insofar as Mitra and his team presented the ‘hole-in-the-wall experiments’ as offering evidence that formal primary education and teaching could be largely replaced by providing networked computers instead, especially in poor areas, it would seem they might have been promoting a recipe for solidifying and perpetuating the disadvantages that slum children suffer from. And insofar as that aroused the enthusiasm and garnered the support of journalists and broadcasters, academics, policy makers, research funding bodies and award makers, the latter were doing so too.
Business interests Perhaps the ‘hole- in- the- wall experiments’ were greeted enthusiastically because they seemed vaguely associated with concepts of ‘critical/radical pedagogy’ (Paulo Freire 1970 onwards) and ‘deschooling society’ (the phrase popularised by Ivan Illich 1970). The libertarian temper of the latter in particular appears to be close to Mitra and his team’s approach to the ‘experiments’. Illich’s (1970) manifesto inveighed against professional teaching and formal education, pinned hopes on mass technology as instruments of learning (the television), and was written with the conviction that public funding would always be insufficient for adequate universal education. The line of ‘critical pedagogy’ from Freire (1970) onwards, socialist in thrust, considered a comprehensive restructuring of education from below
34 Top-down (by ‘the oppressed’), which seems to loosely associate it with Mitra’s interest in slums and the poor. But Freire – and later researchers into ‘critical pedagogy’ – did not straightforwardly suggest doing away with professional teaching and institutional spaces for education (the classroom). Usually, they chose instead to redefine prevailing relationships and arrangements by focusing critically on them. In fact, Mitra’s readings of the ‘experiments’ offered little more than rhetorical similitude to Freire’s or Illich’s concepts. In their foundational formulations, those concepts derived from ideological territory that wasn’t shared by Mitra and his team. Freire’s ideas were grounded in the dialectic of oppressor and oppressed, and his pedagogic principles were conceived so as to rise above that bind. Illich’s diatribe was against the perpetuation of pervasive consumerism through the schooling system, and his notion of ‘learning webs’ designed to liberate active choices amongst learners. These were then, in distinct ways, pedagogic principles led by social critique – an oppositional or resistant assessment of the current and general social condition. Mitra and his team not only did not begin with such social framing, they studiedly evaded it. As observed previously, the slum context was circumstantial in their hypotheses/inferences, registered cursorily for effect rather than analysed as a social phenomenon and factored into their ‘experiments’. In different ways, Freire and Illich saw pedagogy as the path towards or an undertaking properly achievable by comprehensive change in the existing political and economic order, a transformation of society as a whole. Thus, Freire thought of critical pedagogy as consisting in two stages: in the first, pedagogy will grasp the dynamics of oppression itself, and thereby move towards the second, ‘in which the reality of oppression has already been transformed, this pedagogy ceases to belong to the oppressed and becomes a pedagogy of all people in the process of permanent liberation’ (Freire 1970, p. 54). Illich felt that ‘new formal educational institutions’ of the future based on his idea of an ‘opportunity web’ would ‘require the application of constitutional guarantees to education’ (Illich 1970, p. 75). Mitra and his research team’s ambition via the ‘hole-in-the-wall experiments’ was very much smaller. They wished their ‘experiments’ to bear upon the existing circuit of pedagogy alone. They proposed inexpensive measures ostensibly for the benefit of the poor but actually for effect upon all children, but without disturbing middle-class advantages. Arguably, they were implicitly augmenting middle-class advantages. There is evidently a significant ideological difference between Mitra and his team and proponents of ‘critical pedagogy’ or of ‘deschooled society’, and naturally the former made little of the latter. So, obvious questions arise. Why were these ‘experiments’ and their hypotheses/inferences received so warmly? More importantly, why did Mitra and his collaborators push a line of thinking which seemed pertinent to slum contexts and was yet so determined to neglect social analysis of those contexts, to the extent of courting methodological contradictions? Though largely muted in discussions of
Experiments in slums, 1999–2006 35 the ‘hole-in-the-wall experiments’, business interests – and a socio-political order which centres business – might have encouraged the path that the ‘experimenters’ followed. Mitra and his team were employed, as noted already, in the private corporation NIIT, ‘a market-leading learning outsourcing company that provides managed training services including custom content development and curriculum design, learning administration, learning delivery, strategic sourcing, and learning technology’. Naturally, NIIT funded the ‘hole-in-the-wall’ project with its profit-making interests in view, and Mitra represented those interests as an employee. Unsurprisingly, the business considerations underpinning the ‘hole-in-the-wall experiments’ were not far from Mitra’s mind. In the Business Week interview cited previously, Mitra spoke unusually explicitly about his project’s significance for the business-minded: TP: What are the business applications of all this? SM: I get asked this question all the time. It’s kind
of ironic that a company that makes [a big chunk of its sales from running computer-training institutes] should invent a method where no teacher is required. The answer is that just because a method is economically viable, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for alternatives. A good business is one which provides more and more for less and less. The cost of your goods and services should spiral downwards. The second point is that we are going to have an e-commerce boom. But what happens when an Indian businessman puts his shop on the Web? Where’s he going to get customers from? If someone lets me do this experiment for five years, with 100,000 kiosks, I reckon we could get 500 million children computer-literate. It would cost $2 billion. But if you had to pay to educate the same children using traditional methods, it would cost twice as much. TP: If this were to become a business, would it require government funding? SM: Advertisers like Coca-Cola might be interested. But it would absolutely have to have government funding. I can’t think of a company that would put $2 billion into this. The governments will have to realize that the problem of haves and have-nots is about to [become] the problem of knows and knows-not. Do we want to create another great big divide where the problem of illiteracy will come back in another context? In a very short period of time, adults who do not know how to deal with a [computer] mouse will have a very difficult time dealing with almost everything in life. (Mitra 2002 , p. 78) Let’s sharpen the logic of Mitra’s responses insofar as NIIT is implicated in them, that is, of the ‘company’ that ‘invent[s] a method’, as Mitra says, thereby acknowledging where intellectual property might rest. First, he suggests that insofar as NIIT provides face-to-face IT (information technology) training this project works potentially against its business interests, so it is
36 Top-down driven by a kind of disinterested search for ‘alternatives’ and altruism on consumers’ behalf (‘provide more and more for less and less’). Second, he observes that producing the kind of scaling-up of ‘computer literacy’ that this project envisages is less to alleviate social disadvantages and more to increase the ‘customer’ base for e-commerce – notably, not a skills base for employment in the IT sector but a consumer base to buy IT products. Here Mitra speaks of a hypothetical ‘Indian businessman put[ting] his shop on the Web’ who would want these customers. The possibility that NIIT could be this ‘Indian businessman’ setting up a ‘shop’ of education/training software and online delivery of education/training seems implicit there – that is, NIIT moving from face-to-face to online operations. So, the ‘hole-in-the-wall’ project could be regarded as a method for preparing a mass customer base for NIIT’s possible online ventures. A collateral advantage from such an objective could also be an amassing of data during the project on the market for NIIT’s online ventures. If so, the ‘hole-in-the-wall’ project could serve as NIIT’s market research (and of other companies, that’s why advertisers like Coca Cola feature here). Third, Mitra recommends that governments should make big-scale investments in this project. That is to say, in the name of computer literacy for the poor (generally a consuming public with indifferent computer literacy), the government should invest in NIIT’s preparation of a customer base for its online products. It is recommended that the government should become the proxy for the customer base for NIIT’s online products. This is another way of saying that the government should guarantee, as investor-customer, the profits of NIIT’s software and online products by using public money. In the process, public resources could also be used to buy hardware – computers – from companies producing those. The concept of public money is elaborated further in the next chapter. NIIT grew out of the operations of HCL (Hindustan Computers Limited), founded in 1976 and principally driven by industrialist Shiv Nadar. It was initially devoted to producing computers for the Indian market, launching its own personal computer line in 1984. In the course of the 1980s and 1990s, HCL diversified into a cluster of companies with a range of production and service lines working in partnership with a significant number of multinational corporations, thus becoming a multinational corporation itself (the process is described succinctly in Moneycontrol.com 2007). A study of multinational Indian companies described this as ‘fractal organization’: ‘spinning off individual businesses as separate companies, to be run autonomously by their CEOs, and then encouraging each of those companies to spin off their outgrowths’ (Ghosal et al. 2000, p. 277). One of HCL’s first outgrowths, funded by Shiv Nadar, was NIIT Limited, established in 1982 to provide IT training through regional centres. Though NIIT did not receive degree recognition within India, it did from a range of international bodies, beginning with the American Council of Education (ACE) in 1989. Through the 1980s, its growth and national market capture was phenomenal, with centres appearing across the country. Through the 1990s though,
Experiments in slums, 1999–2006 37 as the IT market grew speedily in India, NIIT’s hold on the IT education market declined. According to a 2002 case study: The slowdown in the IT education business and the low student enrolments had badly affected its financial performance. NIIT’s education revenues, as a percentage to its total revenues, had dropped to 20% for 2001 compared to 45% in 2000. Moreover, net profits declined by 57% from Rs 2.24 billion in 2000 to Rs 960 million in 2001. . . . NIIT’s market capitalization had also come down to Rs 90 billion in 2002 from Rs 240 billion in 2001. The company’s market share in the IT education business had steadily declined from 70% in 1992 to 41% in 1996 and further down to 36% in 2001. (ICMR 2002) The initiation of the ‘hole-in-the-wall experiments’ coincided with a change in strategy for NIIT as its training centres became less profitable, and it is unlikely that these two facts are unrelated. Thus, around the turn of the millennium, within an increasingly friendly legislative environment, NIIT focused on developing ‘software solutions’ related to ‘learning solutions’ (outlined in Baboo 2007). That involved developing IT packages not only for the training of IT professionals, but also for non-IT professionals, for professional development, and for various stages of general education from primary to higher. As it happened, in view of declining revenues from the hardware sector, HCL also shifted ground in this period (from 1998) towards a greater focus on software development for different areas (that is, business process outsourcing with various international partners), and very successfully. HCL did not disinvest from producing computers though. The ‘hole-in-the-wall experiments’ were especially productive for NIIT’s new focus around 2001–2. They brought salutary publicity to NIIT’s venture into learning-software products and prepared the ground for online- education products, and set up both a customer base and the grounds for public (government) investment. The bottom line of this success is found in NIIT’s profits in this period: compared to the financial year 2003/2004, in 2004/2005 NIIT saw a 13% growth in profits before taxes and 25% growth in net profits (Baboo 2007, p. 27). Beyond the value provided to NIIT for brand building and preparing a congenial investment and consumer environment, the ‘experiments’ fed most directly into profits from and investments in products designed for the primary education sector (that sector where children of the age groups of those slum children figure). Given Mitra’s observations on the need for public investment into the ‘method’ being developed through the ‘experiments’, not insignificantly, NIIT obtained very lucrative contracts from India’s regional governments for primary education services. So in December 2000 it was reported that NIIT ‘has bagged the largest IT contract in India valued at Rs 148 crores from the Karnataka Government. The order for implementing computer education in [around
38 Top-down 700] high schools across the length and breadth of the State will run for five years’ (Business Wire India 2000). In a 2006 publication, Mitra noted: In order to cater to the IT learning needs of schoolchildren (primary and secondary levels) the company set up an independent business unit that focuses on the implementation of projects within specified quality and time norms. NIIT has already submitted itself to a dominant share of this business in the three Indian states of Karnataka, Punjab and Tamil Nadu. West Bengal has also entrusted NIIT with the task of introducing computer education to 100 schools as a pilot. (Mitra 2006b, p. 415) The article this quotation is from was, however, not about primary education but the tertiary or higher education sector, reporting in particular on the success of NIIT’s online NetVarsity. This was founded in 1996, followed by the incorporation of a new subsidiary, NIIT Online Learning Limited (NOLL) in April 2000 (there’s the ‘Indian businessman [who] puts his shop on the web’). In fact, higher education and advanced professional training probably accounted for more of NIIT’s net profits than primary education. NIIT circumvented its lack of degree-awarding powers in India by partnering with degree-awarding institutions abroad, a growing practice after the passing of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) in 1999 by the Government of India (and a matter of some concern at the time, see Sinha 2003). By 2002 NIIT had entered into five such partnerships, with the University of Canberra in Australia, Auckland Institute of Studies in New Zealand, the University of Sunderland in the UK, the Southern New Hampshire University in the USA, and the ITT Educational Services also in the USA (Observatory 2002). The last allowed for degrees to be obtained by online study alone. The ‘hole-in-the- wall experiments’ seemed to have a direct bearing only on primary education, which was but a part of NIIT’s software and learning solutions enterprise. However, the brand promotion and claim of research specialism those ‘experiments’ enabled no doubt helped NIIT’s education ventures as a whole. The manner in which the ‘hole-in-the-wall experiments’ fitted into the specific rationale of NIIT’s ventures is discernible in the picture sketched here. Further, the ‘hole- in- the- wall experiments’ facilitated NIIT’s entry into the sphere of global multinational corporations in other ways too. The growing penetration of multinational corporations and of digital resources in global social life, and especially in underdeveloped contexts, seemed to put a particular pressure on the former to evidence their ‘corporate social responsibility’. The phrase itself goes back to the later nineteenth century, and the various ideas it encapsulated through the twentieth were accounted well before the period of interest here (as a historical tracking, formatively in Heald 1970). By the period of interest here, around the turn of the millennium, the phrase had acquired a particular currency – as suggested by this Google n-gram showing how many times the phrase was used year-by-year in documents archived on Google Books:
Source: Google Ngram figure generated by author
Figure 2.1 Google N-gram showing usage of ‘corporate social responsibility’
corporate social responsibility
40 Top-down Where ‘social enterprise’ (providing public benefits while eliciting private profits) acquired particular nuances in affluent countries like the UK and USA, ‘corporate social responsibility’ seemed to concurrently gather specific resonances for multinational corporations with markets in developing countries (though usually financially grounded in affluent countries). For an emerging multinational corporation like NIIT, the need to demonstrate ‘corporate social responsibility’ was particularly pressing. To begin with, NIIT was seeking to ground itself financially in affluent geopolitical zones having emerged from, and by capitalising on the market of, a developing country. Further, the nature of its business – IT services and products – inevitably raised questions about the implications for developing countries. The main question was whether the ‘digital divide’ would be exacerbated: that is, as IT-based infrastructures become normalised in daily life, whether the affluent and computer-literate will marginalise and dispossess the impoverished (non- English speaking) computer- illiterate population of the world further. Insofar as India went at the time, an article by Kenneth Keniston (1998) argued persuasively that this would happen unless the localisation of digital systems was programmatically developed – linguistically localised, for a start. For NIIT, with its global aspirations, the direction of travel was away from localisation. Moreover, digitalisation aside, the obviously growing global sway of multinational corporations alongside governmental disinvestments was being viewed with concern in development circles. The most influential agency in this area, the UNDP, released a report through its Commission on the Private Sector and Development in 2004 entitled Unleashing Entrepreneurship: Making Business Work for the Poor. This argued that business could be made to work for poverty alleviation if the emphasis shifted from large multinational corporations towards small and medium enterprises within developing contexts, facilitating such enterprises from rising out of poverty themselves. The report observed that ‘the private sector is important for the poor – and often is the poor’ (UNDP 2004, pp. 7–8). The argument, in other words, stressed localisation of private-sector policy rather than globalisation – again, not quite in sync with the business sector NIIT identified with. To position itself congenially and yet competitively within the sphere of large multinational corporations, NIIT (and HCL) needed some high-profile demonstration of serving ‘corporate social responsibility’. For that company, no project has done this more effectively than the ‘hole-in-the-wall experiments’. The ‘experiments’ chimed with normative concerns within NIIT’s originating context and market, India; they also chimed with the discourse of ‘corporate social responsibility’ that concerned multinational corporations and policy makers in the affluent countries where NIIT was grounding itself financially. Unsurprisingly, other multinational corporations were also fulfilling their ‘corporate social responsibilities’ in Indian slums around the same time, on various fronts. Among others, in 2003 it was reported that
Experiments in slums, 1999–2006 41 the NGO Child Rights and You (CRY) had partnered with the American multinational Cadence Design Systems to provide computers in schools near Delhi slums (Varke 2003). CRY had supported the Swati project, run by the charitable Rajiv and Neelu Kachwaha Trust, since 2001 to offer computer classes in Delhi slums (Munshi 2001).
Informal settlements In this chapter so far, I have used the word ‘slum’ because it appeared in publications of and about the project conducting the ‘hole- in- the- wall experiments’. It appeared thus with some preconceptions and calculations. Here, ‘slum’ seemed to signify a sketchily apprehended and undifferentiated zone of poverty. The term evoked pity and fear and aroused altruism. Paying studied attention to ‘slums’ ensured the goodwill of the media, governments, (socially responsible) corporations, consumers and the public. The learning ability of ‘slum children’ was taken as representing the lowest common denominator of such ability among children generally, and therefore the ‘slum’ was considered a suitable field to test the basic learning abilities of all children. It was observed that providing services, such as primary education, in ‘slums’ cost governments much public money. So, it was proposed that at least some or perhaps all of this money could be spent more efficiently by giving slum children suitably programmed and networked computers – which would also, incidentally, be profitable to IT companies and service providers. That covers the thrust of the word ‘slum’ insofar as those experiments went. In brief, the term ‘slum’ gestured towards a poor area which can be entered, observed, experienced, and examined, but only so as to be left unassimilated while interests outside that area are courted. None of the texts relevant to the ‘hole-in-the-wall experiments’ offered a definition of ‘slum’. Usually, serious interest in such a poor area begins with definitions, not because that necessarily pins down the term ‘slum’ but because definitions are useful to initiate social analysis, to consider details and nuances, to depart towards increasingly complex reckonings. Alan Gilbert’s (2007) misgivings about the growing currency of the word ‘slum’ (quoted in Chapter 1) are worth recalling, even when such usage appears with good intentions. He argued that the word concentrates negative norms such that the intent of both social analysis and development policy is undermined. His argument referred to recent attempts at defining ‘slum’ in policy and academic discourses (in particular with World Bank/UNHCS 2000; UN-Habitat 2003a, 2003b reports before him). These definitions focused on identifying features that characterise life in a ‘slum’ (an environment which is unsanitary, unsafe, congested, neglected, etc.) and/or gauging the paucities of the built environment (e.g. makeshift or dilapidated housing, poor sewerage, uneven water and electricity supply, inadequate access to schools and clinics, irregularly policed). These definitions thus focused on the content of the ‘slum’ to
42 Top-down define it, on life within or the built structure that composes a ‘slum’. Further, such definitions cut across different social contexts and cultures, and seemingly captured a universal quality of, so to speak, ‘slumness’. Gilbert objected to this way of defining ‘slum’ on three grounds. First, ‘standards differ across the world, so what is considered to be a slum by poor people in one country may be regarded as perfectly acceptable accommodation by much poorer people in another’ (Gilbert 2007, p. 699). Second, what are considered ‘slums’ are not homogeneous: both across and within regions considerable diversity is found. And third: The word ‘slum’ is not just an absolute but is also a relative concept. . . . If a slum is a relative concept, viewed differently according to social class, culture and ideology, it cannot be defined safely in any universally acceptable way. Nor is the concept stable across time because what we consider to be a ‘slum’ changes. In cities where the general quality of housing gradually improves, areas that do not change become ‘slums’ because of their relative neglect. Outside toilets used to be acceptable in western Europe, but today houses without an inside toilet are considered to be unacceptable. This is precisely the same complication that confronts the measurement of poverty. In the EU, if some people become relatively richer, the index of poverty automatically classifies more people as poor. To make real sense, the baseline definition of a slum, like poverty, has to be both absolute and relative. (Gilbert 2007, p. 700) It is because recent definitions elide these distinctions that Gilbert found the use of the word ‘slum’ to be problematic, ultimately based more on normative presumption than on social analysis. And yet, unless such definitions were offered it would have been difficult for Gilbert to crystallise his objections and clarify the picture; the definitions offered enough of a meaningful absolute to draw attention to the need for the relative. The balance between universalising and homogenising uses of the term ‘slum’, and the differentiations, diversities and agencies (the relative dimension) the term simultaneously contains, has troubled scholars. That is, scholars have felt troubled insofar as they have thought about ‘slums’ with circumspection, with a careful conceptual apparatus. By and large, these are productive misgivings: a social apprehension of the ‘slum’ is, as Gilbert says, both absolute and relative. Equivocation between absolute and relative features serves to disperse the integrity of the term in a clarifying fashion. Thus, in a review essay on texts between 2000 and 2004 by prominent cultural theorists (Ash Amin and Nigel Thrift, Nigel Davis, Okwui Enwezor, Arjun Appadurai, Partha Chatterjee), Vyjayanthi Rao (2006) found that focusing on the urban ‘slum’ had enabled radical rethinking about globalisation and modernity. Here, ‘slum’ appeared to designate a universalised domain
Experiments in slums, 1999–2006 43 of deprivation which is associated with and concretised in cities of the so- called ‘global south’. In Rao’s summary: The slum – as a demographic and theoretical construct – straddles the conceptual and material forms of city-making that are challenging the imaginary of the modern city. . . . the distortion of urban substance into a dysfunctional stage for violence, conflict and the iniquitous distribution of resources fundamentally informs the work of all the writers discussed here. Following their work, the slum can be treated as shorthand for this distorted substance, and not merely a spatial form as it has often been understood. What I have been trying to unpack are the exact terms of the relevance of new urban forms, the ‘South’ as a category and the emergence of a new global regime (whether or not this is thought in terms of empire). (Rao 2006, p. 231) The term ‘slum’ was so self-consciously deployed here – as a construct, as shorthand – that it appeared to be little more than a figure of speech which offers convenient access to and insight into a prevailing global reality and regime. Within this view, ‘slum’ itself was characterised as a metaphorical feature: distorted substance. Unsurprisingly, Pushpa Arabindoo (2011) recalled Rao’s review, and other similar arguments, with unease a few years later. She cited Gilbert’s warning on the flattening-out effect and normative content of the term ‘slum’, and, with her eye on the realities of slum-dweller resettlement programmes in India, wondered ‘how “slum as theory” can address the anxieties of those facing this grim spectre, beyond being a provocation’ (Arabindoo 2011, p. 642). The absolute and the relative had (to use Gilbert’s terms) slipped abrasively against each other again, and, amidst the discomfort of using the word ‘slum’, something of the social features that the term evokes had been conveyed. Untrammelled by definitions and therefore untroubled by their limitations, texts of the ‘hole-in-the-wall experiments’ were indifferent to both the absolute and the relative dimensions of the term ‘slum’. The ‘slum’, as context of experiments and as subject of social concern, was premised on an unstated agreement between the researchers and their mediators and audiences: that no definition or analysis is necessary, that the term is already understood sufficiently by all parties. This presumption of knowledge without definition and analysis is possibly the most effective way of not addressing the term while using it. ‘Slum’ then becomes a fluid term, emptied of material and life, and all the more potent for it. The ‘slum’ could then link to every association that any person brings to it, and is in effect nothing specific itself. The term thus accommodates different sensibilities and experiences, arousing diverse shades of pity and fear, altruism and revulsion, according to context.
44 Top-down By way of concluding this chapter, I try to insert some of the specificities of the term ‘slum’ where the ‘hole-in-the-wall experiments’ began and during their formative phase: in Delhi, from the late 1990s to around 2006. These are the specificities that the ‘hole-in-the-wall’ researchers entered, observed and failed to apprehend. The legal definition of ‘slum’ in India refers to the Slum Areas (Improvement and Clearance) Act of 1956, where the emphasis is entirely on built structures and their condition: Where the competent authority upon report from any of its officers or other information in its possession is satisfied as respects any area that the buildings in that area – a) are in any respect unfit for human habitation; or b) are by reason of dilapidation, overcrowding, faulty arrangement and design of such buildings, narrowness or faulty arrangement of streets, lack of ventilation, light or sanitation facilities, or any combination of these factors, are detrimental to safety, health or morals, it may, by notification in the Official Gazette, declare such area to be a slum area. (Ch.II:3) The determination and notification of a ‘slum’ as such (giving this definition flesh) is the political state’s responsibility. Notifying an area as a ‘slum’ brings official obligations that the political state is required to undertake, and the processes for which the Act lays out: either to improve conditions of the notified ‘slum’ or the clearance and resettlement thereof. The legal definition is therefore as much a clarification of the object ‘slum’ as of the political state’s jurisdiction. This legal definition does not coincide with the word ‘slum’ in everyday English usage, or words that may be considered its vernacular equivalents in different Indian languages (e.g. basti, chawl, jhoparpatti, jhuggi-jhompri, ceri – though these have specific nuances which do not quite equate to the accommodative word ‘slum’ in everyday English). Several regional Indian states have distinct legislation on ‘slums’, which build upon the 1956 Act according to contextual needs. Across the country, legally defined words and everyday terms that more or less evoke ‘slum’ converge fluidly in official, bureaucratic, media, academic, NGO and business discourses. The vernacular term occasionally gains official status and official terms occasionally enter common usage. From this combination of legally defined and vernacular or everyday words, the diversities of environments which may broadly be regarded as ‘slums’ are marked. An inclusive way of designating all that may be considered ‘slum’ or at least ‘slum-like’, including areas covered and neglected by the legal definition of ‘slum’, is ‘informal settlement’. ‘Informal settlement’ enjoys some currency in official
Experiments in slums, 1999–2006 45 and academic discourse, and works as an inclusive way of saying ‘slum’ or ‘slum-like’ in India; this phrase also gestures towards the limitations or failures of the state’s ‘formal’ protection. For the metropolis Delhi and its surrounding area (the National Capital Territory or NCT), this diversity of informal settlements was summarised thus in a useful report of 2001: More than half of Delhi lives in some kind of informal settlements. The worst form is the slums and squatter settlements, also known as Jhuggi Jhompri clusters, which accommodate about 2.5 million people. The other forms are the Resettlement Colonies which came up to rehabilitate about 1 million slum dwellers, the Legally Notified Slum Areas, which is mainly the walled city, where about 2 million people live in a highly congested and dilapidated environment, the Unauthorized Colonies which have come up illegally and without approval and the Urban Villages where slum-like conditions prevail in the absence of provisions for basic services for healthy living. Besides about seventy thousand people live on the pavements of the city. (Chakrabarti 2001, p. 5) Among those terms, the legal definition of ‘slum’ according to the 1956 Slum Areas Act only applies to the ‘Legally Notified Slum Areas’. The spaces these occupy are not illegal, even if their condition calls for the intervention of the political state. Those differ from both the ‘Jhuggi Jhompri clusters’ (usually makeshift housing, constructed from found and discarded materials) and the ‘Unauthorised Colonies’ (usually built of brick and mortar, in an unplanned accruing process), which involve illegal or spontaneous occupation of unused or common lands. The political state’s attitude to these tends to be underpinned by their illegal status, either in a spirit of clemency (‘Unauthorised Colonies’ may be authorised) or of callousness (‘Jhuggi Jhompri clusters’ may be summarily razed to the ground and their residents displaced, occasionally resettled). That the ‘Resettlement Colonies’ feature among these ‘informal settlements’ is of some interest: they may be considered slums that are legally produced by the state after clearing illegal slums (usually the ‘Jhuggi Jhompri clusters’). ‘Urban Villages’ are located on the peripheries, often predating urban settlement, and are also legally acknowledged. Also on the peripheries of the metropolis, are so-called ‘squatter settlements’ or, more precisely, ‘migrant settlements’. These are makeshift accumulations of country-to-city migrants in transient shelters, looking for entry into more settled accommodation inside the city (perhaps an inner-city notified slum), and are possibly the most vulnerable of illegal ‘Jhuggi Jhompri clusters’. Flows and shifts are indicated in these terms, reflecting flows and shifts in policy directions and population movements. The ‘unauthorised’ may become ‘authorised’; the ‘authorised’ may become ‘notified’ so that authorisation becomes shaky; the ‘settlement’ may be ‘cleared’ and ‘resettled’;
46 Top-down ‘migrants’ may become ‘slum dwellers’ or ‘pavement dwellers’; ‘squatters’ may be ‘moved’ or ‘settled’. The term ‘Urban Villages’ is deliberately poised on an interim between country and city. Distances matter amidst these flows and shifts. ‘Informal settlements’ provide domestic and menial workers for the city’s middle classes and cheap labour for small-scale industries – they have to be within easy reach. If slum dwellers are resettled on the city margins, the policy thrust is to ‘clean up’ the city, to put visible poverty out of sight. If work is too far and city transport is expensive, both employers and employees of slum dwellers have reason to be concerned. Distances from urban centres to migrant settlements on the margins measure the migrants’ desire for livelihoods and settlements. Flows and shifts are also involved in the processes through which informal settlements come about. Arup Mitra (2003, p. 99) mentions three ways: gradual deterioration of an area due to congestion and agglomeration; consumption being focused on areas other than buildings and infrastructure; and the obvious, low earnings amidst high costs of living. Flows and shifts mark what Gilbert (2007, p. 700) calls the relative features of what is loosely called a ‘slum’, that is, of informal settlements. Contemplating the relative in this specifically contextualised manner (in Delhi) helps to locate where the absolute in the ‘baseline definition of a slum’ might be found. Instead of defining ‘slum’ – informal settlement – merely in terms of its general content (structure and life), whereby some aspect of the relative would always be overlooked, a baseline definition may usefully refer to the political state’s bearing upon such informal settlements. In brief, just as the ‘homeless’ could be understood as persons falling outside the standards of the state’s protection, a ‘slum’ or broadly ‘informal settlement’ could be understood as a built and populated territory – a collectively occupied space – falling outside the standards of the state’s protection. The political state’s standards are evident both in acknowledgement and in evasion and neglect. That the political state of India has a mechanism for notifying ‘slums’ is an acknowledgement that the existence of such areas falls beneath the standards of its protection. Equally, that the state deals with various kinds of ‘slums’ or informal settlements as illegal or as needing authorisation are also indications of where the standards of the state’s protection lie and are infringed. The heaviness of ‘slums’ (a located population) in pressing upon the state’s standards of protection makes ‘homelessness’ (of individuals) in India a relatively unacknowledged or lightly registered matter. The ‘homeless’ fade into comparative insignificance (‘pavement dwellers’ is the preferred phrase in India). The ‘seventy thousand people [who] live on the pavements of the city’ mentioned at the end of the previous quotation appear as a dispersed and atomised phenomenon, whereas a ‘slum’ – including ‘Jhuggi-Jhompri clusters’, ‘unauthorised colonies’, ‘notified slum areas’ and so on – has an intensive, dense, weighty thrust. By 2005, a report on deaths from hypothermia during winter observed that ‘at least 140,000 people live on the streets of Delhi’, for whom the Municipal Corporation of Delhi provides only 12
Experiments in slums, 1999–2006 47 shelters catering to 2,500 persons (Zaidi 2005). Removals and (occasionally) resettlements of pavement dwellers by state agencies have generally been more brutal and less noted compared to those of slum dwellers. From the 1990s and throughout the initial period of the ‘hole-in-the-wall experiments’, it was noted that the tenor of Indian legal discourse in relation to slums – particularly ‘Jhuggi Jhompri clusters’ – had shifted (Ramanathan 2005, 2006; Ghertner 2008). The change was from being concerned about ‘slum development’ and the rights of ‘slum dwellers’ towards criminalising ‘slums’ and demolishing them in sharply increased numbers. This didn’t entail the enactment of new laws; rather, the word of the law was interpreted to that end in a series of precedence-setting cases. To a significant degree, the shift was a matter of linguistic nuancing, so that a hostile inclination towards ‘slums’ became embedded in habitual official usage, along with punitive measures. In giving an account of these legal moves, Usha Ramanathan (2005) started with the kind of adjectives that had become normalised in describing ‘slums’ and their inhabitants – ‘encroachments’, ‘squatters’, ‘illegal’, ‘ineligible’ – as against other possibilities: An alternative adjectival construction of the slum dwellers would represent them as service providers who keep urban inhabitants in home, health and happiness; persons and communities aspiring to fuller citizenship by seeking to utilise the economic, educational and social opportunities that exist in the cities. Slum dwellers can be described as migrant workers who build up cities for those who can afford to buy what they build; who add to the glory of the state every time an Asian Games or a Commonwealth Games happens; or in the development of a metro or reclamation of industrial hands, whose labour is recognised, but not their need for residence when a city is planned, or the plan is implemented. To at least 30 per cent of almost any city’s population, ‘slum’ is simply ‘home’. (Ramanathan 2005, p. 2908) The specific legal cases examined by Ramanathan enabled ease of demolition without responsibility for resettlement, required ‘slum dwellers’ to pay for municipal services, removed eligibility for compensations and so on. D. Asher Ghertner (2008) paid more sustained attention to the linguistic shifts in legal discourse on ‘slums’. He summarised his argument thus: This paper highlights key words and phrases that arise within the proceedings of slum-related cases with the goal of showing how the basic statement that ‘slums are illegal’ is a very recent juridical discourse, despite its widespread circulation in Delhi today. It further argues that proving this statement in the courts today rests on a different and less rigorous evidentiary procedure than other types of truth claims: to prove a slum’s illegality, one must demonstrate that it appears to be a nuisance. The paper finds that the recent criminalisation of informal
48 Top-down settlements in general and the rise of court orders to demolish slums in particular is occurring not simply because the judiciary is all of a sudden ‘anti-poor’, but rather because of a reinterpretation of nuisance law. Nuisance has thus become the key legal trope driving slum demolitions and has been incredibly influential in resculpting both Delhi’s residential geography and how the city’s future is imagined. (Ghertner 2008, p. 59) Ghertner also detailed a series of precedence-setting cases, focusing on nuisance laws. In Delhi and surrounding areas, the period in question here, 1999–2006, saw intensifying concern among city authorities about population growth, particularly in informal settlements. Going by census figures, Delhi’s population grew from 6.2 million in 1981 to 9.4 million in 1991, then to 13.8 million in 2001 and further to 16.8 million in 2011. In the decade to 2001 it was estimated that 38% of the population growth was due to migration; in the period 1981–94, the ‘squatter’ population grew by 13.2% per annum as opposed to 2.9% per annum for the ‘non-squatter’ population (Chakrabarti 2001, p. 2). The response of the Government of Delhi (rather, Government of the NCT) to these significant increases in informal settlements through the 1990s was charted in changes in city planning. The urban planning and development of Delhi has been conducted according to a key strategy document, the Master Plan of Delhi (MPD), produced by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA). The first MPD was issued in 1962, the second in 1990 with a target date for implementation by 2001 (known as MPD-2001) and the third in 2007 for implementation by 2021 (known as MPD-2021). The change in the Delhi government’s attitude to informal settlements over the period in question here, from the 1990s to 2006, is neatly captured in summary statements on them from MPD-2001 to MPD-2021. In the former, the emphasis was on ‘monitoring’ to ‘reduce or check’ this proliferation of informal settlements (which seems consistent with increased demolitions): ‘A well- monitored and analysed responses [sic] could check or at least reduce these unintended developments. The developments like unauthorised colonies, squatter settlements [sic]’ (DDA 1990, p. 161). By MPD-2021 (DDA 2007), the emphasis had shifted from ‘monitoring’ and ‘reducing’ to: ‘in-situ slum rehabilitation, including using land as a resource for private sector participation’ (p. vii). The Delhi government had already made ‘in situ’ rehabilitation its agenda for some of the informal settlements, mainly in authorising ‘unauthorised colonies’. This statement seemed to extend that to informal settlements generally, perhaps with a view to some reduction of demolitions and clearances. However, this relatively soft approach came with an important caveat: offering incentives in the form of land for private sector participation. The previous MPDs had been largely a matter of government action, while MPD-2021 seemed to pin its hopes on reducing government/public-sector action and enabling private-sector bodies to,
Experiments in slums, 1999–2006 49 presumably, make profits while solving the problems of poverty and informal settlements. A report on MPD-2021 at draft stage, in 2005, by Amitabh Kundu noted: The basic assumption here is that none among the public agencies involved with Delhi’s development would ever have the resources required for the purpose while private actors, both from within as well as outside the country, can easily be motivated to make the investments, since income earning potentials have grown immensely over the past couple of decades. All that is needed for this is the right kind of policy environment which the new master plan hopes to create by liberalising the land market and relaxing the regulatory controls over usages of land. (Kundu 2005, p. 3530) The age of ‘public-private partnerships’, ‘corporate social responsibility’, ‘social enterprise’ had dawned, and the Delhi government had decided to turn from public actor with social responsibilities into investor in a putatively socially responsible private sector. Relevantly here, the Delhi government had gestured towards this turn, in a small way, before the target date of MPD-2001 passed. In 2000, the Delhi government published its ICT Policy. One of the ‘aspirations’ listed in this read: ‘To use the power of the IT to achieve the objectives of eradicating poverty, improving healthcare, empowering women and economically weaker sections of the society’ (Government of Delhi NCT 2000, p. 1). More specifically, under initiatives for increasing literacy, the policy document made the following resolutions: •
The government will establish computer laboratories in all government schools by the year 2003 in collaboration with private sector. About 115 schools will be covered in the first year i.e. 2000–2001. The Government will also encourage aided schools to set up computer labs in collaboration with private sector. The government will launch a literacy campaign in slum areas using ICT. It proposes to start a pilot project in a slum colony under which 30 computer kiosks will be set up with Internet connectivity to enable the children to learn computing skills on their own without any adult intervention. (pp. 7–8)
The success of the ‘hole-in-the-wall experiments’ was evidently ensured by these governmental resolutions in the ICT Policy of 2000. The final sentence in the quotation may well have been inserted there by a NIIT manager: it appeared to be inspired by the ‘hole-in-the-wall experiments’, and amounted to a promise of public funding for such private-sector technological projects to improve the lot of the poor.
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3 From ‘Informal Sector’ to ‘Financial Inclusion’, 2004–14
Transformation The previous chapter described the tacit convergence, on a small scale, of academic, commercial and policy discourses on an approach to understanding and engaging with the needs of the poor. This and the next chapters move to the purposive and large-scale deployment of that approach in government initiatives. A project of transforming the top-down management of the poor, at the level of financial arrangements, is underway in India. The project is necessarily of an impressive magnitude, concomitant with India’s territorial and population size, diversity and scale of poverty. This chapter tracks a policy transition marked by a shift in key phrases, from benefitting the ‘informal sector’ to enabling ‘financial inclusion’. The shift is traced here by following the initially parallel career of the two phrases, and the gradual foregrounding of the latter at the expense of the former, from roughly 2004 to 2014. The next chapter focuses on particular government initiatives, especially from 2014 to 2017. In this period several momentous initiatives and measures seemed to both bring universal ‘financial inclusion’ within reach and to clarify its thrust: the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) launched in 2014; the biometric identity number project which started in 2009 and came to be underpinned by the Aadhaar Act 2016; and the banknote demonetisation move in late 2016. The indirect Goods and Services Tax system launched in 2017 is also touched upon, but only cursorily, in the final section of the next chapter. These initiatives had direct consequences for the poor in India, were variously claimed as being beneficial to them, and appear to cohere with a general policy direction. Articulating the underlying rationale of the policy direction is the main objective of these chapters. This entails some inevitable reduction of complexity, so the latter part of this chapter also appoints and defines terms to that end. The argument developed in the following sections is that this transformative project involves a large-scale defocusing of the poor, and is evidently designed to facilitate profit-making activity. This project, in other words, expands and grounds strategies that were initiated on a small scale in the ‘hole-in-the-wall experiments’. The import of the argument is not
‘Informal Sector’ to ‘Financial Inclusion’ 55 necessarily specific to India or, for that matter, relevant to the poor alone. The Indian case study gestures towards arrangements of broader relevance cutting across geopolitical zones, policy sectors and populations in general.
Shift in focus A careful consideration of two phrases – ‘informal sector’ and ‘financial inclusion’ – serves to clarify the conceptual and policy shift of interest here. With around four decades of rigorous research into the ‘informal sector’ in India behind him, Jan Breman (2013) summarised a key change in how those employed in that sector are viewed by policy makers: The informal sector was supposed to function as a waiting room for labour that could not be instantly incorporated in the formal economy. It was to be a training ground for migrants pushed out of the rural-agrarian hinterland who had to adjust to the urban setting and to the different kinds of work there. Becoming more skilled and engaging themselves in collective action, they were going to increase their bargaining strength and aspire for higher wages. Their upward mobility would result in crossing the boundary that separated them from employment in the formal sector. . . . What the progress hoped for entailed requires an exposure of the employment conditions enjoyed by an urban-based industrial working class and a discussion of the concomitant lifestyle that marked the status and dignity they gained. . . . But in a reappraisal of the pace and direction of the ongoing economic transformation, a new wisdom came up in the early 1990s suggesting that redemption from poverty had to be sought by formalizing capital instead of labour. This idea found strong support in the milieu of policymakers who had now openly sided with the neoliberal credo that did not tolerate any intervention in the market and wanted to do away both with the government-run public sector and with the broad range of labour rights. (Breman 2013, pp. 4–5) ‘Formalizing capital instead of labour’ seems to capture the thrust of ‘financial inclusion’ policies. These summary observations could be thought of as marking a policy move from focusing on the ‘informal sector’ towards concentrating on ‘financial inclusion’. Breman’s research consisted in a critical approach to government policies targeting the ‘informal sector’ in India, informed by on-the-ground studies. His sense of the content of this sector was of persons or of informal workers. Government policies, he found, had often been misdirected and fallen short of addressing the realities of the ‘informal sector’, that is, the conditions of workers employed in that sector. Notably, Breman was doubtful of the easy binarism of dividing workers into ‘informal’ and ‘formal’, and positing corresponding relationships
56 Top-down between the ‘organised sector’ and ‘disorganised sector’, ‘formal economy’ and ‘informal economy’ – all terms with official definitions in India. Such binaristic terms obscure the many levels of interpenetration between their polarities (e.g. there are ‘informal workers’ in the ‘formal sector’), and the sets of binaristic terms slip against each other (e.g. the ‘informal sector’ could be well-organised, the ‘informal economy’ could operate substantially within the ‘formal sector’). Despite the differences between Breman’s critical scholarly approach and the government’s policy approach to the ‘informal sector’, they shared a common focal point and objective. The focal point was the conditions of work (employment, labour) in the informal sector, and the condition of life for informal-sector workers – largely an impoverished condition. The objective was to improve those conditions. Despite differences in perspective, Breman’s kind of critical scholarship and the government’s policy were in conversation with each other. But when the policy direction shifted from focusing on ‘informal labour’ towards ‘redemption from poverty . . . by formalizing capital instead of labour’, as Breman put it – or towards ‘financial inclusion’, as the government’s policy rubric had it – that conversation seemed to end. There is more than a touch of annoyance in Breman’s registering this policy shift, the end of the conversation, in the quotation. And, in fact, Breman (2013) did not engage with this relatively new policy direction, even with bitterness; at the least, not beyond a few cutting comments on the micro-finance initiatives that were being celebrated at the time by way of formalising capital. The ‘financial inclusion’ policy-thrust was simply too distant from his kind of scholarship and concern. This new policy direction, though already ensconced in India (from around 2005), was to gather particular momentum shortly after Breman’s retrospective overview and update on the ‘informal sector’ was published in 2013, from 2014 onwards. In focusing on the ‘informal sector’, the conversation entailed between policy rationales and critical research had a mutually engaged impetus. The conversation could be honed on both sides by the intervention of the other. More precisely, since policy makers could act directly upon the ‘informal sector’, critical research adopted its methodology to question the rationales of policy, and hold them to account. Policy is predominantly informed by broad quantitative indicators. Insofar as the ‘informal sector’ went, policy- informing material consisted primarily in data giving scales of employment for various categories, and breakdown of numbers of workers according to factors indicative of their condition (income and consumption, gender, age, education, etc.). Such data were mainly considered at national and regional state levels, and presented according to the binarisms noted previously. While naturally cognisant of such data, critical research into informal labour put a strong emphasis on not being derivative and having independent and more directly elicited material. Magisterial critical overviews of the ‘informal sector’ in India thus paid methodical attention to local levels alongside the national and regional state levels, to the juxtaposition of micro and macro
‘Informal Sector’ to ‘Financial Inclusion’ 57 perspectives. Thus, Breman (2013) made a distinction between the usual dependence of economists on using existing data and of anthropologists on generating their own data and making field observations. For Breman: It is not the view from outside that should prevail but the view from within and at close quarters. Finding out what the labouring poor do – why they do it and how they do it – is bound to fail if the lens used in collection of data remains remote and alien to the terrain under scrutiny. (Breman 2013, p. 9) More elaborately, Barbara Harriss-White’s (2003) trenchant and critical national-scale account of the ‘informal sector’ in India referred to broad indicators provided by government agencies while, significantly, drawing particularly upon ‘field economics’: ‘The working of the Indian economy is pieced together from remarkable studies undertaken on a small scale, at a micro level, with long field exposure; from results that are by their nature difficult to aggregate for a scaled-up interpretation’ (p. 9). Her methodological justifications for this are worth referring for those who continue to undertake critical research into the ‘informal sector’ (pp. 9–11) – I don’t reiterate them here. In introducing a volume of ‘field economics’ studies, Harriss-White and Judith Hayer (2010) insisted that the impetus for such ‘non-policy research’ was in fact its bearing on policy-informing research: It is important to recognise the value of such research. Non-policy- oriented research has produced a corpus of work that is highly relevant to the policy process – because it helps us understand the processes that may be managed through policy, as well as understanding the policy process itself. Non-policy-oriented research is just as necessary to the development of good policy as is good policy-oriented research. Without a fundamental understanding, research that feeds into policy is most unlikely to have the impact intended. (Harriss-White and Hayer 2010, p. 4) This expectation tacitly presumed a meaningful relationship between the focus of policy and of critical research. When the thrust of policy shifted from the ‘informal sector’ to ‘financial inclusion’, policy research became disconnected from critical ‘non-policy’ research at both conceptual and methodological levels. The careers of ‘informal sector’ and ‘financial inclusion’ policies, leading up to the 2014–17 phase of interest in the next chapter, initially followed parallel lines from around 2004. In May 2004 the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) formed the government, and economist Manmohan Singh became prime minister, remembered predominantly now for his role in ‘liberalising’ the economy as finance minister in the early 1990s. The phase of policy making that occupies the next chapter follows the
58 Top-down formation of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in May 2014. Put into phases thus, the policy shift in question seems to neatly follow party-political lines. It is customary to associate policy making in India with party ideologies, and often justifiably. However, the area of policy making in question here has been largely indifferent to party-political ideologies since the 1990s. In fact, the centring of ‘financial inclusion’ policies at the expense of ‘informal sector’ policies took place well before 2014, and policies since have been coherent with directions that emerged not long after 2004. The rationale of ‘financial inclusion’ policies allows for little distinction to be made between UPA and NDA governments, or between Congress and BJP ideologies. I return briefly to party-political ideologies in the final paragraph of the next chapter. In September 2004, the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) was set up by the government to review the ‘unorganised/informal sector’ in relation to enterprises, the conditions of workers, and the existing legal and policy framework. Not long after, the phrase ‘financial inclusion’ made its first significant appearance, with something like a definition, in the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Annual Policy Statement 2005–6, authored by the RBI governor at the time, Y. Venugopal Reddy (2005). The work of the NCEUS was undertaken from 2004 to 2009, and concluded with the submission of a final report. Its investigations included the development of parameters for defining and gauging the extent of ‘informal employment’, bringing together a varied range of data (especially on employment, wages, consumption and education levels) to nuance the broad estimates, and making several significant policy recommendations. Notably, on the front of definitions, alongside those for ‘informal’ or ‘disorganised’ sectors, enterprises and economy, it also gave – by way of focusing on persons – a concordant definition of ‘informal workers’: Informal workers consist of those working in the informal sector or households, excluding regular workers with social security benefits provided by the employers and workers in the formal sectors without any employment or social security benefits provided by the employers. (NCEUS 2008, p. 27) The definition itself introduced vagaries in the presumed distinction between ‘informal’ and ‘formal’ sectors, which, in fact, rendered the difference between working in one or the other doubtful precisely in line with Breman’s observations mentioned previously. Nevertheless, the definition also put enough focus on workers and conditions of work to enable doubts to be explored meaningfully. With those vagaries in place, the NCEUS’s overall estimate was that in 1999–2000, 91.2% of the total labour force were ‘informal workers’ and in 2004–5 that proportion had grown to 92.4%.
‘Informal Sector’ to ‘Financial Inclusion’ 59 Differences according to region, employment sector, and scale of enterprise were more germane for policy purposes than these nationwide estimates, but those are outside the scope of these general observations. Of some significance here is what those figures meant in terms of income poverty, on which the NCEUS’s final report was unequivocal: Informal workers are those who do not have any job security, income security or social security and are therefore extremely vulnerable to exogenous shocks and who accept employment and describe that they are employed as the opportunity cost of that was not only unemployment but in most cases starvation. . . . The results of our analysis have been striking. The overwhelming portion of workers of the poor and vulnerable groups (between 94% and 98%) are informal workers, while they constitute much smaller proportion of the work force in the middle class or higher income groups. The growth rate of employment also was much less among the Poor and Vulnerable groups compared to the Middle and Higher income groups. (NCEUS 2009, p. iv) Also significantly, to understand the character of employment in the different sectors, the NCEUS referred to existing indices and developed its own (a Modified Current Weekly Status or MCWS index). According to this: an employed worker is one who works for 3.5 or more days in the week; strictly part-time workers referred to those who worked for 0.5 to 3 days in the week and were unavailable for work in the rest of the week; under- employed referred to those who worked for 0.5 to 3 days in the week and were unemployed for at least 0.5 days in the week (the norms used and data collected by the National Sample Survey Office [NSSO] give a perspective on these, see Saluja 2017, pp. 206–10). NCEUS (2009) found that in 2004–5, 86% of all kinds of employment was of ‘informal employment in the informal sector’ (p. 13). The final report also made numerous recommendations, pertaining to easing credit flow to the unorganised sector, stoking enterprise and reforming the banking system accordingly. Notably, one key recommendation was the formation of a government-funded National Fund for the Unorganised Sector (NAFUS) rising from Indian Rupees 5 billion in 2007–8 to 10 billion in 2011–12, over which the government would maintain a controlling interest. As the report put it: The main aim of NAFUS will be to bring about increased employment and higher incomes for people engaged in the unorganised sector by promoting and catalyzing the growth of the sector. Given the contribution of this sector to employment and the national economy, these objectives will promote inclusive national economic growth and reduce poverty and deprivation. (NCEUS 2009, p. 293)
60 Top-down The NCEUS’s final report represented the culmination of the government’s interest in informal sector workers as persons – subject to uncertain conditions of work, insecurity, indifferent educational opportunities and poverty, so seen as subjects. Its policy recommendations were for direct government investment in improving their material circumstances. The reception of the report was eloquently described thus by Breman (2010) a bit over a year later: ‘The NCEUS panel completed its tenure in April 2009. What happened next? Nothing at all. Receipt of the conclusive report was not even acknowledged, let alone taken up for further action.’ However, somewhat earlier than that an important Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008, was passed by parliament, enabling various targeted social security schemes with direct government funding. As a result, a National Social Security Board was set up which informed disbursements of government funding on targeted schemes till 2012 (described in Ministry of Labour and Employment 2012), after which it seemed to go into limbo. Also in 2012, RBI set up a Committee on Informal Financial Sector Statistics, chaired by P. Venkataramiah, to take stock of the situation of that sector. The report (National Statistical Commission 2012) confined itself to a survey of statistical sources and gauges, particularly attending to estimates of informal credit and making recommendations for future data collection. In fact, by the time the NCEUS (2009) final report appeared it was already out of sync with the thrust of government policy. The key-phrase ‘financial inclusion’ had already emerged and was colonising policy discourse. In this discourse ‘informal workers’ are not subjects with material circumstances but financial entities whose mere presence is yet to be marked, registered and profitably managed. As noted already, the first significant policy statement on ‘financial inclusion’, with a definition, came in RBI’s Annual Policy Statement 2005–6, authored by Governor R. Venugopal Reddy (2005): there are legitimate concerns in regard to the banking practices that tend to exclude rather than attract vast sections of population, in particular pensioners, self-employed and those employed in unorganised sector. While commercial considerations are no doubt important, the banks have been bestowed with several privileges, especially of seeking public deposits on a highly leveraged basis, and consequently they should be obliged to provide banking services to all segments of the population, on equitable basis. Against this background: • RBI will implement policies to encourage banks which provide extensive services while disincentivising those which are not responsive to the banking needs of the community, including the underprivileged. • The nature, scope and cost of services will be monitored to assess whether there is any denial, implicit or explicit, of basic banking services to the common person.
‘Informal Sector’ to ‘Financial Inclusion’ 61 •
Banks are urged to review their existing practices to align them with the objective of financial inclusion. (Reddy 2005, pp. 39–40)
In articulating his idea of ‘financial inclusion’, Reddy still spoke in terms of persons and their material circumstances, ‘the common person’. The onus of monitoring banks was on denial of and lack of response to needs in existing services, rather than the production of new or different banking services. This was conceived as a corollary to enjoying other than commercial – that is, publicly bestowed – privileges, especially arising from its access to public deposits without the necessary backing of equity. Following the investigations of a Committee on Financial Inclusion led by former RBI Governor C. Rangarajan, a more succinct definition was formulated: ‘Financial inclusion may be defined as the process of ensuring access to financial services and timely and adequate credit where needed by vulnerable groups such as weaker sections and low income groups at an affordable cost’ (RBI 2008, p. 1). The RBI governor from 2013 (to 2016), Raghuram G. Rajan, offered a somewhat more nuanced three-point definition: Financial inclusion is about (a) the broadening of financial services to those people and enterprises who do not have access to financial services sector; (b) the deepening of financial services for those who have minimal financial services; and (c) greater financial literacy and consumer protection so that those who are offered financial products can make appropriate choices. (Rajan 2014, p. 1, reiterated in Rajan 2016, p. 7) The shifts here from Reddy’s early understanding to the Rangarajan Committee’s and then Rajan’s are subtle, but indicative. In Rajan’s definition the thrust is not specifically a matter of addressing credit availability and banking services. ‘Financial services’ on offer become an autonomous and inclusive term, that is, the product (services) that financial companies (including banks and other lenders, insurance companies, investment firms, credit reference agencies and so on) offer people and enterprises. In (a) and (c) there is a suggestion that it is not so much the responsiveness of existing services that is the issue, it is the nature of the services themselves that have to be tackled broadly: the package of services have to be broadened and deepened to include those left out, but thereby also with consequences for those already included. Not insignificantly, the scoping of inclusion is not described in terms of ‘common persons’ or ‘vulnerable groups’ or the poor, but in terms of the more neutral sounding ‘people and enterprises who do not have access to financial services sector’. The latter are described in terms of ‘financial literacy’, ‘consumer protection’, and making ‘appropriate choices’. This is then no longer a programme of simply reaching the poor and vulnerable, but of informing and reassuring consumers of products
62 Top-down offered by the financial services sector. However, in exemplifying this definition Rajan often took recourse to the advantages that this would offer the poor and vulnerable, which, in his view, gives this definition an ethical charge. The ethical charge is not within the definition, it can be inferred from and associated with the definition. Amidst the emergence of such definitions, ‘financial inclusion’ as policy and, more importantly, as a field of practice in India, went from strength to strength in the period of particular interest here. On the one hand, there were government- backed initiatives which appeared with effect within the national jurisdiction. A great many such initiatives – involving policy reforms and projects focused on the banking sector, subsidies, credit packages and financial education – were implemented by RBI from 2005–6 onwards (succinctly outlined in Joshi 2013; Bhaskar 2013; RBI 2016, Chapter 5). A series of committees were constituted by RBI and produced reports or gave advice to inform those moves: the previously mentioned Committee on Financial Inclusion (led by C. Rangarajan, report RBI 2008); High Level Financial Inclusion Advisory Committee (set up in 2012 with K.C. Chakrabarty as Chair, reconstituted in 2015); Committee on Comprehensive Financial Services for Small Businesses and Low Income Households (led by Nachiket Mor, report RBI 2014); Committee on Medium-term Path on Financial Inclusion (led by Deepak Mohanty, report RBI 2015). Alongside RBI’s efforts, other government agencies were constituted which began to claim an increasingly salient role in ‘financial inclusion’, in particular the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) overseeing the Aadhaar scheme, established in January 2009. I have more to say on UIDAI and the Aadhaar scheme in the next chapter. On the other hand, international NGOs, corporations and other financial bodies started taking an interest in ‘financial inclusion’ in India as an area where partnerships with the Indian government (or government agencies) could be profitably fostered. The formation of the Inclusive Finance India advocacy platform from 2006, with its annual summits, seemed to mark a new thrust from that direction. The scale of such initiatives intensified and became considerably more complex from around 2010. I have more to say about this as well in the next chapter. In fact, to unpack how ‘financial inclusion’ has been recruited to engineer a sea-change in the management of the poor in India, an analytical framework is necessary. I mean, an analytical framework of terms to identify the kinds of financial entities involved, simplifying and generalising from the plethora of formal and legal designations which obfuscate the picture. In particular, for such a framework to render the picture comprehensible, received notions of ‘public’ and ‘private’ (money or organisations) need to be reconsidered in describing some of those financial entities – indeed that’s the critical crux of the change. Before that, however, it is expedient to register the condition of ‘informal workers’ around 2014, in the spirit of NCEUS’s approach. This seems necessary because, in the discourse of ‘financial
‘Informal Sector’ to ‘Financial Inclusion’ 63 inclusion’ thereafter, the indicators salient to ‘informal workers’ appear to have receded into the background in favour of other indicators.
Informal workers With the advent of ‘financial inclusion’ as the fulcrum of policy making to address the poor, a particular set of indicators became increasingly salient. These were measures of infrastructure development and the penetration of financial services, such as: cumulative numbers of government-backed projects launched; new bank accounts opened; unique identification numbers registered; numbers owning telecom devices and accessing the internet; range of transactions brought within centralised systems. Typically, such measurements were headlined in terms of gross numbers of new beneficiaries, and led into demonstrations of savings in public expenditure relative to earlier arrangements. The thrust of ‘financial inclusion’ policy thus ultimately consists in the following conviction: greater penetration of services and reduction of costs can be enabled by technological means, because the latter effectively cut back on built infrastructures and person-to-person contacts while putatively achieving greater and more rigorously regulated utility. The particular technological means on which this conviction is pinned are digital networked systems. The point that is energetically pushed in gathering and publicising evidence is that the implementation of digital networked systems for financial services is in itself the key measure for benefitting the poor. If such a claim seems questionable with conventional measures of poverty and inequality in view, it is argued that this kind of ‘financial inclusion’ presents at least a concrete promise of alleviation and gestures towards the imminence of the good life for the poor (and indeed for all). With the foregrounding of such evidence for ‘financial inclusion’, some of the measures that guided policy in this area moved into the background of dominant discourses. The indicators of the material circumstances of ‘informal workers’ and the conditions of their work and lives came to be comparatively downplayed for policy purposes: incomes and consumption, literacy and education levels, health and housing and amenities, social security, etc. And behind those, measures of poverty and inequality themselves. Such measures, of course, continue to be obtained and published by government agencies, and explored by anthropologists and field economists with an interest in ‘informal workers’. Staying with data relevant to ‘informal workers’ sourced from government agencies, it seems expedient to foreground these here before considering the top-down project of ‘financial inclusion’ and the different database it draws upon. The play between foregrounding one and downplaying the other set of indicators works to defocus the realities of being poor. But it is not simply to make this point that the material circumstances of ‘informal workers’ should be kept in view. Doing so also serves to put an analytical perspective on ‘financial inclusion’. Between the optimism of measures of ‘financial inclusion’ and the concern aroused
64 Top-down by measures of the material circumstances of ‘informal workers’ there is a relationship – albeit a tacit one, kept at arm’s length. That relationship comes into view when one asks, for instance: given these gauges of the material circumstances of ‘informal workers’ (such-and-such level of education, access to internet, spending power, working hours, sector of employment, etc.), how likely is it that the integrative technological system of ‘financial inclusion’ can be used effectively and, more importantly, equitably by them? Though measurements of poverty and inequality do not have a direct relationship with measuring the circumstances of ‘informal workers’, they do provide a horizon for contemplating the latter. The Expert Group to Review the Methodology of Measurement of Poverty (chaired by C. Rangarajan) formed by the government in 2012 produced its report in 2014 (Planning Commission 2014). It followed and in some respects modified norms for poverty lines set by earlier committees: producing separate estimates for consumption in urban and rural sectors, with the usual emphasis on nourishment (setting an adequate calories intake norm) and also taking account of non-food consumption (clothing, rent, conveyance and education expenses). Putting those together, the Rangarajan Committee came up with a poverty line of monthly per capita consumption expenditure of Rs. 972 in rural areas and Rs. 1,407 in urban areas in 2011–12 (by Purchasing Power Parity or PPP conversion at the time, roughly equivalent to USD 63 and 91 respectively). The Committee then estimated that 30.9% of the rural population (260.5 million individuals) and 26.4% of the urban population (102.5 million individuals) were at or below that poverty line in 2011–12; altogether 363 million. This represented a fairly sharp decrease of over 8% over the two previous years, but was higher than estimates according to the previous national poverty line (committee chaired by Suresh Tendulkar, report Planning Commission 2009). Other poverty lines offer some variations. By the World Bank’s international poverty line of USD 1.90 per day per capita (Rs. 25.4 PPP), for India in 2011 those at or under came out at 21.2% or 268.1 million individuals (World Bank 2017). By the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), which incorporates 10 indicators weighted according to three dimensions (education, health and standard of living), for 2011–12 the total number of poor came out at 41.3% (a bit under 500 million individuals) – with 15.7% of the population in ‘severe poverty’, 23.1% ‘destitute’ and 22.9% ‘vulnerable to poverty’ (Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative 2017). Indicative in a different but not unrelated way were also figures on growing income inequality (by share of national income according to percentiles) after independence, published by Lucas Chancel and Thomas Piketty (2017), drawing upon a range of data sources. Some of the summarised findings convey its import reasonably for this context: In our benchmark estimation scenario, the share of national income attributable to the top 1% reached 21.3% of national income in 2014– 15, up from 6.2% in 1982–1983. . . .
‘Informal Sector’ to ‘Financial Inclusion’ 65 In the mid-fifties, the top 10% and the middle 40% held about 40% of total income each, the share of the middle 40% progressively increased from the mid-fifties to 1982–83, reaching 46% of total income. It then decreased afterwards. At the turn of the Millennium, the top 10% and the middle 40% groups captured exactly the same amount, 40%. However, by 2014–15, the middle 40% share had fallen to a historically low level of 29.2%. . . . Bottom 50% share of national income increases from 19% in 1955– 56 to 23.6% in 1982–1983, but then decreases sharply and almost continuously thereafter (20.6% in 2000–2001 and 14.9% in 2014–15). (Chancel and Piketty 2017, pp. 19–20) Libertarian reporters naturally objected to these findings, notably Swaminathan Aiyar (see 2017, also in several newspaper columns), pointing to the shakiness of income tax data, and taking issue with the unvariegated view of inequality presented. Moving to figures that give a sense of the conditions of ‘informal work’ and workers in India, insofar as I have drawn upon 2011 census data, the focus below is on the age range 15–59, numbering 730,072,019 (a bit over 730 million persons). Those in this age-range are likely to have been most active in employment in 2014–17, the period of interest in the next chapter. As in the previous three censuses, the 2011 census data included work participation figures in three categories: ‘main workers’, ‘marginal workers’, ‘non workers’ (including those ‘seeking/available for work’). Here, ‘work’ is defined as participation in any economically productive activity with or without compensation, wages or profit; ‘main workers’ are those who have worked for at least six months in the year prior to data collection, ‘marginal workers’ those who have worked for less than six months and ‘non-workers’ those who haven’t worked at all in that year. According to the 2011 census (see Table 3.1), 44.44% of persons in the age range 15–59 were main workers (324.4 million); 14.04% were marginal workers (102.5 million); and 41.52% were non- workers (303.1 million), of whom 18.16% were seeking work (55 million). Further, in census 2011 for the same 15–59 age range, 27.03% were illiterate (197.3 million, see Table 3.2). But that does not quite convey the paucities in educational level. It could be reasonably surmised that those in that age range who count among ‘literate’ but ‘without educational level’, ‘below primary level’ and up to ‘primary level’ would largely feel functionally challenged in accessing materials and services which call for average literacy and numeracy. Of the ‘literate’ (see Table 3.3) in that age range (72.97%, 532.7 million), 5.21% were so without educational level (27.7 million), 8.45% had not completed primary level (45 million), and 20.12% had not progressed beyond primary level (107.2 million). Putting the number of illiterate together with these categories of the doubtfully literate gives a figure of 47.88% (369.5 million) of the 15–59 age range who were inadequately prepared for anything demanding average literacy and numeracy.
Table 3.1 Main workers, marginal workers, non-workers and seeking work, age 15–59 Agegroup
Seeking/ available for work
Seeking/ available for work
All ages 1210854977 362565571 119323297 55477094 728966109 60709399 15–19 120526449 17703310 12513070 6501739 90310069 15134928 20–24 111424222 38664170 16800190 9578750 55959862 15763566 25–29 101413965 48666298 15793613 8560839 36954054 9133775 30–34 88594951 47152411 13634912 6956395 27807628 5101348 35–39 85140684 47503671 12905159 6337718 24731854 3839253 40–49 134756439 77295643 19276896 8601272 38183900 4210096 50–59 88215309 47440004 11602976 4270417 29172329 1870576 15–59 730072019 324425507 102526816 50807130 303119696 55053542 Source: Census of India 2011
Table 3.2 Literate and illiterate, age 15–59 Age-group
All ages 15 16 17 18 19 20–24 25–29 30–34 35–39 40–44 45–49 50–54 55–59 15–59 15–59 Rural 15–59 Urban
1210854977 25899454 24592293 21217467 27958147 20859088 111424222 101413965 88594951 85140684 72438112 62318327 49069254 39146055 730072019 483942812 246129207
447216165 2599957 2512487 2038455 3727975 2578674 18679492 22634440 24329560 27863127 26806872 25077763 20822208 17682081 197353091 160313144 37039947
763638812 23299497 22079806 19179012 24230172 18280414 92744730 78779525 64265391 57277557 45631240 37240564 28247046 21463974 532718928 323629668 209089260
Source: Census of India 2011
The great majority of ‘informal workers’ are likely to be employed in ‘micro, small and medium enterprises’ (MSMEs), which, by the MSME Development Act 2006, were defined in India by levels of investments in infrastructure (not employment) according to whether the enterprise is devoted to production or services. These were also divided between those that are registered or unregistered (no doubt, unregistered is more salient
‘Informal Sector’ to ‘Financial Inclusion’ 67 Table 3.3 Education- level, without education level/below primary/primary, age 15–59 Age-group
Literate without educational level
All ages 15 16 17 18 19 20–24 25–29 30–34 35–39 40–44 45–49 50–54 55–59 15–59 15–59 Rural 15–59 Urban
35153231 464646 503128 495362 791089 650015 4147405 4529861 3825358 3556614 2927911 2463598 1907180 1492485 27754652 17917885 9836767
146897597 1325607 1190288 932441 1337978 920256 5410189 5500554 5300109 5659501 5284019 4959760 4008855 3186098 45015655 34207309 10808346
184170833 5390635 3965107 2905770 4152873 2888656 16574003 15210359 12951372 12288099 10103182 8795402 6808270 5167170 107200898 76038274 31162624
Source: Census of India 2011
here). In 2018 the definitions were changed from levels of investment to levels of annual turnover. The MSME Ministry estimated (see Table 3.4) that in 2012–13 there were 44.75 million MSMEs employing 106.14 million persons, and in 2013–14 the number of MSMEs was 48.84 million employing 111.42 million persons (MSME Ministry 2015, p. 15). Not insignificantly, the annual growth rate (drawing upon 2006 data) of registered MSMEs was reckoned at 2.61% and employment therein at 8.6%, whereas for unregistered MSMEs these were respectively 16.79% and 16.85% (pp. 22–4). Income tax returns are often expected to be indicative of the numbers and earnings of ‘informal workers’. Three caveats are immediately called for. First, much discussion of tax returns revolves around tax avoidance, or the illegal non-declaration of earnings. This is not irrelevant to any consideration of tax returns, but notably those avoiding taxes are likely to do so by making partial declarations rather than simply not paying taxes at all. Second, it is evident that individual tax returns in India appear from a very small section of the working population, and even of those some making returns do not pay taxes. The dominant reason for not making returns or paying taxes is because individual earnings fall beneath the taxable income threshold, which in 2013–14 was Rs. 200,000 per annum (by approximate PPP conversion equivalent to USD 11,764) and in 2014–15 was raised to Rs. 250,000 per annum (approximately equivalent to PPP USD 14,705). Third, insofar as contributions to the public purse go, such direct taxation forms a small proportion in India; indirect taxes are considerably more significant.
Table 3.4 Number of MSMEs and numbers employed, 2012–13 and 2013–14 Year
Total working enterprises (in Lakh)
Employment (in Lakh)
2006–07 2007–08# 2008–09# 2009–10# 2010–11# 2011–12# 2012–13# 2013–14#
361.76 377.36 393.70 410.80 428.73 447.64 447.54 488.46
805.23 842.00 880.84 921.79 965.15 1,011.69 1,061.40 1,114.29
Source: Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, Government of India, Annual Report 2014–15 #
Table 3.5 Income tax returns, all taxpayers, 2014–15 Range (in INR)
No. of returns
Sum of gross Average gross total income total income (in Crore INR) (in Lakh INR
0 and 150,000 and 2,00,000 and 2,50,000 and 3,50,000 and 4,00,000 and 4,50,000 and 5,00,000 and 5,50,000 and 9,50,000 and 10,00,000 and 15,00,000 and 20,00,000 and 25,00,000 and 50,00,000 and 1,00,00,000 and 5,00,00,000 and 10,00,00,000 and 25,00,00,000 and 50,00,00,000 and 100,00,00,000 and 500,00,00,000 182 4,65,593 Total 3,91,28,247 26,93,032
0.75 1.84 2.24 2.96 3.73 4.24 4.75 5.24 6.96 9.74 12.04 17.18 22.24 33.82 68.88 192.34 690.78 1,519.22 3,467.46 6,959.96 20,626.65 2,55,820.14
Source: Income Tax Department, Income Tax Return Statistics: Assessment Year 2014–15, October 2016
‘Informal Sector’ to ‘Financial Inclusion’ 69 At any rate, by statistics provided by the Income Tax Department (2016) for 2014–15, there were 39,128,247 tax returns filed for individual gross income (see Table 3.5), somewhat lower than previous years due to the raised income tax threshold. Even conservatively thought of as a proportion of only the 15–59 age range (not the total population), this was 5.36% of the latter. Of these, those making returns on incomes of Rs. 250–500,000 (PPP USD 14,700–29,400) were 14,184,488 or just over 14 million (36.25% of all returns and 1.94% of the 15–59 age range), and those of Rs. 500,000 and above (above PPP USD 29,400) were 9,375,033 or just under 9.3 million (23.96% of all returns and 1.28% of the 15–59 population). Even within those modest income ranges, the latter constituted somewhat less than the top 1% of the population. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley observed unhappily in a rare pause on income tax figures: ‘We can contrast this with the fact that in the last five years, more than 1.25 crore [12.5 million] cars have been sold, and number of Indian citizens who flew abroad, either for business or tourism, is 2 crore [20 million] in the year 2015’ (quoted in PTI 2017). Somewhere in the region of 94% of the population did not pay taxes, mostly because their earnings fell beneath the tax threshold. Given that ‘financial inclusion’ policies are very significantly pinned on digital networked systems, the extent of device ownership and internet access – which are likely to have some relationship with education levels and earnings – acquires a particular relevance. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is the usual recourse for official information in these. As in 2017, the situation was summed up thus: The Indian telecom sector is the second largest in the world by number of telephone subscribers with 1.2 billion subscribers as on 31.10.2017. India also has the world’s second-largest internet subscriber base with 340 million internet subscribers as on 31.10.2017. It has one of the lowest tariffs for telecommunication services in the world. (TRAI 2018, p. 3) Out of a population estimated at over 1.3 billion in 2017, 340 million makes for around 26% of the population as internet subscribers, and 1.2 billion makes for almost all the population as telephone subscribers. Of course, 26% (which means 74% are not) is not high compared to other countries. According to the International Telecom Union’s figures (ITU 2017), globally the figure for mobile broadband subscriptions was around 58% at average across all countries: around 95% in the ‘developed world’ and around 47% in the ‘developing world’. Let us put aside the upbeat-sounding claims of being ‘second-largest’ in the world in the previous quotation: given the large scale of India’s population, a low proportion would still be a large number. But these figures in themselves indicate little. Subscribers do not equate to persons or users or households, and separate estimates for those are needed for a clearer sense of the circumstances. Besides, there are also questions of what
70 Top-down sort of technology is subscribed: mobile or fixed broadband; specifications of the device owned; broadband speed; type of connection (cable, DSL, fibre). And, further, there are breakdowns of these factors by region, age, gender and income-groupings to be considered. By none of these indicators – I don’t digress into detailing them here – do the circumstances in India seem robust enough to give any advantage to ‘informal workers’ or the poor generally. The much-referred figure of 26% (or 28% by an earlier estimate) of internet subscriptions was the most promising for planning ‘financial inclusion’ through technological means at the time. A useful news report in 2017 laid out the various ways in which foregrounding that figure is misleading, and wondered: ‘But for India to truly go digital, phone makers and cellular operators will also need to shift focus from their lucrative Wifi, iPhone and 4G customers, to users who can barely afford Rs.30 a month. Will they do it?’ (Krishnan 2017). Significantly, the previous quotation on telephone and internet subscriptions is from a TRAI (2018) consultation paper on designing a National Telecom Policy which sets some ambitious objectives (p. 11) so as to: leapfrog India amongst top- 50 nations in international rankings in terms of network readiness, communications systems and services, to attract an investment of USD 100 billion in telecommunication sector, and to attain average speed of 20 Mbps for wireless and 50 Mbps for wireline internet connectivity (TRAI 2018, p. 12) This appeared without giving details of the current situation from which the desired situation would be achieved, and, notably, the latter seems to depend upon external investment (stated in USD). In summary then, ‘informal workers’ and their dependents feature significantly among the following broad indicators: by census 2011 figures focusing on the 15–59 age range, not only the 44.44% main workers but also the 55.56% marginal and non-workers, and the 47.88% who were illiterate or had not progressed beyond primary level; by sector estimates in 2012–13, the 111.42 million persons known to be employed in MSMEs, especially in the unregistered part thereof where employment had an annual growth rate of 16.85% compared to the 8.6% in the registered; by 2014–15 tax returns, a great part of the approximately 94% who did not pay taxes because of earnings beneath the tax threshold; by TRAI 2017 figures, those without internet access, which is likely to be a proportion larger than 74% of the population. ‘Financial inclusion’ pinned particularly on digital networked systems around 2014 was presented as designed to benefit them.
Financial entities I had observed previously that to understand the rationale of ‘financial inclusion’ moves in India after 2014 an analytical framework is needed. By
‘Informal Sector’ to ‘Financial Inclusion’ 71 an analytical framework I mean little more than proposing a nomenclature to signify the bodies involved such that their relationships can be discerned. The relationships in question are obscured not only by much information being restricted but, perhaps more importantly, because a very wide range of confusing, overlapping, and even contrary designations for such bodies and their transactions are in use. The nomenclature proposed in this section allows coherent generalisation and necessarily involves a great deal of reduction of complexity (to the extent of being simplistic at times). The current befuddling situation arises mainly because different financial regimes are involved, across which the same terms might carry different effective nuances, legal prerogatives and political or policy purchase. The dominant financial regimes are those of political states. ‘National’ is often the preferred term for such regimes, but, strictly speaking, some political states (e.g. federations) include a number of nationalities. The relevant legal prerogatives of different financial entities – including those which operate largely outside state boundaries – are signified through a reasonably consistent nomenclature within political-state regimes (wherein they are registered for legal purposes). However, variations in financial regimes often operate within those of political states, at regional (or sub-national) levels. Some financial regimes work above those of political states and introduce further complexity in the relevant register: those, for instance, held within a legal framework of bi-or multilateral agreements, associations/ networks/partnerships, or supranational governance. The variations in legal nomenclature for what appear to be common referents are as numerous as there are financial regimes. The variations introduced in market practice (e.g. publicity) and for political expediency (e.g. from ideologically loaded perspectives) are equally considerable. So, the attempt to come up with a generalised and simplified nomenclature is motivated by a desire to make sense across multiple and overlapping financial regimes, particularly including that of India as a political state. The key to the nomenclature for various parties involved in financial regimes is a general designation of such parties as financial entities. This is a reasonably precise designation for all whose presence is registered from one perspective, a monetary one. Various kinds of financial entities operate in a financial regime. Putting them into categories and charting their general relations to each other constitute the analytical framework which could be brought to bear on specific ‘financial inclusion’ moves. The aspect of their general relationship which is salient here is to do with transactions between them in the capital cycle. That is to say that the capital cycle, wherein there is monetary growth or shrinkage and rebalances of utilities, consists in the totality of transactions between the financial entities involved in it. To obtain a general sense both of the kinds of financial entities involved and the transactions between them, and bearing in mind the thrust of ‘financial inclusion’ that concerns us here, it is useful to make a distinction in what transactions are accounted by: public money and private money. Here
72 Top-down these terms are used in specific ways. Public money is secured to government such that it can be used in the capital circuit insofar as directly under the control of government. This money is secured through direct (proportion of incomes) and indirect (share of transactions) taxation, and secured on the condition that it will be used for public interests by government, whether profit making or not in the capital circuit. By government I mean political states in all institutional forms, as well as corresponding sub-states within them (within a federal structure) and supra-or inter-national organisations formed upon contributions from political states (such as, United Nations bodies). That is, all financial entities for which public money is secured within a financial regime are part of the government. Private money is all other money which may enter the capital circuit with an overriding objective of generating profits (becoming more money) for the non-governmental financial entities undertaking transactions in the circuit. Some notable grey areas appear in delineating public and private money thus. There are, for instance, financial entities – such as, charities – which may use private money in the way public money is used, that is, more for public interest and with only a secondary objective of profit making. More importantly, there are various ways in which public money may be transferred to private money. This is especially so for public-private partnerships, where the condition on which public money is secured is contravened and yet appears to be legitimately contravened. By the definition given above, public money is such insofar as secured to government and to the extent that government controls its passage in the capital cycle. The issue of control is important here. For instance, let’s say the government enters a public–private partnership wherein it puts in X amount of public money and a private firm puts in Y amount in the capital circuit, on the understanding that at a later point with any profit P upon X+Y the government’s share would be X + (x% of P) and the private firm’s would be Y + (y% of P). Moreover, usually the government leaves it to the private firm to manage the passage of X+Y through the capital circuit by offering a further sum X1 of public money as a contribution to management costs. In this seemingly reasonable arrangement, there are various ways in which public money could be effectively converted into private money: if X is large and Y is small, while x% is small but y% is large, then the private firm can get a share of P which in principle turns public money towards generating private money; if there is a loss (−P), then the private firm can reduce its exposure to the loss (−y%) by having negotiated a sufficiently large sum as X1; etc. Such situations are likely where the financial entities with public money and those with private money form public–private partnerships which are designed to protect the latter. Such situations become particularly likely where, moreover, the former is not only in charge of public money but has the ability to modify the financial regime in which private firms operate and the capital circuit is managed – as governments usually do through juridical and policy means.
‘Informal Sector’ to ‘Financial Inclusion’ 73 With these terms in mind, general descriptions of the kinds of financial entities relevant to ‘financial inclusion’ initiatives, and the relations between them, are as follows. In laying out the analytical framework thus, the terms being italicised here might seem quite abstract. They would become more material and distinct when brought to bear upon understanding Indian ‘financial inclusion’ moves in 2014–17 in the next chapter. Immediately, an important point in the following characterisations of financial entities is that they variously merge into each other, overlap or coordinate their interests. Individuals (persons designated in specific contexts as consumers/employees/workers/tax payers/stakeholders/investors/savers/owners/creditees/etc.) are the smallest unit of financial entities. As financial entities, individuals are legally recognised persons in various capacities for other financial entities (in particular, through citizenship), and have a calculable net worth or creditworthiness. Ultimately, all money that enters a capital circuit originates in, and its passage in the circuit is at base determined by the behaviours of, individuals as financial entities. Political-state agencies (or governmental agencies) offer a kind of ground- level ratification of individuals as financial entities and thereby constitute themselves as financial entities. As observed already, in this general designation of political-state agencies I include all their institutional forms, including those representing the political state itself and at sub-state (or regional) level. The ability of political-state agencies to constitute themselves as financial entities derives from their ability to secure regular accruals of public money originating from individuals by ratifying their status as financial entities. Such securing of public money is by direct or indirect taxation, and with a promise to directly control and use it for the public interest. That profit is not the preponderant motive in the political state’s use of public money is because the securing thereof is regular (usually annual) and guaranteed according to incomes (direct tax) and all other transactions (indirect) within its jurisdiction. A political state’s regular recourse and access to public money usually makes it a uniquely stable financial entity, and in a position to act as guarantor of the public interest. When I say all its institutional forms are included in the designation of ‘political-state agencies’, I mean that those include such institutions as are autonomous (such as judicial, financial, military and other institutions) from direct state executives (such as parliament and ministries) – that is, all institutions based upon and guaranteed by the use of public money. Despite arrangements for such autonomy, since political-state agencies comprehend various branches of public services they are likely to have mechanisms to modify the financial regime they operate according to contingency. Central and public-sector (nationalised) banks are political-state agencies of some significance for this and the next chapter. Political-state agencies also involve publicly funded financial entities which operate beyond the domain of the political state – globally – such as governmental AID agencies (e.g. the United States Agency for International Development [USAID] is a political-state agency of the United States
74 Top-down of America; Department for International Development [DfID] is one in the United Kingdom). Supranational state- like organisations are constituted by alliances between a number of political states (e.g. with joint ideological, economic or regional interests), by monetary and governance unions of political states, or by offering ratifications of political states (membership) in much the way the latter ratify individuals. In such cases, there is a percolation of public money upwards from political states to supranational state-like organisations. Such state-like organisations may incorporate not only political states but also other state-like organisations. As financial entities these, like states, also have prerogatives to use and control public money in the capital cycle without a preponderant profit motive. Obvious examples are the formations and institutions of the United Nations or the World Bank. State-level businesses (firms, corporations, enterprises) refer to profit- making organisations which put private money into the capital cycle and variously try to control it through the cycle, and which operate within the domains of political states. The idea of domain is not rigidly applied: a business working across two or three closely aligned political states may still be regarded as a state-level business. Such financial entities could be very small (consisting perhaps of one or two individuals as owners and workers) to very large, reaching local to national or even international scales of capital circuits – a scale marked in a rule-of-thumb way by the ‘micro’, ‘small’, ‘medium’ and ‘large’ scale of enterprises (MSMEs). The kind of products that such businesses deal with are often distinguished to qualify their profiles as financial entities: broadly, between manufacturing (the production and consumption of material goods) and services (the generation and consumption of non-material products, such as monetary management and banking, research and information, education and training, consultancy and project implementation). Importantly, state- level businesses are not necessarily confined as financial entities within the jurisdictions of political states. State-level businesses may work in partnership with businesses in other political states; or they may be subsidiaries of global businesses (the next term), or be contracted by global businesses or by non-government bodies (term defined later) and even by extraneous political states and supranational state-like bodies. Global businesses (firms, corporations, enterprises) are profit- making organisations which put private money into and variously seek to control its passage through the capital cycle, and operate across a significant number of political states. ‘Significant’ is a vague qualifier, but usually means across several large geopolitical territories (across continental or similarly wide-ranging financial regimes). They often operate within political-state domains through subsidiary state-level businesses or by subcontracting or partnering with such businesses. The distinctions between manufacturing and services noted previously apply to global businesses too. Some examples at different scales which appear in the next chapter are Visa, MasterCard, Google, Infosys, MicroSave.
‘Informal Sector’ to ‘Financial Inclusion’ 75 Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) may be identified as foundations or trusts, development bodies, charities, social enterprises, non-profit or voluntary sector organisations, sector-specific cooperatives and unions. These enter the capital cycle to serve ends which may be expected of political states or supranational state-like organisations. As such, their participation in the capital cycle is expected to preponderantly serve public interests over profit making, but their relation to profit making is necessarily ambiguous compared to political-state agencies. Some such organisations act as funders which draw upon the proceeds (private money) of businesses, or whose base funding is derived from private money. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the Citi Foundation, the Omidyar Network are examples. Some conduct public-interest activities by being given access to both private and public money, with variable arrangements for profit making or without such arrangements (through donations and grants). Examples include CARE (relief agency), ACCION International, FHI 360. Under some financial regimes, especially within political- state domains, there may be legal constraints on profit making, just as there might be legal allowances to public money (e.g. access to grant schemes, tax breaks). Increasingly, across the sector simultaneous profit-making and public-interest objectives – benefits with profits – are sought through such organisations. The part NGOs play in the capital cycle could be at any of the scales for any of the financial entities named here. They could operate at all levels within that of the political state or at the level of global businesses. Partnership bodies (i.e. organisations formed as networks or alliances or by agreements of membership) are financial entities which are composed of a number of financial entities of the sorts mentioned previously, except the individual. Typically, within their organisational terms they do not entail constituent financial entities making profits at the expense of each other, but they may facilitate profit-making relationships amongst their constituent financial entities in various ways. The latter may lead to specific financier– producer, contractor–contractee, collaborative-venture agreements between the relevant constituent financial entities. The general role of partnership bodies with regard to the capital cycle is complex. Insofar as such bodies consist of businesses in a sector acting in a coordinated way (private–private partnerships) they foreground profit-making objectives and concordant use of private money. Insofar as partnership bodies consist in political-state or state-like financial entities acting in coordination (public–public partnerships) they foreground public-interest objectives and accordingly use public money. But the current norm of such bodies is that they involve a combination of types of financial entities: partnerships of political-state agencies and state-like organisations with state-level or global businesses and NGOs. As such, they incorporate and facilitate public–private partnerships as described previously, and by and large enter the capital cycle in the manner of NGOs. NGOs are frequently constituent financial entities in such partnership bodies.
76 Top-down Partnership bodies also operate across various levels within political- state to global domains. However, to simply note their scale of operation by domain is not sufficient to characterise their part in the capital cycle. Where they incorporate different types of financial entities and facilitate public–private partnerships they enable a depth of penetration within various domains which none of the other kinds of financial entities can achieve. That is to say, such partnership bodies have the ability to capitalise and structure the capital cycle itself by coordinating the parts of all its constituent financial entities. Of particular interest with regard to ‘financial inclusion’ are a particular sort of global partnership bodies, which may be considered supranational financial-strategy facilitators. These operate at the global level, always involve a range of types of financial entities (political states and transnational state-like bodies, state-level and global businesses and NGOs), and define themselves by espousing public-interest objectives. Apart from facilitating all sorts of financial relationships between constituent financial entities (public–public, private–private and, especially, public–private), these align their ostensible public-interest objectives with redesigning of the capital cycle itself – by coordinating the activities of their constituent financial entities. The process of coordination by such global partnership bodies is usually difficult to pin down, partly by design and especially since the governance of such bodies appears decentralised and multilateral. Coordination may sometimes be apparent directly in the kinds of research and publicity materials they provide or sponsor. Coordination may also be suggested when their constituent financial entities seem to adopt the same policy moves and policy language in different contexts (appear to sing from the same hymn-sheet). These could be considered global partnership bodies which, so to speak, strategise and operationalise modifications in the global financial regime in sync with political-state financial regimes. Examples relevant here are the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI), Better than Cash Alliance (BCA). This limited set of general designations for types of financial entities serves to trace the rationales of ‘financial inclusion’ initiatives in the next chapter: individuals, political-state agencies, supranational state-like organisations, state- level businesses, global businesses, NGOs, partnership bodies and in particular global partnership bodies (acting as supranational financial- strategy facilitators). The relations between these are described here in terms of public and private money, and in terms of objectives (profit making or public interest) in relation to the capital cycle. A final point which is relevant here has to do with liberal jurisprudence. In the law governing currently dominant liberal financial regimes, in certain circumstances financial entities other than the individual (a person) are treated as individuals (as juristic persons). The general principle in question was laid out lucidly by Hans Kelsen (2006 , Chapter 9). The leading legal assumption of personhood is that a person is only recognised within the law insofar as certain acts and
‘Informal Sector’ to ‘Financial Inclusion’ 77 behaviours signify an attributable and personifiable source (a ‘compass’, as Kelsen puts it). Then the bridge between the natural person and the ‘juristic person’ (which is the sense in which an individual as financial entity may be similarly regarded as other financial entities) is described thus: Since the concept of the so-called physical (natural) ‘person’ is only a juristic construction and, as such, totally different from the concept of ‘man,’ [or ‘human’] the so-called ‘physical’ (natural) person is, indeed, a ‘juristic’ person. Traditional jurisprudence is inclined, it is true, to concede that the so-called physical person is also in truth a ‘juristic’ person. But in defining the physical (natural) person as man, the juristic person as non-man, traditional jurisprudence again blurs their essential similarity. The relation between man and physical person is no more intimate than the relation between man and juristic person in the technical sense. . . . The typical case of a ‘juristic’ person (in the narrower technical sense) is a corporation. (Kelsen 2006 , p. 96) This is an implicit principle in the nomenclature for financial entities outlined previously. By describing the individual as a financial entity alongside other formations as financial entities, I have already given them all the character of ‘juristic persons’ within the compass of financial regimes.
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4 ‘Financial Inclusion’ Initiatives, 2014–17
Background In moving towards discussing the ‘financial inclusion’ rationale of the three initiatives mentioned in the previous chapter – the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) from 2014, biometric identity numbers underpinned by the Aadhaar Act 2016, and banknote demonetisation in 2016 – some preliminary considerations should be kept in mind. The initiatives are discussed here in turn but also as a continuum with a coherent strategic and ideological direction. Each came with a strong claim of being designed for the long-term benefit of the ‘informal sector’ and the poor, and often had doubtful if not immediately deleterious effects on those constituencies. This slippage between intent and immediate effect is of some consequence for understanding the rationale of ‘financial inclusion’. It is of particular interest here that ‘financial inclusion’ initiatives involved a bewilderingly complex network of financial entities (beyond individuals) of the sorts named in the previous chapter. Their particular interests seemed to be aligned or, possibly, were systematised into alignment. In the main, this network enabled a series of public-private partnerships and strategic collaborations from top to bottom, so as to enable and implement the ‘financial inclusion’ initiatives in question. Their aligned interests were activated in the process of implementing the initiatives. In other words, it is arguable that the ends of these financial entities were served as much (perhaps more) within the process of generating new systems as after those systems became settled. To that extent, each of these ‘financial inclusion’ initiatives could be regarded as commercial in conception and undertaking, and not, despite appearances, governmental. It is difficult to visualise the network of financial entities that is relevant here in a joined-up way. One way of doing so is to focus particularly on Indian partnership bodies and global partnership bodies (particularly, those playing the part of supranational financial-strategy facilitators) in which Indian political-state agencies featured. The links between particular organisations of these types, and thereby to transnational state-like bodies, Indian and global businesses and NGOs – which also implicate relations between the latter – could be
‘Financial Inclusion’ Initiatives, 2014–17 81 conveyed in the manner attempted in Table 4.1 which appears at the end of this chapter. However, this table too gives a very cursory and imperfect grasp of the network. The movement of key individual executives between these financial entities exposes an informal dimension in the working of such networks. In my account of ‘financial inclusion’ initiatives I largely neglect this informal dimension for the sake of succinctness, but it is likely to have a significant part in the unrolling of ‘financial inclusion’ initiatives if examined closely. By way of background, two factors concerning particular financial entities – those offering banking services and credit facilities – are significant in leading up to the 2014–17 period. First, with regard to banks, the preceding decade saw a sustained media discussion denigrating public-sector and favouring private banks (the tenor of which is succinctly conveyed in 2009–15 reports collected in Bandyopadhyay 2017, pp. 82–101). Banks were nationalised across the board in India in 1969; ten private banks were approved in 1993, and then, in 2015–17 23 private banks were approved. Public-sector banks, as political-state agencies, work under strong regulatory policing and also channel government subsidies and subsidised credit (of particular import for poor populations and the ‘informal sector’). Despite being political-state agencies with a public-interest remit, however, it is considered that public-sector banks could not be indifferent to profit making – or, at least, to maintaining financial independence as a sector. Inability to recover credit and to maintain necessary liquidity could be regarded as failure in the banking sector’s independence, since it thereby becomes continuously dependent upon government credit- refinancing and guarantees. In the decade leading up to 2014 it was urged that private banks are more efficient in maintaining independence and enhancing financial stability and growth because they are comparatively less regulated, are acceptably profit-driven and offer higher rewards to employees (especially managers). The argument was that not only should banks be loosened from regulation and be preferably private, but that the system of subsidies and subsidised credit should be replaced by profit-generating ‘financial inclusion’ schemes which could still be regarded as serving the public interest. Alongside a growing media push for private banks, ‘liberalisation’ moves with effect within public-sector banks over this period both loosened regulation and increased the autonomy of banks (e.g. in being able to set interest rates for different kinds of credit and savings packages). Second, much of the thrust of ‘financial inclusion’ initiatives prior to 2014, especially from around 2005, had fallen on microcredit institutions, that is, bank-like institutions giving unsecured small loans to micro and small businesses. The latter were usually in the ‘informal sector’, and such borrowing formalised or ‘financially included’ them. The interest rates of such loans were meant to be affordably small, but that is a relative term. In fact by 2008–9 microfinance institutions formed a large and profit-making industry, with loans offered at over 26% interest rates based on money borrowed by the microfinance institutions from public-sector and private banks at 12 or
82 Top-down 13% (maintaining at least a 10% margin). In 2010–11 the practices followed by microfinance institutions came under scrutiny amidst allegations of aggressive lending and loan-shark-like recovery (repayment) activities, to the extent of some impoverished borrowers committing suicide under the pressure (again, a succinct account is found in reports from 2009–12 collected in Bandyopadhyay 2017, pp. 34–45). A raft of regulatory measures, such as enforcing interest rates at a ‘reasonable’ 22%, enabled microfinance institutions to survive and effectively convert themselves into profitable banks. In discussing the three initiatives in the following sections, I have not taken up some of the obvious and much-debated concerns raised about them. So, for instance, I mention briefly but do not dwell upon concerns about personal-data security in relation to unique identity numbers or about rooting out black money through currency demonetisation. This is not because I do not regard personal-data security or black money to be important issues – they are. But they were seemingly evoked in these instances more to obscure the rationale of ‘financial inclusion’ than to accentuate it. The following account is centred on claims made for ‘financial inclusion’ as a way of benefitting the poor, and in particular on the calls made on digital systems and technological infrastructure in the process.
Bank accounts The Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana or PMJDY (in English translation, the Prime Minister’s People’s Wealth Scheme) was announced by the newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his first Independence Day speech on 15 August 2014. The speech was delivered in Hindi – in the English rendering, he said: Brothers and sisters, I have come here with a pledge to launch a scheme on this festival of Freedom. It will be called Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana. I wish to connect the poorest citizens of the country with the facility of bank accounts through this yojana [scheme]. There are millions of families who have mobile phones but no bank accounts. We have to change this scenario. Economic resources of the country should be utilized for the well-being of the poor. The change will commence from this point. This yojana will open the window. Therefore, an account holder under Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana will be given a debit card. An insurance of Rs. 1 lakh [100,000] will be guaranteed with that debit card for each poor family, so that such families are covered with the insurance of Rs. 1 lakh in case of any crisis in their lives. (Modi 2014a) Of the ‘financial inclusion’ initiatives in question here, PMJDY was the only one which had a defined target: families (households) without bank accounts, which was understood simply as ‘the poor’. It was suggested that
‘Financial Inclusion’ Initiatives, 2014–17 83 opening bank accounts would serve the well-being of the poor. Using the ‘economic resources of the country’ – along with the prime-ministerial title of the scheme – suggested a straightforward governmental investment programme, and PMJDY did involve large-scale public investment. However, earlier in the same speech Modi had spoken of the salience of public-private partnerships for development, albeit with a rhetorical turn which obscured its import: ‘We have to create partnership with the people. We have to proceed under Public-Private Partnership. We have to proceed along with the participation of the people.’ It appeared that the ‘private’ in this partnership is actually coterminous with ‘the people’ where the ‘public’ is the government. And yet, the financial import of the received phrase, marked in that quotation by the capitals, was clear to those who knew it even though obscured for those who didn’t. The distinction between what the received phrase implies and what it might be taken to mean by those unaware of it enabled a subtle play on the class and language schisms of Modi’s audience. In fact, in the original Hindi, this phrase appeared in English: ‘हमें जन- भागीदारी करनी है । Public-Private Partnership के साथ आगे बढ़ना है । हमें जनता को जोड़कर आगे बढ़ना है ।’ Such code-switching between Hindi and English is not unusual in Hindi and doesn’t jar on the ear – Modi’s speeches switched codes frequently. Modi’s speech to formally launch PMJDY on 28 August 2014 came up with another resonant rhetorical phrase, playing this time directly with the phrase ‘financial exclusion’: ‘गरीबी से मुक्ति पानी है तो हमें financial untouchability से भी मुक्ति पानी होगी’ (‘To be free from poverty we also have to be free from financial untouchability’) (Modi 2014b). Replacing ‘exclusion’ with ‘untouchability’ allowed Modi to confer an added moral weight to the scheme, beyond that of ostensibly a poverty-alleviation programme – a moral weight akin to opposing caste prejudice and segregation. The effect of the phrase depends on the audience recognising ‘financial inclusion’ and ‘financial exclusion’ as received and current phrases in English. At any rate, benefitting the poor by giving household access to bank accounts was the lauded claim of PMJDY, and this seemed immediately plausible given that it targeted households without bank accounts – generally poor households, mostly of ‘informal workers’. Modi’s opening announcement gives a reasonable idea of what PMJDY was conceived as: a scheme for households without bank accounts to open one in an economic regime (India) where a majority do not have bank accounts (are poor or ‘financially excluded’ or ‘informal workers’). The extent of this proportion without bank accounts has only been imprecisely estimated. The pertinent estimates were rendered shaky by the fact that bank accounts were held by individuals while the scheme was conceived to cover households (or families). In 2009 optimistic estimates between 40% to 60% of the adult population being possessed of a bank account could be cited, alongside a figure of 34% of people with annual incomes of less than Rs. 50,000 (Bandyopadhyay 2017, pp. 34–5); later it was estimated that between 2011 and 2014 the proportion of adults had increased from 35% to 53% (Demirguc-Kunt et al. 2017, p. 4).
84 Top-down Between these wildly varying estimates, the evidence of majorities lacking bank accounts was bolstered by other indicators of poor access to financial services: both in terms of actual access to a physical bank (especially low in rural areas), and in terms of take up of services (such as life, health and other insurances). These considerations had occupied ‘financial inclusion’ moves in India led by RBI policy since 2005, as observed in the previous chapter. PMJDY was meant to be a great leap forward in that direction. The success of that leap would principally be measured in terms of two raw figures: constantly updated numbers for how many PMJDY accounts were opened and how much total money was deposited in them . . . on the first day, the first month, the first year, after two years and so on from the launch of the programme. The largeness of this number became a signifier of success, continuously publicised and cited, headlining the PMJDY website. It was 136.8 million accounts on 28 February 2015 and 314.5 million on 20 April 2018, to take two random dates; in 29 March 2017 the total deposit balance was Rs. 629.72 million, on 20 April 2018 it was Rs. 805.46 million. The bigger the increase in numbers, the more PMJDY seemed justified. By way of both underlining its ‘financial inclusion’ agenda and obtaining big numbers, the public discourse on PMJDY – in information leaflets, political broadcasts, news media reports – focused more or less exclusively on two factors: the ease of opening a PMJDY account and the benefits from opening such an account. The ease of opening an account meant addressing the obstacles and costs that had discouraged people earlier. On this front, PMJDY accounts could be opened without making a deposit, and the process of authenticating the would-be account holder’s identity was simplified. The latter had been a substantial obstacle to persons without fixed addresses, with uncertain literacy, and simply poor – therefore apt to be obstructed by bureaucrats and procedures at all levels. This process was now designated by the resoundingly commercial acronym KYC (Know Your Customer), and hopes for easing it were pinned on persons having unique biometric identity numbers (Aadhaar) through a programme already underway (the next initiative discussed here, though it started earlier). But even without that, it was a matter of producing one existing official identity document. Also on the front of ease, PMJDY came with a plan to set up local or mobile banking outlets sub-contracted by banks in areas where branches are few and far between. In the parlance of the scheme, this meant setting up Bank Mitras (literally ‘Bank Friends’, also referred to in official documents as ‘Business Correspondents’). The arrangements for Bank Mitras were to garner particular attention soon, as discussed later, and their growing number became another way of tracking the penetration and therefore success of the scheme. In State Bank of India (the largest public-sector bank) information packs, the kinds of agents who could be Bank Mitras were listed thus: (i) Retired Bank Employees (ii) Retired Teachers (iii) Retired Govt. Employees (iv) Ex-Servicemen (v) Individual owners of kirana/medical/
‘Financial Inclusion’ Initiatives, 2014–17 85 fair price shops, individual Public Call Office (PCO) operators, Agents of Small Savings Scheme of Government of India/Insurance Companies, ‘for profit’ companies registered under the Indian Companies Act. (SBI 2016) Some of the primary benefits from opening a PMJDY account were the debit card which Modi had mentioned (a RuPay card, cleverly resonating with the name of the Indian currency, ‘rupee’ or ‘rupya’), insurances and overdrafts which could be obtained if a certain level of deposits was maintained (an incentive for making deposits), and where eligible using the accounts to receive government benefits directly (subsidies and subsidised credit). There was another much used acronym to mark the last feature: DBT or Direct Benefit Transfer. An impressive body of data gathered as these arrangements were rolled out, occasionally to complicate but never to dislodge the punchy claim of the big headline numbers. It was variously suspected that many who already had accounts also secured one or more PMJDY accounts, and that many accounts were opened only to be left dormant. It was naturally clear to all who considered the matter that such ‘financial inclusion’ did not entail extending material resources or productive facilities to the ‘financially excluded’. The ease and benefits associated with PMJDY accounts were incentives for increasing the number of persons with bank accounts; in itself, having a bank account would not help the poor to become less so. In fact, the facilities and benefits of having a bank account usually entail being overtly or covertly charged for them and perhaps being sold unnecessary services and insurances. At any rate, this should have been obvious, but the intensity of talk about ease and benefits and serving the poor might have made it seem otherwise. So, an important question arises and was neglected in this context: what is a bank account, or what does it mean for a person to have a bank account? The self-evident answer is twofold. One, a bank account is a mechanism for tracking and regulating (at least potentially) the full range of financial transactions that an individual engages in, that is, a way of rendering individuals describable as financial entities. Two, a bank account is a mechanism for using the money deposited by an individual to enter the capital cycle with minimum intervention from the account holder, that is, for making the individual as financial entity an investor despite herself. Traditionally the raison d’être for account holders to buy into these mechanisms was the security of their money (usually thought of as material); now these mechanisms offer account holders access to facilities/benefits/services which they pay for by making investable deposits, and by being liable for commissions and charges (now that money is largely not quite material). PMJDY was then a way of registering poor people as financial entities and getting their money into the mainstream capital cycle. Of course, the capital of ‘informal workers’ does circulate in an ‘informal economy’ – an informal capital cycle. The public discourse on PMJDY was understandably condemnatory about the informal capital cycle. The
86 Top-down extortionist practices of traditional money-lenders and loan sharks therein, and the insecurities of keeping cash under the mattress or with a trusted friend, were often mentioned. The role played by financial entities implementing PMJDY is of some interest here. Both public-sector banks (political-state agencies) and private banks (businesses) were recruited to implement the scheme: a report (Dutta and Das 2017, p. 4) listed 25 public-sector banks and 13 major private banks. In various ways, these then formed a kind of public–private lobby in negotiating for greater financial input from the government for their part in PMJDY. Apart from being compensated from public money for the costs of opening PMJDY accounts and extending Bank Mitra agencies, from January 2015 they were able to charge a 1% commission on processing Direct Benefit Transfers (DBTs) and negotiate credit guarantees for overdraft allowances on PMJDY accounts (see Saha 2015). Bank Mitras were receiving a small salary and 1% commissions on DBTs too. Bargaining between the government and the public–private bank lobby continued after those arrangements were made, with the banks claiming losses from the scheme and therefore more government funding and guarantees (e.g. calling for 3% commissions), and private banks threatening to disengage from the scheme. In March 2017 it was found that of all PMJDY accounts opened, only 3.23% were in private banks (Dutta and Das 2017, p. 24). The banks also found other ways of charging PMJDY account holders. In 2017, a couple of reports by Ashish Das (2017a, 2017b) attracted the attention of news media (Shetty 2017; Moneylife 2017). Das had produced regular reports over the previous decade tracking changes in savings and transactions systems and RBI regulation thereof. These reports found that PMJDY account holders were being charged (by private banks) or had their accounts frozen (by public-sector banks) for more than four transactions a month, while some Bank Mitras were encouraging unnecessary transactions to bump up their commissions. PMJDY accounts apart, it was noted that other low- deposit accounts had been subject to punitive charges on overdrafts, generating significant profits for public-sector banks. By late 2017 it was evident that PMJDY had lost its verve. The banks’ (especially private banks’) evident lack of enthusiasm was possibly informed by commentary on PMJDY from global businesses and NGOs, and global partnership organisations (all these feature in Table 4.1). Shortly after the launch of PMJDY, these global financial entities – collaborating with Indian partners – started gauging the scheme as a stepping stone towards more ambitious ‘financial inclusion’ strategies. The implementation of PMJDY made India a useful test case for strategies that could be implemented wherever there is a significant ‘informal sector’. Assessments of PMJDY from global financial entities started appearing very soon after the scheme was launched. The most sustained of these were undertaken by MicroSave (a global business, operating primarily in Asia and Africa), commissioned by the Ministry of Finance (political-state
‘Financial Inclusion’ Initiatives, 2014–17 87 agency), and supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (a key global NGO, featuring as a funder in all ‘financial inclusion’ partnerships relevant here). MicroSave produced three reports (December 2014; October 2015; Sharma, Giri and Chadha in March 2016), and also a few blogs on its website through 2015. The latter (Chopra et al. 2015; Bakhshi et al. 2015; Aadil et al. 2015) gave some figures from MicroSave’s investigations, but were principally devoted to advocating in favour of the banks and Bank Mitras being better remunerated from the public purse for implementing PMJDY, particularly recommending a 3% rather than 1% commission from DBTs. One of the most influential global partnerships in this area, CGAP (Consultative Group to Assist the Poor) also took an interest in PMJDY, posting a short video on its website (Cairns and Thomas 2014) and shortly afterwards a blog posting (Singh et al. 2015). The latter also reported on MicroSave’s findings and made the case for more remuneration for banks. Apart from championing the demands of banks, such reports interestingly focused on the so-called ‘last mile’ of the scheme: the point at which PMJDY could be thought of as delivering on its ‘financial inclusion’ promises. The MicroSave reports mentioned previously understood the ‘last mile’ as consisting in delivery of banking services in the most inaccessible areas – via Bank Mitras. All these reports were devoted particularly to Bank Mitras, gathering data and reporting on their various obstacles and achievements, with a particular focus on certain regional states. In the final report (Sharma et al. 2016), it was concluded that the opening of PMJDY accounts had reached saturation point, and that: ‘PMJDY has made financial inclusion a universal phenomenon and changed the financial profile of rural India. Financial literacy and upgrade in BM [Bank Mitra] infrastructure can take PMJDY scheme to the next level’ (p. 33). Insofar as this report went, the next level (‘last mile’) was a matter of activating the accounts to a greater degree, improving the service, and providing more support for Bank Mitras. Throughout, MicroSave had positioned itself as championing the interests of banks and Bank Mitras. A somewhat different sort of ‘last mile’ analysis appeared from the World Bank (a transnational state-like organisation) in the form of an occasional paper in September 2017 (Demirguc- Kunt et al. 2017). Here the ‘last mile’ was understood as a matter of making PMJDY accounts fully active, with larger deposits and volumes of transaction. It reported on surveys of account applications and account holders, and marked several opportunities to achieve that ‘last mile’ in its concluding notes: This survey reveals several opportunities for India to build on its financial inclusion successes. Clearly communicating documentation requirements for JDY accounts, and encouraging the use of the existing eKYC electronic authentication system, are potential steps. . . . JDY accounts are being used to receive government social benefits payments, which was touted as one of the policy’s main potential upsides. The Indian
88 Top-down government estimates that it has saved around USD 2 billion by digitizing the delivery of fuel subsidies, and they attribute part of that success to the use of JDY accounts. However, additional research could investigate if opening an account leads to usage of additional financial services, such as electronic payments, savings and appropriate credit. (Demirguc-Kunt et al. 2017, pp. 24–5) There, then, was a more definite indication that the ‘last mile’ would focus on digital networked systems, and PMJDY would converge with that. Inclusive Finance India (an Indian partnership body which includes numerous global businesses, NGOs and global partnership organisations) produced a 2016 report (Sriram 2017) – with funding from ACCESS-ASSIST, World Bank, Mastercard and others – with a chapter on PMJDY. Its conclusion was: Flaws in last-mile connectivity infrastructure prove to be operational bottlenecks for the successful implementation of PMJDY. . . . Increased commission and ensured support would help in reducing the current BC [Business Correspondent] dormancy. Low-cost solution based on mobile technology, increased adoption of mobile wallets, and so on are some of them. Swift implementation of these recommendations is likely to improve the last-mile delivery scenario. . . . By building on its strengths and working on its weaknesses, the project can scale unprecedented heights in financial inclusivity and this is precisely what the next focus should be. (Sriram 2017, p. 46) But the forward-looking scenario of ‘financial inclusion’ beyond PMJDY into digital networked systems was already explicitly stated in an article that appeared in November 2016 (a significant month when demonetisation was announced, on which more later) on the Global Innovation Exchange website. It was entitled ‘Beyond Cash’, and signed by USAID (United States Agency for International Development), the key American political- state AID agency. The Global Innovation Exchange platform, for matching innovators with funding, was launched in June 2016 by USAID with over 100 partners, including numerous political state-agencies around the world and every kind of global financial entity mentioned so far. Despite USAID’s driving impetus, this platform was designed deliberately to look ‘non-governmental’ and therefore not to be pegged according to spatially described economic regimes (see Noble 2016). The article said: The Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana (PMJDY), the Indian government’s landmark financial inclusion initiative, has facilitated the opening of over 200 million bank accounts since its launch in August 2014. In addition, over 950 million Indians have Aadhaar – a unique
‘Financial Inclusion’ Initiatives, 2014–17 89 biometric-backed identification, which makes it easier to confirm their identity when opening bank accounts. . . . Meaningful financial inclusion is about more than just having an account – it also includes the ability to use these bank accounts regularly and easily. In addition, financial services and products must be tailored to meet consumer needs and goals. Digital payments can enable individuals to store and spend money safely from the comfort of their own homes, thereby promoting financial inclusion. In addition, the data trail generated from digital transactions can be used to create tailored financial products (e.g. credit) suited to their individual needs and circumstances. The use of digital payments can also reduce the burden of cash on the broader economy: the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) estimates the cost of currency operations to be around $3.5 billion per year. (USAID and US Global Development Lab 2016) Evidently, in this line of commentary on PMJDY by supranational financial- strategy facilitators and other global financial entities, Indian ‘financial inclusion’ had detached itself from the ‘informal sector’ and the poor. It has leapt forward to the now ‘included’ individual financial entities transacting on digital devices from the ‘comfort of their own homes’. ‘Meaningful financial inclusion’ had turned into a matter of consuming effectively rather than of being in any material need. Few poor people in India would regard homes as necessarily their ‘own’ or necessarily ‘comfortable’, consider cash as ‘burdensome’ or find themselves excessively ‘burdened’ by cash, think of their frugal ‘consumption needs and goals’ as needing much ‘tailoring’, or be equipped with and feel equipped to use the kind of digital devices that were taken for granted in the quotation. The quotation offered a peculiarly middle-class vision of whom ‘financial inclusion’ in India extends to. To continue this argument, let me turn to the other initiative mentioned in that quotation: Aadhaar, the unique biometric- identification number project.
Aadhaar numbers In examining the modes of grounding political power from colonial to post- colonial Indonesia, Benedict Anderson (2006 ) had observed: Interlinked with one another, then, the census, the map and the museum illuminate the late colonial state’s style of thinking about its domain. The ‘warp’ of this thinking was a totalizing classificatory grid, which could be applied with endless flexibility to anything under the state’s real or contemplated control: peoples, regions, religions, languages, products, monuments, and so forth. The effect of the grid was always to be able to say of anything that it was this, not that; it belonged here,
90 Top-down not there. It was bounded, determinate, and therefore – in principle – countable. . . . The ‘weft’ was what one could call serialization: the assumption that the world was made up of replicable plurals. The particular always stood as a provisional representative of a series, and was to be handled in this light. . . . For the colonial state did not merely aspire to create, under its control, a human landscape of perfect visibility; the condition of this visibility was that everyone, everything, had (as it were) a serial number. This style of imagining did not come out of thin air. It was the product of the technologies of navigation, astronomy, horology, surveying, photography and print, to say nothing of the deep driving power of capitalism. (pp. 184–5) Beyond print, with the resource of networked digital systems, the unique identity number project in India – or ‘Aadhaar’ (‘foundation’, in English) as it was named – marked the universalisation of that colonial vision of power and the ‘deep driving power of capitalism’. Many Indians feel they ‘own’ the number in the material form of a printed card (an Aadhaar card), thus melding its imperative appearance reassuringly with print-culture habits. But that is no more than a gimmick. The Aadhaar number for each individual is recorded in the Aadhaar digital system, linked to various digital nodes of other systems, and renders each individual tractable and functional as a financial entity, irrespective of whether there is a card or not. So the abstract form of the number as a digital signifier of individuals is all that is of consequence. As a digital signifier, the abstract form of the number is essentially an index for a biological individual; that is, it is a locator (like a library catalogue number) of stored biological information of an individual (biometric data), in the form of fingerprints, retinal scan and facial image. That is akin to the ‘weft’ as Anderson puts it. The linkage of this number to various nodes involving financial transactions maps the biological individual to her monetary activities – puts her on a grid of finance, and effectively translates her into a financial entity. That is akin to the ‘warp’ as Anderson terms it. The Aadhaar number could be considered the point where the biological individual is converted into the individual as financial entity. The directness with which the number mediates between the biological and the financial presence, converting one into the other, which is also a replacement of the one by the other, has encouraged some researchers to call upon Michel Foucault’s (2004 [1977–78]) lectures on biopolitics in neoliberal governance for clarification. That is a useful approach to it, and has been employed both to view the Aadhaar project in a critical spirit (Thomas 2014) and, against the grain of Foucault’s lectures, in an approbatory manner (Das 2015, Chapter 1 takes ‘neo-liberal governmentality’ as based on a sound and salutary mode of reasoning). However, I do not pursue this particular Foucauldian line of analysis here.
‘Financial Inclusion’ Initiatives, 2014–17 91 The project of generating a unique identification number indexed to biological information for every individual in India (everyone who has been resident for 182 days or more in the 12 months preceding enrolment) which would be stored on a secure site within India was initiated in 2009. A government body, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) was established by an executive order of the ruling Congress-led UPA government for the purpose in January 2009. Its terms of reference were functional and had no mention of ‘financial inclusion’; in that sense it is not evidently a ‘financial inclusion’ scheme and was not targeted to a specific constituency. By 2018 it was understood that around 1.2 billion Aadhaar numbers had been generated, covering over 99% of the country’s population, effectively owned by UIDAI. The implementation of the Aadhaar project in the decade from its initiation has been extensively documented and analysed (Zelazny 2012; Das 2015; Nilekani and Shah 2015; Abraham et al. 2017; Aiyar 2017). Much of this research presents more or less upbeat accounts of the political negotiations – between Congress-led UPA and (from 2014) BJP-led NDA governments – that the Aadhaar project went through, the technological achievement in putting up the digital platforms and networks for its implementation, and the immense scale of its ambition. Some key points of the project and its process are worth highlighting here. First, though set up as a fully government body (political-state agency), UIDAI was designed to incorporate the technocratic spirit of the private sector. This was principally done through the appointment of Nandan Nilekani, formerly CEO and then chair of the board of directors of Infosys (a global business headquartered in India), as director of UIADI at cabinet- rank. Nilekani became the face and voice of UIDAI through his tenure till 2014, in much the way that Sugata Mitra played that part for the NIIT’s ‘hole-in-the-wall experiments’ (which Nilekani 2009, pp. 363–4, recalled approvingly). Though I largely do not discuss the movement of particular persons across different financial entities here, Nilekani’s role in mediating between political-state agencies and a range of national and global businesses and partnerships was so influential that it comes up later. Second, apart from the constitution of UIADI and its necessary relationship with other political-state agencies, the entire Aadhaar project consisted in a wide range of private sector input and public–private partnerships. Various memoranda of understanding (MOUs) and partnership agreements made private businesses party to the project at various levels from local to national to global: for example, in seeking the support of significant global bodies, in developing the technological infrastructure, in enrolling persons receiving the numbers, in enlisting agencies using the services enabled by the numbers, in generating new businesses arising from the Aadhaar database. Some of these are discussed later. Third, though the Aadhaar project began with numbers being optional (citizens had the choice to have an Aadhaar number or not), it gradually developed into being made pragmatically and then legislatively compulsory. Pragmatic compulsion involved making ever greater
92 Top-down areas of public services (such as, various kinds of benefits) and everyday service products (such as, banking and telecommunications) accessible, or at least easily accessible, conditional to having an Aadhaar number. Legislative compulsion came principally on the back of an act of parliament which ratified UIDAI’s constitutional authority. Such a bill was first introduced as the National Identity Authority of India Bill 2010, but failed to pass through parliament. In modified form as the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act 2016 parliament passed it – but as a ‘money bill’, which only needed to go through the lower house of parliament (the Lok Sabha), therefore being presented as pertinent only to public-money transactions. In practice, that limitation as a ‘money bill’ has not restrained the reach of the Aadhaar project. Insofar as the Aadhaar Bill 2016 referred to the ‘informal sector’ and the poor, the implication could be seen as both in the direction of ‘financial inclusion’ and a license for compulsion: The Authority [i.e. UIDAI] shall take special measures to issue Aadhaar number to women, children, senior citizens, persons with disability, unskilled and unorganised workers, nomadic tribes or to such other persons who do not have any permanent dwelling house and such other categories of individuals as may be specified by regulations. (Ministry of Law and Justice 2016, Chapter 2, clause 5) In relation to publicly funded services, the Bill also empowered central and regional state agencies to: ‘require that such individual undergo authentication, or furnish proof of possession of Aadhaar number or in case of an individual to whom no Aadhaar number has been assigned, such individuals makes an application for enrolment’ (Chapter 3, clause 7). Fourth, apart from early doubts about the constitutional status of UIDAI and about the degree of compulsion, most persistent concerns were expressed with regard to data security. The existence of the Aadhaar database with individual biometric information linked to consumption information raised the prospect of possible breaches and consequent invasions of privacy and identity theft. At various stages allegations of such breaches were made and court cases registered. The judgements of the Supreme Court in such matters sent mixed messages, seeming at times to limit and at others to enhance UIADI’s autonomy, as indeed have court decisions on litigation concerning compulsion and constitutional validity. As a rule, if a database exists – however seemingly well-secured – it may in principle be breached, and certainly invasion of privacy and identity theft are significant consequences. Having said that though, here I do not address the issue of data protection and related litigation further. To what uses the data may be put legitimately and without infringing individual privacy is of more importance. The circumstance of interest here is that the Aadhaar project came to be presented and regarded, in the same vein as PMJDY, as a ‘financial
‘Financial Inclusion’ Initiatives, 2014–17 93 inclusion’ effort. Unlike PMJDY, though, its application was universal rather than targeted. UIDAI director Nilekani himself became the frontline promoter of the Aadhaar project as such, making numerous statements in international news media. He invariably appeared as an entrepreneur-hero who had ownership of the project rather than representing a political-state agency, and whose recently published book Imagining India (2008) could be considered a visionary statement being given flesh through Aadhaar. By the time the first Aadhaar numbers were issued from September 2010, Nilekani had given Mint readers to understand that the numbers are needed because ‘[currently the poor] cannot get a bank account, mobile or food rations – it all boils down to a lack of identity. It’s separated people, the “haves” and the “have-nots” ’ (Leigh 2010); told Wired readers that, ‘Making the poor, the marginalized, the homeless part of the system is a huge benefit’ (Beiser 2011); and informed New Yorker readers that, ‘The aim is to help reduce the extraordinary economic distances between those who have benefitted from India’s boom of the past two decades and those who have not’ (Parker 2011). Such statements were to appear ad nauseam over the following years from Nilekani and then his replacements at the head of UIDAI. In May 2013 Nilekani made a presentation on the project at a World Bank event, which was reported thus: Terms like ‘poverty-killer’ and ‘game changer’ are heard frequently in development circles, but when used by World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and Chief Economist Kaushik Basu, they acquire an additional degree of urgency and depth. Kim and Basu were referring to India’s digital unique identification program, and the man who runs it – Nandan Nilekani, Chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India. For Kim, the ‘poverty killer’ aspect of the program is the promise of on the ground impact. For Basu, it’s the more efficient direct transfer of benefits to the poor and vulnerable that promises to be a ‘game changer.’ (World Bank News 2013) It seems that not only the Aadhaar project but also Nilekani himself was being described as a ‘poverty-killer’. Nilekani’s later book on this and other projects, Rebooting India (Nilekani and Shah 2015, Chapters 1 and 2 devoted to Aadhaar) was replete with ‘financial inclusion’ claims. Global bodies like the World Bank had, however, taken a keen interest in the Aadhaar project as it unfolded irrespective of Nilekani, whose role in UIDAI ended in March 2014 – more later on this broader interest. Actually, the Aadhaar project did not enable direct poverty reduction and had a questionable claim to indirect poverty alleviation; it had a stronger claim to bringing savings to public and profits to private agencies which cater to the poor, where the poor are either claimants of public-interest services or are consumers of various products in the market. The ‘financial inclusion’
94 Top-down claim that was, however, widely disseminated rested in two simplistic arguments. First, ‘informal workers’ and the poor are often unable to access legitimate public and private financial services (such as, opening bank accounts, buying insurances, getting credit, registering with a telecommunications provider or an employer) because the identification procedures employed by the relevant public and private agencies are cumbersome. Consequently, the poor often take recourse to brokers and providers of doubtful legitimacy, who exploit them. The Aadhaar number database could provide quick verification of identities (the much talked of Know-Your-Customer or KYC facilities mentioned already) which meet the security-conscious standards of these public and private agencies. While this advantage could be presented as sort- of-good for the poor (less trouble for them and no middlemen needed), it was indubitably very good for the public and private agencies involved. After all, the costs of verifying identities do not fall only upon consumers but also upon those agencies themselves, simply, for instance, in terms of the staffing and administrative costs of checking and maintaining records. So, while the KYC facilities may putatively save the poor some trouble it would certainly bring direct savings to the agencies involved. For profit-making private agencies it would have the significant benefit of bringing more consumers to buy their services and products. Second, the Aadhaar card would facilitate the regulated transfer of government subsidies and benefits: for various schemes, and for pensions, student grants, etc., anything that could be considered a public-interest payment. This would be activated especially by linking bank accounts to various benefits and subsidies via the Aadhaar number. Since what’s received by the beneficiaries thereby is not in itself increased, the advantage of this is mainly in saving government expenditure on making those transfers and keeping track of them. This could be regarded as a saving of public money which would be used for a wider range of public-interest expenditure. But equally, and more likely in the current dispensation, this saving could become investments in public–private partnerships which are ultimately more beneficial for private businesses than the poor. A third ‘financial inclusion’ argument made for the Aadhaar project had such a tangential bearing on the poor that it was in fact relatively rarely made. It had to do with the centralisation of a range of data on individuals as financial entities (all transactions they engage in) anchored to Aadhaar numbers, which in turn are indexed to data on biological individuals. This allows for data mining to produce profiles of individuals and of collectives and groupings, along various parameters, which could effectively serve as comprehensive market research. The terminology that evolved presented this as developing ‘360° perspectives’ on consumers. Insofar as an argument for ‘financial inclusion’ and benefitting the poor could be attached to this, the following quotation covers the ground: So, the ‘big data’ in the integrated pan-India Aadhaar database . . . can be distilled and analysed by corporates, armed as they are now with
‘Financial Inclusion’ Initiatives, 2014–17 95 the necessary analytics and query interface, in order to develop a more thorough and insightful understanding of the need and consumption patterns of India’s poor. With this knowledge, these companies would provide the poor with access to the market, and in the process, build a new generation of leaders and entrepreneurs from India’s villages. This would be a win-win situation for both the corporates and the poor. This would enable the corporates to serve the poor and improve their lives, and also create profitable opportunities for themselves. . . . On the whole, it is certainly a huge bonanza for India’s poor, and the Aadhaar programme would have made it possible. (Das 2015, p. 290) That data mining from the Aadhaar database could enable more adroitly extractive calls for the poor to spend the little money they (do or don’t) have by profit-making ‘corporates’ seems logical. That this prospect could be presented as a sign of the altruism of these profit-making ‘corporates’ and as ‘certainly a huge bonanza for India’s poor’ can only be read as wide-eyed credulity or duplicitous cynicism. Particularly after the Aadhaar Act 2016, with the pressures of compulsion, the database radiating from Aadhaar numbers – and the potential for data mining – expanded in scope and depth. By early 2018 Aadhaar numbers had been linked to around 200 government services, most with various degrees of private-sector input in maintaining the infrastructure and operationalising the links. These and other links included: income tax returns and Permanent Account Numbers (PAN), bank accounts, insurance policies, mobile phone numbers (SIMs), post-office investments, ration-card numbers (food subsidies), school-level national examination registrations, university-level scholarships and national examination registrations, pensions, Employers Provident Funds and Universal Account Numbers (UAN), driving licenses, subsidised Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) users, beneficiaries of farmer subsidies, investors in Mutual Funds, paperless airport entry, companies making Goods and Services Tax (GST) returns and indeed all activity covered by the Companies Act 2013 (such as, joining boards and filings). Further, the Aadhaar number in itself became a mechanism for conducting transactions, in the form of a kind of bank or payments card (via an app), either directly from a linked bank account or through an eWallet (itself linked to a bank account for top-ups or with other mechanisms for top-ups). In a way then, the Aadhaar number could serve not only to enhance the use of existing bank accounts but also to effectively replace some of the functions served by banks. It could become a repository of money and offer a mechanism for payments itself. From the process of setting up the core Aadhaar number database (a techno-structure, a registration process and a data-maintenance process), to setting up every level of links (all those mentioned involve another subsidiary techno-structure, linking mechanism and data-maintenance process), to offering services via Aadhaar
96 Top-down (though payment apps and eWallets) and using Aadhaar (for KYC) – at every level – UIDAI and relevant government agencies partnered with or contracted global and national businesses, which in turn sub-contracted to others, involving profit-making transactions between government and businesses, businesses and businesses, and of course businesses and consumers at ground level. Understandably financial- service bodies taking percentages/fees from all such transactions, and telecommunications corporations handling the vast volume of exchanges involved, had a particular stake in the profit-making activity. The network of public-private links which went into setting up Aadhaar, extending its links, and the business spin-offs from Aadhaar were tracked intermittently in news reports, mainly by noting symptomatic examples (Moneylife 2011; IANS 2015 on UIDAI contracts; Rajshekhar 2016; Kaushik 2017; India TV News 2017; Ailawadi 2017; Dey 2017; Vidyut 2018 on various business interests drawing upon Aadhaar). But the picture is simply too complex and multi-layered to be represented with any degree of comprehensiveness. None of this flowering of business and profit making from the Aadhaar project suggested that ‘informal workers’ or the poor were benefitting particularly. Given the features of literacy and internet access cited in the previous chapter, it seems likely that Aadhaar-based services and businesses would benefit the well-off at the expense of the worse-off. A paper (Brewer et al. 2016) examining the evidence from such identity registration schemes in a broad way, across several Asian and African contexts, found that these could exacerbate exclusion and discrimination for poorer populations rather than bring about inclusion and greater access. This seems consistent with the rationale outlined previously. While the degree to which this may have happened in India through the Aadhaar project has not been rigorously examined (as this is written in 2019), there have been some concerns. Following a conceptually sophisticated argument, Owen D. Thomas (2014) wondered to what extent the Aadhaar biometric identification methods were based on norms which entail systematic exclusion, especially of poorer persons: In a cruel expression of the difference between the rationality of the program and the technology of enactment, millions of Indian residents who spend their working lives in agriculture or construction have worn away their fingerprints in the act of labor, resulting in “low-quality” attributes that are unreadable to the biometric scanner. . . . Cataracts also often adversely affect biometric enrollment. (p. 175) In an upbeat account of the history and achievement of the project, Shankar Aiyar (2017) observed in passing that ‘Aadhaar is meant to be an enabler of inclusion to ensure the poor, in villages and in urban areas, are not denied access to public services. There is a gap between promise and performance’
‘Financial Inclusion’ Initiatives, 2014–17 97 (p. 198). Aiyar’s discussion of this (pp. 198–200) attributes the instances he could site to ineptitude and corruption among those handling the systems. A series of articles by Usha Ramanathan (2017a, 2017b, 2017c, 2017d) gave the most complete account at the time of the various ways in which exclusions were implicit in the processes of implementing the Aadhaar project, and were occurring. Transnational state- like bodies, global businesses and NGOs other than those mentioned already, and global partnership organisations (see Table 4.1) kept tabs on and wove their interests in and out of the implementation of the Aadhaar project. Congratulatory, almost advertisement-like, blogs starting appearing on the websites of supranational financial-strategy facilitators like the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) and the Centre for Financial Inclusion (CFI) from 2014 and onwards (from Cairns and Thomas 2014; Chen 2014; Fixler 2015) intermittently through the following years. In 2015 a brief on the Aadhaar project was prepared for CGAP (Banerjee 2015a), and an extended report for the World Bank Group (Banerjee 2015b). A passing but unusually enthusiastic reference to the Aadhaar project appeared in the UN Report on the World Social Situation 2016, entitled, Leaving No One Behind: The decision of India in 2010 to launch the Aadhaar programme to enrol the biometric identifying data of all its 1.2 billion citizens, for example, was a critical step in enabling fairer access of the people to government benefits and services. Programmes such as Aadhaar have tremendous potential to foster inclusion by giving all people, including the poorest and most marginalized, an official identity. (United Nations 2016, p. 134) A State of Aadhaar 2016–17 (Abraham et al. 2017) report appeared with sponsorship from the Omidyar Network, a global NGO cum ‘venture philanthropy’ organisation which is embedded in all the global partnership organisations relevant here. Such global financial entities largely focused on the Aadhaar project by setting it alongside the targeted PMJDY (as in the USAID quotation at the end of the last section): together they could be seen as part of a single ‘financial inclusion’ strategy in India. An acronym emerged around 2015 to suggest a joined-up ‘financial inclusion’ strategy, JAM – or Jan Dhan- Aadhaar- mobile. The PMJDY bank accounts of the newly ‘financially included’ linked to their Aadhaar numbers and instrumentalised through their networked mobile devices (mostly phones, see the previous chapter for figures) seemed to complete a circle of ‘financial inclusion’ of formerly excluded individual financial entities, of ‘informal workers’, the poor. That this technological circuit had them registered and available as individual financial entities seemed to become the realisation of the very idea of ‘financial inclusion’. All that remained for these ‘informal workers’ and poor persons to rise above their circumstances, it was
98 Top-down variously suggested, was for them to start actively using the technological circuit, to step into the ‘last mile’. That would justify the profit-making altruism of the various national and global businesses and public–private partnerships, some of which had already made good profits in the process of setting the circuit up. But Aadhaar and JAM in India were not conceived by these global partnership bodies as a local fix. Their interest as global partnerships and global businesses and NGOs was precisely because the Aadhaar project offered a template. In fact, various such projects of lesser degrees of sophistication and weaker intent were already being monitored by these global financial entities (see Gelb 2016 for a succinct account – itself a Centre for Global Development paper, sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK Department for International Development [DfID]). In 2016, the global partnership organisation Better than Cash Alliance (BCA) put it forth as a principle of its ‘Accelerators Toolkit’: ‘Develop a unique identification program’ – naturally with an encouraging reference to the Aadhaar project (BCA 2016). In June 2017 it was reported that the Omidyar Network were launching Digital Identity, which ‘would look at investing in businesses that are based on replicating the construct of the Aadhaar model in other countries’ (Dey 2017). When Bill Gates visited India in May 2018, among various observations on India’s ‘financial inclusion’ initiatives, he was reported as saying that ‘India’s Aadhaar technology does not pose any privacy issue and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has funded the World Bank to take this approach to other countries as it is worth emulating’ (PTI 2018). The Gates Foundation and Omidyar Network are partners and funders in every global partnership organisation mentioned here, along with Visa, Mastercard, Citi and other foundations/corporations (see Table 4.1).
Demonetisation In a national broadcast on the evening of 16 November 2016 Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that all currently used Rs. 500 and Rs.1000 banknotes would become invalid with effect from midnight and be replaced by new banknotes of Rs. 500 and Rs. 2000. These currency denominations accounted for 86% of the total value of banknotes in circulation at the time. Initially the RBI announced a 50-day deadline for all to change their old banknotes (some extensions were later made for specific sectors). Limits were set for how much money could be exchanged by one person at a time, and also how much money a person could withdraw from her bank account each day. It turned out that not enough of the new banknotes had been printed to cover immediate replacements, and the scale and speed of the demonetisation or remonetisation move was such that it caused very significant disruption, with long queues at banks and ATMs. Since cash transactions are the mainstay of poor people and ‘informal workers’ – whose everyday exchanges, incomes, savings, business dealings are done in cash – the move was received with particular anxiety by them.
‘Financial Inclusion’ Initiatives, 2014–17 99 Having little recourse to other modes of making payments, they faced the brunt of cash shortages in banks, interminable queues and daily hardship for nearly two months. Various commentators regarded the move as an extraordinary assault on the poor. Drawing upon a range of media reports, C. Rammanohar Reddy (2017) wrote: [Hardship] was more in rural than in urban India. In urban India, the impact was felt more in the informal sector of industry and services. There appears to be a regional pattern as well. In agriculture, the north and east seem to have been affected the most and the south the least, with the west falling in between. The media confirmed that the hardship was experienced most by those least capable of coping with the fallout of the cash crunch: the casual and daily wage workers who do not enjoy social protection of any kind. (pp. 109–10) The hardship faced by the poor and ‘informal workers’ made for some sympathetic and accusatory stories in the media, but perhaps it had wider effects. Since the formal and informal sectors are mutually dependent, the negative effect of demonetisation in this fashion was arguably set to be felt in larger economic terms. That, at any rate, was an argument made by Jayati Ghosh et al. (2017), elegantly summarised thus: Cash shortage → reduced informal sector output → reduced formal sector output because of reduced demand from the informal sector → reduced demand for non-cash money → reduced supply of non-cash money → a combination of recession and reduced supply of overall money, both cash and non-cash. (pp. 67–8) In short, hardship for the poor is not just regrettable in itself but may have regrettable macroeconomic consequences, as the case turned out in India. But such perceptions require some acknowledgement that poverty exists and entails hardship (consists in phenomenal experiences), and that the ‘informal sector’ also exists and has not been ‘financially included’ out of existence by PMJDY accounts and Aadhaar numbers. Naturally, measures of such unprecedented firmness called for explanations. The government offered several, of which two were taken seriously. When initiating demonetisation the explanation given was that it would help root out black money. In retrospect this seems somewhat absurd. It seemed to presume that those who benefit from illegal financial activities keep their illicit proceeds in Indian banknotes – rather than, say, real estate or gold or in overseas accounts. At the time, however, it was taken very seriously and garnered immediate conviction amongst those affected. It appeared to be debunked when the RBI (2017) Annual Report 2016–17 suggested that
100 Top-down over 99% of the two demonetised banknotes had been returned. Numerous scholarly publications examined the rationale of demonetisation to flush out black money (including, at book length, Kumar 2017; Reddy 2017; and also at some length in Ghosh et al. 2017). These examined the concept of black money, its evidence in India and its putative relationship to demonetisation in considerable detail to conclude unanimously that the measures taken made little sense if flushing out black money was the objective. The other explanation which gradually emerged from government circles was that demonetisation was intended to push cashless transactions and the uptake of digital systems facilitating such transactions. This was noted in the books cited previously, but they also unanimously concluded that this was a late fix for an unpopular measure, an afterthought. These variously noted that: the volume of cash as ratio of money in circulation is not particularly high in India compared to other countries; that any quick-fix in transiting to higher levels of cashless transaction was patently unrealistic given ground-level circumstances; and that in any case such efforts were well underway for demonetisation to be considered necessary (Reddy 2017, Chapter 8; Kumar 2017, Chapter 7; Ghosh et al. 2017, Chapter 6). Though in the gap between demonetisation and remonetisation there was evidence that use of digital payments and mechanisms had risen, that could not be regarded as the intent of the measure. In fact by April 2018, an extra push to print more cash was reported, even though ‘cash in circulation has returned to its pre-demonetisation level of almost $284bn, but the country’s cash- to-GDP ratio remains lower at 10.9 per cent, compared with 12 per cent before the cash ban’ (Kazmin 2018). It seemed plausible then that increase in cashless transaction had been a collateral effect rather than an intended outcome of demonetisation. That was the consensus already reached, and insofar as explanations went the objective of flushing out black money was taken more seriously than a desire to stoke cashless transactions, though both explanations tended to be dismissed by the cognoscenti. In the absence of a plausible explanation, Ghosh et al. (2017) concluded: In our view, the massiveness [of the government’s action] itself is what the measure aimed to project. It was not a means to an end but, to a large extent, the end itself. In other words, ‘rational explanations’ of the government’s actions appear to be rather unconvincing because the measure was not taken as a carefully thought-out ‘rational measure’ but as ‘shock and awe’ tactics whose very negation of ‘rationality’ was its rationale. . . . It is this fact, superimposed on the overall tendency under neoliberalism to squeeze out the petty production sector, and the ideology that sees nothing wrong with such a squeezing out but rather commends it as part of a process of building a new ‘nation’, that perhaps explains the government’s extreme measure. (pp. 100–1)
‘Financial Inclusion’ Initiatives, 2014–17 101 In brief, it was averred that demonetisation had been an exercise of governmental power for power’s sake. These explanations of the reasoning or lack thereof in the demonetisation measure were premised on the Indian government’s autonomy, that is, on the assumption that the government rationalises its decisions off its own bat and solely with the national interest in view. Moreover, if rationality on those terms is difficult to discern, then that deficit is itself a demonstration of the government’s – and particularly this government’s (of the BJP-led NDA, with Modi as charismatic prime minister) – autonomy. With doubtful rationality, such an imperative measure converts the government’s self- driven assertion as a nakedly authoritarian one, a performance of ‘shock and awe’ tactics. However, this too seems an implausible reading, fraught as the demonetisation move was with the possibility of backfiring for the government in power. The rationale of pushing forcefully towards cashless transactions or ‘less-cash’ financial systems, dismissed blithely by those referred to previously, becomes more salient if the government is not considered to be merely autonomous and limited by public-interest considerations. It was noted within days after the announcement of demonetisation by a few researchers who keep an eye on payment systems and regulations governing them, such as Ashish Das (2016, mentioned previously). That rationale acquires some weight if it is understood that the Indian government’s agencies are embedded in a network of global and national public–private partnerships. The relevant Indian political-state agencies embedded thus included various ministries, the NITI (National Institution for Transforming India) Aayog, UIDAI, (perhaps circumspectly) RBI, and their counterparts at various regional levels. From this perspective, by being embedded within such a network, the Indian government had already followed the strategy guidance of and made commitments to global and national financial entities (businesses and NGOs, AID agencies deriving from other political states, international state-like bodies, global partnership organisations). Following guidance and making commitments involved: investing heavily in the direction of cashless finance (e.g. in the Aadhaar project and PMJDY); involving and soliciting investment from those global financial entities and especially profit-making private players therein; buying into a rhetoric which presents cashless systems as per se facilitating ‘financial inclusion’ for the benefit of the poor and for ‘development’. It also involved offering the political state’s economic regime as a laboratory for testing this idea of ‘financial inclusion’. This meant that the government would actively enable ‘development’ via private enterprise backed by public money, public investment and a friendly judicial-regulatory environment. Under these circumstances, something larger than an autonomous government thinking in terms of the public interest appears. Instead, the government could be considered an instrument for a larger network of interests with a global strategy. The strategy could be presented as ‘financial inclusion’ with a moral impetus; at the same time, the advantages for the private sector’s profit making could
102 Top-down be pushed. Profit making could be expected both in the process of implementing the ‘financial inclusion’ digital infrastructure and in capitalising on the volume of transactions with low-cost regulation once the ‘last-mile’ is traversed. Nandan Nilekani and Viral Shah (2015) had anticipated – or to some degree manoeuvred via their part in the Aadhaar project – this process with admirable clarity: We firmly believe that the only way to bridge the last-mile gap will be through the widespread adoption of electronic payment systems. The government must be the initial driver, using the heft and reach of its social security schemes to drive the adoption of an electronic payments model. As momentum grows, private players can step in. We envision electronic payments as the first step on the ladder of financial inclusion. (p. 54) In summary, demonetisation could be thought of as a strong move by the government to spur ‘financial inclusion’ into the ‘last mile’, with the advice, agreements, impetus of its network of global and national partners – in keeping with its commitments to a global strategy. It was with a sense of making a sensational revelation that reports along these lines appeared in January 2017 (starting with Häring 2017a, 2017b) – mostly originating in Michel Chossudovsky’s Centre for Global Research and related websites, and thus immediately pegged as being unreliable and probably conspiracy theories (the Wikipedia page devoted to Chossudovsky explains why). Unsurprisingly, these reports were therefore disregarded in the mainstream media. The information cited in these reports was however neither wholly mistaken nor revelatory (all already in the public domain) and nor particularly sensational. They pointed to the launching of a seemingly India-focused partnership, the Catalyst ‘Inclusive Cashless Payment Partnership’, by USAID on 14 October 2016 (reported in Khator 2016; Variyar 2016), shortly before the announcement of demonetisation on 16 November 2016. Its website had been designed about a year earlier, but largely populated in 2017, and claimed that ‘Catalyst is working to help India’s small businesses and low-income consumers unlock the power of digital payments to gain access to broader financial services and create opportunities vital to their future prosperity’. It possibly originated in agreements made with regard to ‘cybersecurity’ and promoting ‘the digital economy’ in August 2015 (see Ministry of External Affairs 2015), and its operations in the first instance focused on six cities (Indore, Visakhapatnam, Kota, Jaipur, Bhopal and Nagpur). Apart from the timing of the launch of Catalyst, and the fact that its name could be read as a metaphor for a thrust into the ‘last mile’, there was nothing to suggest that Catalyst provided any direct input into the demonetisation measure. However, Catalyst did make explicit that the Indian government was embedded in a network of global and national partnership organisations
‘Financial Inclusion’ Initiatives, 2014–17 103 which promote cashless financial systems as the driver for profitable ‘financial inclusion’. Among Catalyst’s partners were listed major Indian political- state agencies (Ministry of Electronics and IT, NITI Aayog), the usual global businesses and NGOs that feature in global partnership organisations (CGAP, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Omidyar Network, Visa, Mastercard, ACCION among numerous others), and a very large number of Indian private businesses. It gave direct evidence of the sort of linked-up public-private, global-national ‘ecosystem’ (to use the favoured metaphor in these circles) which might motivate the Indian government to push demonetisation as a ‘last-mile’ strategy towards a cashless economy. In this respect, however, Catalyst was far from pioneering. The Inclusive Finance India (IFI) forum and partnership, with leading support since 2010 from ACCESS (a global charity initiated principally by the UK government’s Department for International Development [DfID]), had evolved into a champion of ‘financial inclusion’ through cashless systems, and counted roughly the same set of global bodies among its sponsors and partners. Variously, the potential for India to be a centre of ‘financial inclusion’ strategies underpinned by cashless transactions had been pushed by global agencies for a considerable period, beginning with a report produced by McKinsey & Company and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Ehrbeck et al. 2010). The lines from partnerships such as Catalyst and Inclusive Finance India radiate out towards a comprehensive global strategy in which India forms a not insignificant but relatively small part. Key moments in this include: the turn of the World Bank’s CGAP (Consultative Group to Assist the Poor) from the mid-2000s towards ‘technology and business model innovations that have the potential to dramatically increase the scale and lower the costs of financial services for poor people’ (as stated in its 2014 Charter); the founding of the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) in 2008 initiated with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funding; the launch of the Better than Cash Alliance (BCA) in October 2012, based at the United Nations. Key documents articulating the global strategy have been produced by all these bodies, or partners therein. Perhaps especially worthy of mention is the one produced directly by the Gates Foundation, which repeatedly features as the key instigator of ‘financial inclusion’ through cashless financial systems – bearing the most obvious social-enterprise claim as title: Fighting Poverty, Profitably (Voorheis et al. 2013). The Gates Foundation featured its own ‘Financial Services for the Poor’ partnership from 2013, listing CGAP, AFI, BCA, and sectors of the World Bank and UN as members (among others, see Gates Foundation website). Though seemingly slight in comparison, an IMF working paper (Kireyev 2017) is nevertheless worthy of particular notice too: it gives an aphoristic and context-free account of the general principles underpinning ‘de-cashing’ (which could be a synonym for ‘demonetisation’). It begins by claiming that it is written neither in favour nor against ‘de- cashing’, but turns out to be a list of the advantages of doing so compared to not doing so, and a recipe for implementing it. Perhaps the experience of
104 Top-down demonetisation (de-cashing) in India bears upon the following observation there – though not in any explicit way: The private sector led de-cashing seems preferable to the public sector led de-cashing. The former seems almost entirely benign (e.g., more use of mobile phones to pay for coffee), but still needs policy adaptation. The latter seems more questionable, and people may have valid objections to it. De-cashing of either kind leaves both individuals and states more vulnerable to disruptions, ranging from power outages to hacks to cyberwarfare. In any case, the tempting attempts to impose de-cashing by a decree should be avoided, given the popular personal attachment to cash. A targeted outreach program is needed to alleviate suspicions related to de-cashing; in particular, that by de-cashing the authorities are trying to control all aspects of peoples’ lives, including their use of money, or push personal savings into banks. The de-cashing process would acquire more traction if it were based on individual consumer choice and cost-benefits considerations. (Kireyev 2017, p. 23, paragraph 53) This seems to go against the grain of Nilekani and Shah’s (2015) conviction quoted previously; Kireyev effectively argued that it is best for de-cashing/ demonetisation to, so to speak, sneak up on individual financial entities rather than to be announced suddenly.
Schisms I do not dwell at length here upon a further initiative which variously fits with the picture drawn previously, but was not presented as a ‘financial inclusion’ strategy: the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) system, launched from 1 July 2017. Briefly, this centralised the indirect tax system across the country, replacing a complicated cascading tax collection structure which involved different collection points and uneven levies at various sub-national levels. Indirect taxes account for about 67% of the government’s total tax revenue, divided between central and sub- national state governments (Das 2017). GST replaced that system by one involving levy of taxes at every step of the production and delivery chain of goods and services. At each step the relevant buyer-seller offsets the taxes paid at earlier steps, and only the final buyer is not returned the tax levy. The longish back-story of political negotiations involved in bringing the GST system into place is recounted in Govind Bhattacharjee and Debasis Bhattacharya (2018, Chapter 2). Since this system essentially passes all indirect taxes finally to consumers it is regarded as tendentiously ‘regressive’ or ‘anti-poor’ – so not immediately presentable as a ‘financial inclusion’ strategy. Moreover, the costs of acquiring the digital infrastructure necessary for being compliant within the GST regime could, it was acknowledged, prove
‘Financial Inclusion’ Initiatives, 2014–17 105 particularly challenging to micro and small businesses (the province of the less affluent). The government variously argued that it would nevertheless be ‘pro-poor’, and sought to make it appear so by having lower rates of taxation for commodities which the poor consume within the GST structure, and by giving windfalls on lower-level income taxes, reducing opportunities for saving on capital gains tax, and other such measures in the February 2017 budget. However, the effect of the GST system on poor consumers, micro and small businesses and thereby on inequality measures caused considerable unease (see Bhattacharjee and Bhattacharya 2018, Chapter 4, in an otherwise upbeat account; Das 2017; Ranade 2017). Nevertheless, it was felt that the GST system would make a dramatic difference for ease of doing business in India and would stoke enterprise. It was received enthusiastically by larger businesses, especially subsidiaries of global businesses. Similarly to the initiatives described previously, the implementation of the GST system involved public-private partnerships, and therefore profit making backed by public money and governmental guarantees. Rather extraordinarily, the digital platform that the system was dependent upon was constructed and maintained by a non-government private limited company, GST Network (GSTN) – unlike UIDAI in relation to the Aadhaar project. The National Informatics Centre (NIC), a political-state agency under the Ministry of Electronics and IT, was charged with holding the GST database. Like the Aadhaar project, GSTN was driven by Nandan Nilekani; unlike the Aadhaar project, the business he identified with as a founder, Infosys, had an explicit partnership in GSTN. GSTN in fact had a majority private share- holding: the government had a minority share of 49% of GSTN’s equity, divided equally between the central and sub-national state governments; the majority 51% was held by five non-government institutions: 11% with LIC Housing Finance, and 10% of equity each with HDFC, HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank and NSE Strategic Investment Co Ltd. How Nilekani and his lobby spearheaded the private-controlled GSTN for a government project only garnered some attention in the news in 2018 (Rai 2018a), shortly before Finance Minister Arun Jaitley proposed that the 51% non- government share should be bought out by the government (Rai 2018b). Infosys got a Rs. 1,380 crore (13.8 billion) contract from GSTN for the GST project’s digital infrastructure (Rai 2018a). In 2016 it was reported that a ‘high-level committee’ led by Senapathy Gopalakrishnan, co-founder with Nilekani of Infosys, had recommended public-private partnerships for various other e-governance projects of the National Informatics Centre. In this area it becomes quite difficult to discern where the lines between government and businesses as financial entities, or between public and private interests and monies, are drawn. Though obviously congruent with the strategies and methods for implementing the initiatives described previously in this chapter, the GST project could not be presented as designed for ‘financial inclusion’ and for the benefit of the poor. Consequently, the global partnership organisations and
106 Top-down global NGOs highlighted here took a less ostentatious interest in this, only noting occasionally that it was another piece in the picture of a beneficent cashless order of the future. By way of concluding this chapter, I return to a few points concerning the three ‘financial inclusion’ initiatives. This network of political-state and global financial entities – all the organisations named previously – has produced a formidable body of statistics on ‘financial inclusion’ in relation to cashless financial systems. The data collection and collation has carefully tracked every stage of such processes globally: in the case of India, through the implementation of the Aadhaar project and PMJDY at all phases and branches, and the effects of demonetisation; but also similarly, in other political-state territories where similar initiatives have taken place. There is remarkable consistency in approach to this data collection, and a coherent rhetorical inclination. Almost invariably, the thrust of this data collection is to: first, demonstrate that cashless financial systems operated through networked digital platforms are beneficial to the poor; and, second, determine how to implement such initiatives successfully, by nudging uptake targets and efficiency benchmarks, by tracking expenditure and profits, by conducting attitude surveys, by foregrounding upbeat trend analysis and bottom-line figures. Insofar as ‘informal workers’ and the poor feature in these, that is only as individual financial entities – as, in brief, consumers. As such, the relationship of this population of individual financial entities to the gauges of ‘informal workers’ or the poor generally as subject to conditions of life, as experiencing subjects, seems increasingly distant. The kinds of indicators sketchily outlined in the previous chapter (in the section on ‘informal workers’) appear to belong to a different database, which is only circumstantially referred to in relation to ‘financial inclusion’, if at all. We may say that the objects of ‘financial inclusion’ and the subjects of ‘informal work’ live in different databases, though they appear to be the same persons. Policies addressed to the former claim to be relevant to the latter, but the former are gauged in ways which slip against measured apprehensions of the latter. It is at this schism between differently oriented databases, blurred by the crossovers of words and the rhetoric of numbers, that a defocusing of the poor takes place most effectively. I had observed in the previous chapter that the initiatives examined here seem to cut across party-line ideologies in India, and have developed along a common direction under both Congress-led UPA and BJP-led NDA governments. Nevertheless, the period 2014–17 addressed previously is that of the BJP-led NDA government, and the ‘financial inclusion’ policies and strategies described here were most energetically pursued in this period. In this period, such initiatives accelerated and intensified significantly – they took a leap forward. On the face of it, the commitment of the BJP-led government to these ‘financial inclusion’ policies might seem paradoxical. Its party-political agenda appeared throughout to be religious nationalist and its advent to power was largely based on courting the majority Hindu electorate. The principles it followed on most fronts of
‘Financial Inclusion’ Initiatives, 2014–17 107 civil governance were narrowly nationalistic, pushing some essentialist idea of the Indian nation (ultimately in majoritarian religious terms) and claiming the precedence of Indian national interests. The ‘financial inclusion’ measures described here, however, were grounded in a network of global bodies, where the profit- making activities and investments of global bodies and Indian public-interest considerations – and public money – merged seamlessly. In this sphere, the idea of national precedence and local interests had no discernible economic meaning, though it was constantly politically asserted, as a matter of propaganda. This schism between civil and economic governance, between the nationalist political claim and the technocratic financial policy, may appear as a contradiction – and yet, perhaps it was not so. The schism was obviously bridged by assertion, in the emphatic claim that a given measure which seems not to be designed to work for local interests was nevertheless intended to work for precisely those local interests. To be publicly accepted, it was seemingly enough to say confidently that ‘financial inclusion’ measures are intended to benefit the poor in India, even when they seemed designed to benefit profit-making interests inside and, more saliently, outside India (in a regime of exchanges where ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ are difficult to distinguish). This public acceptance possibly depended upon who made the confident assertion rather than on what the assertion consisted of. If there is a prevailing predisposition to accept the asserter’s claim, that makes selling the claim easier. In the case of the BJP-led government, its nationalism was offered and taken as an assertion of faith (grounded in religion), and therefore its claim to serving the national interest tended to be accepted a priori – often without examining whether that was indeed the case. Espousing a religious nationalist ideology was possibly an advantage when it came to implementing neoliberal policies. Table 4.1: an explanatory note The right-hand column in Table 4.1 does not present a complete listing of all partnerships and memberships for organisations in the left-hand column, only of those which are likely to be most relevant in the Indian context. The organisations identified in the left-hand column are also a selection from a larger number that may be listed there. A complex set of relationships are simplified in the table. There are overlaps between political-state agencies, NGOs and businesses (especially in organisations offering banking and related services) which are obscured here; particularly significantly, the relationship between NGOs and businesses are very often blurred. Foundations form an especially grey area: the relationship between MasterCard Foundation and MasterCard Inc., Citi Foundation and Citibank/Citigroup, MetLife Foundation and MetLife Inc., etc. crosses the distinction made here between NGO and business; some NGOs are also seemingly ‘social enterprise’ businesses, such as the Omidyar Network. In fact, at every boundary delineated here there are overlaps and blurs which are glossed over for the sake of immediate clarity. The point of this table is to give an impression of the scale and depth or penetration of the network in question, across sectors and from global-to-local level. The table also points to the significance of particular organisations which feature several times.
Catalyst: Inclusive Cashless Payment Partnership
Indian partnership bodies NPCI (National Payments Corporation of India)
Owned by 56 banks, and a RBI nominee on the board – including Indian political-state agencies: State Bank of India, Union Bank of India, Bank of India, Canara Bank, Bank of Baroda, Punjab National Bank Businesses: ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank, Axis Bank, Citi Bank, HSBC bank Indian partnership bodies: Catalyst, IAMAI (Internet and Mobile Association of India) Indian political-state agencies: Ministry of Electronics and IT, NITI Aayog (National Institution for Transforming India), Government of Rajasthan, SIDBI (Small Industries Development Bank of India), NIPFP (National Institute of Public Finance and Policy) Other political-state agencies with international operations: USAID (United States Agency for International Development) [launched the partnership] Transnational-state-like agencies: World Bank, IFC (International Finance Corporation, World Bank Group) Businesses: Indifi, Capital First, Capital Float, FIA Technology, Axis Bank, ICICI Bank, IDFC Bank, iSPIRT, EKO India, FTCash, MicroSave, Tata Consultancy, Aditya Birla Nuvo, Hindustan Unilever, SAIF Partners, IFMR Trust, Boloro, IDEO, Facebook, Uber, MasterCard, Visa, Google, PayPal, Vodaphone, Dalberg, KPMG NGOs: SEWA (Self-Employed Women’s Association), ICE360 Degrees, FHI360, IFMR LEAD, Grameen Foundation, Omidyar Network, Dell Foundation, ACCION-CFI (Centre for Financial Inclusion) Indian partnership bodies: CAIT (Confederation for All-India Traders), NPCI (National Payments Corporation of India), IAMAI, SaDhan (Association of Community Development Finance Institution), MFIN (Association of Community Development Finance Institution) Global partnership bodies: CGAP (Consultative Group to Assist the Poor), Better than Cash Alliance, World Economic Forum
Network of Partnerships, Memberships and Contracted Parties
Table 4.1 Network underpinning ‘financial inclusion’ initiatives in India, especially 2014–17
MFIN (Microfinance Institutions Network)
Sa-Dhan (Association of Community Development Finance Institution)
Inclusive Finance India (IFI)
Indian partnership bodies: Catalyst, Inclusive Finance India (Continued)
Indian political-state agencies: NABARD (National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development), MUDRA Bank (Micro Units Development and Refinance Agency Bank), SIDBI Other political-state agencies with international operations: ACCESS-ASSIST [lynchpin of the partnership], DfID (Department for International Development, UK), GIZ (German Corporation for International Cooperation GmbH) Transnational-state like agencies: IFC, IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development, UN) Businesses: Rabobank, HSBC Bank, MasterCard, IDBI Bank, IDFC Bank, Reliance Commercial Finance, Standard Chartered, IndusInd Bank, DHFL Pramerica, Dia Vikas, CRIF, Citi Bank NGOs: CARE, Gates Foundation, Citi Foundation, Ford Foundation, Omidyar Network, MetLife Foundation, Dell Foundation, IFHR LEAD, ACCION, Cordaid, MIX (Microfinance Information Exchange), Oikocredit Indian partnership bodies: MFIN (Microfinance Institutions Network) Global partnership bodies: CGAP, Social Performance Task Force (SPTF) Indian NGOs and businesses: Members include 213 institutions (56 Non-Banking Financial Companies, 113 Societies & Trusts, 13 Cooperatives, and 31 Self-Help Promotion Institutions) across 12 sub-national states. Global businesses: HSBC Bank Indian partnership bodies: Inclusive Finance India, Catalyst Indian NGOs and businesses: 51 microfinance institutions
Indian businesses: Around 40,000 small and medium businesses as members Global businesses: MasterCard, Acer, Tally Indian partnership bodies: Catalyst, Alliance for Digital Bharat Indian partnership bodies: CAIT [launched this alliance], COGO (All India Confederation of Goods Vehicle Owners Association), Laghu Udyog Bharati, All India Tyre Dealers’ Federation, Indian Paint and Coating Association, Delhi Entrepreneurs Association; IERD (Institute for Enterprise Research and Development), Consumer Online Foundation, FAITTA (Federation of All India Tea Traders Association), Federation of All India Aluminium Utensils Manufacturers, FISME (Federation of Indian Small & Micro Enterprises), FPTA (Federation of Paper Traders Association), ISSME (International Society for Small & Medium Enterprises), IVF (International Vaish Federation), AIMT (All India Motor Transport Congress), Bhartiya Kisan Morcha, LVUVM (Laghu Evam Madhyam Udhyog Vyapari Mahasangh), FIHMTA (Federation of Indian Hardware Manufacturers and Traders Association), DGTWA (Delhi Goods Transporters Welfare Association), DGTO (Delhi Goods Transport Organisation), Patient Safety and Access Initiative of India Foundation. Businesses: 309 businesses using or providing internet services, including subsidiaries of all major global communications corporations operating in India (such as Airtel, Amazon, American Express, BBC, EKO, FINO, Flipkart, Euronet, Facebook, Google, Microsoft) Indian partnership bodies: Catalyst, NPCI
CAIT (Confederation of All India Traders)
IAMAI (Internet and Mobile Association of India)
Alliance for Digital Bharat (ADB)
Network of Partnerships, Memberships and Contracted Parties
Table 4.1 (Continued)
Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI)
Global partnership bodies Better than Cash Alliance (BCA) [Based in the UN]
Indian political-state agencies: Government of India [member alongside 29 other governments, mostly from Asia, Africa and South America] Other political-state agencies with international operations: USAID Transnational state-like organisations: UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees), UN Development Programme, UN Population Fund, IAFD (International Fund for Agricultural Development UN), World Food Programme (UN), UN Capital Development Fund, EBRD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) Businesses: Gap, H&M, Coca Cola, Unilever, MasterCard, Visa, Citi Bank NGOs: Save the Children, MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Associates), CARE, ACDI/VOCA, Grameen Foundation, CARE, Gates Foundation, MasterCard Foundation, Omidyar Network, Citi Foundation Indian partnership bodies: Catalyst Global partnership bodies: World Savings Banks Institute, CGAP, Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion (GPFI) Indian political-state agencies: RBI [member alongside government institutions from 91 countries], NABARD Other political-state agencies with international operations: AusAID (Australian Agency for International Development), BMZ (German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development), GIZ, IDRC (International Development Research Centre, Canada), USAID Transnational state-like organisations: UN Capital Development Fund, International Telecommunication Union (UN), Global Policy Forum, World Bank Global businesses: Visa, MasterCard, TransferTo Global NGOs: Gates Foundation [founded the alliance], Omidyar Network, World Economic Forum
Global partnership bodies: Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA), GPFI Indian political-state agencies: Government of India [reportedly became a member in 2012, but not, unlike the others named here, a funding member] Other political-state agencies with international operations: CDC Group (Commonwealth Development Corporation), DfID (UK), GIZ, KfW, BMZ (Germany), AusAID, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Australia), Agence Française de Développement (AFD, France), Global Affairs Canada, USAID, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), NpM, Ministry for Foreign Affairs (Netherlands), Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), Government of Luxembourg Transnational state-like organisations: European Investment Bank, European Commission, IFAD, IFC, UN Development Programme, UN Capital Development Fund, World Bank Global businesses: Netherlands Development Finance Company (FMO), MasterCard, Citi Bank NGOs: Citi Foundation, Gates Foundation, MasterCard Foundation, MetLife Foundation, Dell Foundation, Omidyar Network, Ford Foundation Indian partnership bodies: Catalyst, Inclusive Finance India Global partnership bodies: Better than Cash Alliance, GPFI Indian political-state agencies: Government of India [along with the governments of G20 countries and some non-G20 countries] Transnational state-like organisations: IFC (World Bank Group), World Bank, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD UN) Global partnership bodies: CGAP, Better than Cash Alliance, Alliance for Financial Inclusion, SME Finance Forum
Network of Partnerships, Memberships and Contracted Parties
Source: Compiled by consulting the websites of all the organisations which feature in this table.
Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion (GPFI)
Consultative Group to Assist the Poor(CGAP) [based in the World Bank]
Table 4.1 (Continued)
‘Financial Inclusion’ Initiatives, 2014–17 113
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116 Top-down full-text-red-fort-204216-2014-08-15. In Hindi: www.narendramodi.in/hi/text-ofpms-speech-at-red-fort-6464 Modi, Narendra (2014b). “PM Launches Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana”. Narendra Modi Website, 28 August. www.narendramodi.in/pm-launches-pradhanmantri-jan-dhan-yojana-6503 Moneylife (2011). “Activists File Potential Class Action Suite Against UIDAI”. Moneylife, 5 December. http://www.moneylife.in/article/activists-file-potentialclass-action-suit-against-uidai/22005.html Moneylife (2017). “Jan Dhan Accounts: Who Do They Serve?” Moneylife, 17 October. www.moneylife.in/article/jan-dhan-accounts-who-do-they-serve/51833.html Nilekani, Nandan (2009). Imagining India: Ideas for a New Century. New Delhi: Penguin. Nilekani, Nandan and Viral Shah (2015). Rebooting India: Realizing a Billion Aspirations. New Delhi: Penguin. Noble, Zach (2016). “USAID’s Beta Site Is Meant to Look Nongovernmental”. FCW, 4 May. https://fcw.com/articles/2016/05/04/usaid-beta-noble.aspx Parker, Ian (2011). “The I.D. Man: Can a Software Mogul’s Epic Project Help India’s Poor?” New Yorker, 3 October. www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/10/03/the-id-man PTI (2018). “Aadhaar Doesn’t Pose Any Privacy Issue, Says Bill Gates”. Bloomberg Quint, 3 May. www.bloombergquint.com/aadhaar/2018/05/03/aadhaar-doesnt- pose-any-privacy-issue-says-bill-gates RBI (2017). Annual Report 2016–17. New Delhi: Government of India. https://rbidocs.rbi.org.in/rdocs/AnnualReport/PDFs/RBIAR201617_FE1DA2F97D61249B1B21C4EA66250841F.PDF Rai, Dipu (2018a). “How Lobbyists Forced Government to Privatise GSTN”. Daily News and Analysis, 24 April. www.dnaindia.com/business/report-dna-exclusivehow-lobbyists-forced-govt-to-privatise-gstn-2607959 Rai, Dipu (2018b). “Government to Take Control of GSTN”. Daily News and Analysis, 5 May. www.dnaindia.com/business/report-government-to-take-controlof-gstn-2611721 Rajshekhar, M. (2016). “How Private Companies Are Using Aadhaar to Try to Deliver Better Services (but There’s a Catch)”. Scroll.in, 22 December. https:// scroll.in/article/823274/how-private-companies-are-using-aadhaar-to-deliver- better-services-but-theres-a-catch Ramanathan, Usha (2017a). “Without Supreme Court Interference, the Aadhaar Project Is a Ticking Time Bomb”. The Wire, 4 April. https://thewire.in/government/ aadhaar-supreme-court-uid Ramanathan, Usha (2017b). “The Function Creep That Is Aadhaar”. The Wire, 25 April. https://thewire.in/government/aadhaar-function-creep-uid Ramanathan, Usha (2017c). “Coercion and Silence Are Integral Parts of the Aadhaar Project”. The Wire, 16 May. https://thewire.in/economy/coercion-aadhaarproject-ushar Ramanathan, Usha (2017d). “Who Is Opposing the Aadhaar Project?” The Wire, 6 June. https://thewire.in/government/aadhaar-uid-opposition-criticism Ranade, Ajit (2017). “Is a Progressive GST Possible?” Livemint, 6 September. www. livemint.com/Opinion/eEvQC8xxojYpRlLMdZeWgN/Is-a -p rogressive-G ST- possible.html Reddy, C. Rammanohar (2017). Demonetisation and Black Money. Hyderabad: Orient BlackSwan.
‘Financial Inclusion’ Initiatives, 2014–17 117 Saha, Manojit (2015). “Banks to Get Commission from Government for DBT”. Business Standard, 9 January. www.business-standard.com/article/finance/banks- to-get-commission-from-govt-for-dbt-115010800165_1.html SBI (State Bank of India) (2016). “Bank Mitras”. www.sbi.co.in/portal/web/ customer-care/-faq-pradhan-mantri-jan-dhan-yojana-pmjdy Sharma, Manoj, Anurodh Giri, and Sakshi Chadha (2016). “Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) Wave III Assessment”. MicroSave. www.microsave.net/ files/pdf/PMJDY_Wave_III_Assessment_MicroSave.pdf Shetty, Mayur (2017). “Vague RBI Guidelines See Banks Cap PM’s Jan Dhan Yojana Accounts”. Times of India, India Times, 4 July. https://timesofindia.indiatimes. com/business/india-business/vague-rbi-guidelines-see-banks-cap-pms-jan-dhan- yojana-a/cs/articleshow/59432381.cms Singh, Aishwarya, Lokesh Kumar Singh, and Mukesh Sadana (2015). “PMJDY: Improved Financial Inclusion, But Roadblocks Remain”. CGAP Blog, 26 March. www.cgap.org/blog/pmjdy-improved-financial-inclusion-roadblocks-remain Sriram, M.S. (2017). Inclusive Finance India Report 2016. New Delhi: Sage (support from ACCESS). Thomas, Owen D. (2014). “Foucaultian Dispositifs as Methodology: The Case of Anonymous Exclusions by Unique Identification in India”. International Political Sociology 8:2. 164–81. United Nations (2016). Leaving No One Behind: The Imperative of Inclusive Development (Report on the World Social Situation 2016). New York: United Nations. USAID and US Global Development Lab (2016). Beyond Cash: Why India Loves Cash and Why That Matters for Financial Inclusion. www.globalinnovationexchange.org/beyond-cash. no longer available. Accessed 20 November 2017. Variyar, Mugdha (2016). “USAID, Finance Ministry Bring Catalyst for Digital Payments in India”. Economic Times, 18 October. https://economictimes.indiatimes. com/industry/banking/finance/usaid-finance-ministry-bring-catalyst-for-digital- payments-in-india/articleshow/54854337.cms Vidyut (2018). “5 Private Companies File an Application in the Supreme Court in Support of Aadhaar”. MediaNama, 18 January. www.medianama.com/2018/01/223- 5-private-companies-file-application-supreme-court-support-aadhaar/ Voorheis, Rodger, Jason Lamb, and Megan Oxman (2013). Fighting Poverty, Profitably: Transforming the Economics of Payments to Build Sustainable, Inclusive Financial Systems. Special Report: Financial Services for the Poor, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. https://docs.gatesfoundation.org/documents/fighting%20poverty%20profitably%20full%20report.pdf World Bank News (2013). “India’s Massive I.D. Program Exemplifies ‘Science of Delivery’ ”. www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2013/05/02/India-8217-s- Massive-I-D-Program-Exemplifies-8216-Science-of-Delivery-8217 Zelazny, Frances (2012). The Evolution of India’s UID Program Lessons Learned and Implications for Other Developing Countries. CGD Policy Paper 008. Washington, DC: Centre for Global Development. www.cgdev.org/sites/default/ files/1426371_file_Zelazny_India_Case_Study_FINAL.pdf
On the ground
5 Domestic workers and the performance of hierarchy
Close to the ground The consecutive junctures discussed in Part 1 involve a top-down view of the poor in relation to technological development. At stake there are principles of general social import (such as, the role of networked computers in primary education in Chapter 2) and policies for large-scale social engineering (such as, instituting digital systems for ‘financial inclusion’ in Chapters 3 and 4), with progressive claims and commercial interests threaded through them. Those formulating such principles and policies try variously to obtain and present an overview of the poor. The poor are gauged according to definitions of their characteristics and needs, consumptions and habits, etc. These overviews seem to enable principles that include them and policies that extend to them. They are apparently accommodated within social development strategies enabled by technology, in particular by networked digital apparatuses and infrastructures. However, despite appearances, the developmental initiatives that follow are seldom directed specifically towards them. The technological applications and commercial drives are generally wider – targeting all consumers, affluent and poor alike. But in every case the poor are particularly invoked, appeals are made in their name, their custom courted, their cooperation and compliance demanded. They become stepping stones in projects for universal education, all-inclusive governance, global enterprise. The poor flicker and come into focus and blur and at times disappear in such top-down views, in national and transnational visions and programmes. In turning to on-the-ground perspectives in Part 2, I do not really offer a bottom-up view or try to present the perspective of poor people on such technological development. A bottom-up perspective would naturally be of interest here, but I am uncertain whether it can be meaningfully obtained. Various modes for obtaining bottom- up social perspectives, or at the least getting close to such perspectives, have been attempted by researchers. Most straightforwardly, researchers have tried to consult poor persons directly, through interviews, surveys, field observations, participation in their work and other such methods. Inevitably, useful as the results of
122 On the ground these investigations are, they have been guided by the mediatory role of the researchers. It is difficult to determine where the investigator’s preconceptions end and untrammelled access to the poor research-subjects’ perspective begins. The hypotheses that are proposed and tested, the implicit design of questionnaires, the framings which underpin observations, and, importantly, the theoretical work done in interpreting results massage, or perhaps construct, the poor people’s perspective. Access to ‘authentic’ bottom-up perspectives are often claimed on the back of such investigations; equally, scepticism about such claims are legion. Much thought has been devoted to, so to speak, designing researchers such that their interference in accessing poor people’s perspectives is minimised. It has been urged, at times, that researchers with backgrounds and experiences similar to their poor research subjects would be better able to elicit the bottom-up view and articulate it. Researchers should, in other words, ideally be ‘one of them’ in some sense. Along these lines, the Gramscian formulation of the ‘organic intellectual’ (Gramsci 1971, p. 11) is oft referred to in this area, and latterly concepts of ‘autoethnographic research’ have been popular (with Hayano’s 1979, p. 99, definition of the term and onwards). However, expectations pinned on researchers who are regarded as belonging to the classes/communities they investigate (having an insider view) have been interrogated as frequently as they have been proposed. Sceptics observe that such expectations seem to conceive of a class/community as being homogeneous, with every member sharing ‘insider’ norms and understandings. However, within any social group there are likely to be differences – more or less privileges, dominant and marginal positions – and researchers who seem to represent a class/community are as likely to have partisan or partial views as researchers from outside. Moreover, the very activity of doing research (of being able to undertake and publish such research) drives a wedge between marginalised research subjects and researchers. Schisms open up with participation in educational and research institutions, because the poor are substantially excluded from them. At the heart of these objections lies the recognition which Gayatri Spivak brought to her reading of the Subaltern Studies project, entitled ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ (1988): the ‘unrecognized contradiction within a position that valorizes the concrete experience of the oppressed, while being so uncritical about the historical role of the intellectual’ (p. 275). With regard to the poor, one might say that even if these difficulties are recognised critically by researchers, they are not thereby addressed in the research. The bottom-up perspective is ever fuzzily apprehended because the poor are systematically rendered ill-equipped to articulate it, and even more so to make it public and to be heard on their own terms. In turning to on-the-ground perspectives here then, I do not attempt to present a bottom-up view parallel to the top-down one discussed in Part 1. Instead of trying to present what poor people apprehend as their lot, researchers have often satisfied themselves with getting as close as possible
The performance of hierarchy 123 to their lives and locales, and focusing on the relevant social, everyday and interpersonal relations in their own terms. Taking the investigative effort close to the ground is what this and the following chapters attempt, somewhat in the spirit in which Jan Breman recommended anthropological data collection and Barbara Harriss-White championed ‘field economics’ in researching informal work in India (see Chapter 3). This Part 2 focuses then on one particular close-to-the-ground social relation: that of domestic workers and their employers in contemporary India, mainly as that has evolved over the period covered in Part 1. The domestic worker–employer relationship is considered here, somewhat unusually for the Indian context, in terms of concepts of and social arrangements grounded in technology. In that respect, this part coheres with the previous; that is, with the backdrop of aspirations pinned on Digital India. I draw upon a range of existing ethnographic and sociological researches and media notices in taking the argument forward, and, less explicitly, depend upon plausibility checks based on my own limited sense of this social relation (based on a middle-class background in Delhi). This approach naturally does not allow for robust conclusions. These chapters consist of no more than a series of reasonably plausible observations and hypotheses, supported by existing research to some degree but in need of more systematic testing. This chapter does some preparatory work prior to focusing on the bearing of technology on the domestic worker–employer relationship in the next. The relationship is a complex one, and has been usefully explored already by researchers. A specific aspect of this complex relationship is relevant here, which I outline gradually in the following sections with reference to the existing research field. In the next chapter I focus entirely on the bearing of technology on the domestic worker–employer relationship in contemporary India.
Research field By way of definitions, here I adhere to the straightforward ones found in the International Labour Organization’s Domestic Workers Convention No.189 (ILO 2011, Article 1): (a) the term domestic work means work performed in or for a household or households; (b) the term domestic worker means any person engaged in domestic work within an employment relationship; (c) a person who performs domestic work only occasionally or sporadically and not on an occupational basis is not a domestic worker. I do not attempt at this stage to delineate domestic workers in terms of types of occupations (maid, carer, driver, cook, etc.), for reasons which become apparent in the next section.
124 On the ground It might be argued that the domestic worker–employer relationship is too specific or atypical to be indicative of the condition of poor people in contemporary India generally. Of course, any specific social relationship which could be examined thus would be of limited import, and so is this one. However, it is often recognised that the domestic worker–employer relationship involves contact across a range of socio-economic distinctions, and bridges various degrees of separation, segregation or remoteness. The encounters of domestic workers and employers are contact points between the affluent and the poor, often effectively between slum-dwellers and middle-class households within cities, and frequently between rural or provincial (from where domestic workers migrate) and urban areas, and sometimes across caste, religious, regional and linguistic boundaries. The relationship in question is therefore revealing of a range of social relationships, and enables a ground-level view that has wider relevance. Thus, anthropologist Sara Dickey (2000b) delved into the position of domestic workers in South India on the understanding that: ‘Narratives about domestic service enable a close examination of concepts of labour and class, the oppositional and moralizing images that constitute notions of self and other in class terms, and the ways in which they develop out of daily interaction’ (p. 32). More broadly, with the understanding that this relationship is grounded in a ‘culture of servitude’ in India, Raka Ray and Seemin Qayum (2009) observed that it is ‘shaped by particular historical configurations of structural economic/gender/spatial and often race/caste inequality that traverse the domestic and public spheres and thus is a vital site for the constitution of self and modernity’ (p. 19). As noted previously, my interest in the bearing of technological development on the domestic worker–employer relation in India is an unusual one. My argument in that regard (in the next chapter) needs to be located amidst existing investigations on domestic work, both to clarify where my approach differs from and the extent to which it is dependent on those. The existing range of researches is not extensive and can be outlined succinctly. There is a hiatus of several decades between the first sustained study of domestic workers in post-Independence India, Aban Mehta’s Domestic Servant Class (1960), and other studies of similar rigour. Very little appeared in the interim till around 2000, except for occasional references in studies of women’s work and organisations (e.g. Caplan 1985; Sharma 1986; Sanghari 1993), and tangentially relevant remarks in studies of informal labour, class and caste relations, and rural and urban poverty. A couple of chapters in Kathleen Adams and Sara Dickey’s edited Home and Hegemony (2000, by Dickey and Tolen) along with a paper published separately by Dickey (2000b) appear to overcome a longish period of suppressed interest in the area. Valuable scholarly books and papers have appeared since (some are referred to later), and yet these are far from being numerous. This scholarly reticence is itself of some analytical interest, especially since the prevalence of domestic worker–employer relations is considered pervasive in India.
The performance of hierarchy 125 Domestic workers are employed throughout India, in relatively modest middle-class households and upwards. The reticence may be due to the paucity of reliable evidence and data on any specific aspect of the issue, despite its pervasiveness – this is often noted in the available studies. It may also be due to a kind of social habituation among researchers (usually from middle- class households themselves) which discourages a critical perspective. Tripti Lahiri’s (2017) book on domestic workers, Maid in India, was written in a painfully self-critical spirit which suggests that habitual complicity in an exploitative system may have something to do with scholarly reticence. Aban Mehta’s (1960) study drew upon tried and tested sociological and ethnographic methods, and effectively set them as standard for this area of study. These have been followed and built upon repeatedly since, though seldom with reference to his study. Mehta’s book therefore offers a template in terms of which subsequent investigations can be accounted. He began, unsurprisingly, with a historical overview of domestic workers in India, both a long view from slave societies onwards in the region and a comparative view informed by British and North American histories of domestic work. The history of paid domestic service has been most carefully charted in Britain, France and the United States, so a comparative perspective is not only useful but unavoidable. Various such histories from African, South American and other Asian countries have appeared since, and the comparative possibilities are now considerably richer. After Mehta, Lakshmi Srinivas (1995) presented a broader cross-cultural perspective with Indian domestic workers squarely in view. Insofar as Mehta produced an, admittedly bitty, long view of Indian history on domestic work, later studies have not attempted to emulate or flesh it out further. Colonial domestic worker–employer relations in India have occasioned scholarly publications (notably Banerjee 2005; Ghosh 2006, Chapters 5–6), but such historical accounts seldom reach to any significant extent into pre-colonial or post- Independence periods. Kumkum Sanghari’s (1993) account of domestic work did take such a longer view, but its focus was predominantly on the unpaid domestic work that has been women’s lot, and offered only a couple of cursory observations on waged domestic work. With a narrower focus on West Bengal, and one chapter on Bangladesh, Deepita Chakravarty and Ishita Chakravarty’s (2016) book offered a particularly useful post- Independence historical account on domestic work. A short historical backdrop has been more common in scholarship, with a quick transition from the colonial to the post-Independence period, and then with a brief but more leisurely pause on the period from Independence up to the present, before moving on to sociological or ethnographic commentary (as in the opening chapters of Ray and Qayum 2009, and in introductory observations in Sen and Sengupta 2016; Lahiri 2017). In this respect, a tracking of trends by way of historically informed framing of the present is more common than a historicist narrative. The main trends are statistically traceable to some degree, bearing in mind that data
126 On the ground on domestic workers in India are uneven and unreliable. The ILO (2013) account of global statistics on domestic workers noted that India offers a particular case of uncertainty, with estimates varying significantly according to source and definition (pp. 14–15). For 2004–5, the ILO’s cautious analysis of NSSO (National Sample Survey Office) data came up with a figure of 1% of all employment in India (over 4.2 million persons), though NSSO estimates came at 0.8% and a Labour Bureau survey came up with an estimate of 2.7%. Despite such uncertainty, there is notable consensus on the following broad trends. First, after Independence there was a significant decline in the numbers of domestic workers, but with growing affluence at the upper income levels, especially after economic liberalisation in 1991, the numbers have increased steadily. Second, a growing proportion of all domestic workers in India are women, who now form the great majority of the total. According to Neetha (2008), drawing upon NSSO data for domestic workers (for the categories ‘Housemaid/servant’, ‘Cook’, and ‘Governess/babysitter’) the female share grew from 63.4% in 1999–2000 to 71.6% in 2004–5 (for a further analysis on growth in numbers of domestic workers, see Neetha 2009, pp. 491–7; Neetha and Palriwala 2011, pp. 104–7). Male domestic workers are more likely to be employed in work that is not, so to speak, squarely inside the home – for instance, as drivers or gardeners. Third, there has been a significant decline in the numbers of full-time live-in workers compared to the numbers of part-time live-out domestic workers; the latter form a significant majority. Though overall figures are not available in this respect, most localised surveys show this pattern. Fourth, unsurprisingly the scale of employment in domestic work is much higher in cities and towns than in the countryside, and growing rates of country-to-city migration account for a large proportion of domestic workers (Lahiri 2017 pays intermittent attention to country-to-city migration of domestic workers; Wadhawan 2013; Kaur 2004 offer focused studies of this). Importantly, as the fifth point, there’s a static line rather than a moving trend to note. Domestic workers have consistently expressed dissatisfaction with their working conditions, with the lack of prospects and with the material circumstances that their earnings enable. This is not simply based on attitude surveys. Observations by those conducting investigations into domestic workers’ means and lives (income and consumption, education, accommodation, etc.) find consistently strong reasons for such dissatisfaction. By and large domestic workers have little or no upward mobility. For the greater part their income levels are modest to the extent of being above subsistence level but often not by very much. Living conditions in terms of accommodation and amenities are poor. Their status in society is markedly low, which means they are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and mistreatment within the workplace, and in most respects in civil society generally (society is largely uncivil to domestic workers). Some other kinds of menial work may offer worse conditions, which is often the reason for the existence of a large domestic-worker market; and equally, other such work
The performance of hierarchy 127 may offer greater freedom and a higher status. However that’s viewed, the lot of domestic workers in India is unenviable. Insofar as surveys to track trends have covered this, the results are unambiguous and are repeatedly confirmed by the kind of ethnographic research to which I turn next. The core of Mehta’s (1960) study was informed by a survey of 500 domestic workers in Mumbai, whom he interviewed. He used this method to draw up statistical tables of their work conditions (wages, hours of work, functions), and the circumstances of their lives (family structure, accommodation, leisure activities, job satisfaction). The tables also segmented the surveyed subjects in standard ways which cohere with segmentations in census data: that is, according to gender, religion, literacy and education, and regional origin (by state and district). Findings were predominantly inferred from this disposal of survey material into tables – by triangulating between work conditions, life circumstances and demographic segmentation – with only occasional recourse to qualitative observations made by the domestic workers, reported in third person. This methodology appeared to describe domestic workers as a relatively discrete social formation, putatively a specific ‘class’. This internal structuring did not match neatly with larger social formations such as the ‘working class’ or ‘informal labour’. Mehta understood the ‘servant class’ to be within both of those, of course, and yet subject to legal exclusions and working conditions that are peculiar to domestic service. Since his methodology did not similarly map middle-class or affluent employers, it seemed unimportant whether domestic workers’ conditions of work, circumstances and attitudes could be disaggregated in terms of those of the employers. Despite its limitations, the core of Mehta’s method has been the mainstay of scholarly investigations on Indian domestic workers since. Questionnaire-and/or interview-based surveys of a given number of domestic workers employed within a city or town, occasionally going to villages or provinces from where they have migrated, form the heart of research in this area (for instance, Kundu 2007; Ray and Qayum 2009; Qayum and Ray 2010; Sen and Sengupta 2016 on Kolkata; Raghuram 2001; Kaur 2004; Wadhawan 2013; Sharma 2016; Harju 2017 on Delhi; Dickey 2000a, 2000b on Madurai; Nimushakavi 2012 on Hyderabad; Singh 2007 on Ranchi; Barua et al. 2017 on Mumbai and Chennai, and Vogel 2017 for Chennai; Eluri and Singh 2013 on Bangalore; Sarkar and Bhuimal 2005 on the Cooch Behar district in West Bengal). However, these seldom reiterated Mehta’s sense of domestic workers as a discrete formation, even where the focus was predominantly on tabulation (as in Singh 2007, she tried to bring employers’ attitudes and circumstances into the picture). In the main, the emphasis of the research shifted to what Mehta (1960) did not do and what Dickey (2000a, 2000b) did: close analysis of the narratives elicited by interviewing domestic workers and, to some degree, employers and agents (unusually, Lahiri 2017 focused entirely on interviews with various parties, and did not focus on a particular region or offer a tabulated sample survey). In fact, close analysis of such narratives in an ethnographic mould occupy
128 On the ground most of the post-2000 publications referred to previously. This method both courts some risks and presents some advantages. On the one hand, it encourages the views of a small number of persons to be taken as representative of a large constituency, or at the least to be massaged into such representativeness. The possibility of investigator’s interference is high since the investigator is likely to focus on the putatively typical and choose that which seems to fit a preconceived pattern. On the other hand, this method could come up with well-grounded observations and instances of lived experience to throw the spotlight on a larger phenomenon. In the Conclusion, Mehta (1960) considered modes of – and the obstacles to – professionalising the domestic worker–employer relationship such that it complies with areas of formal employment. The legal strictures and policy prerogatives which apply to the latter and do not extend to the domestic employment sphere were considered; so was the indifferent potential for organising (unionising) domestic workers to demand such professionalisation. Attempts to organise domestic workers for advocacy and where possible industrial action, came together mainly from the 1970s onwards, through the mainstream trade union bodies (each ideologically affiliated to specific political parties) and through cooperative and voluntary associations. The formation of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in 1972 as a trade union and of the National Domestic Workers’ Movement (NDWM) in 1985 as a NGO (backed by the Catholic Bishops Conference of India) marked significant steps. The levels of domestic workers’ organisations have grown increasingly complex since, stretching with various degrees of governmental recognition and international labour organisations’ support from cities to states to national level (a useful overview is found in Chigateri et al. 2016, Chapter 4; more briefly, in Neetha and Palriwala 2011, pp. 113–15). The ground-level activities of such organisations are best gauged from focused case studies in specific locales (states or cities), usually usefully placed against the larger backdrop (e.g. Gotoshkar 2005 for Pune; Devika et al. 2011 for Kerala; Eluri and Singh 2013 on Karnataka; Bhattacharya, Sukumar and Mani 2016 for Chennai). These organisations and their activists have pushed against the structures of existing legal provisions and policies. The legislative and legal provisions for securing standards and protections for paid domestic work have been particularly and persistently negligent, with incremental changes being indifferently implemented and policed. In the colonial period, Master and Servant Acts of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Britain were extended to India by systematically excluding domestic work (Anderson 2004). After Independence this remained the case for an extended period (Armacost 1994), and the discernible progress from 2008 – when domestic workers were brought explicitly into the ambit of the Unorganized Workers Social Security Act – has been so slow and wanting that the current situation offers only marginal improvement from that before (Neetha 2009; Neetha and Palriwala 2011; Nimushakavi 2011). The oft stalled notion of having a national policy on domestic workers was opened to initial consultations by
The performance of hierarchy 129 the Minister of Labour and Employment in September 2017 (Government of India 2017). The draft policy was circulated in May 2018; reports pegged it as a weak legislative instrument which leaves details and implementations to regional state governments (Jebaraj 2018; Bhattacharya 2018). This sketchy account of research into domestic workers in India serves several purposes for this study. It effectively outlines the main concerns and notes some of the frames which have guided investigation. In this account, the absence of technological development as a relevant factor, the lack of technology in the discursive backdrop, is notable. This absence is not because I have overlooked that strand of scholarship but because it is not available in a sustained way. The bearing of technology on domestic work features in incidental observations or in occasional notes amidst the wealth of ethnographic researches referred to previously. I naturally return to those in the next chapter. The issue also crops up fleetingly in media reports and features, and those too inform the next chapter. That scholarly investigations have not delved into this issue in India is perhaps not surprising, but it is a lacuna nevertheless because it forms a significant strand of such investigations elsewhere, particularly in the UK and USA. The degree to which domestic work is restructured by household appliances, the extent to which trends in domestic employment are related to mechanical replacements, the mediation of such employment through technological interfaces, the effect of communication technologies on domestic relationships, whether our understanding of domestic work has driven certain directions of technological development . . . these have all been issues of much historical and sociological exploration. These considerations could usefully inform a contemporary appraisal of paid domestic work in India. Possibly, inattention to technology apropos of domestic work in India arises from a presumption of irrelevance. It is often considered that technologically facilitated work and manual domestic work pertain to opposite ends of social arrangements. The particular norms of domestic worker–employer relations in India are regarded as belonging to pre-modern, pre-capitalist, pre- industrial social arrangements, whereas technological production belongs to modern, capitalist, industrial to post-industrial society. Insofar as India is the latter, the pervasiveness of domestic worker–employer relations seems an aberrant remnant of the past, however adapted to new ways of life. The thrust of this argument is a familiar one; with British history in view, Lewis Coser (1973) had made the point lucidly: In modern society, where formally free labor has replaced ascriptive assignment to work roles, and where, to use [Talcott] Parsons’ terminology, universalism prevails over particularism in the occupational order, the servant role departs sharply from all other occupational roles. It is rooted in a premodern type of relationship in which particularism prevails over universalism and ascription over achievement. (p. 32)
130 On the ground Such a conception of progress was, in fact, the point of entry for Ray and Qayum’s (2009) study on domestic workers in Kolkata. They saw the persistence of the domestic worker–employer relation in the mould of a ‘culture of servitude’ as a paradox. In this relationship, they suggested, the modern and the pre-modern co-exist and harden their polarity: ‘Through evolving techniques of servant and home management, employers produce themselves as the class destined to lead India to modernity, and servants as a distinct class, premodern and dependent on the middle and upper classes for their well- being’ (p. 2). Seen thus, considerations of technology in society – the most obvious expression of capitalist modernity – are actively kept away from this domestic worker–employee relationship. In India, technology evokes other forms of social relationships: most directly the industrial relationship between capitalists and labour, and of late the post-industrial relationship between citizens and digital governance or between consumers and financial entrepreneurs. When domestic work surfaces in this context at all, it is somewhat intractably at the margins of industrial capitalist production. That features in, for instance, piece-work or service provision that can be traced to domestic households. Nevertheless, as evident in Part 1, domestic workers are implicitly included amongst those to whom ‘financial inclusion’ measures are putatively extended, as citizen-consumers who would partake of digital governance and enterprise. But the domestic worker–employer relationship itself tends to slip away from those nugatory or ostensible ‘inclusions’ into decisively technology-free social relations – up close and personal, and conveniently atavistic. The change that, as observed previously, trade unions, NGOs, etc. seek by organising domestic workers is largely conceived in terms of the regulatory and professional regimes of industrial work and post-industrial capitalist service. These include demands for minimum wages, standardised contracts, codes of professional conduct, regulatory oversight and legal recourse. The tactics for seeking such change have mostly been drawn from experience of industrial labour movements (unionisation, petitions, industrial action, legal proceedings); to some degree, softer tactics of policy advocacy and charitable support have also been used. The presumption that has guided demands is that if domestic workers could be inserted into the employment regimes that govern the formal capitalist sector, their particular disadvantages would be largely addressed. This may well be a reasonable expectation. Arguably though, such actions might be more effective if underpinned by a stronger analysis of why domestic worker–employer relations have so far slipped out of – been kept out of – those existing regimes. To meaningfully insert domestic workers into those regimes, their particular exclusion from those regimes needs to be understood. It is likely that this exclusion is not an oversight that can be remedied by simple insertion. It is grounded in strong and more dispersed social forces that should be engaged in a larger way. Such a thesis has occasionally been proposed in the researches outlined previously, and to this I turn next.
The performance of hierarchy 131 In turning to this, I do not enter my core argument but continue to lay the ground for it. To repeat, the core argument has to do with examining the bearing of technology on domestic worker–employer relationships in India, which occupies the next chapter. To anticipate a bit: my argument there differs from the polarised understanding of the non- technological pre-modernity and the technological modernity just mentioned. Insofar as technological development goes, it seems to me that it could both bring about modern social relations and bolster pre-modern social relations. That is another way of saying that ‘modernity’ itself is a fluid term, and that what is thought of as ‘pre-modern’ may become a constitutive aspect of ‘modernity’. What is thought of as ‘modern’ may be structured to embed and harden prevailing ‘pre-modern’ traits.
Habitual and interpersonal The domestic worker–employer relationship in India has occasionally caused unease, even outrage, when reports of criminal exploitation have appeared. Physical and sexual abuse, non-payment of dues and setting slave-labour like conditions, using children for domestic service, etc. have aroused public moral indignation at times. This study does not explore criminal exploitation particularly. My interest here is in the normality of the domestic worker– employer relationship, not in departures from the normality. By definition, criminal acts are departures from norms. This chapter is concerned with the domestic worker–employer relationship that is considered legally unquestionable and socially unexceptional. Having said that though, where the incidence of criminal exploitation is perceived to be high it may have something to do with the normality. There is, of course, little systematic evidence that it is particularly high in India: ‘high’ is a relative term and any putatively ‘high’ figure needs robust comparison to other contexts or a norm-setting figure to be meaningful, and neither are available. Some indices which seem to indicate criminal exploitation of domestic workers among other kinds of vulnerable workers are available. The Global Slavery Index 2016 (Minderoo Foundation 2016), the first of its kind, put India as fourth in terms of workers being thus exploited to proportion of population and first in terms of absolute numbers (though this was contested, see Mazoomdaar 2017). In the later Global Slavery Index 2018 (Minderoo Foundation 2018) the norms of measurements were adjusted and consequently the numbers in India showed as less than half that in 2016 (from 18.3 million to 8 million, see p. 32), and straightforward comparative tabulation was eschewed. But such figures are indifferently indicative for domestic workers in particular. Nevertheless, if it is perceived that criminal exploitation of domestic workers is high or frequent, then it is likely to be indicative of a normality which renders domestic workers vulnerable to criminal exploitation. This would be a normality of low access to legal recourse, little regulation, low social status, dependence on exploitative interpersonal agreements and informal arrangements.
132 On the ground But let me stay with the unexceptional in the domestic worker–employer relationship in India. Researchers, I have noted previously, have usually found that interviewing domestic workers is a particularly productive method of investigation. To some degree this is because the method brings into view, and at times reproduces, a circumstance that may cause some unavoidable discomfort among certain middle- class employers, perhaps some inescapable sense of personal complicity. I think of this circumstance as the habitual interpersonal performance of hierarchy. Generally, as almost all researchers cited here confirm, employers tend to absolve themselves from any personal responsibility for what might seem unpalatable about the domestic worker–employer relationship. Insofar as the relationship is based on the perpetuation of income inequality, employers could argue that domestic workers would be worse off if the employment they provide were not available. The individual employer, they might argue, is but a mote in the employment market structure, where income inequality underpins domestic-worker supply and demand. Moreover, this market structure is sustained by the customary character of such employment, and, they may say, it is largely meaningless for individuals to be out of sync with both custom and economic circumstance. If the informality of this encounter, unregulated by contract and third-party oversight, renders the domestic worker particularly vulnerable to mistreatment, employers are apt to protest that at the least they do not mistreat. On the contrary, they may assert, an informal family-like warmth usually extends into this relationship which is more accommodating than any formalised relationship. But a pervasive and habitual interpersonal performance of hierarchy which an overwhelming number of individual employers comply with and play their part in is not easily denied by any – if that seems questionable in principle, then employers find it troublesome to explain away. The moral charge of this personal compliance troubles if admitted. It is engrained in the closest of experiences, the regular and daily encounter of one person with another, and their regular exchanges and behaviours. Tripti Lahiri’s (2017) account of the domestic worker– employer relationship begins by invoking this inescapable sense of moral culpability on the part of employers, with the collective first-person voice of employers, as both an admission of guilt and an accusation. It is also a usefully succinct account of what the interpersonal performance of hierarchy consists of: The relations most Indians have with their servants grew out of the feudal rights of rural landlords over people who owed them service in return for being tenant farmers, or who owed them service because of their caste group. As such, they are dotted through with signposts that signalled the superiority of the employers over the people who worked for them. We eat first, they later, often out of food portioned out for them; we live in the front, they in the back; we sit on chairs and they
The performance of hierarchy 133 on the floor; we drink from glasses and ceramic plates and they from ones made of steel and set aside by them; we call them by their names, and they address us by titles, sometimes formal, sometimes familial: sir/ ma’am, sahib/memsahib, bauji, didi, aunty, baba. The gulf between what we say we believe in, as members of the country’s elite, and how we actually live is so immense that it doesn’t even merit being called hypocrisy. (pp. 24–5) The ‘most Indians’ mentioned in the first sentence are the employers, and it is of course doubtful whether ‘most Indians’ generally are employers or ‘servants’. That aside, the ‘we’ that Lahiri speaks on behalf of and holds to account, ‘the country’s elite’, is assured of being the recipient of this address because this appears in an English book. The English language particularly, but also habitual proficiency in reading in any Indian language, locates a normalised divide between elites and poor people. The following remarks are addressed to the habitual interpersonal performance of hierarchy described in the quotation. Researchers have at times described and analysed the interpersonal performance of hierarchy in the domestic worker–employer relationship in concentrated detail. In her observations on households in Madurai (Tamil Nadu), Sara Dickey (2000b), for instance, understood both the generous and coercive aspects of the relationship as modes of control (pp. 478–80). According to her, employers’ generosity – such as giving food or old clothes (charitable acts beyond the employment agreement) – serve to sanitise workers and instil personal loyalty. The coercive arrangements are more extensive, and involve what Dickey understands as symbolic significations of hierarchy and ‘control over workers’ bodies and their access to and movements through space’ (p. 479), so as to strike a balance between closeness and distance, insideness and outsideness, within the domestic domain. These involve a range of practices, detailed carefully by Dickey: marking distinctions in speech (the naming practices mentioned by Lahiri previously, and also the use of informal syntax when employers speak to workers and formal syntax when workers speak to employers); expecting workers to be clean and dress well, but not so well as to be indistinguishable from employers; expecting workers’ stances and postures to be deferential; restricting movements through the household (putting areas like bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchens out of bounds, in which caste prejudices may play a part); putting conditions on the use of space (e.g. if watching television, employers sit on chairs and workers on the floor; if permitted to eat indoors, workers never join employers at the table and usually eat poorer fare; if there are live-in workers, their sleeping and sanitation arrangements are separated and emphasise their low status). There is, Dickey argues, both dependency and a constant corrosiveness in these performances of hierarchy on the part of employers. That however has little to do with the kind of culpability and
134 On the ground complicity that Lahiri points to in the previous quotation. The tensions arise from anxiety about invasion and contamination: Employers feel they must vigilantly protect their families and homes against the dangers that could destroy the order they have so carefully produced as a sign of their own class standing. Servants represent the dirt, disease, and ‘rubbish’ . . . of a disorderly outside world that employers commonly associate with the lower class and that pointedly contrast with the ideal cleanliness, order, and hygiene of their own homes. Slippage in the other direction, toward the outside, is also a great risk; symbolic and material capital must be prevented from escaping the house through gossip and theft. (Dickey 2000b, p. 462) Similar observations appear constantly in other studies (most of those referred to previously). The maid as domestic worker has, naturally, been centred in such accounts. The few studies on male domestic workers (who may be drivers, cooks, gardeners, cleaners, etc.), note a particular disquiet about masculine standing in a female-dominated area of labour. Radhika Chopra (2006) understood this as a metaphorical ‘veiling’, and Seemin Qayum and Raka Ray (2010) as a ‘failure of patriarchy’. Masculinity gives a particular turn to performances that are otherwise the same as those outlined here: distinctions in forms of address, tone and naming; deference in posture and stance; conditional access to interiors and segregation of space; distinctions in clothing; etc. (described carefully in Chopra 2006, pp. 160– 4). The particular turn in these performances of hierarchy is in a careful denial of masculinity or self-emasculation on the part of the worker and a corresponding sense of gendered threat on the employer’s part: Though crucial to urban domesticities, these young male workers are strangers- in- the- home working to produce domestic bliss for other strangers. Located within spheres of family and household, they occupy a peculiar hybrid identity constructed simultaneously as stranger and family member, threatening and docile, celibate and abuser. The presence of these workers redefines issues of hidden and displayed gendered performances that hover between intimate spaces and public orbits of expressing gender identity and enables a discussion of incomplete men. (Chopra 2006, p. 157) Gendered anxieties bear upon the domestic worker–employer relationship for both sexes, amidst the balance of performing distinctions along the lines of class and caste. Uneasy and variously anxiogenic though this interpersonal performance of hierarchy might be, it is, researchers have often observed, so grounded in habit and custom that it is considered normal – or has been normalised. These performances could be thought of as the
The performance of hierarchy 135 glue of what Ray and Qayum (2009) call a ‘culture of servitude’: ‘in which social relations of domination/subordination, dependency, and inequality are normalized and permeate both the domestic and public sphere’ (p. 3). Put otherwise, such performances of hierarchy seem so unremarkable that they don’t call for pause. As one study on children who contribute to paid domestic work puts it: ‘Servants do not eat with their employers for example, but this is so much part of the habitus that no explanation is or in a sense can be given’ (Wasiuzzaman and Wells 2010, p. 285). So, researchers have evidently found that narratives drawn from interviews with domestic workers provide useful on-the-ground insights into the interpersonal performance of hierarchy. They give access to the experiences and views of domestic workers; but also, the encounter that is the interview itself presents a performance of hierarchy. The interview is itself a performance across the class boundary between the investigating interviewer and the interviewed worker, which tends to be premised on the habitual domestic worker–employer relationship. Negotiating as well as observing that habitual encounter puts the interview itself, as it were, into relief. Where the interview is conducted in the employer’s household or in the presence of employers, everyday constraints can be noted – constraints that can curtail interviews or prohibit them. Dickey (2000a) described the prickliness of the interview setting in the employer’s household laconically; Lahiri (2017, p. 94) had to give in to an employer who declared, ‘You can do this servant interview with other families. In this family it’s been forbidden’. Elsewhere, shifting the setting of interviews away from the employers’ households to that of the domestic workers’ serves to break through the reserves of habitual performance (as in Sen and Sengupta 2016, Chapter 4), as does adopting a critical tone towards employers outside their ken (Ray and Qayum 2009, pp. 81–4). The interviews that inform so much of the research into domestic worker– employer relations present, ultimately, personal stories told as stories. The manner in which the various facets of the interpersonal performance of hierarchy stick together is perhaps best conveyed in stories from specific points of view. If a collection of personal narratives is broken down into typologies and tracked according to common denominators, their integrity as presenting experiences is fractured. Stories in specific contexts, from particular viewpoints, convey a complex and concrete experience effectively, especially where the matter of interest lies in close-up interpersonal encounters. Beyond ethnographic and scholarly accounts, both real life and true-to-life fictional stories have sometimes aroused the ethical discomfort that Lahiri (2017, as quoted previously) expresses. In fact, just as scholarship in this area has been relatively sparse, stories in literary or film forms on domestic workers that have circulated widely in India are very small in number. The few with a critical edge were produced mainly post-2000. That is, such stories are small in number insofar as the interpersonal performance of hierarchy in domestic work is presented critically and centrally, not at the margins
136 On the ground or in a confirmatory spirit. Naturally, the pervasive presence of domestic workers in middle-class circles means that they appear frequently in Indian stories, but seldom noticeably or realistically. They have appeared either unobtrusively as accepting (if not proud) of their place in society and the household, or as implausibly middle-class-like themselves (for a discussion of this in Hindi feature films, see Gupta 2017; Kishwar and Vanita 1987, pp. 64–7). Stories that are more confrontational towards middle-class sensibilities include: domestic-worker Baby Haldar’s memoir, written in Bangla but first published in Hindi as Aalo Aandhari (2002) and in English as A Life Less Ordinary (2006). Commercial and critical success has followed a couple of novels featuring Indian domestic workers as main protagonists: Thrity Umrigar’s The Space Between Us (2005) and its sequel The Secrets Between Us (2018) with a maid as a central character, and Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger (2008), which was awarded the Booker Prize, with a driver as narrator. Notable also are feature films such as Barah Aana (2009, dir. Raja Menon) and Delhi in a Day (2012, dir. Prashant Nair). These too offer valuable insights into the habitual interpersonal performance of hierarchy, and at times on the bearing of technology on the domestic worker–employer relationship. There is an oft noted complexity about the verisimilitude found in depictions of social matters as stories, however seemingly true to life, and this extends naturally to depictions of interpersonal performances of hierarchy. On the one hand, such depictions offer fictional worlds that follow their own discrete rationales; that is, they employ narratological principles which construct such worlds as consistent and understandable. In this respect, the extent to which such depictions should be mapped on to real-world social relations is questionable. Narratological ploys, for instance, can be used to tell plausible stories that both elide and highlight tensions in domestic worker–employer relations. On the other hand, such stories do have effects on real-world social relations, in being recognised as being real-world-like or in sharpening real-world social contradictions. This recognition is usually found in the reception of stories. If readers respond to the stories as if they are true-to-life, then that suggests that some real-world social conditions have been presented. Between those contrary considerations, all sorts of stories – recounted in ethnographic reports, set out as memoirs or histories, presented as fictional – offer very considerable material for understanding the social relevance of interpersonal relations. Thus stories are incorporated as evidence in the sociology of everyday life, in social histories, via psychological or anthropological case studies and the like. The habitual interpersonal performance of hierarchy in the domestic worker–employer relationship has been analysed in various ways. Analyses have focused particularly on the demarcations of identity that structure such performance. The role that gender plays has received particular attention, as is evident from the previous references. The domestic worker’s circumstances are very significantly structured according to the gendered
The performance of hierarchy 137 disposition of domestic arrangements. Studies have repeatedly explored this in terms of the management of domestic space, the political economy of home-making, the distribution of unpaid and paid work therein, and the functions of reproduction and nurturing that fall predominantly to women. These domestic arrangements, in turn, both radiate out towards and draw in from broader structures of gender and sexual relations in Indian society, which cohere with customary and normative practices. Such analyses are naturally interpolated by other demarcations of identity, and at times those other demarcations are considered with a precedent emphasis. Class distinctions made accordingly to different kinds of capital circulation (financial, cultural, social), inspired by Pierre Bourdieu’s work (especially 1984, 1986), have been explored often. Caste offers a distinctively Indian mode of social stratification, engrained at various levels of everyday life, and complicates both gender and class analysis of domestic worker–employer relations. Region (language) and religion are frequently taken as primary grounding in Indian social identifications, including for domestic work. In fact, region (state, province, city or town, or by other descriptions of locale) is the obvious organising mechanism for most of the studies cited here. Location is generally the given substratum of investigation before the analytical emphasis shifts to gender, class and caste. Where rural-to-urban or country- to-country migrations are involved, regional affiliations and cross-regional negotiations have a particular salience. While it is practical to focus on a particular identity demarcation to understand the performance of hierarchy, it is obvious that several demarcations are implicated all together in any domestic worker–employer relationship. Different lines of identity crisscross each other and play within every performance of hierarchy. Perhaps a concept of ‘intersectionality’ could be recruited from the race–gender–class nexus of the USA (along any of the directions outlined in Collins 2015) and extended to the distinctive practices of domestic worker–employer relations in India. Apart from identity-centred analysis, the performance of hierarchy could be examined in terms of its habitual and everyday character. Analytical methods to examine everyday-life performances and framings along the lines of Erving Goffmann (1959 onwards) might be useful to understand the prevailing situation (perhaps more so than the critically transformative line drawn from Henri Lefebvre 1991 ). It is not my intention to pause on and engage with such analytical methods in this chapter. I simply note them at present before moving towards exploring the bearing of technology on the domestic worker–employer relationship in the next chapter. The next chapter does not draw particularly on one analytical method; some features of all of them feed into it. To draw this ground-laying chapter to a close, I have an impressionistic point to make. Ray and Qayum’s (2009) phrase ‘culture of servitude’ seems, at least to my ears, meaningful not only because it provides a critical edge in understanding the domestic worker–employer relationship but also because it seems relevant beyond that particular relationship. What they describe as
138 On the ground ‘social relations of domination/subordination, dependency, and inequality [which] are normalized and permeate both the domestic and public spheres’ (Ray and Qayum 2009, p. 3) is a relational quality (of servitude) that is not confined to the domestic worker–employer relationships alone but is found across a wide range of social relationships. The habitual interpersonal performance of hierarchy concretises ‘servitude’ in domestic worker–employer encounters because it appears in more or less concrete forms in various kinds of relationships. Similar performances are found, with different degrees of intensity and clarity, in other labour relationships, in other encounters across class, caste, gender, etc. hierarchies. Perhaps this performance appears at its most pronounced in the domestic worker–employer relationship because this is such a close relationship, so routinely involving the meeting of persons within a circumscribed space (middle- class domestic). In domestic worker–employer interactions, the sheer overlapping of living space and work space, the intermeshing of professional and personal communications and behaviours, throw the habitual performance into vivid clarity. But similar signalling of higher or lower status, of dominant and subordinate power, of patronising and deferential or obsequious rituals is fairly pervasive and appears similarly unexceptional. I have in mind, for instance: an officer’s encounter with a clerk in an office, a middle-class customer’s negotiations with a small trader or service provider (a vegetable seller, a rickshaw puller, a coolie, a roadside tea vendor, etc.), casual exchanges between an educated professional and a manual labourer, the customary exchanges between elder and younger relatives, husbands and wives (and parents and daughters-in- law), guru and shishya. . . . The performances of hierarchy in the customary or habitual registers of numerous such encounters, which constitute a great part of everyday life, are consanguineous with that found in the domestic worker–employer relationship. The impetuses of identity markers and relations – class, gender, caste, age, religion, region, language – which structure the performances of hierarchy in the domestic worker–employer relationship also structure that wider range of encounters and relationships with different emphases. Arguably, these identity markers organise social conduct in a fundamental way and seep into numerous relationships within this cultural/political/economic sphere. Insofar as all these relationships incorporate something of the habitual interpersonal performance of hierarchy, they all also actuate a culture of servitude. From this perspective, the particular performance of hierarchy in the domestic worker–employer relationship could be thought of as placed at the conjunction or intersection of many such performances across many social encounters. The conjunction renders something that is dispersed, a culture of servitude, concentrated in this particular relationship. Naturally, the features of this habitual interpersonal performance of hierarchy are open – as any communicative or performative act is – to various nuances other than the straightforward confirmation of hierarchy. Irony or playfulness may work through it, in nuanced exaggeration, tongue-in-cheek flattery, or assumed role-playing. That could be taken
The performance of hierarchy 139 either as subversion of such performances or another way of normativising hierarchies. I suspect that one of the characteristics of the unexceptional domestic worker–employer relationship is that it discourages such playfulness in the performance of hierarchy, or contains playfulness within uncontentious boundaries (only a little bit of cheek is tolerated). With these initial observations on the domestic worker–employer relationship, in particular the habitual interpersonal performance of hierarchy, the ground is reasonably set to consider the bearing of technology upon it. This is taken up in the next chapter. I might as well end here on the note with which the next chapter begins: there is no reason to anticipate that the adoption of any kind of technology would necessarily modify social relations in a progressive direction. Technology could be used to undergird, perpetuate, restructure or transform a given social organisation. Technological development does not entail modernisation and progress in itself; the uses to which it may be put do.
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6 Domestic workers and technology
The bearing of technological development on the domestic worker–employer relationship is examined here at two levels. First, this relationship is considered in terms of the technology that is used in employers’ homes. Appliances which, in principle, replace or reduce the labour of domestic work – such as washing machines, vacuum cleaners, dishwashers – could be expected to have a direct effect on domestic workers. Also relevant here is technology that is productive of regular domestic work: for instance, employers owning automobiles often engage drivers and cleaners. Second, technology that is not directly relevant to domestic work but may mediate the worker–employer relationship is considered. Communication technologies are relevant here, such as mobile devices that restructure exchanges within households. Technology which seemingly helps professionalise or formalise domestic employment also features here: digital platforms set up by placement agencies are obvious examples. These two levels are explored in two sections of this chapter, with particular attention to the habitual interpersonal performance of hierarchy in the worker–employer relationship discussed in the previous chapter. Before those, a brief section outlines some relevant background concepts. These are drawn primarily from investigations in European and North American contexts, and offer useful frames for analysing the situation in India.
Background concepts Histories of industrialised capitalist societies such as the UK and USA note a dramatic reduction in domestic workers around the middle of the twentieth century (a bit earlier or later in different contexts). The reduction, usually within three to four decades, is from their near ubiquity in modest middle- class households and upwards to becoming confined to a small number of affluent households. It is often averred that the development of domestic appliances played a part in this. The other and possibly more determinative factors include: changes in the employment market for constituencies
144 On the ground which traditionally sought such work; consequent reduction in wage differentials between employers and workers; large proportions of the middle classes moving into smaller and more manageable households; greater state regulation of employment and of employers’ responsibilities. The particular role that the development and mass production of domestic appliances played in this process is difficult to pin down: i.e. whether that appeared as a cause or a consequence. It may be argued, on the one hand, that because it became possible to replace the labour of workers by appliances, domestic employment opportunities gradually diminished and wages rose. Or, on the other hand, it is possible that because workers gradually found better opportunities elsewhere, their labour had to be replaced by producing domestic appliances. Either way, generally the leading presumption is that certain kinds of domestic appliances have served to replace certain kinds of domestic work traditionally done by waged workers. Correspondingly, new norms for managing household work emerged. The rationale is clear even if the causalities are not, and it is in any case but one factor amidst a complex set of factors. But it is not an insignificant factor; as observed in the previous chapter, it came to be associated with modernity and progress in both economic and cultural life. Jonathan Gershuny’s After Industrial Society (1978) made the most sustained case for the development of household technology motivating the reduction of domestic service. Examining data in Britain from the mid- 1950s to the mid-1970s, he found that household expenditure on domestic services (both by the employment of workers and by recourse to external service providers) had dropped steadily as expenditure on domestic technology had risen every decade. His explanation of this shift was in terms of societal changes: [The] essence [of services] is their personal nature – at the simplest a one-to-one relationship between servant and served. . . . Now, in an economy with considerable disparities of income, we find two things: first, a disparity of needs, the rich having, at the margin, needs for complicated and abstract luxuries, the poor for basic necessities; second, the rich are able to buy the full-time services of the poor. In such a situation we would predict that the luxury needs of the rich would be met by services – that they would employ full-time servants to supply them. But as the members of a society become individually richer, and as incomes and wealth become more evenly distributed, two things will happen; first, fewer people will be willing to undertake menial tasks, to be literally at someone’s ‘beck and call’; second, marginal needs will become more similar and more people will be demanding these complicated and abstract luxuries. . . . Certainly, as we observed above, provision for newly emerging needs is difficult – but technology does advance, and one reasonably straightforward way of viewing the path of advancing technology is precisely the progressive mechanisation of activities which
Domestic workers and technology 145 formerly required the intervention of human skills – the replacement of services by goods. (Gershuny 1978, pp. 88–9) This sounds persuasive but is perhaps too sweeping. That, at any rate, was the view taken by Nicky Gregson and Michelle Lowe in Serving the Middle Classes (1994), which analysed data from the 1980s suggesting that the employment of domestic workers in middle-class British households was increasing. They argued for more precision about what sorts of domestic labour and what kinds of technology are in question. This was both because some parts of domestic work are more labour intensive than others and because different conventions of responsibility attach to them, mainly by gender roles. They also made a more general point: Technological innovation with respect to domestic service provision is assumed [by Gershuny] to be progressive; diffusion through households, inevitable and irreversible. What this perspective ignores is that domestic labour is socially, and not technologically, constructed. As feminist work on housework has long recognised, domestic tasks, the products of domestic labour, the commodities used in their production, as well as how to do domestic tasks and how to make domestic products, are all shaped by the ideas and values present within specific societies. For the most part, such arguments have focused on the way in which gender mediates the above, and particularly on how the above come to be gendered activities. But, within the context of contemporary Britain, it is possible to detect a class-based move away from various aspects of the technological fix with respect to housework. (Gregson and Lowe 1994, p. 78) Between these quotations, the main considerations in relating domestic work and technology are reasonably conveyed. Two lines of measurements have underpinned these considerations: first, to ascertain whether and to what extent domestic appliances indeed reduce work; and second, to determine how domestic work is divided in the modern household (technologically equipped and free of employed workers), mainly between men and women. Research in both directions has been extensive. Some studies have suggested that in fact household appliances do not necessarily reduce the aggregate amount of household work and equally others have found that they do. The September 2004 issue of The British Journal of Sociology gave the arguments from both sides: Bittman et al. (2004) took the former position, and Gershuny (2004), somewhat irately, the latter, and between them gave a detailed account of the background to this debate. Findings have not moved on particularly since, to some degree because the nature of domestic technology has shifted to smart systems rather than specific appliances. In terms of the gendered division of household work, much
146 On the ground data has been collected and analysed (particularly, Layte 1999; Treas and DrobniČ 2010), though that has not brought further insights into the part played by appliances. More useful from that perspective is Ruth Schwartz Cowan’s earlier More Work for Mother (1983), which explored the history of inventions, promotions and adaptations of domestic technology at two levels: in terms of systems (for access to essential consumables like electricity, water, clothes, etc.) and appliances (vacuum cleaners, washing machines, etc.). One of her observations was that insofar as appliances replaced servants in middle-class households around the 1920s and 1930s in the USA, for women that did not mean a reduction but a reorganisation of domestic work (Cowan 1983, p. 178). This was not a matter of choice: ‘Twentieth- century housewives may have wished to trade in their vacuum cleaners for a “good old-fashioned maid,” but could not do it because the good old- fashioned maids preferred positions on the assembly lines to positions in the parlor’ (Cowan 1983, p. 126). Of related interest here, a study drawing on 1995 data in the Netherlands (Lippe et al. 2004), found unsurprisingly that, ‘The higher the household income, the higher the likelihood that households make use of domestic help and domestic appliances’ (p. 229). This also showed that domestic help and dishwashers saved time for women and microwaves for men. Evidently, the relationship between domestic workers and technology is not one of simple replacement, and modernisation has not been a swapping exercise. Particular sorts of work and specific appliances do have to be kept in view, and prevailing social circumstances and arrangements have a decisive part to play in how that relationship works out. In fact, perhaps the most productive way to contemplate domestic technology’s bearing on household work is as a mediator and mirror of social relations, especially of class and gender, rather than seeing technology as pushing towards progressive modernism.
Appliances and work Such research has not been undertaken in India. The pervasiveness of domestic workers in middle-class households, with some dips and rises since Independence and yet never of a scale to suggest any significant social shift, suggests that such research is irrelevant in this context. Moreover, by all accounts, appliances have seldom been considered an especially significant feature of Indian household consumption. Even in 2014–15, sector-specific reports (such as CEAMA and Arthur D. Little 2014; FICCI and Ernst & Young 2015) observed that India has low market penetration of consumer electronics and domestic appliances compared to other countries, albeit showing trends of significant growth and promise. For one of the most successful appliances in the Indian market, the refrigerator, the market penetration was 21% compared to the global average of 85% that year; for an appliance which might have an immediate labour-saving effect, the washing machine, the market penetration in India was 8.8% compared to the global
Domestic workers and technology 147 average of 70% (FICCI and Ernst & Young 2015, p. 9). Since the consumption of such goods was dominated by upper-income households, low market penetration may be understood as reflecting income inequalities and equally as underpinned by high levels of domestic service. From another perspective, since the penetration of such goods was concentrated in upper-income households which also employ domestic workers, it could plausibly be surmised that appliances and workers co-exist in such households. A point of some interest here, then, is how that circumstance plays in the domestic worker–employer relationship – more precisely, how does the presence of domestic appliances influence the habitual interpersonal performance of hierarchy outlined in the previous chapter? The idea that domestic appliances may replace or reduce the need for domestic workers has cropped up occasionally in India, with both anxiety and hopefulness. Both sentiments were (in patronising and patriarchal tones) woven into the following exchange which reportedly took place between the Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and Member of Parliament Nirmal Kanti Chatterjee during debates about the 1991 New Industrial Policy. On Chatterjee’s objecting that the production of more appliances will mean that many ‘will be thrown out of employment’: PRIME MINISTER: If
you have a washing machine, how many people are you throwing out of employment? The only thing is, if you have a lakh washing machines being made, to how many people you are giving employment on the other side? [. . .] NIRMAL KANTI CHATTERJEE: Those resources which are utilised for producing washing machines could be utilised for other purposes. PRIME MINISTER: That is the point. If you take that as the criterion then you will remain a country of maid servants only. This is the point. NIRMAL KANTI CHATTERJEE: That is your idea. PRIME MINISTER: You are condemning our women folk to life of drudgery permanently. This is where diversification is necessary. That is why, we have not given them any education so far. Let her be educated. She will refuse to do the washing, the moment you educate her. . . . It is very simple to say that ‘you are throwing people out of employment’. But what kind of employment? (Ramesh 2015, pp. 124–5) In brief, Chatterjee was concerned that scaled-up production of appliances (such as washing machines) would take low-end jobs away from the poor (such as domestic workers); Rao argued that such production would open high-end jobs (in the washing-machine industry), which would help the upliftment of the poor (such as domestic workers) – and more generally of women doing unwaged and waged domestic work (such as washing). The point however is that, despite differences, both Rao and Chatterjee
148 On the ground took it for granted that appliances would replace domestic workers. Around 25 years after that exchange, Lahiri (2017) reported the following observation by an agent, Srivastava, whose livelihood was recruiting and supplying domestic workers for Delhi households: There are all sorts of labour- saving technologies now available in India – from washing machines and vacuum cleaners to roti makers. But Srivastava is not worried by all this. Labour-saving devices powered by technology won’t lead Indians to forego domestic help, he says. ‘I know a family . . . they have a machine for every task, washing dishes, washing clothes, even then he wants domestic workers,’ says Mr Srivastava, referring to the head of the family. ‘He needs someone to run those machines.’ (p. 73) Domestic appliances and domestic workers co-exist in middle-class households. With rising incomes among the middle classes the markets for both have grown, apparently with mutually enhancing effect. That domestic workers and appliances co-exist does not mean that there is a functional relationship between them. It does not mean that workers restructure their work by ‘running those machines’ as the agent Srivastava averred in the previous quotation. Elsewhere in her study, Lahiri writes about accompanying another agent, Amit, and a domestic worker to a prospective employer’s home. The employer tells them ‘how wonderful maids are in America’, which occasions the following caustic remark from Lahiri: I know what I’m thinking and later it turns out Amit is thinking the same thing. In America, you don’t get weekly dust storms. In America, your maid has a vacuum cleaner, a Swiffer, a steam mop, a dishwasher and all sorts of tools that attempt to make cleaning less drudge-like, because in America, as my sister once told a maid who was enquiring about her domestic arrangements overseas, she is the cook and her husband the jamadar [cleaner]. In America, you wouldn’t ask your cleaning lady to leave her shoes at the door. In America, you wouldn’t talk to your cleaner the way you are talking to this woman right now – unless, of course, you had imported her with you from India. (Lahiri 2017, p. 113) Judging from these thoughts, domestic workers in India are not ordinarily given charge of domestic appliances even if those are at hand. Instead of having a functional relationship, we may surmise that domestic workers and domestic appliances exist as parallel signifiers for seemingly the same functional end (the accomplishment of domestic work) within the space of the middle-class household. Their significations are not as ‘user’ and ‘instrument’ for the purposes of domestic work, but rather as two different
Domestic workers and technology 149 sorts of ‘instruments’ which do not get functionally entangled with each other. Without direct entanglement, their relationship is not established by the common purposes of domestic work but by their common ‘user’, the employer. As such – and this too is indicated in the previous quotation – their relationship is established in the employer’s signifying system and at the behest of the employer. The co-existence of domestic workers and appliances serve variously to sharpen and nuance the performance of hierarchy in the employer–worker relationship. That is to say, though there isn’t a functional relationship between domestic workers and domestic appliances, they are variously played off against each other in the performance of hierarchy. In middle-class homes, domestic appliances often serve as props and tools for the performance of hierarchy. So far, I have offered a sketchy account of the possible part played by domestic appliances in the domestic worker–employer relationship. A closer sense of that part can be obtained from various accounts of such relationships in ethnographic studies, realistic fictional narratives, commercial texts and reports. The relevant observations are seldom central to such accounts and are usually found in fleeting or marginal passages. Often the relevance of an observation becomes apparent only if the text is read against its grain. However, when put together, such observations present some fairly consistent patterns of the performance of hierarchy. Consider the following passage from Thrity Umrigar’s novel, The Space Between Us (2005), which, unusually, takes the domestic worker–employer relationship as its theme. Its plot revolves around the relationship between Sera, an affluent housewife in Mumbai, and her household maid, Bhima, who lives in a nearby slum, and their respective family members. The relationship is an intimate and long-standing one (20 years of service for Bhima), mediated by affection and complicity as well as by frictions and resentments arising from their respective class and power positions. The following passage represents this complexity well. In it, Bhima washes dishes in the kitchen as Sera watches and admires her efforts: Viraf [Sera’s son] wanders in, adjusting his tie. ‘That’s it,’ he says to no one in particular. ‘Next month, I’m buying a dishwasher. No point in poor Bhima slogging like this.’ Bhima looks up in gratitude, but before she could say a word, Sera speaks up. ‘Go, go,’ she says. ‘My Bhima can put your fancy dishwashers to shame. Not even a foreign-made machine can leave dishes as clean as Bhima can. Save your money, deekra.’ . . . And give it me instead, Bhima thinks to herself, and then, afraid that one of them will read her mind, she busies herself by concentrating on one particular food spot. Also, she needs a few moments to fume. Sometimes she can’t figure Serabai out. On the one hand, it makes her flush with pride when Serabai calls her ‘my Bhima’ and talks about her proprietarily. On the other hands, she always seems to be doing things
150 On the ground that undercut Bhima’s interests. Like refusing Viraf’s offer to buys a dishwasher. How nice it would be not to run her arthritic hands in water all day long. Bending over the sink to scrub the dishes has also begun to hurt her back, so that, at the end of the day, it sometimes takes half the walk home before she can straighten up. (Umrigar 2005, pp. 19–20) In reading this passage, it is evident that the omniscient narrator is positioned more on level ground with Sera than with Bhima. Throughout, for instance, this narrative voice speaks of Sera by her first name, simply ‘Sera’, whereas Bhima is depicted as thinking of her employer with the respectful suffix as ‘Serabai’ (by itself ‘bai’ is used to refer to house maids in Mumbai). Unsurprisingly then, Bhima’s thoughts are given – or imagined by the narrator – to show that she has internalised her subordinate position and is grateful for it, she likes Sera’s proprietary claim to her. Her resentment is momentary and ultimately grateful subordination prevails. But the moment of resentment is indicatively sketched out. Viraf offers to buy the dishwasher as an act of altruism towards Bhima; Bhima receives the offer as altruistic; and so does Sera but refuses it on Bhima’s behalf with a word of praise for Bhima’s skills and a light-hearted comment, ‘save your money’. That comment is not lost on Bhima (she thinks, ‘give it to me instead’) but it doesn’t trouble her either, which both raises the financial aspect of this offer and erases it in the self-same moment. A reader acquainted with conventions of domestic employment in Mumbai might expect Bhima to consider two scenarios if a dishwasher were to appear: either she would be permitted to use it instead of her hands and her wages would stay unchanged, or she wouldn’t be permitted to use it and her wages would be reduced since wages are set according to the chores entrusted to her. Such considerations however do not appear to trouble Bhima and are outside the scope of this passage. Throughout the novel, it is clear that though Bhima is in desperately straitened circumstances she does not think about her wages. Insofar as the quoted passage goes, the spectre of the dishwasher is no more than a prop for a complex performance of hierarchy: it gives Sera (and Viraf) an opportunity to display their masterly munificence towards Bhima, which Bhima passively accepts despite momentary irritation. In effect, the performance of this episode plays out according to the employers’ system of status and (self-) worth apropos of Bhima but without her participation. In an analysis of the novel, Mukti Mangharam (2018) suggested that by describing Bhima’s physical discomfort, the narrator conveyed, ‘The co-option of Bhima’s entire person by Sera’s employment [which] turns Bhima herself into a dishwashing machine. . . . Bhima-as-washing-machine is a metaphor for Bhima’s commodification and objectification’ (p. 89). This may be what the omniscient narrator had intended; equally, this interpretation, critical of employers as it is, plays along with the middle-class perception of Bhima as passive and well-subordinated victim (a suffering body, a signifier of an
Domestic workers and technology 151 abstract capitalist relation). It disregards the silenced material circumstances that are latent here, and the domestic appliance is registered more as a fleeting metaphor rather than a possibly real intervening factor in the material processes of domestic work. Notably, in the episode depicted and in the text’s narrative strategies, the domestic worker and domestic appliance do not actually meet. In this case, the domestic appliance has a spectral presence and metaphoric function. A similar strategy is found in a short film Aaji (2013, starring the prominent Marathi actress Usha Nadkarni) which has evidently struck a chord with viewers (it had over 2 million hits by 2018 on YouTube). This begins with a middle-class couple considering firing their loyal domestic maid because her failing health is affecting her work. They are aware, though, that her financial circumstances make it impossible for her to retire. The lady of the house feels embarrassed about asking her to leave. The following day, while the maid is cleaning the house and her employer switches on the TV, a commercial for a vacuum cleaner pops up. A voiceover enthusiastically exhorts householders to ‘get rid of your maid and depend upon your Sunlight vacuum cleaner’. The employer quickly switches it off, lest it makes the maid anxious. The old maid had not noticed the commercial. When she realises that she is unwanted and leaves, however, it is not because of the appearance of a vacuum cleaner but because a younger maid turns up. The line of domestic workers continues uninterrupted, and the fleeting image of the vacuum cleaner is evoked for no other reason than to prick the conscience of employers. In this strand of everyday observations, the mechanical reproduction of domestic work, so to speak, seems to exist in the collective mind of middle-class employers, as a possibility that doesn’t overlap with but accentuates the presence of domestic workers. There are other strands of everyday observations, as much grounded and enclosed in middle-class perspectives, where domestic workers and appliances do meet but only to slip – amidst reiterated performances of hierarchy. Such observations range from failed or counterproductive encounters between workers and appliances to rendering workers’ controlled access to appliances itself a mode of extending social distinctions. With regard to failed encounters, a passing observation in a study by Rachel Tolen (2000), based on interviews with domestic workers and employers in a Madras (Chennai) Railway Colony, offers a relevant insight: Unfamiliarity with the intricacies of certain techniques and technologies on the part of servants is often strategically transmuted by employers into simplemindedness. Recounting an incident where the peon [domestic worker] had tuned on the mixie (blender) without holding down the lid, splattering chutney all over the kitchen, one bungalow amma [the employer] said, ‘We don’t let the servants run the gadgets. Because of ignorance they don’t know how to use them.’ (p. 71)
152 On the ground The larger theme of Tolen’s essay was the influence of middle-class employers’ lifestyles on those of domestic workers: ‘Servants do not simply learn work procedures while performing domestic service, but encounter an entire lifestyle, leading to improvisations in their own lifestyles (within the means available to them)’ (Tolen 2000, p. 68). This, then, was a study in the class aspiration among domestic workers acquired through their exposure to middle-class households. Domestic service, Tolen was suggesting, is a form of education for workers. While imparting this education for their own ends, the argument went, employers also put clear limits on the developing class aspiration by the performance of hierarchy, by continuous reminders of distinctions in status and privileges. The attribution of simplemindedness, as Tolen finds it, is one way of making that distinction; the attribution of untrustworthiness could be another. Though not intended as such, an illustration of this is found in an episode of Payal Kapadia’s light- hearted novel Maidless in Mumbai (2017). This is recounted in the voice of a young woman, Anu Narain, in Mumbai, who has just had a baby and is in search of a suitable nanny. It soon becomes clear to her that not much separates a nanny from a domestic maid in the eyes of her family, and that it is difficult to find a suitable nanny. Of the many she finds unsuitable is one named Sakubai, whose introduction to the world of domestic appliances is described thus: Sameer [Anu’s husband] calls Sakubai the Laughing Buddhu [the Hindi word for ‘idiot’]. She tests the steam iron by pressing the soleplate against her cheek. She grins like a ventriloquist’s dummy. And she says ‘Heh!’ all the time. Never mind. I’ll transform Laughing Buddhu into a worldclass nanny by the time Tara grows up. ‘Are the nappies piling up in the wash, Sakubai?’ ‘Heh!’ she says. I take that for a yes and show Laughing Buddhu how to load the washing machine. (Kapadia 2017, p. 137) Anu shows no hesitation in giving Sakubai access to the washing machine, though the latter’s simplemindedness has been established in advance by her handling of a steam iron. It turns out to be a mistake though: instead of using it, Sakubai prefers to bundle up the soiled nappies and throw them out of the window. And when she is fired for doing so, she goes, but, as Anu says laconically, ‘after bunging the soiled nappies in the machine and adding haldi [turmeric] to the wash. Not so buddhu after all’ (Kapadia 2017, p. 138). So, what appears initially as simplemindedness with regard to technology turns into defiant disregard for the employer’s instructions and appliances, and then into the vengeful ‘not-so-buddhu’ recourse to those appliances. There is no clear explanation there for Sakubai’s behaviour. It could be due to an innately resentful disposition or it could be due to Anu’s
Domestic workers and technology 153 and Sameer’s barely contained contempt for her, which shines through the writing despite Anu’s liberalism. Either way, domestic appliances appear here as complicated via media for the domestic worker–employer relationship, being at the same time signifiers of the employer’s lifestyle, instruments for the employer’s purpose, counterpoints to the domestic worker’s function (worker’s inefficiency against the machine’s efficiency), weapons for the worker’s resentment, and ultimately ambiguously poised in the breakdown of trust between employer and worker. In any case, the encounter between domestic worker and appliance here is really another failed encounter, with the performance of hierarchy re-enacted yet again but traced with anxiety. Even if such encounters become normalised and regularised in some circles, and employers accepted the principle that domestic workers would be allowed to use domestic appliances, this does not mean that the significance of the latter would be reduced to their use-value. Appliances may still be sites for the performance of hierarchy, imbued with properties of possession and distinction which have no intrinsic basis in the technology. Thus, for instance, in a discussion of social-networking sites where employers discuss domestic workers, Lahiri (2017) reports the following: On a group aimed at connecting moms, an acquaintance tells me, a long discussion broke out one day on whether the help should be allowed to use the house washing machine for their own clothes. Some say absolutely not. Others think a live-in maid should be allowed to use the machine – as long as she makes sure to wash her clothes separately from family laundry, a laundering practice that dates back to at least the Victorians. (p. 76) The Victorian laundering practice of separating servants’ clothes (which Bryson 2010, p. 165, among others, mentions) had various more or less practical considerations: the employers’ clothes were usually finer and needed special treatment; laundering was expensive (involved heating water and using soap) and some employers were thrifty; much laundering was done by professionals outside homesteads and at the time class distinctions were equated with hygiene conditions. For live-in servants in Indian middle- class households, who have intimate contact with employers’ children and the food they eat, those more or less practical considerations do not quite apply. The segregation of clothing before the mechanical indiscriminateness of the washing machine may well be another scene in the performance of hierarchy. Television advertisements for domestic appliances in India provide much material to contemplate domestic worker–employer relations. These are obviously appeals by producers to those they regard as their potential consumers. The advertisements largely present their target customers as ‘middle class’, mainly from a group which may be described as ‘young, married,
154 On the ground professional’ (somewhere over 25 and under 50). The advertisers speak to this audience with certain shared assumptions: that the latter would already be solvent, accustomed to a comfortable lifestyle and aspiring to improve it, educated or socialised accordingly (to the extent of being receptive to language play, cultural references, etc.), and complying with certain social norms (of status markers, ethical principles, aesthetic tastes, etc.). These assumptions register both a given condition of consumers and ascribe some aspirations to them. The function of the advertisement is to recommend the product by placing it amidst the given condition and the aspirations. As communicative devices, then, advertisements have to both nod sympathetically (at least, not too disparagingly) at the current condition of consumers and suggest that the product in question will fulfil their aspirations. In striking this delicate balance, advertisements conjure what Raymond Williams (1980) described as a ‘magic system’: ‘You do not only buy an object: you buy social respect, discrimination, health, beauty, success, power to control your environment’ (p. 178). Usefully, YouTube is a rich repository of such advertisements, placed there by the firms which produce them. Some available on the video-sharing website are referred to here. Interestingly, television advertisements for domestic appliances in India very seldom feature or even mention domestic workers. The advertisements for washing machines that I have consulted, for instance, are entirely free of domestic workers; the ‘magic system’ of advertising has seemingly done away with them from middle-class households. The homes depicted in these are generally urban establishments, spacious, pristine and impeccably furnished. A young wife/mother is usually the exemplary user of the washing machine, and by implication does the domestic work. Insofar as social relationships feature in these, they are exclusively focused on those amongst family members. Since class differences are absent from these spaces, these hinge around in-house – wittily light-touch – middle-class generational and gender differences. Mothers (or mothers-in-law) of an earlier generation labouring with their hands and their technology-adept daughters (daughters-in-law) feature with conservative affirmations of respect for elders and natural progress (e.g. LG India 2016; Videocon Group 2015). Some advertisements come with witty or virtuous criticism of gender inequality, exhorting men to take their share in using the washing machine (e.g. Lloyd 2015; a number of Ariel 2016 ‘#share the load’ commercials). But men are seldom shown actually doing the laundry, not unless they have some misdeed to hide from their wives or unless their wives are dead. The general contours of the world depicted in Indian washing machine advertisements are affluent and shiny indoors, private bastions of conservative family values with some progressive platitudes. Technology works in these to do away with class conflicts and dependencies. The magicking away of domestic workers from these imaginary households is effectively a removal of the very possibility of envisaging domestic workers as users of washing machines.
Domestic workers and technology 155 It is only when it comes to household chores which even the middle-class mother/wife may be expected to not do – dirty work like washing dishes rather than the clean work of laundering – that advertisements for domestic appliances allow small, but telling, references to domestic workers. A couple of Bosch dishwasher advertisements are indicative in this regard. One of these (Bosch Home India 2016a) shows a woman explaining to her friend, presumably after a party, that she is undeterred by the fact that her maid is on leave because she has a dishwasher, and moreover a dishwasher that washes more effectively than her maid. Another (Bosch Home India 2016b) has a couple being questioned about their dishwasher by an invisible interviewer: the woman says that the dishwasher frees her from being dependent on the whims of a maid, and the man observes that it is more hygienic than having a maid. Both make it amply clear that the dishwasher is not for a maid to use but for the use of middle-class persons who wish to free themselves from maids. But that does not mean that a maid may nevertheless not be employed in the same household, and, as the first advertisement also suggests, if she washes dishes she still won’t use the dishwasher. The relationship of dishwashers and domestic workers has posed a particular conundrum for companies selling them. A newspaper article reporting on the efforts of such companies observed: Companies in the business of selling dishwashers in India are focusing on hygiene while addressing a volley of questions and doubts about the performance of a machine that, in most Indian minds, cannot equal a pair of hands and, worse, uses up space. And more importantly, what would the maid do without all those dishes to clean, doing the dishes is a big part of her job. (Challapalli 2016) One of their tactics, the article reported, was put thus by a marketer of dishwashers: ‘Fifteen years ago, before washing machines were widely adopted, the maids used to wash clothes, but we didn’t dispense with her, did we?’ asks Gunjan Srivastava, MD & CEO, BSH Household Appliances Manufacturing. Loading and unloading is still a manual job and you can get the maid to do that, just the way you do with the washing machine, he says. (Challapalli 2016) The notion that domestic appliances could be put out for the use of workers seems a hopeful prospect. In sum, judging by such advertisements, either domestic appliances are imagined in middle-class households without domestic workers or appliances are presented as having little relevance to their work. These then could be thought of as performances of hierarchy
156 On the ground too. They confirm the status and privilege of the middle classes for their own benefit, and suggest that it is more kindness than need that makes them employ domestic workers. There are Indian advertisements of other kinds of technological devices where domestic workers appear less tangentially – are, indeed, squarely and visibly in the frame. I discuss these in the next section. It would appear from the accounts cited thus far that the sphere of domestic worker–employer relations is not only dominated by women workers but also by women employers. Men do feature as employers, but seemingly from a comfortable patriarchal and paternalistic distance. In fact, critical scholarly work on the area has occasionally made a particular point of this, especially with regard to relatively young middle-class professional women as employers. They are regarded as uncomfortably divided between their own liberal attitudes and aspirations, in the face of a conservative patriarchal order, and the conventional hierarchical – matriarchal – role they nevertheless maintain towards domestic workers. Ray and Qayum (2009) note that such employers try to move away from the traditional expectation of treating ‘servants’ as ‘one of the family’ towards more professional arrangements; however, they do little more than ‘rearrange the discourse of dependence and exploitation to index their own vulnerability rather than, as might be expected, the servants’ (p. 113). And further: Younger professional women, struggling to manage multiple demands, would like to dispense with both the inequalities of the old order – servants sleeping in the corridor with no fan, eating different food from different plates, suffering abuse – as well as its reciprocal ties. Yet their need for servants to provide child care, and consequently to love their children, further complicates this relationship. . . . What employers appear to want is a contract that has loyalty and affection contained within it, the very qualities that cannot be captured by a contract. (Ray and Qayum 2009, p. 118) More indirectly, Deborah Matzner’s (2014) study of television programming and how that perpetuates performances of hierarchy, with particular reference to maids, gives a more complex sense of female complicities. Matzner finds that the distinctively status- and- privilege- conscious, middle- class thrust of such programming is at the behest of young women producers: With its relatively orderly corporate office culture and its reputation as a source of entertainment intended to appeal to predominantly female audiences, the television industry appears to many to be a more suitable arena for respectable female labor, and has emerged as a major source for employment for women with media training in the city – although, as we will see, the ‘unsavoury’ connotations of ‘filmi’ culture, along with those associated with the ‘mass’ to which the industry caters,
Domestic workers and technology 157 always threaten to inflect television work, forcing female television producers to constantly perform and reproduce their respectability. (Matzner 2014, p. 1238) While these observations are plausible, there is perhaps an over-determination in singling out ‘young professional women’ as conflicted harbingers of uneven modernity. That is to say, such employers might espouse the desire for changing conventions, but perhaps that is obstructed by their own continuing and equally conflicted subjection to patriarchal orders. At any rate, the following observations on the historical relation between women employers and workers by Kumkum Sanghari (1993), drawing upon nineteenth-century instructional texts, still seem relevant to the ‘young professional women’ in question here – despite not being ‘housewives’ and enjoying economic independence: New models of supervision were conjoined with literacy and in some of these [19th c] texts conceived as essential to upward mobility. Education would help women in keeping accounts, preventing pilferage, in controlling and not being cheated by servants. . . . Yet the housewife’s own labour was seen especially by middling groups as a safety net for economic fluctuations; they had to know everything so as not to be dependent on servants. . . . Sometimes there was a slippage between wife and servant. (Sanghari 1993, p. 25) The persistence of these conservative expectations of middle-class women was evident in some of the washing machine television advertisements mentioned previously. In continuing this discussion of the domestic worker–employer relationship apropos of technological affordances, it seems expedient to also consider a male-dominated area. Cars are not quite domestic appliances but nevertheless are significant appendages to many middle-class households, and drivers are often employed by households and are counted amongst domestic workers (unlike drivers employed by institutions and in businesses). This is largely a male area, both in terms of employers and workers. That this is largely a male area is not fortuitous. The driver as domestic worker is located in an in-between position marked by conventional gender differentiations and gendered expectations. As domestic worker, the driver’s role is only peripherally in-house and more obviously out in the streets. As such, the driver is part of the public face of employers, and is expected to appear and conduct himself accordingly. Driving may be considered a skilled employment, whereas household chores are regarded as unskilled or semi- skilled, though cooking or child-minding in fact call for significant skills. As far as the car goes, as household equipment and unlike domestic appliances, it is a technological convenience and a sign of affluence – a prop for a household’s public display. Sometimes even the make and condition of a car, so to speak, speaks. Further, whereas domestic appliances have no necessary
158 On the ground relationship with the maid’s employment (consequently often kept outside her reach), the employer’s possession of the car actually produces the driver’s employment. The maintenance and operation of the car at the behest of employers is the sole responsibility of the driver; if the car isn’t there, there would be no driver. These characteristics of the car combined with the driver’s out-house role confers a particular in-between status: this domestic worker is usually positioned higher than maids, but is still of course subject to similar performances of hierarchy. The higher status is usually marked in the driver’s wages relative to other domestic workers; the performances of hierarchy involving drivers implicate the car itself more squarely than appliances in relation to maids. These are somewhat impressionistic rule-of-thumb norms for a general middle-class household rather than invariable principles. Perhaps the most high-profile fictional account of a household driver’s life appeared in Aravind Adiga’s novel The White Tiger (2008), which received the Man Booker Prize in 2008. The driver, Balram Halwai, is described as having no illusions about his status – in Balram’s terms, as addressed in his imaginary letter to Wen Jiabao, the premier of PR China at the time: Now, I say they took me on as their ‘driver’. I don’t exactly know how you organize your servants in China. In India – or, at least, in the Darkness – the rich don’t have drivers, cooks, barbers and tailors. They simply have servants. What I mean is that anytime I was not driving the car, I had to sweep the floor of the courtyard, make tea, clean cobwebs with a long broom, or chase a cow out of the compound. (Adiga 2008, p. 68) Domestic appliances in India appear deliberately to not have any bearing on the domestic work done by maids; cars though cannot but be fetishised in the driver’s worldview as a quasi-co-worker or quasi-employer. At least that is Balram’s view of his charges, and it sounds plausible: Now, there were two cars in the garage. One was your standard Maruti Suzuki – that little white car you see all over India – and the other was a Honda City. Now, the Maruti is a small, simple fellow, a perfect servant to the driver; the moment you turn the ignition key, he does exactly what the driver wants him to. The Honda City is a larger car, a more sophisticated creature, with a mind of his own; he has a power steering, and an advanced engine, and he does what he wants to. (Adiga 2008, p. 62) The complex power-play between machine and man described here could be regarded as projections of the domestic worker–employer relation as the driver might see it. In performances of hierarchy, the car is in a sense most intimately the driver’s space and yet it is a coercive space, almost a prison.
Domestic workers and technology 159 Thus Balram describes in painful detail the amount of time he is left waiting for employers in the car, without being given any sense of how protracted or brief the wait might be – it is usually many times longer if an indication is given. At the same time, it is always a conditional space, one which could be taken away at any point. Conversations about whether he should continue to be employed take place in his hearing, and at various points one of his employers orders him aside and drives the car himself. However, when an employer causes a fatal accident Balram is ordered to take the blame. By and large, an attempt to understand the relationship between a household driver and the car is rare. The car is usually featured in various narratives and performances from the employer’s perspective, and that only incidentally. The car is seen from the inside as a pod within which, for certain transitory periods of time, employers and a worker are enclosed within close proximity. There is no levelling out in this proximity: the driver is symbolically not quite there, at one with the machine, facing the road, with his back to the employers and their guests, seemingly deaf to their conversations. The indirect meeting of gazes in the rear-view mirror is an awkwardness. The driver is watched, and sometimes instructed, by employers from behind (or beside) – the back-seat driving of employers is another habitual performance of hierarchy. Nevertheless, even the slight circumstance of being enclosed in close proximity sometimes disturbs the hierarchies of the car. That is not so much to undermine them, as to stir momentary subversions and anxieties in the employer’s imagination. Given that this is a predominantly male domain, that imagination may tilt into fantasies about sexual propriety and proprietary considerations. A Bangla feature film Lal Darja (Red Door, dir. Buddhadev Dasgupta 1997, winner of the Best Film National Award that year) presents a curious illustration. It has a middle-class employer troubled by marital problems and sexual dissatisfactions finding himself fascinated by his driver’s liberal and consenting relations with several wives and lovers. The Hindi commercial film Challo Driver (dir. Vickrant Mahajan 2012), has an implausibly well-groomed young woman (with a BlackBerry mobile phone) taking employment as a driver and ends with her marriage to her employer. But these fantastic intimacies do not really disturb the hierarchy to be maintained and/or the demonstrations of servitude demanded. This is wittily underlined in an advertisement (Cruise VarioQool AC 2018). The scene is set inside a car, with the driver driving and his employer, a distinguished- looking elderly man, reading papers on the backseat. The driver suddenly announces that he wants some time off because he is planning to marry his employer’s daughter. The employer receives this news with equanimity, and much to the driver’s delight begins outlining exalted plans for him as a future son-in-law – honeymoon in Europe, an expensive lifestyle, appointment to an executive position in his company . . . at which point a voiceover cuts in: ‘Nothing like this happens in real life. If you want more than your expectations, then get a 5-in-1 Cruise VarioQool Air Conditioner’. Presumably this voiceover is not addressed to household drivers as a social stratum, and in
160 On the ground general the advertisement summarises the domestic worker–employer relationship apropos of both cars and domestic appliances.
Communications and platforms So far, I have been considering the domestic worker–employer relationship in terms of technology that is owned by employers for their exclusive purposes, particularly domestic appliances. I have argued that the performance of hierarchy is maintained through the occasional hands-on connection of workers and domestic appliances, and even more through the frequent negation of any hands-on connection. The prerogatives of ownership enable those performances of hierarchy. Employers own both the actual appliance and the waged work of the worker, and they can either keep them separate or combine them or variously play them off against each other. Each of these possibilities offers scope for ongoing reaffirmations of status. This section is devoted to technology for which domestic workers, as part of the larger stratum of poor persons, could be consumers and users themselves, or at the least could be participants. In particular, communication devices are relevant here (mobile phones the obvious example) and the digital systems that undergird their functions. Communication devices and digital systems together could be thought of as the key components of the digital environment which upbeat Digital India programmes have pinned their hopes upon. The promises of ‘financial inclusion’, as discussed in Part 1, are largely based on poor persons being already – or being encouraged or even obliged to become – owners, consumers and participants in the digital environment. This area of technology works quite differently from the relatively conventional kinds of domestic technology discussed previously, but has a significant bearing on the domestic sphere. The effect of this technology on the domestic sphere is, in turn, revealing of the part it plays in the wider social sphere. To begin with, insofar as relevant to the domestic worker–employer relationship, proprietorial prerogatives are less directly germane. The key issues here are access to the digital environment and, then, the ability to act in the digital environment. In principle, minimum access to the digital environment is not monopolised by the upper or middle classes any longer. As observed in Part 1, burgeoning growth in the proportion of the population that owns mobile phones, which includes vast numbers of the poor (and most domestic workers), has been the main argument for rolling out ‘financial inclusion’ programmes based on digital systems. However, as also argued in Part 1, the ability of the poor to capitalise on such programmes is limited precisely because minimum access is not sufficient. The specifications of the device used to access the digital environment effectively, the level of literacy and education needed to understand and act productively within the digital environment, are substantial challenges for poor persons. In fact, the argument in Part 1 was that more than benefitting poor persons, ‘financial inclusion’ programmes have been designed to generate profits for
Domestic workers and technology 161 those with superior access to the digital environment, who are socialised to monopolise action therein: affluent technocrats. Here ownership plays a tangential part. The middle classes own infinitely better equipment and have enormous advantages in education and training. ‘Financial inclusion’ systems have largely offered them business opportunities while ostensibly promising the poor better prospects. We may say that though the digital environment seems to be premised on poor persons being owners, consumers, participants and beneficiaries of technology, this environment is itself profitably owned by elites in an aggregate and comprehensive way. Within the small domain of domestic arrangements, the possession of mobile phones among domestic workers has a distinctive effect on domestic worker–employer relationships. Till 1985, while all telecom services were directly under the government’s Department of Telecommunications, getting a telephone connected to the fixed landline in a private household was a protracted business. Householders who had applied for a telephone to be connected often had to wait in a queue for 5+ years unless they were well-connected in government and business circles or could demonstrate special needs. Unsurprisingly, the possession of a household telephone was the preserve of a small section of the middle and upper classes, and as such was something of a status symbol. As a household instrument, telephones were almost the exclusive province of domestic employers and remote from domestic workers. Where domestic workers were asked to use telephones by their employers, it involved crossing a material class boundary. In Umrigar’s The Space Between Us (2005), the elderly maid Bhima recalls how her employer Sera had taught her to use the telephone thus: She dialled slowly, in the careful way Sera had shown her. At the time Serabai had insisted she learn how to use the phone, Bhima had resisted. Now she was grateful for this skill. Although the numbers all looked the same to her, she had memorized their places on the dial, and now she placed her index finger in each hole and turned it. (p. 210) For Bhima, learning to dial a number on the telephone was a matter of dealing with the challenge of illiteracy and the anxiety of handling an unfamiliar instrument. Her employer’s insistence was itself a small assertion of power. The change brought about by the introduction of mobile phones is easily grasped by referring to available figures compared to fixed telephones. According to the World Bank (open data), the number of fixed telephone subscriptions per 100 persons in India was: 0.322 in 1981, rising to a peak of 4.386 in 2005, and then declining to 1.735 by 2017. The decline was because of the steady rise of mobile phone usage: the number of cellular telephone subscriptions per 100 persons was already 0.34 in 2000, by 2005 at 7.879 it exceeded fixed telephones considerably even when the latter peaked, and by 2017 at 87.285 it had almost decimated the use of fixed
162 On the ground telephones. That figure indicates the widespread and habitual use of mobile phones among less affluent persons, including naturally domestic workers. Indeed many domestic workers have arguably acclimatised themselves to mobile communications as much from necessity as for their own convenience, because their doing so is convenient for their employers. If in the past Sera had taught Bhima to use the fixed household telephone, that was probably to serve her own convenience; with the habitual use of mobile phones among workers, employers could incorporate this facility into their daily arrangements for domestic work. In the web of technologically facilitated communications among family members, employers can now coordinate more precisely where the worker’s efforts should be directed. The worker’s mobile phone puts her in potentially constant communication with employers: the worker’s whereabouts can be more constantly regulated, her presence demanded when the employer wishes it. Mobile phones are now considered essential for drivers in their employment: they allow the employer to coordinate in terms of both time and place, to convey precise coordinates where and when drivers must pick up their employers. But beyond being fitted into employers’ convenience, the autonomy that the possession of mobile phones allows workers appears to cause anxiety among employers. That autonomy may interfere in the strict functionality of the worker, indeed in the worker’s character as functionary. In Kapadia’s Maidless in Mumbai (2017), a humorous litany of all that can go wrong in the worker–employer relationship from an employer’s perspective, one episode indicatively concerns a mobile phone. When the employer Anu finds the perfect maid-cum-childminder in Deepu, by way of a token of appreciation she gives Deepu a mobile phone. Both Anu’s and Deepu’s mothers advise against it, and as it turns out conversations on the phone increasingly take Deepu away from her chores, and eventually take her away altogether – the conversations were with her boyfriend, who persuades her to elope (‘ “Why did you give her a phone?” Deepu’s mother sobs’ [p. 99]). Humorously here, the point is that the phone allows the maid to serve her own interests at the expense of her employer’s. Humour aside, beyond what employers can arrange to their advantage, signs of technological autonomy on the part of domestic workers is apt to be seen as a disadvantage for employers. Thus, for instance, digital systems appear to offer some benefits to employers in search of workers: workers may be profiled on job-search websites and employers may find them conveniently there. Indeed, in various quarters such digital systems are expected to gradually confer a degree of professionalism and formality to domestic employment – discussed further later. More to the immediate point, in her discussion of online job-search sites featuring domestic workers, Lahiri (2017) finds that employers taking recourse to them prefer contact with workers mediated by agents to direct negotiations with workers: ‘But rather than connecting directly with workers online – a fair number of prospective employers seem to be suspicious of servants clever enough to operate a computer and surf the web – many
Domestic workers and technology 163 employers are trying to recreate the old “word of mouth” system on social networking sites like Facebook’ (p. 75). Workers with an elementary degree of tech savviness evidently alarm many employers. Within enclosed employer-circles, digital resources accordingly work principally for the surveillance of workers. In fact, Lahiri’s discussion of online resources mainly dwells upon Facebook and other groups where employers discuss their experiences with domestic workers, post photographs of workers and comment on their looks, share stories of problem workers and what to do about them. Lahiri (2017) observes in passing that, ‘Many mothers urge the installation of CCTV cameras in homes, especially when one woman, who is clearly extremely stressed, asks whether it’s safe to leave her infant with a woman who appears to suffer from extreme PMS and mood swings, and who she has only just hired’ (p. 76–7). Unsurprisingly, commercials for surveillance systems are some of the few which actually put domestic workers squarely in the visual frame – unlike those for domestic appliances, where they are very seldom mentioned. As in the previous discussion of commercials, YouTube uploads prove a useful resource for documenting some of these. For instance, an advertisement for CP Plus Security Cameras (2015) shows a maid seemingly feeding a baby but actually playfully eating up the food herself, till the smart TV monitor comes on and a woman’s image warns the maid that ‘Upar wala sab dekh raha hai’ [‘the one above is watching everything’] and points to the security camera above her. The maid, abashed, promptly starts behaving as the employer wishes her to. Incidentally, that Hindi phrase is commonly used to refer to divine oversight, similar to the biblical phrase ‘The eyes of the Lord are in every place/ beholding the evil and the good’ (Proverbs 11:3, King James version) – which deftly appeals to the employer’s self-estimation. On the flip side, a Diy Cam (2017) advertisement has a suspicious mother reassuring herself that her maid is looking after her child properly through the surveillance system. On observing that the child is being well cared for, she softens and speaks to the startled maid over the system (‘Don’t be afraid, I am speaking through the camera’) and enquires with motherly solicitude whether the maid has eaten. Here, the employer comes across as a parent to the dutiful maid, rather than an angry deity to the erring maid. Though employers anxious about their child-caring maids dominate such commercials, a more general anxiety about security is also tapped in some. For instance, a Tata Docomo (2011) advertisement shows a maid stealing a mobile phone and making for the door as the employer enters and looks at her – when a label and voiceover cut in with the phrase, ‘No getting away’, and announces the product. Insofar as the domestic worker–employer relationship is reflected in such commercials, technological resources accentuate performances of hierarchy, offering new platforms and frames for such performance. As observed in passing previously, within the more or less discrete sphere of middle-class exchanges (employers talking to each other), communication technologies grounded in digital systems are often expected to better the lot
164 On the ground of informal workers. It is anticipated that greater mediation of such systems between workers and employers will gradually formalise informal work, enable the setting up and policing of professional standards, be well-regulated according to legal stricture. Technocrats suggest that the adaptation of digital systems will spontaneously bring change along the lines of legal provision and professional standards that activists have sought for domestic workers (described in the previous chapter). The crux of this expectation, however, rests in a question: precisely where will such systems mediate, between what and what? As seen previously, the expectation of employers isn’t that digital systems will mediate directly between them and domestic workers. The idea is more that workers would be included in such systems as seeming participants, but preferably without autonomy and for the convenience of employers. In fact, the emerging practice is that the mediation of digital systems is between employers and placement agencies for domestic workers, which facilitate their inclusion in digital systems on employers’ terms. The expectation is that such agencies would become digital and work to professionalise the realm of domestic work without making undesirable interventions in the nature of that work or the performances of hierarchy. Placement agencies providing employers with domestic workers have existed for a considerable while before Digital India became a catch-phrase, usually catering to the more affluent among employers. They have largely been regarded as more advantageous for workers than employers, enabling higher wages and more professional working conditions. A 1991 magazine article observed: It’s not quite eyeball to eyeball – at least not yet. But a war of nerves is on between masters and servants. And increasingly, it’s advantage servant. It’s now the providers’ market in the big cities as demand exceeds supply. Placement agencies, a new phenomenon in the big cities, have long waiting lists for domestic help. Regina Pacis, a missionary order which provides maids in Bombay has a minimum waiting period of six months. K. Raghupathi, who set up a maids service home in Madras in 1985, has over 2,500 hopefuls registered in search of a servant. (Jain 1991) The beleaguered tone of the article was unmistakable, finding employers at a disadvantage and ‘servants’ as not merely a diminishing workforce but also getting, so to speak, above themselves – or, as the article put it, ‘at a superficial, physical level the difference between servants and masters has already shrunk. In fact, it’s getting more difficult to tell the servant from the master’. Placement agencies appeared here as a sign of ‘servants’ becoming ‘employees’, putting employers at a disadvantage, diminishing the class gap. A couple of decades since, more at the cusp of hopes pinned on Digital India, the sort of view expressed here seems peculiarly prejudiced. As noted in the previous chapter, the number of domestic workers had grown rather
Domestic workers and technology 165 than diminished, and so had the wage and status differentials. In this period, the number of placement agencies had also grown, and certainly uptake of their services among employers had grown, though there are no robust estimates of either. It seems widely accepted that placement agencies have not come anywhere close to word-of-mouth employment agreements. Those who have investigated the matter have found little evidence for regarding placement agencies as means for professionalising domestic work such that the workers’ interests are served. On the one hand, assessments of the placement-agency sector have offered little scope for optimism; on the other, investigations of workers’ experiences regarding agencies have shown disappointing results. Neetha (2009, pp. 498–500) gave a considered overview of the sector based on observations in Delhi, where she estimated there were between 800–1000 placement agencies. The sector was, she found, largely informal itself, with some informally ‘formalised’ in being backed by a legal or formal entity (such as a trade union, voluntary organisation, cooperative or church). Many were individual or small businesses; most depended on unregulated agents for securing workers from villages – allowing scope for trafficking, abuse and maltreatment. Placement agencies made good profits by extracting payment from employers and securing percentages of workers’ wages, and few showed any interest in protecting workers’ interests (let alone rights), of which such workers are usually ill-informed. In terms of domestic workers’ experiences, Pankhuri Tandon (2012) presented a rare investigation into conditions of work for placement-agency workers and non-placement-agency workers in Delhi, based on small samples of eight of the former and 10 of the latter. The extract in Table 6.1 from the table summarising her findings is self-explanatory.
Table 6.1 Work conditions for placement-agency and non-placement-agency domestic workers Parameter
Non-placement agency Placement agency domestic worker domestic worker
Average Wage (on a per hour basis) Average number of working hours per day Percentage of domestic workers who get loans from their employers Average number of holidays per month Percentage of domestic workers who get help from employer during sickness Percentage of domestic workers who communicated with other domestic workers
Rs. 24.466 5.775
Rs. 6.98 10.032
Source: Tandon 2012, pp. 13–14.
166 On the ground Particularly striking there is the difference in wage and work hours. In fact, such observations as Neetha’s and Tandon’s merely confirm what makes common sense: placement agencies are mostly designed to extract profits by serving employers’ interests and exploiting workers. In the main they routinise the prevailing culture of servitude to attract their employer clients and keep workers servile under the guise of professional practice as employers see it; at best, they work to a professionalising effect, perhaps even in the interests of workers, insofar as that assuages middle-class conscience. Some placement agencies run training programmes for domestic workers, which add to their profiles as agents of improvement (for an upbeat newspaper report on this, see Singh and Reddy 2013). In brief, as Sen and Sengupta (2016) put it: ‘The agency does not help in the construction of domestic work as skilled labour, subject to common minimum standards and regulation. . . . Rather, the job centres simply act as intermediaries or more specifically middlemen linking demand to supply and taking away a part of the surplus value of labour’ (p. 253). Digital systems, and the hopes pinned on them, enter here not so much into the worker–employer relationship as into the relationship between employer and placement agency. To be precise, digital systems appear as a mode of restructuring the placement agency itself while retaining the agency’s function: the placement agency’s functioning space (office and outlet) is converted into a digital platform. As with other kinds of retailing operations conducted on platforms, this conversion offers different kinds of advantages. First, from the placement agency’s point of view, it obviously cuts costs (of material infrastructure, staffing, publicity). Second, the agency’s operations appear more transparent since the platform is a recording device and is public-facing, which gives its clientele of employers confidence. Standardised norms can be announced for all to check and to compare with other platforms. Placement agencies seem to become amenable to regulation even if actually doing no more than self-regulation. Some can use platforms to advertise their training and checking regimes for workers, in a spirit of helping professionalise the domestic-worker service. Third, some of the unsavoury (or potentially unsavoury) aspects of conventional placement agencies seem to recede into the background or disappear: employers are distanced from contact with procuring agents, coercion of workers and unregulated extraction of profits from workers. Fourth, it appears that workers have a more self-determined part in the transaction of their labour, since they seem to be profiled publicly and are seemingly encouraged to profile themselves. Domestic workers could thus be thought of as converted into employees – with profiles taking the form of brief CVs, statements of skills and wage expectations. The platform confers an appearance of professionalisation on what continues to be an informal employment relation. On this fourth point in particular, however, the rationale of professionalisation flounders. Few domestic workers have the education, skills, equipment or means to profile themselves effectively, and if they did, as Lahiri observed, employers would
Domestic workers and technology 167 probably be wary of them. So the placement agency as platform is mainly for the employer’s convenience, capitalises on the employer’s superior access to the digital environment and on the worker’s weaker access, and works naturally for the profit of the platform owner. Nevertheless, the progressive effect of such platforms on the domestic worker–employer relationship has been oft proclaimed in, particularly, news media. In this respect, media outlets sometimes appear to function as promotional firms for placement-agency platforms and their entrepreneurial owners. The improvements that placement-agency platforms offer were summarised thus in a Hindustan Times article entitled ‘Bai on Call: How Home Service Apps Are Changing the Domestic Help Market’ (Kadakia 2016): This professionalisation of your regular bai is a result of a host of home grown mobile apps that are offering both on-demand as well as permanent placements for maids, cooks, babysitters, eldercare assistants and handymen. To be precise, at least four such apps – six-month-old MyDidi.in, BookMyBai (March 2015), Taskbob (December 2014) and MrRight.in (April 2013) – have sprung up, all in the past three years, across metros such as Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Ahmedabad and Bengaluru. And all of them aim to fix the one perennial problem at most Indian homes – the search for a well-trained, professional maid who lasts at the job. At the same time, the focus is also on improving the lifestyle of the average domestic help and their families through better pay, and perks like insurance benefits, flexible work hours and paid weekly-offs. The reader this is addressed to is clear from the pronoun ‘your’ (‘your regular bai’) in the first sentence; when the next paragraph speaks of ‘most Indian homes’ it means ‘most affluent Indian homes’. This article gives the impression that domestic workers profile themselves on such sites and that the agencies do not interfere in wage negotiations; several personal stories of maids were reported to underline how their lives have improved. An earlier article, entitled ‘In India, Poverty Inspires Technology Workers to Altruism’ in Quartz India (Giridharadas 2007), reported on the platform Babajob, founded in 2006 by former Microsoft engineer Sean Blagsvedt with two former Microsoft colleagues, and funded by venture capitalists and US investors – Babajob was acquired by the larger classifieds site Quikr in 2017 (financial details of the deal were not disclosed). In the Quartz India article Blagsvedt described the platform as purely motivated by a desire to help the poor, which the article understood as being a symptom of something larger: ‘the start-up is just one example of an unanticipated by-product of the outsourcing boom: many of the hundreds of multinationals and hundreds of thousands of technology workers who are working here are turning their talents to fighting the grinding poverty that surrounds them’ (Giridharadas 2007). The development of placement-agency platforms evidently falls into the larger promotional discourse of Digital India, of uplifting the poor
168 On the ground through developing digital infrastructures and technologies, examined in Chapters 3 and 4, Part 1. Babajob aspired to being a platform for manual and low-pay (‘blue-collar’) workers in general, but it was particularly domestic workers who were focused on in the article. As in the larger Digital India programmes, the Babajob model did not assume that such workers would be able to access the platform and profile themselves. Analogous to registration intermediaries employed for ‘financial inclusion’ programmes, but without the compulsion, Babajob did the following according to this article: The workers would be unfamiliar with computers. The wealthy potential employers would be reluctant to let random applicants tend their gardens or their newborns. To deal with the connectivity problem, Babajob pays anyone, from charities to Internet cafe owners, who finds job seekers and registers them online. (Babajob earns its keep from employers’ advertisements, diverting a portion of that to those who register job seekers.) And instead of creating an anonymous job bazaar, Babajob replicates online the process by which Indians hire in real life: through chains of personal connections. (Giridharadas 2007) Similar promises of improving the lives of poor domestic workers via placement-agency platforms have appeared in numerous media features and reports. The titles of these variously suggest greater autonomy for domestic workers, virtuousness on the part of start-up entrepreneurs and satisfaction on the part of domestic employers, and a general diminishment of the culture of servitude: for example, the BBC article on Babajob and other such platforms, ‘Why India’s Domestic Help Are Joining Job Sites’ (Bergen 2014); another Quartz India article, this on the BookMyBai platform, ‘Can Technology Finally Make Rich Indians Treat Their Maids Like Human Beings?’ (Karnik 2017). Alongside placement-agency platforms, other start-ups have been reported which putatively target domestic workers particularly or poor people generally and also promise the gradual disappearance of the prevailing culture of servitude. ‘Financial inclusion’ programmes along the lines described in Chapters 3 and 4 naturally feature here. Thus, a Forbes article on the Pune- based start-up SERV’D entitled ‘India’s Domestic Workers Have a New Ally in This Innovative FinTech Startup’ (Hynes 2017), outlined how its platform and apps would enable trackable records of domestic workers’ finances, arrangements for extending credit to them, and regulation of employment agreements. Drawing upon an interview with the SERV’D President Seema Joshi, the article concluded: The United Nations has written that domestic workers in India face a wide range of challenges, including discrimination, underpayment, and
Domestic workers and technology 169 risk of abuse. If SERV’D is successful in its aims, it may be able to ease at least some of those challenges by matching workers to stable, reputable employers and helping them achieve financial health. ‘By helping this section of people, we hope to bring dignity to their profession,’ Joshi said. (Hynes 2017) As with so many such ‘financial inclusion’ projects of various scales, it was widely reported that in 2016 SERV’D received financial backing from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Other such technology-driven initiatives concerning domestic workers have been smaller and more squarely driven by employers’ conveniences and consciences, with perfunctory or no involvement of domestic workers. Thus, for instance, several articles appeared (Acharya 2014; Sharma 2015) reporting on a platform Giftapension.com created in November 2014 by a non-profit private company Micro Pension Foundation – a subsidiary of Invest India Micro Pension, which has had tie-ups with Visa. This invited domestic employers to open pension plans for domestic workers online by paying a small fee and making contributions, offering security for workers in old age. However such dependence on employers’ generosity seems to have been misplaced. In February 2015 it was reported that a pitiful 450 workers have been gifted a pension; the platform’s URL became defunct soon and its Twitter feed inactive after 2015. Returning to placement-agency platforms and the hopes placed on them, rather more sceptical views followed considered investigation. A report produced by the British Overseas Development Institute, written by Abigail Hunt and Fortunate Machingura (2016) – also funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – explored the structures of such platforms as providing services for what they called ‘on-demand domestic work’ or, more critically, the ‘Uberisation of domestic work’. Though focused predominantly on the South African case, it was informed by a broader literature and by informants in India and elsewhere. It found little in the structuring of such platforms that could displace performances of hierarchy in the domestic worker–employer relationship, quite the contrary: it is clear that on-demand platforms’ facilitation of service purchaser choice also permits the selection of workers that meet their requirements based on factors other than their qualifications and experience related to the task. Therefore, these systems not only maintain the unequal and discriminatory structures and relationships between purchasers and providers underpinning the traditional domestic work sector, but actively reinforce them. At the same time, this is one area which companies could potentially address in their platform design, by taking creative steps to build-in equality of opportunity, fairness and anti- discrimination, for example by focusing provider profiles only on work experience and similar job- relevant information. Whether providers
170 On the ground would engage ‘mystery’ providers without knowledge of their personal profile, though, is another question. Importantly, processes described here are often one- way; we unearthed little evidence of similar stringent background or criminal checks being made on service purchasers before being able to join on- demand platforms. (Hunt and Machingura 2016, p. 27) In brief, the report found that the risks of increased marginalisation of the poor outweighed the potential advantages these platforms could bring them. With this report in view and a stronger focus on the Indian context, an article by Salonie Hiriyur (2018) called for ‘government regulations within platforms . . . to ensure frameworks that supply workers with basic labour rights that are prevalent in formal sector jobs’. Hiriyur’s confidence in government regulation and the recommendations for regulation in Hunt and Machingura’s report were based on the presumption that technology providers and the government share some a priori social commitments or ethical norms. It was thought that they must be committed to making the lot of the poor better, and specifically making the circumstances of domestic workers more equitable and formally professional. Even when such commitments are espoused, however, those are likely to be countered by the actual driver for such technologically based projects with domestic workers in view: business interests. Such projects are driven by profits and the capital they target is in the hands of employers. In most of the documents cited previously, generally upbeat in tone, it is evident that business opportunity is the overriding motivator for developing digital systems and grounding them to putatively serve the poor. This, as seen in Part 1, has been the main thrust not merely of private business projects but also of government programmes of ‘financial inclusion’. In an area such as domestic work, which is entirely at the behest of private enterprise and non-governmental bodies, and from which government has maintained a calculated distance despite occasional and reluctant gestures, business considerations have provided the sole push for technological development. Every platform and app in question was developed according to a profit- making business model. Such platforms or apps may ostentatiously promote a social mission but their success and sustainability are gauged by a single measure: the capital margin, which is to say, the ability to generate profits or, in some cases, to raise funding. So, news reports on these ventures – more often promotional than not – gave two kinds of key figures promising success: the size and capacity of the potential market of employers, and the value of the placement-agency platforms. These appeared as necessary contextual information alongside prognostications of their ability to improve the conditions of domestic workers. Evidently, this contextual information was tacitly directed towards entrepreneurs and investors (who naturally
Domestic workers and technology 171 included employers in India). In brief, amidst the fronted social mission of the platforms these articles also presented a business case for such platforms. These were very seldom cases which highlighted risk, and were usually cases which showed growth and profit. Thus, there were assessments of the employer market as follows: At least 2.5 million households are currently searching for employees in India’s largest eight cities alone, estimates Get Domestic Help (GDH), an online job placement agency based in the capital, Delhi. Households often hire up to three workers. (Bergen 2014, BBC) Or, for the niche of English-speaking maids for one company: Almost half of its clients are high-net worth individuals (HNIs), worth Rs.25 crore or more by some definitions. These consumers are willing to pay more for English-speaking, passport-holding persons. . . . Then there is the expat population – 500 of BookMyBai’s clients fall in this group – who are relatively easy-going and have just one condition: English-speaking. (Karnik 2017, Quartz India) On the labour supply side, little has been noted to discourage business investments: Every urban family now depends on their domestic help to keep their homes running. Author Tripti Lahiri, quoting census data in her book Maid in India, writes that the decade after liberalisation saw a whopping 120 percent rise in the number of domestic workers in India – from 740,000 in 1991 to 16.2 lakh workers by 2001. Delhi Labour Organisation data reveals there are over 5 crore domestic workers in India, most of them women. (Apurva P 2018, YourStory) The figures numerously quoted on valuations and growth potential of such companies in news articles speak for themselves – figures which are difficult to obtain (let alone confirm) otherwise: Babajob, which is funded by multiple US investors, including venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, is looking to replicate the success of start-ups like the US-based Care.com, an online marketplace for caregiver services preparing to launch an IPO (initial public offering) reportedly above $475m (£291m). . . . Naukri, an Indian white-collar job portal, which went public in 2006, is worth roughly $527m (£323m). (Bergen 2014, BBC)
172 On the ground More directly: With about 10 orders a day, BMB [BookMyBai] is set to close this financial year with Rs. 2 crore revenue. MrRight.in is expanding 20% month- on- month, with close to 250 total requests a day, of which about 10% are for cleaners and cooks. MyDidi is growing at 40% each month, with about 100 requests every day, and Taskbob, at 60%, with about 35 requests per day. (Kadakia 2016, Hindustan Times) A year later, on BookMyBai again: Its revenues are evidence of the growing demand: In financial year 2018, the firm expects to earn Rs. 20 crore, up 400% over the previous year. Investors have pumped in over Rs. 1 crore in seed funding and the firm will soon raise more money through a fresh funding round. (Karnik 2017, Quartz India) And on the finances of a later start-up (founded in 2016), MyChores: MyChores was bootstrapped with a capital of Rs. 1 crore, and later raised Rs. 60 lakh from an individual investor in June 2017. As of March 2018, it reported total sales of over Rs 60 lakh with a profit of Rs 5 lakh. With monthly revenue of Rs 7 lakh currently, MyChores is targeting revenue of Rs 1.5 crore in the current financial year and a profit of Rs. 20 lakh. (Apurva 2018, YourStory) So, in terms of labour supply, consumer demand, investment record, and growth and profit figures the business rationale for placement-agency platforms and apps make for an autonomous rationale which is only circumstantially related to the social mission. The social mission is part of the publicity and service model which undergirds the bottom-line of doing business. This is a rationale in which the middle classes have measured profits and middle-class employers are the consumers. It is difficult to see how this model could be successful if it disturbed the culture of servitude it capitalises on, or reduced the gap between domestic employers and workers. On the whole, it is more likely to model domestic workers to employers’ demands and conveniences, for the profit making of businesses which are owned by parties sharing employers’ class interests. Performances of hierarchy are unlikely to be wiped away by digital systems; they may be restructured and routinised though along lines discussed previously – and perhaps that would be an improvement of domestic workers’ conditions of work and life?
Domestic workers and technology 173
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174 On the ground Gershuny, Jonathan (1978). After Industrial Society: The Emerging Self- Service Economy. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Gershuny, Jonathan (2004). “Domestic Equipment Does Not Increase Domestic Work: A Response to Bittman, Rice and Wajcman”. British Journal of Sociology 55:3. 425–31. Giridharadas, Anand (2007). “In India, Poverty Inspires Technology Workers to Altruism”. New York Times, 30 October. www.nytimes.com/2007/10/30/ technology/30poor.html Gregson, Nicky and Michelle Lowe (1994). Serving the Middle Classes: Class, Gender and Waged Domestic Labour in Contemporary Britain. London: Routledge. Hiriyur, Salonie (2018). “Are Service Apps for Domestic Workers Reproducing Old Systems of Power?”. F//Feminism in India, 6 August. https://feminisminindia. com/2018/08/06/service-apps-domestic-workers/ Hunt, Abigail and Fortunate Machingura (2016). A Good Gig? The Rise of On- Demand Domestic Work. ODI Working Paper 7. London: Overseas Development Institute. www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/resource-documents/11155.pdf Hynes, Casey (2017). “India’s Domestic Workers Have a New Ally in This Innovative FinTech Startup”. Forbes, 24 August. www.forbes.com/sites/chynes/2017/ 08/24/indias-d omestic-w ork-i ndustry-g ets-s ervd-b y-n ew-f intech-s tartup/ #a6452404a389 Jain, Madhu (1991). “Domestic Servants No Longer Willing to Be Cheated Like Inconsequential Minions”. India Today, 15 February. www.indiatoday.in/magazine/ special-r eport/story/19910215-d omestic-s ervants-n o-l onger-w illing-t o-b e- cheated-like-inconsequential-minions-813997-1991-02-15 Kadakia, Pankti Mehta (2016). “Bai on Call: How Home Service Apps Are Changing Domestic Help Market”. Hindustan Times, 21 February. www.hindustan times.com/more-lifestyle/bai-on-call-how-home-service-apps-changing-the-maids- market/story-s6zz6kmWw1aEamZ1yLxjaL.html Kapadia, Payal (2017). Maidless in Mumbai. New Delhi: Bloomsbury. Karnik, Madhura (2017). “ ‘Can Technology Finally Make Rich Indians Treat Their Maids Like Human Beings?” Quartz India, 21 April. https://qz.com/ india/964240/bookmybai-can-technology-finally-make-rich-indians-treat-their- maids-like-human-beings/ Lahiri, Tripti (2017). Maid in India: Stories of Inequality and Opportunity Inside Our Homes. New Delhi: Aleph. Lal Darja [feature film] (1997). Director: Buddhadev Dasgupta. Layte, Richard (1999). Divided Time: Gender, Paid Employment and Domestic Labour. Aldershot: Ashgate. LG India [TV commercial] (2016). “LG Front Load Washing Machine”. www. youtube.com/watch?v=gebPe11kvy0 Lippe, Tanja van der, Kea Tijdens, and Esther de Ruijter (2004). “Outsourcing of Domestic Tasks and Timesaving Effect”. Journal of Social Issues 25:2. 216–40. Lloyd [TV commercial] (2015). “Lloyd Unisex Washing Machine”. www.youtube. com/watch?v=vOX0XrxYqpc Mangharam, Mukti Lakhi (2018). “Revealing Fictions: Neo-Liberalism, Domestic Servants, and Thrity Umrigar’s The Space Between Us”. Ariel 49:1. 79–106. Matzner, Deborah (2014). “ ‘My Maid Watches It’: Key Symbols and Ambivalent Sentiments in the Production of Television Programming in India”. Anthropological Quarterly 87:4, Fall. 1229–56.
Domestic workers and technology 175 Neetha, N. (2009). “Contours of Domestic Service: Characteristics, Work Relations and Regulation”. The Indian Journal of Labour Economics 52:3. 489–506. Ramesh, Jairam (2015). To the Brink and Back: India’s 1991 Story. New Delhi: Rupa. Ray, Raka and Seemin Qayum (2009). Cultures of Servitude: Modernity, Domesticity, and Class in India. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Sanghari, Kumkum (1993). “The Amenities of Domestic Life”. Social Scientist 21:9– 11. 3–46. Sen, Samita and Nilanjana Sengupta (2016). Domestic Days: Women, Work, and Politics in Contemporary Kolkata. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Sharma, Sriram (2015). “How to Gift Your Domestic Help a Pension Plan as Easily as Shopping Online”. HuffPost India, 2 May. www.huffingtonpost.in/2015/02/05/ giftapension-to-domestic-help_n_6620734.html Singh, Darpan and Himabindu Reddy (2013). “Maid to Order”. Hindustan Times, 24 February. www.hindustantimes.com/delhi-news/maid-to-order/story- I3R9NYagNrCLCu7Paquu3O.html Tandon, Pankhuri (2012). Domestic Workers: How to Give Them Their Due. CCS Working Paper no. 278. New Delhi: Centre for Civil Society. SSRN. https://papers. ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2119904 Tata Docomo [TV commercial] (2011). “Maid in the House”. www.youtube.com/ watch?v=b9zuckWBll4 Tolen, Rachel (2000). “Transfers of Knowledge and Privileged Spheres of Practice: Servants and Masters in a Madras Railway Colony”. In Kathleen Adams and Sara Dickey eds. Home and Hegemony: Domestic Service and Identity Politics in South and Southeast Asia. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. 63–86. Treas, Judith and Sonja Drobnič eds. (2010). Dividing the Domestic: Men, Women, and Household Work in a Cross-National Perspective. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Umrigar, Thrity (2005). The Space Between Us. London: Harper Perennial. Videocon Group [TV commercial] (2015). “Official TVC of Videocon Washing Machines”. www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4h9-K3cCG4 Williams, Raymond (1980). Problems in Materialism and Culture. London: Verso. World Bank Open Data. https://data.worldbank.org
7 Conclusion Slippages
What are a government’s – the political state’s – responsibilities towards the poor and how should they be fulfilled? This question is a more or less explicit concern in all the previous chapters. In the global liberal circuit the currently dominant answer is: the government should provide compensatory benefits and services to improve the lot of the poor; economic growth should be bolstered and profits for businesses realised through the processes of providing those services and benefits. The first part of that answer is a reasonably stable principle of much liberal political economy over the last couple of centuries. The second part of that answer is a relatively new one, surfacing as a policy drive in relatively affluent liberal regimes (e.g. in the UK and USA) from the 1970s, and finding its way gradually into India from the 1990s. In this regard then, that answer implies a shift from an erstwhile arrangement to a new one in liberal political regimes, which may be in the process of being instituted or may be well settled already. In India this new arrangement is just about settling, already largely instituted but with some way to go yet. The post- 2000 period covered in this study is salient for the instituting and settling of this new arrangement. The junctures examined in the previous chapters throw some light on the shift from an erstwhile to the new arrangement. The shift is at the heart of this study: in brief, instituting arrangements whereby benefits for the poor are given such that profits and economic growth are realised. However, drawing attention to the shift and to its consequences for the poor is not quite what this study is about; which is to say, this study is about the shift and yet that’s not what makes this study necessary and distinctive. The shift has been carefully researched and analysed in various contexts, including India, already. Much of this research has shown, as this study has also argued, that claims made in instituting these new arrangements and the consequences often do not match. There’s a pattern of slippage between avowed expectation and evidenced outcome. Before noting how that has been presented in existing researches in the Indian context, and where the distinctiveness of this study lies, let me clarify the shift in arrangements in general terms.
Conclusion 177 Where previously the government directly funded and managed compensatory services and benefits for the poor, it has come to be held that the government should invest in non- governmental, preferably commercial, organisations and to a great extent pass responsibility for the provision of those services and benefits to them. The latter organisations should be enabled to provide those to the poor while making profits. The government would thus largely be absolved of direct financial and management responsibilities, become an investor in rather than provider of public services, and act as a regulator or facilitator for the non-governmental providers as needed. As regulator, the government could set providers certain targets of benefits for the poor; as facilitator, the government could help the providers meet their profit and funding targets while they provide those benefits. The government can then promote its restructured function by focusing on some big measurements: such as, quarterly growth figures, ease-of-doing- business, infrastructure development, foreign investment inflows, financial inclusion figures and sector-wise budget allocations. If these suggest increasing prosperity, it could be assumed that resources will trickle or are trickling down to the poor. These restructured arrangements for providing public services and improving the lot of the poor are grounded in various models of relationships between governmental agencies and non-governmental, mainly commercial, providers: public–private partnerships, outsourcing or sub-contracting agreements, legal redefinition of public-sector bodies to give them more commercial autonomy, and the like. These current arrangements replacing the erstwhile for public services and benefits, and the big measurements mentioned previously, have almost invariably been enacted and promoted with the claim that the poor will be or are being particularly advantaged. That has been the case even where a particular restructuring move has not been specifically directed towards the poor. As suggested previously, researchers examining this claim in terms of evidenced effects on the poor have often found good reason to be sceptical. It has frequently turned out that, even where the big measurements suggest increasing prosperity, trickle down has not been effective and in fact the disadvantages of being poor have exacerbated compared to advantages for the affluent. As the arrangements outlined here settle, various accruing measurements suggest deteriorating conditions of life for the poor relative to other segments of the population: for example, in terms of consuming power, access to employment and education and medical provisions, uptake of other benefits and services, use of public amenities. In fact, such researches have frequently found that these arrangements have served to increase the advantages of affluence at the expense of the poor. In brief, inequality has increased with deleterious consequences for the poor, and in particular big businesses and moneyed elites have gained. Since such arrangements have been instituted across political states globally, almost in concert, the slippage between claim and effect has been noted by researchers with remarkable consistency in numerous contexts. For India within the
178 On the ground post-2000 period covered by this study, this slippage is well documented. Of some interest, for instance, is an edited volume (Sood 2012) exploring the instituting of such arrangements and their consequences in the state of Gujarat in the 1990s and 2000s, with chapters devoted to specific development sectors (infrastructure, agriculture, manufacturing, education, health). In this period, Gujarat was regarded as showing exemplary growth and attracting the highest investments, and for much of it (2001–14) Narendra Modi was chief minister. The overall tenor of this volume’s findings was put thus by the editor: The crunch in resource allocation in the key sectors, and preference towards investor friendly growth has led to increased suffering for the deprived sections – the lower castes, minorities and women. What this book shows is that this mismatch between Gujarat’s growth and performance in key areas (such as education, health, poverty and employment) is integral to the ‘phenomenal growth story’ of Gujarat. (Sood 2012, p. 29) Gujarat in this period appeared exemplary for policies which were, in fact, adopted by the central government and implemented in variable ways in other regional states. A not dissimilar edited volume seven years later (Azad et al. 2019), focused on the period from 2014 when Modi took over as prime minister at the centre, to reiterate the pattern noted by Sood with an all-India view. A useful monograph by Anuradha Kalhan (2019) explores the kind of arrangements outlined previously with regard to a poverty alleviation programme in India, principally between 2009 and 2014, and its outcomes. Here a detailed examination of this programme’s record in three cities led to some concluding observations, introduced with these words: A vigorous attack on mass poverty was launched in the mid-1970s into the 1980s. It led to improvements and reduced poverty head-count rations. India embraced neoliberal policies in the 1990s that resulted in slowdown in poverty reduction and widening inequalities. For public consumption, the avowed objective of neoliberal reform was and continues to be accelerated growth aimed at accelerated poverty reduction. Reality is otherwise. (Kalhan 2019, p. 230) There are numerous other careful researches of smaller scale which testify to this slippage between claim and outcome in the kind of arrangements, the policy direction, outlined previously – too numerous to list here. That slippage is traced consistently across the junctures examined in the previous chapters. However, unlike the researches just cited, this study is not primarily devoted to demonstrating that this slippage exists. For most of the junctures discussed here that has, in fact, been demonstrated already,
Conclusion 179 and in the foregoing chapters the relevant sources evidencing that trend are cited. The thrust of the argument here has been in pursuing three related aspects of this familiar pattern of slippage. First, it is argued that the slippage is not between good intentions and contrary consequences, but that the slippage is structured into the arrangements outlined previously. That is to say, the rationale of instituting those arrangements with claims to benefit poor people while realising profits contains the inevitability of the indifferent realisation or failure of the claim. The rationale is therefore more a matter of managing the anticipated failure of the claim while making it, and not designed to do what is claimed, that is, benefit the poor. It would be fair to say that the slippage is actually intended rather than happens or so turns out. Examining this rationale – or such rationales – was one of the tasks of this study. Second, and relatedly, this study focuses in particular on a trope: the use of technology to carry the rationale of benefits with profits, which is the gist of expectations pinned on ‘Digital India’. This study argues that speaking of technological panacea in the junctures explored here worked essentially as a trope, that is, a constantly reiterated figure of speech. Of course, it is undeniable that technological capacities have developed greatly post-2000 and offer various recourses for social ends; the point is that social ends are not determined by the capacities of technology but by those who deploy and have access to the technology. The manner in which the trope of technological panacea is inserted into the rationale of benefits with profits, in fact, says much about the rationale itself. From the midst of these two related thrusts of this study appears the third: to obtain a sense of what it means to be poor in India, and therefore to some degree anywhere, at present. That is, in terms of how the poor are gauged for policy and publicity purposes, how the poor are seen or not quite seen, and what being poor entails as a condition of life. To move towards a conclusion, I offer some summary observations on these three preoccupations by turn. Analysing the rationale for instituting arrangements claiming to benefit the poor while realising commercial profits, reducing public expenditure, wiping the distinction between public and private, and enhancing big measures of ‘economic growth’ involves more than simply considering the mechanics (and politics) of measurement. The mechanics of measurement have usually absorbed most attention in this regard. The relation of benefits and profits/growth is generally analysed in terms of measuring indicators and setting targets in an ongoing tracking of trends. Measurements are understood now, with some justification, as the most tangible, precise and tendentiously disinterested approach to governance; other less tractable factors are considered relatively fuzzy or as conditional to the clarity of measurement. However, the view taken in this study is that, clarifying as measurements are, a subsuming focus on them generates a limited picture of how policy rationalisation and implementation work. The previous chapters find an umbilical relationship between the tractable and the intractable,
180 On the ground the categorical and the ambiguous. The mensurable and the suggestive are wound into each other from the inception of policies to their subsequent promotions, implementations and stock-takings. Accordingly, one of the ongoing preoccupations in this study has been with the use of language, in particular with what may be regarded as ‘policy keywords’. Thus, in Chapter 1 the implicit ideological gestures in words like ‘poor’ and ‘poverty’, and in terms like ‘slum’, ‘underclass’, ‘socially excluded’ were analysed by way of framing the arguments in subsequent chapters. Chapter 2 on the ‘hole-in- the-wall experiments’ threw up, apart from that popular appellation of the project discussed, phrases which pack descriptive and prescriptive moves: such as, ‘minimally invasive education’ and ‘self-organised learning’. The shift in policy register from ‘informal workers’ to ‘financial inclusion’, and what those phrases enable and shroud, occupied Chapters 3 and 4; with the projects examined in the latter generating a network of ideologically loaded keywords to undergird ‘financial inclusion’. In dubbing such terms ‘policy keywords’ here I have in mind Raymond Williams’s (1983) understanding of (cultural or social) keywords (on this conception of ‘policy keywords’, see Gupta and Gupta 2019). By his argument, the latter operate within a network of related words, where each word in itself is ambiguous in meaning, especially in ordinary language. When a keyword appears in ordinary conversation it seems to have several, often inconsistent, connotations but nevertheless appears to be unusually significant or relevant and to weigh in with some sort of authority. Thus, such words are used to maintain their users’ confirmation biases and to select amenable definitions. Keywords then are sites of conflicts between contradictory and shared meanings and worldviews. Williams had noted that keywords, though not belonging to ‘specialised disciplines’, often travel into or ‘begin in particular specialised contexts’ (Williams 1983, p. 14). Thus, in academic circuits keywords are often defined via existing academically defined terms, so as to accord with particular investigative viewpoints. While such academic definitions seem rigorous, the keywords continue to court ambiguities in ordinary language. Specialist uses accentuate their significance and authority in ordinary language without dispelling ambiguity. Policy discourse could be regarded as a particular specialist communication circuit, which necessarily and constantly has to both communicate within and be validated by larger communication circuits, ultimately a general populace – so, in ordinary language. As such, policy discourse has a consanguinity to academic discourse, which it draws upon when expedient, but with a stronger commitment to public approval and pragmatic functionality. While policy-makers seek academic rigour in defining keywords, they also capitalise on their ambiguity in ordinary language more actively and explicitly than academics. Further, given that policy bears most immediately upon functioning institutions and the lives of populations, a repeated policy focus on any specific term is apt to make that term a keyword; that term is conferred a distinctively policy keyword character within a network of
Conclusion 181 existing policy terms. Such policy keywords then disperse and accrue further significance within ordinary language circuits – through the media, through various institutional and professional forums, through everyday conversations. Policy keywords thus appear in and radiate out from policy discussions through a distinctive dynamic. In that sense policy keywords are more actively produced by design than the kinds of keywords Williams analysed, which seem to surface from the midst of competing cultural discourses. Focusing on such keywords has been to the purpose of this study’s interest in policies to benefit the poor such that profits and growth are realised. These keywords provide an anchor through which the connections between various kinds of texts are discerned, which collectively articulate the policy rationales in question. These were understood as ‘social texts’ in Chapter 1. These have been drawn together in this study’s analysis of specific junctures, from seemingly different registers and areas of usage. Social texts referred to here have thus included: governmental or corporate policy statements, legal documents, statistical tabulations, academic investigations and analysis (themselves disposed according to disciplinary divisions or specialisms), news reportage and features, publicity and fictional narratives/ performances, and even records of everyday or common usage. Lines of enquiry from various kinds of social texts which converge on policy keywords offered this study a method for engaging with the rationale of benefits with profits and growth. This method is used here to clarify how the two strands of this rationale seemingly cohere even while being evidently incoherent. On the one hand, there’s the strand of calculations for realising profits for businesses (and other non-governmental bodies) with governmental backing; on the other hand, there’s simultaneously a strand of calculations for providing benefits and services to the poor, as a governmental responsibility. These two strands seem to converge in the relevant social texts as a single realisable enterprise. In the previous chapters, analysis of the different social texts, via their convergences on policy keywords, have thrown up various subterfuges, manoeuvres, camouflagings, selective disclosures and tacit focalisings in every step of that seemingly coherent enterprise. In brief, usually what is presented to seem like a coherent enterprise is not quite what is actually designed and enacted. The devil – or god – is usually in the details of many social texts rather than in the texts of mission and vision statements, and the argument of this study has principally been drawn through details. The slippage outlined here turns out to be embedded in those social texts through conception and enactment. Domestic and global business interests and governmental political interests are always and concertedly served and in fact the enterprise is designed to serve those. The claim to better the lot of the poor is made to enable serving those interests, and the lot of the poor does not improve in relative terms and sometimes deteriorates. This is the case where the conception of such an enterprise is worked out at a small, controlled laboratory-like scale, as described in Chapter 2, and also when
182 On the ground it is expanded to very large projects of social engineering, as in Chapters 3 and 4. That is also the case when that rationale is contemplated in terms of the ground-level experiences and lives of the poor, as in Chapters 5 and 6. The rationale in question is most pervasively grounded in expectations of technological development, in particular the capacities of digital technology, which is therefore an important and constant theme of this study. The focus here is naturally on the Indian domain, but the expectations bear upon this domain from the larger one: that is, a policy and economic discourse largely at the behest of global commercial and political agencies. Its impetus is found pervasively in social texts and everyday life exchanges. It is familiarly invoked in variously allotting technology an autonomous character: such that, technocracy (e-governance) seems like a new kind of political order (separate from and yet melding with democracy, oligarchy, autocracy, etc.); technocrats appear as a new sort of ideologue (distinct from liberals, socialists, fascists, etc. and yet aligned with any of those); technological agents and systems are promoted as replacements for various categories of workers and work; norms like ‘creativity’ and ‘innovativeness’ seem to become coterminous with being technologically adept; modernisation itself seems to be singularly gauged in terms of access to and control of technological systems; protests and even ‘revolutions’ are seemingly organised spontaneously by social digital networks rather than by political alignments; and a somewhat mystical force accrues to the phrase ‘artificial intelligence’ as a resolver of social and natural problems. The mystique of technological affordances and digital systems feeds into the promises of offering benefits to the poor such that profits and growth are realised, ostensibly smoothing out the contradictions and slippages in the rationale behind those promises. These preconceptions, increasingly firmly embedded and accepted in policy and media discourse and in everyday exchanges, have a particular significance where benefiting the poor such that profits and growth are realised is the issue. The business and welfare considerations implicit there are generally welded into a single project through recourse to the autonomous drive of technological capacities. For the Indian context, this is well illustrated by the discussion of the ‘hole-in-the-wall experiments’ in Chapter 1. The hypothesis that is seemingly confirmed in that project gives a precise sense of the expectations pinned on technology. The ostensibly confirmed hypothesis is: formal education and the employment of trained teachers can be reduced by simply providing students with networked computers instead and leaving them to their devices. This will benefit the poor because government spending on education will be correspondingly reduced while catering to larger numbers of children. That covers the rationale of benefits, flawed as it turns out to be according to the previous argument. The profit and growth side of this rationale is relatively muted but easily discerned: growth will come from government saving of public expenditure on education, and profits would accrue to businesses dealing in computer hard-and software – which can be guaranteed by the
Conclusion 183 public money saved by the government in cutting formal education. The ingenuity and spuriousness of this rationale occupies Chapter 1. Similar patterns, with greater degrees of complexity according to their larger scale, are found in the interlinked ‘financial inclusion’ projects to which Chapters 3 and 4 are devoted. These are largely premised on developing digital systems: the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, the biometric identity number project Aadhaar, the banknote demonetisation move, and the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) system – though the last is only cursorily discussed. Here, the slipping arguments for benefiting the poor such that profits and growth are realised work through a plethora of rationalisations around two key issues: first, who owns and controls the systems and with what prerogatives; and second, what sort of access and self-determination do these enable for the poor. Through the fog of confusion about where public ownership and interests begin and end apropos of the private, details of how the schemes were conceived and implemented appear to either disregard or present an optimistic gloss over the second issue. Where available, measurements at times seem to justify and at others to cast doubt upon the ‘financial inclusion’ claims. A more direct sense of the experience of poor persons with technology, the conditions under which they can access it and the extent to which they can capitalise on it, makes some sense where measurements are of limited import. Chapters 5 and 6 attempt to convey such a sense of lived experience by focusing on a limited segment of informal and largely poor workers, that is, domestic workers. Insofar as digital systems for ‘financial inclusion’ have extended to them, examined to some degree in Chapter 6, a significant distance between promise and reality is found. The third thrust of this study mentioned previously – to obtain a ground level sense of being poor in contemporary India – is obviously focused in Chapters 5 and 6 via domestic workers. But that interest simmers in the background and occasionally comes to the fore in all the chapters of Part 1. Thus, in Chapter 2, well-researched findings on poor living conditions in Delhi’s informal settlements are mustered against the cursory, almost negligible, account of the ‘slums’ in the ‘hole-in-the-wall experiments’, where they were so pointedly conducted. That these ‘experiments’ putatively drew general inferences from observing ‘slum children’ and sought to influence education provision for them without evincing interest in informal settlements is a notable point for this study’s argument. So Chapter 2 does precisely what the ‘hole-in-the-wall’ project didn’t do: try to obtain some sense of what it meant to live in a Delhi ‘slum’ in that period, especially for school-age children. A broader grasp of the condition of being poor appears in Chapter 3 by looking at the available indicators for informal workers and their conditions of work, and in terms of educational attainments, income and employment, and access to the internet. That has a bearing on the claims made on behalf of the poor in the large-scale ‘financial inclusion’ projects outlined in Chapter 4. Occasional insights into the vulnerabilities of being poor appear there, in particular with reference to reports on the effects of
184 On the ground demonetisation in November 2016. A close study of the domestic worker– employer relationship in Part 2, Chapters 5 and 6, is offered as a focal point within the broader contexts outlined in Part 1. As noted in Chapter 5, the particular aspect of this relationship of interest here – the habitual interpersonal performance of hierarchy – has a wider resonance at different levels of Indian society. Naturally, so does the persistence and even hardening of that performance in relation to technological systems that pertain to the domestic worker–employer relationship, explored in Chapter 6. A distinction made by Erving Goffman (1959) to analyse everyday performances of self could be detached from its original context and recruited here to characterise the performance of hierarchy described in Chapters 5 and 6: The expressiveness of the individual (and therefore his capacity to give impressions) appears to involve two radically different kinds of sign activity: the expression that he gives, and the kind of expression that he gives off. The first involves verbal symbols or their substitutes which he uses admittedly and solely to convey the information that he and others are known to attach to these symbols. . . . The second involves a wide range of action that others can treat as symptomatic of the actor, the expectation being that the action was performed for reasons other than the information conveyed in this way. (p. 14) Goffman complicates this by considering intentional misinformation and feigning later in his book, but those ultimately follow from making this distinction. It seems to me that this distinction, proposed to grapple with individual behaviours, could also apply to collective and habitual patterns of behaviour. The performance of hierarchy as understood in Part 2 evinces the mutual bind of giving and giving off signals. The various kinds of social texts referred to – from ethnographic accounts to commercials and fictional accounts – variously locate the signals that are explicitly given and implicitly given off in worker–employer encounters, in talking about their relationship and in mediating that relationship. Where love and sympathy for poor workers is claimed (the signal given) the prerogatives of power and domination nevertheless structure those claims (by signals given off). And the technology mediates in that performance through and as signs given and given off, to reiterate the performance of hierarchy. In fact, Goffman’s distinction can be extended as pertinent to all the social texts at the specific junctures cited in this study. The academic documents, policy statements, implementation reports, media texts which collectively articulate ‘financial inclusion’ and benefits with profits and growth in Digital India constantly give and give off signals. The signals given speak of compassion, virtuous intent and determination to improve the lot of the poor. The signals given off suggest a profound indifference to the poor while talking incessantly about them, a tacit consent on maintaining the
Conclusion 185 privileges and affluence of business and political elites. That is where the habitual interpersonal performance of hierarchy at ground level meets with the structures of top-down policies of ‘financial inclusion’ in Digital India. The oft-noted slippage with which these remarks in the Conclusion began is most persistently enacted in the signals given and given off in a vast range of social texts which, ultimately, concretise Digital India.
References (All weblinks cited in this chapter were last accessed on 20 August 2019) Azad, Rohit, Shouvik Chakraborty, Srinivasan Ramani, and Dipa Sinha eds. (2019). A Quantum Leap in the Wrong Direction? Hyderabad: Orient BlackSwan. Goffman, Erving (1959). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Garden City, NJ: Doubleday. Gupta, Suman and Ayan-Yue Gupta (2019). “ ‘Resilience’ as a Policy Keyword: Arts Council England and Austerity”. Policy Studies. https://doi.org/10.1080/014428 72.2019.1645325 Kalhan, Anuradha (2019). A Brief History of Poverty Alleviation in Neoliberal Times. New Delhi: Manohar. Sood, Atul ed. (2012). Poverty Amidst Prosperity: Essays on the Trajectory of Development in Gujarat. Delhi: Aakar. Williams, Raymond (1983). Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. 2nd Edition. Glasgow: Flamingo (1st Edition 1979).
Aadhaar Act 2016 54, 80, 92, 95 Aadhaar Biometric Identity Numbers 14, 54, 62, 80, 183, 88 – 98, 99, 105, 106 Aaji (short film) 151 ACCESS-ASSIST 88 ACCION International 75 Adiga, Aravind 136, 158 – 9 Aiyar, Shankar 96 – 7 Aiyar, Swaminathan 65 Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) 76, 103 American Council of Education (ACE) 36 Anderson, Benedict 89 – 90 Arabindoo, Pushpa 43 autoethnograhic research 122 Babajob 167, 168, 171 bank, public and private 81, 86 bank account, definition of 85 – 6 Bank Mitras 84 – 5, 86, 87 banknote demonetisation 2016 14, 54, 80, 98 – 104, 183 Barah Aana (film) 136 Better than Cash Alliance (BCA) 76, 98, 103 Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) 1, 58, 106 – 7 Biological Computer Laboratory (BCL) 24 Blagsvedt, Sean 167 Blair, Tony 13 Bourdieu, Pierre 137 Breman, Jan 55 – 6, 57, 60, 123 Burke, Edmund 7 Byrne, David 13 Cadence Design Systems 41 CARE 75
Catalyst ‘Inclusive Cashless Payment Partnership’ 102 – 3 Centre for Financial Inclusion (CFI) 97 Centre for Global Development 98 Centre for Global Research 102 Centre for Research in Cognitive Systems (CRCS), NIIT 23 CGAP (Consultative Group to Assist the Poor) 87, 97, 104 Chakrabarty, K.C. 62 Challo Driver (film) 159 Chancel, Lucas 64 Chatterjee, Nirmal Kanti 147 – 8 Chopra, Radhika 134 Chossudovsky, Michel 102 Citi Foundation 75, 98 Compaq 2 Congress Party 57 – 8, 106 Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) 76 corporate social responsibility 38 – 41 Coser, Lewis 129 Cowan, Ruth Schwartz 146 Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) 3 critical pedagogy 33 – 4 CRY (Child Rights and You) 41 Delhi Development Authority (DDA) 48 – 9 Delhi in a Day (film) 136 Dell Foundation, Michael and Susan 75 Department for International Development (DfID), UK 98, 103 Department of Telecommunications 161 Dickey, Sara 124, 127, 133 – 4, 135; and Adams 124 digital divide 23, 40 – 1 Digital Empowerment Foundation 2 Digital Equipment Corporation 2 Digital India Corporation 1
Index 187 Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) 85, 86 domestic appliances: advertisements of 154 – 6, 159 – 60, 163; in fiction and films 149 – 53; market penetration in India 146 – 7; and social change 143 – 6 Domestic Workers Convention No.189, ILO 123 drivers, as domestic workers 157 – 60; Adiga on 158 – 9 Engels, Friedrich 7, 8 English-language education 32 – 3 Fairclough, Norman 13 FHI 360 75 Foerster, Heinz von 24 Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) 1999 38 Foucault, Michel 90 Freire, Paulo 33 – 4 Gandhi, Indira 6 Gans, Herbert 12 – 13 Gates, Bill 98 Gates Foundation, Bill and Melinda 75, 87, 98, 103, 169 Gershuny, Jonathan 144 – 5 Ghertner, D. Asher 47 – 8 Ghosh, Jayati 99, 100 – 101 Gilbert, Alan 13, 41 – 2, 46 Global Innovation Exchange platform 88 Global Slavery Index 131 Goffman, Erving 137, 184 – 5 Goods and Services Tax (GST) system 54, 95, 104 – 6, 183 Google 74 Gopalakrishnan, Senapathy 105 Gregson, Nicky 145 GST Network 105 Haldar, Baby 136 Harriss-White, Barbara 57, 123; with Hayer 57 Hayer, Judith: with Harriss-White 57 HCL (Hindustan Computer Limited) 36 Hewlett-Packard 2 Himmelfarb, Gertrude 7 – 8 Hiriyur, Salone 170 Hunt, Abigail 169 – 70 ICT Policy 2000, Government of Delhi NCT 49 Illich, Ivan 33 – 4
Inclusive Finance India 62, 88, 103 India Land Records Modernisation Programme 1 Infosys 74, 105 International Labour Organization (ILO) 123, 126 International Telecom Union (ITU) 69 Invest India Micro Pension 169 Jaitley, Arun 105 Joshi, Seema 168 – 9 Kalhan, Anuradha 178 Kapadia, Payal 152 – 3, 162 Kelsen, Hans 76 – 7 Keniston, Kenneth 40 Kundu, Amitabh 49 KYC (Know Your Customer) 84, 94, 96 Lahiri, Tripti 125, 132 – 3, 135, 148, 153, 162 – 3, 166 Lal Darja (film) 159 Lazarus, Sylvain 11 Levitas, Ruth 13 Lowe, Michelle 145 lumpenproletariat, as a term 9 – 11 Machingura, Fortunate 169 – 70 McKinsey and Co. 103 Mangharam, Mukti 150 Marx, Karl 7, 9 – 10 Master and Servant Acts, UK 128 Mastercard 74, 88, 98, 103 Master Plan of Delhi (MPD) 48 – 9 Matzner, Deborah 156 – 7 Mayhew, Henry 7 Media Lab Asia 1 Mehta, Aban 124, 125, 127, 128 microfinance institutions 81 – 2 MicroSave 74, 86 – 7 minimally invasive education (MIE) 22, 23 – 4 Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology 1, 103 Ministry of Finance 86 Ministry of Labour and Employment 129 MIT Media Lab 1 Mitra, Arup 29, 46 Mitra, Sugata 19 – 24, 25, 28, 29, 30 – 2, 33, 34 – 6, 37 – 8, 91 Modi, Narendra 1, 82 – 3, 85, 98, 101, 171 Mohanty, Deepak 62
188 Index Mor, Nachiket 62 MSME (micro, small and medium enterprises) 66 – 7, 70, 74 MSME Development Act 2006 66 Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) 64 Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) 46 – 7 Myrdal, Gunnar 12 Nadar, Shiv 36 National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) 58 – 60, 62 National Democratic Alliance (NDA) 58, 101, 106 – 7 National Domestic Workers’ Movement (NDWM) 128 National Fund for the Unorganised Sector (NAFUS) 59 National Informatics Centre 105 National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) 126 National Social Security Board 60 Neetha, N 126, 165, 166 NIIT (National Institute of Information Technology) 19, 31, 35 – 40 NIIT NetVarsity 38 NIIT Online Learning Limited (NOLL) 38 Nilekani, Nandan 91, 93, 105; and Shah 102, 104 NITI (National Institution for Transforming India) Aayog 101, 103 O’Connor, Alice 7 – 8 Omidyar Network 75, 97, 98 organic intellectual 122 Pask, Gordon 24 Piketty, Thomas 64 – 5 placement agencies 163 – 6; and digital platforms 166 – 72 poor, as a term: contrasted with poverty 2 – 3, 5 – 8, 9; Himmelfarb on 7; in Hindi 6; O’Connor on 7 – 8; and related terms 11 – 14; and socialist terms 9 – 11 Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) 14, 54, 80, 82 – 9, 92 – 3, 97, 99, 106, 183 proletariat, as a term 9 – 11 public-private partnership 72, 83, 94, 96
Qayum, Seemin 124, 130, 134, 135, 137 – 8, 156 Quikr 167 Rajan, Raghuram G. 61 Rajiv and Neelu Kachwaha Trust 41 Ramanathan, Usha 47, 97 Ranciere, Jacques 10 – 11 Rangarajan, C. 61; and the Rangarajan Committee 64 Rao, Narasimha 147 – 8 Rao, Vyjayanthi 42 – 3 Ray, Raka 124, 130, 134, 135, 137 – 8, 156 Reddy, C. Rammanohar 99 Reddy, Y. Venugopal 58, 60 – 1 Reserve Bank of India (RBI) 58, 60 – 2, 86, 89, 98, 99 – 100, 101 Sanghari, Kumkum 125, 157 Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) 128 self-organised learning environment (SOLE) 23, 24 – 5, 27 SERV’D 168 – 9 Shah, Viral 102, 104 Singh, Manmohan 57 slum 25 – 6, 41, 182; children in 19 – 20, 21 – 3, 25, 26 – 32; in Delhi 14, 21, 26, 44 – 9; as a term 13, 41 – 3, 44 – 6 Slum Areas Act 1956 44 social exclusion, as a phrase 13 social text 3 – 4, 181 – 2; and keywords 180 – 1 Spivak, Gayatri 122 Srinivas, Lakshmi 125 Stallybrass, Peter 10 State Bank of India (SBI) 84 – 5 Tandon, Pankhuri 165 – 6 Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) 69 – 70 telecom services 161; and domestic workers 161 – 3 Tendulkar, Suresh 64 Thomas, Owen D. 96 Tolen, Rachel 151 – 2 UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India) 91 – 3, 96, 101 Umrigar, Thrity 136, 149 – 51, 161 – 2 underclass, as a term 12 – 13 Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) 62 United Nations 74
Index 189 United Nations Development Programme 40 United Progressive Alliance (UPA) 57 – 8, 106 Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act 2008 60, 128 USAID (United States Agency for International Development) 88 – 9, 97, 102
Venkataramiah, P. 60 Visa 74, 98, 103, 169 Williams, Raymond 154, 180 World Bank 74, 87 – 8, 93, 97, 98, 103; international poverty line 64 YouTube 154