Globalization Provides New Opportunities in India

Stephen DeAngelis

August 19, 2008

We often think of globalization simply in terms of connecting local economies with the global economy. But like ripples in a pond, that connectivity also spreads internally to create new opportunities. In developing countries, those ripples primarily manifest themselves in the form of an emerging and prosperous middle class that is no longer bound by traditional working class jobs. India is providing some anecdotal evidence for this [“Breaking Norms in India,” by Emily Wax, Washington Post, 7 August 2008]. The subtitle for Wax’s article is a great bumper sticker for globalization: “As Affluence Spreads, Nontraditional Professions Gain Popularity.”

“When [27-year-old] Anand Mahesh was a boy, his parents dreamed that he would become a worker bee in India’s mammoth civil service. Like many working-class people, they saw job security for him pushing papers or stamping forms in one of the world’s biggest bureaucracies. But young Mahesh dreamed of a career that his parents found peculiar: designing or selling private cars in a country where, at the time, transport usually meant bikes, buses or trains. A self-described ‘tech-head,’ Mahesh applied to work as a salesman at Reva, India’s first electric car company, which is helping drive a surge in first-time car ownership here.”

Mahesh says he still hopes to design cars, but his friends think he already has a dream job. You don’t have to read very deeply between the lines to see how globalization has affected Mahesh’s life. First of all, he lives in Bangalore, one India’s information technology (IT) capitals. As a result, he lives among some of India’s rising middle class citizens — citizens who can afford to drive cars and not just ride bicycles. That means that Mahesh could dream about designing cars rather than pushing papers. The other interesting point to note is that Mahesh is selling “electric cars,” a sign that India’s middle class is already pressuring the government and local businesses to think about protecting the environment. Wax continues:

“In an increasingly affluent India, Mahesh’s job is one of many new or rapidly expanding professions that are breaking norms and creating fresh opportunities for the country’s young generation. Women now work as gas station attendants, filling tanks and checking oil, shrugging off suggestions that they’re prostitutes. Indian magazines are filled with stories about hip new career prospects: disc jockeys and bouncers at nightclubs that opened after many middle-class Indians gave up their habit of drinking only in private clubs or at home. Bright billboards hang in nearly every small town with ads featuring stylish young women enrolled in flight-attendant training schools, a glamorous job in a country where trains were long the primary mode of long-distance transport. And women can now work as bartenders, after the Supreme Court of India recently overturned a 1914 British colonial-era law that blocked them from the profession. The new jobs are especially empowering to India’s middle- and working-class women. By becoming economically independent, they are delaying marriage, a trend that is slowly changing the male-dominated power dynamic in South Asia.”

The disproportionate benefits that globalization provides to women is both a source of hope for emerging market economies and of dismay among their dominant male cultures. I often wonder when I see protests against globalization if those involved really understand how important globalization is for the fate of impoverished women around the world. I’m certain that most of the protesters are unhappy with how male-dominated societies have treated women, yet they continue to try and undermine one of the greatest motive forces for gender equality afoot in the world. Wax reports what this means in India:

“The new jobs … reflect changing habits and values in a society that is one of the youngest in the world, with 70 percent of its 1.15 billion people under age 35. ‘There’s a massive loosening of family pressure. That’s because today, the rising middle class doesn’t have to worry about basic necessities anymore,’ said Jagdip Bakshi, head of the Contract Advertising agency in Mumbai, which tracks societal trends. ‘It’s a complete shift in India for the “Over my dead body you will become a golfer or a drummer” type of Indian parental mentality. Now, some parents are actually saying, “Okay, you want to try graphic art, well go for it.”‘”

Wax reports on discussions he held with students studying to be veternarians. Historically vets have cared for cows, goats or other animals important to India’s agricultural sector. Today vets are just as likely to care for pets — another sign of a growing middle class. Wax goes on to report that young people in India can now even dream of the stars.

“Not far from the car company is the leafy campus of the Indian Space Research Organization. Young scientists there are helping break down class divisions by bringing the benefits of the space program to Indians living in villages, and are challenging traditional elitist notions of who can be a scientist. A.S. Padmavathy is one of 1,288 female scientists working at the space center, which employs several thousand. She is overseeing satellite programs that can help Indians in rural areas by mapping the location of water, linking village health posts to top surgery centers in New Delhi and working with farmers to predict cyclones and monsoon rains. ‘Some Indians in the past asked, “When India is so poor, why waste money on programs in space?”‘ she said. ‘But the new generation sees the value in making sure all citizens enjoy technology — fisherman get satellite advice from us and students in villages can attend a virtual lecture in Mumbai. It’s helping rural and urban, poor and rich India interact.’ At a recent education program in a rural area outside Bangalore, several young daughters of farmers saw Padmavathy working. ‘They told me later that day that they would love to be lady scientists,’ she said.”

Wax concludes her article with examples of how these new opportunities have specifically benefited poorer women:

“Women have seen the biggest growth in the range of opportunities. Attendants cleaning windshields and filling tanks at an all-female gas station in New Delhi wear baseball caps and neatly pressed yellow and green uniforms. Many say they had only a few years of basic education and came from poorer states, hoping to find employment as construction workers or servants. But those jobs are often low-paid, with long hours. Rekhan Saksena made the move to New Delhi after her father died last year. She soon read in the paper about the all-female gas station. ‘It was such a good environment, working with other women in a clean place with shade. My sister also moved here and joined another station,’ said Saksena, 23, a thin woman with a confident demeanor. Some of the male customers are rude, however. … On a recent afternoon, a retired secret service officer disparaged the women and said he was sure they were prostitutes. In India, the old-generation thinking is that women who work must be desperate — and must therefore be sex workers. Saksena and her co-workers said they ignore those notions. Saksena said her mother was horrified on first hearing that her daughter would be serving strangers, and at a gas station. But when her mother saw her plentiful monthly salary, part of which was shared with her, she cried and then went shopping for food and a sari.”

Show me the money! Take away globalization and you take away opportunities. Take away opportunities and you take away hope. Take away hope and you find a society mired in poverty and corruption. The challenge for this generation is to find a strategy that responsibly connects what Tom Barnett calls the “Non-integrating Gap” with the rest of the world. It’s goal worth achieving since it will positively affect the lives of millions of people.