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David Wells

Fellowship Title:

Gateways of India’s Globalization

David Wells
June 9, 2003

Fellowship Year

Globalization is hardly a new force affecting India. To think so is to ignore a diverse and pluralistic long-standing civilization that was shaped by a long list of “invading” (globalizing) cultures that became what we now know as India. The previous globalizers of India include the Aryans, Hindus, Dravidians, Greeks, Buddhists, Turks, Afghans, Scythians, Muslims and most recently, the Europeans, Portuguese, French, Dutch and finally the English. One has to understand that as India has been globalized it has also been a globalizer too, with millennia of colonialism across Southeast Asia, with temples like Angkor Wat left behind as a reminders of India’s one time presence.

Long viewed by the West, as “poor and impoverished,” to its neighbors such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan, India is wealthy and powerful. To these smaller neighbors, India is a great power, a globalizer of its own, which expects deference from them and is sometimes angered when those nations downplay their Indian lineage. They prefer to play up their own local cultures, which are frequently hybrids of the larger Indian culture and their own indigenous ones.

India, knowing its past as a globalizer, sees itself as one of the great nations of the world. But today, India has yet to build on the onetime greatness of its civilization to earn international influence and respect. India sees itself as equally important as Russia, China and the U.S., believing it has much to offer the rest of the world. Historically this has a basis since important aspects of trigonometry were developed in India, as was the decimal system, which, was later taken from India by Arab mathematicians, and on to Europe in the 10th century, only to come back to India through books from the West. Similarly, at the start of the 18th century, India was a major economic power with 23 percent of the world’s GDP according to some economic historians and over 25 percent share of the global trade in textiles. By 1995, this had declined to less than 5 percent of world income and less than half a percent of world trade.

The most recent wave of globalization affecting India came with the British who were important to Indian development, in positive and negative ways. The British consolidated a land of many separate regions and kingdoms into what we know of as modern India. While the British exploited India’s population, economy and resources as colonial rulers, they also left India, after two centuries of rule in 1948, with democracy, laws, a judiciary, and a free press, 40,000 miles of railroad track, canals, and harbors. English as the language of Indian business and the English language schools are arguably some of the most important remnants of the British, giving India a linguistic global gateway not found in former French, Spanish or Dutch speaking colonies.

Another British relic is cricket, which has largely displaced local games in rural areas, in both Nepal, a land not known for interest in cricket and in India. The place of cricket in Indian life exemplifies a unique aspect of “Indian-ness,” the ability to absorb outside influences and to transform them through a peculiar Indian magic into something else that becomes a natural part of India.

The experience of McDonald’s, one of the ultimate globalizers, illustrates the idea of Indian adaptation to globalization. While McDonald’s can boast of selling billions of hamburgers worldwide, they have not done nearly as well among the one billion Indians. In deference to local religious sensibilities — and finicky taste — the burger giant has radically revised its lineup. Since Hindus avoid beef and practicing Muslims do not eat pork, only mutton satisfies religious restrictions and thus the Maharaja Mac was born. It is considered too bland for the taste buds of some consumers in the land of hot curry and sharp Cardamom. McDonald’s struggle in India makes it one of a number of fast food companies that despite such troubles, has an appeal as foreign food, conferring status on the flush with cash Indian middle-class.

The former globalizers that came with invading armies have increasingly been replaced by less violent but equally powerful globalizers. Television is arguably the most dominant gateway of globalization affecting India today. While TV was launched in India in the late 1950s it only became widespread in the 1980s, after the governments ended their monopoly as the only broadcaster. Satellite TV arrived in 1991, bringing with it Indian versions of MTV and later “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” Because of the abrupt end of the monopoly of the state channels, the instantaneous arrival of satellite TV has been more disruptive and far reaching in India than elsewhere in the world. According to reports, traditional dress is increasingly displaced by Western dress seen on TV. In the southern state of Kerala, a study showed that teenage abortions rose by 20 per cent in a year, as teenagers feel pressure to have sex, purportedly due to the explosion of sexually explicit imagery from sources like MTV and the Indian equivalent channels.

Another example of TV’s globalization in India can be seen in how India globalizes neighboring nation’s media markets. While English may be perceived as the dominant language of TV, in South Asia, India’s Hindi is TV’s dominant language, transforming neighboring countries into little more than passive recipients of Indian Hindi TV and displacing local languages like Bangla in Bangladesh and Nepali in Nepal. Increasingly, local languages, inside India and across South Asia fade under attack from Hindi as Indian film and sports stars are made as familiar to Bangladeshis and Pakistanis as they are to Indians.

The other way TV globalizes is in how it helps keep NRIs (Non Resident Indians) in contact with their culture of origin. These people, who are of Indian origin (and are also derided as Not Really Indian) make up the great Indian Diaspora, an estimated 15 to 21 million people spread across the world who are often better educated than the dominant populations they live amongst. NRIs are the third largest direct foreign investors in India after the U.S. and Britain. They stay in touch with India by viewing regional language in their homes across the world. Subhash Chandra, founder of the most famous of these channels, India’s Zee Television, offers the popular Indian cable channel in many parts of the world. Similar globalization occurs through the spiritual gurus, whose discourses are available to the Western and Indian global community through cable TV and the Internet. Similarly, Indi-pop music is the fusion of Indian popular music with Western rhythms that first emerged among Indian youth in England and then successfully traveled back to India.

Likewise, Westerners and NRIs have rediscovered classical Indian music, which went global a generation ago at the time of the Beatles, with Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan. Today is has become big business as some classical musicians devote a third of their time to overseas concerts. With globalization’s economic and communications revolution, Indians abroad (and increasingly their Western friends and neighbors) feel closer to India than ever before with a growing appetite for things Indian. The explosion of interest in Indian cinema, known as Bollywood film, is prominent particularly in the U.S. and the U.K. The thousands who similarly come to India to study Yoga, Buddhism and other important under appreciated aspects of Indian culture highlight the fact globalization is more of a two way street than most people realize.

To understand the NRI community in America, note that Indian immigration to the United States has been particularly related to the high-tech sectors. Until recently, about 25% of the graduates of India’s four most prestigious technology institutes immigrated to the U.S. This has lead to a situation where more Indian technological talent is in the U.S. rather than India. Business Week reported that an extraordinarily large number of enterprises in Silicon Valley–more than 30 percent–were started by Asians, with the overwhelming number being Indian. Some argue that the globalization of this migration was a way for talent to find opportunities. The argument goes that some Indians were already more ambitious and hardworking than their compatriots back home, but they often saw their efforts being obstructed or under valued in India.

Though even this is changing as NRIs, in some ways the ultimate globalizers, who alter India when they return with western goods, values and spouses, are returning to India to run for election there, starting on local levels, promising to apply the expertise they learned in the West. The prominence of NRIs in America and the West is growing rapidly as seen when Pulitzer prizes, Nobel prizes and other important awards are increasingly bestowed upon Indians, in India, the US and across the world.

While India clearly has access to important gateways of globalization, such as well-established channels of media and commerce, it also has its own unique, large NRI community, a large and potentially important gateway of globalization. The ultimate question is whether these gateways of globalization will bring real progress and modernity to India. While India has some characteristics of modernism one can not yet call India modern. Modernity is not just Westernization, with Japan being a modern country that has its on values at its core rather than Western values.

In classical social theory, modernity increases the credence given to status of education or other merit based achievements while it reduces the credence given to birth status. The psychological concept of intersubjectivity, the ability to empathize with and share in another’s plight and fate, is at the heart of modernity and lacking it, many argue modernity in a society degenerates to crass commercialism. Likewise, if consumer items remain in the hands of the few rather than being disseminated among the many, such a society has the visible signs of modernism but not the ideological underpinnings. Some ask if the caste system, which came to India through previous invaders, the Aryans, will continue to keep the different classes divided or will modernism’s system of meritocracy finally tear caste’s walls down? Only time will tell if India’s gateways of globalization will spread ideology and not just consumption throughout the Indian subcontinent.


Hundreds Access the Net: At the "Student Internet World" program of the 2002 Bangalore Information Technology Exposition, in Bangalore, India, hundreds of computers were set up in the Kanteerva indoor stadium. They offered the city’s children what for some was there first access to computers and especially to Surfing the web. In India in 1999, there were only 300,000 estimated internet connections, utilized by an estimated 1.5 million internet users, compared with more than a third of the households that are wired for the internet in the United States. Investment bankers project that by 2002 the number of Internet users in India could rise to 30 million. Currently, 80 percent of Indians connected to Internet use it mainly for e-mail.
Eye on India for Outsiders: Covering a press conference of an Indian business in the Silicon Valley of India, Supriya Unni, the chief of the Bangalore bureau of the Indian affiliate of the American network, CNBC in Bangalore, India checks a videotape recording. Indian versions of American favorites such as MTV and ESPN dominate Indian airwaves. The Indian clone of "Who wants to be a Millionaire" eclipsed ratings of India’s sport passion, cricket. Hindi channels fill the airwaves of neighboring countries such as Bhutan with Hindi channels. 70 million Indian homes, which is less than half of India’s nearly 180 million households (made larger by joint families,) have TVs. Almost 30 million have cable, making India the third biggest cable market after the US and China.
Eye on India for Outsiders: Covering a press conference of an Indian business in the Silicon Valley of India, Supriya Unni, the chief of the Bangalore bureau of the Indian affiliate of the American network, CNBC in Bangalore, India checks a videotape recording. Indian versions of American favorites such as MTV and ESPN dominate Indian airwaves. The Indian clone of "Who wants to be a Millionaire" eclipsed ratings of India’s sport passion, cricket. Hindi channels fill the airwaves of neighboring countries such as Bhutan with Hindi channels. 70 million Indian homes, which is less than half of India’s nearly 180 million households (made larger by joint families,) have TVs. Almost 30 million have cable, making India the third biggest cable market after the US and China.
Web Portals for Activists: Activists in India’s NGOs sector (Non Governmental Organizations similar to American non-profit groups) learn to design web sites and use the power of the internet to advance their concerns for environmental protection in India. The workshop, organized by the One World South Asia and the Environmental Support Group, took place at the Indian high tech company, Sasken, in Bangalore, India.
Movies as a Two Way Street: Movie posters try to grab the attention of consumers on the streets of the South Indian City of Madurai. Despite the growth of TV in India, the cinema continues to be the Indian great passion. Hindi films are exported to more than 100 countries across the world meaning that overseas bookings and video rights account for as much as 30% of a film’s potential revenue. India has the largest cinema industry in the world, producing over 8oo films a year, often with similar scripts/topics for the various languages while American film Industry produces about 400 major films a year. Five billion theater tickets are sold annually. Five rip-off versions of the American action film, "Rambo," were made in India. Film and TV viewing is not always passive as Indians adapt and adopt messages of personal improvement, gender equity and self-confidence. For women, this can conflict with the caricature of the good (read "subordinate") Indian woman, replacing her with a bolder and more self-directed female myth. The rarity of Indian men active in housework and child rearing continues to wane, as ideals of equitable sharing in the media will shift India away from its historical imbalance, which left such work to women.
Televised Access to the Globe: In a street front stall, V. Murthu, a laundry man, irons with TV as his constant companion. The once held official belief that it was an unjustifiable luxury in a poor country was a major barrier to TV’s initial entry into India. For a brief time, communal TV viewing centers preceded the age of home television, where TV was a potential community builder and medium of public education. TVs are now in over 60 million private homes. By comparison, bicycles are found in 8o million, wristwatches are found in 125 million, and fans in 50 million homes. Indian conservatives have been angered by the arrival of satellite television, bringing with them MTV and other foreign channels that show the kind of scenes that Westerners consider tame. The arrival of images of kissing, lovemaking, nudity, homosexuality shocked a nation where on-film kisses were only recently allowed and where adults show little physical affection in front of friends or family and where brides are assumed to be virgins. India’s sudden encounter with satellite TV has required India to accept in five years cultural changes that the West adopted to over decades.
Radio’s Global Gateway: Workers at "Our Voices," a rural radio program in rural Kolar district in Karnataka state, in South India, listen to recordings they have made for broadcast on rural channels of All India Radio to spread information to the rural farmers and their families. Local workers such as K.R. Geetha at Left and B.N. Sundaramma at Right work are responsible for the programming, produced with the support of the UNESCO sponsored program. "Our Voices" started in 1996 in Bangalore, as a pioneer in community radio bringing local news of use to farmers and produce markets.
Global Losers and Winners: A leftover banner from one of the hundreds of failed start-up high tech businesses in Bangalore, the Silicon Valley of India, hangs as a shade in the stall of Pyare Jan a merchant in the Ulsoor neighborhood produce market.
Political Globalization: The hammer and sickle of Communism, a political philosophy imported into India, blows in the wind in the South Indian state of Kerala. With a population of 29 million people Kerala is ruled by the first democratically elected Communist government and is reportedly 100% literate. It is the least caste-ridden state in India, which is also populated by more women than men, unique in India, where elsewhere, female feticide is widely practiced.
Global fashion in India: In Bangalore, India, Japanese fashion designer, Kazuo Ogawa, with his multi-national set of models and staff after a show of luxury jewelry he designed.
Information Technology as Global Intersection: At an Information Technology Exposition, in Bangalore, the Silicon Valley of India, businessmen meet bringing together Western capital and cheap Indian high-tech labor. India’s $5 billion software exports are a fraction of its global exports of more than $200 billion. It has only three computers per thousand (which is expected to rise to twenty per thousand by 2008.)
Cultural Exports: A waiter refills a drink at a "TGI Fridays" restaurant, essentially a transplanted American restaurant now in Bangalore, India. Meatless McDonalds and Coca-Cola imitations such as Thumbs-Up are examples of how India naturalized American crazes, while neighbors like Thailand, the Philippines and Nepal simply recreated them. Similar multi-national food chains have dealt with India’s uniqueness in different ways.
Globalized Employees: Indian women working in a garment factory, Dhatri Kreations, that produces women’s clothing for a French company, in this case, with a French-Polynesian print, in Bangalore, India. These kinds of factories, often labeled sweatshops, offer some of the best paying, safest jobs available to women.
Western Leadership Ends at Nike India:In Bangalore, India, the last Western manager of Nike India’s liaison office, Bill Foudy, works with Atul Ujagar, his successor and the first Indian to head the operations of Nike in India.
Americanizing Indian Tele-Workers: Don Gilbert, a Canadian living in India with wide experience in America, teaches Indians about American culture so they can work in call centers, handling calls for technical support and other customer service needs for Americans, half a globe away. The training took place at a private company called National Institute for Excellence in Teleworking in Bangalore, India. Currently, under a hundred thousand Indians are employed in online "remote services" for customers around the world, a business projected to grow to a million jobs earning $50 billion in revenues by 2010 as India works to become the back office for the world. Call center employees work at night, sleep during the day, and are on the ball when it comes to the latest on Hollywood and are expected to adopt American-isms and drop Indian-isms. They learn about the American use of sports and finance idioms by watching TV shows such as "Ally McBeal," "Friends" and Eddie Murphy films without the pictures and then reconstruct the dialogue.
Tourists as Globalizers: Indian children delight in watching the video camera of a tourist viewing and videotaping a dance performance in the small village of Maddapuram near Madurai in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The tourism industry is India's second biggest source of foreign exchange, accounting for 5.6 per cent of the country's gross domestic product. While 3.8 million Indians travel abroad each year, only 2.6 million foreign tourists arrive in India, having grown from just 15,000 tourists in 1950. India's share in world tourists arriving was a small 0.37% in numbers in 1999, with its share of world tourism revenue, at 0.66%. Tourists, Germans, Canadians and Australians, not Americans have revived fading interest in culture, enabling wood carvers to turn their hobbies into real livelihoods.
Globalization of Expertise: Employees of a Cambodian NGO observe an Indian micro-credit NGO program loaning small amounts of money to poor slum women, in Bangalore, India, organized through the Association for Promotion of Social Activities.
Global Two-Way Street: Deirdre West, who came from Britain to study with the Hindu Guru, Sai Baba, also works as a volunteer helping sick Indians at the Sri Sathya Sai General Hospital in the Whitefields area of Bangalore, India.
Another Global Exchange: Westerners study Yoga at the Arogyadham Yoga Research Health Center on the rural outskirts of Bangalore in South India’s Karnataka state. The school has 74 full time residential students with nearly half non-Indians. Some are western tourists, with guidebooks speaking of wealthy maharajas, and of incredible poverty come to India hoping to see the exotic East. The Beatles’ use of Indian classical music and the best-selling words of Deepak Chopra about living in harmony often prompt them. For many Indians, who want their culture to be seen as more, the pleasures of appearing novel soon wear off provoking annoyance among Indians who hardly see their lives as exotic.
Intermarriage as the Ultimate in Globalization: Darren Centophanty, an Australian fashion photographer marries Vidisha Pavate, an Indian fashion model in a ceremony in Bangalore, India. Similar intermarriages increasingly occur among the estimated 15 to 21 million people of Indian descent spread around the globe, the second largest Diaspora after the Chinese. Since 1991, NRIs (Non Resident Indians) have spent an estimated US $668 million on building plants and opening offices in India, making them India's third-largest direct foreign investors after the U.S. and Britain. NRIs live in Southeast Asia, Britain, the Persian Gulf states and the U.S. and are not only business people rather many are professionals, doctors or lawyers. An advantage the NRIs have over foreigners is that they can own real estate without much restriction. Real estate, manufacturing and software are where most NRIs put most of their money.
Intermarriage and Interracial Cousins: Adina Wells (of NJ at Left) plays with her Indian cousins (legally though not biologically connected to her by her father’s marriage to an Indian) Naharika Mackenzie (center) and Ishani Patel (right) They play in Bangalore, the capital of the southern state of Karnataka, the informal capital of Non-Resident Indians and arguably the most anglicized city in India. Annual remittances back to India exceed $10 billion about six times as much in remittances from its workers overseas as it gets in foreign aid. The NRIs living in America are the ethnic group with the highest per capita income in the United States and have on total, $23 billion on deposit in Indian banks.