“Resource Turbulence” Bumpy Times Ahead for India?

Thu, Dec 11, 2008



This week in India, a strike by thousands of doctors and medical students who work at hospitals across the country caused significant delays of much-needed medical services. In Bangalore, for example, hundreds of medical and engineering students marched in the streets.

So, what exactly are these folks protesting?

Well, the protests center around an issue we here in America have been struggling with for the last forty years or so ‘“ ‘affirmative action.’ Over here, just using that phrase makes some people quite agitated, and even downright angry.

And so, this always contentious issue in the US has now become a source of much heated debate in India, since a government proposal was recently introduced calling for half of the jobs at government hospitals and half the seats at medical schools to be reserved for lower-caste and other disadvantaged Indians.

And fears of a growing push for affirmative action across ALL industries in India, especially those involved in the incredibly important and lucrative field of outsourcing, have raised some valid concerns among private business leaders and watchers.

In a story in the New York Times today (subscription required), Partha Iyengar, vice president for research at the Indian operations of Gartner, Inc. is quoted as saying:

‘If affirmative action is enforced in the outsourcing industry, for instance, it will lead to resource turbulence,’ said Mr. Iyengar, who feels challenges like language and culture would reduce the employable pool of candidates for companies.

‘Resource Turbulence’ ‘“ what a wonderful phrase! It conjures up all sorts of images of a potentially bumpy, uneasy flight – which India could argubaly be in for if this affirmative action push gathers more momentum and results in widespread, government-enforced labor rules.

So, should the Indian government try and undo the past and current injustices of its country’s caste system through affirmative action legislation? Or should it allow India’s private industry, arguably a far more efficient mechanism, to lead the way to better equality and increased opportunity? Or perhaps a combination of public and private plans is once again the best path to follow?

No matter what, changes that allow more ‘have-nots’ in India to become ‘haves’ can’t be looked at by anyone as anything but a good thing, in and of itself. But in the process, will the growing pains involved in creating a more equitable Indian workforce irreparably harm the country’s well-earned place in the world as a leading provider of highly-skilled, highly-efficient labor?

Like I said ‘“ in the months and years ahead, it could get quite ‘bumpy’ for India as this issue gets sorted out’¦


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