Monday, August 10, 2009

An uncertain view of Indian development

Writer Akash Kapur grew up in rural India, and has seen many changes in his area with the growth of development in the country. But when he is asked about what he thinks of the growth, he's uncertain if it's good or bad. Along the development, resentment and violence has also been introduced into Kapur's homeland.

From Kapur's latest column for the New York Times, he describes some of what he has seen.

But development has also disrupted existing ways of living. It has strained the social and cultural fabric of the villages. Kuilapalayam, a village at the head of the road leading to the beach, has had at least seven murders in recent years. Gangs of young men roam the village, extorting money, exacting revenge. Once, the panchayat, a traditional assembly made up of village elders, would have controlled the violence. But the new generation has modern ideas; they don’t heed their elders, and the panchayat members are powerless, too scared to step in.

Development has led to new resentments and torn apart families. Farmers who used to toil over barren patches of land suddenly find that that land is worth a small fortune. They’ve built new houses, sent their kids to school, bought motorcycles and maybe even cars. A couple of universities up the road have widened people’s horizons.

But neighbors who didn’t own land, who watched their friends get rich, often don’t feel quite as sanguine about the changes. And long-forgotten relatives have appeared, perhaps returning from the cities to make a claim on the land. The papers are full of often violent stories about disputes over property.

A real estate contractor I know grew up in one of the villages around here. He started when he was 16, a dropout from school, as a helper on construction sites. He now has 75 people working for him. He has built mansions for the newly rich, and even a couple of beach resorts.

He told me recently about his hopes for his children. His eldest son wants to be a doctor; his middle boy plans to be an aeronautics engineer; and his daughter wants to be a teacher. He’s excited for their futures, happy to know they won’t have to leave the country to build better lives.

But he told me, too, about his fears. He worries about the violence in the villages; he won’t let his son go to school alone. He’s concerned, also, because his son refuses to go to the temple. He knows that his children will probably move to the cities. That makes him sad. He feels they’ll lose their sense of community.

No comments: