The Indian miracle


Underneath the glittering surface of India's economic boom lie the ugly realties of modern day India: mass suicide by debt-ridden farmers, a rise in Hindu nationalism, discrimination against Muslims and a caste system which condemns millions to a life of servitude. For Channel 4's Dispatches, Krishnan Guru-Murthy explores the unreported darkside of India's economic boom.

The new India has a high-tech, highly-skilled economy. The country's universities are churning out thousands of highly qualified science and computer graduates working in software, biotechnology and engineering firms in metropolitan India.

But in rural India, where more than three-quarters of the population live, Guru-Murthy discovers the story could not be more different. He meets some of the thousands of widows of farmers who have committed suicide after being driven to despair by debt. More than seven hundred million people depend on farming to make a living but the cost of buying tractors, fertilisers and irrigation pumps for small farmers has left some in debt and with no way out.

"I don't know what we are going to eat now. When my father was alive - he used to provide for us. Now I don't know what we will do," says the 10-year-old son of a farmer from Punjab. His father killed himself by dousing himself in kerosene and setting himself alight. And as India's economic boom powers ahead, farmers' land on the edge of the expanding metropolises is being seized to make way for yet more factories. Unskilled farmers are finding themselves without land and without a hope of working in the new factories in what's becoming a hidden disaster of epic proportions

MS Swaminathan, the founder of India's original green revolution in the 1960's fears a different kind of revolution if the problems of rural India are not tackled. "Any society which transgresses from the principle of social equity beyond a point then you have an explosive situation," says Swaminathan. "If you want a country of 500 million landless labourers - then the country will be completely ruined. It will be social chaos of unimaginable dimensions."

In Mumbai, India's financial capital, Guru-Murthy investigates the renewed support for Hindu nationalism which many argue is resulting in widespread discrimination against India's 150 million-strong Muslim minority. He finds discrimination is excluding Muslims from the new prosperity as they struggle to find employment and buy property. Going undercover in one housing complex in Mumbai, Guru-Murthy is told by security guards that Muslims are not allowed to buy or rent property there. "I feel insulted. I feel humiliated", says Muslim businessman Salim who has spent the last four years being refused the opportunity to buy property in the complex.

In Delhi, the country's capital, Guru-Murthy examines the way in which Indian society also discriminates against huge swathes of the majority Hindu population via the caste system. The Indian government is supposedly trying to tackle this age-old social stratification system which defines the jobs people do through a programme of affirmative action policies in education and employment. The notion of 'untouchability' - which defines those at the bottom of the caste system who carry out the most menial jobs and have no physical contact with upper-caste Hindus - was meant to be banned 60 years ago.

But Guru-Murthy discovers that the caste system is still alive and well and forces those at the bottom of the ladder, dalits, to do jobs like clearing up human excrement. Satish Kumar belongs to the low caste Valmiki community, his job is to clean sewers and toilets, he says: "When my children ask me why I do this and tell me it is dirty, I tell them I do it to feed them. If I don't they will die of hunger."

India's economy is powering ahead, growing at an incredible nine per-cent a year. But Guru-Murthy argues it is merely widening the gap between the rich and the poor. The ultra rich are now able to live behind electrified fences in entire self-contained cities away from the degradation, poverty and despair of the rest of India.

Channel 4 ▪ TX 30/04/2007 ▪ 1 x 60 min
Produced and Directed by Ashok Prasad