Reality Check India

Youth bulge and India

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on January 29, 2008

This blog propelled me to write this post. 

You have heard about the great “age advantage” that awaits India. We are told how we are about to reap the benefits of a young population, while the aging west pays the price for not reproducing.  India, today has a remarkable 51 percent of its population under 25 and 67% under 35.  By 2020, the average Indian will be 29, the average Chinese 27, and the average Japanese 48.  Wow !

The natural counter question is : Well, does the youth bulge guarantee economic success ? The answer is a resounding NO. In fact, it would be a miracle if violence can be avoided and conditions created for economic transformation. This is the essence of the popular youth bulge theory. The Law and Other Things blog makes a great attempt to put it in an Indian context. The theory is very compelling partly due to its plain speaking German author – Prof Heinsohn.  After all, it simply says that violence needs young unattached male fighers. Duh! I think there is much more in this simple theory than meets the eye.

First this theory in a nutshell.

Gunnar Heinsohn, a social scientist and genocide researcher at the University of Bremen, has an explanation for why this might be so. Since its publication in 2003, his eccentric and eye-opening Sons and World Power* (not available in English) has become something of a cult book. In Mr Heinsohn’s view, when 15 to 29-year-olds make up more than 30 per cent of the population, violence tends to happen; when large percentages are under 15, violence is often imminent.


I will not bore you more with explaining this theory further. There are plenty of resources on the web. I want to focus on what this theory has for India.

A common misconception :

The population growth could “transform into a demographic dividend if every child was born healthy and was educated,” said Health Minister Ambumani Ramadoss.

Really, is it that simple ? According to the youth-bulge theory, education and health has little bearing on the proclivity to violence. In fact, well fed and educated youth are even more dangerous.  The north-east, Kashmir, Punjab have lower poverty and higher education. Sri Lankans, both Tamils and Sinhalese have high literacy levels.  So, obviously the excellent & free education system in Sri Lanka did not help them.  The less said about our public primary education the better.

What bulge

I pulled stats for India from the US Census bureau. Our population in 2020 looks is shown in the graphic below. This is when the youth bulge (15 – 35 ) appears to be most pronounced.


Fast forward into the future, in 2050 the population for India would be


You can see that in 2050, the youth bulge has passed.

If the youth bulge indeed correlates with violence, then

  • the worst years would be between 2020 to 2030.
  • the chance to formulate pre-emptive strategies is before 2015

The overall bulge means nothing

I explored further on this by reading many articles on the internet and also thinking a bit about the unique Indian socio-political scenario. For a country like India, the national bulge is not significant. Any statistic will drown in the sheer volume and complexity of India. 

Based on my own rather simplistic analysis, the two important take-aways for India are :

  • The youth bulge in the number of males who cant find partners (linked to the widening sex gap) .
  • The youth bulge in the groups which have grievances against the state (linked to how closely knit these groups are and what their expectations are from the state).

In street level talk, groups would measure their expectations with respect to what other groups have received from the state.There is no absolute measure of how much of the social pie is legitimate. This is an uncomfortable truth that no Indian would like to accept, no Indian columnist to write about, or media to call.  Yet this forms the core of new ideas in behaviour theory. See our earlier posts on Prof Russell Hardin and Mancur Olsen.

Security strategies based on the youth bulge theory

This is probably one of the most interesting applications of the bulge theory. Faced with an insurgent situation, the state can adapt its responses based on the bulge. Some strategies might be (State vs Insurgent-A) :

  • Wait for Insurgent-A’s bulge to pass. In the meantime, engage in offensive options that hasten the process. Sri Lanka might be following this method. Notice the remarkable levels of immigration to the west and the natural passing of the bulge.
  • Compromise the youth bulge of Insurgent-A. This happens by diluting the identity of the group itself.  See the example of Assam and its rising Bangladeshi muslim population as mentioned in this post.

India’s primary bulge problem

We are at a fork in the road, as this blog has mentioned several times in the past. As boring and bitter as it sounds, concrete and exclusive benefits linked simply to people being in a group is the recipe for disaster. The effects are :

  • Now youth bulges have to be monitored for a hundred new groups. Each one with a deadly potential for violence.
  • The total absence of data and the non-insistence (so far) of the judicial system of it, makes violence even more attractive. Sometimes it is the only legitimate route left (see the faith reposed in violence by Assamese tribals, the Gujjars, and the remarkable success of the violent route by the Vanniyars, the Christian-Hindu violence in Orissa’s Kandhamal district and so forth)
  • As population explodes and a severe crunch on natural resources like fresh water and clean air is felt – these violent groups can also stake territorial claims such as control over water bodies, hill resorts etc. Islands of pleasure, such as luxury residences in SEZs will be the first to be targeted.

What can be done

We have a short time window before the problem explodes in our face.  A possible strategy is.

  • Primary education. I know, this will only worsen the potential for violence, but it has a good counterbalancing effect. It will make people aware of the need of data and check the political forces and co-operative media. This further leads to weakening of group identity. The end result is the non-effectiveness of a youth bulge in any group. The group itself is irrelevant as competing claims to benefits have to pass the data test.
  • Trim bulges in dominant extremist groups.  India is going to have a youth bulge in 2020, this need not mean that naxals also get to enjoy a proportional share of this bulge.  However, if unmonitored benefits accrue to groups at the exclusion of the really deprived (atleast in their own view), then the ranks of established extremists will swell. The naxal bulge will become much more pronounced than the overall Indian bulge. 

Sorry to bore you again, but the central culprit is the entrenchment in India of adhoc and unmonitored benefits to groups favoured by the state. This might lead to more pronounced youth bulges in the extremist ranks compared to the already big Indian youth bulge.

When that happens, the following would suddenly make a lot of sense.

“LOOK AT IT THIS WAY,” Gunnar Heinsohn said. “Your family is in a shooting war with a family across the street. Your forces consist of a father, mother and one child, perhaps two. The other family has a father, mother and seven children, perhaps eight or nine. For your family, the loss of one person would be devastating. The larger family can take casualties and continue fighting.”

Internet resource on Prof Heinsohn

More on this later.

Types of information

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on January 27, 2008

Types of information (which one should a country like India aim for) 

Right to Information

Need to know

Don’t ask don’t tell

Mandatory but involuntary  disclosure

Optional yet voluntary  disclosure

Mandatory and automatic disclosure

I am pretty sure I have zeroed in on the “reactor core” of the Indian republic as it stands today. It will be extremely interesting to see if they can continue to safeguard their fountainhead in the age of internet and information.  

On Jallikattu

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on January 15, 2008

This unique Tamil tradition and above all the legend of the “murattu kaalai” (rough bull) must live on.

Happy Pongal Everyone.

I was much distressed over the ban on Jallikattu imposed by the Supreme Court. Now, there is some relief – the honble court has allowed it on a review petition. So, the good times continue to roll.

Reality Check’s view on this is that not only must the sport not be banned, it must be encouraged actively. There are several misconceptions in the media about the sport. NDTV calls is a Tamil bloodsport.

First, a quick intro about the sport.

(From my knowledge , others can tweak it in the comments section)
Jallikattu is a bull control sport, not a bull taming sport. The spanish bullfights seem like an bollywood romantic dance in comparison. The bulls are larger, more powerful, the horns are sharpened, they are also worked up. The fighters are completely unarmed. Unlike the spanish bullfights, the bulls are not softened by damaging their bodies before the fight. It is more like a freestyle rodeo event than a bull-vs-man death match. Best of all, unlike the spanish bullfights – the bull is the hero here. He lives to see another day.

Imagine this scene

It is pongal time in a south Tamilnadu small town. Some colourful but restless bulls are held down by their owners in a holding area. They are all decked up after a special bath and prayers at the temple. This is the day these bulls have been waiting for all year. Most are naturally aggressive bulls that require just a few drum beats to get worked up. There is a dias where some gifts are kept for the winners (cookers, cycles, buckets, cash, watches). A few VIPs are on the dias watching the proceedings. Crowds mill around the opening of the bull pen (or a large hole in the temple wall). They leave some room for the bulls to run towards the open field on the other side. One by one, the owners let go of the bulls – these bulls then go on a wild rampage in the general direction of the open field. The youth then hold on to the bulls shoulder muscle or horns. If you hold on long enough, you are a winner.  The rules are really not very clear about the amount of time or the distance you must hold on to win. The bulls run into the field and eventually calm down. The next bull makes its way from the pen… and so on.

Top four reasons why Jallikattu must be encouraged.

1. Jallikattu is not only an ancient Tamil sport, it also has hindu religious significance.

There is strong sentiment amoung the people that a year without Jallikattu will bring famine, cholera, and other disease to that area. Now, this might get the super-scientific atheist types worked up, still this religious folk sentiment has to be respected. This is similar to the Ram Sethu issue, where you balance economic benefits against religious sentiment. In this case, you balance animal rights concerns against religious sentiment. In both cases the secular state must tread carefully. I am disappointed the BJP has not taken a strong stand on this issue, could be presumably due to their lack of familiarity.

2. It is cruelty to .. humans.

The bull is almost never hurt, leave alone killed. The issues raised by the Blue Cross can be addressed by regulation. The cruelty to humans part is moot, because it is a voluntary sport like boxing and car racing. Can facing Shaun Tait at Perth be construed to be cruelty to humans ?

3. The murattu kaalai (angry bull) is important for livestock.

If cattle could talk, almost all of them would say, “I want to be a jallikattu bull instead of hauling load all over town as a bullock”. The amount of care the owners give to these bulls need to be seen. These bulls do almost no work, they get fed the best food and typically loiter all over the village. Almost everyone leaves them alone, because they know this is a bad un with a foul temper. As they acquire reputation every Pongal, they become highly sought after for stud services. This process is iterated over the years and thereby enhances the genetics of the livestock. The bulls in turn have to prove themselves at precisely this event, only once a year, every Pongal. 

In other words, if you are a bull – this is as good as it gets !! 

Not every bull can be a good jallikattu bull. Even as calves, some bulls acquire a reputation for being uncontrollable. They like to be left alone and sometimes attack without provocation. These calves can then be picked up and trained to be a jallikattu bull (translation : no hard work). Due to the nature of these bulls, it takes very little to anger them. There is no need for chilli powder. The challenge is to keep them calm. The problem happens only when unprofessional owners try to work up ordinary bulls. Due to the calm nature of ordinary cattle, they need more than crowds, noise, and drum beats. Enter chilli powder, punches to genitals, etc. You can already see a case for regulation here. Only registered owners must be allowed. There is also a case for registering individual bulls with the government officials after vetenary doctors examine them (maybe they can be branded by the vets).

4. A unique martial sport with great economic potential

We dont have many of these valour sports in India. A well organized and regulated event will draw thousands of foreign tourists to southern Tamilnadu in the pleasant month of January. The prizes to the winning youth will increase from pots and pans to cash, bikes, and even cars. The winning bulls can also make the bull owners rich and feed into a positive economic cycle enhancing the entire livestock.  You can even have top corporates tying up with bull owners and opening up more job opportunities. Why would we Indians want to let go of a treasure like this ?

Some practical ideas :

1. The TN state government must form a TN Jallikattu Regulatory board under the sports ministry.

2. Top bull owners and temple authorities must be called and be made to agree on a formal set of rules. Each temple can have minor differences in rules according to their tradition.

3. The bull owners must be registered with the above board before participating in the event.

4. The bulls themselves must be registered and government vets must examine them (brand or permanent mark with seal if necessary)

6. The spectators must be kept away from the bulls using two layers of barricades.

7. The government can even think about constructing special arenas near willing temples with facility for TV / photo crews/ foreign tourists/ PA system etc.  Think about announcing past win record of bulls, to make the event more enjoyable.

8. The TN sports minister must take ultimate responsibility for conduct of this event.

9. Involve the blue cross, who are also doing a great job. Allay their concerns and take action when they present video evidence of animal abuse.

 10. Ban more than one (these days it seems one guy cant control it, so maybe two max) to have a go at each bull at any one time. You cant have ten guys pulling at the bull. Even kids can do it, it is not bravery.

Nano & Indore

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on January 12, 2008

These days, they are making it hard to feel proud to be an Indian.

This week was an exception. I am talking about the Tata Nano. I love manufacturing , there is something about creating a “thing” and having the world talk about it.  Way to go, Mr Ratan Tata !


Wait, there is more.

I was watching TV the other night and one of the channels had on a certain Vivek Aggarwal. Turns out he is the collector of Indore MP. He was talking about public transport in the context of Tata Nano. I was impressed with his initiatives on public transport in Indore. I immediately went online and checked out the Indore public bus system. I have never been to Indore, but I think we have a winner for the best bus system in India !!

Check out their website : City Bus Indore 

Any Indore-ians who can comment on this public transit system ? 

I hope other cities can follow this example. I dont think folks prefer to sit in their Nanos in choking traffic, when an air conditioned public bus glides along a dedicated lane.

Demand better public transport from your legislator.

Of course, I am just kidding 🙂 First, support a system that squishes narrow group interests and enhances big picture issues such as public transport. Then your legislator will be forced to listen to you.

We are expire !

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on January 5, 2008

Today, Jyoti Basu made these astounding remarks –

We want capital, both foreign and domestic. After all we are working in a capitalist system. Socialism is not possible now,” he said in response to a question after a meeting of the party’s state secretariat.

Ok fine, whatever.

“We had spoken about building up a classless society, but that was a long time ago,” he said.

Source : Express India

Whoa, wait a minute. So, why should anyone vote for you now ? You admit to have your primary platform miserably wrong for 60 years. What else could you have messed up, the public wonders. The BJP and Congress also offer capitalistic policies, without any of the baggage. The public might think that you are just “expired goods”.

Let us examine his abandoning of the “classless society” :

You can be naive and think he is referring to the working class.  You can also think like a true desi and conclude he is just talking about the great “caste-religion” block as a class.

The CPI-M in West Bengal appear to be envious of their Kerala cousins. Their branch in Kerala is just another caste/religion based party which have large masses tied to concrete benefits. They seem to be having all the fun.

Anyone want to guess where this is all heading ?

SEZs need to go in Goa

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on January 3, 2008

They show us images of Jebel Ali or Shenzhen but end up giving us SEZs the size of Parking Lot 3A in Shenzhen.  Some say – a simple tax avoidance anti competitive land grab. 

Cipla, for instance, has already started work on a notified SEZ and has even pumped in about Rs 500 crore into the project. The Commerce Secretary has also made it clear that any claims for compensation will have to be borne by the state.

The eager investors should realize the extremely low amount of buy-in of the entire SEZ policy among the public. There is no government official who can articulate the SEZ policy which envisages individual companies to setup 10,20,30 hectare private tax havens. There is no parallel to this anywhere in the world. Given such a ground reality, the policy risks are clear. Companies that have already invested in notified SEZs can still operate these new units. Software written in non-SEZs will still work, drugs manufactured in non-SEZs will still be sold. 

See what the famous architect Charles Correa has to say.

The intention of permitting SEZs is to reap the benefits of industrialisation and consequent employment generation. These can be served without SEZs (also) if incentives are extended to incoming industries,” internationally renowned architect and vice-chairman of the task force, Charles Correa, said while reading out the body’s resolution here.

In any event, the Goa government was wise enough to see the light of commonsense and scrap all the 15 SEZs following widespread public protest.  Now, we hear the Union Commerce Secretary.

Pillai said, “Notified means the State has no locus standi to withdraw anything –  there’s no provision under the law for the State Government to recommend denotification.”

Source: Moneycontrol

Yes, yes, we have all heard this line before. In bold letters.

Goods once sold cannot be taken back or exchanged.


Also read previous posts : SEZ Chat, PIO University in an SEZ ? , IT SEZ – Everyone wants a holiday, Minimum Alternate Tax issue, Everything is wrong with us (maximum size cap on SEZ), Panel extends IT holiday to 2019 , and more

2007 – watershed year

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on January 1, 2008

When a tea shop encroaches the pavement, it causes great inconvenience to pedestrians. When politicians encroach social justice, it causes great inconvenience to democracy and to true social justice. It is a double whammy.

2007 proved this beyond a doubt.

The recent riots in Orissa are more about granting ST status to Christian converts rather than opposition to fat men in red santa suits.  From Assam, to Tamilnadu, to Rajasthan, to MP, to Maharashtra, to AP, to Kerala, to UP – events or political formations can almost always be reduced to the quota system. Groups of people are increasingly adopting this stance :

“Look we now know that the social justice platform is not based on anything respectable such as data. Even the latest commission admits so.  Please stop pretending like it is. Lets instead focus on jostling our way into a higher citizenship status.”

Without data and rational examination, even private social interactions become strained to the point of mutual suspicion. How do we know that our top secular hindu-atheist-blogger-journalist-activist (from Sardesai to Dutt to Thapar) is not secretly overdoing the secular play indirectly helping hindutva forces ? Can Indian Muslims trust our secular champagne sipping chatterati – who seek to cross represent them ? 

We hope 2008  can settle the number one question in this country.

How does a group qualify for exclusive benefits , and once it has acquired them how does it get to keep them ?

What is the  governments responsibility to the truly backward ? Where is the data to show their returns from the primary social justice platform ? Who is vested and who is not ?

How far can the “dont-ask-dont-tell” data avoidance strategy adopted by both the legislature and judiciary work in the age of the internet ?

Once this question is answered, true democracy can fix the rest. As it has in almost all other democracies.


One of the highlights of 2007 was the inability of the English mainstream media to bring around the urban educated masses. Motivated bloggers are tearing apart erstwhile opinion makers who till now had a free run. Unlike the past, the public can click on a blog as painlessly as they click on their publications websites.  People are increasingly searching for meanings of catch phrases. The strain on the media is palpable, because they know they cannot hold their flock together if a couple of them break their unspoken ideological commitments in exchange for commercial success.