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Issue 23 Issue 7

Through the Looking Glass: Gender Lens and Education Policy

In September 2020, the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) and the Directorate of Education initiated a joint project called the Early Warning System that utilizes school attendance records to develop interventions to curb dropouts by identified at-risk children. 

Prolonged absenteeism can lead to failing the course, especially in rural areas where students lack the financial resources to learn externally. Studies have shown that students who regularly attend school tend to perform better than those who are always absent, as frequent practising of skills helps build one’s ability to perform better than infrequent learning. It is thus essential to note absences and their reasons to ensure a balanced and consistent education for all.

DCPCR developed the policy expecting that the Covid-19 pandemic would lead to a rise in school absenteeism. The pandemic delayed the policy’s roll-out, but a pilot was initiated in October 2021, and the Commission fully implemented the policy in April 2022. DCPCR chairman Anurag Kundu explained that reduced or prolonged attendance as a metric would help gauge whether a child was facing a crisis at home that is affecting their education. The primary causes for absenteeism detected in the pilot included sickness in the family, moving back to the village, lack of parental awareness, labour, early marriage, taking care of household chores, and death. 

The system will send an automated SMS to the parent/guardian of any student who has missed more than 66% of working days in a month or missed more than seven days in a row. If there is no response, it will send an Interactive Voice Response (IVRS) call to understand the reason for absenteeism and make a note in the system if anything is detected. If there is still no response, the teacher will call the parents up and enter the details in the system. If the parents are unreachable or the child is detected to be “high-risk”, home visits will be conducted and adequate steps are taken on a case by case basis. 

Given the policy’s recent implementation, there isn’t substantial data on the interventions made in girls’ cases compared to boys. While the policy remains ungendered mainly, it is crucial to consider the differing reasons for absenteeism amongst girls and boys. Among adolescent boys, the most significant cause of missing school has been child labour which has been hard to solve since counselling and encouraging them to go to school may help, but the families still need their income. Amongst girls, on the other hand, the most prominent causes include early marriage and menstruation. Kundu said that four of their successful interventions were in cases where parents wanted to get their daughters, ages 15-17, married. The parents were counselled to push this decision until after they completed school. 

The policy could become fully functional only in April since its implementation depended on students physically attending school, which was optional until now due to the pandemic. The policy also made no arrangements for online schools or helping those facing difficulty accessing education while they were at home. In 2021, a Delhi-based NGO conducted a survey and found that 56.1% of girls had an increased responsibility to complete domestic chores during the pandemic with less time to focus on their education. Studies show a gender-based digital device, with 33.6% of girls not having access to digital devices and 64% saying that boys had more access to devices and the internet in their communities. Many girls studying before the pandemic couldn’t return to classes as their families didn’t want to spend their savings on their daughters’ education.

Unicef released an alarming report predicting that 10 million more girls would be at risk of child marriage by the end of the decade due to the pandemic. Education is a protective factor against child marriage. Still, with school closure and increased economic strain, girls are pushed into marriage as a last resort to help ease the family’s financial burden. Strict policies, ensuring access to health services and providing social support to families are vital to ensure girls stay in school. Similarly, another significant problem faced by girls attending school is menstruation. 

A 2018 Delhi based study found that 40% of girls didn’t go to school while menstruating. The fear and embarrassment that breeds from the social stigmas around menstruation and the lack of proper sanitary materials, no privacy at school, restrictions imposed on girls, and their mother’s education lead to a drop in attendance which hampers education. Not addressing these things in policy means that little will be able to be done when the issues arise. Interventions to reduce social taboos, increase awareness, provide healthcare and expand the curriculum to provide sound information are essential to combat this problem. The Early Warning System, like other policies, should find ways to implement interventions that account for these factors and include clauses that aim to address these gender-specific issues. 

The National Education Policy of 2020 faced a similar backlash. Specific provisions might promote girls’ education, such as the provision of a Gender Inclusion Fund which would be utilized towards an equitable education for girls and transgender students and an increase in public investment to bring down education spending. This policy, however, encouraged public-private partnership in education which might lead to more schools turning private and becoming inaccessible and unaffordable. Increased tuition would make it harder to convince families to spend on girls’ education and lead to them dropping out. 

While the EWS didn’t mention digital education, the NEP pressed on it without making any provisions for the infrastructure required. The policy’s consolidation of school complexes provision would increase dependence on Open School, the national distance learning program. Any emphasis on this for girls would lead to increased domesticity and curbs on their freedom where they would have a degree but not be able to do much with it. Here, not including girls’ education and other marginalized communities in the policy leads to exclusion. It is crucial to look at policy-making from a gender lens and make gender-specific policies to ensure genuinely equitable education for girls. 

The system will send an automated SMS to the parent/guardian any student who has missed more than 66% of working days in a month or missed more than 7 days in a row. If there is no response, it will send an Interactive Voice Response (IVRS) call to understand the reason for absenteeism and make a note in the system if anything is detected. If there is still no response, the teacher will call the parents up and will enter the details in the system. Home visits are conducted if the parents are unreachable or the child is detected to be “high-risk” and adequate steps are taken on a case by case basis. 

Given the policy’s recent implementation, there isn’t substantial data on the interventions made in the cases of girls as compared to boys. While the policy remains largely ungendered, it is important to consider the differing reasons for absenteeism amongst girls and boys. Among adolescent boys, the biggest cause for missing school has been child labour which has been hard to solve since councelling and encouraging them to go to school may help but the families still need their income. Amongst girls on the other hand, the biggest causes include early marriage and menstruation. Kundu said that four of their successful interventions were in cases where parents wanted to get their daughters ages between 15 and 17 married. The parents were counseled to push this decision until after they completed school. 

The policy was able to become fully functional only in April given that it can only be implemented when students are physically attending school which was optional until now due to the pandemic. The policy also made no arrangements for online school and helping those who were having a hard time accessing education while they were at home. In 2021, a Delhi-based NGO conducted a survey and found that 56.1% of girls had an increased responsibility to complete domestic chores during the pandemic with less time to focus on their education. Studies show a gender-based digital device with 33.6% of girls not having access to digital devices and 64% saying that boys had more access to devices and the internet in their communities. Many girls studying before the pandemic couldn’t return to classes as their families didn’t want to spend their savings on their daughters’ education.

The National Education Policy of 2020 faced similar backlash suggesting that while there were certain provisions that might promote girls’ education such as the provision of a Gender Inclusion Fund which would be utilized towards an equitable education for girls and transgender students and an increase in public investment to bring down education spending. This policy however might lead to schools becoming inaccessible and unaffordable and girls dropping out. It is crucial to look at policy making from a gender lens as well as make gender-specific policies to ensure truly equitable education for girls. 

Reya Daya is a third-year student studying psychology and media studies at Ashoka University. Her other interests include writing, photography and music.

Picture credits: Unicef

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 15 Issue 7

Connecting culture to climate change: The many WIPs of Vinod Nambiar

The 2nd Edition of the Nila International Folklore Film Festival of India (NIFFFI 2021) is on. Hosted by Vinod Nambiar and his folk culturist group, Vayali, you can join a conversation with culture revivalists from across the globe and see documentaries on vanishing cultures. These films are made by, among others, India’s own adivasi filmmakers.

Vinod, for the past eighteen years, has been exploring every medium that gets youth up close with folk art, tradition and a knowledge system in touch with nature. A software engineer by training, he grew up by the river Nila in Kerala and saw first-hand how a living culture can begin to end, if another generation does not connect with its land. A creative response was an all bamboo instrument music band who engage the young to play, perform and experiment away.   Another is to have an ongoing cultural calendar, where the local flavour of dance and pottery, weaving and drama, bring a once dying river’s bedside, alive. Determined to be creative in tackling the cultural loss caused by climate change and migration, he shares the challenges in a video chat with Anushree Pratap.

Part of  Open Axis, Issue 15 focuses on interviews with path-breaking Indians, responding to climate change challenges.

Video: 15 min.

Cover image is taken from Vinod Nambiar’s Facebook page.

Anushree Pratap is a second-year student at Ashoka University pursuing Political Science and Environmental Studies. 

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 7

Someone Great

Directed by Jennifer Robinson and starring Jane The Virgin star Gina Rodriguez, Someone Great is a 2019 film that at once encompasses humour, friendship and love in a breezy 90-minute movie. It is set in New York City, the home of three girlfriends in their late-20s, navigating their careers and loves, all the while holding on to their cherished friendship. The movie revolves around the protagonist Jenny Young’s (Gina Rodriguez) recent breakup with her long-term boyfriend. While at first sight, the movie might seem like another light break-up watch filled with peppy songs and quippy one-liners, it touches upon the less-talked-about aspects of heartbreak and moving on.

Instead of going the conventional way by focusing solely on the protagonist’s broken heart, it attempts to explain the nuances of a complicated long-term relationship, the troubles of emotional attachment and the pain of moving on. Through the film, the protagonist is shown as actively coming to terms with the break-up, moving from blaming her boyfriend to admitting her own faults. It ends on a bittersweet note, with Jenny realising that while her time in the relationship was beautiful, the ending was also justified and all she can do is look forward and wish her ex-boyfriend future happiness. This attempt at understanding and achieving closure is perhaps the highlight of the film

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis)..

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Issue 7

From the Screen to your Couch: Here’s to Binging with Babish

Courtesy: Youtube, Babish Culinary Universe

There’s just something about food in movies, TV shows and anime: it looks unachievable-y better. Yes, it’s the colour-grading, the impeccable cinematography and the breathtaking animation but I would go as far as to say: it’s also the story and what it means to you. I feel an odd attachment to Ratatouille that has little to do with the dish and everything to do with the movie. So, the Youtube algorithm inevitably caught on and presented me with Binging with Babish— a channel where cinematic food is serious business.

Andrew Rea cooks all of this food better than you ever could but it truly is more about the journey—filled with witty quips, shiny kitchen equipment and fancy camera angles—than the “destination” (not least because we can’t eat the food). Watching Babish whip-up food from Seinfeld or Friends not only leaves me giddy with childish nostalgia, but also with a little too much faith in my own culinary abilities. That’s really not too bad given the times we find ourselves in. We could do with a restful break from all the stress—whether it ends in great food or just a “huh, so Homer Simpson really wasn’t kidding around with those waffles”.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 7

NPR Tiny Desk Concert: Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals

Courtesy: YouTube, NPR Music

It’s no surprise that Anderson .Paak’s concert is the most viewed video of the NPR Tiny Desk Concert Series. Backed by long-time collaborators, Free Nationals, .Paak offers stripped down versions of songs from his then released record, Malibu. Intimate, informal and ingenious, the band offers an unmatched dynamism as an R&B four-piece outfit. What stands apart is .Paak’s performance as a singer-drummer. Switching between effortless rap and flowing vocal melodies, .Paak never loses hold of his tight drum groove that is accentuated throughout by Kelsey Gonzales’ bass playing.

Over these laid-back grooves is the perfect coalescence of hip hop and soul music, offering a perfect entry point into rap music for those who tend to drift away from hip hop’s usual associations with old-school gangsta rap, or trap music. Even if the music doesn’t strike a chord with your musical inclinations on first listen, .Paak’s charming smile, the band’s chemistry and humorous banter in between songs will leave you captivated. Throughout the performance, look out for the band member wearing shades, he is undoubtedly the one who stands out from the rest.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 7

The Beginner’s Guide

Conventional notions of the intentional meaning behind creativity is challenged in The Beginner’s Guide. An interactive, narrative-based game developed and narrated by Davey Wreden, it follows the player exploring a series of short games developed by an individual named Coda. However, it isn’t Coda who introduces the player to their creations, but a narrator, named ‘Wreden’ after the game’s developer, who was once Coda’s close friend. The game follows the tumultuous journey of Coda’s creativity, depicted in the games they built before their sudden disappearance from Wreden’s life. 

Wreden walks the player through a variety of Coda’s games, highlighting signs of Coda’s deteriorating mental health due to doubts about their abilities and dissatisfaction with their ideas through recurring symbols and subtle allusions. Coda’s games provide elusive messages to the player to piece together the cause of their disappearance. The games represent Coda’s creative range and usage of his games as a means of communication with others. Through inescapable prison sequences, endless staircases that becomes progressively difficult to climb, and a cabin in the middle of nowhere that requires repeated cleaning with no sight in end, it becomes apparent that Coda’s games mean more than just creative expression to him. 

Davey Wreden’s games are best experienced without much explanation–they are always more than what they seem. At its core, The Beginner’s Guide effectively makes its players reevaluate what creativity truly entails, and understand the consequences of an insatiable desire for searching for meaning in creative products, even when there isn’t any. 

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 7

This One Summer

This One Summer, by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki is a gorgeously illustrated graphic novel that tells a coming-of-age of two ordinary friends. The book explores the ups and downs of adolescence in this sweet summer novel, set in a lazy beachside town. What really captured my attention was the art style that exquisitely revives the bittersweet nostalgia of summer, heightened by the monochromatic moody blue color palate used throughout. 

The prose that accompanied the illustration is warm enough to bring out all the little things that happen over the summer. The story of this graphic novel follows a young girl Rose, who goes to a beach town for a summer break with her parents and befriends another girl from the town named Windy. As the story progresses, we see Rose go through struggles of growing up as a girl and keeping up with the changes in her life that this vacation brings in the form of troubles in her parents’ marriage, and her own life.  The language used in the book is rather interesting as it very well captures the dilemma through the eyes of Rose, who is old enough to understand what is going around her but not mature enough to care or significantly contribute or even comprehend the troubles and trauma she is going through. 

The attention to detail in the illustrations, coupled with the delicate prose makes this combination of panels a beautiful story that weaves together a story of two girls who try to navigate their way through a repulsive adult world filled with domestic drama with teenage troubles, in what is an otherwise languid summer. 

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 7

Godspeed, Miya Bhai

The recently concluded test match series between India and Australia in Australia bears testimony to the fact that statistics and results are intended to capture final outcomes, but seldom represent the stories that bring them about. The visitors emerged victorious, and in doing so managed to retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy while defeating Australia at the Gabba, their unconquered fortress of 32 years. 

From the horrendous start, a reclaim to victory, a staunch defensive save to absolute heroics leading to a resounding triumph, there was no dearth of stories in the series. None of these, however, managed to capture the popular imagination of our country as well as the story of Mohammad Siraj.   

A late bloomer according to Indian cricketing standards, Siraj guided his home-team Hyderabad to a quarter-final spot in the 2017 Ranji season. He debuted for India in the game’s shortest format the same year, and in ODIs in 2019. He has also been an IPL mainstay over the last few seasons, his last assignment being his role as the strike bowler for the Royal Challengers Bangalore team. He came to face severe flak under this role, due to poor results from the team. However, it was only during the boxing day match last year that Siraj would don India’s test cap for the first time. Siraj scalped 5 wickets over the two innings at Melbourne, showing the world that he could bowl with immaculate discipline, capitalizing on his first-class experience. 

Mohammad Siraj is a Muslim from Hyderabad, a city with a rich history of Nizami culture that continues to permeate life there. Hyderabad has a high percentage of Muslim population, with 44% of its residents following Islam. Among his teammates, Siraj is referred to as Miya Bhai. This term of endearment is often used to refer to one’s friends, especially in Hyderabad. A glance through Siraj’s social media shows us a man doing the Mujra, a dance form central to Nawabi culture. Along with a host of cricketing awards, Siraj is still unvarnished and unapologetic to be himself, staying authentic to himself and his culture. An unfiltered stance like this takes bravery in these times, as India and Hyderabad witness changes antithetic to their multicultural, secular character. 

The BJP’s Hindu Nationalist agenda is contingent on the ability to identify and censure a fictive Muslim bogeyman. The party has leveraged this notion, seeming to work against “appeasement” politics. In Hyderabad, it has tried to rebrand the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM), a major political party as one that protects Pakistanis and Rohingyas, the villains of the current nationalistic discourse. In the search for pan-India Hindu support, BJP has reformulated local body politics in the city, by attempting to sideline the ruling TRS party and the AIMIM. Much of its campaign for the municipal corporation was centered around Hindu nationalism, rather than local issues. This method of majoritarian politics was effective in its success in December 2020, where it racked up 44 out of 150 seats.

At the same time, in Australia, Siraj with his heroics managed to win hearts all over the world. Playing on after losing his father just a few days before the series, it was evident how important cricket was after capturing his first wicket. He dismissed Marnus Labuschagne and pointed his hands towards heaven, knowing abba would be proud of him. 

After an Indian win in the second match, the opening ceremony of the third caught India’s collective attention. As the National Anthem played, Mohammad Siraj’s eyes teared up, prompting a widespread flow of both adoration and adulation for him. Amidst all this, to a certain few, this incident seemed to serve a point to further the “Good Muslim” idealogue that has become rampant. It seeks to present a caricature of accepted, even ideal behavior of the minority, to further strengthen control over the popular narrative. For Siraj, however, all it represented was a reminder of how far he’d come, and the joy that would have been all too evident for his father.

In this match, Siraj saw yet another challenge as he had to face racial abuse at the hand of spectators when he was fielding near the ropes of the Sydney Cricket Ground. This abuse started on the third day and continued over to the fourth day of the Test match. Certain sections of the ground were cleared, and an investigation remains underway. Following a hard-fought draw in this match, India were matched 1-1 with Australia on the scorecard. India’s squad was sodden with injuries to key players. Consequently,  Siraj, with all the experience of two matches, now had to lead a fresh bowling attack, one that had a combined total of 13 wickets, compared to 1033 for the Australians. 

Despite the obvious chasm between the two sides in experience and results, the Indians were resolute throughout the five days of play. On the fourth day, Siraj and Shardul Thakur fought hard to be the first Indian bowlers in the series to produce a five-wicket haul. This contest ended rather fittingly with Hazelwood getting caught by Shardul at third man off of Siraj’s bowling. On the last day of the series, Cheteshwar Pujara copped eleven blows to the body in order to shield the Indian team’s chances of fighting. The star of the show, however, was Rishabh Pant, whose intent and aggression sealed the match in India’s favor three overs before play ended. As soon as the winning runs were recorded, the first person to rush to the field was Siraj, embracing the day’s star before uprooting a stump to mark the end of a remarkable match and series. 

At the end of the tournament, India had made use of 20 players over their matches. It was the story of one of them, however, that will be talked about in the years to come. As soon as he landed in India, Mohammad Siraj visited his father’s grave, knowing that his trip was complete only then. Despite the “good other” comments that he attracts, or the vitriol that he has to face on social media, the identity of Mohammad Siraj, Miya Bhai is one that he wears proudly, defiantly, and effortlessly, one that is expressly similar to his bowling action.

Aditya Burra is an Economics and Finance major at Ashoka University. He enjoys hiking, and is particularly interested in understanding how right-wing online spaces function.

Picture Credits: Fox Sports

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 7

Decoding the Union Budget 2021: Q&A with Professor Nishant Chadha

Q: There are a lot of worries about the Fiscal deficit for this financial year. Could you tell us the concerns around it and how the government plans to fund it? 

A: Very loosely put, the fiscal deficit is the difference between the government’s expenditure and its receipts. The concern that surrounds it is how do you fill up the gap between your spendings and receipts? Or if you borrow today, how do you repay it tomorrow, and will you have enough to repay it? 

And if we don’t borrow today, then how will we finance what we want to do? That is the same decision that any business or economic entity faces. Your borrowings are contingent on your belief that you can generate more income and pay off the debt later. Granted your activities are productive enough to cover the costs of borrowing. It’s the same logic that works for the government, but it can get a lot more complicated sometimes. 

The fiscal deficit is higher owing to the huge shock to the economy last year that resulted in low receipts and businesses shutting down.. So, where does the government get its revenue from? Now, since the government does not do any productive activity (like run businesses or earn profits from them), it essentially taxes other productive work, its citizens, businesses, etc. That is how it raises its revenue. Now, when you have an economic shock, especially one as large as the COVID-19 pandemic, your productive activity slows down as businesses aren’t creating much since they are not profitable. So, their tax revenues, which are the proportion of what they produce go down.

So that’s the reason why you have a higher fiscal deficit. Now, the question about concern is really about how optimistic we are about our future and about our ability to meet the government’s increased debt burdens. 

So the last part of the question you asked was how do you finance the fiscal deficit. One way is to disinvest. So you have wealth which you sell off and use the assets to finance expenditure.

The second way is that you go to people and borrow. So that’s the debt market. Typically, that’s the way the government fills the gap.

And the third way is by monetizing the fiscal deficit, which is essentially printing money. This is done by the RBI buying the government bonds and printing more money against that. So, it’s essentially just increasing the money supply. 

Q: Could you tell us something about the expenditure for the agriculture sector. A lot of reports mention that there isn’t a lot being done for the farmers, even against the backdrop of the protests. Can we observe an emerging pattern of inequality here? 

A: Yeah, I have an unpopular view about this. I think the only thing the government or the society can do for the farmers, is to ensure that we have fewer farmers. That is the only way out. 

So I think that agriculture adds about 14-15% to our GDP and employs about 45-48% of the people. That is where you have inequality. At the upper end, you have people who are in productive sectors like services but on the lower hand, people are tied to agriculture.

Increase in productivity with so many farmers is bad for the farmers, it is good for the consumers. So the only thing the government can do is, therefore, focus on moving people away from farming into value-added activities. Typically it would involve people moving to cities and into manufacturing or services. Our problem has been that we don’t have a manufacturing sector, so we have been unable to implement this transition. And it is a very difficult transition as services typically require the kind of skills and human capital that people in rural India don’t have. So now what happens? This is a structural feature and the government has two choices: either people’s income increases itself so that they are no longer poor and reliant on you or if they remain poor, you will have to pay to support them. And that is the essence of this distinction between growth and inequality discussion.

If you don’t do anything in terms of investing in people, if the skills don’t improve, if they don’t engage with other jobs, there’s nothing you can do. None of them are leaving agriculture or moving away from social security schemes. So where do you bring the money from? So to me, this expenditure needs to be balanced. This choice needs to be made. And the only way to have to be able to manage this is to invest in growth.

Q: So does the government have to invest in education training or similar programs to encourage having fewer farmers in the agriculture industry to increase labour productivity?  

A: See that is unfair. We all blame the government, but it is a difficult job to do. As I said, the government doesn’t engage in productive activities, but what it can do is enable the right kind of environment to generate productive activity. The bottom line is that businesses need to grow.

We need more of the right kinds of businesses and entrepreneurs, and more formality in our labour markets. The government’s job is to worry about why jobs are not being created. Now what they can do to resolve this is to encourage entrepreneurship and increased business activity so that people can start or grow businesses and hire more people. 

Now, what is the challenge here? Consider how in a lot of banks that you deal with, look at what has happened with the call centres. They’ve all been replaced by chatbots. Call centres are not really skilled jobs. You just have to talk to people. But they were a huge boost to India in some sense, because they moved a lot of people out of lower-middle-class backgrounds into a sort of middle class, but now they’ll all go away. Just like how mobile phones ran out the STD booths. This is a reality that we are going to run into very soon. So what should the government do now? Well, at the micro-level, they should essentially invest people with enough skills and create an environment which encourages business activity. 

So when we think about what the government can do in terms of job creation, I think over the long term, we need to be cognizant of the fact that by its own admission, this government is spending huge amounts of political capital on digitization but aren’t spending anything on creating it. The question is who will work in those areas? So if I look at the education of the labour force today in India, 28 to 30% or one-third of our labour force is illiterate. We don’t have the labour composition that can be a part of this economy that we are talking about. For example, mobile phone penetration in India is high, but only in absolute numbers. So it is a huge market for people. However, the government’s job is not to create huge markets, but to figure out what is happening to those people who don’t have mobile phones. How will they survive? 

The digital divide in this country is huge. So, what technology 4.0 we are talking about? We don’t even have automation of the basic kind right now. Most businesses in this country don’t have computers. We really need to understand the reality in which we exist.

We have this challenge in the long-term that we need to start acknowledging and addressing now, and then you hope that there is enough creativity and innovativeness in your country’s population, which will take care of itself. And I believe there is. The government’s job is just to create and keep creating the right environment and then hope for the best. 

There are things that they do in terms of job creation, for example, investing in infrastructure will create jobs, but they’ll create construction jobs. The whole world is moving towards, you know, having AI, ML and robots in construction and moving people away to more productive work. We are trying to create jobs where we have people moving from agriculture to construction. This is okay for now, but is this really what we want for the future? These are some hard questions that we need to answer.

Q: We also wanted to ask you about your expectations from the budget and whether or not they were met? 

A: Honestly, I think this is a fair budget and I’m quite okay with it. 

One of the things that I do like about the budget is asset monetization. There’s a lot of land that is lying around, which is not the government’s job to hold anyway. So, releasing productive assets and transferring them to other people in the economy who can use it better is a great idea. I would also like the Indian government to have a national social infrastructure pipeline at some point. 

And I really would like them to have a plan, (like the one that they have for capital expenditure they’re making on infrastructure, for example; in which they give a plan for three, five or 10 years) for education and health. I think now is the time to make commitments. India needs to start thinking about how they’re going to tackle this problem of a low level of education and skilling and increasing enrollment ratios in secondary education.

There is all this discussion around technology 4.0, but how are we going to do it? Our kids don’t even finish school. So what are they going to do? They just want to use YouTube. They become a market for others. Agreed, the mobile phone penetration is high in India, but that just increases the size of the market for somebody else, because the technology is not in the hands of producers or entrepreneurs, that technology is in the hands of consumers. So yes, we’re consuming technology a lot, but what are we doing with it? Or we are basically giving a huge market to Google and Facebook and YouTube.

And yes, we can replace TikTok with Tik Kik and PUBG with FAU-G. But that is not what we need to do. If you want to harness this technology, you need to turn these to as many people as possible, especially to producers and entrepreneurs.

We really need to have a plan for education and health, just like we do for other forms of investment because human capital is a form of investment, not expenditure. We really need to get our act together there.

Q: There’s a lot of information available about the budget. What would you recommend as a good, informative source for somebody who just wants to understand it? 

A: I would suggest that you just look at the budget documents, they are annotated along with footnotes explaining everything. You can just go to the website (www.indiabudget.gov.in).The best way to learn for yourself is to spend time on it and make your own judgments, that is what I would advise. 

Nishant Chadha is a Fellow and Head of Projects at the India Development Foundation, and a visiting associate professor of Economics at Ashoka University.

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Issue 7

Taking from the Rich: Reddit, GameStop and the Consequences of Greed

Near the middle of 2019, a Reddit user, known as “Roaring Kitty” boasted his $53,000 investment in “GameStop” a declining video game company. GameStop bought and sold video games, and it isn’t hard to see why that kind of model seems unsustainable in the streaming and digital age. u/RoaringKitty made his post on a subReddit known as “r/WallStreetBets” henceforth known as WSB. Every commenter on WSB cried out that this investment was foolhardy, that GameStop was dying but u/RoaringKitty paid them no heed and continued to keep his investment there. Today, that $53,000 stake is worth $48 Million. How did this happen? 

To begin, we need to understand a few terms. 

What is a share? 

When a company is formed, it’s corpus consists of a set of discrete units. The owners of these discrete units are shareholders and become direct stakeholders invested in the company. In the case of GameStop, there are roughly 65 million shares up for grabs. 

What is a short? 

A short is a financial action one can take concerning shares. While the obvious way of profiting off of stocks is to buy some shares, wait for the prices to rise, sell and profit off of the differences, there is a means of profiting off of the fall in the price of a share. The way to do this is through “shorting”.

What one does is, when they anticipate that the price of a company’s shares is going to drop in value, they “borrow” shares from shareholders, sell them at current market prices, then once the price drops, they buy the shares back and “return” them, and keep the difference for themselves. Now, when one shorts a given company’s stock, it is legally required to eventually return the borrowed shares. This means they have to buy back the shares, regardless of what they cost. 

In the case of GameStop, hedge funds (financial institutions that profit through the buying and selling of stocks and shares) shorted 140% of GameStop’s shares. How do you short 40% more shares than those that exist? Well, that’s actually not too wild. Essentially, shares can be double-counted. Suppose I buy a share in GameStop and then lend it to a broker who intends to short it. This broker sells it to another customer, named say, Saman. Now, to Saman, this is just another share, there is no association with me, so she can further lend the share to someone else who could short it. This way, we can have over a 100% short interest. 

What did u/RoaringKitty do?

Now, u/RoaringKitty didn’t just brag about a weird investment, he noticed something nobody else did: GameStop wasn’t a dying company. GameStop had reasonably large cash reserves, they didn’t have much debt, and with the release of the new PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series, the chain of stores was doing alright. 

Roaring Kitty started talking about his investment on YouTube, Reddit, and TikTok, and people began to notice. Specifically, Michael Burry. Some of you might know him from Christian Bale’s portrayal of him in The Big Short, but for those who don’t, Burry was one of the first people to realize that there was a crisis imminent before the 2008 Economic Crisis and made a massive profit off of it. Burry, at last count, made a 1400% profit off of his investment in GameStop in just under 5 months. 

This discourse on GameStop’s financials, as well as public filings showing massive short interests from various hedge funds like Citron and Melvin Capital, became the seeds of a perfect storm. u/RoaringKitty mobilized r/WallStreetBets with the information that GameStop was viable fuelling thousands of members of the subReddit to buy millions of shares. This artificially drove the price of GameStop stock up hundreds of dollars and decimated the short position of various hedge funds. Melvin Capital lost nearly $4 billion throughout January. 

While initially, buying GameStop stock was sound financial advice, eventually anti-billionaire, anti-hedge fund rhetoric swept the subReddit, and users decided that keeping the stock was now a moral crusade to crush meddling Wall Street titans. You can find posts like this across the website describing their hatred for Wall Street money movers, and this no doubt fueled the stock buying. Eventually, various influencers, including Elon Musk joined the bandwagon, advocating to buy GameStop and crush the short sellers. Musk specifically dislikes shorting since firms have tried to short Tesla several times over the years. 

Robinhood, a free, fee-less trading platform began restricting trading GameStop stock, to avoid “volatility” in the stock market. Now, as surprising as it may sound, Alexandra Ocasio Cortez, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump Jr. all cried out that this was anti-competitive and anti-capitalist, you’d never expect to see the three of them agree on anything, let alone the free market. Robinhood was only the first of several services to restrict trading, an act that has led to several class-action lawsuits. This leaves a valuable question on the table, who gets to truly “regulate” the market? Why is social market manipulation “volatility” while a few billionaires doing it is a “hustle”? The actual nature of power within market structures has been exposed, and it cannot be allowed to fade from public memory. The “free” market is a selectively free market. 

Now, as trading continues it is to be seen which forces buckle first, the Redditors, or the hedge funds. As the value fluctuates, there are ripple effects across the industry. This entire incident is also provoking a series of questions about the power of social media. A user on Reddit mobilized millions of dollars through thousands of small traders, and apps like Parler managed to mobilize thousands to storm the US Capitol. While one shouldn’t conflate the two events, there needs to be cognizance of how these networks hold the power to organize people in ways that the people are not prepared for. But beyond that, the story is still unfolding, and we need to ask ourselves, who wins at the end of this? How do we even imagine “winning” in this scenario? And, where does this leave us? 

Vibhor is a third-year economics major, and frequent Redditor, with an interest in economic history, behavioural science and decentralised systems. He is a frequent critic of the free market and enjoys reading about market failure and similar shenanigans.