Sunday, August 15, 2010

Social Capital: Need of the Hour for India (An Independence Day Special)

As India celebrates Independence day on 15th August and completes 63 years of freedom, its time to reflect on present day challenges and how to address them. India has gained world prominence due to its economic development. To ensure further sustainable economic development, its imperative to bolster the Social capital in addition to other capital like Money, Land etc.. The blog entry takes a dispassionate view of current social conditions and emphasis the need to address Social Capital needs of the nation. 

But the need of Social capital is not confined to India. After reading the blog, one would realise that whole world needs it more as it influences social and economic well being of people.

Numerous incidents in recent times have concerned me about deteriorating social capital of the country. Rising crime rate, corruption, communal riots, rising regionalism, casteism are symptoms of it. India is currently in an enviable position demographically, with half of its population under 25 years. I too believe in its youth power. But got a big shock when a promising youth leader used language to divide people, breed hatred and spark riots, just to firm up his regional votebank. These incidents indicate declining social capital in the country and a misguided youth can become a liability rather than strength of the country.

What is Social capital?
It's a set of informal norms in the society. The informal norms that constitute social capital lead to greater trust and cooperation in society. These informal norms are related to traditional virtues like honesty, honouring commitments, sincere discharge of duties, reciprocity etc. Maybe this is what makes Social Capital an elusive and ignored subject in public debates. A high social capital has not only social benefits but also economic benefits. Studies by World Bank have shown that social cohesion is critical for societies to prosper economically and for development to be sustainable. A perfect example would be Japan, who was shattered in Second World War, rose back due to its high social capital. For a modern stable democracy, social capital is sine qua non.

Can Government Play a Role?
Can government increase our stock of social capital? Yes, it can to some degree. The best way government can influence it is through education. Not any education but morals and values based education. The need of this education was emphasized long back by 'Father of Nation (India)', Mahatma Gandhi. But is being ignored as today's education is more geared towards science and profession. Also a government which provides property and public safety breeds trust and cooperation in society hence indirectly creating social capital. Promoting organization of people for greater cause like environment protection, poverty eradication etc also strengthens society cohesion. More specifically to India, which is home of more than 100 languages, many religions, cultures and ethnic groups, any voice of separatism should be nipped in the bud, rather than allowing it to spin into vote bank politics. Separatist sentiments are a killer of social capital in the country.

Role of Non-Governmental Bodies
Many non-governmental initiatives like 'Art of Living' also go a long way in preserving the social capital and improving it. Spirituality opens ones heart and inspires one to live a value driven life. Indian public is very emotional, when it comes to movies. In recent times many movies like Rang De Basanti, Chak De India, Peepli Live etc., not only entertained but also sent across right message to public. In real life too there are many stories which demonstrate human values and compassion. Media can play its role by covering these incidents, rather than sensationalising all negative incidents. Last but not the least, how a common man can contribute? For a start, follow the core values of his/her religion, which is based on moral values and love for humanity and is common to all religions. A common man would do just great by believing in 'One World One Family' and upholding moral values in work & public dealing.

Social Capital and Sustainability
But why should one worry about social capital at all? Yes, one can choose to ignore it as we become used to living in present conditions. But if we want to ensure a better future for our children, then we have to act now! And that is the basic tenet of Sustainability.

Some members of society employ unethical means to amass wealth, justifying it in name of creating better future for their children. Unwittingly they end up teaching unethical short-cuts to their children too. All unethical actions by members of society invariably flow and diffuse into the society, hence polluting it. Happiness of a person is also a function of his surroundings & society. Wealthy children cannot remain happy as the world around them grows meaner, corrupt, violent and polluted. No one lives in isolation, we are all connected and hence we can no longer afford to ignore the need to develop this all important but elusive Social Capital for our progeny and posterity.

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