Computer and the Buffalo:
Globalization and Rural
Women in Gujarat
Shyam Sunder, Yale School of Management
Jessica Heyman, Yale College ‘07
Yale International Development Policy Speaker Series
February 20, 2006
• 15 minute DVD of information and
communications technology at SEWA
(Self-Employed Women’s Association)
• Field interviews with SEWA women
• Comments and discussion
• Perspectives on globalization in South
Asia (time permitting)
Shyam Sunder
Information and Communications
Technology at SEWA
Shyam Sunder
Shyam Sunder
Shyam Sunder
Shyam Sunder
Field Interviews with SEWA
Women (a sample)
Jessica Heyman, Yale College
Name: Jashodaben Chotabhai
Caste: Bankar
Age: 40
Place: Buchasan
Education: Illiterate
Family: 2 daughters (18: nurse; 17: 10th fail), 1 son (13: in school);
husband: deceased
• SEWA: 3 years; weaving
• ICT: Nothing
• I know nothing. I am illiterate, I can do nothing. My kids will not
teach me. I asked my kids to teach me, and they refused to. But
they say, “I have no time,” or “I am too tired,” or “I don’t feel like it.”
They tell me that I can’t learn, that I am too old. If I told my son to
get out of my house, he’d tell me to get out of his house. His circle
of friends is all like that. I didn’t concentrate on my kids properly
when they were little, I just let them go out and do as they wanted. I
didn’t care for him, now he doesn’t care for me.
Shyam Sunder
Name: Manjulaben Rameshbhai
Caste: Gajjar
Age: 51
Place: Ahmedabad
Education: 10th pass
Family: 2 daughters (30: BA, housewife; 27: 12th pass, housewife), 1 son (25: 10th fail,
unemployed); husband: clerk at a university in the city
SEWA: 14 years; forest campaign Spearhead Team Leader
ICT: Computer, mobile, TV, VCR, audio tape, calculator
In my caste, when you get married you stop your education, and you should be less educated
than your husband.
Computer: I was scared at first to have a computer on the table in front of me. When I first began
to learn, I was always stressed, because there is this device, and I know how the important it is,
and I can’t use it. My ignorance was stressful. And now, after completing this training, I can
prepare my daily reports on computers. To learn computers you need proper time management,
at least 2-3 hours a day. And that is only possible if I learn it sincerely and with full concentration.
I think computers are a kind of treasure. The world has had this treasure for many years, but for
some reason, we have not been able to utilize that. Today, I am able to utilize that treasure and I
can do any miracle.
Now, we will keep all our forest information database on computers, and find them easily. No one
else in my activity knows computers.
Calculator: 2-3 hours/day. Saves incalculable amounts of time. I have to calculate how many
tree are in stock, etc.
TV: I watch local and national news, songs, daily.
Mobile: 5-6 times/day, for SEWA and to call home.
Shyam Sunder
Name: Rameelaben Rajubhai
Caste: Parmar
Age: 30
Place: Chikhodra
Education: FYBA fail
Family: 1 daughter (7), 2 sons (6, 2); husband an accountant at a private bank
SEWA: not a member
ICT: phone, calculator
Computer: I want to learn computer but can’t because of family problems. I have
household work, and the children to look after, they have school and need three
meals a day, and I just can’t manage it, I get too tired. But I will take classes when
they’re offered here. When my kids are grown up, I want to work in a company on a
computer. Only one person in my family is earning, and 8 are eating: me and my
husband, my kids, my mother-in-law and father-in-law, and my brother-in-law. My
brother-in-law can’t find work, and is totally illiterate, so can’t learn computers. Ands
he doesn’t want to learn: he just wants to sit on the bed and order others around.
Here, we’re very poor. We don’t have much money to eat. So how can I go to
school? It’s the same with my brother-in-law: when he was young, he worked as a
tobacco farmer and gave the money to his little brother so my husband could go to
school. Because he worked when he was young, now he’s 40 and lazy and fat.
Shyam Sunder
Name: Shantaben Hirabhai
Caste: Vankar
Age: 52
Place: Sinhol
Education: 3rd pass, no English numbers
Family: 3 sons (30: B.Com, weaves; 25: 9th pass, factory; 21: 12th
pass, factory)
• SEWA:12 years; weaving activity
• ICT: Nothing
• I can receive phone calls, but I can’t call. I don’t know English
numbers. Whatever you teach us, we will learn. I don’t have time to
go out, I spend the whole day on household work and weaving. I
have no plans to learn anything. But I push kids to learn this, learn
that. I say, “Look, because of our financial situation, I couldn’t learn,
but you have to learn.” None of my kids know computers. My
youngest wants to go to college, but because of our financial
situation, he cannot.
Shyam Sunder
Jessica’s Summary
• Bleak moments for ICT
– Many problems came from the lack of focus
on education and infrastructure development
• Big picture: encouraging
– Improved quality of life of women users
– Found gainful employment after comp. train.
– Confidence, sense of identity, hope
– Woman breastfeeding during computer class
– ICT constantly reinvents itself
Shyam Sunder
Comments, reactions and
Opening the Windows
• Globalization of South Asia, or elsewhere, is not a new
• Many epochs of intense globalization in recorded history
Indian fabrics in Egyptian mummies
Alexander, Indo-Hellenic cultures, Gandhar
Indo-China trade, 7th-15th Century AD
Guests from India at Medici wedding (15th C.)
Indian textiles in Europe until invention of powered looms
Why is the world’s best collection of emeralds in the Iranian
• There is little that is fundamentally new about today’s
• Societies open and shut their windows to the world for
their own reasons, and bear the consequences
Shyam Sunder
When You Open the Windows
• Sitting in a closed house feels safe, autarchy
• Opening the windows means flow of view, air,
information, models of behavior, organization,
technology, ideas, goods, services, friendships
and threats, in both directions
• Whether one should live in an open or closed
house depends on one’s values and
• Let us talk about some consequences
Shyam Sunder
South Asia: Social Changes
• Spending more of the income on living, not
saving (US style malls in Delhi)
• Unmarried women living away from home
• Women working night shifts in offices
• Change in aspirations of the young
– “I want to be like Bill Gates,” a 13 year old.
• Impact on caste system: wages attracting higher
cast people to jobs shunned earlier
• What is in the suitcases of people entering India
at Santa Cruz airport: DVD players or diapers?
Shyam Sunder
• “A computer is like a buffalo, even better. It
does not eat, and makes more money
than 5 liters of milk per day” (a semiliterate
member of SEWA in Gujarat)
• Reduction in poverty
Shyam Sunder
• New focus on primary education in villages
• Demand for English medium education (“convent) in
villages (DPS policy)
• Almost universal criticism of the government decision to
LOWER the tuition fees at IIMs from Rs.150,000 to
30,000 per year, including from students
• Rise in the number and quality of private schools and
colleges with the willingness to pay for quality education
• 236 engineering schools in Tamilnadu
– Who will teach them?
• Wilson’s greatest achievement: open university in U.K.
Shyam Sunder
Consumer Society
• Unwillingness of consumers to accept
shoddy goods
• Rise in quality of products and services
Shyam Sunder
Organized protests about the murder of Dubey
Tolerance and expectation of corruption
Recent demolitions of unauthorized construction
in Delhi
• Globalization as the second independence
which touches lives of many more people in
ways what are more important
• Nehru used the windows metaphor but did not
take it to its logical conclusion
Shyam Sunder
Internal “Globalization”
• Construction workers in a house in
Bangalore cannot speak to each other—
five languages
• Railway reservations
• Internal migration
• Lower fertility
• Concept of wealth
Shyam Sunder
Management and Business
• Improvement in management practices
• Thinking of salary as compensation in
exchange for services rendered, not a
• Public indifference to the strike by airport
workers in January 2006
• New global benchmarks for efficiency
Shyam Sunder
• The wheat being grown in India till 1960 was the
same as found in Mohenjodaro (2500 BC)
• Green revolution, high yield varieties, fertilizers,
irrigation, and degradation of land
• Impact of Australian fresh fruit on quality and
packaging of fruit in India
• Wasted fruits and vegetables in India = total
production in EU
• Rise of food processing and storage industries
Shyam Sunder
• Public interest law suits
• Supreme court activism
• Shut down of factories in Delhi and Agra to
improve air quality
• Increasing congestion—no parking or
driving spaces for newly acquired cars
• Possibility of stiff taxes on automobiles
Shyam Sunder
• $135 billion reserves (Problem: what to do with them)
• 1970: Allowed $10 for students going out of India
• Import of computers, designs, equipment, software,
– 24/7 Customer Call Center in Bangalore has Compaq
computers, Microsoft software, Lucent phones, Carrier
airconditioning, Coca Cola bottled water, and 90 percent owned
by US investors
• JadooWorks:U.S. scriptwriter for Krishna story, American
voices, US and British game designers
• Most trade in the world takes place among rich nations,
not between rich and poor nations
Shyam Sunder
Summary and Discussion
• Understanding of South Asia
• Understanding of globalization
• What is so special?
Shyam Sunder
Shyam Sunder
Thank You

Computer as a Buffalo: Systemic Consequences of