Computer as a Buffalo: Systemic
Consequences of Opening the
Windows to Globalization in India
Shyam Sunder
Yale Forum on South Asia and
February 28, 2004
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
When You Open the Windows
• Sitting in a closed house is 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 just talk about some consequences
• I shall talk for 20 minutes, show you a DVD, so
we can have at least 20 minutes for discussion
• Spending more of the income on living, not
• 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?
• “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
• 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
• Wilson’s greatest achievement: open university in U.K.
Consumer Society
• Unwillingness of consumers to accept
shoddy goods
• Rise in quality of products and services
• E-government
• Organized protests about the murder of
• Tolerance and expectation of corruption
• Globalization as the second independence
• Nehru used the windows metaphor but
could not take it to its logical conclusion
Internal “Globalization”
• Construction workers in a house in
Bangalore cannot speak to each other—
five languages
• Railway reservations
Management and Business
• Improvement in management practices
• Thinking of salary as compensation in
exchange for services rendered, not a
• New global benchmarks for efficiency
• 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
• PL 480 Wheat  Congress weed
• 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
• 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
• $105 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
Back to Ground
• An example of globalization in South Asia
• World Computer Exchange
• Working with Yale Recycling, Asha Yale,
Vichaar and other organizations

Computer as a Buffalo: Systemic Consequences of