How do you make sense of a country with dozens of cultures, hundreds of languages and more than a billion people? Start with its history, says Lakshmi Pratury, the organiser of INK, India’s premier conference. “India has been run by everybody from Hindus and Muslims to the Dutch and the British; this means there is a great sense of acceptance,” she said. This is not a sign of weakness, she stressed. It merely means that Indians are able to assimilate outside influences and make them their own.
The other important thing to know before even attempting to understand India is that though the sub-continent freed itself of colonialism in 1947, its true independence came in 1991. That was when India started dismantling its state-run economy and threw (well, creaked) open its gates to a competition-based economy. People born after 1991 know nothing about an India of shortages, she said. They are hopeful. They look to the future, not the past. And most importantly, they are ambitious. A fourth of the world’s population under 35 lives in India and they are the future of the world.
Acceptance and ambition: put them together and you get a class of people with local ideas and global solutions. People like Deepak Ravindran, who created a method of online payment that invovles picking up cash from people by bicycle because nine out of ten indians do not own a credit card. Or Arunachalam Muruganantham, who created a machine that produces low-cost sanitary napkins because most women in India can’t afford to buy them. Or Shirin Juwaley, who started an NGO to help women who have been victims of brutally disfiguring attacks. These are all economically sustainable models, stressed Ms Pratury: “Nobody is looking for charity.”
These people and their ideas reflect the India of tomorrow, said Ms Pratury. They are men and women, most of them very young, who want to make money but who also want to create a better world. “They are redefining success as not just shareholder value but the impact created,” she said. And to understand India, it is vitally important to understand that.