India is a study in modernity and history.
Question: How does the caste system affect Indian society?
Cyril Shroff: You know, I always love saying this, there are really at least two India’s, there is an India or a shining India the one which the west seas usually through urbanize and there is an India outside some of the big metro policies and in even the tier two cities and in rural India which is completely different. It goes by the name of Bahar which is a traditional name for India.
And it’s there that this sort of these differences of a shop that India has not moved into the 21st century as about India has, but both coexist. In that part of India factors which are based on regional considerations, caste being one of them is very significant and whether it’s who do you like to partner within business, who will you employ, who will you get your daughter married to, who will you vote for: a lot of that gets driven by caste factors. And this is there since time in memorial. India is a civilization which goes back more than 2000 years and some of these have just passed on from generation to generation because there’s the complex cultural history of this country.
Question: Will the caste system fade as India modernizes?
Cyril Shroff: I think firstly in urban India, these factors are somewhat more muted. I won’t say that they completely absent but they are far more subdued. Education and exposure to the West have mitigated a lot of these differences.
So people like myself or my colleagues, we don’t even think about this. My own law firm for instance is extraordinarily diverse. We have probably someone from every caste and community in India. Our firm is diverse in terms of gender as where we got nearly 50 percent women. So firms like ours, our organizations and we are different in as much as these factors don’t make any difference to us.
However, even within city like Mumbai or Delhi, there could be a tier of organizations where these factors do matter. They could be organizations which are for instance known as a Gujarati firms or Marwari firms or south Indian firms, so these factors do make a difference. And a lot of it is driven by economic differences, not just the caste system.
Question: How is the gap between rich and poor hurting the country?
Cyril Shroff: The fact that our democracy, our ownership, our belief in private ownership and lack of adequate social security nets has only helped in widening the differences between the super, super rich and the poorest of poor.
In India you would find people who belong to the 10 richest people in the entire world, and you would find people whose poverty levels are sub-Saharan in fact practically: people who would probably make less than a dollar a day or would only have enough for one meal.
Now, to have these kinds of contrasts coexist, is something which boggles my mind. We have a country that is making great economic progress, a country that is making his presence felt all over the world, but at the same time, it is unable to deal with some of these fundamental contradictions in our economic evolution.
For good or for bad, India has rejected a more totalitarian approach to how it will deal with its social problems. We would starve but we would not give up our democracy and our love for our freedoms and to deal with these problems in an atmosphere of democracy and the rule of law without necessarily going, sort of resorting to civil disobedience or any kind of violent revolution. It’s extraordinarily difficult for any government of the day to deal with this problems. So I have no answer to that, all that I know is that it varies me as I’m sure as it varies a lot of other people like myself.
Recorded on: April 29, 2009