Indian hierarchy system stifles development
Published: Jan 24, 2018 08:18 PM

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The Siasat Daily, an Indian Urdu language newspaper, posted on its English website a list of the number of VIPs in the world's major countries. India tops the list with a staggering 579,092 VIPs, far more than the 435 in China and the 252 in the US.

Here, being a VIP means you are escorted by police cars or use limousines with sirens and enjoy preferential courteous receptions in public places like airports or theaters.

We don't know where the newspaper sourced these statistics, but indeed there are so many very important persons in India that now there is even a VVIP category to cater to the needs of the upper classes. During my travels in India last year, I saw VVIP exit gates and parking lots at important places.

During my journey, I read an article in the English news magazine "Outlook India." The author said judges in the country have chauffeurs and some courts have installed ostentatious concierge lounges for them. There are protocol officers waiting to arrange their personal activities like dining, movie-going or visiting relatives. For example, "their [protocol officers] job is to help judges, both serving and retired, past airport security as well as run other errands." They wear colonial coat tails in court where ushers practice the whole set of traditional British judiciary protocols.

The article is entitled "Colonial Coat Tails in Feudal Fabric," which renders a vivid and accurate interpretation of this prevalent phenomenon of luxury privilege in India.

The Indian system is like a shell built up by colonists, which houses the Indian people's social conceptions long-shaped by caste and the fabric of a feudal society. It is this sense of hierarchy that has been stifling Indians' pursuit of a modern world.

In posh neighborhoods along the Bay of Bombay, BMWs, Mercedes and other limousines are omnipresent and the drivers must be sharply-dressed chauffeurs.

At each hotel, security guards, servants, doormen and cleaners perform their own duties. Though they are doing different jobs, there are stringent hierarchies among them.

As V.S. Naipaul described in his book An Area of Darkness, the gentleman in the sleeper would rather sit there idle than move his bedding from the lower berth to the upper bunk. He's used to waiting for his servant to do this job.

India may not articulately write about hierarchy into its social rules, which, however, seeps deep in its people's mind. Hierarchy has become an ingrained code for India's social functioning.

In many developing countries, such attitudes exist in various degrees. Even in China, issues caused by the sense of social strata have often caught public attention and made headlines, even 40 years after the adoption of the reform and opening-up policy.

However, there is no denying that Chinese people today hold a completely different concept of hierarchy from that of seven decades ago. Most importantly, the young generation's sense of social division is waning, though obstacles in social mobility and even communication among different classes remain.

Many Indians like to compare their speed of development with that of China. They are looking forward to a day when their country will catch up with the second-largest economy in the world. But they are supposed to pay more heed to whether a free flow among different social classes will be made possible given the sclerosis in their social stratification.

A society bound by hierarchy will inevitably widen the wealth gap and sever the chain of development. This is one of the reasons why India is still among the countries suffering from the most relentless economic inequality.

The author is a senior editor with People's Daily, and currently a senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China. dinggang@globaltimes.com.cn Follow him on Twitter at @dinggangchina