We need a new social order to harness the power of frugal innovation or ‘jugaad’ to improve communities- July 17, 2012

Shashi Tharoor puts it succinctly in this article. India has a lot more going for it than the macro economic indicators suggest. He talks about frugal innovation or what we know better as jugaad. This is a cornerstone of the Indian psyche. Whatever be the situation, Indians will find a way around myriad obstacles to get ahead.

It puzzles me that this jugaad mentality of finding innovative solutions to problems both simple and tricky does not extend to community issues. We Indians are comfortable thinking in terms of the family unit. In the days gone by, the biraadari, loosely translated as the community, was based on certain elements that bound families together. Caste and sub-caste played a strong role here and this had a correlation with the occupation and therefore lifestyle, that included eating habits, dress codes, language, mannerisms, social structures and codes of conduct, etc.

After independence, India has struggled to establish a democratic society despite the fact that most Indians associate themselves with a biraadari or kaum; that is what drives their identity, that is where allegiances lie, the people within the biraadari are ‘us’, everyone else is ‘them’. This sort of thinking has posed as an impediment to the establishment of a nationalist thinking as well as to the nurturing of democratic values.

Modern societies, especially in the urban context, are diverse and multicultural. People from an astonishing array of backgrounds live together in new forms of community, like apartment blocks and gated colonies, or work together. It will take us time to establish common ground that is not based on the traditional concepts of biraadari. I see this where I live. Despite being educated, serving or having served in government service or the armed forces, or in senior positions in corporate organizations, I observe that people often feel most comfortable forming groups that have caste and region as the binding factor. Religion, of course, and language, are very strong elements in social interaction across age groups. Younger people do deviate from this trend, and world view, political leanings, income class and aesthetic tastes become differentiators basis which we decide who our friends are. Perhaps this is because they are idealistic and still willing to trust most people; they haven’t been stung by the bug of cynicism and social interactions are not about seeking safe havens, but about creating excitement. I would like to think that a new social order is emerging in urban India, but to be honest, the robustness of this new order remains to be seen.

I have no doubts, however, of the urgent need for this new social order. The creation of new common ground for people to come together is essential so that we can harness the power of innovation for the community, not just to further individual aspirations.

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