Today is the 70th anniversary of India’s independence from the United Kingdom. The nation of 1.3 billion people has seen dramatic economic and social changes over those decades—and many important ones just in the last several years.
In 2015, Cato Institute Senior Fellow Johan Norberg explored some of the good news coming out of modern India with the documentary India Awakes, produced by the Free to Choose Network. Recent political and economic reforms have been showing success when it comes to allowing poor people to lift themselves out of poverty and establish a new place for themselves and their families based on their own merit rather than inherited status:
India is coming alive and flourishing economically. In fact, Citigroup estimates that by 2050, it will have the world’s largest economy, larger than China and the United States. For many centuries, only the politically connected and elite prospered in India, while the rest of the population lived in poverty. However, since 1991, 250 million people have been lifted out of poverty and are finding new ways to flex their personal and economic power.
In India Awakes noted Swedish author, commentator, and Cato Institute Senior Fellow Johan Norberg explores an inherited British bureaucracy which created layers of rules and regulations. However, globalization and economic liberalization have created fluidity between classes – and greater ambition. Norberg follows three individuals who are working to improve their lives, and in doing so, are breaking down the centuries old caste system.
- Banwari Lal Sharma, the president of a new street vendors association, is helping vendors in his area feel more empowered and able to stand up for their legal rights, after years of having to pay bribes to corrupt local officials.
- Rama Bhai, a Sagai village leader and farmer, comes from a group called the ‘forest people,’ who were once viewed as trespassers on the land where they have lived for generations. Through an unusual use of GPS systems and Google Earth they have now obtained deeds to their land.
- And Mannem Madhusudana Rao, who was born to one of the lowest rungs of India’s caste system, the “dalit,” was able to break free from the chains that have bound his societal position to a life of poverty. Through hard work and perseverance, Rao formed a major construction firm and has a much higher quality of life for himself and his extended family, along with a new status of “millionaire.”
India Awakes reveals the enormous power of unlocking human potential and ambition, and how doing so could establish this country as a preeminent world leader.
Here’s to hoping that some of India’s neighbors recognize the increased prosperity brought about by recognizing property rights and enforcing a transparent rule of law. If you’d like to know more about free market reform in India, please visit our friends at New Delhi’s Centre for Civil Society, or explore the Atlas Network’s many nonprofit partner groups in South Asia.
We know what works when it comes to fostering a free and productive society, and the evidence speaks for itself. As the Indians say, Satyameva Jayate: truth alone triumphs.