Before 1991, my childhood was spent in a small town, Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh (UP), popular these days due to Dawood Ibrahim, Haji Mastan and Abu Salim. I came to Delhi during the 90s, around 1991. When I compare life before and after 1991, I feel that many things have changed significantly, life became easier in many aspects. For instance, television, after ’91, it had become very common, every household in Delhi had TV Sets.
We got our first television in ’84-’85. There used to be that one television in the whole colony and people used to come from far away places to watch, Ramayana or Mahabharata, which had started airing that time. We used to fix the television in the verandah, it appeared like a cinema hall with 250 to 300 people watching. The people used to come from far to watch because the serial had a religious context and our town was next to Ayodhya, the birthplace of Lord Ram, so the people also had a religious outlook, and they used to travel from 10-12 Km far villages. If you visit the villages now, there is electricity, tv and even cable connections have reached there.
Another example that I would like to give is of telephones. When I came to Delhi, telephones were not easy to get. We wanted a telephone at our residence, we even had the finances and the capability to do so but getting a phone connection was almost equivalent to a dream. We tried to get a connection in ’89, but we got to know that there was a waitlist of 50,000 connections at MTNL. One used to get a connection only when they have waited out the list. So, we couldn't get a telephone connection. Then we thought of getting a telephone connection transferred from my father’s friend. He was a businessman with 3-4 connections and had an extra connection. It was easier to get an old connection transferred than getting a new one. I remember it took me one and a half years to get it transferred. I used to study in first year of college at that time and I remember, I had to go to the MTNL office 15-20 times which was situated in Janpath. Even that was turning out to be worthless, when fortunately my senior who had newly joined the office recognised me and got it approved somehow. Now that the connection was approved, it was transferred from the New Delhi locale to East Delhi, but when we went to the SDO, he said that they didn’t have any spare line so they couldn't give us a telephone. The era of Globalisation began after this, from 91’, and suddenly there was an abundance of telephones in Delhi. Telephones lines were set up in my colony and that was the time when we got a telephone fixed at our house. My quest to get a telephone started in 89’ which only became successful in ’92.
At that time, dowry was prevalent in the villages. Scooters were given as dowry, example Bajaj. People used to order the scooters when the girl was approaching the age of marriage, say 8th or 9th grade, as it used to take 3-4 years for the delivery of an order. People fixed the marriage of their daughters according to the availability of scooters. I remember, there was a marriage in my family, which had to be postponed because of the unavailability of a scooter. We would get the scooter which we had booked 3 years ago, a year later, so the marriage was postponed by a year. Even still we were facing some delivery issues which had to be overcome by bribing.
I feel that life became fairly easy post ’92- 93’, Liberalisation has made our life simpler but I’d like to say, that the malpractices of market have led to problems. During ’91 when I was studying in first year, Coco-Cola had newly entered the market. In ’84-’85 when I used to visit my father in Delhi, that was the first time I came across Coco-Cola. Mango juice and sugarcane juice used to be our usual drinks. I tried coco-cola for the first time at party, it tasted a little different and I couldn't drink it. We used to get it only on special occasions, parties or at rich people’s houses.
During ’91-’92 Pepsi and Cola used to request college authorities to let them put a stall on campus, so they could distribute free samples of coco-cola for publicity. They would either pay the union Rs. 3000-5000 or sponsor our fest. Now this drink has become a habit and a necessity for people. These people first lure the public into getting habitual to their product then they increase its prices. Another example which comes to my mind is of Gillette Presto which was given away for free initially and its price was 2-3 Rs but now its so costly. We can now recognise these dangers. Life has improved exponentially in ways that we couldn't have imagined. Technology has made possible for us to take doctor’s prescription over ‘whatsapp.’ Things have become simpler. There are a few threats which are posed today, Monopoly, big firms exploiting the small firms. Education sector has undergone a huge change, many private schools have come up, I’m not against private education but a lot of them have opened up which gives way to good quality education, competition has increased and hence the quality. Earlier, only the public sector was responsible, television too, was made by public sector. HMT watches, a state owned company used to manufacture watches, there were hardly any private companies. Today there is abundance of variety of products and cutting-edge competition. The market has played a vital role in uplifting our living standards.
I would also like to mention, there is something which the market today, has done, that even Mahatma Gandhi and all the freedom fighters couldn't do, phenomenon like equality, untouchability, caste system. Market has united all. I’d like to give an example here, if I have money, I can go to any restaurant to eat, and a dalit can also visit the same restaurant if he has the money, which could not be imagined possible 15-20 years ago. Also, I was reading somewhere that due to globalisation the maximum number of jobs have been taken by the economically weaker sections of our society, if we have denote it according to the caste, we are referring to dalits. You must recall, that 15-20 years ago, dalit families couldn't see the face of a 100 rupee note, 500 rupee note is far fetched, but today, they are working in big, metropolitan cities like Delhi. Working as security guards or sweepers, but even still they earn Rs 7000-8000. So, I would say, apart from the benefits in terms of facilities, the market has led to changes in societal outlook like reduction in inequality and thrust towards right to equality. This is the positive side of market. Secondly, I believe, there are many people who are against market, I believe, there is a need for market in a society, any society cannot exist without a well-functioning market. The problem lies when the market begins deceiving, starts working only towards the goal of profit-maximisation and ignore their social responsibility.
(Anil Pandey is a Senior Journalist and presently the President of Delhi Journalists Association)