Thursday, November 10, 2005


Native soldiers and software services professionals

At the height of the British Raj in India, the number of English soldiers stationed in India did not exceed several tens of thousnds. How did the East India Company first, and latter the Queen, manage to control a population of several tens of crores with such a small army? Is there any truth in the statement that one white man is equal to hundred natives? The answer is much simpler and less controversial.
The British had at their disposal armies several times the above, comprising of native soldiers, either directly under the pay of the British or indirectly controlled them through the dozens of native kings and nawabs who under various treaties had committed their troops to the service of the British.

Let us first, examine the native soldiers under British pay. We will discuss the native kings and nawabs separately. Why would anyone want to work for the invader and conqueror, especially as a soldier that will require fighting your own kith and kin. Why would anyone want to butcher their own fellow natives at the command of a foreign master? To us today, it seems so obviously unpatriotic, treacherous and the ultimate betrayal. Before we jump to such conclusions, or pass judgements, we need to view this from the perspective of the individual signing up as a soldier with the EIC.

If you were an able-bodied young man (with nothing more than a able body as your capital) looking for a promising career around the time what were your options: Join a local king's army or Join the British army. If you joined the local king's army, there are two possibilities: be deputed by that king to fight for the British Or be sent by the king to fight against the British. The former was better, since you had a much better chance of staying alive, and in taking part in the plunder and pillage. If you join the British army, you have an increased likelihood of staying alive, making more money as salary and of course incidental incentives like pillage, plunder and extortion. The most important reason however is the prestige and power that your near and dear ones assign to your position as the soldier in the rulers' army. It is a question of a decent livelihood, a means to achieve a much better quality of life than offered by most other options available, as well as a prestigious career in the view of your contemporaries.

We can be judgmental about it, but to the individual making a choice, it is his life, his duties to his family and his hope for a better life. Let future judgement be damned! Thus a large number of able-bodied young men of the time served as British soldiers, and if they manged to get promoted and rise up the ranks, they were counted among the successful. Other, smarter men, decided to work for the British as their clerks, translators, administrative assistants, worked their way up the bureaucratic hierarchy, without risk of bodily harm, but that is a different story.

Let us now turn out attention to the more recent versions of the East India Company, namely the multinational companies (MNCs), especially in the information and communication technologies (ICT) sector. The ambition of the best young men (and women) in the country and their parents is to be recruited by one of these MNCs. The dream job of these individuals, across college campuses in the country, is to work in nice environments, large paychecks, with a well defined hierarchy and process that defines what they are expected to do every day of their work. There is no stress of having to think about what they will be doing, no risk of being asked to be creative, since the creative work gets done elsewhere.

The ICT MNCs have a global lock on the intellectual property rights (IPRs) behind every one of the key ingredients that drive computing and communication products today. These soldiers of the MNC work very hard to help these MNCs perpetuate these locks. Essentially use the cheap labour offered by these soldiers to build the next generation of products that will give the MNCs the financial muscle to maintain the status quo into the future: new technoligies and standards will be created by these companies, and developing countries like India will continue to be consumers of these. The irony will be that these new technologies will be created with the cheap labor from these same developing countries!

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I am one among those soldiers now..We know the problem at hand..But what do you think the solution is??
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