Caste system main barrier to India's IT superpower ambitions?
November 3, 2000

BANGALORE: India must pull down its caste barriers to evolve as an information technology superpower, a senior government official said Thursday.

"The biggest factor that made India a land of knowledge into a land of illiteracy and backwardness is our social caste systems," said Sudheendra Kulkarni, Communications and Research director in the Prime Minister's Office. "We must remove those hurdles."

Kulkarni told delegates at an international "" conference here that a vast portion of India's one billion population was being denied education due to the hierarchical caste system.

"I believe the objectives of IT and social justice go together. They are not separate worlds. We must look at them as one common set," Kulkarni said. For India to obtain IT superpower status will require a profound commitment from all political parties to ensure that the infotech revolution is not confined to a few islands of excellence.

"The truth is that a very small portion of the nation's potential is so far realised," Kulkarni said, warning of the digital divide between corporations moving at "net speed" while other sections of the community continued at "snail speed."

He also defined a problem peculiar to India where companies doing work for global clients were paying huge salaries which state-owned corporations could ill-afford. "This problem needs to be addressed and we need a bi-focal vision. One for global and the other for local corporations," Kulkarni said.

Sudip Banerjee, chief executive of operations and staffing at infotech giant Wipro Ltd., said India's main IT advantage -- a skilled but relatively cheap labour pool -- needed to be combined with product innovation.

"We have a competitive edge in the age of survival. But the cost-effective talent will not hold unless we rapidly gear up and move ahead of the value-chain," Banerjee said. "We have to create our own products," he said. AFP

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