Bill Gates merits attention
Chandra Bhan Prasad
In the United States, white men are often presumed to be competent until proven otherwise, while women and people of colour are presumed to be incompetent until proven otherwise. In other words, there is no presumption of competence for women and people of color (and other groups), and this is clearly a double standard." Microsoft on Diversity.
Bill Clinton, once the most powerful man on the planet, is no more visible but Bill Gates refuses to fade away. There is hardly any middle class home, the world over, which will not recognise a photograph of Bill Gates, and there can't be very many PCs not using software from Microsoft. The wonder man, who founded his company with an insignificant capital investment of US$ 12,000 in 1975, is the world's e-richest man today. Microsoft has set in motion a new revolution called Information Technology, considered no less important than the revolution set in motion by James Watt.
Microsoft sells software to over a 180 million people and its business is spread over 50 countries. Thus, the man and the company which he created, has made an impact on every aspect of human activity, in every part of the world. Today, the world would not be able to exist without Microsoft's software and the energy unleashed by the IT revolution. Then, can we, or should we, ignore Bill Gate's and Microsoft's social vision? For Bill was born into a multi-racial, multi-ethnic society, where the White majority practised slavery over the Blacks, decimated the natives and practise discrimination even today. If the American discrimination has any parallel elsewhere in the world, it is either in South Africa or the Varna/Caste based discrimination and deprivation practised against the Dalits of India!
But of late, driven by growing race/ethnic conflict and crises, and the concern that the US was not evolving into "One Nation", White society has decided, hesitatingly though, to right the many wrongs. The method they chose was one of sharing assets, institutions and knowledge with the discriminated racial/ethnic categories. While the US initiated the process in the late 60s, after the Kerner Commission in 1968 warned that: "Our nation is moving towards two societies, one black, one white - separate but unequal," and called for an all round effort to end discrimination and denial. The American state, under the command of the Whites, gave out the call to share assets and institutions with the discriminated categories.
And how did the private sector respond? Look at what Microsoft, the best symbol of meritocracy, professes? Log on to microsoft.com, and you will see:
1. Women and people of color are presumed to be incompetent until proven otherwise.
2. Since the perfect technique for measuring people has yet to be devised, it is in these areas that subjectivity enters the assessment process and groups of people who are viewed negatively (Blacks/ethnic groups/women), for their differences in a given society, tend to suffer in this type of evaluation.
3. Diversity enriches our performance and products, as well as the communities we live in.
So, what does Microsoft do? 1. It has created a Minority Diversity Recruitment Group. 2. It has established official links with over a dozen key Black/ethnic organisations who supply Microsoft with qualified Black/ethnic unemployed youth. 3. Microsoft funds Black/ethnic students at all levels of education/training programmes. 4. It is policy to buy materials/goods from Black/ethnic suppliers/contractors. 5. Microsoft also funds key Black/ethnic educational/cultural/social organisations. Microsoft has also created a Bill & Melinda Foundation, with an endowment of US$ 21 billion to carry out philanthropic work, with emphasis on health, education and training.
But what Microsoft actually does is: a. It offers theoretical justification of affirmative actions or, in our lexicon, reservations in the private sector. b. It offers scholarships to Black/ethnic students and organises professional training programmes. c. Recruits Black/ethnic people. d. Purchases materials/goods from Black/ethnic business houses/contractors and e. Involves itself in community programmes.
On the other hand, what do corporate houses in India do? Has any of them ever thought of developing India into One Nation? Has even one industrialist ever talked of the Dalits' right of representation in the private sector? Has any industrialist in India spent even a rupee on Dalit education, or donated a rupee to a Dalit organisation?
In this age of economic liberalisation, India's intelligentsia - both the Right and the Left - are silent on the great American experience, as they are ultimately part of the same body and take their orders from the same Chaturvarna mind! If a wonder company like Microsoft, the symbol of America's merit and excellence, can implement affirmative actions in America, why can't private sector in India?