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Magic Is Might: The Government’s Tricks With India’s GDP Growth Rate

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A startling discovery about the Indian GDP growth rate between 2011-12 and 2016-17 states that India did not grow at 7% per year, as the citizens were officially informed. Instead, the average annual growth crawled at a ridiculously small 4.5% on an average, during those five years and now, well, it’s at -10.2% for 2020-21.

The situation that India’s economy dragged itself into has taken me 18 years back to April 12, 2002, when a record-breaking franchise had just set its foot into every single bookstore in the world with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Being an ardent believer in witchcraft and wizardry, the sequence in which the magic bricks of the story piled up one after another with a perplexing turn of events spared me very little time to get mesmerised by reality. Needless to say, there have been innumerable sleepless nights on which I’ve found myself staring at the sky and contemplating Joanne Rowling’s world beyond the clouds.

However, the crystal of doubt started polishing itself with every birthday of mine that passed, and I got to witness a clearer picture within. The surprising fact isn’t in what I witnessed, but in what I interpreted it to be and how relatable it seemed to my developing nation.

So, let’s sit back and try to keep today’s economy in our heads as we proceed with the story.

The world described in the Harry Potter series is one where the economy is stagnant, the government is an effective police state, and the education system is in an urgent need of major reform.

Despite all the magic, fundamental economics still apply in the wizardry world. A flip through one of the seven wonders of the Potter series will clearly project how far it is from a utopian dream. Money and price systems still exist and society is not overflowing with riches; witches and wizards are bestowed with the same financial difficulties as their muggle counterparts. While magic can transfigure and alter objects in numerous ways, there still prevail certain natural laws that clearly mean that one can’t just conjure money or food out of thin air.

Magic Is Might statue.

There appears to be virtually zero encouragement for further innovation. Almost all businesses and firms in the magical world are extremely well established: Olivander’s, for instance. The wand shop first opened in 382 BCE. Business churn only seems to occur in the middle of a panic, such as that caused by the return of Lord Voldemort and his subsequent terror campaign in the mid-1990s. A world as hierarchical and prejudiced as the one Harry resides in — where most rich wizards such as the Malfoys look down on those less fortunate than themselves — clearly does not encourage innovation, growth and social mobility.

But hold on, it’s not only the financial system where there’s a lack of competition. Every industry in the wizarding economy is highly concentrated. One reason for this boils down, undoubtedly, from excessive regulation and bureaucracy. Such regulations drive up the costs of production and raise a barrier against challengers.

Foreign producers and international trade are eager to provide competition, but heavy government regulation appears to stop this: in The Goblet of Fire, we learn that ministry regulations prevent the import of flying carpets, which would compete with broomsticks as a mode of personal transportation. The official reason for the ban is that flying carpets are classified as Muggle objects, yet, the fact that they can fly clearly makes this ban absurd and is obviously an example of a government trying to protect domestic producers at the expense of consumers.

It is well established that increasing human capital and expanding the frontiers of knowledge are among the key ingredients for economic growth. A good education system is crucial for enabling this. Unfortunately, in the magical world, schooling is generally very poor. There is virtually no teaching of theory, and creativity is not encouraged, which is why Hermione is a model student, even though the Weasley brothers Fred and George arguably contribute far more to the wizarding society through their innovation and entrepreneurship.

But by far, the biggest issue in the world that Harry Potter inhabits is the role and influence of the Ministry of Magic. The Ministry has immense and arbitrary powers, which it uses to control and regulate most activities in the magical world. Worryingly, the concepts of checks and balances or separation of powers don’t seem to exist: the Ministry functions as the executive, legislature, as well as the judiciary.

A free press would have helped expose the pervasive incompetence and corruption of the Ministry of Magic. Unfortunately, the Daily Prophet, which is the primary source of news for the magical world, effectively acts as the propaganda arm of the Ministry of Magic: the paper and the ministry are closely connected, and news stories are often altered to have a more pro-ministry slant.

Now, let’s keep this picture in the background while we review the growth numbers of today’s India.

To begin with, there are two important points necessary in justifying the discrepancy in the GDP growth numbers. One, former Chief Economic Adviser Dr Arvind Subramanian uses 17 key factors in his published paper, including two-wheeler, tractor and truck sales, electricity consumption, manufacturing numbers, rail freight and so on, as proxies to measure overall growth.

His findings state that before 2011, most of these stated factors — manufacturing production and exports to be specific — moved in tandem with overall growth. Thereafter, for no explained reason, manufacturing growth raced ahead, dragging the GDP growth upward; exactly like magic.

There lies no doubt in the fact that manufacturing was indeed the main culprit, but other sectors followed this trend too. Secondly, the data showed that India’s growth was measured against an average of 7.1%, in which all the other nations were approximately growing. Thereafter, compared to all those nations, India was rising ahead. This sounds very similar to the story of locating a needle on the surface of Mars- without a telescope; again, magic.

His paper undoubtedly serves zero political motive.  It covers data during both UPA and NDA periods. Hence, the errors that have crept into our macroeconomic numbers are systemic, and not driven by any political directive.

Now, what are the odds of this happening? Low.

Let’s assume, for simplicity’s sake, that the years after 2010, when the global economic crisis was hitting our shores, the government might have needed to do this to keep the global credit ratings high, lower borrowing costs, keep inward investment flowing and so on. Even then, the probability of this occurring in our chaotic bureaucracy is considerably low.

Hence, imagine what could have happened had the government projected the actual data. What could have been saved if the media houses portrayed news exactly as it were and not as it should be? How far would the low-hanging social indicator of education have improved if history wouldn’t have been meddled with? What would have been the delta of higher development achieved had we spent the very similar amount of time improving health instead of renaming cities?

Let me provide you with an answer to one of these questions: if the policymakers had been informed of the actual number of 4.5% instead of 7%, then they would have stopped rejoicing about effective economic management and instead, invested a few more hours in reform. This is insanely obvious.

For instance, if a patient with cancer is diagnosed as suffering from common cold, the chances of survival fall dramatically. In fact, at least part of the policy paralysis of the Narendra Modi regime between 2014 and 2019 could have been attributed to the self-satisfaction fed in, not by the data of the Indian Economy, but by what can best be described as the one from a Harry Potter economy.

Wide-scale institutional and economic reform is long overdue and must begin so that our motherland can drag herself out from under the mammoth that is financial crisis.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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