With the advent of technology and a rising upper middle class, India is making its mark known in a rapidly developing world. The IT boom and the increase in consumerism have made India a force to be reckoned with. However, with great progress comes the need to progress responsibly, and here is where India has yet to improve, as do all nations facing the shift from independent action to interdependent action known as globalization.
Globalization serves as a broad umbrella under which all nations work together towards economic unification and common interests. It has been instrumental in reducing the gap between the developed and the developing nations. However, this reduced gap has also caused an unstable increase in consumerism in developing nations that poses threats to sustainability and environmental sanctity. The rise of consumerism – one of the West’s biggest influences on the East – has increased the consumption of plastics, large cars, and chemical products, all of which deplete the natural capital and add pollution to developing nations. What was meant to reduce the inter-country gap in affluence and availability has achieved that; but at the price of increasing the intra-country gap in these aspects. India is an excellent example of this shifting gap.
Environmentalists are in perpetual conflict over the merits of globalization. We prefer to preach sustainable development instead of racing to meet global standards of achievement. In trying to meet this global standard for economic prosperity, India is not capitalizing upon its uniquely-talented workforce, its own resources, and its ancient agricultural practices that had fed the population while doing so sustainably. The current export-oriented newer model of development adopted by India has intensified the exploitation of our natural resources for quick profit, while foregoing the needs of local communities. As a byproduct of globalization, the amount of foreign investment in India has increased drastically (Myers and Kent, 1997), leading to Indian small businesses and local endeavors being overrun by Western businesses. This has enabled the wealthier portion of India’s population to live a version of the American dream – “Indian style” – while India’s poor grows poorer and less enabled. While globalization is inevitable, it must not occur at the expense of the livelihoods of the people who are left behind by economic expansion.
The increase in retail malls in India also emphasizes the global reach of consumerism. Malls are a sign of the new, prosperous India and also serve as a location where India meets the West. In malls, consumers can shop at America brand stores such as Nike and Benetton, and yet experience the Indian atmosphere in the corridors. In 2008, malls raised the country’s economy by 6.9 percent (Emergence of Mall, n.d.a). Additionally, foreign mall operators are not allowed to directly sell their merchandise in Indian malls, but must instead do so through their Indian subsidiaries or franchises (Emergence of Mall, n.d.a.). This ties the Western mall culture closely to Indian markets and creates the sense of America within India – explicitly Indian yet implicitly foreign.
Experiences have strongly shaped my understanding of globalization in the Eastern world, and one example that I think serves a good point is the expansion of the McDonald’s fast-food chain across the globe. When I studied abroad in Mussoorie, a small hill-station in northern India, in 2014, one of the courses I took focused on globalization in the East. On one of our field trips, we visited McDonald’s in Dehradun, the larger town at the foothills of the Himalayas. And in this McDonald’s, perhaps, was the most impressive display of globalization and cultural appropriation possible. There was the menu – a veritable selection of burgers and sides, just like in the United States – but every item was as Indian as possible. There was the McAloo Tikki Burger, the Maharaja Chicken Burger, and the Paneer Tikka Burger. There was no sign of trademark burgers such as the Big Mac or the Cheeseburger. Additionally, given the prominence of vegetarianism in India, the restaurant had two kitchens – one for the vegetarian items and one for the non-vegetarian food. It was – needless to say – a fantastic example of how one can take a global brand and adopt it to fit the unique culture of the nation that appropriates it. And this is where India has excelled. The creativity with which Indian markets place that ‘desi’ twist on foreign goods, knowing the audience they cater to, has helped to spread the global message in India where it still struggles to take hold in other parts of the world.
With each passing decade comes change, but with this change comes responsibility. A responsibility towards the cultures that are threatened by this global homogenization. A responsibility towards the people whose livelihoods depend upon the old ways of living. A responsibility towards the environment, as our human population expands and natural resource exploitation reaches new heights. As we cast aside the old in favor of the new, perhaps we ought to think about why the old existed in the first place – to teach us that sustainability is not the antithesis to progress, and that progress is self-defined. And therefore, globalization is not a crime, but to do so with little regard for the rest of the planet is a crime indeed.