Book: J. R. D. Tata Keynote

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Industrialising a Rural Society

From the Duke of Edinburgh's Study Conference at Oxford, July 26, 1956.


f all the tasks confronting the world today perhaps the most formidable one is the industrialisation of the underdeveloped areas of the world and none, I think, offers greater potential rewards for humanity as a whole. You will appreciate, of course, that my remarks can only cover a small part of the subject. They are, furthermore, meant to apply only to India, of which country alone I have some first-hand knowledge and experience.

The first question one might ask is whether the problems involved in the industrialisation of a country like India today are likely to be materially different from those experienced in the West in the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth. I think not. For, the process, in both cases, will have been one of transforming the environment and the working and living habits of a large proportion of the people from life on the farm and in small artisan and trading communities to life in industrialised urban areas. Human nature being fundamentally the same everywhere and at all times, it may be expected to react to such a change in generally the same way.

The main differences, as I see them, are likely to be of degree and form rather than of substance. The fact, for instance, that India's civilisation goes back 5,000 years or so and that life in much of the Indian countryside is still as it was in the tenth century, may be expected to render the process of modernisation more difficult. Illiteracy, climate conditions and low vitality are also disadvantages to be overcome. Finally, the speed and continuity of change in this revolutionary age in which we live themselves will add to our problems and difficulties.

On the other hand, our task should be made easier by such factors as the opportunity to benefit from the accumulated experience of the industrially advanced countries, the inherent skill and patience of our people, and the inspiration they will be able to draw from a past rich in craftsmanship and productive achievement. To them industrialisation will, to some extent, be a revival as well as an extension of something that already exists.

It may perhaps sound strange to some of you to hear me speak of an industrial revival in a country which, judged by the astonishing standards of the West, would seem still to be at the very beginning of industrialisation. If, however, we consider productive industry not merely in terms of modern machines, processes and techniques but of the materials and products made, then it may be truly said that for twenty centuries or more and up to the eighteenth century, India was one of the most advanced industrial countries of the world particularly in the fields of metallurgy textiles, dyes and drugs. Even today modern steelmakers wonder how the famous Iron Pillar in Delhi, about twenty-six feet high and weighing six or seven tons, was forged in one piece with the very primitive equipment available in those days. There is evidence that the cotton textile industry of India goes back as much as 5,000 years, because Indian muslins have been found wrapped around mummies in tombs going back 5,000 years in Egypt.

While it is true that some of the skills and creative spirit of Indian artisans have died during the last two centuries, enough, I am sure, remains to play some part in the industrial revival of the country.

The Indian people, however, have not only distant memories to draw upon. Modern forms of industry already exist to a considerable extent in India today, and extensive developments are contemplated in the Second Five Year Plan under the dynamic leadership of our Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Millions of Indians are already employed in modern industries and services and some of them are second or third generation workers. Work in factories and life in industrial cities is, therefore, not something new or strange to Indians and to some extent, the initial problems created by the impact of modern industry have already been met.

As in other countries, the human aspects of industrialisation in India have been a mixture of good and evil, and for very much the same reasons. The failures have mainly taken place in the older industries established many years ago in or near large cities and in poorly organised small industries. With few exceptions, modern concepts of social welfare were unknown or unheeded in those days. Few employers considered themselves responsible for anything more than production and profit and little or no provision was made either by industry or by the government for the housing, health and happiness of workers.

Since it is good to get away from abstractions and generalities, it might interest you to share with me a little of the experience that we in Tatas have acquired about the lives of those who have migrated from the countryside to the factory towns which have grown around some of the industrial plants we have established in India – for instance the Steel City of Jamshedpur in Bihar, the Chemical Township of Mithapur in Kathiawar, and Tatapuram, which has grown around a soap and oil factory in the State of Travancore-Cochin. We have recently had the occasion to undertake at these three places a social survey amongst the families of employees working and living in them and some of the results may be of interest to you.

As was to be expected, an adverse consequence of migration to urban areas for industrial pursuits has been a weakening of family ties as unifying and stabilising influence. While such weakening may be attributed in some measure to the shortage of industrial housing, which makes it difficult for employees to bring their families to live with them, some of it is undoubtedly due to the change of vocation and to the great economic and social differences between their old and new environments.


Impact on Social Structure


As against this adverse factor, the position of women in the group has undoubtedly improved. In Tatapuram, the Tata Oil Mills company was one of the pioneers in employing women in the laboratories and in the administrative offices. At the outset, there was considerable resistance from the men to this development and on the day the first woman employee was appointed as a clerk in the main office, the poor girl was harassed by the incessant ringing of call bells by her fellow male clerks as a sign of protest and sabotage! Today, the employment of women is taken as a matter of course.

Equally beneficial has been the influence of industrialisation on the social structure and particularly on the caste system. This effect is specially marked in regard to the survival of untouchability. In Jamshedpur, caste Hindus formerly used to refuse even bottled water if supplied by Muslims or Christians, while separate kitchens had to be maintained for different communities. When, years later a decision was taken, with the consent of the Trade Union but not without trepidation, to abolish this system, the Company and the Union were both agreeably surprised to find that there was hardly any protest or resistance.

A similar metamorphosis has been observed in Mithapur where the population is traditionally orthodox by origin. Persons of any caste, including untouchables, now do any type of work and there are no separate residential areas earmarked for any section of the population. Three-quarters of those recently interviewed there expressed themselves as openly skeptical about untouchability and the caste system itself.

The people of Mithapur are mainly Waghirs, who were in the British days considered a criminal tribe. I believe they had colourful piratical antecedents. When we built this plant, land had to be acquired largely from the local Waghirs. Though this land was very unproductive and barren, and although very adequate compensation was paid, when it was acquired compulsorily by the Government, it naturally created some disturbances. I remember the case of an old gentleman who felt that the acquisition of his property was nothing less than an insult to himself and his ancestors, which could only be washed away in blood. Now, apparently in order to reward the peaceful ones, the old British Government of India used to grant arms licences to some of them whom they thought loyal and trustworthy. This gentleman was one of them and toted a formidable muzzle-loading rifle. As the General Manager of the factory was the representative of the institution that had acquired his land, he considered that his blood was the blood with which the insult was to be atoned so he began to stalk him, until the Manager who normally wasn't easily troubled, went to the police and said this was becoming a nuisance. The police asked: 'What can we do until he shoots you? Come again when that happens!' The General Manager solved the problem by employing the old gentleman as his personal bodyguard! After that, there was no more trouble, at least for the Manager. Instead, a few other characters in the town found themselves in danger and I seem to remember that ultimately the old gentleman had to be moved to a somewhat less lethal occupation.

A gratifying feature of migration to these factory towns has been a noticeable improvement in health standards. The average expectation of life has gone up materially the mortality rate amongst infants and mothers in childbirth has fallen and is today well below the national average. Epidemics have been wiped out and full use is being made of the extensive medical facilities offered; sometimes I think a little too full a use! If I may be a little reminiscent again, I remember, on one of my fairly regular visits to the Jamshedpur Hospital, I found a very resplendent gentleman in a gold and velvet brocade jacket, recovering from a gunshot wound. Now I know that steel workers all over the world were pretty tough customers, but the people of Jamshedpur had been up to then reasonably peaceful and not addicted to settling their disputes with firearms; so I made enquiries and it turned out that this gentleman had been shot in the shoulder in the North-West Frontier Province, some 1,400 miles from Jamshedpur, and his brother, who happened to be a worker in the steel plant, had gone all the way there to fetch him, touchingly convinced that nowhere else would his brother have a better chance of recovery.

Another bright spot in the picture is that provided by literacy and education. In Mithapur and Jamshedpur, the growth of school attendance has been much more rapid than the increase in the towns' population. In Tatapuram, literacy among the employees of the Company is 90% and the majority of workers regularly read one or other daily newspaper in the local language. Some of them are regular contributors to newspapers and journals.


Stimulus of New Environment


Even more significant than these trends has been the marked change in the general outlook. People previously used to the simple and austere life of the Indian village have eagerly availed themselves of opportunities to better their standard of living and to rid themselves of the ignorance, inertia and inhibitions of life in village communities. They have responded to the stimulation of their new environment and the wider horizon opening before them. The younger element has grasped such opportunities with both hands but even those amongst the older ones who have preferred to retain their erstwhile orthodox living habits have sought to improve the lot of their children by providing them with the education which was denied to themselves and by encouraging them to adopt a more modern way of life.

No less marked has been the impact of these new industrial townships on the surrounding countryside. Opportunities for employment, the creation of a market for village products, medical treatment and a fuller social and cultural life were amongst the benefits listed by those polled on the subject at Mithapur. In order to foster and accelerate this process we have, with the assistance of one of the Tata philanthropic trusts, undertaken in villages adjacent to some of our industrial establishments rural development projects designed to mobilise the available organisation leadership, and desire to serve, for the promotion of social and economic progress through self-reliance.

The pattern seems to have been the same in other places and other industries in India where similar conditions and standards prevailed. Thus, it may, I think, be generally agreed that where new industrial enterprises have been brought into being, away from overcrowded cities and where housing and all the required civic services and amenities have been provided, the transition from the village to the factory and industrial townships has been reasonably smooth and has resulted in economic and social betterment.

It does not seem to have been adequately appreciated that, in the context of the size of the country and of the acreage available for cultivation, a reasonable degree of rural prosperity is impossible without an aggregate industrial establishment of considerable magnitude to support it.


Three Main Essentials


While I do not wish to oversimplify what, from my own experience, I know to be a most complex subject, the task in India and similarly placed countries would seem to consist in meeting three main requirements. The first, which is now universally accepted, is to provide for the basic material needs of the workers: good working conditions, adequate wages, job security, retirement benefits, housing, medical care and educational facilities for the worker and his family.

The second is to provide, within and outside the factory, the means of satisfying the more intangible but equally strong human desire for self-expression and fulfillment and other urges characteristic of human life in the group: the recognition of individual worth, opportunities for promotion and leadership and the feeling that one 'belongs'. The loss of personal contact, the remoteness of individual work from the end-product and the lack of a personal stake in the enterprise are aspects of large-scale industry which must be dealt within countries like India perhaps even more than elsewhere.

The third is to cope with the special problems of the worker recently transplanted from a village to a modern industrial-urban community. For him, the stress of transition is obviously likely to be greater than for one already accustomed to, and hardened by, city life. To the former, the family and the small village community in which he previously lived provided all the elements of social life and human intercourse. Previously associated closely with the life of the village to which he himself contributed, too often has he found himself adrift in an impersonal and, to him, hostile environment in which he sought in vain to replace the family and social contacts, the personal prestige, the friendliness, trust and compassion which he had left behind. Bewildered, unhappy and resentful, he suffered acutely from the disintegration of his previous background and spiritual values and from the loss of his individuality.

One of the first requirements is to provide enough housing to ensure that workers drawn from the distant countryside can bring their families to live with them so that family ties and influence are retained unimpaired. This cannot be left to chance but requires that management at all levels is made conscious of the human problems involved and is specifically trained in the management of men as well as machines and processes. Countries like India have up to now lagged behind the West in this important field, but we are learning fast and the realisation of human responsibilities of management apart from their technical and operational functions, is growing and beginning to pay dividends. In our own organisation, the human problems of management are being stressed at conferences for managers and personnel officers, our staff college for executives and our company information courses for supervisory personnel.


A Sense of Belonging


Then, in order to ensure the fulfillment of individual and collective life within the industrial society, I feel an effort must be made to render it possible for industry to be not only a source of employment but also a way of life. Considerable significance attaches, in my view, to the concept of the autonomous plant or factory community developed by Peter Drucker in his book The New Society. There is no time for me here to dilate on this fascinating subject, but I do feel that sincere and careful thought will have to be increasingly devoted to it in our country. What appeals to me about this concept is the distinction drawn, within the industrial community, between the functions and activities of community life on the one hand and job functions and activities on the other. Among the former would be included welfare, education, recreation, allotment and management of housing, sports, transportation and canteens. It seems to me there is much to be said for the idea that the members of the plant community, which is made up of all those who work in it, should be given some say and freedom to participate in the management of these matters. This would provide an effective extension of the democratic principle to the industrial community and also a partial substitute for the sense of belonging and participation which are important elements of life in the village community.

I would not, however, like this to be construed as a plea for surrendering any of the basic functions of the management. I am firmly in agreement with the proposition that the management's duty is to manage. The important thing, however, to be clear about is: What is the management to manage? Where the social organisation of the society within the. factory does not impinge directly on the economic performance of the enterprise, but is only incidental to it, the assumption of exclusive responsibility by the management appears to be unnecessary and a source of avoidable irritation and resentment.

Some thought must also be given to the social and emotional attitudes of Asians, which in many ways materially differ from those of their brothers and sisters in the West. In India, the relationship between employer and employee is often still unconsciously perceived by the worker as a relationship between child and father. Whatever the merit of this thesis, it is certainly true that in India people are still inclined to be sentimental and to regard persons in authority, be it the government or industrial management, as their 'ma-bap' (mother-father). This reminds me of an incident which took place many, many years ago in Jamshedpur when we had an American General Manager (T.W Tutwiler) who, beneath a ferocious exterior and a loud voice backed by lurid language in which 'son of a bitch' was almost a term of endearment, concealed a soft heart. In so far as he was concerned, there was no nonsense about modern concepts of democracy within industry. To him, the right to hire and fire and lay down the law was a God-given right, and that's all there was to it, and he did fire and hire, usually in that order! Fortunately, as was well known in the steel plant, a fired employee had only to haunt him at his office or his house to be re-hired after a while. Well, a worker called Mohammed Din who having been fired thrice for being asleep on the job found to his pained surprise that his appeals to Mr. Tutwiler both at the office and at his house produced no results. He was thus driven to sending him a written appeal. This pathetic and heart-rending letter, which is still on our files and in which he detailed all the misery which had overtaken him, as an orphan, since he was fired for the fourth time, asked with the words: 'You, sir, are my father and my mother, and I am a poor son of a bitch.'

Finally, we have in India the special problem, largely unknown in the West, of integrating some twenty million primitive tribal people who live in hills and jungles. Largely, and perhaps fortunately, untouched by modern civilisation, they are, by and large, a happy, innocent and often childlike people with special virtues as well as deficiencies. Their poverty is immense, their economic life cruelly uncertain. Their integration into the industrial community will obviously need special care and sympathetic understanding.


Divergent Models of Development


We can see therefore that in countries like India, perhaps even more than elsewhere, one of the main tasks of industrial management is to develop an adequate understanding of the relationship between man, his environment and his technology. At the present time, there is, I think, a lack of balance between the development of technical skills and social skills, the consequences of which have often been disastrous.

In considering the human problems involved in the rapid industrialisation of a country like India, there is a valuable lesson to be learned from the Indian Army, which seems to have developed social skills well in advance of those of civilian organisations, particularly in the fields of selection, training, human management and welfare. Although it is true that the transition which military recruits have to undergo is of a different character from that which we have been discussing, it is still a fact that, over the years, millions of Indians, mostly ignorant and miserably poor, drawn from villages, jungles and hills and from all kinds of religious communities, professions and castes, have been smoothly and happily moulded into a form of community entirely different from that to which they were accustomed and where the regiment has proved a satisfying substitute for the family and the village. As a piece of social engineering, this has, to my mind, been an outstanding achievement.

Officers of the Indian Army both British and Indian have testified to the gallant record of the Indian soldier in many wars and to a magnificent morale, which could not possibly be attributed exclusively to rigidly imposed army discipline. I believe it is due in large part to the leadership, the stress on human relations and concern for the soldier's personal life and welfare, which form an integral part of the officer's duties in the Indian Army and which are worthy of emulation in industry.

Those of us who believe, as I do, that the Indian transition will be all the easier and happier for being achieved by free men in a free society are strengthened in our faith by the view which was expressed by Mahatma Gandhi when he said: 'I look upon an increase of the power of the State with the greatest fear, because, while apparently doing good by minimising exploitation, it does the greatest harm to mankind by destroying individuality which lies at the root of all progress.' And if I may say so, Mr. Chairman, I was particularly heartened to find that a similar view was expressed by you in your opening remarks at this very Conference when you said that you saw no advantage in a powerful and prosperous State created at the expense of individual freedom.

In this context, the divergent developments in India and China will, I am convinced, be of tremendous significance to the world as a whole. If, in the years to come, India succeeds in building, by democratic means, the prosperity of her people, she will have made a decisive contribution to the survival and continued progress of the democratic way of life. But if she fails while China, employing totalitarian methods, succeeds, then millions of people in the still underdeveloped areas of the world may judge by the results achieved rather than the means employed and the cause of human freedom will have suffered a grievous setback.

In this shrinking world of ours, the challenge that the hovels of Asia and Africa present is a real and an immediate one to all of us, however far away from them we might be. If the industrialised nations of the world, possessed as they are of the necessary technology and capital, recognise the overwhelming importance of this challenge and help India and similarly placed countries to meet it, then we shall together have the resources, the knowledge and the skills to usher in an era of abundance and happiness for all the peoples of the world.





H.R.H. Prince Philip.

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